Month: July 2011

A strange haunting sense of unease

The Mind's Eye
Exploring the mind's eye

First Storytelling lesson: so far so good

I have been doing my summer English conversation course on line at WizIQ for five weeks now, and so far it has been an interesting journey with its ups and downs. last week we used a series of sounds to tell a story in class. This was done mostly via the chat box, as only a few students have access to microphones, but some did, and they contributed very enthusiastically to the story. The result was this Storybird:

WizIQ student story

You may notice that there is no ending to this story, because we couldn’t agree in class which one we liked best. So, everyone said they’d think about for the next lesson and we could finish it off. Now, here’s the crux of the matter… What do you think happened?

Next Lesson

Yesterday was the following lesson, so we looked at the Storybird, but 80% of the class had not been in the previous class, nor had they gone to the blog in advance to prepare for the lesson because these lessons are free public classes on WizIQ so a lot of people turn up at the last minute and don’t know that the class blog exists or that they should prepare for class. This is fine as long as there is some continuity provided by a core of students who attend regualrly and know what is going on. I generally have some of these people, who are very conscientious and motivated about preparing, but maybe it’s too hot at the moment, they’re on holiday or who knows, anyway, for some reason, yesterday, there were only two people who had been in the previous class, and they said they were still thinking about an ending. So, of course, I told them not to worry and that they could carry on thinking and post their ideas in comments on the class blog later, if they wanted to. After all, you can lead a horse to water… as we know, but the whole episode left me with a strange feeling of unease. Was I spending too much time preparing engaging materials and activities that nobody was really interested in?

We soldiered on

I went on to my next activity fairly quickly after this, which was a vocabulary quiz and the atmosphere in class changed dramatically. Everyone likes quizzes and I usually include one or two in an hour’s lesson. There was then a discussion phase where some people, who had mics, spoke about the films they like and people in their countries like, whilst other people typed questions to them in the chat box. This too worked well, but once again I was having this nagging doubt. How much were we really communicating? How far were we really sharing our ideas. The final discussion we got involved in was on the future of 3D films at the cinema, and this I finally thought developed into a very natural discussion, so the unease lifted slightly.

Another phase I like to include in these lessons is to introduce learners to at least one new website that they might like. This is because, since they are motivated to come to online classes, they will probably be motivated to go to other online sites as well. This time I showed them the google fight site, where we looked at “watch a movie” or “watch a film”. Google fight does an engaging little battle between the two items to see which is most frequent on the Google search engine. You have to warn learners to be careful what they put in it though, because if you simply do a search between “movie” and “film”, for instance, your results will be skewed as ‘film’ can be a noun or a verb and has various connotations, which is why I recommend the ‘chunk’ approach. So, which do you think won? Which was more popular? Yes, “watch a movie” was the winner. This site was very popular with the students and we then went on to do some more skills work and the lesson ended well. The nagging feeling of unease, however, was still there. I had gone through my routines, done, more or less, what I had set out to do, but still I felt that something, some intangible spark, has been missing.

Am I just feeling stressed?

Is it only a matter of perception?

I was feeling rather stressed yesterday as I had a million things to do, so maybe I wasn’t following my own philosophy of teaching mindfully that I wrote about just a few days ago with such convction. Anyway I had rather an empty feeling about that lesson as I wended my weary way back to the exams organisation I am involved in at the university (list upon list of results are enough to make anyone feel empty, and this is actually a limited exam session with about 600 students taking three exams.) It was only later that I went back to WizIQ with bated breath to have a look at the comments, and I was actually very surprised to see that they were all extremely positive, and that one or two of the new students had actually written emails to me thanking me for the lesson, and bemoaning the fact that next week is the last one. This made me think that it is probably all a matter of perception and that I was projecting my expectations onto the class, whereas the learners’ expectations are not at all the same thing. This is one more lesson for me: a class is the sum of everyone in it and reflects everyone’s expectations and efforts, and just because something I, as a teacher, wanted to do, couldn’t be done (in this case the story) it doesn’t mean that people were not learning from each other in all kinds of ways. This kind of fertile environment is what needs to be fostered.

So, next week is the last lesson and the theme is travel. I’m looking forward to seeing where my students will take me :-)

Fast and Furiously Rushing

merry go round
All the fun of the fair

Two weeks ago today I was rushing to get ready for my holiday, so I foolishly thought I could save time by preparing a lesson, creating materials, finishing off one or two animations that I’m designing as well as doing my packing… All in one hour, before I set off. Of course, being superhuman I managed it and set off on holiday, convinced that I’d done a good job. When I came back however, I checked my lesson plan, and found that I really had to redesign some exercises, and a few days ago my editor sent most of the animations back, because they were filled with little typos. I was mortified, and had to sit down and go through them all again! The moral of this sad little story is that by rushing to save time I ended up taking a lot more time to do things. This is nothing new, but it made me think once more about how important it is to be as ‘mindful’ as possible in life, and not only at work.

Watching the sun go down

Being Mindful

This is, firstly, because it ensures a certain quality of life. It’s hard to feel stressed when you breathe deeply and concentrate on the sunset for three minutes ( which is often all it takes to calm down). Secondly, by slowing down and taking a certain pride in doing things well, just for the fun of it, the quality of those things tends to improve. This week I approached my animations from a different point of view, and found all kinds of ideas popping up, simply because I was not feeling stressed about having to do them. Someone, and I’m sorry but I can’t remember who, said that is important to remember that our bodies are not simply vehicles that transport our minds from one meeting to the next, or you could add, from one job to the next, and this is so true. I know that I, for one, have a tendency to see every day as being dominated by my ‘to do’ list, and things get ticked off one after another, but somewhere along the way I forget to live.

the single minded web hedgehog


Our world is a world of multitasking, we know. This is often seen as a skill that we all have to develop if we are to survive in the digital age. I recently did a quiz at their BBC labs, a wonderful place for those who like quizzes. It was a product of their ‘Virtual Revolution’ programme and analysed your ‘web behaviour’ likening you to one of several web animals. Imagine my horror when I discovered that far from being the multitasking, online maverick I had fondly thought myself to be I was… a web hedgehog! The write up for this was suitable disparaging: a loner who stubbornly goes after one thing when searching online, not to b distracted by thr siren calls of the vatious hyperlinks lurking along my path… And rolling up into a prickly little ball when attacked etc. etc.

However, I have recently deecided that this is not such a bad thing and all ties in with the idea of mindfulness, or being aware of what you are doing and why. I don’t claim to succeed more than fraction of the time, and in fact I just noticed an ad by Google for Croatia’s national parks, so I had to leave you for a minute. But, and it’s a big but, I can concentrate on reading an article if I choose to, and I limit my ‘aimless surfing’ as I put it to ten minutes or so, at a time. At this point my thoughts turn to Nicholas Carr, once again, and to his book, The Shallows, or his article ‘Is Google making us stupid?’ The point he makes is that we are reading in different ways and the magpie approach to reading is possibly not the best. What it boils down to, as has been said many times before, is how we use technology and educators, who are generally digital immigrants, like me, can help younger learners to develop different approaches to reading that they can mindfully choose to apply.

If you are reading a novel on an ipad, then you probably eant to do that, and just because it beeos at you to tell you that an email has arrived, this doesn’t mean you have to look at it right at that minute! By helping learners to use the resources at thier fingertips mindfully, we can help them to see these things as the magic enhancers of the learning experience that they are, rather than evil siren’s seducing us from our paths as they sit there on their rocks, singing their songs.

Oh, and by the way, it’s true! I do tend to roll up into a prickly little ball when under attack, so you have been warned :-).

Rebel Rap in Libya | English Attack! – English 2.0

Via Scoop.itInspiration for tired EFL Teachers

Show original

Well, what can I say? I hadn’t been to this site for a while but it is now no longer in beta version but up and running and:

English Attack is just the most brilliant site!

It combines thought provoking videos from the news around the world, which will appeal to young adults, and at the same time gives them encouraging language analysis work in a game format, which will work. It doesn’t ask them to do too much or too little and they earn all kinds of points and bonuses as they go… what more could you ask for. They’re doing a great job :-)

Activate Your English

Activate Your English.

Anyone for summer courses?

If your students would like to come to our summer conversationclasses on WizIQ they are still in time. Lessons are on Tuesdays at Midday (CET) All they need is an Internet access and a microphone. Lesons will go on until the end of July. The theme this week is Stories, books and films.

Follw the link at the beginning of this post to access the blog for the course, find out how to enrol for the classes and to prepare for the lessons.

Hope to see you there :-)

Holiday adventures and Unexpected destinations

Across the sea to who knows where

First of all I’d better tell you that this entry has nothing at all to do with teaching. I was away last week for a holiday (well, it is that time of year). I had a few days and decided to drive round to Croatia, to the sea to relax. It’s about a four hour drive from Verona, but it’s lovely because it takes you into a completely different world. What was intereesting though is that I set off, just for a few days’ relaxation at the seaside, but sometimes we reach completely different destinations from the ones we are aiming for, so I have decided to share my thoughts here, after a day’s adventure.
I wrote these notes when I got back to Lovran, before hitting the local Internet cafe for a glass of white wine and a shot of social networking.

Today was a day of butterflies, birds ans scattered showers. I woke up after sleeping so well, to a dark sky. This cleared for just enough time for me to sample breakfast on the terrace with a silvery, shimmering sea in the background, and then the clouds came back, so I decided to go for an adventure. I’ve never been along the coastline beyond Rijeka before so I thought I’d drive round and over the bridge to Krk. I’m generally nervous about crossing unfamiliar cities, as what you think is the right direction often takes you to unexpected destinations, but, on reflection, I decided that it was an adventure, so that was ok too. In fact it was very straightforward and pleasant driving through the city, which gave me a glimpse of its architecture and the sharp contrast between the old and the newer.
When I rrached Krk I stopped and investigated a beach, swimming and having lunch in a park, whilst chatting. Everyone is so friendly here, or is it that I’m smiling because I’m on holiday… I don’t know. I ‘ll have to try it in Verona and see if it works. Occasionally I pretend I’m a tourist visiting Verona and it does have the effect of making you see the familiar from a different point of view.
I was goiong to drive back the way I’d come, but I kept seeing signposts for the ferry to Cres, and since that would actually be the more direct route home to Lovran, and another adventure too, that is what I did. Cres was awash with butterflies, everywhere, busily going about their business, and all kinds of birds too, ranging from very large seagulls ( although not so well fed as the ones in Brighton), to what looked more like eagles to me, in fact there was a nature reserve very close to Merag, where the ferry arrived on the island.

Crossing Cres took me back to my last visit in the eighties. It was a different season, winter, in fact, and a different era, I seem to remember taking literally forever to get to Opatija from Verona. A very different story from the efficient roads there are today. My last visit was also for a rather different reason. I was here for a funeral.

Velemir was not what you could call a close friend of mine but he was one of my circle. I liked his music and the first time I heard him play at ‘il Posto’ in Verona, he seemed to be bathed in that artistic aura that tends to set people aside until they become one with their art and as such can only be admired from afar. Then I got to know him a bit better when he began to play regularly with a close friend of mine, but we were never, by a long shot, what you would call friends, and yet, in spite of that, I was one of the people in Verona that he called the evening before he committed suicide, and I discovered today, that I am still affected by it. Velemir was the first person I had ever known, of my generation, who had done this and when we lowered his body into the earth and had to leave it there, I felt something that was little short of a sense of panic. We hadn’t been there to stop him taking his life and now we were going to leave him in the earth. It was a cool day, raining, I think, and it just seemed wrong. This is not something that I have thought about for years, you understand, and I had not expected to be thinking about it now but memory is a strange thing and the road on the island has not changed at all, which is probably what sent me plummeting back through the years.

It's all a question of perspective
It's all a question of perspective

Well, now I’m on the ferry heading to mainland Istria and the Austro-Hungarian elegance in decline of the Opatijan Riviera, melancholy, decadence and conformism all mixed up together in a heady mix. This evening is the 98th anniversary of the Hotel Bristol which is to be celebrated with cake on the terrace. This detail I feel, says a lot. I’ve given myself a mental shake, pushed away the sadness, and I’m heading back to the mainstream of life once again. Cake on the terrace! I can’t wait.

Chocolate cake
chocolate cake