Tag Archives: teaching

Stories from #EdYOUfest 2016

In the midst of my year off, and through a rather unexpected turn of events, I found myself in Italy in the middle of August 2016, on the hottest days of summer. One of the reasons I was there was to attend #EdYOUfest in Sicily. I had heard about EdYOUfest online and also from Chuck Sandy while I was in Japan, and after a great deal of thought, I decided to change my travel plans and take a leap of faith. I booked a flight to Europe.

There are many, many good things about EdYOUfest – many, many things that I truly enjoyed. I tried to sample everything. I woke up early and went to yoga every morning. Dora was a patient yoga instructor, and I was a complete newbie who kept falling over, and it was totally worth giving up an hour of sleep for. One of the sessions I learned the most from was Julie’s “zero resource” classroom. I learned how much you can make from nothing, and how to look at nothing and see resources galore. I learned how to turn any space into a learning space. Sasha’s session on brains and memory left me thoughtful, and I am still thinking of it to this day. Philip’s NVC sessions awakened a part of me that I was soon to need. In short, everything was amazing.

But what was most valuable for me were the friends I met and the discussions we had outside the classrooms. In the company of these other teachers from all over the world, everything seemed possible. Ideas came to life and creativity flowed. And I needed to write. So I began asking for story prompts. Here are a few of the stories that resulted. I wrote them just for fun.


Writing my stories at EdYOUfest. (Photo by Jayne de Sesa)


Dying from Eating Cannoli (Roberta’s prompt)

Micky sat at the table, in the same seat he sat in every meal, every day, every year for the past 73 years. Today was special. He felt his toes tingle with excitement. His butler came in with a covered platter.

As you requested, sir.

Thank you. Please take the night off.

Yes, sir.

The butler disappeared.

Micky uncovered the silver platter to reveal three perfect cannoli. Each side was overflowing with sweet ricotta, one with chocolate pieces, one with orange rind, one plain. Micky took a small jar from his inside jacket pocket. Removing the lid, he sprinkled the contents on the plain cannolo. Replacing the jar, he straightened his tie. He brushed off his cuffs.

It’s time, he said to the empty room.

Slowly he ate the cannoli one by one, saving the special one for last. Then he closed his eyes and smiled and waited.

And waited.

His butler peered through the keyhole smiling as Micky fell asleep. He had replaced his boss’s “secret” jar with cinnamon the day before, dumping the original contents out the garden window. The only one who’d be dying from eating cannoli today was the chicken.


The Suitcase was Full and Heavy (Dora’s Prompt – original story)

I’m bored and hungry, said Fili. He was standing in the corner in his usual place. In the closet around him were a variety of forgotten things: coats with pockets filled with tissue, worn-out hats, umbrellas with missing spines. Fili was old, too, but at least he was whole – he had wheels that rolled smoothly, a hard shell, and a cavernous belly. Now that belly was empty, and it had been for far too long – but the seed of thought had been planted and a new trip was in store.The closet door opened.

That old suitcase should be in the corner, Sasha instructed. Hands grabbed Fili and tugged him out of the closet. Excitement made his wheels tingle.

What’s the combination, Mom? Asked Mike.

Your birthday, Sasha smiled.

Fili lay open, exposed to the warm sunlight filling the room.

We’ll need these clothes and your sneakers, Sasha began. And sunblock and toothpaste.

Slowly Fili was filled with things to begin a trip. He wondered where they were going. To the beach? Camping? A resort by the lake? Maybe a 5-star hotel in Prague! Fili dreamed about new places until his lid was slammed shut. Mike sat on him until the latch caught and then snapped the buckles in place and twisted the numbers on the metal lock.

All ready! Sasha said and Mike lifted Fili upright. Let’s go to the airport. Our flight to Greece leaves at 4:30. Greece! Fili was so excited. He was full and heavy, and as happy as he had ever been.


The Happiest Goldfish (I don’t remember where this prompt came from)

Valerie was the happiest goldfish in the world. She lived in a small pond behind the Baker house. Tommy Baker had filled the pond with brightly colored stones, and Marie Baker came out every morning to drop food in. Valerie loved her colorful home.

One day, Marie did not come. Valerie didn’t mind. She wasn’t that hungry. Marie missed the next day as well. Valerie ate moss from the rocks. The following day, Valerie began to worry. She ate moss and bugs, but she missed her fish flakes. What would happen when the moss was gone? But Marie still did not come.

Valerie grew tired of bugs. The moss grew back, but Valerie was tired of that, too. She swam more and more slowly, noticing how dull her colorful stones had become. She found she didn’t care. Letting herself go, she turned onto her back and floated to the top of the pond. The dark clouds gathering above her were the last things she saw.


“Life is a strange thing; just when you think you’ve learned how to use it, it’s gone.” (Sasha’s prompt)

I’ve attempted to write this story four or five times already. I don’t know what it means to “use life”. Some of the themes I have tried for this are:

  • The old man who has finally turned his life around only to discover he has some fast-acting disease and about a week to live.
  • An elderly couple at the end of their lives who reminisce about the things they’ve learned.
  • A young drug addict who is trying to get clean, but gets caught up in a gang fight.
  • A mom in an underground shelter who is struggling to let go of the anger and hatred she feels toward the fighters when the bombs begin to fall.
  • A middle-aged repressed woman who has finally decided to step out of her shell, say to hell with everything, and travel the world. The first flight crashes. No survivors.

The trouble is, I don’t know enough about these people to write their stories.


That’s all for now, but if you have a story prompt for me, please leave a comment. Other comments are also welcome, of course.

And to be a future EdYOUfester, you can sign up here: http://edyoufest.com/

sometimes i need a turtle: outside influences post

I wanted to write this post because I love the idea of celebrating the people who have guided me in my life towards where I am today and taught me – in their own ways and by their own examples – lessons that have stuck with me. The hardest part is deciding who to write about.

Should I tell you about Mrs. B, the librarian at the public library who told me I was not allowed to read Clifford books to fulfill reading challenges because I should be reading books that engaged me? She taught me that reading goals are just numbers, but books deserve my time and love.

Or should I tell you about Mr. S., who only survived a year at our high school (I think he got into trouble for being too handsome), but lent me books from his personal collection and taught me meaningful ways to have conversation about books even though he wasn’t one of my teachers?

Or should I tell you about my mom, who reads every free moment she has, and always has? Whenever my brothers or I complained about being bored, her advice alternated between “play outside” and “go to the library.” Family trips to the library always ended in stacks of books, as many as the librarian would let us go away with, piled high in my arms. Those experiences gave me a good repertoire of books to recommend to my current teenage students who ask me what they should read in English.

Maybe I’ll tell you about Lalla. Lalla ran the office in the department of physics. She had that busy place full of vastly different personalities of everyone from Nobel prize-winning professors to graduate students to us lowly part-timers down to an art. There was always a lot of work to do – some of it seemed menial, like preparing for coffee hour every day, and some of it was really important, like organizing the applications for incoming grad students. No matter what it was, she asked rather than ordered us to help. I particularly loved running errands. I loved the trust placed in me. After I graduated, we stayed in touch for a while until she retired. We had lunch together (always with wine) and she told me about her recent trips to Venezia and I always brought her a turtle. I noticed early on that she collected turtles – figurines, charms, and jewelry. She said they were a reminder to go slow. It seemed impossible that anyone would be able to go slow in the kind of environment she worked in, but she made time for wine, for conversation, for compassion. She got everything done without hurrying and always had time for people. And now I find myself working in a fast-paced and responsible environment where I need that reminder. That there is always time for people – for the people who my students are – and there is always time to listen to their stories. I don’t always remember. Sometimes I need a turtle, too.

This turtle is brought to you under a creative commons license by mattoid-26 on deviantart: http://mattoid-26.deviantart.com/art/Enamoured-turtle-43275397

This turtle is brought to you under a creative commons license by mattoid-26 on deviantart: http://mattoid-26.deviantart.com/art/Enamoured-turtle-43275397

[This post is my contribution to the #iTDi not officially a blog challenge blog: Outside Influences. Because learning can be found in many places. Please visit the blog to read those wonderful posts.]

Playful Writing 7: Something I can’t forgive

The latest in the Playful Writing series inspired by Chuck Sandy’s iTDi blog post here. Chuck Sandy created a list of suggestions for writing playfully. I have been using them with my students for free writing topics. The rules my students follow are: write continuously until the timer rings; don’t erase or cross out; don’t worry about spelling or words you don’t know; don’t talk to each other. I have been slowly increasing their writing time over the weeks and I have also been monitoring for repeated mistakes or errors. My students have been excited to compete against themselves for their word counts and I am quite happy to see that even the ones who don’t have a lot to say during class have plenty to write about.


This particular topic was quite broad. “Write about a song you can’t get out of your head, something you can’t forgive, a scar you have, a difficult student, something you can’t give up, somewhere you always wanted to go but didn’t.”


Today I chose to write about something I can’t forgive. It’s a serious topic and I confess before I even begin that I didn’t follow my own rules. I rearranged the order after my timer went off, and I removed names. The story is, sadly, true, and forgiveness has no part in it. Please skip to the bottom.


Something I can’t forgive.

I learned to move on with my life. I hope we never meet.

I learned to move on with my life. I hope we never meet.

This is going to be serious rather than playful. It may have been ten years ago, I got a phone call. It was from a friend of a friend. “Sit down.” he said. “Are you sitting down?” His voice had no hint of surprise, smile, laughter. Something was wrong. “Yes, I’m sitting down. What is it? What’s wrong?” I asked. “T– died today.” “No.” I said.

T– was a lover and a fighter. His spirit burned with a bright fire. He drove a bright red motorcycle and played as whole-heartedly with the little kids we taught as he did with the adult women he loved. He drew his own Christmas cards for the holidays and made his own jewelery. If someone tried to touch his motorcycle, even out of curiosity, he would rush outside and threaten them. He gave me a spare helmet once to keep in my place so he wouldn’t always have to pack it with him. We rode together all over town. Life was fun. He drank two pots of coffee a day and did 1,000 situps and pushups every morning. He was an exercise fiend, former body-builder (2nd place for Mr. Canada). He lived a fast-paced life and never backed down.

The details came out later. He had been at home with his girlfriend. He hadn’t been feeling well. He was diabetic. He took insulin shots. He should have seen a doctor. When his seisure started, his girlfriend laid him down in bed. She didn’t call anyone. She watched as his whole body tensed up and he finally died. Then she left. Then she called his friend.

You see, she was a married woman. She was committing adultery with him. And that’s illegal. She wasn’t looking for trouble. She was just looking for a bit on the side. So she sat there and watched him die. And never once called an ambulance. Never once tried to take him to the hospital. Not even after did she call the police.

T–‘s sister called me weeks later to find out why. She wanted to know how to get in touch with the girlfriend. She gave me the latest details. I directed her to someone I knew had the information she needed. I shared her pain. If I ever meet the woman who watched my friend die and did nothing, I will have strong words to say.


After I wrote this, my first thought was, “I can’t publish this.” But here it is and here you are reading it. Why? Because my students in class today asked me what I had written about. They were struggling with all the topic choices and needed ideas. I told them I had used the topic “Something I can’t forgive” and they asked what it is so I gave them the abridged version. If I can share with them, why not with you?

Some of the issues with this particular topic that came up in class today (and will probably come up with both groups tomorrow) are too many choices. The students needed a lot of time to think and choose what they would write about. Time was another issue. I gave them an extra minute and one of them ran out of words and got frustrated (and wrote about it!). I don’t think I’ll change the variety of topics for tomorrow’s groups, because students really did write on nearly all of them.  I will give them more time for thinking and asking questions instead. Tomorrow’s group are also older and less likely to run out of words, so I don’t think this issue will affect them. In the future, for the group who wrote today, I think I will keep the extra minute and let them know they can write their feelings and thoughts in the moment if they run out of words on the topic.

If you’re still here, thanks for reading.


Playful writing: I remember/ I don’t remember

Playful Writing 3: I remember/ I don’t remember

This is the third writing prompt suggestion from Chuck Sandy’s iTDi blog post. I have been trying these as ten-minute free-writing activities before I give them as topics for my students, just to see what comes out of it and to make sure I can do what I am about to ask my students to do and to see where it might need to be adapted for them. The results among my students have been quite interesting – for the most part, they have said that the time limit is too short. I’m hesitant to make it longer, though. I’d rather they manage their time and I’ll increase time slowly as I originally planned. They have been sharing a lot of themselves, sometimes quite seriously, under the promise of privacy. I am getting to know them a lot better.

So without further ado, setting the timer for 10 minutes of continuous writing, let’s go!

I remember when I was a university student. I worked in the physics department office as an administrative assistant. I worked 20 hours a week – a decent part time job for whenever I didn’t have classes to attend. My boss was a wonderful woman named Lalla. She knew me better than I thought, in retrospect, and was always looking out for me. I also worked with another group of students – Adam, Nabeel, and Dennis. We used to do the New York Times crossword puzzles every day. They were free back then and we’d have no problem with the Monday puzzles. The Tuesday and Wednesday puzzles were usually okay, too if a bit more challenging. By Wednesday, there were questions that nearly stumped all of us but eventually we figured them out. Thursdays were even more difficult and I don’t think we ever finished a Friday puzzle. We never tried the Saturdays.

Anyway, when we couldn’t finish a puzzle – a Thursday one or a Friday – we would fill in the remaining letters with 7s and ‘silent Q’s. I remember how much we laughed over it. I had complained that you can’t put a ‘Q’ there. It has its own sound and completely changes the word. And Adam explained to me that it was a ‘silent Q’ and it could go there. The conversation usually dissolved into giggles and a group trip to the lunch truck for chicken fried rice.

I remember a couple years ago when I was just getting into professional development and thinking about teaching and how to become a better teacher. Oh, my thoughts are so different now from what they were then. But I was shy and couldn’t find my voice. I was uncertain – who was I, among all these people who knew what they were talking about and had been doing it forever? What if I said stupid things? What if my opinions then stuck to me and I couldn’t change them? How would I protect myself from the world and from myself. I needed a way to speak. And I remembered silent Q.

I remember the day I started using Q as an identity – it was on Twitter in a free informal webinar that probably had something to do with iTDi. I logged in and the room asked for an identity – so I typed in Q. And I met a lot of interesting people that day. But I guess they didn’t really meet me.

Time’s up. 416 words – fewer than last time.

I’m afraid that’s the not-very-interesting story of the origin of Q, now retired because I can use my own voice thanks to the friends who value it and helped me build my self-confidence.

Reading back, I wonder if I am giving my students the chance to know me as I know them through their writing, and if I should do that or need to do that. Would I be willing to share my writing with them? That’s a question worth thinking about, I guess.

This writing task took ten minutes and was pretty easy, mainly because I already knew what story I wanted to tell. I think when I do this with my students, I will give them a few minutes to think before writing about a story they might want to tell. I will also give them the option of writing a series of disconnected memories if they wish.

If you made it this far, thanks for reading.




This one’s for you, friend. Because you asked.


Something that happened today (#OneThing blog challenge post)

It seems like I come home from work nearly every day and shrug and say, nothing much happened today. Of course that’s pretty silly. Lots of things are always happening and I am just not attaching importance to them. So the purpose of this blog challenge (for myself) is to pay attention to what happens in a day, reflect on it, and share it. I invite you to join me.

butterfly closeup

Image by Josh Kellogg used under Creative Commons license


Something that happened today:

H came to class, sat down, and said, “Anne, I didn’t do any of my homework.”
H’s class is one-on-one. His homework was to prepare a presentation about a film or book that he wants to share. Mondays are Presentation Day.
I sighed. “Okay,” I said.
“Let’s work on essay writing more today,” he said.
“Did you write the thesis statement for your compare/contrast essay?”
“Did you finish outlining the part about imagery?”
“Okay. Did you print the story that you lost?”
“Okay, let’s try to find specific examples of imagery.”

And that’s what we did for the rest of the class. He re-read parts of the stories in depth, asked questions about words he didn’t know for sure, and underlined examples of imagery. He wrote the examples in his notebook and finally, as the class was ending, I asked him to look at what he’d written for each story. And he had an a-ha moment. I watched his eyes light up as he saw that the examples he had found and written on his own were going to be relevant to his essay – there was clear contrast.

And I had an a-ha moment, too. I realized that while it’s important to read carefully and deeply, it’s also important to pull back sometimes and see the bigger picture. So the class didn’t go the way I thought it would, but learning appears to have happened and I’m content with that.

Image by Didier Descouens used under Creative Commons license

Image by Didier Descouens used under Creative Commons license

RP 5: The Challenge to Generalize

Following is my attempt at the next Reflective Practice Blog Challenge: generalization. 

This challenge was set by Zhenya Polosatova over at John Pfordresher’s blog.

Here are the directions for the challenge: 

Directions for RP Challenge 5: look back at the description and analysis you provided and formulate generalizations about learning, teaching, communication, (personal and professional) awareness, etc. Are you surprised to see the generalizations you wrote? Have you had them for a long time or are they the result of that particular experience you had?

To see how others have approached the challenge, check out Hana’s post on How I see it now and Kate’s post on iamlearningteaching.


One thing that I have come to love about reflective practice is exploring my beliefs. When I first started I remember clearly claiming that I didn’t have any beliefs. To me beliefs were things that I couldn’t change my mind about. Sure I had strong feelings on some things, but I didn’t want to be stuck to those in my own mind or anyone else’s. As I’ve been practicing, reflecting and blogging, I’ve started to uncover the beliefs I didn’t think I had, much to my own astonishment. Now I sort of enjoy the process – peering into my practice and saying “Oh, look. This must be a belief!” and then taking a closer look at it to see if stands up to scrutiny. I don’t feel so afraid of being attached to beliefs anymore.

In the interest of uncovering my beliefs, I took the Teaching Perspectives Inventory online. I’ll tell you more about that in another post perhaps. I mention it because my highest score is for Nurturing (this makes sense to me since I think L2 communication requires vulnerability). And this is exactly what I did not do with Josh, which makes me wonder whether what I believe and claim to do is how my students perceive me.

And so with all these things I mind, I begin to generalize from my analysis of my description of the incident in my class.


I wrote: He may get a disproportionate amount of attention and that could affect his behaviour as well as how I approach him in class.
It seems I believe: It is necessary to give equal attention to all students in a class.

I wrote: It is possible that they don’t know how to approach the materials and that I’m not giving them enough guidance. It’s possible that determining main ideas is quite a new task for them and I am not patient enough.
It seems I believe: Giving students more guidance when approaching new tasks and materials and understanding that students are not always comfortable doing things they’re not sure they can get right is good practice.

I wrote: It is possible that my instructions were unclear.
It seems I believe: Giving clear instructions and checking understanding of those will make an activity more smooth.

I wrote: It’s likely that Josh didn’t make eye contact because it would be rude to do so in Korean culture when (he thinks) he is in trouble.
It seems I believe: Understanding students’ culture can help avoid misinterpretation of body language.

I wrote (in a comment): The interactive way I teach didn’t register to them as “study” and they thought they’d just been playing around, which is why they weren’t taking it seriously.
It seems I believe: Making objectives of each activity clear to the students can prevent misunderstanding.


Most of these statements seem pretty obvious to me. The one that surprises me most is the first one: “It is necessary to give equal attention to all students in a class.” I’m not sure whether I believe or practice this. Not all learners are alike and some are more independent while others if I take my eyes off them for five seconds they might burn the building down.

One thing I didn’t touch on is the role of empathy and whether or how I’m meeting the students’ needs (and my own). This is important to me so I’m surprised by its absence.

Thank you for joining me on this exploration. I look forward to your comments!

RPC 3: Description

RPC 3: Description

Instructions From John’s Original Post:

“Think about a negative interaction you have had in your classroom. Not an entire lesson, but a single interaction that occurred between you and someone else (a student, another teacher, a parent, etc).

Our task today is to take this negative interaction and describe it. It is important that we describe and describe only.

In addition, I would like us to pay particular attention to the feelings of all those involved. How did we feel? How do we think the student(s) felt. For now, let’s not analyze why we think they felt one way or another (that’s for our next challenge).”

 As you might have seen from my comment on John’s original post, I have no intention of including the feelings of any participant other than myself. I am also going to try to state those feelings first and stick to pure description after that.

I invite readers to ask me questions to help clarify the description and to point out where my description might be turning into judgment or analysis (through use of loaded language or whatever), but I’m not looking for analysis, advice or suggestions at this time.

Let’s go!

This scenario took place last Wednesday night. It was around 9pm and the final class of the day. The students had already been studying at our academy since 6:30 and the class before mine is a translation class. There are 12 students in this class – five boys and seven girls. One of the girls was absent. The classroom seating is arranged in a circle with all seats facing the board. The students are using Thoughts and Notions – a reading textbook. On the day in question, they were working on a reading about “Umbrellas.” This was their third day with this reading. As homework I had asked them to make umbrellas with main ideas inside and supporting details underneath (an umbrella for each paragraph of the reading).

“Josh,” the subject of this description, had not done this assignment. I selected students to put their umbrellas on the board and we checked them together. Josh did not take this opportunity to complete the homework in his notebook, nor did two others who had not completed the homework. I said, “Anyone who has not completed the homework should write down the main ideas and details in your notebooks. You don’t need to draw umbrellas.” Two other students began writing – one drew umbrellas and the other wrote main ideas and details.

Josh did nothing. He was frowning and looking at his desk. I thought his eyes were kind of glassy. I went over and repeated my instruction. He didn’t even acknowledge that I had spoken. I repeated his name until he looked at me. Then I showed him the umbrellas on the board and pointed to the sentences one by one. I repeated, “You don’t need to draw the umbrellas. Just write the main ideas. That’s all. Then write the details under.” Without verbal acknowledgement he pulled his notebook towards him and started to write. When I checked back later he had completed it and was ready to move on to the worksheet.

Throughout this encounter, I was quite frustrated. My expectations of Josh were higher than he was willing to put forth that day.

Here ends my description. I hope you can help me with your questions and comments.


Edit: I want to thank everyone for the thoughtful comments! 

Here are some more descriptions to read and add your insights to: 

RP3 – The Description Phase on How I see it now by @HanaTicha

RP Challenge 3: ELC Description by David Harbinson (@DavidHarbinson)

RP2- the ice-breaker

Mr. John Pfordresher posted a new challenge for anyone who wants to participate in the reflective practice challenge. Feel free to jump in at challenge 2 and leave challenge 1 for another time!

I think this second challenge will give us a lot of opportunities to learn about each other’s teaching environments, beliefs and methods.

I look forward to comments and especially questions that will help me reflect more on why I believe as I do. I also look forward to contributing my own questions to John’s and others’ challenge responses to keep the reflective conversation going.

And so, without further ado, these are the statements and my own responses.


strongly disagree               disagree                      agree                   strongly agree

1) Teachers must teach grammar explicitly if learners are to acquire language effectively.

I strongly disagree that teachers must teach grammar explicitly if learners are to acquire language effectively. I think there is a lot more to this statement that I need to know:   What is the context? Do the teacher and students share an L1? Why are the learners learning? (to pass a test? what kind of test? to study abroad? to travel? because their moms think it’s a good idea but they’d really rather be playing outside in the snow?) Who are the learners? Doesn’t research show that teaching grammar explicitly to young learners is ineffective (at best)? What does research show about explicit grammar teaching to older (non-linguist) learners? Does it make a difference what level they are at? What does it mean to acquire language effectively? Is there an end point to acquisition? (I don’t think there is.) How is effectiveness measured? 

An answer for myself: My students are young learners and teens. We do not share an L1. The vast majority of them would rather be outside having snowball fights and when I asked them why they are learning English, the ones who didn’t say because of their mothers said it was to travel or to pass the TOEIC test or “because English is global language”. I think not sharing an L1 is the biggest barrier to teaching grammar explicitly (although I’m not sure if they’re taught Korean grammar explicitly at their age either). I usually teach grammar implicitly by pointing out patterns and letting them practice. I am uncertain whether this is effective. I have a game I play with all of my classes (I just adjust the level depending on the class) called Pass the Bomb. It’s a vocabulary game and I require simple sentences. All but the most advanced students forget the grammar patterns when put under time pressure. I think this game mimics the time pressure they might experience in a test or a conversation situation (granted those are vastly different from each other). So have they acquired the patterns? Perhaps only in a controlled environment.

2) Teachers who don’t utilize technology in class are doing a disservice to their students.

(n.b. You  can read John Pfordresher’s post on #edtech here. #jumpingthegun ^^)

Now let’s talk about this. What is meant by technology? Utilized how? How often? For what purpose? To achieve what goals? What are the learning objectives? Can they be achieved in other ways?

I don’t feel strongly about this statement at all, but I guess my answer will put me on the side of mildly disagree. I think there are a lot of benefits and drawbacks to using technology, but I also think that “using technology” shouldn’t be a thing. Learning is the thing. I think the question I need to ask myself (and my students) is what do they need to learn? And then I can try to find a variety of ways to help them achieve those goals. Now, if what they need to learn involves writing a professional letter, I might choose to teach them how to do that through e-mail (which kids their age don’t use anymore). If they need to learn how to communicate with other L2 English speakers, the best way might be through web applications. If they primarily use English in gaming, then I might (but haven’t yet) used online games to help them. Then again, I might not. I might just trust them to figure out how to apply what they learn in our tech-free classroom to their tech-full lives. 

As a side note: I asked my students in two different classes what they want to study and they gave me a list of all the things they think are fun and interesting, including videos, music, and computer games. After some reflection on their list, I realized that what they had actually told me was how they want to study. 

3) Teachers have to understand the correlation between student feelings and student needs to be effective.

Following are my thoughts on this statement, but I still don’t really know what I believe. So please don’t take these thoughts as definitive and please help me reflect further here.

Hm. I still don’t know what “effective” means. Does a teacher who fails to understand that a student who is feeling confused might need clarity fail in his job? The answer might seem obvious. But the feelings and needs* that seem to be intended in this statement may also fall outside classroom life.

Nevertheless I am once again going to fall on the disagree side of this statement. I think a teacher needs to be aware that students have feelings and corresponding needs – possibly completely unrelated to the classroom context – in order to adjust their reactions to, for instance, what might look like unwillingness to learn. But I think understanding the correlation between a students’ feelings and needs might involve a lot of guesswork that the student might be unable or unwilling to verify. I think as a teacher I would like to know how my students are doing and whether or not their needs are being met. I don’t know whether my knowing that has anything to do with my students’ learning.

*When I think of needs in this context, two things come to mind: Maslow’s pyramid (although most of my students would add wifi to the bottom tier) and NVC needs: “Needs are more than the things we can’t live without.  They represent our values, wants, desires and preferences for a happier and/or more meaningful experience as a human.  Although we have different needs in differing amounts at different times, they are universal in all of us.  When they are unmet, we experience feelings… when they are met, we experience feelings.”

 That’s it. I welcome comments or posts of your own on the topic. Join the challenge! #onamission to reflect online!

Traveling with teenagers

Last night I returned from a school trip. We took a small group of (17) students to London and Paris for a week. These students were between 14 and 17 years old. They were divided into two sections, and then within those sections into smaller groups of two, three, or four. 

Messing up

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The four youngest girls are a group. They were asked to lead the way on the second excursion. Two are bent over the subway map trying to determine the lines, directions and transfers. The other two are synching that information with what they see inside the station. After a few minutes of debate they proceed – in exactly the wrong direction. We all follow and take the subway one stop. By then they’ve noticed and tell everyone to get off. They lead us to the other side of the tracks and we start again. This time one of them asks someone waiting for a train whether this is the right train. It is. We get to our destination without further incident. Skimming, scanning and asking for information skills turned out to be very important. And messing up is an important part of learning.



Knowing the script

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At first most of the kids ate their meals at fast food restaurants like McDonalds. Then the kids (and the Korean teachers as well) mostly chose cafes to eat their meals. In part because these were cheaper than restaurants, but I think it mostly had to do with knowing what to do. Three of our students entered a Chinese take-out ahead of us and looked at the food laid out behind the glass. They chose the items they wanted by pointing and reading the labels and stood around waiting for their order until the staff told them to sit down three times. They got their food on trays, shared and ate it up, and left. It wasn’t until later in the trip that many of the students were comfortable enough to try restaurants. I, on the other hand, am way more familiar with the script in restaurants and that’s where I chose to go when I was on my own.



Communication where it matters

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When we arrived in Paris, the kids quickly discovered that we couldn’t log onto wifi without a password. I shrugged and resigned myself to use my phone as a camera. The kids were not so easily satisfied. Coming back from an outing with the other adults, we found TG (incidentally, the weakest English speaker of the group) at the front desk talking to the receptionist. When we asked what was going on, he told us he was getting a wifi password. I didn’t hear the conversation, but he did get his password. And after he did it, the other kids were braver to go and ask as well.





On the last day in Paris, I decided to wander around by myself. I didn’t realize until that morning when my coworker told me how nervous she was to take the metro without me that I had been a leader. They got around and survived the day, even riding a double decker train. Even adults need the freedom to find out that we can do it by ourselves. 

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Cinquain Poems for mixed levels

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I did a lesson today that turned out a lot better than I expected. I’m blogging about it because my reflective goal for this month was to start paying attention to the things that go well in class, not just the things that go oh so wrong.

Some background on the class:

Once a week, I have a class where we can do mini-projects to fill some of the gaps in their coursebooks. There are 12 students in this class and they are in the first grade of middle school (around 13 years old). They have been studying English for varying lengths of time, from six or seven years to just a couple years. In my class, they are using the newest edition of Teen Talk, a book which has (in my opinion) a lot more text than a conversation book needs, complete with questions that guide students’ opinions to the “right” answers. And so I try, each week, to introduce opportunities for creative thinking and expression.

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Today’s class:

This is the last class of the day on Thursdays, from 8:30 p.m. to 9:20 p.m. The students have already been in the academy for two hours (Teen Talk at 6:30 and CNN at 7:30). Last Thursday they asked me if we could do something related to Christmas during this week’s class.

Some background on the project:

I learned about cinquain poetry about two years ago. Asked to submit “something creative” for a final class project, I was completely at a loss and made a note to myself never to do that to my students (promptly forgotten). Luckily someone in a different course had mentioned cinquain poetry in passing and I decided to look it up. Not only was it perfect for the “creative” project, it was adaptable enough to use in my classes as well.

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Today’s class: 

I started by writing the word “cinquain” on the board and letting them guess the pronunciation (following from the pronunciation work we’d been doing in the Teen Talk class).

Then I asked them to guess the meaning. One student noticed that the origin looked like French. Another student (the shyest in the class) said that she’d learned a little Spanish when she lived in California. One of them asked for a hint and I told them it is a number. The Spanish-learner started counting on her fingers and her face lit up when she got to five, which she said aloud.*

Cinquain poems have five lines each and look a little like a diamond (although to me they look more like Christmas trees). They are written on a single topic and usually tell a story.

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I explained the three ways of writing cinquain poems:

  • 1) with individual words (1 word, 2 words, 3 words, 4 words, 1 word)
  • 2) with syllables (2 syllables, 4 syllables, 6 syllables, 8 syllables, 2 syllables)
  • 3) with parts of speech (1 noun, 2 adjectives, 3 -ing words, a phrase, a synonym to the original noun)

I explained the rules for the poetry:

  • 1) Write about just one topic.
  • 2) Tell a story.
  • 3) Include an action.
  • 4) Include a feeling.

Someone asked me how to do syllables and we went around the room counting syllables in their English names. This was a great moment, because they (and I) discovered that some of them were much better at this than others.

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I told them that they could choose any of the three styles of poem they want, but that the first one was probably the easiest, but might have a boring result.

The results were telling:

The weaker students in the class all chose the first style. Some of them were able to tell stories and others just wrote words on a Christmas-y topic.

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The mid-level students nearly all went for the syllables style. I was surprised, but maybe they wanted to challenge themselves or maybe they were daunted by parts of speech but wanted to show that they were above isolated words.

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The higher level students used a mix of syllables and parts of speech styles, except one – who asked if she could adapt the words style to 2-4-6-8-2 so she could tell the story she wanted. Another thing I saw in the higher level students was a greater emphasis on the story they wanted to tell. 

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What really fascinated me about the project…

Was how each student took it and made it their own. They adapted it to their own levels and helped each other or asked for help when they ran into difficulties. They practiced until they got it the way they wanted it, then wrote it on colored paper and decorated it.

As a follow-up, I asked them to each come to the front, read their poem, and show the pictures they’d made. And I learned another new thing: none of them know how to read poetry aloud.

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A lesson for another time.



*I can just imagine what her brain did to count to five in Spanish, take a look at how many fingers she’d counted out in Korean and then translate that to the required English that matched the French on the board, all in a split second. Humans are amazing.

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