Clowning on the first class day!

Yesterday I started a course called: “Clown como estrategia didáctica” (clown as a didactic strategy). I had a lot of fun, and  felt like a child again enjoying the freedom of just playing around and not thinking or worrying about anything else. We should never loose that innocence, and if we have already lost it, recover it by all means. I can assure you it is worth the effort.

While I was there, I revisited two old activities, I haven’t used for a long time, that are perfect for getting to know each other. It was wonderful, having looked at them from a new perspective. There I was the student, and not the teacher, and could have fun without paying attention to anything else (timing, students who were not connected with what was going on in the class, minding students didn’t get hurt, or run wildly out of control). I was free to relax and enjoy myself.

little Gabriel clown by L O O K
little Gabriel clown, a photo by L O O K on Flickr.

However, at one point we have to come back to reality and face the truth: I’m still a grown-up adult and a teacher of kids, teenagers and adults. I remembered about Eva’s carnival  and decided to share these two activities that are very useful for the  first week of classes:

A Chain of Hands: At first, the teacher asked us to start walking around the room. Then, she told us to make eye contact with the people we encountered, while we kept on walking. After that, when we encountered a person we were supposed to give him/her a highfive and say a word or make a sound (whatever came to our mind at that moment). The following step was to hold hands and introduce ourselves (Hi, I’m Sabrina). And finally the best part, we had to hold a person’s hand and introduce ourselves, but we couldn’t stop holding hands till we found another person to hold hands with. It was very funny, because sometimes you found yourself holding hands with two people at the same time, as your previous partner had not yet found a person to hold hands with. We ended up with some strange hand chains. I’m not sure whether I’ve been clear enough, you know you can always ask for more details in the comments section.

You are what you do!: This is a super simple activity but it always spreads a roar of laughter. The participants have to make a circle, and one of them introduces himself and makes a movement, or uses a strange tone of voice, or both at the same time. The rest of them, have to observe him closely and repeat everything he’s said and done. They have to mirror his introduction. I just love this activity, and students really become creative once they understand what they are supposed to do.

That’s all for now falks! Hope I have inspired you for your beginning of classes. If you want to find another idea, have a look at this post. As here in Argentina we are starting the second semester,  and therefore, I cannot try these activities in my classes, I’m looking forward to hearing about your experience. =)

RSCON3: It’s all about them…

RSCON3 is over… is it really over? Of course not, there are still a lot of presentations I would like to watch. But wasn’t it on 29 / 07 you may be wondering… Yeah, but that’s the magic of an online conference. If you could not attend, don’t worry you can always watch the recordings. I strongly advice you to do so, if you haven’t yet. You can find all the recordings here.

Fortunately, this time, appart from attending this wonderful conference, I was able to give my own presentation. I really enjoyed it. Even though at the beginning I was a bit nervous ( it was my first presentation ever), I managed to relax and have fun. I would like to thank @davedodgson for having helped me by doing a wonderful job as a moderator. I love learning collaborately, so I am very thankful for having had this opportunity of giving a bit back to my PLN, after so much taking. If you haven’t attended my presentation, and you’d like to see me in action:  here you can watch the recording, and here you can find the powerpoint I’ve used during it. I would love to know your opinion about it, get some advice on how I can improve my presentation skills or whatever comment you may want to do.

But let’s stop talking about me and let’s pass on to the important thing: my reflection about the conference. I don’t have a lot of things to say, apart from the fact that it was a wonderful experience, I’ve added a lot of new memebers / friends to my PLN, and I’ve learned a lot. However, what struck me the most, was that I have attended many sessions about completely different topics, and we all ended up speaking about the same: our students. Our students were the main protagonists of the whole conference. That shows how much passion we all put into our profession. We are all trying to improve and to find the best way in which we can teach them. We may not have found the answer yet, but the fact that we are treading this path, looking for it together, is more than enough. We are already reforming education, by making little (?) changes in our classrooms. Let’s keep on walking along this path, let’s meet again in RSCON4. See you there! =)

Collaborative learning path leading to RSCON4

Reform Symposium 3: Dogme with young learners and beginners…are you nuts?

In a few days, nearly 8000 educators from over 40 different countries are expected to attend a free 3 day virtual conference, The Reform Symposium, #RSCON3. This free award-nominated e-conference is going to take place on July 29-31st, 2011. Participants can attend this online conference from the comfort of their homes or anywhere that has Internet access. This amazing conference provides educators new or currently active on social networks the opportunity to connect with educators and professionals in the field of education worldwide. With over 12 Keynotes, 80 presenters, and 3 keynote panel discussions you are bound to be inspired!

I am very proud to count myself among the 80 presenters and I would like to invite you all to attend my session. It is really important for me to receive your support… I would appreciate if you can invite the people you know to attend and spread the word…
Here you can have a preview of what my presentation will be about… Hope you like it…

We would like to thank the incredible organizers– Shelly Terrell, Kelly Tenkely, Chris Rogers, Lisa Dabbs, Melissa Tran, Clive Elsmore, Mark Barnes, Ian Chia, Cecilia Lemos, Jerry Blumengarten, and Kyle Pace- and Steve Hargadon of Classroom 2.0 and The Future of Education online communities for making this incredible conference possible.
We hope you can join us for this incredible professional development experience!

Let’s start thinking outside the box!

I think this video to be totally self-explanatory. I believe that the most important conclusion we can derive from it is not to let the fear of the unknown paralised us. We should open our minds, explore, stop complaining and try to find a way out. Sometimes the most implausible of the solutions is the key that will get us out of the box. Narrowmindess emprisons us, let’s liberate our minds and our students’ too.

” You are out of jail, out of the cage; you can open your wings and the whole sky is yours. All the stars and the moon and the sun belong to you. You can disappear into the blueness of the beyond….Just drop clinging to this cage, move out of the cage and the whole sky is yours. Open your wings and fly across the sun like an eagle.” Osho Christianity, the Deadliest Poison and Zen… Chapter 6

Understanding  that the cage has always been open, or that the world has always been there outside the box  for us to explore, can make us feel a little shaky at first. It’s fine, and natural to feel like that, but we shouldn’t let it prevent us from enjoying all the blessings living outside the box has to offer us.

A few questions to reflect about this: what are the implications of this video for education? And for the use of new technologies in education? And most important of all, how can we apply it to life in general?. I have already talked about the importance of developing critical thinking and thinking outside the box in this post, if you want to keep on reading. Your opinions in Spanish or English will be more than welcome… Have a nice weekend!

Just Feel the Music…

Itay Talgam, an orchestra conductor,  has discovered that the secrets of good conducting shed light on leadership in general… and I can add that it is very relevant to teachers too. First, have a look at the video and enjoy the music.

Talgam opens his speech by saying that a conductor’s ability relies on just using a small gesture to create order out of chaos. A teacher’s dream come true! A finger-snap and all the students on task… Well, we all know that this is an impossible mission to achieve, so let’s try to figure out what is behind that small movement that creates a ripple effect.

The secret apparently has to do with finding equilibrium, not being authoritarian, and at the same time keep on being the authority figure. YEAH,  we all know that… but how can we achieve that  F***ING  balance that is being preached everywhere in this new-age, zen era we are living in.

Talgam in his video shows us different styles of conducting, from which we can derive some practical ideas. Let’s start talking about  Ricardo Muti’s style. He has a strong sense of responsibility. He wants to be so clear that he becomes overclear (what an irony!). There’s only one interpretation of the music and that’s HIS (we all have our little egos in there apparently)… If we transfer this to the classroom, it reminds me of  the teachers who consider that it’s THEM the only ones that possess THE KNOWLEDGE. Knowledge is given, it is not a construction. It is not developed in the classroom. It is a finished thing, to be introduced in the student’s mind. Things have to be done, in the way they have always been done. There’s no room for innovation, and therefore, there’s no room for development.

Maybe, these teachers suceed in having quiet students, who follow their orders to the letter and repeat parrot-like whatever it is they have “taught” them. But, have they learnt? Is this the aim of education? Are we teaching the students or the book, as the third conductor presented by Talgam does?  Do we want students who just mirror us and repeat our stories? or do we want to learn with them and create a trascending story constructing knowleadge together?

By taking into account the other conductors’ methods presented in the video, we can conclude that they believe the musicians need to have a voice too, which derives,  following our metaphor,  in students having a voice in our classrooms. We should just guide them and not give orders to them. Why? Because in this way we are really teaching them, we are giving them space to find their own way of doing things, of telling their own stories… As Talgam explains, this method without clear instructions works because it’s as if the musicians are on a rollercoaster. The forces of that process put the action into place. You know what to do and you become a partner. This experience is exciting for the players. The “teacher-conductor” is just there effortlessly enjoying the music.

But what if someone deviates from what he’s supposed to be doing? Then, the “teacher-conductor” enters in action. He is still a figure of authority, but he is not authoritarian. The authority is there,  but authority is not enough to make people partners. The teacher should keep some control in the classroom, but not all of it. Let’s overcome our fears and start giving students more control … we may be surprised at the results (let’s allow them to solve their conflicts, choose the topics they would like to discuss in class, and so on and so forth). We may feel at the beginning that we are loosing authority, but that’s not true; we are becoming partners, we are creating together and sharing the responsibility of making the lesson and the course a successful one.

Little by little, step by step, empowering our students, we may get to the wonderful point of “doing without doing”…  because

If you love something, give it away…

Drama is tiptoing into my classroom!

I’ve been away for so long! Sorry, but I’ve been very busy with some personal issues and now, trying to come back to the blogosphere! As I’ve told you in my previous post , this year, I’m also devoting some time to literature in my classes. I have even started a project: “Myths, Legends and Folktales from Around the World”, which is going great.

In that project, as you can imagine, we are reading stories from different parts of the world. When the time came for England, what legend do you imagine I’ve shared with them? Yeah, :

King Arthur's Legend of course!

I always try to present the stories in different ways. And by this time of the year, I was already running out of ideas. At that moment, I remembered something I hadn’t tried much in my classes, but I love: DRAMA! This story was perfect for it, because it is full of actions. There was the answer then. Answer and movement were the keys.

I wrote the story in a simplified way and divided my students in 4 groups. You can read my simplified  story version here. I gave each group one part of the story and asked them to perform it to the rest of class. They would just have to concentrate on the actions, as I was going to read the story while they perform. It was a wonderful experience, as students really had to work hard on understanding the story. Furthermore, by moving and doing the actions they internalised lots of verbs and vocabulary. It became memorable to them.

When we finished the activity, they were so excited and eager to keep on working with the story, that I’m planning to ask them to write short dialogues in order to write a mini-play. I’ll soon share with you their productions. What do you think? Are they going to be interested in it? Do you have any other ideas or suggestions on how I can continue working with this story? Looking forward to your comments. I’ve missed you so much!

Literature in the Classroom: Photostories

You may all know by now that since last year, I’ve been trying to incorporate literature in my classroom. Last year I worked with The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (you can see some activities related to it here and here). This year I started a project called “Myths, Legends and Folktales from Around the World”. I have started a wiki for the project here.

In both cases, I thought that a good way of checking understanding and having fun at the same time was by creating photostories. At first, I thought of using voicethread, and I even wrote a tutorial to explain my students how to use it. However, as soon as I started explaining them what we were going to do, one of my students said “Why don’t we just use powerpoint instead?”. He really had a point there. He made me realise that sometimes the simpler, the better. If they already know how to use powerpoint, why not just let them use that programme, and forget about spending a lot of time trying to teach them how to use another application that would serve the same purpose.

Another lesson they taught me on that day, is that whenever we want our students to start doing something totally new for them, we have to allow them some time to toy around, to get acquainted with the idea, to get the point of what they are expected to do. The first time I asked them to create a photostory, they spent ages to create just the first slide. You can imagine I was walking up the walls. However, the next class they all managed to finish the other 5 slides in just one hour. We, teachers, have to relax sometimes, lots of things are going on inside our students minds that we can’t even imagine.

My two experiences with photostories were very rewarding. The students final productions were great. Here you can see the ones about The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and here the ones about an Asian folktale called Who Will Marry Mousie? Hope you like them.

First Class: All About Them Lesson Plan

Classes have finally started here in Argentina. First classes are always difficult to plan for me, because I believe that the focus should be on getting to know each other in a fun and interesting way. I’m always short of  ideas, and for one reason or another I don’t want to do the same I did the previous year with my new classes. However, this year, I’m very happy with how everything turned out (hopefully next year I will still be as glad as I am today with the results and will be eager to repeat the experience).

I started the classes with a very simple activity; an activity I bet you have done several times: throwing a ball and asking the one who has caught it to tell us their name. This time, however, I gave it a little twist. The person who had the ball was asked to introduce the person sitting next to them. They had to talk about the things they like, don’t like, personality, and whatever came to their mind. This was a great warm up and preparation for the last  activity I was planning to do on that day.

Then, as they didn’t know me. I prepared an anagram with my name and words related to me in some way. I gave them a clue and they had to guess the word. For example, the first word is my favourite sport (SWIMMING). Once they guessed the word, I gave them some details about the topic to make it more fun. For example, in fact, it is not that it is my favourite sport, I hate sports, and that’s the only one I can at least do (LOL). Here, you can see my anagram. CHALLENGE: Would you like to guess in what way the other words relate to me?

ME!!!!!!

Finally, I asked them to create crosswords about them in small groups. The words that would form the crosswords would be their names. They had to create the crosswords and write the references. At the end of the class, we exchanged the crosswords and they had to solve them. It was great fun, student centered, students created content, by them and about them, and I managed to make them write without complaining in the first class. Proud with the results, here you can see some of them (the photos quality is not very good, sorry):

If you want some more ideas for your first week classes, have a look at this post.

Who Is Going To Be The ISTEK ELT 2011 Roving Reporter? You Decide!

I’m trully honoured to have been selected as one of the top three roving reporter candidates in such great company. Anna Varna and  Mark Andrews are the other candidates.

The ISTEK ELT 2011 Roving Reporter will be chosen by your votes so please watch the videos and vote for your favorite roving reporter candidate. The poll will be closed on 6, March 2011 at 23:59 pm and the result will be announced the next day.

Here is the video I presented to the competition and I would be more than glad if you help me get there with your vote:

Re-Evaluate Value… by Using Rubrics? Part 2

In this post, I have expressed my desire of changing the way in which I was going to evaluate my students this year;  especially the mark I have to give them regarding the attitudinal aspect (nota de concepto). I believe that most of the time, this mark becomes quite subjective, as we don’t have clear evidence of why we are giving the students that mark. Apart from that, students don’t know exactly what is comprised in that mark, and therefore, they don’t know exactly what is expected from them or what they can do to improve this mark the following term. For that reason, this mark is a bit unfair sometimes, or at least, they may feel it to be so if the teacher doesn’t take the trouble of telling them why they got that mark. Trying to overcome this issue, I’m planning to give rubrics a try this year ( you may get more information about them here )

I’ve made a draft of a rubric to assess attitude in class here. I would love to know your opinions about it and ways in which I can improve it or ideas to tackle this problem in another way. Looking forward to your comments. Thanks in advance.