Community of Practice, or Reflective Group: Questions

As someone who believes in the importance of trying a task you set out to others (students or teachers), I would like to share my answers to the Discussion Forum Questions for CoP (Community of Practice) Group Leaders based in Libya. Each of them is an experienced teacher and trainer, passionate about CPD and eager to contribute to the community of teachers around them. My role in this pilot project is to help them gain skills and confidence in being the leaders of their own groups. Most of them have already started and even had several meetings, and some are still in the planning stage. (if I get a permission, I will share more information about this exciting project, I promise!)

In my answers I am focusing on our group in Ukraine which paused in 2020 (and is still on pause in this time of the war in Ukraine). One of my (secret?) goals for posting my answers here is to perhaps get us re-unite and re-start the group, in a new look and with a new(er) purpose. If I have the courage to share it with the group members in Dnipro, I will.

So…

  1. What motivates (motivated) you to be a CoP Group Leader? > > My strong belief in the power of reflective, creative and critical thinking, and the idea that teachers can be autonomous in their development and growth, teaching their learners to become independent thinkers.
  2. If you have started your own group, tell us about the members. Who are the teachers? How many of them are in the group? Where do they work? > > In the meetings, we had about 4-10 teachers, and in our group on Messenger, there were about 20 people. Teachers came from very different contexts: some taught in private language schools, some were self-employed, or working in a specific company with employees. Here is an older post sharing more about the group.
  3. What motivates (motivated) the members to join your group? > > I think it was curiosity, desire to develop, the idea of having meaningful focused conversations  with colleagues, and a desire to belong to a cool community.
  4. How do you see the aims/goals of your CoP Group? > > Actually, my answer is similar to what I said in #1. In other words, we were trying out a different (alternative) form of CPD, where teachers have more time and space to think about the ideas (as opposed to having more ideas or ‘content’)
  5. How do you imagine your CoP Group in a year from now (that is, in the summer of 2023)? > > This is a tough question for me now, as the Ukrainian educational context, or anything in Ukraine now, is very different during the war time. There is no certainty if the new academic year begins online or in person (although the big plan is to have kids back to school on 1 September), and many of our group members are abroad at the moment (saving their families, kids and parents from the war). Many (if not all?) keep teaching distantly, but most likely, they don’t have energy or space for the active professional development right now. For a lot of them, helping Ukraine is priority # 1. Having said all this, I wonder if the year ahead can be crucial for us all to see the role we can play in the Ukrainian education in these circumstances, and how (if at all) a group like this can be helpful. I imagine our group meeting again in the summer of next year, in an open-space cafe in our native city on the beautiful river Dnipro.
  6. How many meetings have you already had? What were the topics of those meetings?  How did you come up with the meeting topics? > > We were meeting for 3 full school years once a month, and you can see a summary of all the topics on this page (scroll to Discussion Topics, linking to a more specific list in other posts). The topics were often suggested by the members, and we took turns in facilitating the meetings. The first year (about 10 meetings) I facilitated all of them myself.
  7. What have your successes as a CoP Group Leader been so far? > > Even though the project is on a pause, this experience was something I am genuinely proud of. We had amazing discussions, we bonded together as a community, and we ended up offering teacher gatherings for colleagues from our city and beyond. Most importantly, people keep in touch even now, even though many of us are in different parts of the country, or the world.
  8. What challenges have you faced working with your group? > > At first, it was harder to explain the idea of the group for someone who joined. It did not work for everyone, and sometimes, the attendance was not ‘perfect’. There is a summary of more obstacles in this post. Since the post was written before 2020, it does not mention the pandemic and the need/push to switch online. We only had a couple of online meetings, and realized it was hard to spend yet another hour in front of the screen. So this was one challenge which our group did not overcome.
  9. How can our CoP Community here help you overcome the challenges, learn to be a confident, successful CoP Group Leader, and bring your group to the vision you shared in question 4?* > > This question is very specific to the project. In 2016, I did not have a ‘formal’ community to work with, but had several colleagues who were leading similar groups in a different part of the world. They were kind to share the process of their meetings, the topics they came up with, and useful tips for getting started.
  10. (ask your question) > > I’d like to ask my blog readers if a similar initiative/community of practice (reflective practice group) is something they have tried in their contexts. What worked, and what did not? What advice would you give yourself if you were talking to yourself in the past and helping to create a group of this kind? And if you would like to share your answers to some or all the questions above, it would be an amazing learning for the wonderful colleagues I am starting to work with.

Taken in December 2021 when I last visited Dnipro. In my mind, still winter there. In all Ukraine since 24 Feb 2022…

Thank you for reading!

P.S. Members of RP Dnipro, whenever you are reading this post, I am wishing you strength, resilience and energy. Ukraine will win. Слава Україні! (and big hugs!)

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Exit Ticket (Dialogue Post)

This time, it is a conversation post: a conversation about one specific activity, one lesson with students, and what we teachers can learn from carrying it out. I often say how lucky I feel in my life, as I get to (virtually) meet wonderful colleagues, real Teachers, ready to generously share ideas and activities. I am even more lucky to get them to read this blog and support some of my projects. Svetlana is one of such colleagues, and you might have already read about her on this blog, and even tried her News Report activity out. 

We had this exchange at the end of May, as it is the time of the year when school semesters end in Europe, so teachers often create some kind of ‘wrapping up’ or ‘review and reflection’ activities to close the academic year. With Svetlana’s kind permission I am sharing our email conversation about one way how this can be done in class. Hopefully it can be useful for someone planning a final lesson, or collecting creative ideas for the future. 

Svetlana: As promised, I did a ‘Hands’ activity as an exit ticket activity with two groups of my [high school] fourth-graders. They’re leaving school in a couple of days so they are currently incapable of thinking about anything else but their university entrance exams. That’s why they did very little writing, but lots of drawing and coloring, I guess it was easier. I asked them to describe:

  • thumb – their growth in English/overall achievements/top accomplishments
  • index finger – the biggest challenge in their English language learning
  • middle finger – most fun
  • ring finger – least fun
  • pinkie – needs for improvement/changes to make to improve themselves/become better language learners

The coloring and drawing (see the picture below) was to represent their general attitude towards learning English. Looking back, I feel the five tasks could have been articulated better.

Zhenya: I loved the images your students have come up: such a wonderful feel of the coming summer and freedom! I am impressed how each student has their own style of drawing and writing, and many of them have invested quite a bit of themselves into the artistic side of it. Did you expect them to come up with something like this? Did you show any examples to get them started?

Svetlana: Though they’re a great group of students, I didn’t somehow expect their work to be this colorful and detailed. I actually thought they would write more and draw less. I did show them a couple of ‘hands’ from the group I’d done this with before them – one of them was the pink leafy one so that’s why many of them used leaves and flowers as the main motifs.

Zhenya: The fact that students did a little writing is okay, I think (it shows the real picture, not what we imagine they would want to be doing). You said that ‘the coloring and drawing was about their general attitude towards learning English‘ and I can sense that they love this subject, this language, and your lessons. Is this how you see this group of students?

Svetlana: I’ve really enjoyed working with this class over the last four years. They are cheerful, talkative and diligent learners, and respond well to new and different things. ‘Joie de vivre’ is the first thing that comes to your mind when you meet them so yes, they are exactly what their drawings show. I also have to mention that they’re mostly girls so there’s a lot of their feminine nature in these miniatures.

Zhenya: You finished your message saying ‘I feel the five tasks could have been articulated better‘ and I would love to think/brainstorm together of what kind of ‘tweaks’ can be made. One idea that crossed my mind when I see the images shared: as we read from left to right, and most likely, this is how they were writing in the template, starting from the pinky (for right-handed writers who outlined their left hand), the first question is ‘needs for improvement/changes to make’. I don’t know if it is only my feeling, and whether the order of the questions matters, but I was curious to read what the (left-handed? the picture with the two pink roses as a bracelet) student said about her confidence in speaking English and becoming more talkative. Maybe these are just speculations, and maybe we can simply mention the five categories/questions, and let students choose the order? Just thoughts!

Svetlana: Regarding the articulation of the tasks, I wasn’t sure whether what I wanted students to reflect upon was truly and only about them. Some of the writing prompts/questions sounded as if they were more about me and my teaching. Now I think that this was sort of a self-evaluation activity for all of us. They made themselves aware of their language learning ups and downs but at the same time they pointed out a few things to me: most of them said they’d struggled with grammar so I guess I should try with a different approach to it in the future; when writing about what they enjoyed the most/least they definitely signaled what kind of focus my lessons should’ve had or should have from now on, etc.

I have to admit I wasn’t thinking about right/left-handedness at all. They all did the thumb first, which was about their overall achievements. I love the idea of letting them choose the fingers for each of the questions – the size, shape and position of the fingers chosen for answering specific questions would also be a fair indication of their character and opinions on these matters. I think I’ll try your idea next time I do this. Thanks!

Zhenya: And I would first like to try it your way! How were (are?) you planning to work with the answers they provided? One thing that comes to mind is bringing all the answers together, grouped by questions (as a Google Form would, for example) and making a note of any trends/tendencies.

Svetlana: When everyone was finished, we put the drawings on display in the classroom. The students were more interested in the design but I could easily see the patterns in their answers. One of them was an eye-opener, like ‘Was I really that blind to the obvious? How could I not have noticed what they wanted/didn’t want from me all this time?’ (I’ve already mentioned how beneficial this activity is for the teacher too). Grouping answers in Google Docs is an excellent suggestion! I didn’t do it this time but here’s my plan for the next school year.

Zhenya: How would you modify anything in the activity, if you did it again? This sounds like a question on a training course, but that’s something I am always curious about when we give something a go.

Svetlana: I think I might do this activity at the very beginning of the school year with somewhat different questions: how good is your English at the moment, what are your strengths and weaknesses, what do you enjoy doing in English lessons most/least, what are your expectations from the course (these need to be worked upon more). Students color the drawings and I put them away. At the end of the school year we do it again: they think about their achievements, strengths and weaknesses, whether the course has lived up to their expectations etc. I show them the September drawings and they compare them with the new ones. This might be interesting both in terms of what they’ve written as well as in terms of their designs and colors they’ve used. Finally, a Google Doc could be made and trends noticed, which could eventually result in the change/refocus of learning/teaching strategies for the following school year. 

Zhenya: Love this, love this! Can’t imagine how they are looking at the ‘old’ answers and the new ones. Metaphorically speaking, it’s 2 hands, not one! Now this is something I would love to try out with students or teachers. Thank you Svetlana for our idea exchange time, and for the chance to see what your students came up with. It is a true inspiration for me!

 Hope there will be more conversations like this in the coming summer.

Questions to Readers:

  • What questions would you have asked Svetlana?
  • Do you have an activity for a simple Hand Template that you would like to share? 

Thank you for reading!

P.S. This post is another one in my series ‘It’s in (Y)Our Hands‘ where I add one activity idea for each day of the Ukrainian war with Russia. You can read more about the project here and you can #StandWithUkraine by donating to United24 platform, for example, or inviting a student from Ukraine for a lesson. Or teaching a class with some of the images from Creatives for Ukraine. The image below is called “Peace” (by @roberta_riezniece_art)

“Peace is a virtue, a state of mind that begins with you. Helping others is not always easy and finding the good in a very dark place is even harder. But together we can do everything! “

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Activity 88: Odd One Out

Do you remember when and how you first encountered this simple task? I think to me it was before I started school, in one of those magazines for kids with puzzles on the last page (and sometimes, correct answers shared in a new issue).

Merriam-Webster dictionary describes ‘Odd One Out’ as ‘a person or thing differing from all other members of a particular group or set in some way.’

A simple search for this term brings you to a variety of images, often sets of four, but can be more, inviting to pick the one that is different. Such terms as ‘abstract reasoning’ ‘deductive thinking’, ‘fluid intelligence’, etc. come up when you start reading more about it. To me this is one of the very old (sometimes, forgotten?) activities that has always been around: in class, in course books, in tests and exams (e.g., a speaking task in YLE Cambridge Exams, etc.)

I encountered this activity twice in the past week, and as someone who appreciates synchronicity, decided that this needs to be a post 🙂

First, one of the teachers on the online course I am facilitating shared an activity he did with his learners.

He wrote these words on the board: ‘intelligent, handsome, funny, shy, kind‘, then asked students to explain which one is different, adding reasons why. I got curious about the answers students gave here, and the teacher wrote something along the lines ‘of course the right answer was ‘handsome‘ as it is the only adjective describing appearance and the other describe personality. My immediate response was ‘wait, was/is this the only reason for the answer to be right?’ I noticed, for example, that the word ‘handsome’ is the only one in the set that is not gender-neutral (you we can learn even more when we start looking for possible uses of ‘handsome’ to describe a woman’s appearance). ‘Digging deeper’ language-wise, we see that ‘handsome’ can mean ‘substantial’ and describe a sum of money or a large number, as in ‘handsome majority’. We can of course go further and check how frequent this expression is (I have never heard or seen it before, I think, and this makes me curious…)

My next question about these words was this: ‘Is this the only correct answer? Can another word be picked as ‘the odd one out’? with good reasons? It can be ‘shy‘, for example, as it is the shortest word in the set, or ‘intelligent‘ as it is the longest one. It can also be ‘shy‘ as we can see some negative connotation there, or ‘funny’ as its meaning can vary when describing a person.

The second time the activity was used as a warm-up to an online work meeting I attended. This time the presenter showed us four words and asked to work in 2 teams, pick the odd one out and explain our choice. We had only 2 minutes to do that, but we could pick different words (more than one, that is). The words we had were plate, fork, spoon, and cup.

[Here the reader can pause, set the timer for 2 min and try the task out. Then read on!]

We got back to the main room and shared our ideas in the chat. Some examples included the following:

  • Spoon is the only word with a double vowel.
  • Fork is the only one with no rounded surface.
  • Fork cannot hold liquids.
  • Cup does not have four letters.
  • Cup is the only one with height.
  • Fork is the only one with no ‘p’ in the word.
  • Fork has 4 letters.
  • Cup is the only one with a handle.

(I know we can keep adding ideas, but remember, we had time limit)

Our next set with the same task and process in the meeting had these items: New Zealand, Switzerland, Ireland and Japan.

We worked in the same teams and tried to be more creative/productive this time. Some of the ideas we came up with included driving on the right side (Switzerland), having ‘land’ in the name, etc. None of us in the whole group noticed that Switzerland was the only EU country in the list (it was on the presenter’s slide!) Again, we only had 2 minutes so could not do any reading/research, just a brief fact check of an idea we already had. I am very grateful to my colleague Brian for this activity, as we can learn so much from being in the ‘learner’ or ‘attendee’ shoes and experiencing how it goes.

Adding a bit of time to think and explore variations may bring much more interesting ideas, I think. Another thought: we can repeat both rounds with the same words, as these countries, as the more ways to ‘think outside the box’ we are aware of, the more we can explore.

Some thoughts about this activity

Choosing the right words for this task can be very interesting, and in fact, can be an activity on its own. Does it need to be a set 4-5 items with an ‘obvious’ correct answer? Do the words/concepts need to be concrete or abstract? Maybe, students can create those sets for each other (in teams or individually). Maybe, criteria for the best reason/explanation can be created (where this ‘best’ can be defined as the most creative, unexpected, humorous, etc.?)

Finally, and this is where the image of ‘Hand’ can be helpful, if a template was used for this activity: in what way(s) are the reasons we are giving connected? Are they all similar (e.g., do we count words, check the phonemic script, or do we go beyond the surface? How else can we do this?) Are the reasons I am finding or noticing telling me something about me?

I’d be curious to hear how you (can/could) use the Odd One Out activities with your learners, and how you can get more out of this seemingly small activity.

I am adding it to my list of ‘It’s in (Y)Our Hands‘ ideas because I see how much potential it holds for developing creative thinking, and how much of this potential is indeed in our hands. More about the project here.

Thank you for reading!

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Activity 71: Needs Analysis

Something I have always wanted to create, as a teacher educator, coach and ELT freelancer, is a so called [perfect? universal? systematic?] ‘Needs Analysis Session’ in which I would be able to ‘break the ice’ with the new people in a simple and meaningful way, let them feel the excitement of a new project being started, and (most importantly!) learn about their needs and aspirations for what is coming. 

The most logical suggestion (and something I keep doing, with more or less success) is asking people to complete a form before we meet. This form can ask direct questions, e.g. ‘What are your expectations from the coming 3 weeks of the course?’ ‘List three important goals you are setting for yourself for this month’, etc. It often depends on the culture, but I noticed that all these questions may be answered really briefly, without too much thought and detail. Why so? For many, many reasons, and I think the main one is seeing this task as a formality, some kind of ‘paper work’ to get through, something that no-one is likely going to read (or respond to?)

Is there an alternative way to approach ‘Needs Analysis’? Make it a process, a flow, from which everyone in the group could be learning (about the needs of the others, about ways to find out the needs and expectations of the audience, and hopefully, some ways of incorporating those needs into program/curriculum goals and outcomes).

One simple, even simplistic idea is to offer a conversation about this in a training session for teachers, and let them work in small groups, or pairs (or share on a visible display, e.g. Padlet Board, responses to the questions about themselves). Ask them to compare, find things in common, discuss differences. All together, discuss how the information shared may impact the process of the future course/project.

[Note: I am using the Hands idea and listed this activity in the ‘It’s in (Y)Our Hands‘ project, however, I am still deciding how exactly the template can be used online. Maybe, just in the slides this time.]

Then, together again, work on the specific outcomes and objectives. My theory is that if the group members are asked to complete the answers to those ‘Needs Analysis’ questions as a piece of homework after this kind of session, chances are that their answers will be more complete and detailed, and therefore, helpful for the facilitator/leader. 

It may be a good idea to come back to those answers and discussion (or a Padlet Board?) some time around the midpoint of the course/project, to see what has been working well, and what needs possible adjustments and changes. 

While it may look like a longer and more unstructured process at the beginning, it could save time and energy later, and help the group make decisions using the ‘data’ they all contributed to. 

I am hoping to ‘test’ this theory very soon, with a new project I am starting. Hopefully, the sky will be clear again.

Your thoughts, ideas, feedback and questions are highly appreciated, and will help me in the planning/prep process. How do you conduct Needs Analysis with a new group, a new course, a new project?

Thank you for reading, and as always, #StandWithUkraine!

P.S. What are the needs of Ukraine these days? Donating is one way to help (you can check United24 platform launched by our President for collecting charitable donations in support of our country. Funds will be transferred to the official National Bank of Ukraine accounts and allocated to cover the most pressing needs: defense, medical aid and rebuilding/restoring. 

If financial donations are not an option where you are, please keep us in your thoughts, in your lessons, conversations with friends and family. Please know that Ukraine keeps fighting for her future.

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Activity 78: Picture(s) Not Taken

Do you sometimes wish you had taken a picture of a certain moment in the past? It can be someone important in your life (and someone no longer with you, for example), or an important conversation, or a place you thought you’d come back to? I know we have our devices with us almost 24/7 these days, and yet this ‘almost’ is key. Sometimes, you are not thinking of making a picture or a video (too many emotions, too much to do or care about, etc.). Sometimes, your hands are so full (literally!) that you can’t take your device out of the pocket. It can be a rainy hike, or last miles of a long run, or…

Okay, this was my way to explain the title of this activity: think about 1-5 moments you vividly remember, and make a note about each one. You can mention a date, a place, a name, a word – anything that would ‘trigger’ that story in your mind. 

This is an example I started earlier today: 

Once you have these ideas brainstormed, you may want to choose one and make more notes, so that you were ready to share one story. 

Instead of a story, I’d like to share a memory of how I got an idea for this activity. It was 2011, and my first time in Myanmar, on a QuiLT Course for teachers. The abbreviation stands for ‘Qualification in Language Teaching’ and the course was provided by World Learning/SIT Graduate Institute and the American Center.

It is hard to imagine now, but the Internet was not as accessible in those days, and depending on location, it could be slow and unreliable. Even in a big hotel where I was staying, an online chat on Google Mail was not always possible, and talking or video chatting was out of question. What was left was email of course, and sms/texting. Bernice, my co-trainer (was amazing!) shared how she collected ideas and moments to share with her family: took notes in her notebook and then wrote a daily email talking about something that happened that day. (Do people do this on Twitter and Instagram in 2022? 🙂 ) I was not sure I got the point, and she said ‘Think about your walk this afternoon and that car with the Buddhist monks who were all waving and smiling at you. You’ve just told me about that and you looked very excited!’ And… I got it! I had just told her about that, and of course I had no picture of how this happened. Imagine an empty road and me walking slowly in the heat. A car is approaching, and I notice that there are five (I think?) young men all dressed in rust-colored robes, with big smiles on their faces, waving at me and shouting ‘Hello!’ I waved back, and kept walking, with the same big smile on my face. I took that same route a number of times, but there was never a chance to see such a car again. I was not even sure if it is okay to take a picture of a monk actually…

What was/is in that moment? Maybe, the chance to be ‘in the moment’, to be brought back to presence by someone who does not know you, and whose lifestyle, language, and culture are all super different from you, but with whom you can share that moment of ‘togetherness’, if literally for a moment. 

After these stories are shared, some reflective questions can be asked, for example: 

  • In your opinion, why do you remember that moment/story? 
  • How often do you recall it?
  • Have you shared it with anyone? 
  • Is there anything in common between yours and the other stories you heard? > > Especially if there were 2-3 people sharing in the small group, or with a larger audience.
  • Does this story tell you anything (new/interesting/unexpected/forgotten) about yourself? 
  • Is there another story/moment jotted on your Hand Template that is close to the one you shared?
  • [if yes] Would you like to share that second one with the same group? 

Myanmar was very special to me and left a big mark in my heart in the professional sense, and personally. I learned so much from the teachers there, and this can be a whole grateful post, with many more stories. Which I hopefully will do one day. I wholeheartedly hope there will be peace and calm in this beautiful country soon, and a chance to come and collect/notice/live through new beautiful encounters. And maybe, take some pictures.

Meanwhile, thank you you for reading, and yes, #StandWithUkraine!

This post is a part of my series ‘It’s in (Y)Our Hands‘. The number in the title indicates the day of the war between Ukraine and Russia. Check out the other activity ideas and read more about the project here. If you have ideas to add, get in touch and be my Guest Post Writer and Activity Sharer! 

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Activity 70: Haiku Attempt

Last week I was listening to the recording of this inspiring webinar delivered by  Claire Steele and Sarah Smith. The topic was ‘What’s Creativity in the Classroom?‘ My plan is to watch it again (more than once), as there are several fantastic ideas for teaching and training. Thank you British Council for the generous sharing, and for offering more of such sessions between April and November 2022. Can’t wait!

One of the activities was creating a Haiku Poem, which I first drafted during the session. This morning I was cleaning my kitchen and thought about that activity, in a slightly different light. Then I thought about my ‘It’s All in (Y)Our Hands‘ project, and I shaped it differently.  Can you guess the steps of the activity I have in mind?

I know, I know, not an easy guess (reminds me of the many times I said in class that an activity called ‘Guess-what’s-in-my-head‘ does not lead anywhere…).

The activity steps could be the following:

  1. Find an object in the room you are in (something that stands out to you for any reason): in my case, this was a plant.

2. Draft a simple haiku poem.(This part very much depends on how familiar everyone is with this format, and an example or two can be created all together. If you decide to go deeper and learn more about creating a haiku, I can easily see the whole lesson planned around this activity.)

Mine say this (all true story):

Leaving Ukraine, Mom

Left this small plant in my room.

Hope we win this war.

3. Editing/proofreading time.

4. (optional) Peer reading/editing.

5. Design time: with the help of your Hand Outline, draw the Object you were writing about. This step is a curiosity point for me, and a pure experiment, as it worked with my plant (well, sort of, as you may not have been able to see a plant in the picture above 🙂 ) 

6. Share/Publish time (the way you like it). I’d be very curious to see what students can come up with. I secretly believe that our students are much more creative than we teachers are. That’s a theory to test of course. 

7. Reflection Time (possibly, combined with step 6): read about the genre of Haiku, decide if what is created meets the criteria. Add 1-2 more variations to what you (or your peers) created. Keep a ‘haiku journal’ for a week (or as homework for the next lesson). Translate your haiku into L1. Brainstorm several more reflection ideas…

Thank you for reading, and #StandWithUkraine!

P.S. Life is relatively calm where I am but the War affected people in many other regions of Ukraine. You can support my country by learning about what is going on, sharing the truth, and donating if you choose to. This site is called Defenders of Freedom and it is sharing stories of Ukrainians.

P.P.S. Here is the plant I was talking about in my example. 

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Activity 57: What Keeps You Alive?

I was listening to an interview this morning (this is the recording on a YouTube) It is in Ukrainian and for Ukrainians who like me need such conversations and support at the time of this war. This time Andriy Kozinchuk, a military psychologist, among other questions, answered this one: What makes you feel alive? 

The speaker mentioned emotional and whole-hearted reactions/responses to what is happening around him, savoring a cup of coffee (feeling the taste, the smell, etc.), spending time with the loved ones, being able to hug someone, crying over a touching animated cartoon, and being able to feel you are contributing to something important and worthwhile. 

Would my answers be the same? What makes me alive? How different would my answers be from my the fellow Ukrainians at this very moment? 

Spring is here, and it makes me alive!

Would your answers be the same? What about your students’ and colleagues’? Am I only asking these questions now because of the war in Ukraine? And only at the time of this war? And can all these (blue and brown) questions be used as a follow-up reflective pause if the activity is used in the classroom? How can changing the question from the activity title, just slightly, make the answers different? 

Last summer I bought a hard copy of Stefan Zweig’s essays (stories? journal pages?) called ‘The World of Yesterday’. Started reading it on the bus in August, thought it was so sad, irrelevant, disconnected with (my) reality. Well, I have been reading this book lately, and find it as important and meaningful as it can only be. Just yesterday these words caught my eye, and I would like to leave them here: 

Only the person who has experienced light and darkness, war and peace, rise and fall, only that person has truly experienced life.

Thank you for reading, and #StandWithUkraine!

P.S. When in doubt how to help Ukraine, donate to ‘Come Back Alive‘ (not only because the name of the NGO correlates with the activity title, but because they contribute to peace and democracy in Ukraine and around the world)

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Activity 40: News Report

This idea for this activity kindly shared with me by my colleague from Serbia Svetlana Gavrilovic. In our conversations on this blog and emails we talked about ways to adapt it for different contexts and levels of English learners. Hopefully, it will be interesting for you to try (a version of it) out. 

[Note: this post is a part of my ‘It’s in (Y)Our Hands’ project, and you can learn more about it by visiting this page, reading this post, and browsing through the list of ideas.]

Image credit: from the Creative writing course for ELTA Teachers, November 2015.

The goal/aim of this writing activity is to provide the readers with information about what’s happening in the world/country/city. Students are learning to create a single piece of news item, which will focus on a specific event that has just happened.

Svetlana got the idea on one of the course she took part in, and then adapted it to the classes she taught. These are possible activity steps

  1. Headline of the actual/local new item, asking students to brainstorm the purpose of it (for this activity, the news)
  2. Brainstorming questions a good news item would usually address (the Wh- Questions, as in the Hand Image above)
  3. Predicting the answers to the questions (this can be done individually or in pairs, or even as a whole group with teacher making notes on the board/on the slide)
  4. Group work and drafting the news story/report* (some variations can be a comic series, or a TV/YouTube Interview script). *This choice would certainly depend on the proficiency level of the learners, and how prepared they are for this type of task and familiar with the genre of writing.
  5. As an extension to this activity, the actual role play/interview can be arranged, and students can work on more input from the ‘parent’, ‘witness’, ‘government official’ or other contextually appropriate participants of the event being described. 

We also discussed the following points to focus on in this activity/lesson:

  • the age of learners and its impact on the time they need to come up with the ideas, and the writing itself
  • the nature of the news item they are writing: real or imaginary, for example
  • comparing the news formats in L1/L2​ (some L1-s are quite different in their writing culture)​
  • this activity can lead to a fantastic writing lesson​ (with Drafts 2 and even 3) where students create quality news pieces about their city (school, country, etc.) and maybe share with wider audience
  • a question I now have is how we can modify the focus of writing/speaking in this activity by changing the ‘big’ question in #6 on the template: what if it is the ‘Why?’ that has the larger space? Or the ‘Who?’ 

I am grateful to Svetlana for the inspiration and conversation, and hope we can keep new ideas coming. 

As for the helping hand for Ukraine: I know I promised to share educational and cultural project links, however, there are more urgent needs that come up in the highly affected  areas. My amazing Ukrainian colleague Natasha is currently working with the team from Soborna Ukraine and they are running a campaign* to raise funds for these projects:

  1. Providing the city of Mykholaiv with ten water drill wells.
  2. Providing the city of Chernihiv with basic construction materials for restoration/renovation there.
*at the time of writing this post*

There is more information and donation options on the website.

Thank you for reading, and #StandWithUkraine.

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Activity 7: A Promise to Self

In this post I will share an activity from my ‘It’s in (Y)Our Hands‘ list (you can read more about this project here).

For ‘Promise to Self’ activity you/your students will need a piece of paper to make an outline of their hand. You can also bring a template for them to work on. I’d recommend trying this activity out for yourself first, as you will be able to see what needs to be adapted/changed for the learners you are teaching. 

If this activity starts a lesson, you can spend 3-5 minutes discussing the importance of keeping promises in the culture you are in: is it important to keep your word? Do you sometimes need to renegotiate a promise given to someone? How do people feel if they break a promise? How often to people make a promise to themselves, and keep it? 

The answers (and therefore, length of this discussion) would depend on the students and their readiness to share any of the personal examples. Having tried this activity in South Korea and Ukraine, I can say that in both cultures there is a tendency to make sure that the promise to others is fully delivered, whereas a promise to ourselves may be broken. Another popular example here may be New Year Resolutions that often fail to be achieved. 

You can now invite students to think about the things they intend/plan to do for themselves and often don’t. I would limit them to any particular topic (e.g., self care, learning English, professional development, etc.) but this of course depends on where in the course you are using the activity. Sometimes narrowing a topic down may be easier and save time. Having brainstormed that list and comparing ideas with someone else, students may have some options to choose from. 

You can now ask them to turn to the Hand template and note down 3-5 ideas of what they would like to promise themselves to be done (daily, weekly, by a specific date in the future, etc.) Treat this as a draft, and don’t insist on any large and serious promises to be recorded. If time* allows, I would even ask students to work with someone else (a pair or trio) and discuss how realistic the ideas are, and if there is something that may need to be ‘broken’ into smaller pieces. As we know, having small steps on a ladder makes it easier to get to the top, whereas having the flights too wide may result in a failure (or giving up the idea). 

*It is also important to ensure that what is written is not too personal, and therefore, is share-able with a peer. A lot depends on the nature of those promises of course*.

Having talked about the plans/promises with someone else, students may be ready to create the actual set (the clean copy). If time allows, and if your students are into working on some crafts, you can let them cut out their hand outline, write the promises and let 1-2 peers sign them so that the promise is ‘official’. It is interesting how making it public (even if this is shared with a classmate) may change the attitude and result of this idea. A more ‘crafty’ version may work well if this activity is done on the last day of a course/term, and the promises are related to the skills practiced during the time with this group. Having a ‘signature’ from a group mate in this case is a way to say goodbye and keep a memory of a shared experience. 

Another way to approach the ‘craft’ side is to create a ‘two-sided’ postcard, so that there was more writing space on the side, and more space to leave a personal note from a peer on the other. This, however, would also turn it into a longer activity, so we need to be mindful of how much time we are ready to spend on this in a lesson/session. 

As a follow up, you can offer some statements to think/talk/write about, e.g. ‘There are times when making any future plans seems to be harder, or impossible’, or ‘Having plans for future helps us live through the harder times’, etc. Students may add more statements/questions about keeping promises. 

Thank you for reading, and #StandWithUkraine!

P.S. We talked about adding some ‘crafts’ to a lesson, so I will share leave this link: Creatives for Ukraine 

This platform was created to amass digital art and illustrations to draw attention to the war in Ukraine. I personally like browsing through the images there as they give a sense of what is happening and how people here are fighting. Like this one below:

I stand with Ukraine by Eglė Plytnikaitė
https://creativesforukraine.com/works/egle-plytnikaite

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Activity 13: How do you recharge (yourself)?

This is another post featuring an activity from my ‘It’s in (Y)Our Hands‘ series. There will be as many reflective activities with a Hand template as the days in the war in my country. Writing these posts and sharing some links to donate to is my humble way to #StandWithUkraine. 

As usual, you can use a hand outline (yours, or the student’s) as a writing template, with or without the questions I am offering. 

How do you recharge yourself? In response to this question you can make simple drawings showing what you do to regain your energy and/or spirit. You can think of your typical working day and analyze what kind of breaks may offer some energy to your body and mind. It may be helpful to imagine something active (something to do), e.g., reading, going for a walk, listening to music, etc.

If you are preparing this activity for a lesson, the pictures in your own example don’t need to be perfect or even 100% clear, so that students could have questions about them, and feel okay to make their own attempts. Ideally, students need to feel they can draw much better than you :-). It can also happen that people refuse to even try and draw something, so you can leave them a choice to write one-word answers, or ‘code’ them in some signs (you can see a question mark in mine, as one example). The more open they are to various interpretations, the better.

Here is my example (don’t judge to strictly!)

I personally used this activity as a quick ice-breaker for a meeting/session, and we had a brief breakout room chat where people talked about their preferred activities. There was no special follow-up, or even a summarizing word in the template. I’d add the word ‘you’ there now, asking to reflect on one’s own battery: what makes it ‘charged’? Does each activity give the same ‘percentage’ of energy? Which one(s) is/are planned for the coming week? 

Potentially, if there is time or mood for this, more reflection time can be spent discussing these questions: 

  1. What do you notice about the activities you added to the template? > > For example, I can see that most of mine are ‘solo’ activities, and while it is hard to remember what exactly I meant by ‘?’, it could indicate creating, finding/discovering or answering interesting questions in conversations with others. 
  2. Were you reminded of an activity that can re-charge your energy? Is there anything new that you would like to try out? 
  3. Is there anything in common about the activities your peers chose? > > This question may lead to interesting insights about culture (Does everyone coming from the same culture chooses the same things to do?) or occupation (How are ways to recharge depend on the job we do, or the role we play at work?), etc. 

Other thoughts

I drafted this activity idea in January this year, well before the invasion began in Ukraine. Looking at the picture now I can see how easy it was to answer this question then. What changed in the past 42 days? To be honest, engaging in either of the ‘solo’ activities brought up some feeling of guilt (how can I even think to ‘recharge’ if everyone else is working so hard to help the country fight in the war, etc.) I can’t say it went away completely at this point, but I am learning to structure my day and insert some moments of those ‘energy recharges’. As for the questions on my mind… Answering them does not add energy any longer: many of them don’t have an answer at all. Many of the questions on my mind demand more energy, so my strategy now is to write them down and leave them aside. I may have the strength to share them here, but not now. 

What’s giving true energy to me these days is learning about the support the world is offering to Ukraine and Ukrainians. 

One example is Caroline McKinnon with her FELT Education team offering classes to refugees. Not only Ukraine as their mission is ’empowering an immigrant or refugee’ from around the globe, but from our conversation I know how much they are doing for the learners of English from my country. More information about this volunteer-based community and donation options are on the website. 

Thank you for reading my blog, and yes, #StandWithUkraine!

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Activity 38: (Y)Our Critic’s Voice

As promised in my recent post, I will sharing my notes on ‘It’s in (Y)Our Hands‘ activities from time to time. For the activity, you can use a hand outline (yours, or the student’s) as a writing template, and a speaking follow-up. It can also work without the ‘hand’ just as well, I think.

So, who is the ‘Critic’ and what is his/her voice saying? I think you have heard the term ‘inner critic’ described as a part of our personality criticizing or diminishing what we are doing, or even ourselves. I don’t know about you, but I often hear this voice when I start something new. It gets especially loud if it is a ‘solo project’ of mine (e.g., planning a course, writing or organizing something, etc.) and it literally screams if this kind of project is more creative than work-related. As you may guess, this was the case with this blog, and even the ‘It’s in (Y)Our Hands’ activity series.

One thing I learned at a coaching session about Perfectionism is that we need to find ways to accept the Critic in our head, and (even!) to make friends with him/her. Having asked myself ‘What is the Critic (actually) saying?’ I started writing down what I ‘hear’, and actually thought it was fun. I would like to share the list with you:

  1. The idea is too simple, even obvious. It’s not serious to be doing this!
  2. The activities you are collecting need some research basis, which you don’t have.
  3. No-one needs it, especially now. 
  4. They are too ‘light’ (to the students, for example), and hold no intellectual challenge. Or any challenge. 
  5. No-one cares about drawing in the digital world.

These can be easily arranged into a ‘Hand’ template. One fun part can be finding a picture of ‘Your Critic’s’ hand, if you or your students are crating a digital template. I’d use something like this for mine:

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Having written the list, the idea to go through it, read it several times (someone said reading it out loud was helpful) and… accept it. Imagine someone has said it to you in person, or wrote a comment on Social Media. Can you imagine how you would feel? How you would react?

It may sound weird, but this exercise may be a small motivation to actually get started on your project. Why? Well, you have already ‘heard’ the worst criticisms you imagined, and it is likely that others won’t be as ‘creative’ or critical to your work as you are to yourself. Also, some of the ideas from the list can offer a wonderful learning opportunity: for example, I may actually search for some research supporting the use of creative metaphors/analogy for classroom activities (note: I am doing this!) or ask someone who draw better than me for help with quality template (note: there are many, many people who drew better than me!)

As a follow up, you may want to write some responses to the Critic’s ideas. This may work better in the classroom where students work in pairs, ‘switch’ the notes and ‘respond’ to the other person’s notes. It can still work for your own journaling. I won’t bore you with more details about mine, but will only mention which response surprised me: to #3 (‘no-one needs it’) I realized I was the one who needed it. Now, more than ever, with the war in Ukraine in progress, I need a creative outlet on my blog to jump to and ‘hide behind’, even for a very short time of creating this post.

I also recalled my plan to share a link to the people or organizations helping Ukrainians in different ways, especially in the context of culture, education, mental health support, etc. This time it is Mindly offering free mental health support for the people in Ukraine who have been affected by the war. There is more information on their website.

And the Critics… they are our friends as they can help us see where some more work is needed, what else is overseen, and how we can be learning while we are creating something. The key idea is that it ‘while’ we are creating and not instead.

Thank you for reading, and #StandWithUkraine!

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It’s in (y)our hands (or… is it?)

Well, where do I start? A lot happened between my previous post and now. It is Day 36 since the Russian invasion began in Ukraine. At the moment I am not ready to write about the war (yet). All I can say is that I am in Ukraine, in a relatively safe city in its western part. I know I am luckier than many of my colleagues and friends who had to leave their homes (often saying goodbye to their husbands, brothers or fathers), or stayed in their home cities being bombed for a month. My country is in pain, and all the Ukrainians are fighting for their independence and a better future. #PrayForUkraine.

In this context, blogging, sharing ELT ideas, or celebrating creativity do not seem timely or appropriate. At the same time, I am inspired by the Ukrainians who continue the fight for freedom and​ make voices heard. My friends, family members and colleagues in do it by sharing their stories, making pictures/collages, writing poems, organizing ELT events (check out this 8+hour Teacher’s Voice ELT Marathon session recording from the past weekend), teach lessons in the shelters, interpret sessions for doctors and nurses, volunteer, host families in their apartments, and do a hundred more big and small things. Colleagues abroad help the Ukrainians who left their homes by offering places to stay, dinner to share, language lessons to attend (English, or the language of the country they are in), connect with the language centers offering positions, collect and send humanitarian aid (and evidently, do a lot more than I can list here).

At times, I feel very small and helpless, unimportant and weak. In such moments I feel as if nothing, literally nothing is my control (is there anything in this life truly ‘in our hands’?) At other times, I think of ways I may apply my skills, professional background, and creativity in a constructive way. Maybe, what I share in this project will help someone with a classroom idea, an insight for a training session, an activity to chat about with a colleague on a break or even a someone in a family. Or maybe it will just offer an idea to think about.

A couple of years ago I was planning to create a set of Reflective Practice Activities so that teachers could use them with their students, with each other, and for themselves. I never found the time, discipline or motivation to sit down and get started, even though I have lots of notes and even sessions/presentations with practical examples. I hope to get that done some time in the future.

For now, I am starting a small personal project sharing activities you can easily do in class, or for yourself. All is needed is a piece of paper and your own hand to make an outline. Here is a sample template, to show the idea.

Sample Template. A-4/letter-size.

You can use an A-4 (letter size) piece of paper, as in the example above, or you can work with a smaller-size (A-5) notebook, as in the example we created with my 4-year-old nephew.

Zhenya and Erik #StandWithUkraine

You can even use a pocket-size (A-6) notebook, as you can see in the picture below. [Note: it is activity #13 in the list]

I know that many of my readers would easily get the idea for these activities by just looking at the template and the activity titles: many are self-explanatory and do not need an extra note to add. At the same time, knowing the creativity and reflective skill of my colleagues, in addition to the variety of the contexts they are living and working in, I can see a lot of potential for expanding each one and exploring the topics in more depth. They can be quick ice-breakers, or 30-minute speaking and writing activities, or possibly, last for the whole lesson.

Here is one (slightly modified) example shared earlier this year (and yes, it can be a slide, and you can use most of the activities if you teach remotely).

This new page on this blog offers the list of the ones I have brainstormed for now. I hope to be adding new posts and making each item an active link. There are 36 of them at the moment (yes, you guessed right, it is the number of days the war lasts here). Some were written before 24 February, and some were created during the time in a shelter, with air alarms on. Important note: these are not the activities meant to be used as a way to help students or colleagues process the trauma from the war, or to offer to the people who are now in the conflicting areas. Some can be adapted for that, but this needs to be done with lots of thought, care and awareness. It is a subject for a separate conversation.

I hope the list of activities war ends soon. And I know that if I fail to keep adding new ones, there will be more ideas from my readers, colleagues and friends. I hope to add posts on how to use the ideas in class, and why this Hand Metaphor/Analogy seems to be so appropriate for the context now. Or for education in general.

In 2022, it seems to me that the Reflective Practice skills, especially in the intercultural context(s) are vital, and the absence of them can lead to dangerous consequences.

Thank you for reading, stay tuned and #StandWithUkraine!

P.S. ‘Come Back Alive‘ is an NGO where I personally donate. They started their project in 2014 when Crimea was annexed and the first part of the war began. Here is their site and donating options: https://www.comebackalive.in.ua/

In the future I will be adding links to the educational and cultural projects in or for Ukraine, for those of you who would like to contribute.

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Reflection: Making Theory (More) Practical

In May and June I facilitated two sessions about Reflective Practice. The first one was about appreciating reflection (approaching it with the ‘right’ attitudes and open mind), and the second session focused on the practical part where the participants ‘tried on’ one specific reflective practice model. As you may notice, the ‘input’ or ‘theory’ part is missing in the previous two sessions, so I’d like to add more and fill this gap in. 

9D58A25E-0494-4B19-9823-DCC4880D2D84

Last week, on 15 July, I was invited by the amazing TEFL Development HUB team, Teresa Bestwick and Simon Pearlman, to facilitate one more interactive session on Reflection. This time we called it ‘Reflective Skills: Making Theory (More) Practical’, focused on several models for reflections and thought how they can be used in practice. 

webinar hub

I’d like to share my slides for the session  and you can read a recent post on this blog co-written with Teresa where we talk about EFl Teacher Training, writing, and many more exciting things (you can watch the recording in the TEFL Hub Facebook Group). By the way, if you decide to join the group, you will have access to a variety of very useful professional development activities that can suit any taste or experience level. Also, follow the Hub on Twitter: @tefl_hub

This post is an invitation to continue the conversation about reflective practice in teaching and beyond. Sharing some questions (from the session and beyond):

Questions to Discuss (further)

  1. How do you reflect on your experience and practice?
  2. What reflection models or frameworks do you use for reflection?
  3. What are some of your favorite reflection tools, activities, formats, ways of recording?
  4. What other questions about reflection in teaching and training do you have?
  5. What other topics for online webinars/meet-ups about reflective practice would you like to attend or host?**

This slide (below) is a summary of what I wanted to highlight in the session: having a structure, or model for reflection on our experience is key, and there can be a whole variety of formats, tools, interactions and processes to make such individual learning meaningful and creative. 

Making Theory (More) Practical.013

Some more reflection thoughts:

This post closes down my mini-webinar series, and I am not planning any new ones for the time being. I think I need to reflect on my ‘webinarring skills’ and explore more formats to try out. It was interesting to see how three different formats worked out: the first session was a ‘webinar’ through Zoom with a very active chat conversation, the second one was a more interactive event with a chance for the attendees to talk and share the ideas in practice. The third session was the newest format to me, as it as a ‘live’ broadcast on Facebook, with not so many people attending at the moment of the session but with hopefully more teachers catching up in a more ‘asynchronous’ format. 

**I am thinking of a couple more sessions about Reflection. One can be about the benefits Reflective Practice Groups (sharing my own experience) and ideally, I’d like this one to be co-hosted/facilitated with the other members of the online group we all take part in. I am adding this comment in the hope they read this post, and we start planning something cool soon. No promises, only intentions shared. 

Another topic I would like to explore more is about specific reflective practice activities teachers can offer their students, or so in pairs/trios/small groups as their professional development exercise. 

Making Theory (More) Practical.002

 

I think there can be an additional session for each of the three that I have already shared, as there is much more to think/talk about. I think you will read more posts about that in the future. 

Thank you for reading!

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Practicing Reflective Practice

In May I had a chance to present about Appreciating Reflective Practice. This Sunday, 13 June, I invite you to join me on a session with the ELT Workshop team. The session title and description are below, and here are the slides to take a look if you are interested.

How to Practice Reflective Practice

This topic can be a bit tricky for a webinar, as we can’t offer a magic recipe to practice reflective skills. Learning to think reflectively takes time, and it can be hard to get started without seeing the ‘bigger picture’, or the reason for doing it.

In this session, we will think about the following questions:

  • What are some obstacles and challenges to practicing reflection on a regular basis?(and do all those challenges have some solutions?)
  • How (else) can teachers practice reflection?
  • What can teachers reflect on?
  • What are (y)our favorite reflective practice tools?
  • (and what are your questions about reflective practice?)

It may happen that you will leave the session not having the answers to all the questions. Or even with the new questions to think about.

Here is the session registration link and all the other important details. Also, if you have not yet done it, sign up for the regular newsletters and updates not to miss the other cool events being regularly organized!

To help you get started thinking in the direction of the workshop content, I would like to focus on the first question in my list. In preparation to talk about reflection in teacher training I ran a small survey among teacher trainers and experienced teachers. All of them are in my #PLN and all appreciate and actively practice reflection. What obstacles do you see for working on teachers’ reflective skills during a training course?

Coincidentally, Rachel Tsateri, a colleague from my online community, teacher trainer and blogger at #TEFLzone, wrote a post called Reflective Teaching and Training. At the end of it she asked ‘Why is [Reflection/Reflective Teaching] challenging?‘ and offered several ideas based on her experience and research. In response to her invitation to add more ideas, I am sharing some quotes from the survey below.

  • Often there is ‘I-can’t-see-the-wood-for- the-trees’ reaction. Some people perhaps don’t know what to focus on.
  • Difficulty focusing on the specifics of an experience, and this lack of specificity limits teachers’ ability to learn from their experiences.

Obstacles image 4

  • Not having a shared idea/definition of reflective skills, different teachers having different skills to work on, teachers having different opinions of the value or importance of reflective practice.
  • It takes time and practice, both teaching experience and practice reflecting, for teachers to learn to reflect productively. In teaching contexts where learning-centered inquiry is not encouraged, or where job status is at risk, teachers must be willing to consider that there may be room for personal improvement in their teaching practice.
  • Very often teachers are aware of the importance of reflection and they do try to reflect but this process is not deep enough, limited by general questions which don’t lead to any further analysis.

Obstacles image 5

  • The focus on ‘right’ ways of teaching has one of the biggest obstacles to learning-centered reflection for me.
  • Reflection requires time as it is a special type of thinking (different from impulsive reactions or groundless beliefs). 
  • Lack of experience in (personal/professional) self-reflection.
  • Resistance because of history of negative evaluation process.
  • Negative prior experiences towards reflection.
  • Teachers’ ego especially for those who have been doing things in a certain way for a long while (some teachers’ fossilized practices).
  • Reflection is all about critical thinking, and teaching critical thinking is considered one of the hardest skills to teach and it needs a very critical and skilled teacher/trainer.
  • A superficial understanding of what reflection is, how teachers can actively use it and the impact it can have in their own teaching practice.

Obstacles image 6

  • Most teachers, consciously or unconsciously, look for ‘right answers’, not open questions. And the arbiter of right answers is authority (teacher trainer, supervisor, etc.) Education is too many “answers,” not nearly enough “wondering,” and it poisons people towards reflection.

RPA close up 1

Finally, if you would like to start thinking about some ways to practice reflection, I highly recommend Rachael’s recent post called 15 ideas for reflective teaching and training where she generously shares a great list of very practical ideas and resources (Hint: some or all can solve quite a few challenges listed above). I am very excited to read more of her blog posts about reflection in teaching and teacher training. 

P.S. Mike Griffin’s post in his blog about learning Vietnamese is an illustration how a rich description (the post itself) can bring reflection depth (the post and the comments) 

** All the images above are taken by Zhenya and will be used again in the Sunday Workshop in the part where we talk about challenges and obstacles for reflection. Hope to see you there, and thank you for reading the post!

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Trainer Conversation with Hakan Cavlak

This is a new Trainer Conversations series post in which I am talking with Hakan about being an ELT trainer and an EFL teacher, and how moving into a new country brings a new perspective into both of these roles. By the way, if you have read my earlier trainer conversation posts, you may have already ‘met’ and seen Hakan (check our interview with Burak). 

Happy reading!

Z: Where are you based? What has your ELT journey been so far?

H: I am currently based at home 😊 in Kuwait. This is my third year in Kuwait; two years at university and a year at home [teaching online]! Previously I had the idea that it was going to be a great experience for me working in a different culture and context, then I got online teaching in this new context as a bonus. Well, to this end, I might call it a never-ending learning experience with full of surprises. You got to be prepared all the time. Thus, Professional Development matters!

Z: What do you do in ELT?

H: I am an instructor of English and a teacher trainer for the World Learning SIT TESOL Certificate program.

Z: Where are you teaching now?

H: I am teaching at a private American University in Kuwait.

Z: How similar or different are the educational cultures in these 2 countries: your native Turkey and Kuwait?

H: Well, when I first came, I thought it would be easy for me to adapt as I believed there would be more similarities than differences. Yet, it is just the opposite especially when you get into the classroom. First of all, I had never taught gender-segregated classes before teaching here. Now, I have huge classes of male and female sections separately, at different levels. This has been quite a challenge. Besides, the cultural attitude, perception, and behavior are totally different. Your approach in class, the material you use, even the tasks you prepare differ depending on the class. To illustrate, you can perfectly form the groups in male classes and let them work together on the carpet and this will boost the interaction among them as they feel comfortable. No one will bother as it is acceptable in their culture.

So… even though I want to share the examples and photos, I can’t. Nothing about classroom practice. At the same time, all the things I value and learn here are about culture. All the things I reflect on are about my teaching in this context, not training. 

The ‘trainer side’ (of my personality) is different. I have never worked with the local teachers in Kuwait, so I will be responding from my teaching perspective. Everything is new, everything is surprising.

Kuwait 2020

Kuwait 2020 (before the world paused…)

Z: I remember when I got an SIT TESOL Cert Trainer license it was hard to understand the Culture Module in the course before I started actively training outside my native Ukraine. Was this the same for you?

H: Exactly! I believe, the SIT TESOL Certificate course distinguishes itself among the others by giving participants this important perspective apart from the teaching abilities they need to gain throughout the course. In the cultural module participants raise their awareness on the concept through Four Cultural Knowings framework and reflection. I value it more now. When I trained teachers in Turkey, I worked with international students (e.g. from Europe or the United States). At the same time, what you teach in that module can be quite generic unless you are really experienced with it. And ‘experience’ is only the first step. You really need to internalize it. Hence, I now understand that every trainer needs to know it, and to have had some cultural experience. That’s why I mentioned that I want to work with the Asian participants and students as well. Because it is about putting more bricks to your wall, unless you are reaching the top of the framework you are trying to reach.

Working with a lot of people (who come to your country) is great, but working with the local people in their culture is amazing. Before coming here, I heard stories, e.g., ‘teaching Arabic students is like XX’ or ‘This is what working with Arabs is like’, etc. Now I know: it is totally different. 

Z:  So, what have your Kuwaiti students taught you (as a teacher, and as a trainer?) 

H: My number one principle in teaching and training has always been ‘Know Your Learners’ (The 6 Principles of Teaching, TESOL). Working with my current students has proven this to me once again. You really have to adapt yourself, your teaching, your material, and your activities accordingly. You should know what you can or can’t discuss or what you can or can’t ask your learners. 

Working with students who use a different alphabet in their daily lives is also another thing that gave me a lot of ‘A-ha!‘-moments in my writing classes. Every lesson, every reflection after the lesson teaches me something new. It is always important to test what students already know or don’t know before you plan your lessons as they might easily surprise you. 

Z: How would these ideas inform or impact your training practices and beliefs?

H: I haven’t been doing any teacher training since I moved to Kuwait. However, in my future training courses, I would definitely pay more attention to the culture module and reflection. You know reflection is one of the core skills in the SIT TESOL Cert course and I love how it is applied in every part of the course. 

I am now filling my bag with more experiences and have more scenarios in my mind about the things that might occur in classes and that will be more helpful for the trainees, I presume. I hope to better guide them while helping them to reflect on their classes.

Z: What is your ‘ELT Identity’ like: are you a teacher, a trainer, or both? Why so?

H: None. I am always a learner. I love learning because who dares to teach must never cease to learn, as John Cotton Dana said. Then, I guess I am a teacher. You can’t be a trainer if you can’t teach. As a trainer, I see myself as a teacher who has things to share with a bit more experience and knowledge. My main role as a trainer is to guide participants to be more aware reflective practitioners so that they will learn from their experiences when they are all alone. I believe having this skill is the key and my responsibility is to guide them through this path.

Z: How do you keep your training skills up these days?

H: I take training courses myself. I always look for something that will improve my skills and give a different perspective. During and after the pandemic there has been a massive amount of online courses for teachers. I tried to take as much as I could. I read blogs, but mainly follow people on Twitter. I love Twitter. I get ideas from there, adapt them and try them in my classes. Then I reflect on them. 

3-HC2 2018

Co-presenting at ASLA Sweden.

Z: What question(s) about teacher training have you always wanted to ask other colleagues?

H: What is one experience or moment that changed your training approach totally? Why?

Z: I would love to answer that one [note to self: a blog post idea!] What questions about teaching or training have you always wanted to be asked about?  

H: Loved this question but I don’t have an answer😊 I have to think. Maybe: what is your teacher or trainer superpower?

Z: That’s a wonderful one! So… what’s yours?

H: I was thinking about this, about myself. I’d say my rapport with people is my superpower. Teacher rapport, human rapport. I am a ‘people person’. I generally have positive feedback from my trainers, co-trainers, participants, and students. Because I really like what I am doing, either training or teaching, I give my full energy to what I do, and I really like to help (sometimes more than it is needed). I like guiding people, I like touching their lives, I like changing things in their lives. I like this Change. That’s why, it was a great opportunity for me to be a trainer, and I am missing those days.

I like working with new teachers. I like seeing where novice teachers start out, and where they arrive towards the end of the course. It is a great moment (to watch). I also love working with experienced teachers sharing their insights and saying what they used to think or do, and how they see the same things at the end of the course. I love this, and I miss the training days. So my training superpower is working with people, changing their lives, or offering a different perspective to them, or learning from them. Participants teach me a lot, too, shape me. I love learning! I can say that strong rapport and being eager to learn are my two superpowers. They keep me alive. 

Z: What about co-training? Do you like working with other trainers in a team?

H: I learned about the need and power of reflective practice at the SIT Certificate Course when I was trained up for a license. My co-trainer was Hande. We ran several courses together, and always worked in harmony, and learned a lot from each other. Working with Hande has always been a blessing for me. Those co-training experiences were amazing! I also have to mention Susan Barduhn as my TOT (Trainer of Trainers). Though I only worked once with her, she has always been a great support to me. She is a true inspiration that everyone should meet. Her knowledge and experience is incomparable. 

Z: And to me, it feels like we have co-delivered courses together (although we have not)! I first heard about you from Hande, so I can say I ‘met’ you through her eyes.

1-SIT TESOL Cert. Course 2017 Summer

Certificates!

 

1-Individual Learner Profile

Poster Presentation – SIT TESOL Cert Course

  • [Note to readers: you have already met Hande in conversation with Burak. 
  • [Note to self: hope to share a post with her later this year]  

H: Every single person has a superpower. We are all Avengers, and together, we co-create it. I miss that. Let’s hope for a new chance in the future. Collected wisdom and beauty. You only see it in co-training. About liking the job we do. I hope the days will be back. Waiting for the next chapters. The book is not over yet.

white book page on brown wooden table

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Hakan, thank you for the conversation! No, the book is not over yet: there are more pages to come, and more learning from the writing process is coming, I am sure! And… we may well run a course all together, in the future. 

About Hakan

HakanHakan Çavlak is an experienced teacher of English, a licensed teacher trainer for SIT TESOL Certificate program and a speaking examiner for Cambridge YLE, KET, PET, and FCE. He is also a proud founding member of TESOL Turkey Association. He holds an MA in ELT from Ege University, Delta Module 2 certificate from Cambridge English Language Assessment, and a management certificate from H&E. After working 15 years in Turkey, he moved to Kuwait and pursues his career as an instructor of English. He is an avid learner who continuously seeks new ideas in the profession.

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Appreciating and Practicing Reflection

On 1 May 2021, I had a chance to present at a one-day online conference organized by IATEFL Teacher Training and Education Development SIG. The theme of the event was ‘Reflection and Reconnection in the Changing World‘. You can read more about it here , and if you are an IATEFL and SIG member, the recording should be available soon.

This is the topic and description of my session:

Appreciating and Practicing Reflection with Teachers and Trainers

Reflective practice is a challenging skill for both participants and new trainers, and sometimes seems underappreciated or misunderstood. During the session we will think about the following questions:

  • Why does reflective practice need to be an integral part of a training course?
  • Can thinking reflectively be taught online? (A)synchronously? Live?
  • Why/How can teacher trainers practice reflection on and between, or outside courses?

If time allows, I will share some of my favorite tools and practices.

You can download the session slides here, and/or watch the recording. Or do both 🙂

One example of a full cycle to share.

Describe: in the summer of 2020 I took part in an online 10k run in Lviv, Ukraine.There were three of us: my husband, his colleague and myself. Before the event, after the payment was processed, I received a parcel where, among other things, was a sealed envelope with a note to open after the race. It felt heavy (could be compared to a smart phone weight) and hard. The size was small (about half the phone), so it fit into a running belt along with my keys, etc. Right after the race, the three of us decided to open the envelopes together. When we did it, there was colorful confetti all around us.

Interpret: Before the event, I was very curious and eager to open it right away, but decided to do as instructed. Actually, the envelope helped me get up and run (on the rainy Sunday morning). I knew it would be a medal, but had not checked the design online, to keep it as a surprise (which made me even more curious!) In fact I forgot about it during the run, which made the surprise effect even stronger. And at the time of opening… all of us were totally excited! This immediately reminded of the feeling of a real race, when you are surrounded by people (who either run or support you, or wait for you at the finish line). Thinking back about that moment now (almost a year after) makes me a bit nostalgic. One thing that really surprised me was my own excitement. It got me thinking about the role of surprise in teaching (and training)…

Generalize: … and confirmed an idea I often think about that a small playful element, even when we work with adults (students or teachers) makes a huge difference. It can make one’s mood better, leaves warm memories, and gratitude. I think small playful elements support our motivation to keep going (with the skill, sport or habit we are working on).

Plan action: In my future sessions or courses for teachers I will add at least one playful element to the slide deck I will be using, or the examples I prepare. I might share this memory, too 🙂

Here is my earlier post about this experience, if you are curious.

Reflective mood. Kamianske Reservoir, Dnipro Region, Ukraine.

The School for International Training (SIT) Training of Trainers Course by Kevin Giddens and Susan Barduhn (2018) The Teacher Trainer Journal Vol 32 No 2.

More links and resources:

There are various models and methods to structure reflective thought.

Reflection is dialogic and social practice, so we all need a community where regular meetings or conversations with fellow trainers to talk about training experience can happen. We do that not only to improve our professional skills (that’s a side effect) but also to practice and deepen the skill of reflection itself. Through the active and conscious use of the reflective cycle we can make our training and living experience richer and fuller. I feel fortunate to belong to the international SIT Training Community, my source of professional inspiration, training insights, and long-lasting friendships.

Post-Session Update: it went well! I had very enthusiastic people in the audience, and managed to ‘catch’ the questions asked during/after the session. Sharing them here, and hope to add some thoughts in another post.

  • Is there a danger of reflection becoming a routine activity if it’s done out of compulsion or if it’s overdone?
  • What is an example of a ‘good’ reflection and a ‘not-so-good’ one?
  • How can we assess one’s ability to reflect?
  • How can we make the reflective practice an interesting option for the ones who are resistant to the idea?
  • How can/do student teachers reflect on their teaching practice when their knowledge and experience are limited? How much reflection can they do with their limited knowledge?

Thank you for reading!

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Guest Post: Dream City Activity

This is a guest post by Marina Shepel, and it is very special to me for two reasons: first, because I have a colleague from Ukraine adding a new activity (two activities, actually) to the collection I am building. Second, because this was already ‘tested’ in the classroom, and there is a plan to try out the modified version(s) in the future. With gratitude to Marina for supporting my ‘It’s in (Y)Our Hands‘ project, I am giving the floor to her!

Recently I read your post called It’s in (y)our hands (or… is it?)

I liked the idea of using a hand template and wanted to use something like this with my students. As I teach ESP for the students of Public Administration and Tourism and Management majors, I thought this approach could be good for the context of their studies.

I came up with the idea of “My Dream City” activity and wanted to try it with my Public Administration students of Odesa National Polytechnic University.

This activity had two stages. At the first stage students were given the home assignment to prepare the speech with an optional presentation about their dream city. Some students wrote about their native cities, another wrote about Ukrainian cities. Two girls wrote about the European cities they had never been to, but they would like to visit them.

Odesa, Marina’s native city in Ukraine. Picture taken by Marina.

At the second stage students were asked to take sheets of paper and сircle their hands. I told them to imagine themselves being Mayors of their dream cities and share 5 ideas how they would improve their cities. Each finger was one idea, or one improvement step. Students wrote their ideas on their hands template. Among the shared ideas were the following: to make the city transport cheaper and more affordable; to build more playgrounds for kids and recreation zones for everyone; to make the public museums more interactive; to open more tourism information centers for foreign visitors; to develop green/eco transport, etc.

After that students shared their ideas with the others. As a reflection practice I asked them: “Have you imagined yourselves city mayors?” and they answered: “It’s a difficult job! He/she must obtain a lot of knowledge”.

Prague in 2014. Picture taken by Marina.

I can say that such activities make the educational process more interesting and useful for students. Most activities you’ve found on the net you can adapt to your students’ needs.

Students understood that a city mayor should obtain knowledge of different branches (economy, culture, transport, city planning, tourism.). This activity can help to develop students’ communication skills and imagination. My students enjoyed making the hand template. They told me that this type of activity was new for them.

I will try this idea again next year with my students in the other university I teach at, and in a different way.

  1. For the Tourism industry students this activity can be called “5 ways to Improve a Guided Tour”. They will develop 5 ideas of improving any Guided Tour
  2. Management students can develop 5 qualities of a good manager.

This activity can be used to develop students’ imagination, and to teach them to be more creative.

Venice. Picture taken by Marina.

Thank you very much for sharing this post Marina! As I told you in our chat, I was curious how this activity would work for young adults. Some of my colleagues commented that the activity would work well for/with young kids only, and I needed some proof that it can also work for adult learners. Besides, I can see that it is turning into something bigger that ‘Your Favorite City’ as you are helping students see the opportunity for (further) reflection and improvement on their product or service (the guided tour variation), or themselves (as in the manager qualities and skills example). It would be great to hear how those work!

Zhenya’s note: traditionally, if you would like to support Ukrainians in the fight for our future, I am sharing donation links of the organizations or people. This time, it is Yarmiz, a rehab center in Kyiv focusing on sports rehabilitation, psychological and social aid, and  reintegration to the civil life after war. The link is to their Facebook Page, and the About section has information in English. 

The other team is the charitable foundation ‘Corporation of Monsters‘ based in Marina’s native Odesa. The link is to their page in English describing the needs they are addressing in their activities. 

Thank you for reading, and #StandWithUkraine!

About Marina

I hold a PhD in Pedagogy. I started my career as a school teacher and have been teaching for 13 years. In 2012 I left the school where I had been teaching and was self-employed for 5 months. That year I started my job at Odesa Automobile and Road College (ONPU). That same year I started my PhD programme and completed it in 2016 with a PhD in Pedagogy. In 2019 I got a position at Odesa National Academy of Food Technologies (now Odesa National University of Technology). In 2020 Doctor of Economics, Professor Oleksandr Balan invited me to teach English at the Department of Administrative Management and Market Problems (now Department of Public Management and Administration). I like working at both universities because all language learners are different, and I teach English to the students of different majors.

 

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