50 words (2015-2018)

If you have been following this blog for some time you may remember my idea to share some teacher-training and learning-related ideas in 50-word chunks. I used to have a page of those thoughts to catch. I am now making changes on the blog and decide to remove the page. All its content, however, will be kept here as a single (and very long!) post.

Bonus: this is another 50-word piece about the process of writing I found on my computer. It is not related to teaching or training, just describes some feelings I had on a specific night.

1:55 a.m.

Clicking and checking social media accounts.

Mindless? Furious? Hopeful? Desperate?

Lonely, perhaps.


2:57 a.m.

Writing time: hopes, dreams, goals, plans, action, flow, joy, result, reflection. Start all over again.

Loneliness, perhaps.


3:59 a.m.

Reading, word counting, spell checking, formatting, re-reading, deleting.


Breathe… go to bed!

What’s the time? Coffee time 🙂

50 Words: Introducing the Idea

Have you ever heard of ’50-word stories’ (or mini-sagas)? Do you like the genre of ‘micro’-writing? Well, I do. To me personally, it started a long time ago, when I first saw the lesson on this topic in English Files Upper-Intermediate course book (old edition). My students created their own sagas, and they were even published in the school newspaper at that time – but that’s not the point now.

The authors used the idea from The Telegraph’s competition (you can follow this link for some examples) and it made me start my search. I was surprised to find out that this is a popular idea even in the world outside an ELT classroom: you can enter an on-going competition and even win a prize, you can try it as a creative writing exercise, or can simply enjoy reading them (and even buy a book of those stories!)

I also found out that this genre of writing can have a lot of titles: flash-fiction, micro-fiction, ‘smoke long’ story, ‘palm-sized’ story, micro narrative, micro-story, and even sudden fiction.

You might be wondering why I am writing all this on my blog. Well, did I already say that I really like the idea? I would like to ‘play’ with it for some time and add a ‘Teacher Training’ twist to the 50-word writing.

50-word writing…

… is longer than a Tweet (but fits into a Facebook status update), requires less structure than Haiku or Tanka, is (much?) shorter than a blog post, takes no time to read, leaves a lot of space to share an idea…

The big attractive part to me is that I can use this (safe and comfortable) learning space as my ‘idea catching’ tool, and this might eventually grow into longer posts, and hopefully, many more conversations and comments (keeping them to 50 words is not a must — but I promise to reply in at least about 50 words)

Why 50 words? Recently I have been involved in various writing projects and found it hard to be writing more for pleasure. Thoughts come and go, they need to be ‘caught’. Even as short as 50 words, such pieces should still allow me reflect and develop.

What would ‘my fifty’ include? Thoughts and notes related to observation, feedback, planning and running input sessions, assessment, people skills, time management, scheduling, and many other sides from the life of a teacher trainer/educator. These will be my own beliefs, examples, theories, questions (and more questions!), some answers, some doubts and a lot of reflection.

I started collecting my 50-word-notes in December 2015. I sometimes get back to the idea, but less and less often, so let them all sit peacefully in this post.

Attitude to [peer] observation? I like the ‘Blind Men and an Elephant‘ story/metaphor: the 3-6 men touch a part of the elephant, and to each it seems to be a different animal. To have a complete picture, they need each other’s input. Just like teachers need each other in class.

(Cheating with a quote today) ‘Look at everything as though you were seeing it either for the first or last time’. – Betty Smith. Very true for a training course and observing new teachers: need to appreciate their ideas and style, their first steps and discoveries. Pass this to them!

Belief: A good teacher- and trainer-trainer needs to be caring and sensitive on a personal level, but demanding professionally. This preserves rapport and trust, encourages mutual feedback, supports growth. The hardest part is balance: how do you know that neither side is ‘overweighing’? By applying the same principle to yourself!

Advice to teachers? Pause to look back at the lesson you have just taught, or are teaching right now: ‘Did your students learn anything? Have they been engaged? Motivated? How do you know? How can you help them more?’ Write down the answers. Repeat daily. Magic is on the way!

Understanding a participant, or student, on a personal level – and then responding to their professional or learning needs will be easier. To understand, listen. To listen, stop talking or planning. Wear ‘Positive Regard’ hat and open your heart to this person. Obvious, but is not (always) easy to do.

KASA: Knowledge, Awareness, Skill and Attitude. Only Awareness is educable part, whereas knowledge and skills can be ‘taught’, if awareness is there. Attitude? Can we teach it? Can we only self-learn it? Gain it? Discover? Can Attitude ‘spoil’ our KAS? Or influence it, turn the learning process into enjoyable journey?

Silence in class: good, bad, desired, avoided? As a trainer, how much time do I give to the participants to think and listen (to themselves, each other, me?) How do I feel when they are quiet? How do they feel when there is a pause? Some answers are coming soon-ish…

Activity on silence: for five minutes, stop talking to think about something that has been in the center of your attention. No talking, or writing, just thinking about these questions: What do you think about this topic? What can you do about it? (Can also be a language learning activity!)

Reflective, Processing or Debriefing question for a training session: How do the skills required in this [game/activity/task] apply to our [class/training/course]? What would you like to remember and possibly try in your own courses? What would you need to change so that it worked for your learners? And then repeat.

Heard about but have not tried on a course myself: a group learning journal. Low-tech version: one notebook for the group, participants take turns and write important insights, a-ha!s, questions. Higher-tech: a blog or wiki space with the same idea. Wondering how anonymity can be kept if done online. Thinking…

Thinking about (portable) IWBs/Smart Boards/Interactive Boards. What makes them interactive? Attractive? Advertised? What can they do that a projector with a laptop/tablet can’t? Do they help learning, teaching, training? Are we using them for educational reasons, or for ‘business’ reasons? Are we being honest with the students and their parents?

What deadlines do you set to the course participants on an intensive course? I am thinking to try these: hard ones (those we can’t change, e.g. Practice Teaching slots); firm ones (important for a certain reason, e.g. Written reflective Papers); floating ones (flexible, such as reading for portfolio). ‘Non-deadline’ tasks?

Reminder to self: keep a record of individual participant performance on a course. Can be handwritten, or a soft copy, or shared document online. Written daily, or weekly, or for mid-point assessment, these notes are priceless. Even more so at the end of the course for the final evaluations/ reports.

These notes can be on the main course competencies, for example, on Planning, Teaching and Reflecting/Self-Assessment skills, on abilities to work in groups. Have tried this on Google Docs/Drive in the past. Pro: easy access for all. Con: need Internet to access (can you believe that it is not everywhere?)

What role do questions play in your training classroom? Who asks them? Who are they addressing? How do you treat the ‘right answer’ idea? What do you do if you have a different, or even opposite opinion, attitude, belief? Is asking (critical) questions a skill, a gift, a necessity? Thoughts?

Co-teaching, co-training, co-planning, co-creating… Seems like this prefix ‘co-‘ has a potential to save us from the notorious ‘teacher burnout‘. Have you ever co-trained or co-taught? How did it feel? In fact, training ‘solo’ might be much more challenging experience than the ‘co-‘ time. What are your favorite co-training tips?

Guided lesson planning versus Assisted lesson planning: how can a trainer help a participant to become really independent within the limits of an intensive course? How can a mentor promote teacher independence without risking the students’ potential learning too much? Possibly by gradual reduce of scaffolding and maintaining positive regard.

In addition to Assisted lesson planning there could also be a term describing being there to answer questions and brainstorm ideas on a future lesson but at the same time being one step away from making the major lesson decisions for a teacher. Learning how to think independently while planning…

If D. Eisenhower was a teacher, he might have agreed that in preparing for a lesson ‘plans are useless, but planning is indispensable’. Focus on the process of planning, not the plan/form. Shift thinking into the students and their learning, and how the time can be used to help more.

Teacher post-lesson self-talk: Is what you are telling yourself true? Are you being helpful by saying these things to yourself? Are you being fair to say these things? Would anyone else give you this feedback? Are you your harshest critic? How many yes-es do you have? Thoughts? Conclusions? Great read.

My professional mission ‘pyramid’ is something like this: help to bring out the best in teacher trainers/educators, so that they could bring out the best in teachers and so that teachers could keep doing the same for their students. The shorter version would be: ‘inspired teachers inspire learners and learning’.

This image finds me in such a nice time! I am wondering about the 4 areas (passion, mission, profession and vocation) and how teacher training for me is reflected in all. Answers all the questions about the reasons to wake up in the morning. Is it only on a course?

This post is about brainstorming meetings, but the tips seem to be working well for a group lesson planning session on a TT course, especially the idea of keeping a record of lesson ideas and activities for later. My favorite quote says: ‘unstructured brainstorming meeting is an offense to creativity’.

Learning of this morning: the SAMR model as a framework for mobile learning by Ruben Puentedura (2006). Technology use falling into the four classes: substitution, augmentation, modification and redefinition. The final part is about tasks that could not have been done without the use of the technology. Application in training?

Read this small post by Seth Godin on ‘I, We and You’ and noticed a good formulae for a teacher trainer (for me!): ‘we’ is for receiving positive feedback as a team, ‘I’ is for taking in critical feedback, and ‘You’ for giving feedback (to participants or peers) Simple, powerful!

A possible logical routine on a course for setting assignments to write. Monday homework: an assignment description to read. Tuesday in class: explain the assignment, answer participants’ questions. Friday evening: deadline for assignments (with possible extension for Sat morning). Saturday and Sunday is trainer reading/grading/responding time. I like the idea.

Have realized how important public speaking skills are for a (new) trainer. Oftentimes entering a room with other teachers (not students) makes a huge difference. These little things matter: making (and keeping) a pause, maintaining eye contact, varying the pace and volume of speaking, handing difficult questions with confidence, etc.

‘What should I do if I want to become a teacher trainer?’ is a question I hear from time to time. My answer in one word? ‘Experience’ (refers to do something in order to help other teachers). Do you feel how patronizing ‘train’ teachers sound? I prefer ‘serve’ or ‘educate’.

‘What can I read about trainer knowledge and skills?’ I think this blog post by Tony Gurr is a good starting point: offers resources and ideas on various trainer skills. I think to me being a trainer is much more than knowing how to teach well. People skills come first.

Lesson plan as a form, or lesson planning as a process? I really believe that it is a process: of thinking, or anticipating (and catering for) potential challenges, of ‘what if-s’ and questions. It is much more than a (final?) form or a piece of paper. Planning weighs (means) more.

Thinking about successful co-training partnerships in my experience: working with someone, not for, not around, not against, is very important, and exciting, and full of learning. I am wondering how the same co-working strategies can be transferred to the life outside a training course. Looking for a like-minded partner. Connect.

I am not sure who the author of these words is: ‘How you make others feel about themselves says a lot about you’. What I am sure about is that SIT TESOL Certificate course for teachers I have run in many places around the world will definitely uplift you. Watch.

Teacher and Trainer learning/thinking/reflecting cycle starts from choosing a significant moment. Giving background, or context. Description in detail (or telling a story). Analyzing the reasons, and the Learning from the experience, form ‘meaning making’ part. Action points and future decisions, or intentions to act, finish the cycle. Experiential Learning Cycle.

Inspiring iTDI Blog’s The Newbie Issue  motivated me to accept a professional challenge, and run my first ever training session in my L1. It is for teachers of languages other than English, and we all share the same mother tongue (Russian). Might write about my preparation, doubts and questions soon.

The session will include two of my L1s (yes, this exists!): Russian as the main communication language, and Ukrainian as an example/demo lesson for all the group. Culture note: Dnipro is one of mostly Russian-speaking cities in our country, and Ukrainian language skills are somewhat behind (especially speaking and writing)

About Zhenya

ELT: teacher educator, trainer coach, reflective practice addict https://wednesdayseminars.wordpress.com/.
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