EDUCATION CANNOT WAIT

Over the last few months, the pandemic has created many challenges for teachers, students, and parents as they transitioned into home-based learning.

It is true that, in the age of Covid-19 ,as an educator ,especially in a State Greek  Primary School,you have two options: to do… nothing and to let the situation overwhelm you or to continue working hard during the day and worrying at night. Concentrating on research on creative, experiential and student-centered teaching that you have been doing for so many years, BUT, when the system around you is collapsing  this doesn’t seem so easy to do. You don’t have much room left, you want to keep in touch with others. You dedicate yourself, SOUL AND BODY, to doing your homework, keeping in touch with your students, feeling alive, moving forward into life.

 During the lockdown,on any given day, in schools across the World, many students exchanged warm greetings with a smiling teacher, then perhaps moved on to a morning check-in, followed by a quick mindfulness exercise to start the day grounded and mentally focused. Surrounded by peers they’d known for months, or perhaps even years—and a teacher they saw regularly—kids felt connected.

In spite of some critics who downplayed the importance of social and emotional learning and the value of belonging, to me it is clear and has been for some time: When  students spend their daytime hours in safe, supportive schools where their teachers work every day to build strong relationships with every student, they are simply better, more engaged learners.

I personally believe that, yes, it is mainly about the technology—the mechanics of how to teach remotely. But it’s also about how we are going to hold our students’ hearts!

Food for thought ,by Dimitris Primalis:

“School ditches  tablets”. Catchy titles like this one, banishing technology from the classroom, seem to be out of date after school closure and the need of thousands of teachers and educators to keep education alive in the midst of a pandemic. Whether you are a tech-enthusiast or you were forced to use technology, this crisis has brought to the surface the potential of learning technology, which has been tried and tested under extreme conditions.

To me, the good news is that , as teachers, we have overcome our greatest fears and biases against using technology so now we can make the most of it to facilitate learning, during the lockdown !

My own  first shock concerned online classes & COVID-19: 

How will the pandemic affect me as a teacher and my teaching?

Is it a threat or an opportunity for the human teachers to flourish as an effective teacher?

I have always thought that, teachers are leaders, guides, facilitators, and mentors. We encourage students when they struggle, and inspire them to set and reach for their goals. We ARE role models, leading by example and giving direction when necessary.

A computer can give information, but a teacher can lend a hand, or an ear, and discern what’s necessary for a student to succeed, and to want to succeed.

So yes, technology is going to play a critical role in the future of education. But not as big a role as that of a teacher.

My next step was to create our online, asynchronous learning classes!

The creation of those classes was mainly aimed at maintaining the contact of our students with the English language course and allowed me to quickly carry out my work, communicate between different computers and exchange data, sharing useful links.

That service allowed me to organize, present, store, and retrieve the material, which students are asked to use without time constraints, as is usually the case in the classroom. Our e-classroom platform was basically designed to enhance the educational process as it takes place in the classroom  and operation in a secure environment and I admit that I was really excited about learning how to use it properly .

Overall, the benefits of the #e-me platform we have been using all these months, are many. It was relatively easy to use, allowed the use of useful educational material, promoted communication and interaction between teachers and learners and served the needs of maintaining contact with the lessons and repetition.

The ‘key’ to the success of such a platform, however, lies in the frequency of visits of the students  to the platform! I personally, found it really challenging to be able convince my students to visit it ,as often as possible, during the lockdown!

Of course, parents and teachers, we were invited to dedicate some time and accompany the children’s first steps in that new environment, to suggest that they regularly connected with the electronic classes of the courses they attended and gradually helped them to become independent in their use.

My initial thought was to find the way to encourage my students to express their thoughts and feelings, while staying at home.

Obviously, when we can share our sensations, thoughts, and feelings, we feel a sense of relief, safety, and calm, and I believe that sharing our feelings and learning about them is one of the most powerful ways to regulate our nervous systems during stressful periods of time.

Many of my own students reported feeling isolated, depressed, and overwhelmed. The lack of a support system had definitely been the hardest part about not physically attending school.

I decided to launch the “FEELINGS project” on e-me inspired by Growth Mindset.

Last year, I was introduced to Growth Mindset by Jennifer Schmidt of The Cogent Construct  based in Spain.

Jennifer, had partnered with Pilgrim’s based in the UK to offer a new and innovative online teacher coaching  / mentorship program and I was asked to contribute to it!  

About growth mindset

This is a term introduced by Prof Carol Dweck and a concept that many schools are now introducing as a way to support a positive learning mindset. Those with a growth mindset (as opposed to a fixed mindset) believe they can improve with hard work and perseverance and that their intelligence isn’t fixed. They display better self-esteem and increased resilience. The journal encourages a growth mindset through checklist prompts and use of daily quotes to remind children about the importance of not giving up when faced with challenges.

I realised that during the lockdown , we were all developing empathy

Empathy is the act of meeting someone in their pain and helping them feel like they’re not alone.

In order to inspire students to take that journey, we as teachers should not pretend that human feelings were something to which we were immune.

Therefore, I had to feel with students, which required both an acknowledgment that my own feelings existed and a desire to understand the feelings of my students. If I could create a fertile space for empathy to grow, I could also provide the opportunity for meaningful connections with my students.

I also used some writing opportunities for my students to get their thoughts, feelings, fears, and questions down in a creative format. I gave them an option to share with their e-class.This did not only allow them to share out their feelings but also gave me a place to check on them and follow up when I saw any of them expressing sadness, fear, etc.

Most importantly , I was honest and as understanding as possible to let students know we were all in that together and would likely all need a little grace.

After the first shock, I decided to FOCUS my teaching ON SUPPORTING MY STUDENTS EMOTIONALLY.

The very first inspiring idea which I used in our webex meetings during the lockdown, belonged to my dear colleague and friend Effie Kyrikakis.

It was mainly about sharing our wishes  and sharing positive messages within our families and the local community and about committing small acts of kindness.

The message to my students was:You can always fly with your imagination! Spread your positivity! #PlanesofHope 

Th idea was that each adult in their lives -teacher or parent- focuses on helping them bolster their strengths, discover their affinities, and realize their personal visions for the future.

I always have to remind myself that, especially under the circumstances, each teacher should be a role model of calm reflection within their class. We should avoid exhibiting our own frustrations, especially in emergencies.

Within those two months in lockdown ,they became more likely to think of setbacks as temporary. They recognized that by using more effective personal strategies ,they could overcome obstacles and turn setbacks into triumphs. 

Rather than jumping in to fix the problem when my students were bored  or unmotivated to do online work, during self-isoalation,I let them feel their feelings as they faced those challenges. The key was to listen to and encourage them so that they felt  comfortable taking control.

In a nutshell

Let’s let our students discover their own ways to cope. This is phenomenal emotional growth and skill-building for the future.

To me, it was highly important that I should encourage my students to talk about their feelings but express gratitude, too.

To be able to do so, I decided to incorporate another inspiring idea to our webex  online meetings during the lockdown, which belonged to our amazing colleague Theodora Bogiou.

It was mainly about sharing and spreading positive messages, in the local communities.

Practising gratitude not only helped my students to see the goodness in their lives but also to realise that it can come from a number of sources, even inside their homes .

All in all, it was highly important to enhance our practical optimism, through focusing on gratitude, small acts of kindness, emotional mindfulness, brain exercise, and positive surroundings, especially in those difficult times of self-isolation.

THE MAIN #I_love_ME_project  IDEA, IN BRIEF

We hang some messages on a tree in our backyards and balconies.

The first messages was on a red heart♥️ and they started by saying I love…

The second message was on green leaves 🍃and they started by saying I’m grateful for..

The third message was on suns☀️ and it was a message to somebody they loved, like advice or a love message. It started by saying My message to you is…

To sum up, thanks to Theodora Bogiou‘s idea, I managed to promote emotional growth by encouraging my children to talk about their feelings, helping them identify those feelings and validating them. That kind of communication  also fostered a stronger class connection.

In addition to practical steps to prevent illness (like washing hands and keeping a safe distance from others in the grocery store), I wanted to stress to my students that there were many other areas of pandemic life that they could control: how they spent their time at home, what they did to manage tough emotions, which self-care tools they utilized to reduce stress, etc. Me and my students discussed those coping methods and even made a list of them together.

Consequently, the next idea for our webex online meeting, came from Effie  Kyriakakis’ #re-bloom project

They actually wrote  about their  inner strengths ,on their artwork, on flower petals and shared them with the class both synchronously and asynchronously.

We also talked about resilience! Talking about resilience and the positive things that can come out of a crisis was not an attempt to paint a happy picture of those times, but to create real, measurable factors that can be gained by coming through a difficult time.

I believe that teachers  can demonstrate how they face challenges and frustration head-on and use different coping tactics like meditation, talking to loved ones, making art or playing music, and actually, that is exactly what I did!

 I often give my students’ brain and body a positive workout, in the school classroom . I decided to do the same , during the lockdown.

Why?

-I believe that finding ways of calming the body can help some children, too – for example, using breathing or meditation techniques. Many of my students told me that being very active and ‘keeping busy’ stopped negative feelings and reduced stress levels to them.

Routines that foster connection are a core part of classroom life, and finding ways for students to experience these at home ,too went a long way toward easing my students’ transition to home-based learning.

 -For almost everyone, physical movement and exercise are very important. Scheduling time for that ,especially during the lockdown, helped my students to make sure they remembered to do it. I decided to ask them to use physical movement, at the beginning of each online class meeting.

 – I also encouraged them to find an activity which they enjoyed that was completely separate from any homework tasks  – it was cooking, art, a new sport indoors, catching up with friends on a regular video call, etc.

 -My suggestion to them about doing things for others had also been found to help my students manage their own stress. ie helping around the house.

Being mindful of our emotional state, matters.

We came to understand that challenges were opportunities for growth. Because, it is through life’s challenges that we find its greatest gifts, but we need to know how to look for them, and, more importantly, appreciate them. 

A few weeks later, I decided to teach them about true and authentic confidence.

 I taught them that, that’s how we survive when our confidence takes a hit, and how we can actually enhance our self-assurance when we struggle.

 Believe it or not, even my youngest learners, got the message!

The following closing ideas come from my dear friend and colleague Dimitris Primalis in his recent article ,in  ELT NEWS.

I couldn’t agree more, that’s why I am sharing part of his post, here! 

*Dimitris Primalis, is a frontline teacher and teacher trainer, currently working in Doukas Schools, Athens.

Let’s take a minute to reflect on what we have done so far with our (online) classes that we can keep doing in the post Covid19 era. We:

 -Flipped the classroom

We assigned time consuming activities such as watching video or reading at home

-Differentiated learning

You were given the opportunity to send easier tasks to weaker students and more challenging ones to stronger learners, who are usually utterly bored in class, when we assigned  revision tasks asynchronously (offline). We also had the chance to give personalized feedback in a discreet way through emails .

-Introduced gamification

We introduced web 2.0 tools that promote gamification like Kahoot in class .

-Used material outside the coursebook

In the first two weeks of lockdown, when everybody hoped that this would not last for a long time, we  assigned revision exercises and then we became more resourceful.

-Promoted learner autonomy

Having guided them to the resources mentioned above, we have guided them to become more autonomous as learners. This time parents were more open to using the internet and less worried about the potential dangers.

-Applied formative assessment

We have discovered numerous new tools that allow our students to share reflective writing.

-More benefits

Because of the pandemic, more and more students realize that education should not be taken for granted. The majority missed their teachers and classmates, their routine which offers security .

-Beware of oversimplifications

I know that some teachers mistake the emergency online lessons during  Covid19 for online education. Building a raft to survive a shipwreck cannot be compared to an ocean liner. 

-A lesson taught for educators

 I firmly believe that learning technology is a medium that can boost learning and student engagement.

Summarising my own thoughts

-We learn everywhere and always, we learn by all means.

– The desire to change or improve the learning process is paramount in the use of technology.

– Teachers need to learn and evolve constantly.

– In the years 2020, technophobia holds up well in Greek school reality.

– We use technology as a tool for exploration and learning.

– The issue is not more or less technology, but its effective use.

– We choose those digital tools that enhance students’ engagement and interest.

– It’s not technology. It’s what you do with it.

– It takes effort and time.

-Technology is not what makes it possible. It’s what makes learning easy.

– Pay attention to the developments in learning, not to the developments in technology.

– The cutting-edge technology in a school is the good teacher.

CONCLUSION

 Much like developing the skills and knowledge that we need to advance as a teacher, becoming more optimistic , especially in emergencies, entails deliberate effort!

And as with maintaining other competencies, sustaining a positive outlook may require a practical maintenance routine of being mindful about the good things in life, in us, in our work, and in our students

*THE BLOG POST TITLE has been inspired by this site:

Education Cannot Wait (ECW) is the first global fund dedicated to education in emergencies and protracted crises.

Digital learning web tools I have tried :a successful example of scaling up teaching and learning in response to COVID-19

When this pandemic began, teachers all over the World were given little notice to shift very quickly to distance learning or e-learning, sometimes with no training. In many cases, we had 48 hours or a weekend to reinvent lessons for an already planned curriculum, learn new technologies, find non-technology solutions to student learning, and figure out how to keep students engaged. But all us teachers ,also had to balance home and work and how to do our life’s work from afar while simultaneously caring for students, grieving losses, and so many more challenges and obstacles!

It has not been easy, for any teacher I know. This new approach or today’s certainty is a significant journey!

During the lock-down, countless hours behind a computer screen, reorganizing lessons had me and many of my fellow English teachers repeatedly saying, “I’d rather be in my school.” But reality dictated differently.

What is more, during the pandemic, many educators-including me- have looked to their professional learning networks on social media for encouragement through virtual book clubs, Twitter chats, Facebook groups, or wellness challenges.

To me, this crisis may have a silver lining for the implementation of digital transformation. It has forced the use of digital media tools to even teachers who had never done so before. 

 I have realised that, as English  teachers learn to implement these tools, students can also learn to use them to increase learning effectiveness and enhance their engagement. The fast learning curve is a struggle but the hard work will pay dividends developing and gaining new skills. The positive benefit out of all this is that we are going to add excellent value to our pedagogical practices. Or, I should say for English teachers,in particular, add to our repertoire of teaching tools now and for the future!

It is true that the education sector responded to quarantine with a sudden shift to online learning.

But, I have to admit that inequalities are exacerbated when it comes to access to technology and to digital devices. Many of our llearners suffer a form of digital inequality whereby they lack the connections and devices to learn remotely. In fact, this outbreak widens the gap between those able to access digital learning opportunities and those who are shut out. Access is not equal, and we see inequality growing.

And yet, even though the immediate focus is now on technology and tools, the most compelling quality is still human compassion!

Below, I am sharing a list of some of the online tools I have personally tried during the lock-down with success, for different teaching and learning purposes.

 I firmly believe that we should always take advantage of the opportunities for creative solutions.We should not let a lack of familiarity with the tools or approaches be a barrier to trying something new – I had  the confidence to try them out, with the precious help of my PLN!

 The target has been to keep my classes talking, sharing and collaborating, even during the pandemic!

Digital learning management systems

https://learnenglishkids.britishcouncil.org/

https://watch.vooks.com/ Βooks( free for only a month)

https://en.islcollective.com/ for Grammar Videos and worksheets

https://youtube.com/kids/

https://wordwall.net/play/ for Grammar Videos and worksheets

https://bubbl.us/ Mind maps online

https://en.linoit.com/ sticky and canvas tool

https://info.flipgrid.com/ video sharing for educators and students

http://roadtogrammar.com/ teacher resources/games about everything

http://koalatext.com/public/ online games etc

https://create.kahoot.it/ Learning games and more

https://quizlet.com/ Grammar/vocabulary games and more. Create a study set for any subject you’re teaching

https://www.gonoodle.com/ GoNoodle gets kids moving so they can be their best

https://www.mentimeter.com/app online polls

https://www.grammarly.com/ writing assistant 

https://www.liveworksheets.com/  transforms your traditional printable worksheets into self-correcting interactive exercises that the students can do online and send to the teacher.

https://vimeo.com/ All the Tools You Need to Upload, Host, and Share Video

https://edpuzzle.com/ interactive video lessons for your students you can integrate right into your LMS. Track students’ progress with hassle-free analytics 

https://classroomscreen.com/ Create multiple screens and navigate from one screen to another. placeholder image.

https://www.canva.com/ Create beautiful designs with your team. Use Canva’s drag-and-drop feature and layouts to design, share and print business cards, logos, presentations ETC

https://www.pixton.com/ comic and storyboard creator

https://www.quizalize.com/  fun quizzes in the classroom or remotely

https://eslvideo.com/Free quizzes, lessons and online conversation classes for English language learners.

https://draw.chat/  a free, anonymous, online drawing board

https://storybird.com/ artful storytelling and a unique language arts tool. 

http://online.anyflip.com/ book creator

https://www.educandy.com/ With Educandy, you can create interactive learning games in minutes. All you need is to enter the vocabulary or questions and answers and Educandy turns your content into cool interactive activities.

https://answergarden.ch/ AnswerGarden is a new minimalistic feedback tool. Use it for real time audience participation, online brainstorming and classroom feedback.

https://www.google.com/intl/el_gr/forms/about/ Google Forms is a tool that allows collecting information from users via a personalized survey or quiz. The information is then collected and automatically connected to a spreadsheet. The spreadsheet is populated with the survey and quiz responses.

https://socrative.com/ fun, on-the-fly assessments .An efficient way to monitor and evaluate learning that saves time for educators while delivering fun and engaging interactions for learners.

https://sites.google.com/new Google Sites is an amazingly simple tool to allow Teachers AND Students to create in class.  Projects, Portfolios, Lab Reports, anything can be turned into a Website and with the ease of New Google Sites it’s too easy and powerful to keep ignoring. 

 This tutorial will walk you through the basics of creating a Google Site and at the end I show you an example of a student e-Portfolio (link below to the same sample).

https://www.edmodo.com/  is a tool for educators to send messages, share class materials, and make learning accessible for students anywhere

An acrostic name gift, for our students

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This idea,was born out of the need for a name day -and even a birthday- gift for my students,  with a positive message, to show how much I love them and believe in them!

Since the first time I tried this idea, I have loved doing it year after year. It is wonderful to see my students’ reactions!
To make the craft, we need a post- it  note, for writing an adjective for each letter of the student’s name and a pen or pencil .

You may also need to have a positive personality adjective list printed, in advance.

Here’s one such list you can use.

If your students wish , they can write their own acrostic and make the craft themselves! I prefer to make it for them and choose the adjectives which I believe are best for them!

They are thrilled to know how much their teacher values their talents and respects their personality! It is a great self-esteem booster idea! Perfect for any age!

The children LOVE to see their acrostic  name, hanging on the pen ! This idea, gets ALL KINDS of compliments and attention from all students and colleagues too, which is always fun to receive !

Highly recommended! Why don’t you give it a try, too?

jana

My super power

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I believe that, humans might be lacking in supernatural abilities like invisibility, telepathy or flight, but,we have numerous hidden ‘Superpowers’ that are not just very human and personal, but really define who we are and could be on the deepest level. And I am always willing to make my students aware of them.

In class, I usually work with my 6th graders, starting a discussion about Superheroes .

It won’t take long until hands shoot up and at least half the kids want to tell you about watching “Batman”, “Wonder Woman”, or “Spiderman”. From this, I start to build a case where I compare my children to the Superheroes they admire. 

  • We make a list of the good things Superheroes do. Save people, stop the bad guys, protect the community, stop crime, etc.
  • I ask what special character traits a Superhero has. They’re kind, selfless, considerate, helpful, hardworking, trustworthy, etc.
  • I ask what it would feel like to be able to help people the way a Superhero does and what it would feel like to be helped.  

j1

After our discussion, I ask the question: “Did you know that YOU have a Superpower?”

Students, may initially be confused by such a bold statement but when you ask them which character traits they possess that are the same as a Superhero, you can point out the “superpowers” they have.

I conclude by brainstorming ideas that are applicable for that age group and empower my students to get started doing kind deeds for others.

j2

Here are few super power ideas, provided by students:

Bird-Woman

Flying would be very helpful. I wouldn’t have to pay for transportation to go home or even to go overseas! Flying around the city, going places I wouldn’t normally go would be a great way to see the world from a different angle. And of course I could visit my friends and relatives more often. I could also help people in need, and save cats from trees, like a fireman.

The power to get it done

I’d like the super power to be able to juggle homework, lessons, clubs, and more. Good time management is always a hard thing.

jj

Here I am

I’d love to be able to apparate, or appear wherever I wanted. I could wake up at the minute the bell rings and get to school within a few seconds…

Total recall

So many of my problems could be solved if I had a photographic memory. Think back to the times you had to memorize my English vocabulary lists.

Teleportation

Definitely teleportation! It is much more useful than other super powers. Life as a student is so busy and hectic, because we are always rushing off to school, tutorials, music lessons, and more. With the power of teleportation, we can save a lot of time and get more rest! And it would be better for the environment!

Immortality

My super power would be immortality. If I could live forever, I could use my “whole” life to help others during natural disasters, since I would not be afraid of losing my life. I could also give all my money to those in need, because I would never have to buy new clothes or accessories.

Flying

I live pretty far from my school, so it would be really convenient if could just fly there. I‘d also save a lot of money on bus fare, and protect the environment from more greenhouse gases.

Omnilingualism

I would like to have the superpower of omnilingualism, where I could instantly learn, speak, and understand any language fluently.

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EXTRA:Food for thought, for us teachers

Is creativity a super power??

We are all born with the ability to be creative and giving value to our original ideas, but some of us take more time learning about, advancing, and working on the different ways to use these ideas and technology in the classroom.

Creativity is not supposed to be a superpower. Those who have developed amazing ideas and products are considered masterminds and superheroes. But, is creativity really a superpower? If it is, then we are looking at superheroes every day. From the nurse in the hospital and the police officer, to your local bank teller and persons taking care of human resources. Whoever we are and whatever we do, the world needs OUR superpowers.

 

 

jjj

 

Teaching with… paper planes?

Sheets of paper that you would otherwise throw away can be the most adaptable resource for classroom games.

I have realized that, paper,  is a resource that is easy to get our hands on and would otherwise be just another toy or… recycled rubbish, and paper planes or other crafts, are  therefore easy to add to our class, with minimal or zero preparation.

I have recently, used paper planes as a getting-to-know-our-partners-better activity, during  our new etwinning  ” CUbeS: CUlture and Smiles in a box”  project,with huge success!

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Here are two ideas I would like to share, today….

A.

This fun writing icebreaker or brainstorming activity, works well with all students and topics .

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To start, the students write three to five facts about themselves on a piece of paper. Remember to ask them to write their full name on one of the wings. Then they put their creativity to work by folding that paper into a paper airplane.

On your count, everyone flies their planes toward the middle of the room. Then students pick up a plane that landed near them.

Students take turns reading the facts written on the plane and add one new fact about the person whose paper plane they have in their hands. Let the class help if individuals get stuck.

Repeat the procedure as many times as you, or the students, wish.

A class discussion may follow.

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B.

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Draw a target (with points – like a dart board) on the white board or use a cardboard box in the middle of the room. Then, students make paper airplanes and launch them after they answer your question in the form of a sentence. I don’t except my beginners to form complete sentence so I help them to form correct sentences. To my surprise they will repeat the sentence several times (while I’m helping them) just so they can throw their airplane. For beginner and low intermediate classes, I recommend formulating questions that lead to 1 or 2 types of answers. This allows for better memorization. For example, use CAN/WILL questions and write the beginning part of the answer on the board “I can/will…”.  I recommend giving a prize to make the target points mean something, thus peaking their interest. We usually play in teams.

Alternatively, you can buy a dart board!

(Stay tuned for more ideas on how to teach with paper crafts!)

State schools in Greece: can ELT teachers, actually, make a difference?

 

 

The basics

The Greek education system has been criticized over the years by Greek people for various issues, like difficulty levels of the exams during Panhellenic Examinations, number of teaching hours in schools etc.”

I personally, teach Primary.

In Greece, Primary schools are called “Dimotiko” (demotic, meaning municipal), a carryover term from a time when such schools were run by local communities. The name remains although it has been obsolete for decades. In the first two years pupils are not officially graded, and parents obtain feedback about their performance via oral communications with teachers. Grading begins in Year 3, and written exams are introduced in Year 5. Graduating from one year to the next is automatic, and pupils with deficient performance are given remedial tutoring. Years are called “classes”, from first to sixth.

Enrollment to the next tier of compulsory education, the Gymnasium, is automatic.”

 

My experience and few facts

I have been working  in a State/Public School, for more than 20 years . I have also worked in Private Schools, Private Language Institutions/Schools, Technological Educational Institutes (T.E.I.), Vocational education and training Schools.

Generally talking, there can be heard and seen lots of facts that show people’s disappointment by the Greek Education System.

Many people claim that Greek schools’ role does little to help them make use of their abilities in life.

In Greece, students often have lodged complaints about the teaching and grading system of their teachers.

More than 90% of Greek schools are public and over 90% of all pupils in Greece attend a public institution. The Greek Constitution grants free public education to all citizens, including immigrants who live in Greece permanently. All students are provided with free textbooks and free transport if they live far from the school.

 

Public education is certainly advantageous from a financial point of view, but may lack the necessary technical infrastructure and organization present in private schools.

Another important issue which is causing disturbance in many Greek families is the existence of paid private classes named frontistiria (φροντιστήρια) whose attendance by the Greek students has become a necessity in order for them to be able to achieve high grades and succeed in their exams. This is a phenomenon noticed especially as the student approaches the 3rd grade of upper high school because of the high difficulty of the Panhellenic Examinations. It has been an object of criticism due to the high fees that most Greek families are called to pay, thus deviating from the concept of a free and accessible education for everyone.

On the other hand, a system that is deprived of resources (school libraries, computer labs, modern buildings, adequate play spaces, etc) can only depend so much on the creative potential of the teachers. A lot of articles have been written on the starving students, lack of books, heating, electricity, copy paper, etc.

The system is starved. What do we expect the teachers to do with just a basal in their hands?

ELT in Greek Primary Schools and the English Teacher

Many years ago, the introduction of foreign language instruction in the early state primary
education was expected to limit or even replace private language tuition. Far from such
expectations, however, the number of private language institutes in Greece more than
tripled ,during the last decades, as private language tuition seems to have become
the norm rather than the exception.

The data of the Ministry of Education show that currently there are more than 7,350 language schools in the
country. The fact is that state schools provide fewer contact hours and less intensive courses
than private language institutes… this may be one of the reasons why parents tend to believe
that foreign languages are better learned at private language institutes.

 

Teachers of English in Greece are expected to be highly proficient in the language they teach
and quite well versed in current teaching methodologies. However, university courses in
methodology seem to place more emphasis on raising student teachers’ awareness of
different methods and approaches to language teaching rather than providing an
educational background of pedagogical principles .
Contrary to what might be expected, the introduction of English language teaching in
primary education has had very little influence on the programme of studies of the relevant
university departments! Consequently, even today, the pedagogical education of English
language teachers seems to be quite limited.

According to  my dear Greek colleague Vivi Hamilou, on her  blog post :
“Can we really expose Greek EFL learners in public primary schools to experiential learning (learning by doing and making meaning from having a direct, personal experience)? I couldn’t really answer that by saying just a ‘yes’, or ‘no’. We work in public schools with outdated and or inadequate facilities, we only have 3 45-minute sessions with our learners per week at best, transporting learners to the appropriate place for experiential learning to place costs a lot … I could go on forever, but would I only be making excuses?”
 
  Unfortunately, the constant changes in the Greek education
system and political instability have affected TEYL in the country.
Language teachers in Greece, whether in the private or public sector, are not offered pre- or
in-service training, which is vital for the development of any educator. The
present situation results in new language teachers beginning their career
confused and lost. Because of their lack of self-confidence language educators
resort to teacher-centred approaches which they imitate from their own
experience as students as will be discussed (Giannikas, 2013a).
Language teachers in state schools carry the stereotype of the
demotivated educator with limited will of professional development due to the
security they feel once commencing a career in the public sector. During
interviews, however, state school teachers made it a point to emphasize the
extent to which they take pride in their work. Those who have been in the
profession longer claim that they have grown exhausted of the constant
criticism they endure, since they feel they are not the ones to blame. They
believe to be neglected lacking basic facilities and an updated course-book.
They have not received training and are currently struggling with various
teaching approaches suggested by the Ministry of Education. The fact that
teachers have had no guidance to make any new adjustments to their practice,
has increased their hesitation in introducing their own teaching material,
changing teaching approaches or even applying a different seating layout
(Giannikas, 2013b).
Greek Primary Schools -Can we make a difference?
On the other hand, I work in Primary and I know first hand that, many English Teachers in Greece, use all the above as excuses ….
And I personally, hate excuses!

 I strongly believe, we should never complain, in life, in general  !

I never do!

After all, my  motto is….”when there is a will, there is a way” !

Even if things are not ideal, we teachers can do our best, with what we have.

For me, the key word, when it comes to teaching YL is CREATIVITY- Not school resources and Ministry policies!

Creativity makes a huge difference. Creativity is vital for any classroom to be successful. Creativity can make the difference in our ELT even under the most difficult circumstances! Especially, in State Schools.

Although formal training will help you develop as a teacher, it’s important to connect with others in our field. Inspiration can come from the big-name speakers and writers, but just as often, it comes from teachers like you and me.

It’s never been easier to find inspiring teachers to follow on Facebook, Twitter and in the blogosphere. We can follow and read their blogs, we can join a Teachers Association and attend  talks and workshops, live or online.

You can start a teaching journal or a blog. I have!

The act of blogging and describing your teaching ideas generates conversations with other teachers, and those conversations stimulate more ideas!

Learning about other things is important too. Creative teachers bring more to class than just a knowledge of teaching.

A sure-fire way to burn out as a teacher is, to stick to the same ideas and techniques without trying something new. This approach is bound to demotivate your students at some point too.

According to my favourite High School teacher, Vasilis Siouzoulis, our role as English Teachers, regardless the circumstances and the objections , is to inspire , to groom conscientious, focused, purposeful students who will combine efforts with already laid brass tracks to build a great world.

Being a teacher means being there, giving everything I can, making sure I am as knowledgeable as I can be about my content and about my students’ lives; it means sacrifice for the sake of helping kids in need and it means caring about students unconditionally. I am not a teacher for me–We are  teachers for our students. When teaching becomes about us, I think , we will know, it is time to stop teaching.  Being a teacher is exciting, enjoyable, and REWARDING! There’s nothing more rewarding for a teacher than to see how happy , engaged and enthusiastic her  students become when they work on something that makes sense and connects the class with the world! It’s priceless! Believe me! It’s worth any effort!It brings the class together, it helps the teacher connect with the students more and the students connect with their peers all over the globe by means of an international code of communication: English!
My  most favourite quote, comes from Albert Einstein:

If the longing for the goal is powerfully alive within us, then we shall not lack the strength to find the means for reaching the goals!

ABC with bottle caps games and a… Beanstalk !

Have your little ones just mastered the alphabet? Then it is time for a revision! And what could be a better way to revise than by playing a game? After searching online, I found this incredible idea: The ABC Beanstalk on this amazing blog! I tried it and it really worked! Why don’t you give it a try, too?

https://rockinteachermaterials.wordpress.com

I found this idea a great one,  since it can also be used as an in-class project which can later decorate the wall of your classroom! Let’s take it step by step.

Firstly, make sure that your students are familiar with the story of Jack and the Beanstalk. Prepare the beanstalk and bring it to the class, but make sure that you haven’t glued the leaves. Give the leaves to your students and ask them to put them in alphabetical order. Then, you can glue the leaves all together.

Now that the beanstalk is ready, it’s time for a board game! Give each student a game piece and ask them to place them at the bottom of the beanstalk. Explain that they have to roll the dice and move forward the number they roll. Once they land on a leaf, they have to say/spell a word starting with that letter.  If not, then they have to move one leaf back. The students who reaches the cloud first is the winner. Make sure you reward the winners! You can give him or her a big sticker. I often play this game in teams and not in pairs, using a big beanstalk poster on the wall. In this case, I award them one point, if they get the word right and a second point , if they manage to spell it right, too.

This is a fun and engaging way to revise the alphabet that your students will certainly love!

Bottle caps games

a)HOW TO PLAY the “Bottle Caps ALPHABET” memory GAME

(1) Make sure that all the caps are messed up so that they aren’t in order.

(2)  Turn all of the caps over so you cannot see the letters anymore.

(3) Place them in neat rows.

(4) A player turns over 2 caps.

….. If there is a match, they put those caps in their own pile and then gets to take another turn.

….. If there is NOT a match, the player then turns the caps back over ( in the same spot that they found them) .   The next player then gets to take a turn.

(5) The game is over when all of the matches are found. The player with the most caps wins the game.

b) The “Bottle caps ALPHABET” word game

(1) Make sure that all the caps are messed up so that they aren’t in order, on the floor.

(2) Divide the class in two teams

(3) Invite two students, representing the two teams,to come where the caps are

(4) Give them one word and ask them to try and write using the bottle caps, as fast as possible!

(5) The fastest student, wins a point for his/her team

(6) The game is over when all of the students have had their turn. The team with the most points, wins the game.

Team work ,matters!

The ability to work together with others as part of a team is not simply a skill needed at school, it is a vital skill used in all areas of life. For me, school is, an excellent time to cultivate the teamwork skills, children will then draw from, throughout their life.

 

For a team to work together effectively, it takes all members of the team to respect each other’s abilities and opinions. Teamwork is a highly social activity and involves much interaction and exchanging of ideas and actions. We all understand that, being part of a team enables a child to move from more intrapersonal (individual) ways of thinking to interpersonal (communicating with others). It will help students in all areas of their learning, and help them to feel part of a community, too.

The biggest problem in my country’s educational system is that, teamwork is not encouraged at schools- at least, not as much as it should be….

Working as part of a team will strengthen students’ social and emotional skills, help develop their communication skills, and can improve confidence.

Team games, are also important…From experience, the best way to teach children English is to not only get them physically involved within the lesson, but also to create the illusion that they are simply playing games. And rather than focus on individual development, it is also a very good idea to promote class interaction as far as possible.

Even very young learners can become independent in their learning and guided early on they will be more likely to grow into autonomous and successful language learners.

Creative use of language makes communication possible even when students may not know the perfect grammar for what they are trying to say.Nothing is more true to life than that.

When students work in groups, they have to work together to accomplish a goal. Even when the use of grammar is weak in these collaborations, communication happens, and that will give your students an advantage, when they have to face communication in the English speaking world.

Encouragement in class,is crucial ! One way encouragement comes, is when lower level students see the accomplishments of higher level students.Less accomplished students will become better speakers just by talking to others more advanced than them, without help and without pressure….When they work in groups, I see that students help each other learn.

One of the most important things for me, as far as group work is concerned, is speaking!

Putting our students in groups, gets them speaking up and practicing the language that they are trying to learn. And, speaking, is not top priority in the Greek language class…. not even in the private Greek Language schools-“Frodisteria”…

Students who are kinesthetic learners, will benefit greatly from learning through games and group work,too. Students of varying English levels can work together to support each other, make decisions together and learning from one another. Games and group work can involve all of the aspects of language—listening, speaking, reading and writing.

 

In our class, children experience teamwork in many different forms. They may be asked to work in pairs, small groups, or larger groups on a variety of different things. They may be asked to work in teams for physical activities such as ball games or running games or more formal activities such as projects. Children also often form their own team activities during their play time.

“You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation” – Plato

I am sharing an interesting post about the benefits of Team Building, here

 

Benefits of Team Building

1.  Getting to know each other better
2.  Bonding
3.  Building team spirit
4.  Encouraging tolerance and understanding
5.  Creating a sense of belonging and connectivity
6.  Creating a climate of cooperation and collaborative problem-solving
7.  Improving motivation
8.  Improving communication within the group
9.  Team development – Building a community with a common purpose
10. Developing trust, care, compassion, kindness and creating empathy (Trusting each other AND yourselves)
11. Building self-esteem

12. Creating an understanding and awareness of individual differences, personality strengths and  weaknesses
13. Breaking down barriers
14. Creativity – Doing things differently! Out of the box!!
15. Higher levels of job satisfaction and commitment.And all the time … Having a huge amount of FUN

“PuppETs-European Travelers”: an amazing ETwinning project!

This old time classic pen pals project, gave a real purpose and meaning to learning a foreign language and helped the students experience education in a different country through European citizenship ,using Arts and crafts and a new tool: twinspace!

The project lasted  a school year and we had to complete many individual items . We had to create common projects about: ourselves, our school, our country , our town ,our favourite sports and hobbies, our customs and special traditions, our most favourite place in our countries , our daily routine and habits and also ,create our pen pals as PUPPETS , reading their appearance descriptions and looking at their self-portraits ! We lived in another country, as our school and country ambassadors, and experienced life in another class, far away from home, for one school year! Puppet-students, wrote on their twinspace diaries about their adventures and collaboratively wrote and put on stage, a puppet play about their experience! Our projects and letters were both sent to our friends by snail mail and uploaded on twinspace, to share and compare, in a different class.

Pedagogical Innovation and Creativity 

This was a new and innovative partnership for my school; It was the first time the students participated in such an innovative ETwinning project.

Both, group work and independent research was used  by pupils.

The innovation and creativity of the project is based on the following factors:

1.The willingness of the teachers involved to communicate easily – via phone, email, sms

2.All partner  schools being inclusive of each other, working as one unit on each common project

3.That the children felt able to be creative with their audience in the partner school in mind and dare to share and compare.They also used their imagination and creativity as well as their artistic skills, in order to create their puppet pals and write/stage their puppet plays.

4.That the learning from the project was so significant that it will not be lost from children’s minds

5.The student-Puppet-Ambassadors, created by and for the students ,served as a  meaningful pathway towards understanding and learning more about our friends.

6.Our student-Puppets project, provided the opportunity to break down classroom walls. It gave our students a chance, to see a world outside of their walls.Students,  became fully aware of the other European partner countries and their ways of life. Citizenship became a practical ,rather than theoretical, part of the curriculum.

7.Our ETwinning project, encouraged cooperation between teachers and unified learning. It also offered us the chance to collaborate with the local Puppet Theatre and museum,which was highly beneficial for all of us.

The scope of learning widened from English skills to several other subjects. The idea of being   partners in a European project, encouraged the pupils to find out more about different European countries, their nature, art, food and ways  of living. In the context of European partnerships,our work  provided in the shared learning environment were not only learning material, but were a meaningful pathway towards understanding and learning more about our partners.

  1. In this sense, the true revelation has been that apart from climate and language, people in Europe are essentially very similar with shared values and interests. Surely, this  helped us to overcome our prejudices and made us more open to intercultural cooperation.

Curricular integration 

The theme was chosen deliberately to ensure that the project and its work was as cross-curricular as possible. The areas of ,EFL,  social studies, expressive arts, citizenship,and basic IT , have all been integrated into the sharing of  our common  project activities .

The main focus was to improve the learning of English.

This fitted well into the Curriculum and all my  pupils  benefited.  Our  project involved MFL, language, social studies, expressive arts and basic technology.

We held a European Day of Languages to get the rest of the school know our European friends better. We also had “Puppet Theatre” days, when our student-puppet-guests, presented their projects about their country and way of life, to us! It was exciting to lend them our voices and have them “talk” to us-we could also ask them questions! We later,uploaded all the photos  on our Twinspace “Puppet Diaries”, where everyone could make comments or just read, share and compare ideas, thoughts and feelings.Finally, we were invited to take part in a local Puppet Theatre Festival, where we had the chance to present our play to the local community!

A second focus was citizenship. By exchanging information about each other’s towns, lives  and heritage, the pupils  learned a great deal about each other’s environment, way of life and culture. As far as my school is concerned, I made sure that almost all our project activities were connected  to each of our English coursebook units. Luckily, our coursebooks , are based on both cross curricular and cross cultural topics quite relevant to our Etwinning project theme! Also, they are based on both creative  project work and group  collaboration which  was  highly helpful in our Etwinning project!

I  made sure that, ALL my 85  students, in different age and  language level, took part in our  Etwinning project, a fact  that  proved to be a real challenge!

Finally, our student-puppet-guests, are going to spend their Summer holidays  in our partner countries, write a Summer Diary entry about their Summer adventures and come back home in Autumn, to share it with us.

Communication and exchange between partner schools 

From the beginning, there was a strong plan which gave the teachers guidelines, responsibilities and timescale for each element of the project.

What we practically did  ,was  that, we sent our pen friends all our group projects, on a topic we had already worked on in class and we asked them to reply ,by sending us the same topic based project! The projects we sent, were  in the form of posters, flyers, brochures, magazines, PP presentations, albums , videos, etc….In class, we talked about the similarities and differences of cultures and ways of life !

The students’ very first project was their self-portraits and appearance descriptions, which were used to help their  pals create their puppet-selves!

Arts and craft played an important role in n our project work !

If the kids felt  the need to personalize their work  even more, they were  free to include little gifts having to do with themselves or the project topic, … I always printed  lots of pictures and displayed  them on our school  notice boards.Students were also encouraged to interact on  twinspace ,both at the school ICT lab and from home. This all gave a real purpose and meaning to learning a foreign language.

In these difficult times of financial crisis , our students were able to live abroad, as puppets and experience life in a different country and class for a whole school year ,sharing and comparing our ways of life and making new friends.

The most important tool of the project , was our Twinspace Forums Puppet Diaries: by visiting the Puppet Diaries on a regular basis,  the children via their puppets, became ambassadors of our school and country! The pupils shared information and experiences, and thus learned from each other and strengthened their communication skills. They were also encouraged to interact on twinspace Discussion Forums, where they had to answer simple questions about themselves and our projects, as well as to read and make comments on their partners’ replies.

Collaboration between partner schools. 

In collaboration the teachers in all countries, decided on the range of topics that we would cover and the optimum time for sending/receiving the correspondence items.

We tried together  to do some pre-matching of pupils and classes , based on their known interests.

By all means we  ‘recycled’ language that pupils have previously learnt in their English class .

We created a teachers’  e-mail exchange, too and a frequent collaboration on the Teachers’ bulletin.

We all had to make our partner’s Puppet-Self! In other words, create a puppet-pal ,with similar characteristics with our pen pal, to host in our class and country,for the whole school year!

Our puppets, would travel, play and learn, with their pen pals, in another country and class,experiencing a different way of life.

We created  our Puppet-Ambassadors Diaries on Forums , which we often updated, with the help of our puppets.

We uploaded   videos about our area ,as well as videos about our schools and puppet plays.

We also agreed on the letters and projects which would be implemented by our pupils and agreed on  wall display of correspondence received from partner schools .

We made  questionnaires, and quizzes about our common projects to see how much we had learned, about each other.

We finally, decided to have our students host our guest Puppets during the summer and write on the Puppets’ Summer Diaries which would later be sent , along with the puppets, back home!

We all agreed that, all  students’  final products -our projects,  would be achieved through group work ! No group  project was sent abroad, before it was presented in class ,with the help of our student-puppet-friends and was later displayed on the classroom walls and ,finally, uploaded on Twinspace Pages.

Use of technology 

Some of the partner schools ,had not  used most of the  web tools we had to use for this project,  before .

I had small  groups of my students, use Photoshop to enhance and crop photos and then put them into Movie Maker to produce a school video  to be posted on Twinspace for other schools to view and had them to create  a Quiz about our town. We also used Kizoa to make short videos, padlet to work on our Puppet play script, collaboratively, and a Word Cloud Generator,for feedback.

I have consulted and collaborated with partner teachers using Skype and a webcam. Outcomes and project work were saved on Twinspace ,allowing uploaded materials and presentations to be compared and contrasted easily across all partner  countries.My students, were asked to interact with their pen friends on twinspace ,using their home computers, too !   Video-conferencing, using new webcams, were all new experiences for us .Our project brought a new and exciting dimension to our work.

Actually, the ability to use ICT is becoming more and more vital in today’s modern information society. However, ICT skills are still acquired mainly outside public educational institutes, in my country.

Actually, communicating with real people from other countries appeared to motivate the learners in a very special way, also in the use of basic ICT tools, mainly with our ICT teacher’s guidance.

Through ETwinning pupils learn to use ICT tools in a pedagogically meaningful way.

They wrote letters in the forums, chatted, did interactive exercises, took and uploaded digital photos and videos, searched for information, etc. And all this took place in the pedagogical context of studying English communication

Results, impact and documentation

The pupils were inspired and motivated. They had a great deal of fun working collaboratively .

Students had an opportunity to develop a sense of pride and respect toward other traditions. Our Puppet-Ambassadors, made Europe a more real concept, especially for those students who have never traveled abroad.

The organisation and commitment of the students has been very impressive.

The children showed a great interest in exploring another country and its way of life, as well as demonstrating increased motivation in learning a foreign language. They were always eager to participate, found information themselves, drew pictures, made posters, presented the project to other classes and last, but not least, create their own puppets and write their own Puppet play!

The group  work of my students was collected, and ultimately, shared with our partners. Writing and illustrating personal responses gave students the opportunity to boost their art and creative writing skills. Reading the personal responses of their European  partners, gave students greater insight into their partners’ context and worldview.

The project also brought the class together, as the pupils were working as a team. Through these activities the children also became ambassadors for the school and country .

The pupils  learnt from each other and strengthened  their communication skills.

All in all, we achieved   :

  • to promote group activities  for tolerance and cultural understanding;
  • to strengthen my students’ intercultural competences in order to be ready for responsible understanding of Europe’s identity and common values;
  • to develop the European dimension through arts education (puppets) and creativity with the aim to promote multiculturalism and tolerance between students;
  • To develop “Out-of-the-box” activities that would encourage mutual support, team building and group cohesion ;
  • Encourage personalized learning approaches by acquiring new artistic and pedagogical skills with the aim of developing new ideas and creativity of the students involved in the project

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Interactive Grammar Notebooks-part c

As I had already written in my first  and second posts on Interactive Grammar Notebooks, last year was my first year to use interactive notebooks.  Before school began, I found myself  with the desire PLUS precious  direction, from my  amazing Greek colleague, Papadeli Sophia !

I have to thank her again so much, for all the inspiration and support!

Overall, they were a success- Experimenting on them during this first school year with few students, among whom was my daughter, was great fun!…I’m sure, we’ll do much better this  year ,with all my afternoon classes, at school!

This  notebook is built, by adding each grammar skill or concept as an insert gradually throughout the year as they are introduced to new material. By the end of year, they  have a complete notebook they can use as a reference and I can use as an assessment tool or portfolio piece.This is simple and can be done with any grammar curriculum we are using.

First, I used a common notebook,  school glue, scissors and markers/colored pencils. Since we are fully stocked on school supplies, I did not need to make any new purchases.

Then, ideally, we should reserve the first 1-2 pages for the table of contents. I admit that, I didn’t do that, this first year…Going forward, we add a new page for each skill.

The next step is to find some ideas or even printables and foldables for the Grammar notebooks …I asked Sophia Papadeli to help me get started and I also visited Pinterest and used my imagination and creativity, of course!

Here are just  few new pages for you to have a look at, get inspired and hopefully, start your own Grammar Notebooks, this school year!

PREPOSITIONS OF PLACE/MOVEMENT/TIME

PREPOSITIONS OF TIME

PRESENT PROGRESSIVE

BE GOING TO

 

 

BE GOING TO for making predictions based on evedence

BE GOING TO -plans

WILL

PAST PROGRESSIVE

 

ARTICLES

RELATIVES

COUNTABLE-UNCOUNTABLE NOUNS

REPORTED SPEECH

EXPRESS FUTURE PLANS, USING THE PRESENT PROGRESSIVE

SOME/ANY- EXPRESSING QUANTITY

MODALS ( A guessing game, using pictures)