Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Teaching Vocabulary Appropriate for Beginner Young Learners through Games - Report on Konstantinos Kemparis’s Session

Konstantinos Kemparis gave a very interesting and informative talk on the importance of teaching vocabulary and how games can help young learners retain new words in a fun and inspiring way.

                                                                                     Photo by Aspa Georgopoulou

He started off by stressing the importance of vocabulary in communication and by extension in language learning. Through several references and examples, it became clear that “no matter how well students learn grammar, without words to express a wide range of meanings, communication in L2 cannot happen in any meaningful way” (McCarthy 1990: viii). It is therefore, essential for students, as they develop greater expression and fluency, to acquire productive vocabulary knowledge in order to communicate effectively and also develop their own vocabulary learning strategies.

Younger learners, who are at the beginning of schooling, serve as the best age group for developing good vocabulary learning habits and strategies for lifetime. But, what is the best way to teach them? According to Konstantinos, the translation of lists of words isolated of context, “limits opportunities for students to develop their lexis in a meaningful fashion”. Games, on the other hand, can help young learners, who enjoy learning through playing, retain new words in a fun and motivating way.

Teaching the vocabulary goes through four stages, which according to Doff (1998:98) are presentation, practice, production and review. To effectively acquire new vocabulary, it is essential for students to go through all of them. 

                                                                                                                                Photo by Aspa Georgopoulou

There are several techniques. Konstantinos presented seven, which as proposed by Harmer (2003:159) include realia, pictures, mime, action and gesture, contrast, enumeration, explanation and translation. The choice of the most suitable technique lies within the teachers’ knowledge of their students’ characteristics. 

Vocabulary appropriateness is another important choice.  “Coursebooks aimed at young learners often focus on nouns, as they are easy to illustrate. However, language is more than just that”. Konstantinos suggested choosing high frequency words and lexical chunks and emphasized on how important it is to take students’ schematic knowledge and cognitive ability into consideration. 

Teaching vocabulary to young learners also entails a good knowledge of how they acquire it. “Learning a new word is not a simple task that is done once and then completed”. When teaching young learners, vocabulary items should be recycled in different activities, with different skills and for multiple times. 

Games are ideal for serving these purposes and come with many more advantages. They add variation, improve attention span and concentration, encourage pupil participation and communication and reduce distances between students and the teacher. 

However, teaching vocabulary to young learners and using games in the classroom can give rise to several issues. Konstantinos went on by addressing them and offering valuable hands-on solutions:

1. Young learners need a lot of motivation in order to participate and learn effectively. Teachers should find ways to make the learning experience enjoyable and stimulating. They should also establish a class atmosphere of mutual trust and respect and show their enthusiasm so as to inspire students to reach their full potential. 
2. Remembering and being able to retain new vocabulary can be challenging for young learners. In order to make the learning process more memorable, teachers need to recycle it through different learning tasks. Visual aids, personalization, kinesthetic teaching, TPR activities and games can make the experience of learning the vocabulary more memorable.
3. Students may often get confronted with spelling and/or phonology difficulties. Some useful games to help them deal with these difficulties in a more fun and creative way are “paper and pen” games such as cryptograms, hangman, running dictation and dictogloss. Other techniques include finger modelling and backchaining.
4. Playing games in the classroom is exciting, but can also be noisy. Calmer activities should always follow in order to restore the balance of the lesson, calm students down and settle them into a routine. 
5. Some parents and school owners may feel that games are a waste of time. Good teacher-parent and teacher-school owner communication should be a main goal as it can help bridge gaps and benefit all parts. 

                                                                                                                   Photo by Aspa Georgopoulou

In the end, Konstantinos presented the game “Pass the Ball” from the book Oxford Basics for Children. A fun and communicative game to encourage students recall and recycle the target vocabulary. To play, students sit in two circles. The teacher places a set of picture flash cards, facing down in the middle of each circle. While listening to music or singing, students in each group, pass a ball around. When the music stops, the student with the ball picks up a card from the pile. The rest of the students try to guess what’s on it, the size and the colour of the object, by asking questions. The game ends, when every card has been picked up. The aim for each group is to correctly name all the cards first.

An enlightening talk on the whys, the whats and the hows of teaching vocabulary to young learners, with a useful theoretical background and a variety of interesting and valuable ideas to put into practice.

Report by Aspa Georgopoulou

Interview with Konstantinos Kemparis by Dimitra Christopoulou

The ‘Phalange’ Effect - Report on Georgios Chatzis's Session

George Chatzis was one of the presenters at the 23rd TESOL Macedonia-Thrace Northern Greece Annual International Convention in March 2016. The title of his presentation was, to say the least, intriguing. No wonder, Mr Chazis started his presentation with the following questions: "What is 'Phalange'?" making his point at the same time right from the start of his session; unknown words removed from their context have little, if any, meaning to any learner, whereas, on the contrary, they become meaningful when presented in a context.  

                                                                                                                                             Photo by Margarita Kosior

                                                                                                                        Photo by Margarita Kosior

 Therefore, teaching and learning should be all about putting things in context. In learning, just like in cooking, separate ingredients may be meaningless, and it is a complete dish that has real flavor.

Unfortunately, in the exam-oriented environment of many education systems, there is little room for teaching, and the focus is on testing. This creates anxiety in many language learners who often focus exclusively on unknown lexis. They misunderstand the process of learning and believe that in order to understand a reading passage they need to know the meaning of every single word in it and this leads to L1 interference. The role of the teacher is to shift students' attention from single words to contexts, from word-by-word translation to adaptation, and cure this, as the presenter humoristically put it, "student myopia" as a result of which our students focus on the ball and miss the whole court.

                                                                                                 Photo by Margarita Kosior

Putting things into context gives learners a chance to present more than one interpretation. On the other hand, learning words for tests and exams involves memorization and gives only one possible answer.

                                                                                                                  Photo by Margarita Kosior

 Our job as teachers is to switch the students' focus and make them realize that context is important. It can be summarized in one sentence: "if you want to teach a language, don't teach a language". In other words, our role is to guide our students and encourage them to involve in extensive reading which presents the language in context, but also show them practical applications of the language they use, since only then it acquires real meaning.

Report by Margarita Kosior

Are you ready to Vlog? Your students are! - Report on Vicky Chionopoulou's Session

One of the concerns of the majority of EFL teachers nowadays is how to find ways to develop 21st century skills effectively with their students. Vicky Chionopoulou demonstrated a very creative and entertaining way to do so in this year’s Tesol Macedonia Thrace convention at ACT on 26th March: Vlogs. 

                                                                                                 Photo by Emmanuel Kontovas

Vlogs are video blogs in which instead of writing you shoot a video and upload it. They have been popular for a number of years, especially with young people. What Vicky Chionopoulou did in this presentation was to show how vlogs can successfully be implemented in an EFL classroom making lessons more entertaining, interesting, motivating and creative. 

The presentation started with a definition of vlogging and a comment on the fact that, though many teachers and parents would consider this a total waste of time where students are glued to a screen neglecting their homework, it is actually a task through which they are exposed to varied authentic language and are relaxed while learning, working on a task of their own choice and interest. 

                                                                                               Photo by Emmanuel Kontovas

Mrs Chionopoulou continued by showing a video of Zoella (Zoe Sugg), who is the queen of vlogging and went on to demonstrate how we can prepare a vlog with our students. The first step is to check interest and see what our students are interested in. Once we have chosen the topic, we need to provide input which could be a text, photos, videos or something from the coursebook. The next step is a general discussion with our students where we ask them open ended questions before moving on to the next step where though funneling questions and offering them limited information on the topic we lead them to research the topic themselves. We then ask our students to write the script and we move on by editing it and giving feedback. 

The next step is to shoot the video using simple tools, such as the students’ smartphones. This is the stage where we focus on intonation, pronunciation, accuracy, fluency and presentation skills. Once the video is shot, the post – production stage follows. Students can use simple tools like Windows Movie Maker. The video can then be uploaded on YouTube or the school’s blog or a Facebook closed group or it can simply be stored on the student’s smartphone. It’s important to remember that the early stages are always supervised and written permission by the parents is required so as to be able to upload.

A great advantage of vlogs is that students continuously interact with their viewers and exchange comments with them in the target language. They are also a student-centered activity which is motivating, personal and through which students learn by doing, by making connections to the world and by eventually having a great sense of achievement.
Mrs Chionopoulou also showed two vlogs created by her teenage students. 
The first was created by a B1 level 13-year –old student entitled “Trip to London” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o2ShkD-5G24) and the second one was shot by a B2 level 14-year-old student on zorbing (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PmdENDi4k5s). Both videos were impressive and we could all see students using English in a natural, meaningful way and really doing very well at it! It became clear at that moment that students do develop 21st century skills through vlogging since they develop critical thinking and problem solving skills (especially while filming and editing). Vlogs can not only be used as collaborative tools but also as community building tools which raise cultural awareness and understanding. 

                                                                                                Photo by Emmanuel Kontovas

Finally, the talk ended by mentioning that our students also need to be taught about cyberbullying and how to deal with it, what digital footprint is and the importance of (not) disclosing personal information. 

Concluding, it is evident that vlogging can be a strong communicative and humanistic approach where students spend a lot of time communicating and being engaged in an activity which stimulates their interest and leads to greater knowledge (obtained through personal research) and a sense of achievement!

Report by Olga Ksenitopoulou 

Friday, May 27, 2016

Inspiring through CLIL: Learning English through the Use of Content - Report on Jeannie Iskos's Session

“To CLIL is to communicate, to experience and to integrate” according to Jeannie Iskos who gave a very interesting talk on CLIL and how it can be embedded in our daily lessons at Tesol Macedonia Thrace annual convention on March 27th at ACT. Jeannie Iskos is an English teacher at Anatolia elementary school and also teaches Biological Sciences at Perrotis College in Thessaloniki, Greece. 

                                                                                                                                                                            Photo by Margarita Kosior

Her presentation started with a definition of CLIL( Content and Language Integrated Learning) which is an approach to language teaching where content, which is not language related (e.g. Science or Geography), is taught through a foreign language for students. CLIL involves a classroom that has a dual purpose: to teach a foreign language and a content area. At times the scales may bend towards language learning or towards content, depending on the needs of the students, the course design and the focuses schools may have. 

Ms Iskos went on to explain that CLIL is implemented in various ways. It can either be a collaborative endeavor where there is both a language and content teacher involved or it can be taught by a language teacher who is comfortable with teaching another subject area. It can also be a specific subject taught at a school in a foreign language or it can be small units that are introduced within the natural flow of a content area using a foreign language. Reference was also made to the schools where CLIL is implemented nowadays in Greece such as the Experimental School of Evosmos, some public schools which have done units in Environmental Education and at Anatolia within a STEM course on a yearlong level. It can also be taught as isolated units at different schools( a mythology unit or a geography unit) or during after-school or club programs at private schools. 
The countries in which CLIL is implemented in the school curriculum were also mentioned. These include :

  • Germany  where CLIL is very active due to many schools having a module educational organization
  • Spain where CLIL is state mandated and has immersion classes. 
  • Portugal where private schools carry on some form of CLIL
  • Cyprus where CLIL is starting to pick up with projects being implemented at a state level. 

Ms Iskos also mentioned why CLIL is not prominent in Greece; the main reason seems to be that it is not state mandated. Moreover, a lot of teachers are not aware of it or do not have the understanding or proper training to support it. 
Then, Ms Iskos referred to the four Cs of CLIL (Culture, Communication, Content, Cognition), explaining why it is significant. Firstly, students are driven to learn a language through content which adds to their motivation. In addition, CLIL teaches through experiencing topics which means that learning happens without consciously realizing it. However, CLIL is not only Language and content; it is also communication since students need to communicate and co-operate on projects and activities. Finally, CLIL involves cultural experiences as well. 
She went on to present the steps one needs to make in order to create isolated CLIL lessons, pointing out that it is essential to have carefully thought about what you will be teaching and what the students need to know so as to gain the most out of it. 

  • Step 1 : Teach the vocabulary beforehand so that it does not hinder the experience but augments it. 
  • Step 2 : Be clear towards the students on what your expectations are. 

These steps were clearly demonstrated through an example she presented of how she taught prepositions of place through the use of art. After pre-teaching the vocabulary and the prepositions of place, famous paintings depicting rooms were shown to the students who had to describe them, talk about them and how the paintings made them feel and finally had to draw a room inspired by an artist they saw including a description of it.

 She also went on to demonstrate how CLIL enhances cultural awareness by showing a project her students prepared on describing houses from different parts of the world.

Ms Iskos also mentioned that CLIL is effective with very young learners. Since children are naturally curious about their environment, learning vocabulary can become a new springboard for introducing a new world to them. It is also a fact that children learn and retain vocabulary by experiencing it. An example of this was illustrated when Ms Iskos showed the work of very young learners on a unit on insects. They went out in the yard, found some insects and then created their own in class. They also looked at insect cycles and read a book. The result was amazing; Not only had the students retained all the names of insects but also many of them wanted to learn more about other kinds of insects and their parents commented that their children were looking for insects at their homes.

If a teacher wants to implement CLIL as a whole course they need to carefully plan it and take small steps. One lesson needs to build on the previous ones and there needs to be an understanding of the level of the language that a certain group of students can use. 

A STEM course introduced at Anatolia at the 2nd grade level using the English language was later mentioned. STEM involves teaching Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. In this course students are not only taught the content of these areas but also how to think critically and apply their knowledge. The teacher starts with the students’ prior knowledge (eg numbers) and moves on to other concepts like volume and mass. The vocabulary can be pre-taught through images and demonstrations. It is significant to remember that one needs to work with a level slightly above the students’ English comfort zone. If the vocabulary is too difficult or the concepts are too hard to understand, then the students will not learn either the content or the language. Evidently, there are many benefits in teaching STEM since the students learn the language by actively engaging in it and the language learnt is in a native-like environment. 

                                                                                                                                                                            Photo by Margarita Kosior

Concluding, Ms Iskos made reference to her experiences from a CLIL class mentioning its benefits. Students learn to co-operate because CLIL promotes projects and group work. Furthermore, the students’ perception of the world changes since they begin to wonder, ask questions and have the desire to learn more; they are excited and motivated to attend classes and they bring their knowledge to their home trying to demonstrate it by using the language. Ms Iskos ended her presentation with what a teacher needs to bear in mind so as to incorporate CLIL in the curriculum. You need a positive attitude and willingness to try new things and risk. There also needs to be openness towards collaborating with colleagues, specialists and students. One should be ready to learn from their mistakes and constantly assess various steps. Good planning is necessary but there should also be room for adjustments. Many teachers are hesitant towards this approach but it is definitely worth implementing either as a whole course or as separate units!

Report by Olga Ksenitopoulou

E-Teaching and Interculturality - Report on Tatjana Jancic’s Session

At the beginning of her presentation, Tatjana Jancic clearly pointed out that the lack of cultural awareness seemed to be a bigger problem in online teaching than poor Internet connection. Therefore, an e-teacher has to be very careful when selecting online teaching materials for potential students.

The educational opportunities that global learning offers have stimulated a great deal of interest in online learning. However, the institutions and individual educators have to deal with the challenges regarding curriculum design, different learning styles and diverse cultural backgrounds.

Later on, Tatjana shared her own personal experiences regarding her work as an online material writer and recruiter, asking the audience whether they had had any online teaching or learning experience. She also made references to some really useful, ready-to-use learning platforms like Coursera and Future Learn, and learning websites like Polyglot Club and Speaky.com. She went on to list the most common cultural faux-pas in online teaching and material writing, underlining the four basic factors regarding e-teaching and effective ways to avoid them.

 What is great about E-Teaching? The common answer would be meeting people from different countries and cultures. However, we should take into consideration different types of cultures. Matching a student with a responsible, culturally sensitive teacher is a must!
Selecting the appropriate course material based on different criteria is another basic factor indeed. It is of utmost importance to choose materials considering the students’ needs and learning styles, diverse cultural backgrounds and previous knowledge. 

Cultural sensitivity in online building and delivery is a rather sensitive area which e-teachers should consider seriously. She explained that the term cultural sensitivity is defined by "a set of skills that allows you to understand and learn about people whose cultural background is not the same as yours". Tatjana emphasized that when dealing with this term, we should think about the following: awareness, understanding, compassion, empathy, respect, age, class, gender, race, nationality and religion.
According to Tatjana, e –teachers should be able to identify, without any doubt and with accuracy, the questions that follow:

  •  Does the course design embrace the cultural learning differences of all learners?
  •  Is there any course material likely to have been written with a cultural and/or linguistic bias towards certain groups?
  •  Does the course design cater for a diverse range of teaching and learning styles (for example, visual, verbal, inductive and/or deductive)?
  •  Does the course encourage genuine and meaningful communication between educator and learner?

Additionally, the fourth factor related to cultural sensitivity in online teaching is concerned with its Dos and Don'ts. In order NOT to commit cultural offence, e-teachers should not focus on the topics they care about. Secondly, they should not have their teaching style in mind, and last but not least, they must not lose sight of the cultural aspect and rely on generalizations, stereotypes and/or even bias.

Finally, she presented some helpful guidelines for teachers to make their teaching more culturally sensitive. E-teachers should make their instruction personally relevant to the learner. They should help learners develop skills, attitudes and beliefs supporting self-regulation in the learning process and balancing the tendency to control the learning situation with a desire to promote autonomy.

All in all, a thought provoking, highly informative talk with a lot of valuable answers to tough questions. Tatjana Jancic managed to capture the attendees’ attention from the first to the last minute giving plenty of feedback about e-teaching and maximizing their opportunities in building a culturally-sensitive online course.

Report by Dimitra Christopoulou

Interview with Tatjana Jancic by Dimitra Christopoulou

The Internet and the New Teacher in Class - Report on Iliyana Georgieva's Session

Within the scope of the 23rd TESOL Macedonia-Thrace, Northern Greece Annual International Convention with the theme "Beyond Teaching - Inspiring Others", Ms Iliyana Georgieva delivered a talk with the title "The Internet and the New Teacher in Class". During this session, Ms Georgieva talked about the importance of keeping up-to-date and applying new methods in our teaching. 

                                                                                                                                                                                  photo by Margarita Kosior

The presenter used a few examples to prove her point. Among others, she talked about the use of TED Talks for listening practice. TED talks can be great for listening practice, but also a tool in a broader sense. They can help us prepare our student for life. It is not only that the topics are fascinating, but they also serve as a good springboard for interesting discussions and debates in the classroom. Ms Georgieva emphasized how important it is to help our students learn to build a convincing argument and think critically.

TED Talks is only one example of the ways in which the Internet can be used in the classroom, but overall, the impact of the Internet on our students is unquestionable. We have to be cautious, though, since, as the speaker reminded us, there are both benefits and threats to using the Internet. Part of our job is to protect our students from these threats and make them aware of those.

Report by Margarita Kosior

Friday, May 20, 2016

Teaching Beyond the Classroom: Teachers Influencing Students' Attitude to Learning - Report on Maria Araxi Sachpazian & Manolis Kontovas's Session

The presentation took place in a fully packed room, not at all to my surprise. Both the ever-interesting topic and presenters attracted many participants. Maria and Manolis started off their presentation by illustrating the different representations of learning. So, learning may be perceived as just an act of “filling vessels”, it can be delivered by an authoritarian and punishing teacher, who is the only source of knowledge, or even be considered just as a test-taking process. It may be part of a CLIL based curriculum or it may involve an engaged classroom. These perceptions vary because the educational values have changed over time. On the one hand, learning is an internal affair, and it depends to a point on intrinsic motivation but, on the other hand, extrinsic motivation and the emotional side of learning, which can result in the building of bonds between the teacher and the students, play an important part in the process of learning. What we call the “affective filter factor” can make a difference not only in the learning itself, but also in the attitudes students form towards learning.

                                                                                                                                                                      Photo by Maria P. Vlachopoulou

Manolis went on to explain how he uses Minecraft to engage his students and help them learn while having fun. Students play without even realizing that at the same time they also learn all about planning and  time management, how to make efficient use of their time and effort, and last but not least they learn how to be creative and use their skills in order to make something. Also, humour, another way to build rapport with one’s students was widely discussed.  The use of humour in the classroom can empower learners, help them think out of the box, create interest, enhance self-esteem, promote willingness to work, emphasize socialization and mould behaviours. Then participants were asked to share their ideas on how they try to connect with their students and build bonds. Many ideas were mentioned such as following classroom rituals, sharing videos, songs etc. that could raise the students’ interest and so on. Maria also mentioned creating a closed Facebook group where students and the teacher can communicate and post things that can interest one another.  In general, what was made perfectly clear is what our students want from us and what can certainly strengthen personal relationships: clarity, pacing, variety and room.

                                                                                                                 Photo by Maria P. Vlachopoulou

Although all these sound so good, there are often things that get in the way and do not allow us to do what is needed in order to build stronger relationships with our students. So, what gets in the way?  Time, or materials we have to cover, tiredness which sometimes increases the distance between the teacher and students. Lessons deprived of feelings. 

What can certainly help is to share positive feelings with our students. Offer our students chances for success, not failure! Believe in them! The teacher’s expectations can increase the students’ performance. A sense of belonging, empathy, comradery and a sense of shared purpose create a safe environment in which students can thrive! Learning becomes memorable, personalized, enriched and students can take responsibility for their own learning. The teacher can teach “learning to learn” strategies, get students to brainstorm, revise strategies and evaluate. Regular tutorials can be organized during which the student is respected, in a non-judgmental environment, can self-assess and the teacher can review and discuss performance. This promotes better communication. 

                                                                                                               Photo by Maria P. Vlachopoulou
The presentation was closed with a very touching video on YouTube “You never forget a good teacher”, https://youtu.be/otpgpoKGsxE , which brought tears to everybody’s eyes and was the perfect end to a wonderful presentation!

Report by Maria Vlachopoulou