Thursday, September 19, 2013

Fair(er) grading

In August 2013 I was given the opportunity to do workshops at the annual OUP teacher training course and conference here in Budapest. As always, we had some of the most enthusiastic and motivated teachers who were willing to give up their free time, while still on holiday they chose "to come and learn", as a lot of them said.

One of the sessions I did was called "Fair grading", although I do believe there is no such thing, but it's high time we start considering what we can do in the current situation as educators to make grading fairer. 

I started off by saying that OUP had just received a letter from the Ministry of Education asking us to grade all teachers on accredited in-service teacher training courses from 1 to 5 (1= Fail, 2=Satisfactory, 3=Good, 4=Very good, 5= Excellent), as this is going to be part of their newly introduced professional development model called "Életpálya modell". From then on, actually from 1st of September 2013, teachers will have to be given grades which then will be used by the Ministry of Education to decide whether they are eligible to go on the next pay-scale or not. As we were not give any criteria as to how we should give grades to teachers I raised this question to the teachers present at the course, about 100 teachers in total in the YL groups I had. In the same way, as part of this new professional development model - "Életpálya modell" - teachers will have to pass certain exams every 6-7 years, the criteria of which no one knows yet. And so, I thought it would be best for us to work out together a fair grading system until we receive further information on this from officials. 

Monday, February 25, 2013

Reflections of a course participant

As I mentioned in my previous post on the Early Language Education course I had written and ran last year in November, I asked one of the course participants to write her reflections on the course. She asked me what I wanted it to be about and I just said "whatever it comes to your mind when you think of it, and I have one request, make sure it comes from your heart". She also asked me if it was OK for her to write it in Hungarian as she is not an English teacher, only happens to speak good English and was very much interested in the topic of the course. Of course, I agreed to that thinking that I would translate her writing. Well, I must admit that when she sent over what she had written and read it for the first time, the honesty that came across her writing gave me goose pimples. And yes, a few tears in my eyes as well. You would guess that I got a bit emotional, but who wouldn't after reading it. Anyway, then I thought that I am simply not capable of translating or rather mediating her feelings, so I'd better wait a few days and then do it. After a couple of weeks, I just read it again and it had the same effect on me. So I'm terribly sorry, but this one I cannot translate. I am sure you have experienced such situations, when you think, this is impossible to translate into another language, or at least it is beyond my capabilities. It is so personal, it so her, it is so revealing that I decided to leave it only in Hungarian. 
Another request she had was for it to stay anonymous, which I totally respect. 

Thank you for this post, my dear "Anonymous", and hope to keep in touch with you in our Facebook group. What you have written is truly humbling. 

To show you of a snippet of one of the things she mentioned you can find a mini-recording from a session at the end of this post.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Teacher Training Course on Early Language Education

The last couple of months of 2012 were quite busy for me, to say the least and I was really lucky to be involved in lots of interesting projects. One of them was to develop and run a 30-hour teacher training course, accredited in Hungary, on teaching children age 3 to 10 for Tempus Public Foundation.

It was a really exciting experience to be writing the course, but I must admit that nothing can be compared to the thrill of doing the workshops, working with a group of 17 wonderful people from a variety of backgrounds: teachers who have not yet taught very young learners and would like to, mums who would like to teach their own kids by making their own English groups with other kids, experienced kindergarten teachers also teaching English looking for more ideas and reassurance, teachers having little or no experience at all with very young learners, teachers having loads of experience with this age-group and looking for 'refreshments and inspirations'.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of them for the hard work they have put into this very intensive course, not only participating actively throughout but also helping us develop an even more successful course for the future participants. Your feedback, Zsuzsa B., Márta B., Zsófia G., Enikő G., Zsuzsanna H., Andrea K., Réka K., Emese K., Rita N., Eszter K., Tímea P., Anna R., Melinda R., Petra S., Emese S., Réka Sz. and Petra T., both formal and informal during and after the course has been invaluable. Also, you have produced some wonderful work during and after the course proving how much enthusiasm and thought you have put into it. Thank you!

And to give you a little taster of what it was like here are some photos taken by Eszter during some of the activities.
  I would also like to take this opportunity to say that the course is going to take place again in Budapest at Tempus Public Foundation in two intensive blocks:
  • the first one March 21, 22, 23 
  • the second part April 15, 16.
For more information about the course content and feedback from the previous participants click here.

Plus, to my greatest delight one of the course participants will soon share her reflections on this first 5-day course on Early Language Education as a guest blogger. I'm really looking forward to reading about her experiences myself. 

If you would like to get both theoretical background packed with zillions of practical tips, come and join us on the course!

Monday, October 15, 2012

How to teach reading skills to children with the free online books

In my previous post I promised I would come back with a few ways of how you could use the free online books from OUP, originally available to help English children develop reading skills, in your EFL classes. I found that these stories are perfect for children learning the language for the reasons I had already listed and would be a shame not to make use of them, especially in a world where more and more schools have online access. Yes, in order to be able to use these in your lessons you will need online access, a computer and a projector. If you don't, I will discuss how it could be used by children on their own at their leisure in the second part of this post.
A great plus for using these stories, is that as long as you remember the generic staging, which you'll read about below, this lesson does not require any preparation allowing you to tune in with the children and the story they choose.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Free fun reading for the primary classroom

It all started with my obsession of Oxfam second-hand bookshops, especially the one in Oxford, where I've been twice - I mean both to Oxford and to this bookshop - and both ventures had brought some great successes.

Oxfam Bookshop, St Giles, Oxford

My first noteworthy acquisition was the book called Hey World, Here I Am! by Jean Little, OUP and this wonderful collection of poems has been a big hit with my (pre)-teen classes ever since. See here an example lesson plan I wrote around one of the poems.
This summer's visit to the same bookshop  led to further accomplishments. Books that may very well be in the "nothing special" or "so, what" category for my native-speaker colleagues, especially for those, who have kids, but new and exciting to me and my kids. These are books from the Oxford Reading Tree Series, stories that have everything a good story needs for this age-group, ie 4-10, offering 
  • value for the kids, they can relate to the content easily
  • fun
  • opportunities to interact with the story-line, the characters
  • repetition of some useful chunks
  • authentic language
  • visual support, enough to be able to work out meaning from visuals
  • avoidance of story-line led purely by language  - ie built around certain grammatical structures or vocabulary
  • somewhat graded language for them to be able to analyse language and work out the meaning of some of the sentences, chunks or words
  • freedom to read and listen at the same time, doing this as many times they want (they control the pace of listening too)
  • plenty of opportunity to notice pronunciation features
  • great stories to read in general 
and soooo really help kids in the process of appreciating reading in English, with this providing excellent opportunities for natural language acquisition.

Anyway, further proof for how great these stories are is the reaction of my kids, who keep reading the printed ones I had bought in Oxford again and again,
  • first just by going through the pictures and telling me all about it, how funny it was and some of the characters they thought could be drawn with a bit more care :-). 
  • Then next day they picked them up again, read them silently on their own, looking at the pages more carefully, possibly trying to make sense of the sentences together with the pictures. 
  • And then for the third time, they asked me if I wanted to listen to them read out-loud. Now that made me a proud parent-teacher :-).
Seeing their enthusiasm I went onto the website recommended at the end of these books to find an amazing collection of free eBooks for different age-groups. Oh my oh my! Not only there were zillions of great stories, but they also had interactive activities that accompanied them. True, with some of these I did need to turn into a teacher-mummy, but the thing is that they would not come off it. They just read and listened story after story and did the games, which they found a lot of fun.

So here's how you can access them easily:

I really wish these books were explicitly made available for EFL teachers and learners too and we could make full use of them, not only if someone happens to stumble upon them.

Anyhow, I did become extremely excited about it and decided to share it with you. There are so many things you can do with these free eBooks in the primary EFL classroom! I should certainly do a workshop on it soon :), though I'm pretty sure you would have loads of ideas too. Have fun using them!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Making the most out of technology

In May, 2012 I was lucky enough to be able to attend and do a workshop at the IATEFL Teacher Develpoment and Learning Technologies SIG conference. This was my first time in Istanbul and first time in Turkey and I had a phenomenal time. I've been to lots of inspiring talks and workshops, which gave me things to think about for another 6 months, I guess.
The additional personal adventures made this trip even more memorable. But these happenings would deserve a separate post, so I'm not going to go into details of it for now. Just as a prediction activity, I'll give you some key words to try and guess what might have happened: fire, no car, passport, mobile, taxi-driver, bird poop, pouring rain.

The aim of this post, however, is different. Lots of people approached me after my workshop asking me for its details, so I thought it would be easier  to share the slides and the handout  in downloadable format, and a screencast talk-through of the workshop slides, so that any of you could re-do it for the teachers/trainers in your own contexts. Feel free to tweak it as you feel it would suit your style and audience best. Another thing to remember is that doing the tasks on the slides as they are at the moment in detail would require a 90 minute workshop. If you have less time, you might want to shorten it by cutting out some of the tasks, but keeping the variety of focuses and aims. 

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Teaching Very Young Learners Course

I am very excited about the opportunity to be developing and then running a teacher training course on teaching Very Young Learners for International House Budapest from May, 2012.

I have taught little ones, including my own kids, for so many years and I've learnt so much from it. I know that a lot of people argue against the effectiveness of teaching foreign languages at this age. However, from my own experience of growing up in a bilingual environment - which I know is different from having classes in the foreign language once or maybe twice a week, but still presents similar traces of the type of skills being developed during this process - and my own teaching experience prove all the positive results that such a second language environment can have.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

8 ways of using Jing with your students

I have been inspired to write this post after I won the scholarship announced by Russell Stannard winning USD 600 to help me attend the IATEFL Glasgow conference. The task was to send in details of a lesson in which Jing is used.

When I saw the requirements of the scholarship I felt my hands tied as wasn't sure which idea to send in as I had been using Jing for so many different purposes. So in this post I will list some of the ways I have been using this wonderful tool, including the idea that I won the scholarship with.

The Jing-lesson that won the Teacher Training Videos scholarship

I was very happy to find out that one of my lesson ideas I have used with my pre-intermediate teen class has helped me win the Teacher Training Videos Scholarship to attend the IATEFL Glasgow conference. I'd like to share it with you hoping that Jing will inspire you just as much as it has inspired me.

So here's what I sent in:
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