ELT Experiences

Experiences for English Language Teaching

Month: February 2013

February Teacher Interview: Lusine Avetisyan

Hello to all my readers.  I would like to wish all my valuable readers a wonderful New Year … a Lunar New Year that is.  It is now the Year of the Snake and what better way to kick start this Lunar New Year than with another monthly teacher interview, this time with a newly qualified teacher.  This teacher is Lusine Avetisyan.  She has been quite active with the CELTA Facebook Group, which I set up a number of years ago in response to the CELTA Course that I undertook at the British Council in Seoul.  I was so moved by my experiences, that I wanted to continue with correspondence with those candidates from the course and this was a response with the founding of one such group.  It has now grown to over 1,200 members and Lusine was one particular member who was keen to answer some questions for this month’s blog post.  Nevertheless, “Who is Lusine?” I hear you ask.

Lusine Avetisyan is a newly certified English language teacher having recently completed the CELTA Course from Armenia.  She currently holds a BA in Foreign Languages, a graduate from the State Teacher Training University of Armenia, as well as undertook General and Business English courses from St Giles International based in London.  Her interests include languages, travelling, reading and cooking.  She also mentions that she loves photography.

So … let’s get down to the questions about her experiences of teaching.

Tell me how you got into teaching.

It was always funny how I never imagined myself in a teaching career even though I was studying at the State Teacher Training University at that time (2006-2010) unless right after the graduation. I felt I missed something and that was the communication with learners, the strong wish to pass my gained knowledge to others in need of it.  I had internships at local schools and other educational institutions, as well as working for my old school for one year on voluntary bases then and … I just loved it! My biggest step after in my career was the employment as a language instructor at one of the most important organisations in the country from where my actual EFL teacher story began.

I don’t know anything about Armenia.  Could you tell our readers about the country and potential teaching opportunities?

Well … Armenia is a small Christian country that connects Europe to Asia. It the third largest state in the Near East after the Roman Empire over 2000 years ago. Now Armenia is a modern country with nice and talented people, ancient history, historical monuments, traditional hospitality, delicious food, and beautiful nature. RA is a member of the United Nations, Council of Europe and other international organisations.  As for teaching opportunities, being a developing country Armenia is getting more and more connected to the outside world, hence the knowledge of English is getting very important in international relations and business, as well as to be a part of today’s English speaking public. With the requirement of language awareness, teaching is becoming very much in demand nowadays. Consequently, language schools are growing like mushrooms!

Before you completed your CELTA Course, you were teaching as a language instructor for the Ministry of Defence in Armenia.  Could you tell me a bit more about your prior CELTA experience?

My teaching period at the Ministry of Defence of RA gave me an introduction to life as an EFL teacher. The job was quite challenging since I was dealing with officials  holding important roles in the country. I had 3 groups of students with a maximum of 14 students in each. I grew professionally along with each lesson, my materials became more achievable, my lessons got more enjoyable and my students became much better familiarised with the language. The positive results each time gave me the motivation for the upcoming lesson. I absolutely loved teaching there. Being though not familiar with CELTA methods yet, I used to have more traditional approaches to teaching which considerably changed after I took the course in UK and started to follow its advantageous teaching policy. At the moment I conduct my lessons based on the CELTA.

Having recently completed the CELTA, what advice would you give other potential CELTA candidates for the course?

My advice to the candidates would be as follows: forget all your social and private lives for that short period in order to be completely devoted to the course, since it’s really challenging with the massive potential and input on you as an EFL teacher. Be ready for lots of self-study, team-work, and more importantly be open to feedback. The effort is definitely worth the incredible results!

What is the most memorable thing that has occurred during your teaching career within the classroom?  

You know there are students with behavioural difficulties at times (not always, luckily). There we go, I remember having my, so far one and only classroom crash at the earliest days of my teaching career when I was standing in front of the class so speechless and unfamiliar with how to deal with similar situations. Fortunately,  I handled it well after a while! This served a great lesson as a starter in causing me to do the relevant research on similar cases. Though there are many more fun experiences in the classroom, like being the teacher of a group of doctors so curious to learn every word about body parts!

Do you have any classroom or teacher related New Year resolutions or plans for this year?

Oh yes! This year is going to be fully devoted to teaching – I am planning to get as deep in the field as possible with the relevent work and exchange programmes. So far it’s going smooth and according to the plan.

What do you think are the potential benefits and drawbacks for teacher-centred lessons?

After the CELTA my opinion on this differs hugely to what it was before. I attach much importance to interaction. To my belief, teacher-centred lessons have got more disadvantages than the opposite since students study and enjoy the language when they are encouraged to use it as much as possible and to be able to resolve the language barriers on their own (of course with supervision of the teacher). This gives them the feeling of achievement, whereas teacher-centred lessons may build walls for the students to talk and the chance for them to be a natural user of the language gets less and less. Even though in the earlier years of a teacher-centred policy being adopted, which still is strong in most places in my country, I strongly stand for the former – lessons should be student-centred with the supervision and right monitoring of the teacher.

How would you describe your perfect classroom?

My perfect classroom naturally has got the image filled with all study related aids but because I am familiar with the negative sides of technology and how it can let the teacher down, I prefer making use of mostly the basic tools with the whiteboard being my first best assistant. 

Finally, what advice would you give to newly certified teachers that have just completed their course?

Teachers that have been newly qualified should use every possible opportunity to put their knowledge into practice. Use it or lose it, that’s how it works. Do lots of research. The sooner you start grabbing something and working, the better and more confident you will get in teaching. Even if it’s voluntary, paid or not, just give your best and always plan and conduct your lessons as nicely and thorough as you did during your CELTA course. 

Thank you Lusine for participating in the interview and I wish you the very best of luck for your future teaching career.  It is very interesting to hear your views on interaction and a student-centred classroom.  Next month, we have a very special interview so keep your eyes peeled.  It is really going to be a great interview and I am sure you will really like this special guest for next month.  I will let you know who the special guest interview is nearer March 2013.  Anyhow, best of luck with your teaching this year and if you have any additional questions you would like to ask Lusine, then add your questions in the comments below.  Finally, I haven’t forgotten my lesson plans for this year … I am just taking a break from creating classroom resources for the time being but I will be back with some more resources to share later in the year (having promised myself to focus more on my teaching and less on blogging) … but, as Terminator mentioned in the movie, “I’ll be back” to blogging about lesson ideas in the near future after a little rest and recuperation.

ELTChat Summary: Spoken Narratives and Anecdotes in the Language Classroom

Kittens in a box © ELTPics

As I enjoyed writing up a previous #ELTChat summary on the use of surprise in the classroom, I decided to volunteer to write up another summary for the Twitter discussion group.  On the 19 December 2012, the discussion group #ELTChat decided to focus on the use of spoken narrative and anecdotes in the language classroom.  Upon tackling this discussion, many tweets initially questioned whether teachers incorporated anecdotes in the classroom.  Some tweets suggested there was a mixed response:

TEFLGeek: Yes, anecdotes have featured in my classes / No, not as a lesson focus per se.

LizziePinard: Good question – does anyone do it? I have – it works well with learners who enjoy speaking (e.g. Spanish).

Shaunwilden: Guess i am the same mainly used to for another purpose rather than be the whole lesson.

TheTeacherJames: Anecdotes are a fundamental part of conversation and small talk, so I guess I encourage them without realising it.

MarjorieRosenbe: I tell stories and anecdotes all the time.

At this point in the conversation, other contributors agreed that they provided anecdotes in the classroom and TheTeacherJames suggested that anecdotes were ‘bottom-up’ rather than ‘top-down’ and that these anecdotes or jokes were associated with a ‘natural’ context instead of a ‘traditional’ classroom.  Towards this part of the discussion, some teachers shared their experiences of anecdotes in coursebooks:

TEFLGeek: Anecdotes feature prominently in the Inside Out series, but I haven’t used that since Poland (six years ago).

LizziePinard: think also in Natural English Upper Int there’s a bit.

One point raised during the discussion related to teachers unwilling to incorporate anecdotes in the classroom due to teacher talking time, whilst another contributor suggested that teachers could encourage students to share anecdotes.  It is assumed that ‘teacher talking time’ is related to the quantity which teachers are speaking, thereby curbing ‘student talking time’ but I guess the point is related to ‘quality talking time’.

David_Boughton: Are we too discouraged to tell stories now that we are obsessed with lowering teacher talk time?

JennyJohnson10: and do we mean students anecdoting away? or teachers – seems to be what has been mentioned so far.

One contributor rose to Jenny’s assertion that most of the ELTChat focused solely on teachers providing anecdotes with their experience of getting students to share anecdotes during the lesson.  However, there was one point raised that considered the other learners in the classroom if a learner was sharing an anecdote.

BobK99: I used to get student to tell anecdote and record it. The we’d play it back, both (1:1) commenting/discussing/improving.

TEFLGeek: biggest problem with sts telling anecdotes is getting other sts to listen. One st speaking to class can be boring for others.

Another contributor highlighted that sharing anecdotes could forge rapport with the learners in the classroom.  It would also suggest that this ‘slipping off the cloak’ of a teacher would humanise the classroom and that ‘natural’ based lessons would encourage this ‘bottom-up’ focus and one good way to generate rapport and humanism in the classroom is to incorporate anecdotes in the classroom.

Steven_odonnell: my own anecdotes in the classroom let me slip off the cloak of being a teacher and become human, forging rapport with ss.

TheTeacherJames: Yes, telling anecdotes is a great way to build rapport. Breaks down barriers, makes you more accessible and real.

Nevertheless, one question raised during the discussion is what to do with teacher or learner focused anecdotes.  Some of the contributors to the discussion provided some interesting lesson ideas, with some ideas suggestions that pair-work or pyramid conversation is more beneficial than one learner sharing an anecdote to the class.

MarjorieRosenbe: Do it in small groups – have them do it as snowball effect and repeat last one they heard, etc.

Annabooklover: One solution to this is to pair them up! Then there is also more effective use of time.

TEFLGeek: I do use pairwork a lot!  But I think there needs to be a structure around the anecdote.

MarjorieRosenbe: Getting ideas here – maybe give out ‘secret’ words and they have to listen for them in anecdote. Will try it and let you know.

There was a wealth of ideas for using anecdotes during a lesson without much indication towards ‘dictagloss’ and had direct experience of telling an anecdote to a group of university lecturers about picking up the wrong passport when travelling to Romania.  Travel problems were mentioned during the discussion as potential anecdotal material:

GetAheadinEng: Anecdotes about travel problems always worked well when teaching at a school in central London!

MarjorieRosenbe: Also anecdotes about travel problems or worst presentations ever seen.

At this point in the conversation (which focused solely on speaking practice for learners and teachers sharing experiences), it was directed towards using anecdotes as listening material.

TheTeacherJames: We’ve talked a lot about anecdotes as a form of speaking, but how would you use them as a listening activity?

OyaJimbo: As L activity, draw the map or connect characters, events, timeline it.

MarjorieRosenbe: Like I mentioned – have them listen for ‘secret’ words or give oral summary and pass on to others.

ShaunWilden: Isn’t understanding the anecdote evidence of listening?

This naturally progressed to the checking of understanding, with some suggestions such as ‘dictagloss’, grammar dictation, or ask leading questions “What would you have done?”, etc.  Towards the end of the ELTChat discussion, one lesson idea was for teachers or learners to tell an anecdote and get learners to guess whether they were true or false with one final idea to steal an anecdote if it was better than yours:

Jo_Cummins: Has anyone mentioned the ‘truth, truth, lie’ game? Good for anecdotes…

TheTeacherJames: Yes, I like the idea of a mingle where you can steal someone elses anecdote if it’s better than yours.

Unfortunately, this was the end of the ELTChat discussion.  To top it off, there was a wonderful suggestion for a lesson idea or further reading to consider when referring to anecdotes in the classroom. I have added two additional books which I consider suitable for getting those learners to talk.  Finally, it was a relief to see that there was no mention of Dogme ELT in the talk and a conversation-driven approach to anecdotes but “Teaching Unplugged” would be a wonderful source for those looking at ideas to develop anecdotes in the lesson for use during classes.  Again, a big thank you to all those at ELTChat for giving me the opportunity to write up this summary and it is over to my readers:

  • How do you use, or have you ever used, anecdotes in the classroom?
  • What is the advantages/disadvantages of anecdotes during the lesson?
  • How could teachers develop anecdotes for (future) lessons?
  • Are there specific classes which anecdotes are more suitable for?

Further Reading
Thornbury, S. (2005) “How To Teach Speaking
Klippel, F. (1985) “Keep Talking: Communicative Fluency Activities for Language Teaching
Ur, P. (1981) “Discussions That Work: Task-centred Fluency Practice

Lesson Ideas
Marisa Constantinides “True Story Worksheet” 
Martin Sketchley The Wrong Passport

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