ELT Experiences

Experiences for English Language Teaching

By - Martin Sketchley

July Teacher Interview: Daniela Bunea

Daniela has been a teacher for 18 years now, educating generations of Romanian students of different ages, as young as three and as old as nineteen. She is an enthusiastic teacher and loves her job. Her main subjects are English as a Foreign Language, Information and Communication Technologies, and Counselling. She is also responsible for the development and implementation of EU projects in her school, Colegiul National Gheorghe Lazar in Sibiu. Having attended numerous professional development seminars, workshops, courses, conferences, summer schools in Romania and abroad, face-to-face and online, both as a trainee (mostly with Comenius, Minerva, Pestallozi and eTwinning scholarships) and as a trainer (she is a licensed teacher trainer and a certified live online tutor, and has worked with the European Commission in Brussels, the Uniscan Educational Group in Bucharest, and the Teachers’ House in Sibiu), Daniela has continually improved her teaching and strenuously facilitated her students’ learning. Concurrently she has authored elective curricula in her school, published articles in printed and/or online books and magazines, created entertaining children’s books, devised worksheets for teaching English (published and supported online at elsprintables.com), and coordinated teams of teachers and students for varied projects (Comenius, eTwinning, Leonardo da Vinci, Mondialogo, Spring Day, Oracle, Junior Achievement Young Enterprise). Her students have proudly participated in numerous English language and ICT contests and won various prizes. You can read Daniela’s blog at http://questsandtreks.edublogs.org/.

 

  • Could you please let our readers know how you got into teaching?
Deep down, I have always wanted to become a teacher – I have two younger sisters and when we were growing up I always liked to help them with their homework. Even before that, I remember “teaching” my dolls about order in the room – insisting on proper places for things… However, getting into university – to obtain a teaching certificate – was not an easy task in the ‘80s under Romania’s communist regime, the totalitarian regime of Nicolae Ceauşescu. This dictator constrained the population to live at a rather low standard of life, without any degree of freedom. After graduating secondary school I just went to work in one of the factories in my native town Sibiu. Romania’s economy was characterised by generalised “socialist” (state and cooperative) ownership, excessive centralisation, rigid planning and low efficiency back then. After a year, the December 1989 Romanian Revolution fell upon us, the dictatorship was pushed down and a democratic political system was re-established. Since then I would say that we as a people have encountered both numerous incentives and varied obstacles. We have experienced a decrease of population because of migration and the decrease of birth rate, plus a decrease of accessibility of health services accompanied by limited social policy for the elderly. We are however part of important international organisations like NATO (2004) and the European Union (2007). Back to 1990, it was then when – at the advice of some friends, who were on the same ‘wavelength’ with me as far as the future possibilities in Romania would be – I applied and got accepted at the prestigious Babes-Bolyai University in Cluj-Napoca, at the Faculty of Letters. I graduated 5 years later with a BA in Teaching English Language and Literature. I have been teaching English as a Foreign Language ever since.
  1. How would you describe Romanian language learners?
Romanian language learners, like language learners everywhere I imagine, can be either demanding or unmindful. I have taught in just a few schools in my life, four to be exact, and they were all good schools with the first type of students. Romanian language learners as I know them are interested in and keen on learning English, motivated and pragmatic, hard-working and studious. Starting learning English at a very early age, at pre-primary level sometimes, and being supported by concerned parents cannot but help spur their pursuit and enthusiasm in many cases. English does open doors for them, doors that were not even foreseen 30 years ago or so, when most students learnt Russian or at times French at school. Nowadays the Romanian language learner is learning English as part of a set of key competences necessary at the beginning of the 21st century. Of course they study a second foreign language as well, usually either German or French, thus developing their abilities for communication and intercultural understanding. In my experience, this competence is better fostered through eTwinning projects. eTwinning is part of Comenius, the EU programme for schools. The portal went live in January 2005, and more than 200,000 European teachers are registered users today. eTwinning is a
virtual meeting point for the exchange of information between European schools and provides numerous tools and services tailor-made for schools to find partners, resources, advice, help, information, and to build eTwinning projects in partnership with each other. I have been involved in a plethora of eTwinning projects for six years, and been an eTwinning ambassador for more than three now. My students have collaborated with many peers across Europe, and each year we plan, implement and develop collaborative projects with European schools, being rewarded in terms of competences gained and skills developed. Students plan, then actively launch into learning, then present their work and reflect on what has been achieved. There are always final products, which are arrived at by creatively employing critical thinking and problem solving skills. It is creativity, passion and the fact that each student is a composer – this is what eTwinning is for us.
  1. What are the teaching opportunities available in Romania?
At pre-universitary level, teachers in Romania do not have an array of job opportunities to choose from – when they obtain their Teaching Certificate, they can apply and take an exam to work in a state-owned or private school as a full time teacher. As for English language teaching and learning, there are additional prospects over the 12-week long summer holiday, and not only for Romanian teachers, but especially for native speakers I would say – Scots, English, Americans come to Romania and usually teach conversational English to teenagers in summer camps (I also know of native English speakers teaching drama). The incredible diverse Romanian landscape and the relatively intriguing political history here do appeal to many. I have known many such teachers. They are confident and friendly, customarily well-organised, and consistently open-minded team players. They offer Romanian students real-world learning experiences while working on project topics, which can vary widely. And they gain a valuable insight into Romania, its people and its culture.
  1. Could you tell us of a memorable lesson?
The lessons I consider memorable are mainly those during which I guide the learning process in such a way that students find out knowledge and how to do this and that through hands-on activities. I believe my students acknowledge them as being memorable too as it is about these lessons that they talk about at home in more detail – parents keep saying this during parent-teacher conferences/meetings. Project work is one of many students’ favourite, and I prepare and deliver countless project-based lessons. One example would be the celebration of Consumer Day on March 12th this year. It was a special day, when my sixth graders did our 2 English classes with three teachers and Mrs Rusu, the librarian in our school. The students had been asked to bring to school ads from newspapers and magazines, and wear T-shirts with ads on them. They also took to school bags with ads on them, and brought pictures of ads in the city on sticks or stored them online. We started the lesson by showing these to everybody on the big screen in the library, helped by their ICT teacher, and then I got the ball rolling and we talked about the advertising business and the effect ads have on everybody. Of course, there are other kinds of ads: there is skywriting, there are ads on the Internet,  etc. So we started talking about video clips. We watched five mobile phones video clips I had prepared, and I was happy that the students realised – when filling in the worksheet prepared for the lesson – that there are three main tricks of the advertising business: catchy slogans, funny jokes and famous people, and that advertising is responsible for a great illusion: the freedom of choice. Still, we must not allow ourselves to be manipulated! We should not just accept everything we see and read and hear as truth! We need to ‘read’ all ads critically, to protect ourselves as consumers. We need to ask ourselves: “Are there not alternatives?” Become a thoughtful consumer and a critical citizen in the future! In groups, assisted by the teacher of Arts, students then tried to draw a few effective ads, by answering these questions: What are you selling and what makes it so unique? Who do you want to sell it to? Why should people buy it from you as opposed to your competition? The posters were amazing! The students drew and/or collated suitable images, and wrote as persuasively as they could – persuasive skills, just like critical skills, are essential for anybody to participate in a democratic society. Some of the groups appealed to logic, others to morality, others to emotions. Some of the students used slogans, others made jokes, another group named a famous person…They enjoyed the two-hour lesson very much! And the most important thing to remember was understanding how we are persuaded.
  1. I can’t believe it is already July, so do you have any plans for the rest of the year?
Being on holiday right now – 12 weeks summer holiday in Romania! -, I am taking the time to care for my personal blog in terms of evaluation and planning, and of the Romanian eTwinning ambassadors’ blog and site, which I organize and coordinate, by refreshing it, adapting it to the new needs that have arisen, putting it to more uses really, even rearranging parts of the site. I am also collecting and editing quite a lot of eTwinners’ articles – as the editor-in-chief – for the annual eTwinning newsletter on project visibility; this will be the third issue. Thereon, I have been invited to a teachers’ conference in October and I am currently preparing my workshop, and during the autumn months I am planning to work hard on the preparations for an eTwinning symposium that I am co-organising in May 2014 – we still need to find more partners and/or sponsors. In September a new school year will begin, so learning units will be planned, shaped, delivered and evaluated; new projects will be born, cared for, and developed, and will have their value measured; latest teaching techniques will be tried out; new tools will be examined and taken up or dismissed – I will gladly, for instance, enhance the significance of using Glogster as a Glogster EDU Ambassador (I was honoured with this title and responsibility just last November); added partnerships with other organisations or with classes of students from Romania and/or abroad will start afresh. Of course people cannot plan everything, novel things will roll in I am sure, but I am confident I will be able to take each and every one of my engagements one at a time. Perhaps Facebook and/or Twitter (I am @DanielaArghir on Twitter) will gain more room in my life, helping me to start building that personal learning network I have been reading about lately; I could start teaching English online, this is one of my shrouded desires, I have only taught online courses – on web-based video, intergenerational learning, and iPad use – so far; in my one-iPad classroom I may spring towards using the device more stenuously. The future will tell.
  1. How would you describe your perfect student?
I do not believe there is a perfect student for me, and this is especially arduously evident when I plan, organise, deliver and assess project work in class. It is then, more than any other times, that I think of my students’ learning as being kaleidoscopic – pursuing this fluid technique to enhance their learning I acknowledge that most of their characteristics are melted and reborn in the process with new facets. I love the “perfect students” when they are confident and adventurous without being disdainful, I adore their diligent working in teams and their bold final presentations, I treasure those many moments when I am delighted with, or even surprised by, their industry and performance.
  1. What advice would you give to new teachers that have just completed a CELTA or equivalent?
I would invite them to come to Sibiu and teach English here! Sibiu was European Capital of Culture in 2007, which entailed many renovation works in the city. Piata Mare  (“The Big Square”) is considered the most beautiful renovation in all of Romania. The Medieval Sibiu counts five defense towers, which are a significant attraction for tourists. Nowadays the inhabitants of Sibiu are proud of their medieval ancestry, and so am I. The medieval period represented a prosperous time, both from an economic and administrative perspective. All joking aside, teachers of English would find here in Sibiu students who possess an appropriate basis for learning according to many criteria, who are open-minded apprentices, and who progress relentlessly. Arriving into the teaching profession is not an easy task these days. I would advise new teachers anywhere to strive to be fluent in their pedagogy, and flexible really – at the moment I think teachers need to be able to readily shift perspectives. Originality would not hurt either. The ability to promptly build on existing ideas would also be of help. I believe this is the kind of pedagogy that leads to motivation and promotes lifelong learning.
  1. Finally, what is it like being taught by you?
I hope my students think of themselves as good pursuers of creativity and commendable developers of their abilities. I hope they think of me as a mentor, a promoter, a challenger, and an awareness-raiser. I have always helped my students find their passion, and promoted confidence, persistence and risk-taking in my classroom. Most of the classroom projects we have developed have shown significant increase of thinking abilities, including creative thinking, and a valuable link from education to relevant, real-life experiences. I have come back to projects I see. In the same way that I foster a classroom environment and pedagogical approach(es) conducive to intrinsic motivation for my students, I do it for myself – my passion has been found, and I will tag on.
By - Martin Sketchley

Motivating Language Learners

A few weeks ago, I decided to write up a post about drills in the classroom but I find myself deciding to write a topic which I have experienced first hand: motivating learners.  Last month, I wrote about dealing with the Intermediate Plateau as part of an ELTChat Summary and came across some wonderful ideas.  There were some great ideas in the previous blog post which were put forward but I would recommend that you have a read of this summary.  Hopefully, there are some crossovers between ELTChat Summary and this blog post.

When I first started teaching young learners, I found it quite challenging to motivate this learners.  I learnt a great deal after a number of weeks and learnt the “hard way” what worked and what wasn’t so successful.  I realised that young learners enjoyed any form of competitive lesson with a game as a last activity.  A lot of this is transferable to selected adult learners but I found that adult learners were more serious and were paying for a course and expected something greater than games or activities.  Nevertheless, I guess we have to determine what is meant by “demotivated learners”.

Demotivated Learners

Any form of demotivation in the classroom could be contagious and could get everyone down (the teacher included).  Some learners may direct their lack of motivation to the teacher but as educators we have to understand that language learners have a life outside of the classroom and may bring along ‘baggage’ to the lesson.  This could affect the “affective filter” by causing a screen against comprehensible input within the lesson and could then become quite problematic in future lessons.  This ‘high’ affective filter could transfer between the various language learners within the classroom, so in essence you have to win the “hearts and minds” of the learners so that it encourages an improved learning environment.  Demotivation is usually the main obstacle for learning in the classroom and it is doubly difficult when combining young learners (who have been carted off to the local language school or sent to a summer school – usually enforced by their parents).  Adult language learners are usually encouraged to undertake English courses so that they are able to get that promotion, receive that highly prized certificate or required to take a course as part of their national service.  The more experience gained, the more we become accustomed to delivering language lessons with various activities to ‘spice up’ the lessons, supplement the coursebook or improve overall fluency and communication.  Yet, we often forget that each of the learners have aims which are overlooked and we do not take advantage of these opportunities to deliver and create bespoke language lessons over the period of time.  This lack of humanising any short-term or longer-term course will always cause boredom and ultimately demotivate the learner.  We have all seen teachers walk into lessons armed with numerous handouts to supplement the coursebook each and everyday.  A few days or weeks later, the said teacher starts to wonder why the learners appear demotivated.  So, what is the best way to motivate and inspire interest in lessons?

Motivating Learners

  1. The first piece of advice which I would recommend to motivate and inspire learners would be to identify aims and objectives with all new students (or those that have joined the class from another).  The identifying of the aims and objectives would improve the overall learning environment and (if you react to research undertaken with the learners) it should make the whole process of developing a curriculum easier.  Take the time to develop a weekly lesson plan to cover topics, themes, grammar or vocabulary as highlighted by the learners in the aims/objectives survey.  The learners would feel happier that you are reacting to their input and they would also appreciate your support as they would judge to have some control in the content of their course.
  2. If you have quite a bit you would like to cover during the week, you could get learners to vote on the following day’s lesson – this is related to the previous piece of advice.  Essentially, learners have the opportunity to develop autonomous learning techniques through this process of voting on their lessons.
  3. If you are teaching young learners and you would like to add a bit of a competition to the lesson of the day or the entire course, you could nominate learner roles in the classroom (Worksheet Leader, Teaching Assistant, etc).  Learners would feel as if they are responsible for various tasks or roles in the classroom.  The teacher will have to maintain consistency, then the young learners will fall into their nominated roles at ease provided that expectations are explicitly mentioned.  If you wish to develop this further, you could get learners to create their own role badges, team names, chants, etc to supplement the nominated roles.  You could hand out nominated roles in secret sealed envelopes to jazz it up a bit.  All this assists in the cohesion of group work in the classroom and improves motivation.
  4. Create a class blog for learners to view and correct their own work (either written or recorded audio).  This will personalise the lesson and bring activities outside the classroom.  Comments added to the blog will encourage more student-to-student interaction on a virtual level and motivate learners to discuss ideas or provide feedback during lessons.  Any activities which some form of outside activity can motivate learners and are widely respected by the learners.  For example, when learners return to their home country (if they are attending a school abroad) or complete a course, they will be able to review activities and vocabulary that emerged during lessons.
  5. If you are teaching young learners who naturally have a short attention span and lose interest every few minutes, try to plan five minute activities every to ensure learners don’t lose interest, get bored and lose that invaluable motivation.  The organising of short activities is meant to keep the learners on their toes and keep them busy: learners will not have a chance to get bored and distract the others in the classroom.  Teaching young learners learn by doing so try to incorporate various songs, chants or drama in the classroom.  This will interest the learners and keep motivation bubbling away.  You will naturally have various individuals who would wish to show their singing, chanting or drama skills off to the class so let them and give them a badge or reward them with a silly certificate: “Best Worst Dancer”, “Ear Piercing Singer”, etc.  I would finally recommend preparing silly certificates or rewards based upon student input in the lesson.  It would liven up the lesson and keep learners happy.
ClassDojo © 2013

Online Tools

I have come across ClassDojo and have decided to use it for future young learner lessons.  The young learners will find the whole class report online software very easy to view and it can be developed to be incorporated in the lessons.  Furthermore, there is an iPhone/Android App which could be synced to ClassDojo so that teachers are able to award student input and effort in the lesson.  The rewards can be awarded at the end of or during a lesson.  If you are lucky enough to have an IWB in your classroom, you could show the “Whole Class” review and learners will be able to get a quick idea how to improve their behaviour and will motivate learners during the lessons.  Obviously, ClassDojo could be developed for adult learners but I guess the older learners will lose interest in the tool quicker than young learners.  Finally, as you are able to edit the rewards and punishments, you could rename rewards to “Good Effort”, “Great Motivation”, “Fantastic Participation”, etc while punishments could be renamed to “Poor Concentration”, “No English”, etc.  The fact that you could customise the friendly monsters can really develop learner interest in the whole online software and personalise the behavioural software for the students.

ClassBadges © 2013

Another activity you could develop in the lesson is to award badges for work and activities completed during the lesson.  There is a really good online tool that you could use to develop interest in this with ClassBadges.  With ClassBadges, you will be able to create your own badges for your learners, customise classes and student access or develop group-to-group interest in lessons.  By the end of the course, learners will have gained a number of different badges from their teacher and will be able to logon to their account and show their parents (if they are young learners) or reflect on how they received particular badges.  Like any online tool, I would recommend any teacher keen to learn more about the resources available to spend a bit of time learning more about the functions of the website, how to manage classes as well as inviting learners to the website so that they can access their own awarded badges.  If you are not so keen on the whole online activity of awarding badges, you could create a range of certificates to hand out in particular lessons.  You could stick up certificates on one side of the classroom and learners could be quite proud to show off their class-created certificates.

Final Thoughts

Do you have any activities to improve motivation in the classroom?  What do you do differently to spice up lessons?  Do you have activities up your sleeve so that you can engage learners quickly and effectively?  As ever, please leave your thoughts in the comment section below.