About setting goals

I always try to start out my lessons by talking to my students about the importance of goals and steps on how to achieve them. This is part of my way of creating a needs analysis of my students. I ask them what they think of how people learn a foreign language and get them to talk about how they see themselves as language learners. I follow through by getting them to set personal goals about their learning path and how they will achieve this. This helps them get the feel of what to expect from my lessons and what is expected of them.

Stating the above though, I can say that the results and the feedback I get from this activity aren’t that idealistic as you would at first think. Even though I have tried quite a few different techniques to help students set goals in class like getting them to set SMART goals or other types of goals, the reflective feedback I usually get from my students is that they find this activity not so relevant to learning English and thus they don’t actually say it but, I can sense it that they feel that it wasn’t a very helpful learning activity for them. I know this is set in their beliefs of how they should be learning a language and just want to get straight into the bits of language that might help them supposedly learn. It’s not all doom and gloom though because I know that their way of learning is not always the best way of learning and that this has not been so successful for them in the past.

Having to prepare for my next new class, I thought it would be a good idea to design and plan something more solid and more useful for all my lessons and for my school. So, I did a routine I always do when I am trying to learn something new, I indulge in immersive online research and reading. This usually takes me a couple of hours or so, and to tell you the truth it racks my brain and I mostly end up overloaded. You could say that I end up with an information-overload feeling. So, this morning I thought I would straight up reflect on what I have been researching and maybe this way would help me shape what I want to do next.

I decided I wanted to create a new needs analysis form which I would fill in with my students online. I chose a generic form from ISL Collective that I found will be just right. Have a look at it here.

Next up I did some Internet research on setting goals. By doing some keyword research for goals and setting them, I touched on the idea of setting smart goals. One thing that I was interested in by the use of smart goals was how to set them and what questions should I have in mind when facilitating this activity. Here are a few interesting bits’ n bobs I found.

Goal setting guidelines:

  1. Your goal must be conceivable
  2. make your goal believable
  3. Your goal must be achievable
  4. Make your goal measurable
  5. Be sure to set one purpose only

Setting SMART goals:

S-Specific. Don’t confuse wishes with specific goals. Don’t over broaden your goals. I often hear goals like, “I want the Proficiency”. Why? “to have the qualities I need to get into Greek public service”. And then I usually tell them, “What if I could help you learn the language in such a way that it would be interesting and meaningful to you and as a consequence help you ace the C2 level exam too?”, most of them usually like that idea.

M-Measurable. I usually tell them to measure what is success to them. I try and convince them that an honest return on Investment after taking part in language learning would be to attain the desired outcome and have learnt a way to sustain and improve language learning. So here I would say things like, “What about watching a movie without subtitles and understanding most of it?”

A-Achievable. So how do you define achievable. I suppose the example I use in my classes be the most relevant unachievable goal for myself a bit too extreme. I tell them that I want to go to the moon as an astronaut, but given my age, not that I’m old or anything, it would be a very difficult task to achieve (my philosophy in life is, nothing is unachievable- but that’s wishful thinking!). So, I prefer them saying things like, I want to be able to speak fluently with as little as errors possible than the typical, ” I want to sound like and American native speaker”.

R-Realistic. This one is a difficult issue. Most of my learners come to me and wanting to achieve a fluent “Received pronunciation” like British accent, without the thinking about what fluency really means to the world now. So, here is where I get into the ideas of “Who is a true Brit and what is their accent like?”, “Globalization and keeping your local identity”, “English as a lingua-franca and the ideas of correct pronunciation over native like accents.

T-Time bound. There should be a start date and an end date.

Like this presentation from SlideShare here.

And found some questions to facilitate this activity here. Examples shown below.

  • What is it you want to accomplish?
  • Who wants to accomplish the goal?
  • Why do you want to achieve this goal?
  • How are you going to make it happen?

Finishing, I also like talking to my students about motivation and ways to stay committed. In the past, one area of interest in which I have looked into is Zoltan Dornyei’s L2 Motivational self-system. This system lies on the belief of a student’s motivational language learning behavior, that is their efforts, choice and persistence will be largely affected by three variables: their ideal L2 self, to what extent can students imagine themselves and highly proficient language learners, their Ought-to L2 self, which is what outside pressures students acknowledge throughout the learning process, and finally their language learning experience, which influences attitudes their classroom processes (Dornyei).

So, questions I want to ask my students are:

  • How do you vision your ideal L2 self?
  • How is your life affected by getting a certification and by knowing the language?
  • What is your ideal classroom experience?

There’s more… so to be continued…but until I do, what do you do to set goals with your students?


Teaching to a black screen.

Teaching online has its days. Yesterday, in one of my classes, no matter what I tried and believe me it was a well-prepared lesson about ‘famous’ people and most of the class was about how we could charm a somewhat famous person attend a small session with us in our ‘zoomroom’, nothing worked and it was mostly a class of the black screen for me.

I want to talk about black screens today because I believe it is strongly connected to student activation and engagement. Engagement in second language acquisition (SLA) is twofold and not only is it coined as being something your learners should have it they are motivated to learn also it’s about having the will of giving you their full attention and focus. It is often said that this is the new-age type of students. They say that millennials are multitaskers, they can watch tv and listen to music and maybe be active on social media at the same time. This for me however surely means that they share their attention and that basically, they don’t want to give you their full attention. Also, this to me says, “Your not boring, I’m in your class, I got out of my way to attend and I’ll do my share of work, but I don’t want to give you my full focus; I’ve got other stuff more interesting to me than you.”

Most students close cameras on the pretence of being embarrassed, or having a bad hair day or not liking their learning environment or having their little brother with them. Some scholars say that during remote emergency learning we should not pressure our students to open their cameras because they might indeed not be feeling comfortable with their personal learning environment. The truth of the matter is I agree with not pushing too hard for students to open their cameras, but lately, I have been noticing that this state is contagious and that all students are slowly using it as an excuse for not opening their camera.

In a class, yesterday, all my students were reluctant to open their cameras for me.  I did try to convince my students to open, but in a short while they switched off and even though I tried, they won in the end because I was losing time and seeing my objective going out the window. So I did spend time talking things out but ended up going back to the lesson as not to lose their attention completely.  And what struck me, yesterday is at the start of class when I was alone with one student, I got him to open his camera to say hello which he did, and as soon as another student entered the class, he immediately switched off his camera. Another case was after having a conversation on internet bandwidths and speeds of connection, one of my students who always uses his speed of connection as a problem to switch off his camera boasted about how fast a connection he has to all of us. This was actually mentioned to me by another student told him, who said to him, “why do you say that you never have enough bandwidth to open your camera since you have 100Mbps download and 10Mbps upload”, that’s a really fast connection for home internet!

So the truth of the matter is, even though we have our students motivated enough to come to our online class because they could have just say, “online doesn’t work” and that “my parents shouldn’t be paying for these types of lessons”, the fact that they attend without turning on their video is saying that they are just not engaged enough to do so. If your not actively involving them in an activity which needs for them to be seen, then they prefer to do your activities without their video turned on.

This preference is what needs to be discussed. Should we allow this to happen should this be talked out with all students separately and discussed as a prerequisite?  What do you do with the students who genuinely do have problems?

The more you allow this to happen in your classes the more disengaged learners you will eventually end up with. I believe that this notion should be actively talked about amongst older students and we should reach an agreement towards everyone being actively involved and having their cameras switched on.

For me, in my next lesson, it’s time to redo classroom rules, maybe work upon these rules through a google doc or a collaborative Canva drawing activity. Get them to collaboratively write the rules and to create an infographic of “our ‘zoomroom’ rules”

A good way to create ‘zoomroom’ dynamics and restart my class with a new outlook.

Photo by z yu on Unsplash

First week of class and we created vision boards

End of the first teaching week for 2020 and it’s time to reflect for us teachers. We had a great first week welcoming back our students at our school. A lot was discussed and a lot of aims and goals were set.

Continue reading “First week of class and we created vision boards”

Beliefs about language learning.

Studying Motivation in L2 acquisition has genuinely touched me. I moved to Greece when I was 18 with about an A2 level of Greek in my pocket and had quite a few problems presenting myself to friends and acquaintances which I couldn’t really explain at that time, some people even found me simplistic and ‘silly’ at times which really affected my selfconfidence at that time. This, Elaine Horwitz, mentions as a logical reaction and as often a case with an L2 in her literature. I can’t believe how I can now connect my own life experiences to classroom motivational strategy techniques.
I also was impressed about how Elaine states that although in a communicative classroom we tell students that we want to communicate with them, we want to know what they are thinking and that we really want to listen to them, we end up putting them in a situation where they can’t do this really which can sometimes be frustrating for them if we don’t acknowledge this fact with them beforehand.
I found the Elaine Horwitz model called the BALLI – Beliefs About Language Learning Inventory model in the book Motivational Strategies by Zoltan Dornyei which led me to some of her research papers and this video from a teacher training session here:

This Youtube video led me some more of her workshops at the University of Austin which is under CC trademarks presenting in depth practical solutions on Methods and Anxiety in L2 learning. See here

And here is a link to one of her original works .

And here is a newer paper about validity of her work

Back to the classics…Motivational strategies in the language classroom.

Lately, in my school I have been noticing that some students are motivated more than others, some classes are higly motivated to learn but choose not to be part of our school culture and others don’t get on well with each other. This was concerning me and I wanted to understand the why and the how this can change. As a scholar, an experienced language teacher and a long time school owner, I knew the one place where I could turn to find answers other than my PLN… was a good book. Um…2020 guys! Not really, I just asked Mr Google and he pointed me towards a few good instructional videos and some articles where eventually I stumbled accross a good book! Motivational strategies in the language classroom by Zoltan Dornyei.

So when my book arrived, I did what every passinate and busy proffessional would do. Put it on my book shelf for six months! Really. But eventually I felt the need to sit back down and read and this is where my adventure begins.

Basically, it’s a book about motivational strategies and how it is explained by scholars of the field. I find it quite practical also because it higlights and explains why students act the way they act in class. It does touch on frameworks and research which gets a bit heavy at times with a lot of psychologists names being thrown here and there, but overall it is practical.

A few keypoints I have read about so far.

  1. Enthusiasm works! “students might make fun of this dedication but deep inside, argues Csikszentmihayli, they admire that passion. Such commitment towards the subject matter then becomes ‘infectuous’, instilly in students a similar willingness to pursue knowledge.”

However, Dornyei stresses the fact that enthusiasm is not putting on an engaging song and dance performance worthy of a Broadway award, it’s showing authentic reasons of why a topic is of interest to you using “low-key, sincere statements”.

2. Believe in all your students! Another point that caught my interest is something I believed in by experience and by having gut-feeling inside that I am right. Dornyei states by research, scientists have found if you believe in your student’s ability to reach achievement, in the long run there is a good chance that they will too and even impress you by their abilities to reach their learning goals. Also, something else that I found interesting is the why I have insisted in having mixed level ability classes together and not seperate classes by levels of achievement. If you have weak students in a class together, it’s the teacher that will be influenced by this knowledge which unconsciously might send the students on a “downward spiral of low achievement and low expectations”. Putting weak with the strong makes the strong, stronger, especially if they are given secondary roles in prepping and explaining material to the weaker ones. I believe by now, every good teacher has heard of this quote:

3.Practical ideas, most of which we do know and use in our classes. See pic below:

4. Found his explainations on the ideal class climate and creating a cohesive learner group to be most informative. He states in his book, something that I believe to be true myself, “It’s easy to tell when there is the ‘pleasant-and-supportive-classroom-atmosphere’ – you can sense it after only a few minutes of being in the classroom. So true, but what happens when this doesn’t happen and when not to often a time students are mean to each other which can make a huge difference to student’s attitudes towards learning? He goes on to state that this cohesiveness is not a matter of luck and that he suggests ten (10) important factors of how to get this feeling happening in all your classes. A quick summary of factors that help in building cohesiveness in a group are:

  1. Time will help.
  2. Use activities that will allow students learn about each other. e.x ice-breaking activities at the start of a course.
  3. Proximity, contact and interaction is a super important factor (says me too!) To prevent the emergence of rigid seating patterns move your students around from time to time, use pairwork, small group work, role play and project work allowing people to come into contact with each other. Overall, teachers should watch out for rigid seating arrangements among students because this could trigger negative effects on learning. getting the stronger students in the front all the time and having the weaker students at the back all the time could hinder their learning and motivation to participate in a ‘protected’ learning enviroment in which mistakes are the norm to learning.
  4. Cooperation between members for common goals something of which would create a single ‘group product’.
  5. Emphasize the rewarding nature of the group experience often.
  6. Celebrate the succesful completion of a whole-group task!
  7. Use Intragroup competition to promote intermember relationships.
  8. Take advantage of the ‘common threat’. The fact that they’re all in the same boat or suffering a joint hardship of taking an exam should be used to strengthen bonds.
  9. Build group legends, by emphasizing how their group will leave their mark in history as being special and Dornyei takes it to another level by even suggesting making the group come up with a group name, rituals, group objects and to event invent characteristics for these.
  10. Investing in the group as a teacher

Not bad a reflection considering I am only a third of the way through the book. Obvioulsy, this is a very interesting topic for me and will be reflecting on it again soon… *I hope

“Keep it magical” and “Make a racket”, workshop by Sophia Papadeli…

The sketchnote featured in this blog pretty much sums up what I experienced at a workshop on Sunday the 1st of December at the Megaro Mousikis complex in Athens. When I first heard about Sophia Papadeli’s workshop  over on social media I said to myself, “This is something I definitely have to experience..”. Even though I feel that I have known Sophia forever, I’ve only been following her for a few years now and have met up with her in Athens only once before. She is a very talented and motivated educator who is so passionate about her work that she has advanced her niche in ELT to the extent that she can undoubtedly help others find their own path in the ELT field too.

The main event

Walking towards the conference room entrance, you could already feel the sparks of interest and tension of innovation firing up. There were quite a few of Sophia’s associates there willing to help you out in any way. I arrived a touch late (but not late enough to miss the start of the seminar) and had to sit towards the back of the room. Alas though, a dear friend and colleague (@Effie Pant) kept me a seat in the front row, which was dearly appreciated because the front row is where I love to sit willingly in order to be able to interact with the speaker.

So the magic began, Sophia started talking to the audience, explaining her ideas on motivation and how important connecting with your students is, touching on ideas from growth-mindset and how we should always have the learner in mind when we design our lesson plans – diversity and differentiation etc, etc. Things you have probably heard in seminars and from reading articles in education before, right? Wrong… Sophia didn’t just keep in theoretical, she showed us activities and events she has used in her school to keep her students motivated and alert in times when her students preferred to be distant and disconnected from learning. And by all means were they different, in all activities shown you could see the detail that a movie director ask for in their most challenging films.

Keep it magical..be a risk taker

If you follow my featured sketchnote around, I tried to document the feeling of the seminar with keywords. Most of them were connected to being a motivator for kids and making connections with them by keeping your activities interesting and as Sophia puts it, “Keeping it magical”.  Taking a risk, going out of your way to make it different and thus giving it meaning to your students. When you do these types of activities in class, you as the teacher should keep “faith” in these by showing your anticipation and passion. She showed us ideas for activities which could be used in class, I won’t go into any specific activities here due to some restrictions she has put on us for not publicizing her ideas. However, I can say that any activities you do design as teachers, make sure you make a big deal over it by involving your learners in the preparation procress by asking them to have prepare or do something for you by their next session. In addition, she emphasised the need of getting all involved in their learning. For example, ask students (or ask the parents to get students ) to wear something specific to their next class, to bring in something personal from home for their next class, all these preactions help build curiosiry for the lesson, therefore excitement and maybe some authentic interest on your student’s part. She even asked us to wear something white to this event. To tell you the truth, I didn’t. I didn’t catch on to her idea when she first asked us to do this via social media. I now realise how important this was for that event especially if you wanted to be immersed in her ideas to get the maximum experience, so if you are to immerse your students into a new experience maybe get them to wear something special (e.g. all black clothes, some gloves and a beanie) for you next activity. This will inevitibly be understood by parents who will have to help in chosing appropriate clothes or props for their child’s lesson which means at home they will make a racket about their childs learning helping to motivate them. Here before closing this paragraph, I just want to add that when your students arrive to class and you have prepared your classroom for a specific acitivty, don’t let them in to see what you have prepared! Keep them curious until all your students have arrived at the door of the classroom and then suprise them! Keep it magical…

All these little twerks towards learning wasn’t shown to us to add an element of a game, because we as educators are not entertainers. This is to make our students (and us for that matter) understand that there is an underlying need of having an deep interest to detail in what you do in life and that sometimes when asked for, you have to be able to comply in order to be immersed in a task.

Other subtle suprises

Sophia went on to talk about bringing your own talent into your classroom. For example, she likes to draw and direct (like a moive director, and obviously being good at it she had set the stage!), but what she presented to us and developed was that whatever you do that makes you happy bring it into the classroom for your students. Do you like photography bring in this ideas and create something. Do you dance? Put some song and dance into your activities..

She then went on and presented Nikos Galinis who brought in video production into a state school and got his students to produce social messages using use of youtube video as his means. Get out of your comfort zone was the message, don’t let your inner conscience (or the the Joker card) drag you down, become masters of the unexpected was her message.

We also had the privelege to view presentations from other presenters too. I particularly enjoyed the presentation on Inquiry based learning activities from Theodora Vogiou, where she presented an activity which her students created the problem and found solutions to. Well thought out and structured activity. Most informative. Aswell as, Rania Lamprou on using STEAM in Engish language activities. Very motivating for me having an engineering background. Also, last but not least we saw the teacher trainer, Ioanna Ntaidou using NLP methodologies in her activities too, but most of all some song and dance too.

Overall, it was a really interesting event which motivated me to get out of my comfort zone and try new things in my school.

We have to make the art of writing more meaningful for them…

I had a really nice discussion yesterday with my C2 students who are sitting for their exams in two weeks. You know, the typical discussion teachers have with their graduates at the end of the year where we get to say to them how proud we are of their achievements in being proficient in the language and that they will be missed (which is true 100%!) and that even though our sessions together will stop, learning is never-ending and that they as pledged life long learners now, should continue to evolve as English language learners. At that stage, they normally agree with you about missing your lessons (so touching). Yet, express the fact that the time gained from not coming to English class will be time spent on other academic endeavours in high school and life.

As a teacher I suggest reading novels in English, going over the occasional newspaper online, always jump at chances to come into contact with the language whenever they can and finally, I always stress the importance of keeping their vocabulary notebooks alive by jotting down new words they encounter from anywhere and took a liking to. 

So what was different in yesterday’s session was that one of my students – Dimitra a lively bright young teenager turned around and said enthusiastically, “and no more boring essays to write – I’ve finished with writing those..”. Now that hurt. I suddenly realised that all that teaching, about proper writing, about important communicative achievement, organisation of thoughts, and using rich language was suddenly, for nothing. nought, zilch and zero. This student after eight years of lessons did not understand the beauty of expressing thoughts in writing and what perks it will offer you in your day to day life. What have I done, I have failed them.

And then it hit me. We have to make it more meaningful, relevant and purposeful for them. I’ve been hearing these buzz words a lot at seminars in the last few years and it has echoed in me for a while. So what can we do to make writing more meaningful and more real? Writing letters could work but the rate of snail mail isn’t that fast in a school year. What’s next…keeping it real. The only real and meaningful reasons to write nowadays is a blog! I guess we could start with a blog! I’m a blogger, I reflect (not that often though…this should change!) and hopefully, that would make it a lot more meaningful for our students. The only question is what kind of a blog and what kind of posts and information will it have? Should it be a class blog?  Should it be a school blog or should it be an open blog where any student can contribute to it by submitting any writing piece or even what is published controlled by student moderators? Maybe I should get the actual students to decide? Maybe we should involve them in the design of such a blog – project? Well, this is getting interesting now… I wonder where it will go from here…

Featured image by:

Nick Morrison

Train your students to love creative learning.

I’m probably writing this because in class my students got me frustrated again. Supposedly, a small-class size should lead to a full class of motivated and happy students. Yet, there is always going to be this one student that always sets you back and lets you down. Does this scenario seem familiar? There is always this one student that is keeping you back from full class success. This one student that you feel that if they weren’t in your class your class would do much better. Everyone has got at least one of those such students. So what do you do when things get out of hand in your class? When you can understand no matter how meaningful you think the material you have prepared is, they seem to show absolutely no interest? Continue reading “Train your students to love creative learning.”