05 May, 2018

'Inner thoughts' from Gaza to London

While planning for my first IATEFL last month, I came across an announcement for the Hands Up project conference in Westminster university in London on Saturday the 14th April, which is the next day after IATEFL which ran from the 8th to the 13th April. Luckily, I had planned to spend a few days in London after the conference so I decided to attend that conference as I have been following that project on FB for some time. I have always felt very proud of the amazing work NickBilbrough and all the volunteering teachers do with the students in Palestine and other places through drama and other English language activities online. Though some friends of mine were astonished how I would spend my first day in that vibrant city I am visiting for the first time in a conference when I have just finished one ! I will never regret it as it was actually a unique opportunity to listen to fantastic speakers, but above all meet some of the real heroines behind the Hands up project; five girls from Khan Yunus, Gaza,  Palestine, who were the winners of the play making competition “Inner thoughts” and thus were invited to come to London to perform their play live to a big audience in one of London’s theaters and to a big group of teachers from all over the world in that conference.
After meeting those promising, powerful and inspiring Palestinian girls, I decided to interview them to keep a record of all the positivity and power they were spreading through their smiles and words with everyone. I thought it would be better if I talk with them in Arabic to give them an opportunity to express themselves in their own native language, which turned out to be a good decision as it helped them share all their thoughts and feelings freely and comfortably. It was difficult at points to translate some of their words as they were full of enthusiasm and feelings that are hard to accurately express in another language, but I did my best and I hope you find this interview as inspiring as I find it.
N.B. I added some comments/thoughts (in blue) which came to my mind while listening to the interview and writing the script.

Q: Would you introduce yourselves and tell me your names, ages and where you are from ?
Salma Z, 14 yrs old / Rawan M, 15 yrs old / Batool A, 15 / ZahyaA, 15 / Dania, 15, and we’re all from Khan Yunus in Gaza.

Q: What is the hands up project? How would you describe it?
It's a program that reflects our lives. It teaches us new things such as pronunciation and new words. We could benefit from all useful aspects of this project.
It's an opportunity to express yourself and show your talent, no matter where you are.

Q: Did it really make a difference? Do you feel it had an effect on you?
Yes, of course. If it weren't for this project, we wouldn't have been here now, in London.

Q: Is being here in London the real change or effect of this project?
It's not the place, but being able to go out to another society and speak English confidently with native speakers and other people from all over the world. It boosted our self confidence. We can now stand on a stage and act in English comfortably and confidently.
The first piece of advice were given is not to look at the audience when we’re on stage, just look at a point in front of you. But we believe this is not the right thing to do, we should look at the audience to gain more self-confidence.You should look at them in the eye so that they can feel what you're saying.(This is how Palestinian do it, look at everyone in the eye with determination. If they do it with their enemy who's holding a gun faced at them, won't they do it with the audience who are coming to watch, respect and encourage them!).

Q: I heard one of you saying ‘we used to think we're getting old to act’ what do you mean?
Yeah, it's me! Because I used to act and sing at school when I was younger, then when I grew up (being a teen now) a bit and wore hijab, I stopped. But then one day I was approached by my teacher who asked me if I am interested in acting. I told her I used to when I was younger. She asked if I don't mind taking part in some activities and I agreed and since then I gained more confidence and am getting better every month. Now I don't want to stop, I want to continue and develop more and more.

Q: Did Hijab hinder you from doing what you want?
No, no, no (all girls in one voice). On the contrary, Hijab is organizing our limits. I can act in my hijab, gain people's respect and give a message.

Q: What's the best thing about your visit to London?
Living with a British family and talking with them in English. Everything is very beautiful. But yesterday was very very good. We met Palestinians who speak English, and they were very proud of us acting in English. Meeting Mr. Thomas who gave us some very useful tips on how to act on a stage was great.
He used to say it's ok if you're afraid on stage, but I challenged him and I said ‘No we're not afraid!’ And when we went on stage, I looked at him and said 'I challenge you!'. (That's the Palestinian spirit, nothing to fear from, a challenge is always a win for Palestinians and they'll win their challenge one day, I'm sure.)

Q: Would you tell us how your daily life is affected by the situation in Gaza?
Power cuts, we have only 4 hours of electricity every day. Sometimes they cut it for a whole day and the next day we have electricity for 5/6 hours, no more.

Q: How did you connect through the internet in such conditions?
We had to buy batteries. Sometimes while we're in the middle of a talk with Mr. Nick, the electricity cuts so it's very disappointing! Sometimes we sit together after school waiting for the electricity (and get home later than usual). We wait for the time electricity comes to be able to connect to the internet. But thank god, our efforts were not in vain.
Our teacher used to tell us "If you want to succeed, you have to work hard" and ‘A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.’

Q:  These are all great messages to children everywhere. In your own voices now, what would you like to tell them?
Thank god you're living safely and peacefully and enrolled in a school, it's a great blessing. Most of your classes have less than 50 students, ours have a minimum of 50 + students.
Kids who are not 5 years old yet stand in front of shops with a bar of chocolate hoping to sell it to get a few coins. In spite of all this, we didn't lost hope. Instead, it made us even stronger because our goal is to prove to the world that Palestinians are not helpless and they can do the impossible.There's no impossible, we can do a lot. The more we suffer, the more we believe we can do anything. Our suffering convinced us that we can do anything and that nothing will stop us.
I stopped here to tell the girls, ‘In spite of all you're saying, your smiles are amazing and your eyes are glowing. You made me feel tiny in front of all you're saying as you have an unbelievable power coming out of suffering. I am really speechless.’

Q: You attended the last session which was for teachers. How did you feel as students? What attracted your attention?
I noticed the pronunciation symbols as we studied the symbols for ‘th’ in our course book, so when I saw the other symbols I knew that these are the rest of them and I remembered that I had seen them in the dictionary. 
We liked how we were treated as the rest of the audience (even if we're young students) though we're sitting among a large group of teachers from all around the world and for them we're just kids. We could understand in general what the session is about, we've even participated in the pair activity.

Q: Do you know that most of the presenters who came today are very big names in the ELT world and for us as teachers it's a big thing to be able to see them and listen to them face2face?
Yeah we know Mr. Adrian (Adrian Underhill) because he came to Palestine before and we love his sense of humor (Who doesn't? J). He sends amazing positivity while interacting with his audience (Yes girls, he does indeed, well spotted!)
What is special about some British people is their kindness and sense of humor. When they knew we're from Palestine, they smiled happily and welcomed us.

Q: What's your message to teachers?
Students are the future generation. The students you're teaching today will teach your kids tomorrow. Don't underestimate them. They will build your country tomorrow. If you don't teach them well, they might cause some of the buildings to fall off because they didn't receive good education from you. It's not their fault, it's yours! You will teach us and we'll apply what you teach us.
Students are a treasure. If you take care of it you'll grow it. You can grow it as much as you want. The more you give them, the more you get from them. Don't underestimate them because they're young. One day these young students will grow up.
I like the teacher who pays more attention to the weak students because this weak student might one day make a bigger jump than the strong ones. This is how you raise a generation.
Teachers should ask students at the end of the lesson if they understood the lesson and if they did, ask them to share what they’ve learnt. Encourage them to tell you if they don't understand anything. This will encourage shy students to raise their hands and say they don't understand. To encourage students more, you can even say 'That's a good question. I like students who ask questions, well done!'
The teacher should be smiling in class to his students and engage with them. Personally, I like the subject because of the teacher. That's why we like English.
Wow, I can see some very useful advice to teachers about building rapport, dealing with slow students, understanding learners, feedback, … coming from the students themselves!!

Q: What's the best thing you like about Miss Amel (their English language teacher)?
She's the mother. She is kind and is always keen to help us if we need anything. It's like we're sisters and she's our mum. We’re lucky to have her as our teacher.

Q: I am speechless. Any final words to the people who might read this interview ?
We have a lot of problems in Gaza, but we can do a lot. Just deliver our message. Many people know our situation but they ignore it. We need your support. We just need peace and our land back.

Please leave your comments below and I'm sure all students from Gaza, their teachers and the Hands up project volunteers will read and appreciate them :)

28 August, 2015

I have a dream .. Flipped at last !

"Flip it to win it" Is that true ? Can you gain more if you flip your classroom ?
What can happen if the students do some work at home (read, listen, research a topic, learn some vocabulary or find answers to some questions) and then engage in more practice activities in class?! I believe that would be great for both the teacher and the student !

That's how a flipped classroom works. It's more student centered and more productive in terms of using the language. And that's why I had a dream to try a flipped classroom with my students one day and here comes the day !!

As the 28th of August is the anniversary of Martin Luther King's I have a dream speech, we were encouraged as teachers to try to raise the topic of equality and diversity in class with our students using this speech which was an important moment in the American Civil Rights movement and history. Another thing that made me see it can work is the events and changes Egypt has been through in the last few years. We are still hoping and working for a change in many fields and all Egyptians have lots of dreams for their future and the country's as well.

After listening to King's speech, I thought it would be difficult to play it in class as it is a bit long (almost 16 mins) and not so easy - in terms of language - for students to work on for the first time in class. So, I thought that's the moment I should try a Flipped Classroom .


So, the questions I had to answer while planning for this lesson were;

1. How will I introduce the topic in class?
2. What are the tasks students have to do at home?
3. What kind of activities I can use later in class based on this lesson?

The answers to these questions are in the following stages of my lesson :

The first stage:

- I introduced the topic asking students about important dates in their lives and in our country's old and modern history. They shared personal dates and dates of important events in Egypt such as; The Egyptian Revolution and The New Suez Canal - which was inaugurated the beginning of this month - among some others.
- Showing students a photo of Martin Luther king , I could elicit who he is. Some of them know him well and one could even remember his famous sentence "I have a dream".
- I showed students a short video that tells interesting facts about Martin Luther king's speech.
- Commenting on the video, students started to get more interested in the topic and thus I was ready to set the main task they should do at home.

The second stage : Task at home:

1. Watch the video of the speech, read the script or listen and read, then answer the following question:
What did Martin Luther King dream about for the future of the black and white communities?
2. Find the meaning of difficult or new key words in the speech.

The last stage : Next class:

- The next class, students came with lots of good notes from the speech. They started sharing it with each other in pairs, then with the whole class.
- After that, they chose a representative from each small group (3/4 students) to write the new key words they learnt from the speech on the board. Some words were repeated, so we eliminated them to give an opportunity to share more words. When the board was full of key words , students started explaining the meaning of these words and how some of them had a different meaning conveying King's message and the suffering of the black people at that time.

It was really enriching for everyone and raised good points for discussion.

The next part of the class was asking students to think and write short notes of their own dreams for their future, the future of their country, local community or human race.

The final stage was giving each student an A3 white paper and some crayons, colour pens and pencils and asking them to put these dreams on paper as a drawing, list or any other kind of product they want.

The students enjoyed that part of the lesson so much and the products were really amazing . They were relaxed; thinking, drawing, coloring, and reflecting on each other's products wondering what they might mean. Every student expressed his/her dreams on their own special way and presented them to the class in 1 minute. I gathered all the products on a padlet wall and invited students to comment on the lesson there as well. You can see samples of their work there.

Variations :

The final products students work on can be an interview (audio or video), writing a blog post about the speech, conducting a survey, ..etc.

You can choose a simpler reading text about the speech or part of the speech, if you're teaching lower level students. There are lots of good lesson plans and free resources online that you can use or adapt according to your students' level and age.

Limitations / problems:

Some students might not do the task at home, so you have to ensure beforehand they know that the next lesson will be based on that task. Another thing you can do is to ask the students who did the task to summarize the speech or they can share the main points in pairs.

I am really happy with the experience and proud of my students. In this lesson, I aimed at and managed to achieve two of the #30goalsedu; goal #5 Integrate tech effectively and goal #23 Plant a seed of belief. Trying something new in class as well as inspiring students to keep dreaming of many good things to happen in their future and the future of their country are always good and rewarding aims.

Keep dreaming and let your dreams be seeds of belief that they will come true :)

11 April, 2015

Iatefl online ... live the conference (1)

Though it's not easy to have all your dreams come true whenever you want, it's still possible to come closer to them. Attending iatefl conference is one of my dreams that I will looking forward to. However, it's not impossible to attend some of the sessions now online through the live webcast offered by the conference website . This year, I intend to attend the 49th annual convention online and watch as many sessions as possible then report about them here in my blog. Today, I watched Donald Freeman's plenary session, which was really thought provoking and that's why I decided to write this blog post once the session ended.

Frozen in thought?
How we think and what we do in ELT
Donald Freeman

Donald started his session by presenting a classroom situation where a teacher plays "Bingo" with her students as she believes "Bingo is the only thing that works with kids". From this quotation, he commented that we as teachers always find reasoning or justification for what we do in class whether internally; to justify what we do for ourselves or externally; to justify it to others. "That reason we give depends on three myths," Freeman says. These myths can be right or wrong and each of them might have useful or misleading aspects. However, clarifying that distinction "helps to 'thaw' our thinking".

Myth 1 :  'Direct' causality
It's the myth that teaching causes learning. Donald explains what happens in the classroom as a Billiard game. The teacher hits a ball, which is like revealing a secret (one language point), then the students hit the next, depending on the teacher's first shot. It keeps going on until learning happens. However, we can't say that "teaching has nothing to do with learning" as it facilitates learning and is an integral part of the learning process. Donald finalized this part showing a picture that represents the relationship between teaching and learning as a spiral movement; one move from the teacher, followed by another from the learner and so on.

Myth 2 : 'Sole' responsibility
It's the belief that the teacher is the only source of learning and thus responsible for everything that happens in the classroom. In a way, we have responsibility as we act as decision makers; preparing the materials, taking decisions in the classroom, reacting to students' needs, ...etc.
However, Donald sees it as much more like a chess table. The move a teacher makes affects the students' decisions on what to do next, and their moves affects the teacher's choices of what decisions to take based on those moves , and so on. Thus, it's all about decision making; one move shapes the possibility of what comes next. It provides the teacher with opportunities to teach and offers more learning opportunities for the learner. "When you teach , you have to manage what you can't control, " was the final quote Donald ended his second myth with.

Myth 3 : 'proficiency' as the goal
It's the myth that the goal of teaching is 'proficiency', which is grounded on an idea of 'nativeness' which 'is not a linguistic idea, but rather a geopolitical one.' Donald also argued that though it's important to describe how good people can be at a language, it's also problematic to describe it as the language itself is flexible. Moreover, defining what's 'good' is not that possible as it's not a universal concept.

Donald explained how the classroom bounds the language by showing a picture called 'the suitcase for travel', in which the suitcase represents the outline of the classroom, and the background is the outside world. So, what we see through the suitcase doesn't represent the larger whole outside it. So, we do teach part of what students need to be 'proficient' but not all. At this point, Donald proposed the concept of "Horizontal knowledge" which is what's in and outside the case, suggesting that we should think of 'proficiencies' as plural rather than 'proficiency' as it happens in different contexts and should only be bounded by these situations. Donald summed up this argument with a satisfying conclusion that  as teaching is central in the learning process which should be driven by the learner, we - as teachers - should organize learning in a way that helps the learners decide what they need to learn.

It was such an eye-opening session that can change the way we teach in a positive way and thus affect our learners' concept of learning ........ and proficiency.
Donald Freeman ended his session with some inspiring quotes. However, the following one as a key that opens doors to the unknown !!

Hope I could bring some of the key ideas of the first plenary to those who weren't able to attend it. However, it's still possible to attend more plenary sessions live online and watch recordings of many more !!

30 November, 2014

The Silent Way

It is very important to get out of your comfort zone whenever possible to fly high, enjoy the freedom of getting rid of limits and feel the excitement of innovation.
Choosing a new teaching method that you have never used in class to try out as an experimental practice is a real challenge, but an exciting opportunity to get out of your comfort zone. That's why I decided to choose the silent way.
The three basic concepts of the silent way are interdependence, autonomy and responsibility. It enhances learners' autonomy and responsibility as they independently rely on what they know to learn what they do not know and thus they are responsible for their own learning. As the teacher doesn't interfere in the students' learning process, they are encouraged to listen to and correct each other which 'fosters interdependence and cooperation among students' (Yuksel & Caner, 2014, p.42).

How challenging it is to have a class based on zero teacher talking time and 100% student talking time! I had lots of questions that motivated me to further explore this method:
1. How can a teacher introduce new language without saying a word?
2. Can it work with low-level students when we usually have more TTT than STT?
3. What other tools can replace talking?
4. If it's used to present new language, will it help students in other stages such as controlled or freer practice? To what extent?
5. If it is mainly talking the language, so how far will students manage writing it?
6. To what extent will it appeal to students with different learning styles ?

........... and lots of other questions !

Having all the previous questions in mind,
I started reading a lot about how the silent way started and its techniques and principles. It was also very useful to watch some online videos of lessons using the silent way.

I chose my elementary class for this EP as I was interested in testing how it can work with low-level classes in which the teacher is the main target of the language and thus TTT is more than STT.

Having a mixed class of different age groups, sexes and nationalities was another challenge that made the experience enriching.
I spent days playing with the cuisenaire rods which are the main tools in the silent way lessons. They will be my tongue, voice and mind. They will say all I want to say !!
I chose the target language, practiced how to introduce it with gestures, word charts, pictures and the cuisenaire rods, and wrote a detailed lesson plan with opportunities for controlled and freer practice as well as a writing stage where I will be able to test how students will be able to manage writing after a whole lesson of using the language orally.

Though the silent way is mostly used with pronunciation, I decided to use it to introduce a grammar structure; "have got/ has got" positive, negative and short forms. This was due to the fact that my students give much attention to the grammatical rules rather than how to use them to communicate, and they always try to understand what every and each single word in a structure mean rather than how or why to use the whole structure.

During the lesson: 
A key feature of the silent way is to start from the known to the unknown. That's why I started by introducing the rods to practice the singular and plural forms of some vocabulary that students are familiar with. Students were shown a picture of an item and they have to say its name using 'a/an' for singular or '-s/es' ending for plural. This gave student confidence to practice something they are familiar with and get used to the rods.
Using the word charts and gestures, I introduced each part of the target structure using rods and eliciting it from the students. Generating different sentences using different pictures of the singular and plural items, students were getting familiar with the new structure and producing it more confidently.
Sticking two rods together helped students figure out the difference between the short form in a positive sentence; "I've & She's" and in a negative sentence; "I haven't got & She hasn't got"
Controlled Practice: 
In pairs, students were given a set of rods and picture to form sentences for their peers to say. They were very confident doing it on their own , without any interference from me, and they did it accurately.
Freer communicative practice:
After modelling the activity silently and eliciting the structure, students used the target language to talk about what they have got in their bags. They could easily convert from first person to third person reporting about what other students have got.

Interesting Findings:
1. Students were able to transform their oral production of the target language to the written form accurately without any prior exposure to it or interference from the teacher.
2. This new visual teaching method appealed to almost all the students as mentioned in their post-lesson feedback, and they wanted to apply it more often in other lessons. This shows that students liked this inductive way of teaching grammar though they have always expressed their need for the grammatical rules. Still, some of them elicited the rules themselves which gave them a sense of achievement and security.
3. Some of the students were writing the sentences produced in class, though the main goal was only producing the language orally, which interestingly shows that those students can process the language better if it is in the written form.
4.Weak students were actively engaged, without any sense of discouragement or lack of confidence. I think this is due to the fact that all students are equally trying to figure out the new structure and they are all unfamiliar with this new teaching method. Also, correcting and being corrected by peers without any interference from the teacher promoted self confidence and created a more relaxing learning environment.

Thanks to all my mentors who encouraged me to go for this challenge, promising it will be a learning curve in my professional development. Yes, I believe it will definitely affect my teaching practice and professional development a lot and I hope it was a special learning experience for my students as well.
So, get out of your comfort zone and fly high .... enjoy teaching and your students will definitely enjoy learning with you :)

If you are interested, share your ideas, experiences and comments below !

11 October, 2013

Get inspired at RSCON 4 !

It was a very exciting moment when Maria Bossa and I were invited by RSCON conference organizers to present about our online collaboration project which we conducted with our students from Argentina and Egypt. In this project we used more than one web 2.0 tool to get our students inspired to collaborate together and communicate practising English.

This project was also a turning point for Maria and I. It was a starting point of a wonderful journey of professional development. It had not only affected our professional life, but also our social and personal life as well.

To know more about this project and our exciting journey since then, join our session @RSCON4  http://www.futureofeducation.com/forum/topics/argentegypt-an-online-collaboration-project 

There are also 10 international keynotes, 4 panel discussions featuring distinguished experts and over 100 presentations by eductors around the world ..... So get inspired and attend some of these wonderful sessions .... You can check the whole schedule and other details here http://www.futureofeducation.com/page/2013-reform-symposium

Enjoy an inspiring weekend !!

See you around :)

13 April, 2013

The Alphabet photographing game !

The idea of this project was  shared by Carla Arena in her LT SIG webinar "Rethinking the language classroom - from mobile to learning". In that webinar she shared lots of ideas about the use of mobile devices in classroom activities and projects.
Since it's not allowed to use some mobile devices in our school, I liked the idea of the Alphabet Game project as it depends on the use of cameras which I could easily get permission to use with my students.
The idea of the project is that students are divided into groups. The Alphabet letters are divided among the groups. Each group is asked to go around the school taking photos of items that start with the letters they are assigned. An extension of this activity is that after they finish taking photos of items of all alphabet letters, they go back to class and each group writes a story containing all the words of the items they photographed.

My students were very excited to know they are going to bring their cameras to use at school. On the day assigned for this activity, I explained to them the activity. They got very happy and much more excited when they knew they are going to leave the classroom and move around the school taking photos !! The alphabet letters were divided among four groups of students. They ran down the stairs, full of a high spirit of challenge ! They moved from one place in the school to another taking photos. They started with the playground, then moved to the library, computer lab, bathrooms, corridors, kitchen, and every corner of the school !! They even acted some words like "Queue" as they queued up and asked one of them to take a photo of their queue !! Another challenge was the letter "X" as they couldn't find an item starting with "X" in our school !! Four of the team lied on the floor in the same shape of an X and the photo was taken !!
After that, they all went back to class and sat in groups checking their photos and thinking up a story that contains all the words of the items they have photographed. By the end, they put up the photos and the story together and made up a wonderful product !!

Here is a photopeach where you can see my students in all steps of that exciting project. You can add your comments at the end !!
Enjoy it !!

ABC photographing class on PhotoPeach

07 July, 2012

Diigo for professional development

        I remember when I first started getting into the web world, I used to write down the addresses of the best sites I visited and a short note on each. Soon afterwards, I started using the bookmarking feature of my internet browser. Till very recently, it was the best way to keep all my favorite resources inspite of still having the risk of losing them if I had to re-install my windows system due to a problem in my computer, or even not being able to access them on any other computer !!
       After joining the Baw 11 online EVO course, I got to know about some online bookmarking tools, through which I can access my favourite or bookmarked resources anywhere and using any computer. Delicious and Diigo are two popular bookmarking tools, though many others come out everyday ! I started using Delicious and Diigo as bookmarking tools to get to know the differences between them. However, I couldn't find the real potenial of them among many others until I read Nik Peachey's latest post on using social media for professional development .

Today, I'll start with Diigo:
        After you sign up for free in Diigo, you install its browser bookmarklet (Diigolet) through which you can easily bookmark any resources, just like your browser's bookmarking feature. Diigo's main basic features, which you have seen in their Demo video above, are:
- Bookmarking any articles, websites, resources.
- Adding sticky notes which you can check, edit, ... whenever and wherever you access you Diigo account.
- Selecting any text to highlight using different colours.
- Sharing your resources to Twitter, Facebook, or by e-mail.
- Sharing an annotated link, which allows you to share any webpage with sticky notes or highlights with anyone !!

Diigo groups:
      These are groups of Diigo users who share a common interest and inside this group, they share their bookmarks, sticky notes, ...etc. After you join Diigo, you browse groups, choose a group(s) to join, according to your interests. You can share any resource you bookmark with this group. This way, it's saved in your library and shared with this group.
      The best about this feature of groups is that you receive updates of bookmarks shared in the group by other members!! Since I discovered this feature, I have joined some groups such as Educators, Literacy with ICT, ...and others. Then I started getting updates of resources and articles shared in these groups. You can't imagine how this can be such a very "rich source of professional development" as Nik mentioned in his article !! You go through the titles of bookmarks, pick what interests you, read, bookmark and share with others !!
      Now, I can see great webheads and professionals, from whom I used to share resources, sharing my bookmarks or shares now !! Wow, Isn't this great !? It's changing me into an active member in my PLNs !! 
      If you have been wondering how will you spend your summer vacation fruitfully developing as a teacher, then join Diigo and its group if you still haven't !!
      Waiting for your comments which are always appreciated !! :)