Behind the scenes of your blog – feelings

 

Two things happened lately which encouraged me to write up this post.

Firstly, one of the most prolific and helpful bloggers in the ELT blogosphere recently started a blog challenge called Behind the Scenes of Your Blog and directly addressed me on Twitter (see the tweet below). Well, it’s too irresistible not to give it a try in some way or another. I should add that Tekhnologic’s idea was originally inspired by James Taylor’s fabulous post which you can read here.

Výstřižek

No matter how much I hate labelling and try to avoid it at all costs, I recently got a label myself. Once in a while, students at our institution publish a school magazine for which they interview local teachers. They decided it was my turn this time and the interview appeared in the latest issue of the publication.

In the introductory paragraph, the authors (two 15-year old girls, students of mine) use the following words: a popular teacher and a blogger. It really made me smile when I read the draft for the first time. They might have called me a teacher and a mother of three but they didn’t. Ironically, I don’t think I ever mention my blog to my students but somehow they know. And they must think blogging really matters to me.

Nevertheless, I can’t help feeling that the label blogger has a slightly negative connotation in the area where I live – at least to specific groups of people. I don’t fully understand the reasons behind this; I guess it’s probably because everybody blogs or makes YouTube videos these days and some people are simply not very comfortable with the idea of sharing personal stuff online. Also, I suspect that we Czechs are not used to promoting ourselves openly; we see it as a little embarrassing and to be frank, I had to overcome these emotions myself as well.

So when I read the interview, for a fleeting moment, I suddenly felt a little ridiculous again. Then I realised that the problem is the language in which the text was written. I mean, in English, the words blogger or blogging are used frequently, naturally and quite neutrally. However, when embedded in a piece of text written in Czech it somehow feels too extravagant, too trendy – even a little infantile. In other words, the word doesn’t sound serious enough for an experienced teacher working in the State Sector of education.

In this short post, I wanted to explain that a lot is going on behind the scenes of one’s blog – it’s not only about writing techniques or timing – it’s also about the way the blogger and others feel about blogging. I hope I managed to get the message across. 🙂

 

 

 

 

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Translation in an L2 classroom? Yes.

IMG_20170327_110331Believe it or not, from time to time, an unexpected, real-life, natural, extra-curricular task comes up. And sometimes it’s worth giving it a chance even if it eats into the regular class time. You can always catch up so there’s no need to worry.

A couple of weeks ago, I was asked to do some translations for the Erasmus+ project, namely English > Czech translations of texts the participating students had produced during an activity here in the Czech Republic. As part of the dissemination process, the English texts are translated into several European languages and they are shared on a website created by the Belgian partner.

At first, I planned to do the translations on my own, but then a cunning idea came to mind and I decided to assign the task to my students. And it proved to be a good decision in the end. As I later found out, it would have taken me ages to do it on my own.  Moreover, this type of learning experience was extremely beneficial for my intermediate students. Finally, I realised that spreading the results of the Erasmus+ project among other students in all possible ways is just the right type of dissemination.

The trouble is, though, that I don’t normally ask my students to translate texts. If I do ask them to do some translations, these are usually only sentences from Czech into English. Plus I assign such tasks to test the knowledge of vocabulary and grammar points. This time, however, they had to deal with semi-cohesive texts produced by students of other L1s – students they hadn’t even met before. This made the task a real challenge. Fortunately, the texts were accompanied by photos (and they had already been translated into several languages), which was helpful since my students had something to hold on to whenever they encountered a difficulty.

But it wasn’t an easy task anyways. I observed that my students mostly struggled to understand what the authors of the texts really meant. Occasionally, the wrong choice of English vocabulary (English was L2 for all the participants) made it impossible to decode the message. Ironically, my students also struggled with their own language, i.e. Czech. Some of the most problematic areas were, for example, an incorrect use of commas (too many or none), grammar mistakes which I think they would never make if they were writing their own texts in Czech, clumsy wording and sentence order, a tendency to avoid declension of proper names, wrong decoding of abbreviations and acronyms which needed to be translated, inappropriate use of spoken/colloquial language, etc.

IMG_20170327_110534However, I was very pleased to see my students collaborate and discuss the problems during the translation process; they asked one another for peer feedback, for synonyms, as well as for background knowledge they didn’t have in a particular field of expertise. Also, I was happy to see they used different translation strategies – some of them even used Google Translate in the early stages of the translation process, which, to be frank, I didn’t really mind as it only proved how tricky Google Translate can be. All in all, each of them approached the task in a slightly different way – some of them tended to hand the work in without any proofreading whatsoever, while others tried to refine the final product to its best by playing with words and sentence structure. Needless to say, the latter approach paid off.

My students probably didn’t see the activity as something to primarily help them learn English. However, I hope it helped them realise that translation is a difficult but rewarding skill, mainly because one needs to take into account meaning as well as a range of other issues, including form, register, style, idiom and metaphor. And some types of learner may find this type of work pleasantly challenging. Furthermore, translation requires accuracy, clarity and flexibility. It is quite time-consuming too – it took us two full lessons to finalise the products. Thus I’m well-aware of the fact that this activity couldn’t be done with every class; a highly-motivated group of fairly proficient language learners is definitely a must.

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Literal videos – the show goes on …

IMG_20170308_165728In my previous post, I wrote about the Erasmus+ project we had worked on in Diekirch, Luxembourg. I described the process of making literal videos and I announced I was planning to try this activity on a smaller scale with my own students. And I kept my promise.

This is what we’ve done so far: last Wednesday, I showed the results of the Erasmus+ project to a group of my B1 students and I suggested we could create something similar. They quite liked the idea so I asked them to look for suitable video clips they could work on.

The next day, we went to a PC room where the students worked in pairs (and a group of three). I handed out some headphones so that they didn’t disturb each other while listening to the videos.

When monitoring the class,  it struck me as surprising that two teams were describing the scenes in Czech. I implied that it was not a very good idea because then it might be too challenging and time-consuming to transfer the L1 lyrics to L2. Some of them agreed and switched into English.

One pair chose to take notes on paper while the others used a Word document. Needless to say, each team worked at a different pace and as we only had one lesson, I asked them to catch up at home if necessary.

We’ll continue on Monday and I think the products will be ready sometime next week. The most challenging part will definitely be the performance. Although this particular group of students is one of the most creative and enthusiastic bunches, singing live in front of the others is not an easy task for anybody.

Also, I’m not sure yet how we’ll present the results since we don’t have the equipment and software we had in Luxembourg. The students will probably have to find a karaoke version of the song and sing along with it, using their new lyrics, or we’ll mute the sound in the original video and they’ll sing a capella. We might also need to produce copies of the new lyrics so that we can follow easily. We don’t want to miss the jokes. I secretly count on the fact that my students are tech-savvy so hopefully, some of them may eventually come up with a way of inserting the new lyrics into the video.

There’s one more issue I’m a bit concerned about; I’m not sure how I will deal with students who are reluctant to share their results with the rest of the class. I’ll probably have to be tolerant and let them choose if they want to have a go or not. Well, it’s a process in progress so we’ll see.

 

 

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Literal Videos

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I’ve just returned from rainy Diekirch, Luxembourg, where four students and three teachers from our school took part in an Erasmus+ activity. This time the activity revolved around literal videos.

A literal music video, also called a literal video version, is a parody of an official music video clip in which the lyrics have been replaced with lyrics that describe the visuals in the video. Literal video versions are usually based on music videos in which the imagery appears illogical, disconnected with the lyrics, and more concerned with impressive visuals than actual meaning (Wikipedia).

I’d never heard the concept before and I found it very interesting. Total Eclipse of the Heart Literal Video Version is probably the most famous video of this kind and this is what the students were shown first to get an idea of what they were supposed to do.

IMG_20170308_081745As mentioned above, the trick is to describe the scenes disconnected from the actual lyrics. In this particular video, there seems to be no connection whatsoever between the meaning of the lyric and the visuals, which makes the outcome of the parody absolutely hilarious.

The team of the Lycée Classique Diekirch decided to focus mainly on music from the 1980s since it was a boom of video clips with crazy visuals. The students were given a range of songs to choose from and had three days to work on their piece. On Day 3, the results of their hard work were presented.

Needless to say, the students benefitted from this collaborative activity enormously, especially language-wise. They had to come up with a new lyric which would match the original music. They also needed to get the rhythm right. Some groups even managed to come up with a rhyming version of the lyric. And they finally had to perform it live. What a challenge!

This is an example of what one of the groups did. I recorded their live performance with my smartphone so the quality of the video is very low (it’s a little shaky and dark but for the sake of demo it will suffice, I believe).

I’m sharing this on my blog because I think this idea could be easily adapted for an English class as well. Even if you don’t have all the equipment available (special software and a high-tech recording studio), you can still work on literal videos with your students in regular classes. These are the steps I jotted down while watching students work in Diekirch. While taking notes, I already made some adjustments for the procedure to suit my teaching context. I think that steps 6 and 7 can be easily skipped if necessary.

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I think I’ll definitely try this with my students. I already have a particular group in mind – they are musical, creative and very enthusiastic. And I can’t wait to share the results here on my blog.

 

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I did it! My after-conference state of mind

img_20170304_112554This is a detailed account of what goes on in the mind of a newbie conference presenter.

3/3 (the day before the conference): I’m too busy getting ready for the Erasmus+ trip to Luxembourg so I have no time to think or worry about the Big Day. I feel well-prepared for my presentation anyway so there’s no need to panic.

3/3 (the night before the conference): I sleep well. No nightmares. The alarm clock wakes me up at 5:45 a.m.

4/3 (the morning before the conference): It’s a beautiful, warm day – ‘perfect’ for an indoor event. Haha. I feel surprisingly calm. On the bus to Brno, I order my first cup of coffee and I watch a couple of episodes of the Big Bang Theory. It’s enormously relaxing.

8:30: I’ve reached the IH Brno language school. The place is already filling up with attendees. I’m still relatively calm since everything looks as usual; Dave is welcoming the comers and the exhibition stands are ready. However, Dave tells me to go upstairs to the staff room to pick up my badge (this is a small deviation from the pattern I’m used to as I normally pick up my stuff at the registration desk).

8:45: My presentation starts after lunch (at 12:45) so I have plenty of time to get ready for my talk – by watching other people’s talks. I’m meeting Sandy Millin. She’s as energetic as always despite the fact she only slept for 3 hours.

10:15: I’m watching Sandy Millin’s presentation on blogging. Although I’m familiar with most of the stuff she talks about, it’s very useful to have it all summarised this way. Oh, and she mentions my blog and my name a few times throughout the talk. I would normally feel awkward or embarrassed in such a situation but I’m coping with all the attention very well. Hmm.

11:15: When Sandy finishes, she helps me get my PowerPoint ready. She suggests downloading the presentation as hers didn’t work properly.

11:20: I’m in the restroom when a lady suddenly asks me if I’m THE Hana who’s going to present. More attention. OK.

11:30: Before lunch, I decide to go for a walk with some friends. It’s sunny and warm outside and the centre of Brno is just amazing. Old memories popping up.

12:00: Delicious lunch at Jedna Báseň. I’m not really hungry, though. That’s suspicious because I’m always hungry.

12:35: The room where I’m going to present is filling up with people. OMG. More and more are coming. There are 23 seats at the moment but Dave needs to bring some extra chairs. That’s not enough, though. Some people are willing to sit on the floor!

12:44: I look out of the window and I breathe in and out a couple of times. I watch the passers-by and say to myself: Look. It’s not about you. Something’s going to happen THROUGH you. That helps. My hands are not shaking.

12:45: I should be starting already but more people are squeezing in. I close the door to indicate I’m about to kick off.

12:46: I introduce myself while sitting on the chair. It somehow feels appropriate. I ask the audience a few questions to break the ice.

12:48: I introduce the first activity. It seems people are a bit tired after lunch and they are not ready to jump up and mingle. Plus there are too many people in the room and it gets really loud and chaotic when they start mingling and talking. So I stop the activity earlier than I planned and I talk about its benefits and potential pitfalls. At this point, people start taking notes and nodding in agreement. They also ask questions. That’s good.

13:15: I’m halfway through my PowerPoint. Great. My timing works. I calm down and I start enjoying the talk. I’m not using my hand-written notes anymore.

13:45: The time’s up and there’s one more activity to share. I conveniently called it a bonus activity in case I finish too early. But the audience is very supportive. They want me to share the last one too. Then it’s over. Applause. People come to me and say: It was great! Somebody adds: ‘This is what a workshop should look like’.

14:50: I blend in with the attendees and become a member of the audience again to watch the last workshop of the day. I’m happy and grateful for the opportunity.

THANK YOU!

 

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Final preparations

presentation-1559937_960_720You know, I do have some nightmares every now and then but, surprisingly, none of them has concerned my upcoming presentation at the IH Brno conference. Not yet.

I’d say that I haven’t had the opportunity to feel worried about my first performance in front of a real audience because I started planning my workshop very early on. I actually started putting the presentation together right after I was offered the opportunity to give a talk, which was nearly three months ago.

Early in December, I started working on a Word document where I’ve been outlining the content of the talk. It’s now turned into a nice 10-page document containing a detailed summary of all the activities, which I’d later like to share with the participants of the conference through Edmodo.

So far so good. I’m quite confident about the content and the value of the workshop. The thing I’m a little worried about is the way I’ll present it. Unfortunately, I can’t have a proper rehearsal of my talk so I can only hope everything will go according to schedule. This is not a regular class or something and it’s my very first performance so I can only roughly estimate how much I’ll manage to squeeze in the given amount of time. One thing is certain; I’ll be as nervous as a cat. I might even be paralyzed or run away from the room. Who knows?

Anyway, a couple of days ago I turned the above-mentioned document into a PowerPoint presentation, which I’ve now uploaded on my Google disc so that it’s in a safe place and accessible when I need it. Honestly, I’m not a big fan of PowerPoint presentations but I came to a conclusion that it’ll be useful under the given circumstances. I believe the participants will find it easier to navigate through my talk if they see the bullet points displayed on the screen. I normally use the board but I don’t think I’ll have time (and the nerve) to jot things down if I want to talk to the audience and monitor the activities they’ll be engaged in. In addition, I’m afraid I wouldn’t be able to keep the board well-arranged and uncluttered. Finally, it’ll be a useful crutch for me as well; it’ll help me remember the main ideas I’ve planned to say.

presentation-36911_960_720As far as the PowerPoint presentation is concerned, I think it’s quite clear and concise. These are some of the basic rules I tried to stick to when making it:

1) Follow the 5/5/5 rule

Some experts suggest using the 5/5/5 rule: no more than five words per line of text, five lines of text per slide, or five text-heavy slides in a row. I think it’s fair enough and I had no problem abiding by this rule.

2) Don’t forget your audience

I think I know my audience quite well as I’ve been a regular conference attendee for some time now so I think I was able to tailor my presentation to their tastes and expectations. I’m well aware of the fact that everything needs to be clear and concise and, ideally, the ideas should be applicable to the audience’s teaching context.

3) Choose readable colors and fonts

I think my text is easy to read as I really didn’t play with fonts or colors. It’s all mostly black and with IH Brno theme, which I was recommended to use.

4) Don’t overload your presentation with animations

Apart from a couple of charts and diagrams, which are essential to my presentation, there are no animations or special effects whatsoever. Although I was tempted to use some of the exciting slide transitions, I finally avoided them as I knew that they can be irritating rather than useful.

5) Don’t read your presentation straight from the slides

I only included the main ideas, keywords, and talking points in my slide show text. I have printed out the presentation so that I don’t have to stare at the computer screen all the time. Plus I can take down some notes and questions beforehand as well as during the presentation if necessary. Also, if technology fails, I’ll have something tangible at my disposal. Finally, when you print stuff out, you can spot and fix mistakes or any discrepancies before you display them to your audience.

Well, wish me luck.

 

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To cheat or not to cheat

lying-1562272_960_720Cheating is something we teachers don’t like to see. And if we’re lucky, it doesn’t happen. But, is it a question of luck or bad luck? Well, I’m convinced that cheating happens only if it is allowed or encouraged.

Who would want to allow (or even encourage) cheating, you may ask now. Lazy teachers, gullible teachers, lenient teachers, merciless teachers, crazy teachers?

I mean, as the desire to cheat is quite understandable, the teacher’s job is to create conditions in which students can’t cheat at all or even think of cheating. I’d like to stress the difference between can’t and not allowed to here. By can’t I mean that it’s virtually impossible.

I once saw an image of a classroom packed with students taking a test (allegedly taken in a Japanese school). These students had large pieces of paper attached to their temples so that they couldn’t copy from their neighbor’s test. This is not what I meant when I said conditions in which they can’t cheat. What I had in mind were humane conditions, such as two versions of the same test, students sitting in a way that it’s impossible to peek in someone else’s test, designing a test which is useless to copy because every student’s answer is unique (such as describe your last holiday in 120 words). 

On the other hand, it’s a good idea to show that you trust your students. The higher-stakes exam, the fewer cheating opportunities students should get, but with low-stakes testing, it’s ok to offer the forbidden fruit from the Garden of Eden from time to time.

For example, my students often peer correct their tests, which definitely offers some space for cheating. Strangely enough, throughout my career, I only caught someone red-handed once. This particular boy wanted to help his partner by adding a few correct answers during the correction stage, in exchange for his reciprocal lenience, of course. He forgot to change his handwriting and offered me some irrefutable evidence … Anyway, we had a chat and it’s never happened again in this or another class.

However, some other types of incidents have happened. The other day, for example, a very good student showed his test answers to a friend sitting behind him and she willingly copied them all. When I caught them, I was really angry with the student who had shown the answers, rather than with the girl who had copied them. Anyhow, she had to take another test while he was made to feel properly guilty. However, it was partially my fault; I had arranged the seating in a way that enabled cheating plus I was not paying attention during the exam so the students just took advantage. They are only kids after all.

I’d like to say that I’m really grateful for all these learning moments – the moments when the cheaters learn that cheating doesn’t pay and when I learn I have to be more attentive. One way or another, it’s good to ask yourself the following question: what makes your students cheat? Is it a desire to easily achieve something they don’t deserve? Is it a temptation they simply can’t resist? Or is it just a hopeless attempt to escape the unbearable load of responsibility?

 

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