Book Review

When I first read a post made by Elizabeth Bekes calling to join a competition for the best book reviewer organised by the EFL Magazine, I thought it was an excellent opportunity to try something new. Well, not entirely new; I had some experience of writing movie reviews in Russian, English, and even Swedish. However, it was my first time to write a book review.
After reading a dozen of different reviews published in the magazine and trying to figure out how to approach mine I realised that the best way was just to be myself. Just write what you feel like writing. Do not be afraid of getting emotional or personal – if it is your nature, of course.
Being myself worked (once again), and I won the first prize. The prize was the publication of the review in the magazine so you can read it here in case you are interested.
I must say I enjoyed writing this book review, so in the future, I hope to write more of them. I just need to find books that will make me inspired, like Teaching in Low Resource Classrooms did.

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The Last Lesson

The semester is almost over. There is just a repeating course left for those who failed last year and earlier, and that’ll be it.

I taught 12 groups this semester. Some of them were better than the others in terms of performance, but still, every single one of them will forever stay in my heart. They all made me feel happy – in different ways, but always happy.

Some groups were terrific, and every lesson with them changed into an exciting journey.
Some were challenging, and they helped me grow as a teacher.

Some students were brilliant, and it was a pure delight to work with them.
Some were difficult, but, nevertheless, they made me smile.

Last lessons are especially challenging for me. I am not good at goodbye speeches. I always feel awkward and a bit uncomfortable to say goodbye to anyone. Doing so brings emptiness, and it takes time to fill it.
I had to say goodbye to twelve groups, and some goodbyes left stronger impressions than the others.

It’s my Monday first-period class. One of the most challenging I have ever had. It’s our last lesson, and they are nailing it. I have never heard them speaking that much. And even the ‘difficult’ student is working hard and speaking English. He spent the whole semester trying to prove me that he was not able to use it (I did not believe him though, and I was right). It has never felt so good to teach them.

It’s still Monday, but now it’s the third period. This class has only 5 students, all boys. Their level is low, and they often struggle. They have always been positive about our classes though and managed to enjoy despite all the difficulties. They are discussing their first year at the university and sharing their memories. They are talking about sports clubs, part-time jobs and classes. On their mind maps sheets, I can see my name written – I did not see it on any other students’ sheets. One of them, who failed last semester, says he enjoyed English classes much more this time. He says ‘I wish Lina were my teacher last semester as well’.

It’s Friday, first period. Only one student came – the one I did not expect to show up at all. He was not very excited about our classes from the beginning. He clearly thought learning English was boring. I tried hard to motivate him as well as other students in this group. I did a good job judging from the fact that he became the best student in the class and got the highest score in the last test.
He is surprised to be the only student and laughs a bit nervously. We play the Memory game, and I can see that he gets relaxed. Two other students come later. At the end of the lesson, he says ‘It was fun! I’m glad I came’.

I store these memories in my head and leaf through them gently and carefully as if I was afraid to spill them.
After some time there are going to be new memories to add, but I know these three will not disappear no matter how old they become.

The Things Nobody Teaches You

This post is inspired by Sandy Millin’s and Mark’s posts here and here on the same topic.

Here it is, my own list of things I wish I were taught before starting my job.

Manual double-sided printing
In some cases, like when your office printer is not smart and modern enough, you might need to do double-sided printing manually. It’s not as difficult as it seems. I just had to mess up once or twice before I figured out how to put the sheet back into the paper tray so that the other side print was situated the way I wanted. Easy-peasy!
I wish I did not have to waste the paper though.

Feel free to break the rules
The one rule you remember best after doing your CELTA is not to do things any other way apart from that way you’ve been taught. A year and a half after finishing my CELTA I was still using those massive and detailed lesson plans for every single lesson I taught. It only happened by accident that two weeks ago I realised I didn’t need them anymore. I forgot to print out my lesson plan and had to teach without it. It was much easier than I expected (I should thank the unified curriculum with prescribed lesson structure for this). Now my lesson plans are as minimalistic as possible:

LP_after_edI still have no idea why I haven’t tried it earlier. Habit is second nature indeed…

Frist aid kit
Always bring a bottle of water and painkillers with you into the classroom. Ladies will understand.

In the office
Make sure to get tissues. You might also want to have an infinite stock of plastic folders, sticky notes and paper clips. Oh, and rubber bands!

4-colour pen
IT’S A MUST! If it also has a pencil and eraser in it, it becomes invaluable. Luckily, Japan has them everywhere 🙂

Teaching university students
University students are unique learners that have both teenager and young adults characteristics combined, which means that while you can expect a generally more mature attitude, it’s still worth adding some funny pictures and game elements (like o-hajiki, for example).

2018 Resolutions

I keep being traditional and dedicate my first post in 2018 to the magical power of goal-setting.

So here are my teaching goals for 2018:

  1. Semester Project

First of all, I have to continue and finish writing my Semester Project which focuses on motivation, group dynamics, and gender-unbalanced groups and is based on a dialogical teaching journal I have been keeping this semester (thanks Ann Loseva for being my TJ pal!).

  1. Review the lessons for Spring semester and think them over

I have many ideas on how to make them much better so technically I’m going to re-write every single lesson – there’s never too much work, huh? 😀 I’ve already finished composing a preliminary alternative lesson plan for Lesson 1 ‘Introduction’, and it was inspired by this post written by amazing Sventala Kandybovich. I’ve also heard about active listening from Ann during one of our RP meetings. Together, these two events ignited an idea of a lesson plan. I want students to think about communication and the roles of listener and speaker. Then we’ll look at the communication skills they have to learn as a part of the course curriculum. I hope that this time, I can introduce them to these skills in a more meaningful way which will result in a more active and thoughtful use.
I’m also thinking about different activities I could use for other lessons. I’m especially interested in brainstorming, critical thinking, learner autonomy, and guided discovery.

  1. New Level

I signed up for teaching Level I students whose English is Upper-Intermediate (or even higher sometimes as I heard). I know it might be difficult, but I’m eager to unlock this new level and get more experience. It seems like I’m a workaholic and an extreme ELT enthusiast…

  1. Conferences

One more achievement I’m aiming for is to become a conference presenter. For now, I’m mostly concentrated on poster presentations as probably the most accessible form to start from, but I’m thinking about workshops as well… and I have some ideas… I hope I can write more about it when they come true!

As for personal goals, I hope to travel to some new countries and explore some new places.

Let’s do it! Yosh ^_^

2017

It’s the end of 2017, and my Reader is getting filled with various end-of-year reflective posts. I am no different from all other bloggers who feel it’s an excellent opportunity to look back and think a bit deeper of what has happened so far.

I met 2017 in my hometown being a newly hired employee of a chain eikaiwa.
I’m meeting 2018 in my husband’s family house in Japan being a relatively newly hired university EAP instructor.

It’s been a long journey full of amazing moments. I’d like to have a quick look at those which seem the most important to me (ranked in order of importance):

  1. Getting a university job (February): This is definitely the best thing that has happened this year. It’s my dream job, and I can’t express how happy and grateful I am. It made all other things that happened afterwards possible. It also boosted my professional development by giving me an opportunity for various experiments and improvisation within my classroom (for example, I’ve been investigating the influence of self-reflective feedback on students’ performance and trying to implement tiny bits of learner autonomy). It filled me with inspiration and strengthened my passion for teaching. I’m full of ideas about things I want to try next semester, and I can’t wait to do it!!
  2. Writing a post for the TEFL Equity Advocates (August): I first heard of Marek when Matthew Schaeffer and I were looking at a job ad poster hanging in the corridor in front of our office. It was an examiner job for some Japan-based English exam (I don’t remember which one). To apply for it, one had to be either a JET or a NEST aged above 30 y.o. I said it was ridiculous, and Matthew said that I could file a complaint with the TEFL Equity Advocates. I googled it as soon as I had free time and was lost for this world for the next several hours until I read every single entry that seemed interesting 😀 Several months later, I contacted Marek via e-mail and asked if he would be interested in featuring my story in the Teacher Success Story blog. He gave me the green light, and here it is, my first (but not the last I hope!) contribution to this amazing project. The response to this post was incredibly heartwarming.
  3. Blogging (from July): I’ve been blogging about my daily life and job on a Russian website called diary.ru for 7 years, but blogging about your job thoughtfully is quite different I must say. When I just started this blog I wasn’t sure if anyone would even find my posts interesting or if I will have anything to write about. And then it appeared that I have a lot to say and that there actually are some people who are interested in what I’m saying. It was quite a relief 🙂 And last Thursday, my blog was featured in the Top-50 TEFL Blogs post on Feedspot. My head is full of ideas, there’s still so much left to write about, and I didn’t even notice how blogging on ELT became a significant part of my professional life. I’m lovin’ it.
  4. Giving demo lessons for the CELTA course in St Petersburg (August): Going back to where I did my CELTA was so nostalgic and revived so many sweet memories. It gave me a chance to compare my CELTA-time self with the current self and see how much has changed since then and how far I’ve moved. If you’re interested in seeing what kind of lessons I taught, you can find the lesson plans here (vocabulary) and here (reading+speaking).
  5. Attending the JALT conference (November)Another inspiring experience I’ve had this year. I met some fantastic ELT professionals there and attended several highly interesting workshops. You can read more about it in this post. BTW, I filed a proposal for a poster presentation for the PanSIG conference in May, so fingers crossed!!
  6. Participating in the review contest organised by EFL Magazine (December ~): First of all, thanks to this competition I had a chance to chat to Erzsébet Békés, one of the most inspiring nNESTs in the ELT field. Secondly, if I win, I’ll have a chance for my review to be published in the EFL Magazine (not an opportunity to miss, right?). I’m still in the process of writing it (it’s a review of this remarkable book called Teaching in Low Resource Classrooms), and we’ll see how it goes. I’ll keep you updated, guys!

This is it. This what my 2017 has been like. It’s just one day left now, and I can’t wait to see what 2018 is going to give me!

I wish a happy New Year to everyone, and may your dreams come true!

Week 1 Update

Somehow I totally forgot to mention these two activities I tried out in week 1.

The first one was inspired by the Tumblr blog called 2 Kinds of People. My mom and I were having fun looking at them and comparing our preferences when it strucked me that this could be a perfect multipurpose activity. Like literally, you can use it for almost anything you can possibly imagine! And especially for functional language like reasons or connecting ideas. So I decided to spend time cutting 65 big cards since I was sure I’d use them a lot. The activity was simple: students look at the cards and say which way they choose justifying their choice by reasons and examples. They can also use some other functions, agree/disagree and ask follow-up questions to each other. And it worked perfectly with every level, both higher and lower ones! I told them not to worry about vocabulary and try to use the words they already know since the main focus was on fluency rather than accuracy. Students seemed to enjoy. I’ll definitely use this activity again for introducing Balancng Opinions function.

The second activity was the review of previously learnt functions with the use of… a bomb. A black plastic bomb from ‘Pass the Bomb’ game. Students would pass the Bomb’ saying one function or communication skill phrase. Again, this activity had a huge success, especially among kinaesthetic students. Some of them even got a bit overexcited 😀 I’ll use it again at the very end of semester to revise the new function and skill phrases.

Go go go & the Power of Feedback

It happened. Procrastination I mean. It was supposed to be a weekly-updated blog but today is Saturday, and I’m far behind the schedule. Oh well.

Anyway, my second semester at the uni is almost here, and I’m extremely excited! I spent last semester mainly adjusting to the environment that was completely new for me, but now I’m ready for experimenting. This time, I’m intended to change couple of things:

1. Quieting noisy classes down: last time I almost ended up losing my voice. Na-uh, not gonna happen again. I found this amazing picture I wanna print out in colour and transform into a poster I’d show whenever my students make me feel irritated. It’s fun, and I don’t have to say a single word, just walk around and show it to the students LoL

2. Always ask at the end of the lesson if there’re any questions (somehow I always forget to do it). Be more accessible and approachable.

3. Explain clearly why we’re doing what we’re doing. Why these function phrases amd communication skills are important and how they can help outside the classroom. I did it last time but I can do better.

4. More personal feedback so that students would always know why they get the grade they get.

***

Couple of days ago, I got anonymous comments from my spring semester students. It was heartwarming and empowering!! I’d never expect anything like that. My ultimate favourites are (translated from Japanese):

“I never liked English. Actually, I hated it. I even wasn’t sure if I should apply for this university since there’re so many compulsory English courses.

Your classes opened my eyes. I realised that learning English can be fun. The classes were so different from what I had at high school. I enjoyed them a lot! Now, I want to continue learning English and become better at it.

Thank you so much.”

and

“Lina is so cute!!!”

I can’t express how thrilled I am that there’s a person now whose hatred for learning English changed into enjoying it (with my help)! And yes, I really tried to be cute, and I’m happy I succeeded at it 😀

What are your goals for this academic year / semester? What do you want to change compare to the previous one? If you read this, please don’t hesitate to leave a comment 🙂