Readers of this blog know that I love to write about books and do so regularly. But it’s not often that I get a chance to interview a children’s book writer and illustrator! Well, exciting things happen when the English Teachers Association of Israel, aka ETAI, celebrates its 40th anniversary with an exciting international conference! So, I now have the pleasure of introducing plenary speaker Anne Sibley O’Brien. from Maine, U.S.A., a children’s book writer, and an illustrator who has published 37 books featuring diverse children and cultures. (see details about the conference here).
Naomi: I was once ” the new kid’. My first reaction to the illustration was – “Oh, the teacher on the left is introducing the new student as someone who has something to offer in a relationship by saying that the new student likes to write stories! He’s not someone who simply needs to be pitied and will be totally dependant on others”.
Is that the kind of reaction you were hoping for?
Annie: Yes, exactly. The driving purpose of these two books is to portray the richness and fullness of the lives of people who become immigrants and refugees. They’re not blank slates who come with nothing and need to be filled up. I want people in receiving communities to recognize that new arrivals are already whole people, with a family, a language (often more than one), a history, a culture, interests, talents… and that they have so much to offer. They bring gifts.
I also want people to get a glimpse of how challenging the assimilation period is. In order to adjust to the new place, immigrants and refugees have to learn so many aspects of life all over again, and the more differences they encounter — race, language, culture, religion, etc. — the greater the challenge.
Naomi: Your books are about inclusion, accepting others and celebrating diversity. What made you so interested in this subject?
Annie: When I was seven years old, my parents moved my three siblings and me from rural New Hampshire in the States, to Seoul, South Korea. Working in Korea (my dad was a doctor) was a dream come true for them. I went from always blending in to suddenly standing out, feeling as if someone had turned a spotlight on me. I became fascinated by differences as a result of being “the different one” — but uniquely in a position of high status and extreme privilege, not the standard experience of being the Other!
At the same time, our family was being so warmly welcomed into the Korean community, from which I absorbed the idea that we are all one human family. That combination of experiences gave me my life’s work.
Naomi: You drew the illustration presented above yourself and all the illustrations for your books. What do you start with – the illustrations or the words?
Annie: I’ve illustrated 33 picture books, about half of which I also wrote, half by other authors. Recently I also wrote a couple of picture books that were illustrated by someone else — that was fun! When it’s someone else’s book, then the illustrations usually come second to a completed manuscript.
When it’s my own book, it completely depends on the project, and sometimes on the individual scene or page. I may have strong images and wait to find the few words I need to tell the part of the story that isn’t already in the pictures. Other times I have the story and need to find the images that will enrich, support, and amplify the text. Often it’s both processes in the same book, going back and forth between the two approaches.
Naomi: I understand you visit schools a great deal. Have you found that the children are interested in discussing these topics?
Annie: Absolutely! Children have so much in-depth experience of in-groups and out-groups and issues of difference, even if they live in places where most people look like them and they haven’t had much exposure to the diverse cultures of the world. The subject of human difference is so often fraught with conflict, dis-ease, and discomfort, so I like to model ease in discussing race and culture, as an invitation — we can talk about this!
Naomi:And the final question I ask all the speakers I interview;
What do you do in your free time?
Annie: “Free time” is a bit of a slippery concept since I’m self-employed and there aren’t any preset boundaries around my schedule. It’s also funny because much of my work time is spent doing things — writing, drawing, reading — that other people consider being leisure activities. But I love to read, watch movies, walk or bike on our beautiful Maine island, go out to dinner, and best of all, spend time with our 5-year-old grandson!
The English Teachers Association of Israel, aka ETAI, is celebrating its 40th anniversary with an exciting international conference! As one who has learned so much over the years thanks to ETAI, I’m honored to have the opportunity to interview the plenary speakers for the upcoming conference (see details about the conference here).
ETAI conferences have always been places to meet people who INSPIRE and Sarah Gordon is just such an educator. An educator who didn’t settle for musing “wouldn’t it be nice if…” but took an idea and actually made it happen. Sarah founded Israel Connect, an organization that partners over Skype hundreds of students and mentors in the English-speaking world to provide students who study English as a foreign language in Israel with authentic English language immersion experiences. In fact, Sarah has just been awarded the “Sovereign’s Medal for Community Service” for her work in Israel Connect. It is an honor awarded on behalf of the Queen of England for community impact.
Naomi: How was the idea for the Israel Connectprogram born?
Sarah: I studied teaching for two years in Israel. I took English as my teaching specialization since it was an easy way for me to get credits due to English being my first language. After I left Israel to finish my teaching diploma in North America (I actually am a Math teacher by training) I kept in touch with a few friends in Israel who went on to become English teachers. One teacher was teaching in a school in a bit of a rougher neighborhood. We were chatting and she explained to me how difficult it was to get her students up to par in the meager 45 min of English they had. Many were very disadvantaged as their parents were learning Hebrew as a second language and they did not have the opportunity to travel much. I jokingly told her that here kids are so smart they spontaneously begin speaking English at age three! We laughed, but it is true, immersion is the best and most painless way to learn a language. I started by finding mentors in my community for three of her students who struggled academically and had behavioral issues, just for some homework help. Those students turned into top students, they started sitting at the front of the class and participating nicely, now that they felt confident and accomplished. My friend then asked for more mentors. She told me some of her friends and co-workers were jealous and wanted some of their students to be tutored as well. At this point, I realized we were onto something extraordinary. These are the results you wish for when you become a teacher. I realized I was in a very unique position to help people. I quit my job as a teacher and began working on this program full-time, standardizing the process so we could scale and deliver the program across the country. And as they say, the rest is history or rather a lot of really really hard work, and no one wants to hear about that.
Naomi: That is so amazing! An idea blossomed into an organization that helps so many students!
Naomi: You currently reside in Canada and have a perspective on education in both Israel and Canada. Do you find significant differences between the attitudes toward education in both countries?
Sarah: The differences are massive. In Canada teaching is one of the best-paid professions, it is so in demand to find a teaching job that people wait on “subbing” lists for years. Classes are also smaller. In addition, in Canadian culture, being polite is a very strong cultural ideal. This is, in turn, is passed on and expected of students. That being said, in both countries no one teaches because it is an easy job, you teach because you think there is nothing more important than education. In both countries, teaching is work that comes from the heart and every teacher I have ever met gives it their 1000%.
Naomi: My final question is always the same for all the hard-working educators that I’m fortunate enough to interview: What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
Sarah: I do like to go to school and collect degrees, I guess you can call it a hobby.!
I’m looking forward to hearing more at Sarah Gordon’s plenary session at the upcoming ETAI conference!
We have noted with satisfaction the large number of teachers from your school who have attended at least one conference for English teachers during the past year. Your school is ranked among the top schools in our district in this matter. Clearly, your management policies foster an atmosphere that encourages continued professional development among your staff members for the benefit of the students entrusted to your care.
Since it is well-known that these conferences / mini-conferences take place in the afternoons and during school vacations, such a commitment to professional development among your staff members is particularly commendable.
We are encouraging other principals in our district to follow your example.
The regional inspectors / local school board
Possible replacement options for the first paragraph:
Dear Principal ____________,
We have noted with satisfaction that teachers from your school have presented at one conference for English teachers or more during the past year. Your school is ranked among the top schools in our district in this matter. Clearly, your management policies foster an atmosphere that not only encourages continued professional development among your staff members but encourages them to share their knowledge with others.
Dear Principal ____________,
We have noted with satisfaction that teachers from your school have attended / presented at an international conference for English teachers abroad during the school year. Your school is ranked among the top schools in our district in this matter. While you, obviously, have no say in the matter of the teacher’s pay being docked for the few work days they missed, your assistance in getting the paperwork necessary for such an endeavor approved is greatly appreciated. * Clearly, your management policies foster an atmosphere that not only encourages continued professional development among your staff members but recognizes the value of foreign language teachers keeping abreast of worldwide trends in this field.
Principals love it when their school is honorably mentioned.
Teachers who attend conferences and invest in continued professional development do it whether or not the principal or management cares.
But being noticed means a lot to teachers too…
Two notes which haven’t found a place in the letters:
Some teachers are only able to come to a part of a conference due to reasons such as family commitments, which means they don’t get any recognition for in-service training points (aka “Gmul). They deserve to be noticed too!
Presenting at an international conference or publishing in a recognized academic journal officially awards a teacher one complete in-service training point (aka an entire “Gmul”) instead of the usual fraction. De facto it is only worth a quarter point in your salary (30 hours)…
Warning – Excessive note-taking at an awesome ELT conference may lead to undesirable side effects, ranging in severity and scope. The following “treatment” may be taken prior to the conference , as “preventive medicine”, or after the first conference day of several in order to alleviate existing symptoms.
Possible side effects of untreated excessive note-taking
Excessive note-taking may seriously impair a teacher’s ability to digest new information. The act of keeping the eyes glued to the notebook /screen during an entire lecture can result in:
missing the fine points of nuance, which are expressed in mimicry and body language
inability to properly take in visual materials, viewed at a brief glance.
constant tension – hyper-state of alertness due to trying to keep up with every word the speaker says.
inability to focus on the main idea to be implemented, not on the specific details (which cannot be relevant for every class).
feelings of irritability.
LOSS OF ABILITY TO ENJOY THE CONFERENCE!
The BUDDY METHOD of Treatment
Stage one – Find “a conference buddy”
If you haven’t arrived at the conference with one prepared in advance, simply introduce yourself (with a smile!) to the teachers sitting near you before the first session begins. The attendees are not a group of random people – these are ELT teachers who made the effort to attend the conference because they want to benefit from it, just like you. Having several “conference buddies” works too.
Stage two – Talk Sessions
Arrange to meet with your “conference buddy” over lunch, on the commute home (if relevant) or perhaps skip a certain session slot. When you know you will be soon be briefly discussing what you just heard, you will find that jotting down key ideas, phrases, links will be enough. This matters because after you discuss what you heard, you “digest” it better and your brain can begin utilizing the information in order to make connections with your classroom reality.
Or in other words, you will probably never find (or bother to look at) all your conference notes three months from now. But if you discuss what you heard with someone it will leave a helpful “residue” in your brain.
Stage Three – Division of Labor
If coming home from a conference with a file (handwritten or digital) of notes is important to you, divide the sessions with your “conference buddy”. In each session one of you slows down, focuses on listening, looking (and feeling!) while the other takes notes. The “listener” can gently nudge the “note-taker” when there is a good visual stimulus he/she really must stop and look at. When you talk about the sessions afterwards, the one who was the note-taker can add information the listener took in and the note taker missed.
The “listener” is also in charge of prying the pen out of his/her buddy’s hand when the speaker has just given the link to where the entire talk can be viewed at any time.
Stage Four – Let Your “Conference Buddy” Drag You to a Session You Didn’t plan on attending.
Obviously, you won’t want to take notes during a session which is, theoretically, not relevant for you (perhaps it focuses on teaching younger learners than those you teach or is more suitable for private lessons while you teach classes). Focus on watching the speaker – what he/she said might not be particularly useful to you. However, how the material was presented to a roomful of adults and how the speaker drew the listeners into the topic might just spark some amazing ideas in your head as how to present something to your own students.
All of that can happen in your head without writing down a single thing.
IMPORTANT DOSAGE NOTES:
The “BUDDY METHOD” of treatment can be used repeatedly at multiple conferences without any negative side effects. It is free and available for ELT teachers around the world at all times. Frequent users of the method often exhibit tendencies to share the method, though the frequency of this phenomenon has not been documented.
I’ve been invited to speak at an international conference!
IV-th International Congress on Social Inclusion Implementations-versions and controversies, April 6-7 2017., at the Siedlce University of Natural Sciences and Humanities, Poland
I know I’m not being very modest about it but there is a great deal to be excited about:
It’s a conference about “Inclusion and Special Education”, and there will be a specific section on TEACHING ENGLISH AS A FOREIGN LANGUAGE TO DEAF STUDENTS! A golden opportunity for me to finally meet teachers from other countries who actually face the same challenges I do every day!
I’ve been invitedto the conference and will be giving a plenary talk and a regular session. My heartfelt thanks to Mrs. Beata Gulati, a wonderful teacher and an organizer, for her dedication to connecting the teachers who teach EFL to Deaf students and making this happen.
The conference is on vacation time – I do NOT have to ask for anyone’s permission to attend the conference and miss school. As you can see, I’ve not gotten over the traumatic experience of doing that in order to speak at IATEFL Liverpool a few years ago…
I will be speaking about the use of videos to promote reading comprehension skills and am also writing a paper on this topic for the post conference publication. This is where I need your help:
Judging by the large number of times my video lessons* (which I call “Reading Videos” ) have been downloaded, it seems that teachers who don’t teach Deaf students also find them useful. Strategies that are good for students with special needs and everyone else as well are particularly beneficial in settings of inclusion. It would be extremely helpful if you could take a moment and answer a very short survey regarding your use of these video lessons.
Reminder: You can find the video lessons by clicking on the title of the category on the left sidebar of the Home Page. Here’s the direct link to the category:
One of the people who have had a huge impact on my teaching (though I’ve never met him) is Richard Lavoie. When watching his videos I have always felt that he has the gift of phrasing things in a manner which is both very simple to grasp and very powerful.
In one memorable segment (Lavoie compares self-esteem to poker chips. He talks about how the special needs child “loses” poker chips all day long through negative encounters. He emphasizes how everyone who cares about the child should invest in keeping the number of chips the child has high, so that the everyday losses will not have the power to crush the child. That has been a strong influence in my developing and searching for Eureka Moment strategies, which allow struggling learners to experience success.
We teachers need to work on keeping those chips high too.
I can’t wait for the administrators to realize that “If You Don’t Feed the Teachers They Eat the Students!“ and start being more supportive of the teachers. I can’t expect the students to stop venting their frustration at me regarding what they can’t achieve (the fact that they now know more than they did when they begun is scant comfort to the high-school students who can’t take the final national exams with their peers). And I certainly can’t seem to learn to hang clothes on the clothesline any faster than my turtle’s pace…
I lose chips all day too. But, unlike the children, I take responsibility for replenishing my own chips. So when I decide to attend the International ETAI Conference during my own summer vacation, or even simply decide to ignore the laundry to write on my blog (like I am doing now!), I’m doing something good for me.
That word alone is enough to spark heated debates in any gathering of EFL teachers. The issue of how much grammar to teach, what is the best way to teach it, what will happen if lexis is emphasized over grammar – are all “hot” topics indeed.
Hugh Dellar, the experienced teacher, teacher-trainer and author will take up such “burning” issues in his plenary talk at the upcoming ETAI International Conference (July 4-6) . In this interview he shares some of his insights and his own personal journey.
Q: The title for your plenary talk is “Making the LEAP from Grammar to Lexis”. Based on your extensive experience, what constraints do teachers have to overcome?
A: Well, obviously, to a large degree, the constraints depend on the context teachers find themselves working in. There may well be external exams that teachers need to prepare students for, and these exams may be very grammar-heavy; there may also be internal school or larger national curriculum pressures that lead teachers to believe a certain way of approaching grammar in class is required; this may also be exacerbated by perceptions teachers have about what students, parents, colleagues, etc. want from them. Ultimately, though, the biggest constraints are internal, and these are often the result of our training. So much of the way we are trained to see language and thus to think about what’s important when trying to teach grammar, vocabulary, etc. stems from our training, and it’s there that the biggest breakthroughs can be made in terms ofhelping teachers overcome or at least tackle outdated ways of thinking about language.
In my plenary, I’ll be acknowledging some of the reasons why PPP (Present-Practise-Produce) has become so entrenched as the dominant way of tackling grammar, before going into more detail about why it really is time for it to be at least partially replaced with an approach that addresses some of the many limitations inherent in PPP.
Q: How did you become a teacher and what attracted you about the field of lexis?
A: That’s a tricky question. I guess the short answer would be that I did English Literature at university and was always interested in literature, words, and language. I was also in a semi-professional band that split up soon after I graduated, leaving me at a bit of a loose end, and initially at least just drifted into ELT – as so many native speakers do – as a way of getting out and seeing a bit of the world. In terms of what drew me to a more lexical view of language, it was partly my own experience of learning Indonesian when I was living in Jakarta in the 90s, as I very quickly realised that the memorization of countless single words from bilingual word lists coupled with the study of grammar forms and meanings wasn’t helping me produce anything particularly resembling Indonesian as it was really spoken; there was also a growing frustration with the language coursebooks they were giving me to teach, little of which bore much resemblance to English as I spoke it. What then helped crystallise these vague feelings of dissatisfaction into something more focused and coherent was reading The Lexical Approach by Michael Lewis in 1995, when I did my DELTA. It provided me with a way of looking at language that very much tallied with my own experiences thus far and which then forced me to reassess my own classroom practices and – ultimately – to get into writing materials too.
Q : You are a teacher, a teacher-trainer, and an author of ELT books – do you enjoy doing any of them more than the other?
A: This is the easiest question I’ve been asked for a long time! If I had to give up everything else and only keep one of the areas I’m involved in, it would without a doubt me classroom teaching. This was my first love, and the thing that’s made everything else I’ve done possible, and I still love the immediacy and excitement and satisfaction of teaching.
Q: You work with teachers all over the world. Do you find any differences between their approaches to the issue of lexis?
A: Yes, there are quite noticeable differences. One hates to generalise, but in certain countries such as Russia, Poland and Ukraine, for instance, teachers generally speak remarkably good English and are very receptive to the kind of ideas I’ve been banging on about for years. They don’t seem afraid of the hard graft aspect of language learning, and generally have high expectations of their learners and how much language they can shoulder. Other markets – Italy and Japan spring to mind – are still very very rooted in what’s essentially little more than Grammar Translation, and the teaching reflects this.
Q: What do enjoy doing when you aren’t working?
A: Recently I’ve been so busy working – writing, setting up our new school (www.londonlanguagelab.com), teaching, training, travelling, etc. – that I honestly haven’t had much free time, but as and when I do get some I still play in a rock’n’roll band; I collect old 60s vinyl 45s; I watch Arsenal Football Club; I read; I cook; I have been known to frequent a pub on occasion; I go to the cinema . . . all the usual stuff, to be honest.
50 workshops and talks 13 research papers 12 keynote speakers of international renown 11 members of the ETAI board and volunteers who are working hard to make it happen 9 sessions aimed specifically at teacher educators including a SIG Day, organised by our TT&D SIG: http://www.etai.org.il/ttd 6 Short N’Sweet presentations 5 symposia – organised by Macmillan Education, the British Council,
Google Teachers Academy (GTA) graduates as well as two research
symposia 4 international plenary speakers 4 UNworkshops 3 Forums on various topics 3 Special / evening activities: Quiz night, Pecha Kucha, Energizing Debate 2 presidents in attendance – presidents of both TESOL and IATEFL –
international associations (ETAI is an affiliate/associate of both) 1 organization that makes it all possible: ETAI
You can’t possibly attend all sessions, workshops and events. So how do YOU choose which ones to go to?
Do you choose to attend sessions according to the identity of the speaker (someone you know of, someone you have heard before)?
Are you “topic oriented”, basing your decisions on the topic, regardless of whether you’ve heard of the speaker before?
Do you employ a “potluck approach”? Do you randomly attend sessions according to where you happen to be instead of traipsing around the venue?
Do you do what I personally do, which is employ “the eclectic approach”?
I make it a point at every conference to…
*try and attend sessions given by speakers I know from previous experience and speakers abroad (seize the opportunity!),
*attend some sessions chosen according to topics that are directly relevant to my life as a classroom teacher, such as vocabulary acquisition, reading comprehension strategies and more.
*randomly pick talks given by teachers whom I never heard of (especially first time presenters), partly based on their proximity to the location I happen to be in when my tired feet start protesting. When I was a young teacher I never would have entered a session on listening comprehension activities or integrating songs in the classroom – I teach Deaf and hard of hearing students! Yet I’m so glad I began including “potluck” choices. Such sessions have sparked many an unexpected idea for things I could do in my own class!
So how do YOU choose which session to attend?
Oh! Don’t forget to leave time to chat with other teachers – that’s an important part of the awesome conference experience!
These are the words that make up the logo for the upcoming ETAI International Conference (July 4-6) . These are also the words best used when introducing our next plenary speaker, Professor Penny Ur. Over the years she has been engaging with teachers in various capacities: teaching courses, writing books, giving talks at conferences, both at ETAI and abroad. We all know that teachers leave such encounters with enhancedprofessionalskills and the energy to get up and go back into the classroom, motivated to reach new heights.
In this interview, Professor Ur shares what keeps her motivated to tirelessly promote teacher development, what manages to annoy her, and what engages her in her free time.
Q: You have been committed to promoting the skills of EFL teachers for years – what keeps you going?
A: What I enjoy most is the awareness that I am actually succeeding in teaching something: that the teachers are getting some value out of my sessions or books that they can take into the classroom. When I get responses like: ‘Ah yes, of course, why didn’t I think of that’, or ‘I tried what you said in the classroom and it worked’, or ‘Thanks for reassuring me about something I’ve been doing but wasn’t sure it was a good idea’, or ‘Your book really helped me when I was starting out’ – it makes my day! Sometimes the response is only in body language or facial expression – the responses from an audience as I speak or as a discussion develops. A message is coming across: we are hearing you and understanding and learning….It’s still great: gives me a ‘buzz’! Makes it all worthwhile.
Q: You always seem so patient when you meet with teachers. Is there anything that annoys you?
A: What annoys me most I suppose is the unexamined assumptions that are at the basis of a lot of things teachers are told ‘never’ to do or ‘always’ to do, but there is no evidence whatsoever that they are in fact good practice, and may be actually counter-productive. For example: teachers bend over backwards to explain a new word in English, when it could be clarified in less than a second by using L1… because they’ve been told not to use L1 in the classroom. Or they insist on learners trying to guess the word’s meaning from context, when there is actually solid empirical evidence that most words are in fact unguessable from natural contexts, and therefore the learners usually get the answer wrong … because they’ve been told to get students to infer meanings rather than be told. It’s very difficult to uproot such assumptions, however silly they are, andhowever much empirical research contradicts them, and teachers often find it very difficult to abandon them, because they are so deeply entrenched in conventional thinking. I could bore you with this one for hours with lots more examples, but let’s move on…
Q: You could never bore me! What is your latest book about?
A: It’s a very lightweight (both literally and metaphorically!) book called Penny Ur’s 100 teaching tips. It grew out of something I heard David Berliner say years ago: that doctors pass on their experience-based wisdom to younger doctors through ward rounds in hospitals: but teachers’ secrets go with them to the grave! So I swore that my secrets would not go with me to the grave. I’d write a book with all sorts of tips I’d learnt through my own teaching experience, and thus share them with the next generation of practitioners. Not that all of them are necessarily relevant or ‘right’ for all other teachers: but at least they’re available!
Q: Of all the books you’ve written, which is your favorite?
A: I suppose Grammar Practice Activities. All my books grew out of a sort of excitement: ‘wow, I’ve found out something important about teaching, and it really works, I need to tell people about this’… but this one filled a particularly urgent need. Most textbooks to this day provide mainly accuracy-focused grammar exercises like gap-fills or matching exercises, and rarely give students opportunities to practice the grammar to ‘say their own thing’ in meaningful, fun activities. Such practice is really needed to help students integrate their knowledge of the grammar into their own production (as well as, not instead of, the conventional exercises). So it’s the book that I perhaps found most useful for my own teaching.
Q: What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
A: My main preoccupations outside the profession are family-linked. We have four children and nine grandchildren, all of whom are (thankfully!) in Israel, and three of the four families within an hour’s drive away … so you can imagine, a lot of time spent babysitting, frequent birthdays and other family gatherings. I quite like cooking and baking, though not brilliant at it, and spend hours, even days, on that when the family is coming for a meal or festival or a weekend. My husband is a botanist, and ex-tour guide, so we take time to go walking when he has rare plants to find in different parts of the country. And occasional trips abroad, to visit family in the UK or US, or just to tour new places.
What else? Occasional movies and theatre, and, of course, reading (addicted to my Kindle!)
Teaching English as a FOREIGN language to Deaf and Hard of Hearing Students