Saturday, 21 July 2012

What's up with Hamlet?

This post is for W, who does not believe psychology is a science and has a string of firm arguments to support his hypothesis. ;) :*

Yesterday afternoon we did a sequence of eight one minute activities - each was connected to one of the intelligences from Gardner's theory . We covered all but one - existential. We knew nothing about it - so here is a little about what it is and some ideas on what kind of activities would suit learners with a strong existential intelligence.

If we're to trust Wikipedia, existential intelligence is "Ability to contemplate phenomena or questions beyond sensory data, such as the infinite and infinitesimal.". Or to give it an example - One of my eight-year-old students has a crush on a girl. One day she refused to sit with him, because he had hit her, pulled her hair, hid her pencil case or whatever boys do when they like someone. He sat on the floor next to my desk, crying and screaming: "If she doesn't love me, I do not exist!!!!" "But what do you mean?? I can see you.", I poked him lightly, "..and even touch you." "Yes, but I am nothing." Strong words, aren't they? So young and he's questioning his existence. I'd say that's his existential intelligence speaking. Another example would be students, teachers and professors of philosophy, who spend years and years tackling questions, such as:

Why am I here? Why are we here?
What is around me? Can I trust my senses, if they get so easily cheated?
Are there really ghosts?
What does it mean to die?
Where does the wind rush when it blows?
Why are some people evil? Is being evil a thing of character or just a phase?
Is there life on other planets?
Is it OK to say whatever I want to? Where does my right of speech end?

A colleague here at the course today said he didn't like barbecues because at a barbecue people eat way more meat than they need... Existential learners are likely to be very aware of the world around them in a political and social sense. They might enjoy setting up campaigns to save/help someone or something. They'll like discussing world and community issues, exploring different viewpoints to one thing, coming up with plans to improve the quality of life... They are likely to bring down theories in three short sentences, not because they feel the need to show how smart their are, but because the holes they see in the theory are, for them, too wide to ignore. Don't take it personally - it's not you, it's the theory.

That's it. Now I know why I studied philosophy and why I felt so good surrounded by my class-mates. :)
Could you come up with any activities for existential learners?
All my love,

Thursday, 19 July 2012

DAY THREE: The other nine tenths

Today was quite intense - we did a lot of thinking about our own behavior patterns, memories, relationships and reactions. So this is my attempt at summarizing hours of work. It's also a work in progress -  I'll add more things at another time.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

If what you are doing isn't working, do something else.

At the beginning of each lesson Marie asks us how we feel about learning - so far we've answered using fingers as a scale from 1 to 10, and with thumbs up/down. It's a good way of identifying what state the group is in, even if it's a large class - it focuses them on their own state of mind and can open up some important issues, the class and the teacher need to deal with before doing what's planned for the day.

Yesterday morning, each person in the group was given a piece of paper with a word they had to memorize. We gave the papers back to Marie and then we were given the task: Each person has a word, together you can form a sentence - try to do it. We had fun doing it and were actually really happy when we did it, even though it's a very simple and, only at the surface, boring grammar/syntax exercise. But then we got to analyzing it and here's what came up:

  • Not only did we do grammar, we also had to negotiate and share ideas, sometimes assert ourselves - which are all good strategies to practice. However, in a classroom full of students speaking the same language, their mother tongue would probably be used mostly. That takes away the foreign language practice dimension, but they still practice inter-personal skills. Not bad, is it?
  • You can give the students any sentence you want to give them. Group them in which ever way you want. This is an exercise for all ages and all contexts.
  • In order to succeed we HAD to LISTEN to each other. I don't know if I've mentioned a lack of empathy among my students, but they really need to learn how to listen to other people, for which this exercise is great. 
  • Right at the beginning of the exercise, one of my colleagues said: "Can we write it down?" and another said "I don't think that's allowed." The interesting thing about the question was that I was thinking the same thing and suddenly I realized how much seeing the word means to me. I guess I'm more of a visual learner than I thought. And now when I think of it - with all the writing I do all the time, and all the notes I take... Of course I am. The interesting thing about the answer is that nobody contested it - We made the rule ourselves and stuck to it. Nobody banned writing, Marie just didn't tell us to write, because she wanted us all to speak and by not having the words written down, each of us HAD to SAY at least one word - a good strategy for getting the really quiet ones speak.
  • Praise them. Name the interpersonal skills they showed well. Tell them - "You helped. You organized. You showed understanding." 
  • At the beginning of the activity we were all faced with a little bit of uncertainty and frustration - not knowing what comes next caused it. Later on we were able to analyze how we reacted to it, what role in the group we took on, etc. We concluded that most of us stayed calm because we trusted others in the classroom and the trainer, but also our own ability to deal with the task. Kids who lack trust in any of those respects, do not stay calm. That's why too much uncertainty can lead to disruption in the classroom due to some kids feeling helpless and giving up. So, if you see your students get stuck with this task, provide them with a clue. BUT! Do not over-manage- a little frustration leads to growth.
  • And if you get stuck, do what's written in the title. 
All my love,

DAY TWO: Angel's share

This is a film tip for teachers and I was not paid to do it. ;)


The film is a well-told story about finding hidden talents in the most unexpected places. There's actually much more to it, but I'm not going to go into the social critique which the film undoubtedly makes, for the simplest of reasons: I want to keep this post light. And today my group did a lot on the topic of finding the energy we need to do our job in the places we do not count on or forget about when they are needed the most. Here are some things I'd like to share.

Stop and think: How many of you stop doing exercise or things you love to do in your spare time when the workload rises or tough times come around? The truth is sticking to what makes you feel good might prove crucial for you to cope with the troubles before you. Think of stress as the common cold - the best cure is prevention, i.e. helping yourself feel well. Remember:

it's the only way you can take care of others well.

In a tough situation take a physical step back and take a deep breath. There's no such thing as a perfect reaction, there's only the "good enough" reaction, and the only way to figure that one out is to calm yourself. Later on you can reflect on it. Maybe you'll come up with a better idea, maybe not, but if you learn something from reflection, especially if it's about yourself and your own behavior- you've done well.  We need to get to know ourselves as much as possible, in order to react more effectively in different situations and to different people.

If you feel having a lesson plans is not really working with some classes, try to think of it this way: Each lesson plan is a plan for an unpredictable situation and if every detail of it works, it's nothing short of a small miracle. I'm not saying lesson planning is not worth it, I'm saying lesson plans shouldn't be used as crutches, but as tools.

Train your brain to think positively. Every day list 6 highlights (big or small) of the day. For most people the first three or four come easy, but most of us had to think harder to find the fifth and the sixth. 

Be your own best friend. Never tell yourself things you wouldn't like to hear from a friend. 

And remember: Focus on the things you can control, as small as they are, they may constitute the basis for change.

All my love,

Monday, 16 July 2012

DAY ONE: On rabbits, clocks and places to get

It took me twelve hours to get here, but I did it. :) I’m writing this from a six bedroom dorm house at the University of Kent. The trip from Stansted to Canterbury was stressful – nothing prepared me for that many misunderstandings and lack of helpfulness. But two things really struck me:

1.It was the Europeans who undoubtedly introduced the signalling system into the underground at Beijing and Shanghai, but yesterday the Tube was more difficult to navigate than the aforementioned…

2.I’ll never forget the first sight of departure boards at the Beijing West Train Station, but in the end we read them by comparing the numbers and departure times to the ones on our tickets. My ticket yesterday had no departure time, and there was no Canterbury on any of the boards, not to mention the woman at the ticket booth told me the train was leaving 20 minutes past real departure time…

But enough of travel troubles, I’m a student again and it’s wonderful. I’ve got 5 roommates and 8 classmates. My trainer is great – her name is Marie and I feel like I’ll learn a lot from her. Our day started with a plenary on intercultural communication and we learnt a golden rule:


Throughout the lecture I wondered if that could be applied to my trip… The lecturer, James Banner, also mentioned the differences in viewing time: there are people who do need to be on time and have little tolerance for tardiness and then there are people who see time in a more relaxed way – understanding that watches are guides not overseers of punctuality… Then I wondered if the lady at Victoria sat at this lecture two weeks earlier… ;) 

There’s one last thing I need to mention on the matter of time – There are rabbits on campus. They’re not white, but they’re cute, worried and always in a hurry. 
Maybe I’m close to my Wonderland. 
All my love, Do

Friday, 13 July 2012

Attach This!

Here is a Prezi I made on the topic of the Attachment Theory - the Theory part of my training is going to be based on:

I hope you enjoy it,
All my love,

Monday, 9 July 2012

A thing of design

I've introduced some changes into the blog - it's a bit richer in content now and the plan is to add more things. In the mean time here is a short introduction into the changes:

  • The subtitle of the blog is different. 
  • Under the subtitle there is a bar with a link to the homepage of the blog and an “About me” page which contains some basic info about me and my interests. It’ll probably change over time….
  • There are two gadget columns now, each on the side of the posts.
  • On the right-hand side there are (top to bottom):
    • A list of recommended readings – each item on the list is a link: the first two are links to book descriptions, the last one is the book itself (courtesy of Google Books)
    • A cloud with labels, i.e. topics I’m writing about.
    • A list of links which have saved this teacher a million times by now
  • On the left-hand side there is a list of people following my blog through Google services and a box in which you can type in your email address if you’d like to follow me by email. Also, there's the blog archive.
That's all for now.
All my love,

Sunday, 8 July 2012

The Aims

So what is it that I want to achieve by going to Canterbury? If you've read my last post and tried to answer the question ending it, you might have some ideas on how I had written that part of my applications. What follows is a somewhat edited version of the text in my application - an attempt to make it more interesting and relevant to the audience of this blog:

The classes I teach are multilevel and invariably include students affected by family crises or conditions which affect their ability to concentrate, participate, interact and, finally, learn. It is not a rare occurrence that the behaviour of such a child disrupts the work of the whole class, which either leads to the isolation of the child by his or hers classmates or a situation which is not favourable to learning. As a teacher of a foreign language my task is to improve students' competence in communication, which means the lessons I teach are interactive. As the moderator of interaction I need to be a skilled communicator, especially with disruptive students, and know how to meet their needs in order to steer their energy towards learning and away from disruption - if I do not understand the underlying reasons for a student's behaviour, it is impossible for me to do my job well. I have also encountered a noticeable amount of violence and an equally striking lack of empathy among the schoolchildren I have taught so far. As a teacher I need tools to tap into the sources of empathy in order to prevent violence to the best of my ability in order to make the schools I work in and, ultimately, the society I am a part of more amiable. My third role consists of tailoring learning materials to students’ needs, which brings me back to identifying students’ needs.

I have extensive knowledge of teaching English to speakers of other languages methodology theory as well as linguistics relevant to it, however I only possess basic theoretical and some practical insight into what ADHD, autism, bullying, mental illness and family trauma can do to a child's ability to learn. That makes me a skilled professional in the field of teaching English to an average learner, but leaves me wanting with respect to learners with all sorts of special needs. The course I have applied for covers themes such as effects of trauma, domestic violence, abuse, neglect, etc. on learning, overcoming learning blocks, and also offers fresh ideas on how to asses children and gives ready-made classroom activities which can help with dealing with conflict and behaviour management. University education, internship, cooperation with school counsellors and all of the workshops and lectures I have so far attended have helped me to make do in reaching difficult learners, but none have offered such an extensive insight into the topic and as such, I believe this course will make me a more confident and knowledgeable teacher and my students happier learners.

Hopefully I haven’t bored you by now. The whole point of me publishing the two paragraphs is making clear what I want to achieve by going to Pilgrims and writing this blog. In my application I promised to disseminate the results of my training online. I did so for three reasons:

  • …what I learn becomes visible to others and the communication with the inhabitants of the blogosphere always enriches the learning experience,
  • I like writing a blog because it usually results in me learning far more than I imagined I would…
  • …and I’m rarely able to make myself write one, unless I create a situation in which I MUST write it for whatever reason.

So this is my homework, for the next three weeks at least…
Hopefully I won’t be the only person finding it useful. ;)
All my love,

Saturday, 7 July 2012

From Comenius to Canterbury

In January this year I applied for Comenius Lifelong Learning funding for a course called Dealing with difficult learners provided by Pilgrims Teacher Training.
In April two of my very dear co-workers and I sat in front of a monitor fingers crossed, and then cheered and hugged happily when the results came in - I got the money. :) When I applied everyone said I would surely get it, not necessarily because of my ability to write or the ideas I had to share. The argument was: "Everyone gets it." But that's not true - the money is limited and people are getting better and better at writing their applications. I didn't find it difficult because I really wanted to go and the course I applied for is something very close to my heart, but I'll confess it took me a couple of days and a number of hours of just thinking through what I should say.
For those who have never applied for a Comenius funding here is a short overview of what I had to do. Other than pure form filling I had to cover 5 themes in writing:
·         PREPARATION – How will I prepare? Do I know the language of the course?
·         AIMS OF THE APPLICANT – What is my job? How does the course match my training needs?
·         IMPACT – on my personal and professional competences, language, intercultural benefits, the institution(s) I work at and my students
·         EUROPEAN ADDED VALUE – Why do I have to leave Croatia in order to gain the knowledge provided by the course? How will my attending the course bring my institution(s) closer to the EU?
·         DISSEMINATION – a plan on how I intend to spread the ideas and notions I learn about to my colleagues (not only at my school, but also at my town and even wider if possible)
The trick to answer all of these questions well is to think through what is it that you want to achieve by going to the course of your choice and how your attendance will benefit the context of your workplace. Bottom line is – You should see yourself as a means to benefit your school, your students and your colleagues, not just think of how well this will look on your resume (even though, it does look very fancy;) ).
So now a task for you.
This is the course I’m going to attend -
How could it benefit you? How could it make your life and your students’ lives easier?
I’ll offer my ideas in the next post.
All my love,

As I'm indecisive about where to blog, I'll also be blogging about my Canterbury adventure here: