Sunday, February 25, 2018

Talk to Me

Instead of talking to you this week, I'd like you to talk to me. How can I--with my website of free materials and my weekly blog posts--better meet your needs? I hope you will take a moment to answer six questions for me.

Click HERE to take the six-question survey.


Sunday, February 18, 2018

Self-Care Update

Sometimes you have to hit rock bottom before you are shaken awake and motivated to make a U-turn on a path that is not helpful or healthful. That might be what happened to me. You see, I snapped. At work.

I behaved in a way I had never before behaved in a work setting. In fact, I cannot even remember a time outside of a place of employment when I have come so unglued. I was feeling utterly frustrated, completely powerless to effect change in the ways that are essential for me and my team to be happy and healthy.

It's not as if I didn't see it coming. I had felt myself on the verge of losing it on a few earlier occasions. I did not want to come undone in front of students, did not want to end up taking my frustrations out on an unsuspecting client. The last thing these vulnerable people need is to be on the receiving end of an explosion by the very person assigned to help them. I knew I could not let that happen, and so I had sought professional help. It had fallen through, but the meltdown motivated me to try again.

About that same time, I was feeling a need to shed two winters' worth of pudge before an upcoming conference at which I'm presenting. I recalled John Sivell's having recommended a diet that worked for him. I emailed him to get the name of it and within days had two of Haylie Pomroy's books in my possession: The Fast Metabolism Diet and the companion cookbook.

The first couple of days were hellish. I suppose the killer headache and brain fog were related to detox. The regimen is a 28-day commitment to say no to alcohol, wheat, dairy, soy, refined sugar and chemical additives while saying yes to mostly organic, home-cooked, clean and healthy whole foods eaten at specific intervals in cycles (three phases) in order to reboot the metabolism.

I don't "do" diets very often--perhaps one every seven or eight years, in fact. But when I do one, I do it all the way. I read the book with highlighters and coloured sticky flags at hand. I took all the forbidden foods out of my pantry and stashed them in large shopping bags behind a door in a room I don't enter often. There was a practical side to this: I had to make room for a tonne of new-to-me ingredients! I went shopping for the coconut aminos, coconut vinegar, fresh (and frozen) foods I would need to do this right.

When I embarked on the diet, it was for weight loss. Little did I know that I would end up loving it for an entirely different reason: for how it makes me feel. Mind you, I already was a pretty healthy eater. I was already avoiding refined sugar and did not eat fast food or junk food. But now? I'm discovering a Kelly I did not know existed.

Now I get sleepy earlier than before and rise earlier without an alarm clock feeling rested and refreshed. I become mentally alert very soon after waking in spite of not having ingested anything caffeinated--not even my beloved dark chocolate!

Right about the time I started the diet and working with a counsellor with some Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) tools, I also saw a post in Global Innovative Language Teachers (FB group) about another FB group called Seriously Happy Educators' Forum. When I saw that the owner of the group, Kerry Garnier, holds a live tapping session every Thursday, I joined right away. Emotional Freedom Technique has been of enormous help to me in the distant past. I welcomed back into my life this method of getting psychically unstuck.

With these three new tools, I started to see changes in myself as an employee, colleague and teacher. Coworkers say I'm more chipper.

Students have also benefited from the transformation. I had an incident where a student went into my things on my desk without asking and proceeded to knock over my water, getting the day's worksheets wet. Whereas before I might have felt myself becoming upset and would then have had to mask or get control of that emotion, this time I was able to turn back to writing on the board while letting natural consequences take care of things. The students get wet worksheets. Whoopdie doo! It's not the end of the world. I was calm when I said, "Next time you want to borrow something off my desk, just ask."

And one day this past week I did something unheard of: I played ping-pong with students and teachers in the gym during my lunch break.

How about you? Have you taken any steps recently to improve your self-care habits? Are they working? If not, what is standing in your way? If so, please share what is working.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Grammar Gal

My friend Lucy taught me the saying, "A change is as good as a rest." This week is proving to me the truth of that expression.

Two weeks ago the makeup of my morning (seniors) class changed rather dramatically. This change couldn't have come at a better time. I was feeling stagnated with that group, as I've had some of the same students for three years. I do my best to mix it up, but the truth is that we've been together so long that in some ways it doesn't feel healthy. They push their luck with me, and I sometimes feel that they receive my rockstar lessons and my mediocre lessons with equal satisfaction.  Being pushed to do my best feels good. I don't feel good about myself when I am lazy in my prep. I've felt like taking a break from it, like asking another teacher to trade classes with me for a term.

Then along came three students who are accustomed to a very different sort of class: one with more structure and discipline, for one thing. Since their first week with me was during our needs assessment, I got a lot of requests that I haven't had in a long time. They want me to teach them the English articles system. C-V linking. Gerunds.

These requests have put some fresh wind in my sails. For one thing, I MISS teaching grammar. I've studied ten languages as diverse as Japanese and Latin, German and ASL, and minored in linguistics.  Teaching grammar makes me happy because I get comments from the learners like, "Nobody ever explained it like that before. I get it now."

So this week was devoted to gerunds. I used a combination of the Azar blue book and materials I'd made in the past. The week went something like this:
  • Warm up by talking about our hobbies
  • Pull up city's Activity Guide, go over some of the classes offered (swimming, dancing, etc.)
  • Small group discussion about these activities
  • Grammar lesson on the white board with students practicing orally
  • Gerund as Subject lesson (worksheet on website)
  • Azar blue book - sentences 1 through 16, but not the table of preposition combinations
  • Take up first half of homework (class time was provided)
  • Now the big reveal: provide the table of verbs and the prepositions with which they colligate
  • Oral practice
  • Hand out page with the rest of the gapped sentences, 17 through 25
  • Take up.
  • Chat using gerunds with question prompts for A/B pairs (change partners every 6 min and repeat)
  • Gerunds and prepositions board game

That's it. That was the week. All the materials mentioned above, with the exception of the Azar grammar pages, are available for free download from my website under FREE - GRAMMAR.

I sure had fun digging into long-forgotten folders on my flash drive. I feel alive again. A change really is as good as a rest.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

One Week, One Handout (almost)

Anyone who knows me probably knows I have a keen interest in methods such as Dogme and other materials-light approaches. You might also know that I recently joined a Facebook group called Global Innovative Language Teachers, led by Dr. Gianfranco Conti. Well, the other day a member of the group posted a comment in which she expressed appreciation for a graphic organizer she had gotten from one of Dr. Conti's books and which had proven very useful for her language class. Others seemed interested, so (with his permission) I recreated it in Google Drawing--first in A4 for all the European teachers in the group, and then in 8.5" by 11" for those of us in the U.S. and Canada.

You can find it on the FREE - BLANK TEMPLATES page of my website. If you have a Google account, you can click the name of the worksheet to be taken to the master, copy it over to your own Google Drive, and edit for your purposes. If you like it as is, just click the image to download the PDF.

Anyway! I showed it to my morning (seniors) class and they were keen to take it for a test drive. I introduced the form this week, but didn't introduce it on Monday. First we talked about our recent student-teacher conferences that ended our fall/winter term on January 26th. Many people told me that seniors cannot learn the same way young people can. They want even MORE reviewing than I have been giving them. (I admit that over time, I tend to drift away from some good practices and have to be reminded.) They said that as seniors, they learn three new words Monday and forget two on Tuesday.

So I decided it was time for a trip back to our easel chart--where each page full of topical lexical items represents one module we've covered in the past. I flipped back to the very beginning of the pad of paper and asked the first student to choose one useful word* from the sheet. I asked a new student who was brand new to our class and whose English is more developed than most in the room, to be my secretary--writing each word on the white board as I flipped pages. She was great--a good speller with lovely large handwriting.

I flipped to the second page and had the student next to the first one choose a word. Thus we took turns and ended up with about 20 previously studied words on the white board.

"Now take out a piece of paper. You can do this with a partner or on your own, as you wish. I want you to write a short story and incorporate as many of these unrelated words as you can." As usual, I advised Ss with lower writing benchmarks to try to incorporate 4-5 words, while higher level writers could try to incorporate almost all of them. And then I sat down with my tablet and pen to work on the same task while they did it.

We ended up with some really wonderful stories, and I was amazed at my students' creativity. (They have asked me to focus on L/S, so I rarely get to find out if they are creative writers; some really are!) I came around to check papers and point out errors that needed correcting before they shared their stories aloud.

In a subsequent lesson that week, I introduced the Connectigram. I filled in one as an exemplar and projected it. After talking about the whys and wherefores of my use of these connectors, the students took turns trying to put together their sentences. Students discovered that "while" and "since" both have temporal connotations as well as definitions that refer to to causal or logical relationships.

Remembering Conti's admonition to provide students not only with practice on focused processing but also with thorough processing, and recalling that he considered "odd man out" activities to be helpful with this, I created a multiple choice worksheet to complement the Connectigram.

By this time we were at the end of Thursday, as we did some work on our beginning-of-term needs assessment along the way. Friday morning we took up the answers to the quiz, and debated the answers until everyone was satisfied. I then asked the students to take out their stories from earlier in the week and select a few sentences or passages to re-write using their new connector words. This was the point at which I really got to see who understood and who did not. One student had even used "whereas" in place of the temporal "while." See? This is why we have to go Back to the Well. They cannot finish the trial-and-error process without time to test out hypotheses and have them checked.

We finished by watching the three-minute film from the National Film Board's Canada Vignettes, The Log Driver's Waltz. We ran out of time, but Monday we will try to talk about the plot of the little film using some of our new words. Can you say something about the plot using "nevertheless?"

I ended the week feeling very good about how the class had gone. We had successfully (I hope) integrated two new and very different types of students into a class whose chemistry had been cemented for months if not years. We now have equal numbers of Mandarin speakers and students who speak another language, meaning I can now give my Mandarin speakers a partner every week with whom they cannot fall back on their L1 to communicate. The best part was that my prep was minimal. I hope you can make use of these resources--the way I created them or customized.

*I use the term word to mean unit of meaning, whether it be an idiom, phrasal verb or other lexical chunk.