Messages & Insights from The 36th TESOL Greece International Convention
“I have this burning desire to get out there and do my best. It’s as if I’m keeping it all in a little bottle, and it’s all going to come out when I do the best I’m capable of doing.”
Jackie Joyner Kersee
Who says we can’t bottle talent and sprinkle it around our networks?
You know it’s real when diverse voices sharing diverse stories touch upon the same principles time & time again – separate visions reaching new heights through blended insights.
Join me in exploring the recurring theme of “unfolding selves” through language and beyond language.
When I saw the collection of live-streamed talks posted on facebook I immediately felt that there was a common theme & creative affinity running through the presentations – someone needed to join the dots – in a mega-story!!
I attended some of these talks in person and I’m watching the others online. Today I’m featuring the ones I attended in person during the Saturday events according to the programmed schedule, as well as recordings of some talks I missed from the Sunday presentations when I had to fly back from Athens to be with my children.
If one is planning to watch all of the talks anyway, it makes sense to document the experience – maximising impact and reflecting deeply, yet publicly – clicking with inspiration & networks;)
The presentations I wish to cover fly along a fascinating spectrum of thoughts and experiences – from psychology to poetry to story to community. This accidental spectrum is not really so accidental when we realise that great minds cannot help but drink from the same well of human experience.
Anyway the order of my thoughts and inspiration are as follows:
I spent my childhood lost in comics and story books, my late teens in academic literature and my adulthood/motherhood challenged by psychology. Motherhood led to my teaching online and becoming interested in social learning dynamics as well as social media presence.
The talks featured below run seamlessly from focus on the individual through creativity to expansion into social influence and making connections.
This article features psychology as the science of our minds, poetry/literature as the soul of our endeavours and community as the socially intelligent expression of heart, soul and mind.
Therefore, I begin my reviews with a look at psychology as the intellectual backdrop to art, soul, poetry, storytelling and community.
1) How To Make your Students Happy By Nick Michelioudakis:
This talk was launched with a fine display of psychology books that form the core of this sleek and stylish presentation.
Lest one be carried away by fun and theatrics, however, the most important thing to take away is, of course, the substance; the heart and the core message behind a scientific approach that can make a big difference in our classes, and within our personal learning networks.
This is one I attended in person as psychology is high on my list of priorities as a teacher-learner. I was also seated in the front row along with some of my equally enthusiastic online colleagues whom I’d just met some minutes before. We all felt the force of Nick’s ideas as we were challenged to take part in the activities or even star in the bashful spotlight as we explored the power of appreciation, kindness and raising each other up in every day communication.
Nick used scientifically-proven psychological principles to craft inspiring lesson plans that can transform classroom dynamics through building rapport, encouraging heart-felt communication, injecting fun, building confidence and causing all kinds of side-effects that really make teachers and student happier – think endorphins, neurons wiring & firing together, uninhibited communication, and raising self-esteem through language and beyond language.
Nick shows excerpts from videos describing key concepts and then he applies them to the classroom. He describes various experiments and their possible applications in education. These experiments are shared in storytelling format, as laboratory tests are brought to life through humour and a vibrant stage presence.
Finally Nick asks a lot of compelling questions that you can also ask yourself at home or discuss with your own colleagues. That’s the beauty of livestreamed events.
2) From verse to the Subverse by Julia Alvierti and Jeffrey Doonan
This presentation kicks off with Jeffrey and Julia reading a poem called “I wanna poem.”
The mood is set in flawless synergy as our poet-teachers recite, share and engage the audience together. Poetry as a teaching tool is experienced rather than expounded upon; understanding is unspoken, yet palpable; explanations are unnecessary.
We are drawn into an experience and that’s the way it should be. We need to draw our students into experiences too.
Most importantly, poetry written by children, as shared by Jeffrey and Julia, reminds us of how sanitised traditional ELT can be. The poems dare us to look into the hearts and minds of each child; to feel their sadness & their anger, to feel beyond the “more acceptable” emotions we feel equipped to deal with. There are no taboos when the hearts of children are laid bare. This is what poetry does.
If we can help students to express their fears and feelings through poetry, we can prevent them from acting out on their anger and repressed feelings against others or from growing up into violent adults. Even if they can’t do this in their mother tongues or have bad role models at home, our poetry classes can provide them with new windows on the world with which to express themselves through a new language. This can also have a spill-over effect in their lives.
Jeffrey says in the presentation that children of all levels can write poetry in L2. I have personally experienced this myself when holding collaborative poetry writing classes online with multi-lingual classes of all levels. The sample poems recited in this talk are simple in terms of L2 language, yet deep in terms of the inner learner. Verbs take on multiple contexts. The verb “need” is not something in the appendix of your coursebook in present, past and present perfect simple. The verb “need” becomes the expression of the whole person.
The style of the presentation is poetry in itself because there is no intellectual reasoning as to why we “should use” poetry, there are no lists or bullet points, there are no statistics.
What we really have are two teachers sharing from the heart; sharing the hearts and minds of their students through unique prisms of language and insight.
What we also have are many examples of simple poetry styles written by famous poets, poet-teachers, such as Rakesh Bhanot, and poems written by students themselves.
The messages are there, the concepts are clear and the result is “unfolding selves” – journeys in language through the imagination.
3) Compelling Comprehensible Input by Stephen Krashen
I immediately fell in love with Stephen Krashen’s presentation because I was already in love with its essence before I knew what he was going to talk about. I’m sure that everyone in the room must have felt the same way. One cannot be a reader or thinker without an intuitive sense of the role pleasure plays in learning and memory enhancement.
Stephen Krashen backs up this intuition with a lifetime of research mixed with great irreverence and wise humour.
He began by mentioning three essential things we must do for long-term memory enhancement.
a) Read for pleasure
b) Be bilingual
c) Drink coffee
The Fountain of youth according to Krashen:
“Read a book in a foreign language and drink coffee the same time.”
35 years of research in five minutes:
This is where things get practically significant for teachers and learners. Krashen talks about the war between skills-building methodologies versus natural language acquisition. It’s liberating to listen to Krashen in full flow and maybe even uncomfortable – there’s nowhere to hide in your heart of hearts and his eloquence and humour are testament to the pleasure principle in communication.
Reading fiction and comic books.
This is where I got even more inspired. I’ve been working with digital comics for a few years and I’m about to launch into it even more for young learners and teenagers.
What does Krashen have to say about this?
“They don’t need to care about English, they just need to care about the stories”
In a nutshell, comics are the ultimate short-cut to loving and learning English:))
“Should be so interesting that you don’t even know it’s in another language”
– attributed to Csikszentmihalyi, author of “flow.
Moving on from reading and comics – to storytelling.
4) Storytelling Techniques on Display by Zafi Mandali
Zafi Mandali starts off with a focus on students telling their own stories. Here’s her opening quote which sets the scene for a very inspiring talk indeed.
“If you don’t know the trees you may be lost in the forest, but if you don’t know the stories you may be lost in life”
She then goes onto describe the continuum of storytelling from prehistoric times to the transformative era of digital storytelling where learners are more empowered than ever before to take storytelling into their own hands.
Zafi very practically goes on to describe the kinds of storytelling activities that can go well for students and teachers in class. After all, the magic of storytelling cannot cast its spell if it’s too theoretical to play its part in the real lives of students.
“Storytelling and students can meet and merge”
Here are three of Zafi’s tips: you can discover the rest by watching the recording on You Tube.
1) Age and theme appropriate stories make storytelling a blessing.
I love what Zafi says here:
“Stories soak our brains with chemicals of wild things”
Although I’ve been working with storytelling for many years and have presented or written on this topic many times, I still heard brilliant new insights from Zafi and I was especially taken with her powers of description. That, in itself, is the essence of storytelling, and what we must imparrt to our students.
Each teacher’s representation of the power of storytelling is unique and that’s what happens when students tell their own stories too.
I was particularly impressed by her reference to classroom storytelling as something like a ”dance” between teacher and students, resulting in mutual transformation. Zafi describes this phenomoenon is unique ways so please check out the real thing from her video.
2) Stories affect seven areas of our brain at the same time.
3) Stories build our knowledge and understanding of the world and of cultures different than our own.
These three tasters lead into ever deeper and more compelling reasons to let stories transform your classrooms and experiences, not only within and beyond the classroom, but also within and beyond the individual.
One of the highlights of the presentation is live video coverage of Zafi in class telling stories with third graders who had never been primed in the nuances of L2 collaborative storytelling before. What an amazing lesson!!
We never run out of new reasons to love stories and my reasons were elevated and celebrated through my enjoyment of this passionate presentation on a subject one cannot ever be indifferent to.
Yet, as with many ”popular” topics & concepts , such as those of storytelling or creativity, it’s quite a challenge to be yet another original voice in a sea of platitudes and cliches. Well, I must say that Zafi’s is an original voice that I’m glad I took the time to listen to.
Another leader in the field of digital storytelling is Marisa Constantinides. Marisa regularly runs online teacher training in initiatives on storytelling and I was very much influenced by EVO Digikids run by Marisa and Shelly Terrell in 2013. Needless to say I couldn’t wait to watch Marisa’s recording.
5) Digital Storytelling For young and old by Marisa Constantinides
Marisa’s talk brilliantly complemented the storytelling presentations that came before hers by introducing practical digital tools to the storytelling repertoire, thus bringing the human gift of communication full circle; from campfires and cave art right up to present day multi-media interactivity, publishing and sharing on massive scales.
Just as I introduced this mega-story in terms of an “unfolding”, I find it very fitting that diverse presenters at TESOL Greece put their hearts into similar topics with serendipitious results – no redundant overlapping, no shows being stolen, no tired insights. Nobody knew what the others were going to say, yet they all unfolded just so – serendipitiously. Just as we all have different finger prints, we all have original things to say about the great human gift of storytelling.
After a lovely introduction with personal stories from Marisa’s own life, she goes on to give us a clear outline of the intellectual, social and cultural significance of storytelling in education.
We are treated to inspiring lessons ideas using free video-making tools, collaborative storyboarding platforms and so on.
With reference to memory, a great question asked by Marisa was:
” How many characters do you remember from your coursebooks and how many sentences can you remember to shout out to me now” ?
( Ps – if you have memorised your coursebooks don’t tell anyone, as it’s really weird;)
This is a question asked by many teachers and Marisa advises us to look into our own hearts, think of our own objectives aand then plan accordingly.
As I work primarily with digital media, I actually asked myself this question in my last article about my own TESOL Topic. Let me quote myself ( & our Haiku-master Rakesh Bhanot) here:
” Why multi-media?
The beauty of these lessons and ideas lies in the fact that most or all of them can work without technology.
As Rakesh Bhanot says;
“Sometimes you have to
be extremely old-fashioned to
Yet, this does not mean we shouldn’t utilise the interactive capabilities that technology bestows upon the student-artist. If you work from the vantage point of your own personal teaching values, you can ensure that technology will become significant in the learner’s quest for self-expression.
Multi-media makes creativity fun, novel, cool, brain-friendly and very, very easy.
Beyond that it makes student creations very, very beautiful, meaningful, easy to store, share, co-create and publish.
Technology and multi-media take us beyond the limitations of pen and paper – and we want to take our students’ hearts and minds beyond the limitations of poor communication.
Marisa goes deeply into explaining lots of specific reasons for using digital technology beyond my own findings and experiences above. The main point is that technology can enhance learning but doesn’t need to monopolise it, and , also, as Marisa says, social media storytelling is part of our everyday lives and we are storytellers by default – using technology such as facebook. (Hopefully compellingly – but not compulsively;)
I was delighted to see Marisa cover the issue of motivating students to read and write compelling stories through arousing curiosity. To learn much more about her exciting ideas for using ingenious digital tools, just grab a nice coffee, sit back and listen to this clear, creative and very practical presentation from one of the most experienced multi-media users in English language teaching.
Finally, where do we go from psychology, poetry and story?
Well, another reason why we tell stories is to represent ourselves as social beings and to answer the ultimate question of who we are.
Who are we?
Who are we online?
What is the story of your digital footprint?
Can your stories remain in the classroom or are you an unwitting/unwilling citizen of the world?
Are you a highly visible teacher in this new global village or an invisible entity who refuses to finish your sentence?
Let’s ask Sophia Mavridi.
6) Managing Teacher Digital Identity: Sharing, Oversharing and Undersharing by Sophia Mavridi
Sophia Mavridi specialises in digital citizenship and shares with us the significance of this in our lives as teachers. She also challenges us to think critically about who we are online. She talks about “empowering teachers to use technology ethically, responsibly and safely”. This was also the topic of her dissertation research.
Here are four crucial questions posed by Sophia.
1) How many digital identities can we have?
2) What are some opportunities and perils of existing online?
3) Why is it important to manage who we are online?
4) What are some ways this can be achieved?
The audience is engaged through questioning and reflective activities before Sophia goes on to offer suggestions based upon her research.
Why is this important and what has it got to do with teaching, stories, and unfolding selves?
Well, many of us exist online and exist prolifically, playing out our professional lives in public.
Especially if we are expressive, engaged in writing, blogging or other digital forms of creativity.
Especially if we are networking or building up influence on professional platforms such as Linkedin.
Especially if we teach online and especially if we use online courses for professional development.
Especially if we want to live in the same century as our students.
What I loved about the presentation is how Sophia integrated her academic research with a Socratic style of questioning, using psychology and philosophy to reach beneath the surface of our potentially mindless online behaviour.
One fascinating question was the one about ego (don’t miss it!).
It’s a question I’ve discussed with colleagues before in the past and it’s a much misunderstood concept with regard to online identity.
Her talk was also crucial to my own online work, my own digital identity and my own questions regarding social influence and online living.
I also have quite a collection of psychology books that I plough through as I brave the online stage in experimental bursts of inspiration. Sophia has done the research behind the actions of teachers like me. Nick Michelioudakis has recommended many of these psychology books to me, so again, we are looking at the bigger picture of affinity, collaboration and making each other think in “unfolding networks”.
As I believe that Sophia’s expertise in this fresh new area of our teaching lives is crucial to our field, I will also write a dedicated article on this topic in the near future – featuring Sophia’s talk in more detail and bringing in my own questions, experiences and discoveries.
You may wonder why we need to create digital footprints, whether we need to create new personas, or how we can maintain integrity, professionalism, transparency and consistency on fickle social networks.
I do, and I find it fascinating.!!
Sophia is our expert – the only one in our field who has done this research (as far as I know).
Let’s also call it action research. We can all play out new stories for ourselves, our colleagues and our students through social networks and communities. This is how we can begin to make a difference regarding topics we are passionate about.
The first thing you can do to contribute is to watch this presentation and, perhaps, journal about Sophia’s Socratic questions on selfhood, professionalism and online living – our unfolding selves.
Finally, this is how I see the bigger picture. Leaders in education know that humanism and creativity helps us connect more deeply, inspire students to be brave and autonomous, and that learning is a lifelong gift wrapped in the stories and colouring books of our minds.
It’s not about facts. Facts are static. It’s about growing with our students.
It’s about fun, intuition and really living.
Education should serve our unfolding selves.
PS – excuse over-use of the word compelling – call it the Krashen Effect;)