Monday, October 10, 2011

Blog challenge: What’s Your Story?

I love learning more about my PLN-friends through the blog challenges they’ve set for each other.  This time it was Vicky Loras setting a challenge to tell a story “about anything you consider important in your life or career, that has helped shape you as a person or educator”.

I’m going to tell the story about how I came to be an English language teacher.

The last thing I thought I’d be when I was at school was a teacher.  Being a librarian was probably the second last thing.  But I’ve been both!  I’ve also studied and worked in IT, as a computer programmer, systems analyst and website developer, and bringing my first two professions together, I also worked as an information architect.  I came to teaching late, only 7 years ago. 

I think I have always liked language.  I’ve certainly always loved reading, and admired beautiful use of language.  In all of my travels I have made an attempt at learning some basic language, either in short community-based classes, through finding an international student willing to tutor me in exchange for a bit of cash, or rote-learning listening to cassettes while driving.  I love learning languages, but I’ve never progressed much beyond the most elementary level, I think because I’ve tried to learn so many of them.

I first got interested in the idea of teaching English while I was learning Italian before a trip to Italy. I had a good friend who had migrated to Australia from Italy 30+ years before and, when I talked to her about my attempts to learn Italian, she told me about the difficulties she had experienced arriving here with no English. Then I saw an ad on the wall where I was doing the Italian classes asking for volunteers in a program to help migrant and refugee children with their school homework.  I joined that program and worked first with a young man who was between school and further study and went on to work with several other high-school students individually and in a drop-in centre.  I started investigating courses I could take to help me develop skills in helping these kids with their English, but the timing wasn’t good for me to start studying. 

Around the same time, I also did some volunteer assignments in Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia, developing skills of staff in local organisations in the areas I was working in at the time: library and information management, IT and website development.  During the fourth assignment, working with a sports newspaper in Hanoi, I was asked if I would teach English to groups of reporters.  It was ‘love at first class’!  I worked with two groups: one with advanced skills doing role plays of interviewing athletes and coaches and writing articles in English for their website; and the other, nicknamed 'The English class for people with a sense of humour', learning English through songs and stories and random activities and questions the learners brought to the lessons (very 'unplugged'!). 

Returning to Australia, I spoke to my Italian friend again and she told me about how her wonderful volunteer home tutor had helped her.  I immediately joined this volunteer program, the Adult Migrant English Program (AMEP) Home Tutor Scheme. During the 8 x 3-hour tutor training course, I could feel the passion of the teachers who were presenting the course.  We also got to ‘practice’ with the adults in the AMEP classes.  If I had fallen in love with the idea of teaching English in Vietnam, I was now completely infatuated after being introduced to these teachers and learners.  I interrogated the teachers to find out what I needed to do to work in their program and persuaded (begged) them into taking me on for a practicum, even before I had enrolled in a TESOL course!  Later I wondered if they had only taken me on because I was so persistent, but they said that they had recognised that I had the right attitude and aptitude for the work, which is why they went out of their way to help me.

I undertook a full-time Graduate Diploma in TESOL at a local University.  At the same time I was working around 20 hours a week (solely to pay the bills, but in a job I enjoyed), observing and practice teaching with the AMEP for 3+ hours a week, tutoring my Home Tutor Scheme (HTS) student, and also volunteering through the HTS to help run a conversation group at a local library.  It was an exhilarating year, learning so much in theory and in practice, but also exhausting trying to juggle all of these activities. 

All the hard work paid off with HDs in all subjects and a job!  I had impressed the teachers at the AMEP with my dedication and in turn I was grateful to them for sharing their professional expertise so readily with me and keen to work with them.  But this was just the start of my education as an English language teacher.  I have continued learning since: doing an MA TESOL, lots and lots of PD, learning from other teachers and, most of all, learning from the learners. 

When I first started teaching, I tried to keep my IT knowledge quiet as I just wanted to teach, and learn more about teaching.  But eventually, as I gained more confidence, I saw how I could apply my IT knowledge and skills to teaching.  I was also very happy to be able to give something back to the teachers who so patiently mentored me, in supporting them in using technology.  This has grown into a new role for me in my institution, and to more study, a Master of Online Education.  I will never stop learning.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Blog challenge: Compare and contrast

Here is my contribution to Brad Patterson's Blog challenge: compare and contrast photo which in turn was inspired by Anne Hodgson's Compare and contract post. Check out both of these for links to other blog contributions by my PLN-friends.

Here are two photos I took at and near my home in Canberra, Australia.

Can you see the lizards in these pictures?

I thought this might lead to some comparison and contrast in regard to visibility of the lizard in each picture.  How comfortable might each lizard be feeling in its surroundings?

Please feel free to post your thoughts.

The truth, and nothing but the truth!

Thanks Janet, Chiew & Fiona for your guesses on my Blog challenge: Truth or Lie? post.  Here I come clean and let you know the stories behind both the truths and the lies...

Number 1: I had a baby kangaroo as a pet when I was young.
Well, this is a half-truth.  My father DID shot a kangaroo with a baby (joey) in its pouch!  He DID bring home the joey to our house in suburban Sydney, BUT I hadn't been born at that time.  I only have the photos of my sisters with the joey. Chiew, there probably wasn't a law against this 50 years ago, but there sure is now!
The photo above is of my dog Luca with a kangaroo on a farm in the country.  This kangaroo had grown up with the other dog in the photo so was unusually friendly to dogs.

Number 2: I lived in a bus for a few years.
I DID live in the bus in the photo for a few years (though I did occasionally stop travelling and stay in a friends' house).  I travelled about 60,000 km altogether over the eastern half of Australia, and had the most wonderful time.  This photo was taken in country Victoria during a heat-wave summer!
See the video at the end of this post for a short video about this journey.

Number 3:  I was given an award for good driving.
Quite a few years ago I was driving from Sydney to Canberra and, just outside a city called Goulburn which is notorious for Police patrols, I was followed for a while by a red car.  Then I was asked to pull over - I can't remember now if he used a siren, but he must have for me to know it was a Police car.  I was angry and immediately started to argue, but the friendly policeman just stopped me talking and smiled and said he wanted to give me an award for good driving because I had been doing everything right since he first spotted me!  He also gave me a few vouchers: for petrol, a ski pass, coffee at a local cafe, and more!  I've never met another person who has been pulled over for doing the right thing, so sometimes wonder myself if it really happened.

Number 4: I can speak PitjPitjantjatjara language.
I DID sign up for the online Pitjantjatjara language and culture lessons on the Ninti Ngapartji website, but I never really learnt how to speak the language.  The website used to be 'subscription only' but the video lessons are all freely accessible online now if you'd like to take a look.  It is an amazing way to learn a little about Pitjantjatjara culture and language.
There were over 250 languages in Australia before the British came here and dominated with English, but only about 60 are considered 'live' languages (source: )  There is an interactive Indigenous Language Map where you can see which part of Australia Pitjantjatjara is spoken and get a little more information about the different indigenous languages in Australia.

Number 5: I used to fly a paraglider.
I DID get my pilot licence and fly a paraglider.  I learnt to fly in a small place south of Canberra called Michelago, and when I was travelling around in my bus I found quite a few places to fly and people to fly with, from the mountains to the sea!  I haven't flown for a few years, and have a paraglider for sale if anyone would like to make me an offer :-)  (BTW, that isn't me in the photo. I couldn't find any good photos of me flying).

I have thoroughly enjoyed reading all of the contributions to this challenge and hope you enjoyed mine too.

P.S. Doing this blog challenge has given me the courage to share a short video I made about my bus journey with my blog readers.  I made this as part of an excellent digital story workshop I did a few years ago - details at the end of the video.

Waving, Not Drowning
a digital story

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Blog Challenge: Truth or Lie?

This is my contribution to Dave Dodgson's blog challenge to post a video, audio recording or just a regular post on your blog in which you state 5 facts about yourself - 3 truths and 2 lies.
I've been enjoying discovering more about my PLN-friends, and wanted to join in. I didn't make a video of myself speaking because I hate seeing myself on camera and also because I have the opposite of a 'poker face' and you would tell in an instant when I'm lying :-)  Thanks to Janet Bianchini for the idea for presenting my video using Powerpoint and a Jing screencast - though Janet's 'truth or lie?' post is much more creative than mine!

Please be patient, I'm testing video formats:

- this one is straight from Jing in .swf embedded from

Unable to display content. Adobe Flash is required.

- this one was converted from the swf (from Jing) to mp4 in Camtasia Studio and loaded to YouTube:

Let me know which you think are my truths and which are lies. 

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Humanism and Modern Technology - another fabulous SEETA course

For a couple of weeks in September I participated in an online hosted discussion on Humanism and Modern Technology, led by Hanna Kryszewska and hosted by SEETA, the South Eastern Europe Teachers Associations

I was prompted to write a post about this course after reading Janet Bianchini's wonderful feedback post on this SEETA online hosted discussion.  As is often the case with the best learning experiences, we've both come away with different highlights from the course. The focus of interest for me was how to help, support and guide teachers to integrate technology. This was mostly because this is part of my current role and I want to find a way to understand how to best support teachers with a fear or anxiety of using technology and also get through to the sceptics. So our early discussions around anxiety and how to overcome it through creating an unthreatening atmosphere, and fostering, nurturing and promoting self growth, were very enlightening for me. It was wonderful having Janet there as an example of someone who overcame an initial fear of technology to become a role model to us all!  It was an excellent opportunity for me to reflect on how perhaps I could be a model for other teachers in using technology and in directing my own learning. And also, how I can more effectively use the very different learning styles and preferences of my teaching colleagues to tap into their creativity while I am teaching them how they can use technology in their classes.

Something that was very useful for me for my reflection in this discussion was that it coincided with the SLanguages conference in Second Life (SL). I've 'visited' SL a couple of times in the past, but have never really learnt much about how it works, have never really 'got' it or had a reason to try to!  Since one of my colleagues at work is planning a very small project in SL and I am keen to support him as much as possible, I had the motivation to try again, motivation being one of the key words we'd discussed in the first part of the course.

While I wouldn't say I felt at all anxious or fearful delving into SL again, I did experience a lot of disorientation and found I had no idea of what I was doing.  I was able to get online help for most things, but couldn't find the venue, but fortunately I was able to call on the help of a member of my PLN, who was one of the organisers of the conference. and she got me into the right place in SL.  The lesson here being the importance of asking for and getting help.  When I returned to the SLanguages conference the following day I felt a little more confident.  In one of the sessions I attended, someone typed this comment into the text chat which was very relevant to our discussion on humanism... "we can't push sl on others. they have to be interested in it.... and we help them" (Jayjay Zifanwe - avatar name).

Back on the SEETA course discussing my experience, Janet pointed me to a link to a blog post from Barbara Sakamoto called Why Every Teacher Needs a Second Life. These comments from Barb really resonated with me:
  • Learning to live in Second Life is a lot like learning a foreign language.
  • It allows us to remember what it feels like to be a beginner.
  • After years of teaching, it’s easy to forget what it feels like to be totally lost. Regaining that feeling is worth the learning curve of trying something difficult.
  • Mistakes are good. They help us learn.
In our discussion about this Janet pointed out that this type of difficult, anxiety-inducing experience can lead to some people just not persevering and mentioned that it can be good to try it "with a group of friends or colleagues, as you can learn together and support each other along the way". As it turned out, we had the opportunity to put this into practice just last Wednesday, when the #ELTchat birthday party was held in SL.  This time I WAS amongst 'friends or colleagues' and was able to get help every step of the way.  To tell the truth, when I say 'friends or colleagues', I've never met any of the people attending this, but have been chatting with them all year on Twitter, Facebook and in other online forums, and feel I know them.  The most satisfying part of the evening was when I was able to offer a helping hand to Janet, who had been 'inspired' by my SL adventure that she wanted to come to the party too.  Unfortunately she wasn't able to join us for the #ELTchat birthday cake, but it wasn't her will that gave way, it was her computer! 

Back to the SEETA Humanism and Modern Technology course, there were many other discussions, which I will continue to unpack and reflect on.  Janet's fabulous post highlights another learning from the course, that humainism values creativity.  I haven't yet mentioned Hanna Kryszewska excellent facilitation of the discussions, and the other participants.  It didn't feel like a course but rather an informal discussion amongst a group of colleagues learning together.  I am now working my way through some of the articles in Humanising Language Teaching, a free online magazine edited by Hanna.  And I found these videos and links from Hanna's presentation at the International Conference in TESOL earlier this year - well worth a look!

I am very indebted to SEETA for opening this and their other fabulous short courses to teachers outside of their 'catchment area', especially this teacher who is VERY south-east of Europe! I also liked the format of 2-days of discussion for each topic. I managed very well with the m-Learning course which had a new activity each day, but only because I was on my summer break at the time. I've found it difficult to keep up with the other ones though, so I appreciated having 2-days to respond to each discussion topic, read other participants' responses and respond, etc. It is extra important when I am on the other side of the world to most of the participants who are posting while I am sleeping - usually by the time I read the posts and respond, the discussion has moved on!