Friday, 26 July 2013

C is for Confidence...

It was going to be a post on a different topic, but after listening to Tyson Seburn’s speech about confidence, “Confidence is Contagious” (which I find very impressive), I had to share this...

It is said that teaching ESL literacy can be a daunting task. It may take adult learners who have never been exposed to formal education before a very long time to master the initial reading and writing skills in a foreign language. I heard teachers saying that the most frustrating thing in teaching ESL literacy is that they often do not see any progress long enough to start doubting themselves and their strategies. Or, even worse, your student just started reading after you used one million of reading strategies and some magic spells, and the next thing you find out that he or she is not able to attend the course anymore due to some family issues or moving to a different neighborhood.

If you asked me what is necessary to be successful in this field, I would say “confidence”, to be more specific, a ton of confidence in the students, in yourself, in your teaching skills and strategies, in the fact that no matter what, you and your students will succeed. This year, I was able to witness a couple of times how the confidence I had in my students took over fears and changed perceptions.

“Confidence is contagious” Action 1:
Every year, we celebrate the graduate students at our programs: the best representatives from each level usually prepare a special performance or speech to congratulate their peers. This year, ESL literacy students, for the first time, not only presented an outstanding recital in front of the audience but also set it up from scratch. When I officially declared that my students would participate this year, nobody did really take my words seriously. Especially, my group. When I asked for volunteers to make a public appearance, half of my class (adults, by the way) sank under the tables. It took me about a month to convince them that we were going to present at the Graduation. And it took us another month (we practiced every day) to prepare for it. I had to swear that I would be standing by their side on the stage, and that I would whisper if they forgot, and I had repeat every single day that it was OK if they made a mistake. We decided to recite a short poem that we composed together about our class and our peers. I also borrowed the idea of spreading the message “You Matter” from Angela Maiers. Students loved it. One time when they hesitated, I had to tell them that nobody expected anything from them and therefore we did not have anything to lose, instead we could try hard and impress everybody (I probably heard it before in a movie). And we did. I was so proud of them. They were so proud of themselves. Our presentation was 5 minutes long, but it does not really matter. What matters is the boost of confidence we all shared that day.

“Confidence is Contagious” Action 2:
Many things happened after our public appearance that day. The students who presented shared with me that they were able to prepare the recital and speak in public due to the confidence the teacher had in them. Many people approached me and told me how great my students were and that the ESL literacy is a beautiful program vitally important for our community. I couldn't agree more. I remembered then, that some years ago at a very similar graduation, no one approached me or said anything, majority of people called my program “level 0” (which I fundamentally disagree with), and some of them would pitifully say that they had no clue how I was able to teach it. Nobody believed in my class then.

What a difference a bit of confidence has made...

“Confidence is Contagious” Action 3:

Confidence has to be nurtured every day. One way I foster confidence in my class is by asking my students to call me in the office every time when they are late or absent from the class. When I first tell them about this requirement they usually look at me in disbelief. For many of them due to their limited or non existent English, calling someone on the phone is as terrifying as jumping with a parachute. I teach them what they should say, we practice enough times in class and then they start calling. I noticed how from September to June their voices on the phone gained strength, their confidence grew, and their speech became intelligible. I think that this is a great way to build their skills outside the classroom, and if they are able to call me, very soon they will be able to call somebody else. Just one warning, if you share the telephone with other people in the office, before giving the number out to literacy or any other beginner level, talk it through with your management and co-workers (not all the people might be as compassionate as you are).

“Confidence is Contagious” Action 4:

As a teacher, I have enough confidence in myself and my students to spread it around and share it with people who lack it. But how about other aspects of my life? Today, I set myself on the mission of growing confidence in myself as a PERSON, as a MOTHER, as a PUBLIC SPEAKER. I have confidence that I can accomplish these goals!

Friday, 5 July 2013

The University of Twitter or One Click Away...

This post is going to be my tribute to Twitter which enriched my professional life and helped me when I needed it the most.

I remember myself, 3 years ago, attending an inspiring class organized by our TESL program at TDSB, where the guest speaker Mr. O (I am afraid to make a mistake in his name, so I’ll just stick to Mr. O) asked us if we were on Twitter? We all looked quizzically. I and the majority of my classmates had no idea what Twitter was. Then, he said that if we were not, it probably would be a good idea to check it out. He promised that it would be easy, just one click away. Then, he added that we could start by following him. I scribbled his twitter ID on a piece of paper that was lost almost immediately (it always happens). You would think when I got home that day I checked out Twitter as recommended by Mr. O?! Of course not, instead I stored that information somewhere at the back of my mind thinking that I would try it when I needed it. When I finally did it, almost 3 years later, I realized that I wasted three precious years!!!

Last September, I returned to work from my maternity leave. Those fortunate ones who have ever been on a mat leave know that it is an unforgettable experience which clears your brain completely. So here I was, back to work in the classroom going to replace the teacher and determined to meet all the expectations. I flipped through my old stuff and knew that it was outdated. One year out of the classroom, with the baby who never slept, I felt out of the game. I needed to brush up my skills, to boost my creativity and update my  technological status in the shortest possible time. Then, I remembered about Twitter and the wonders it might do and decided to give it a try. I signed up, created an ID and even wrote my own first and only for a long time tweet saying that I was a teacher and I was returning to work from the mat leave in 2 weeks. It felt lonely. So, I decided to turn to youtube and watch a couple of videos how to use Twitter and what it can do. Those videos actually were very useful as they lit up light on some features such as hashtags and lists. 
I went back to Twitter and started searching for words such as “teaching”, “education”, “esl” and so on. I found one or two people who met my criteria and started looking through their timelines. And then it happened, my realization, what I have done to myself, I wasted three years of my professional development without being on Twitter. This stuff was gold. Pure teaching gold or oil or whatever you call it!!! I followed some teachers, saw what  people they followed, always looked through their tweets and if it was interesting instantly followed them, too. I also checked the people who were recommended to me according to my interests. One day, some random twitter user followed me and I couldn't believe my excitement. I was telling my husband how wonderful it was and begged him to join Twitter and follow me, so I had at least 2 followers. I was checking out tweets, clicking on the links that sounded relevant and almost all of them were exactly what I wanted, needed or wished to happen in my classroom. It was so good that I was scared that Twitter was actually reading my mind. Two weeks later, I felt so confident and was equipped with a ton of the  activities that would blow my students away. I call this period my “Twitter honeymoon”. 
I distinguished my favorite Twitterers  and, when the number of people grew, I tried to organized them into lists. Some of the first educators that I followed were Shelly S Terrell who introduced me to webinars (after that I started frequently checking the webinars organized by different providers); Edudemic who introduced me to Infographics, Richard Byrne - Google Drive (which I love) and so many other great things, Nicholas  Provenzano - Evernote, John Allan - Bitly, etc (I am not able to mention everything, but you should trust me it’s a lot). I saw some familiar people. I met Tyson Seburn on Twitter and learned about self reflection and blogging. I also learned that it was about time to get out of the box and shine! By the way, if you do not know who these people are, hurry up, check them out, you might be missing out many wonderful things in your professional development.
The world started opening to me. But there was one more thing that I still wasn't able to comprehend. How do these wonderful people manage to look for information and tweet (my presence on Twitter during the first months was more of a passive one, I was consuming info, re-tweeting the stuff that I liked but was too scared to say anything or contribute)?
My husband, who is one of those people with world's wisdom regardless their age (I am always jealous at them), suggested upgrading my mobile device. It was a difficult choice (I turned to my students to advise me on it). Finally, I chose the simplicity of Apple's iPhone together with a 2GB data plan. I will have to admit that for me, as for many of you, buying an iPhone and paying for a monthly data plan is an expensive luxury. But once again, my wise husband suggested that it would be an investment into my professional development. It was an investment that paid off very quickly. Since I bought the device, I became more efficient in my research, I started checking out things on the way to work. I found out Zite and Pinterest and started also sharing with my PLN.  I turned from a consumer into a contributor. I was also able to follow #eltchat and even participate in their discussions. Slowly but surely, I started responding to and generating my own ideas and thoughts. I managed to write my first blog post on the bus and published it when I got home. I started tweeting the stuff that I created myself.  I learned about ESL Literacy Network and started communicating with other Literacy professionals. Today, I am so grateful to all these opportunities that opened to me due to my presence in Twitter.

Someone asked me what is so special about Twitter, what's the difference: you might as well google this stuff? My answer would be that when you google something you are looking for it all by yourself, but on Twitter the best minds of teaching world all over the world are looking for solutions together with you. It's a big difference. By the way, this post I also wrote on the bus.

Are you on Twitter? If you aren't yet, check it out, it may open your horizons in the most unexpected way...

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