Project Work – Vicky

Mission: Projects – Possible and Incredible!
Vicky Loras

VICKY2
“Okay, so this month’s project is going to be about insects. You can choose whichever insect you like and find out as much as you can about it – and get ready to teach us about it!” said the young teacher.

A class full of eager 7-year-olds started chattering about it. One of the girls immediately thought about her grandfather in Greece, who was a beekeeper – bees, yes – that’s what I’ll do!

And she did research about them in the school library.

And she wrote a letter to the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources to get more information, after calling Billy Bee, the honey company, who directed her there.

She made posters, cut and pasted, wrote. And learned. And all the kids learned.

Why? Because they searched – mainly on their own…and discovered…and learned by exploring books and pictures and anything they had on hand at that time, in the mid-80s.

Today, we have such a multitude of resources, online and offline, that doing project work with our students can be even more exploratory, accessible, creative, and above all a superb learning experience.

At the school my sister and I own we do Wednesday events around a specific topic and do various projects with our students. Teachers can choose weekly, monthly projects or at whichever frequency they prefer and feel the kids will respond to and enjoy.

Project-based learning is the most effective through research. It can be online or offline: I first take my kids to the library in school or the public one, to have that good feel, to turn the pages of a book, and search and learn even more that way. Online search engines are great and encouraged of course to be used, but I think they should be used alongside offline resources, as sometimes the web can just be the fast and easy solution. It is true that it can save precious time, but it can sometimes be misused or overused – so kids need our guidance on that so that the true meaning of research is not lost and they can be safe and able to filter the multitude of information they get online.

Types of projects:

  • Visual projects. Posters with photos and some written prompts, hung around the classroom or school – I love the notion of Visible Learning and making learning visible. The kids can go around and look and read – they can learn a great deal both by creating the projects and exploring the work of their peers.
  • Written projects. Handwritten or typed, I allow the students to use their own thoughts in combination with the information they discover and fill their text with pictures and drawings, if they wish.
  • Electronic projects. They can create a whole blog or blog post on the topic they have chosen, or even a small website in order to share everything they had learned.

There are so many possibilities out there for students to explore – and so many projects to be created!

 

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The Games Issue – Vicky Loras

Let’s Play! – Vicky Loras

Vicky Loras
There has been a lot of research into the positive effects of play on learning and children’s lives in general. We can also see it for ourselves! Some adults also enjoy some types of games – with adults we need to have their consent as we do not want to have them feel uncomfortable in any way. The games I will suggest can be adapted and suited both to young children and adults as well.

One of our favourites is You are the Teacher. It can be played in many ways. It can be anything that kids can handle and they need to step into the teachers’ shoes for this one. For instance, I take flashcards and give them to a child, and then to another, then another in turn, until everyone has been the teacher. You can either spread them on the floor and the child points to one, and the other kids answer what is depicted on the flashcard. What can be seen is that the child-teacher loves the responsibility and they also expand, not only yes/no answers, but they love to explain as well (Yes, that is the right one, because a tall bird is called an ostrich / No, that is not a blue egg, it is a brown one but that is okay, you can try again). What I have also seen is how much kids encourage one another – there may be the occasional giggle or so, but most of the times they take it very seriously and do a great job.

What can also be fun in You are the Teacher is that sometimes kids want the actual teacher to take part in the game (as with other games as well). In this case, most of the times I make sure I “make” a mistake. The kids have tons of fun “correcting” me and explaining to me, and sometimes even making recommendations that I study more at home!

Another one we like is The Long Word: this game was one of my favourites when I was little. I was taught this game by my cousin’s wife, who worked for the Board of Education in Canada.

The idea behind the game is this: you choose a big word and the students create new words using the letters from that specific one. Some words that can be used are encyclopedia, establishment, metamorphosis … anything with a lot of letters in it!

The best moment is when the students are the ones choosing the words. They come up with the greatest ideas! The teacher then gives them three minutes to find as many words as possible – the winner is the person with the most words – however, there is a necessary pre-requisite: they have to be words that really exist! Of course, it is up to the teacher to make it harder: for instance no names, no plurals, only verbs in infinitive form so it can turn a bit into a grammar mini-lesson as well.

The winner then reads the words s/he has found and everyone looks at their own, crossing out the ones they have too. If they have different ones that have not been mentioned, they read them out too.

This activity helps them to:

  • Learn new items of vocabulary, as the initial long word may very often be a word they have never encountered before.
  • Practise their spelling, as the new words they create need to be correct in their spelling – so even if they make mistakes, they remember them for another time.
  • Teach each other vocabulary, as they read out their own words.
  • Use some of the new words to write a story.

Younger and older students love this activity and they can learn a great deal from it! I hope your students enjoy it as well.

A third idea is Match the picture with the word, and it is a pretty easy game to prepare as well. The teacher chooses a topic they would like students to focus on, for instance, summer holidays. Then the teacher can find photos of their own or on the internet, or even draw pictures, of objects and activities related to that topic. The pictures can be cut into either flashcard-style cards or in various fun shapes, like clouds for example. Then the words have to be written on cards and also cut up. It is great if all of these can be laminated so they can be used over and over again.

What I do is I also stick a little bit of blue-tack on the back of each picture and vocabulary card, so the students can stick and move them on a whiteboard, wall or even door! The students need to put them in pairs, like the photo of a beach and next to it or underneath it, the word beach. You can adapt the difficulty of the words depending on the level and age if the students. This is great for them, as it is a very visual representation of the words and they connect the vocabulary in their heads, much more effectively than if they saw the words in a list.

Younger and older students love these activities – and they can learn a great deal from them! I hope you and your students find them beneficial as well. 

 

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The Culture Issue – Vicky

Vicky Loras

Culture and Diversity – Our Mental Backpacks – Vicky Loras

My name is Vicky Loras. I teach English Language and Literature to students of all ages…and I am multicultural.

I was born and raised in Canada, by Greek parents who were also raised in Canada. My ancestors dating back to 300 years ago hail from France, then they moved to Italy, then Greece … before them, who knows?

If I ask you, some of you descend from one, two, perhaps more cultures, or know someone who is bicultural, multicultural. Your class as a total can be a multicultural hub, buzzing with countries, languages and various traditions and customs. It could be monocultural as well, which is also fine.

Our personal or other people’s experiences are a vast resource of ideas on multiculturalism that we can use in a classroom –a backpack we take with us in class mentally. The only difference from a real backpack is we never have to worry about packing it the night before, or carry it with us, or worry it is not full enough. It is always full and regardless of what class we teach, the age or level of students, there is a multitude of ideas we can implement in class. Why this specific topic, you may ask? The students can learn a great deal and so can we, as I believe educators can always learn alongside and from our students. Additionally, I believe that a classroom is not only a place for educators to teach and then let the students out of the room. It is a place where we can give our students values. It is a topic I have written about, read about, discussed with other educators. A lot ask me. Why use culture in class? What can it offer?

I will start with the younger students. I have them dig into their cultures and bring anything that has to do with them in class: be it a book of their country, a picture they have made themselves, a photo, an album, a souvenir, music, absolutely anything. They can even say a small phrase in their language. And then the magic begins. The children begin to participate as a group, and start asking each other amazing questions, without even being prompted. It is their natural curiosity which incites them.

Once, we took each child’s country and I gave all of them printouts with all the flags of the children’s countries. So they did not only do their own flag – they did all of them. We always talk when we are coloring (“May I have the pink, please?”, “Can you help me draw the head of my horse?”) so now they were asking each other questions like: “What colors are on the flag of your country?”, “Why?”, “Why is there a sun on your flag?” And the only thing you could hear inbetween were “wows” and “Do you hear Ms Vicky? My flag has the same colors as the other child’s!”

A good idea is to have a shelf or bookcase, even better, full of books on multiculturalism. Some titles are The Story of Ruby Bridges by Robert Coles and The Crayon Box That Talked by Shane Derolf and Michael Letzig. I have some here with me…

It can also be difficult though. Once, I faced a difficult situation. I was at the very beginning of my career so my shock was double. I was teaching in Greece at a time when there was not a variety of people from other countries. I had a new packet of reward stickers with faces of children from around the world. I give a student the face of a child, a child from a different country, with a dark complexion. Then came the reaction:

  • No, no! I do not want that sticker!
  • Why?
  • Because she has darker skin and we do not.
  • Do you know why she has darker skin?
  • No.
  • Because she lives in a much hotter country than we do and her skin protects her from the sun. But no matter what her skin color is, she is like you. Perhaps she goes to school, she likes playing like you do…

…and that was his aha! moment. Children need you to talk to them. And they understand, no matter how young they are and I can guarantee you that. They listen and they understand. They notice things a lot. And it takes patience to show them the way and face any misconceptions they may have.

In our school that we had in Greece with my two sisters, on the walls we had pictures and posters of people from all over the world: the children noticed for instance the Native Americans who lived and live in Canada and the United States and asked questions about them. I had a poster of Martin Luther King in my classroom. Children as young as eight years old asked and understood notions of racism and equality. They came out of that class knowing who Dr. King was and what he did and for whom. And they came out of all the classes knowing things about people from all over the world. We continue the same in our new school here in Switzerland.

As educators, we are not there to impose our opinions, but to open their minds and accept diversity as something beautiful, because it is. I always ask them: wouldn’t it be a boring world, if we were all the same?

I recommend trying everything with our students and see their response. These can become excellent lessons full of values they can take with them for the rest of their lives.

 

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Thinking about classrooms – Vicky

Dreaming of an Ideal Classroom: Your Own!  – Vicky Loras

Vicky Loras
Reminiscing

When we had our school in Greece, we had 11 classrooms – not to blow our own horn, but in each classroom the teachers had all the equipment they needed. Or at least we tried to offer whatever we could, in order for the lessons to proceed smoothly. The school also had a computer lab and a room with an interactive whiteboard. Therefore, the equipment could be moved easily if needed, or the teachers and their students could easily be moved to the room they wanted to use, easily. We did this out of respect to our teachers and students, to make everyone feel comfortable and content to teach and learn.

When I moved here in Switzerland, I started teaching at various places until I could get enough work – in schools, companies, banks – you name it. Some places had the works, as far as equipment was concerned, some were okay – however, in some I had to teach in my coat and gloves (yes, you read correctly), or I was not even allowed to turn on the lights before a specific time in the afternoon. Thankfully, only a couple of places match the last description. Even in these unfavourable environments, I tried to make the classroom as ideal as possible for the students and myself. I had my passion for teaching to keep me going and the motivation of the students.

Is it the tech?

An example of an excellent teaching environment is the public college I started teaching at here last year – the administration people, secretaries and teachers are amazing to work with and the classrooms…wow, the classrooms!

Whiteboards (three or four of them that you can shift on the walls)

Chalkboards

Poster paper (huge rolls of them!)

Sinks

Computers

….wait till you hear this…

3D projectors!!! I LOVE THEM!

A great place to teach – a place that respects its educators and students. Shouldn’t all schools be like this? Some aren’t, understandably due to their restricted budgets, some because the people who own them do not care.

Is it the people?

When we are in class, we are there for our students. The people who make our every day different and varied, super and interesting. The people who come into our classrooms with hopes, dreams, ambitions and all the super characteristics that make up these varied personalities – some come with their own issues and challenges, but they too later become part of our little communities. Most of the times it works.

So, What Makes a Classroom Ideal?

It would be great if all teachers in the world could have everything they desire in the classroom – as far as equipment is concerned. For various reasons, such as restricted or no budget at all, school policy and so on, it is not always feasible. A lot of educators are so creative and imaginative that they find other ways of doing things, in order to compensate for the lack of proper equipment.

For instance, I knew a teacher who did not have an audio player in her classroom, but did such a great job in reading out the transcripts for listening tasks to her students, and in many voices and intonations, that she did not need an audio player at all!

Was it the teacher in this case that made the classroom ideal, as her students adored her teaching and learned a great deal from her? Definitely. Is it the students, I add, who make the classroom an amazing hub of learning? Absolutely.  Is it the people that make a classroom a dream of a place to learn in? Yes!

 

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Learner Autonomy – Vicky

Learner Autonomy In & Out Of Class      Vicky Loras  Vicky Loras

Autonomy: a very important aspect of the learning process. How do we encourage this in our learners, however?

Many factors come to mind when we come across the term learner autonomy. First of all, I think that learner autonomy can well exist in class during the learning process. Regardless of age, some students tend to depend too much on the teacher or even on other students. It is our responsibility to help them disconnect from other sources at times and try to stand on their own feet by taking ownership of their learning. Sometimes students need a bit of assistance in seeing where they are strong and what their abilities are – additionally, to look at their weaker points and see it as a challenge to overcome them and improve on them, on their own. When they gain confidence, then they can see that they can work independently.

There is also learner autonomy outside the classroom. I think this is equally if not more important than autonomy in the classroom, for the reason that here the students are completely alone and need the motivation and confidence to work on their own and keep up their learning outside the classroom. What I do with my students is that I present them with various tools and methods they can use, so that they can blossom into autonomous learners:

-       The internet. A huge vault of knowledge is waiting out there for them. I let them know of specific websites where they can either monitor their progress or work harder on aspects that trouble them. For instance, if they have issues with listening comprehension, I lead them to websites packed with podcasts and listening material that can help them practice and motivate them to become better at it. Once they start doing it on their own, they realize how much that enhances their learning.

-       Electronic devices and apps. Nowadays, a lot of students own smart phones and tablets. They can use them to store their work, podcasts, materials and they can use various apps, such as dictionaries, language games and so on to enhance their learning outside the classroom.

Some students even create and store and learn from their own materials! For example, they create podcasts of themselves speaking – all thanks to technology and the students’ willingness to learn autonomously.

-       Books and print materials. For students who do not have access to electronic media, but even for those who do, books are really important in their learning and we should encourage them to use them and research various aspects of the language. I sometimes take my students, children or older, to bookstores and libraries and we all search together.

It always helps to share our own experiences in autonomous learning (if for instance, we are learning a new language or skill) with our students – this way they can see how we learn and perhaps try to do the same. Won’t students become autonomous learners, if we model the behaviour first?