The Art of ELT – Vladka

Art in Education or The Art of Education
Vladimira Chalyova

Vladimira Chalyova


“If art is to nourish the roots of our culture, society must set the artist free to follow his vision wherever it takes him.”  – John F. Kennedy


When I was first asked to write a post about this topic, I was told that I am the right person to write about art and colours. Sure, after a couple of presentations and articles on Colours in the Classroom, people started associating me with this topic. However, I got sort of annoyed hearing that. My first reaction was that I won’t be writing about colours. In my understanding, art is much more than that and art in education, just like in real life, is anything but predictable!

Art, just as much as learning, should never be about the outcome. After all, who can tell when the learning stops? As a teacher, I feel more like a student than ever before.


“Art is not a thing — it is a way.”

Elbert Hubbard

If education is to nourish the roots of our culture, teachers must set the students free to follow their learning wherever it takes them.

We, as teachers, need to let go of our need to predict the outcome of our teaching.

So how can we teach without being too attached to the results of our work? How can we turn a nicely organized classwork into a life reflecting art that goes beyond the lesson plan?

First of all, we need to get comfortable with the diversity of results we might get and the direction our students may choose along the way.

This is the art of education, providing our students with tools and guidance as they try them without insisting on the way we would choose for them, no matter how noble our intention is.


“Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.”

Scott Adams

Let’s also not forget how art itself is defined – “a superior skill that you can learn by study and practice and observation.”

Here is how we can create an atmosphere where students’ artistic nature can thrive:

  • When planning, pay extra attention to the first stage of a lesson. This is the time and place for you to provide tools – vocabulary, phrases, context, all the resources you may need later.
  • Art, even abstract, is inevitably topical. Work within a topic but don’t hold on to it too tight if your students bring in another one. Nevertheless, discussion on its relevance is welcome at that point.
  • Don’t expect lower level students to work as independently with “the tools” as the more experienced ones. However, encourage them in experimenting and allow mistakes.
  • Mistakes should be approached as a learning/teaching material too. Don’t leave them unnoticed nor deal with them individually. It is important to find a way to use them comfortably within a group, even encourage students sharing them and discussing them.
  • A curious mind is too busy to be anxious and organized enough to follow the inspiration towards creation. Always aim to tickle your students’ curiosity, be it in a classroom or at home.
  • Even though I said the art is not about the outcome, the sense of achievement is very important for almost everyone and we should not ignore it. Despite the fact, consider the outcome just another ripple in the waters of learning and don’t stop there.
  • Ask questions, always! Not the checking sort of questions but rather provoking, curious ones. Remember, you can’t give what you don’t have so cultivating your own curiosity is essential.
  • How can you cultivate your own or your students’ curiosity? First of all, approach whatever is presented to you with a question of interest rather than judgment. Second, don’t fall for definitions you are given. Next, don’t worry if you don’t have opinion on some issue or answers to questions you are asked. Not having one signifies growth rather than lack of capacity.


“Art is not, as the metaphysicians say, the manifestation of some mysterious idea of beauty or God; it is not, as the aesthetical physiologists say, a game in which man lets off his excess of stored-up energy; it is not the expression of man’s emotions by external signs; it is not the production of pleasing objects; and, above all, it is not pleasure; but it is a means of union among men, joining them together in the same feelings, and indispensable for the life and progress toward well-being of individuals and of humanity.”  – Leo Tolstoy

As critical thinking is not the same as criticism, taking an individual path of learning is not necessarily an individual work. In classrooms especially, we are given a chance to work towards union of individualities learning from and with each other.

Some may choose a different approach, a new way and some may have a unique outcome.  And that’s the art of education: The diversity in which we use the tools of a language towards the same goal: communication.

Presenting Vocabulary – Vladimira Chalyova

Vladimira Chalyova

The Colour of Words  – Vladimira Chalyova

What are you learning when learning new vocabulary? Is it a word itself that matters most? Is it “mastering” the word and keeping it firm in our memory? And so I ask what is it you teach when you teach new vocabulary?

“Writers fish for the right words like fishermen fish for, um, whatever those aquatic creatures with fins and gills are called.” – Jarod Kintz

I was thinking what it is that makes each word so powerful and distinctive from others, yet similar and sometimes hard to remember or distinguish as each is “made from the same dough” – letters. Words are like people, the same yet different, each with a unique story but separated only by six steps from each other, simple to grasp and hard to define.

But being more serious about words, here are some of the features we learn as we learn new vocabulary (or we should learn):

  • Meaning – of course, often overestimated in classes. I call it “the first impression of the word”. And you know we were taught not to judge the book by its cover.
  • Function and use – you know,  this stuff about whether it is a noun, verb or adjective and all the things related to it.
  • Word formation – so if you know it is a noun, how does the verb look like that conveys the same information? What is the root of the word and where can I take it using all kinds of suffixes or prefixes?
  • Context – how and where is it used most often, and why? Who, what group of people uses it? And what about phrases and idioms that are formed out of that?
  • Associations – hard to define and easy to argue about as this one is very personal, related to your own very specific experience, environment and perspective of it.

I would like to share some activities that were built around these principles and still offer space to adapt, simplify, or enrich. They are all built around the topic of colours but taken one step further and beyond the elementary level to see there is always a lot more to discover than we may think when we first encounter the word.

Vladka image 1


  • A-Z race – ask your students to write down the letters of the alphabet and give them a colour. See how many things they know that are of this specific colour. Discuss, compare, take further!
  • Guess my colour – at home, prepare pieces of papers with a colour sample and a name of the colour, see picture for inspiration. Each student gets a piece secretly. Let them mingle and try to find out what the name of the colour, the other person has, is. They can ask questions, give hints, lead each other or just nod, as you wish. Again, make them contemplate and discuss the colours and take them one step further inventing the names for the colours they like or find mundane in every day life.


Vladka image 2


  • Poem factory – I start this lesson by saying that by the end of it, we all will be poets. It always gets them! I tell them about haiku poetry and if possible take them out. The aim is to notice the little piece of the world in a new perspective and redefine its colours.
  • Imagine – take on the colored glasses and see the world around! Give your students a set of verbs (or nouns/songs/dances/adjectives, list here is basically endless) and ask them to match each with one colour. Discuss, compare, take it further!
  • What word are you today and what colour is it? – this last one is pretty much self explanatory. You can use it as a warm-up, fill in activity or even when you need to calm down your students (especially if you also give them a crayon to choose and use). It is highly personal and as an attentive teacher, you can get lots of teaching material for your unplugged lesson from it.

You may have noticed that each of these activities is very flexible and with an outcome that you can’t predict in any lesson plan but one that can easily lead to lovely discussions, discoveries, and full of potential for learning a lot in a context.

Challenge 1: how many flowers do you know that are blue? Can you name at least three? What do their names represent and what can we learn about them from their names?

Challenge 2: how many words do you know that are green and contain letters S and A?

Challenge 3: what colour is your name? Can you explain?

Enjoy words as you enjoy the world around and never separate those two. And if you need some inspiration, look for more colours!

vladka image3


Working with difficult students – Vladimira Chalyova

Meeting Everyone’s Needs   — Vladimira Chalyova

I believe in second chances. In fact, I believe in giving second chances for as long as they’re needed. That’s basically my attitude towards difficult students, though I cannot really relate to putting the word difficult next to the word student. For me, such students are either lacking something or have more to give than the teacher is asking them to give.

I am convinced that such students would thrive if they were given enough opportunities to express themselves.  Unfortunately, it’s unlikely they’ll come right out and explain what they need. They might not even realize what they need. That’s why it’s so important to be a careful observer and an active listener.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is a good frame of reference.


There’s probably not much you can do to help with the basic physiological needs at the bottom of the pyramid, but you can work to understand where students are coming from and how that might be contributing to classroom behavior.  With such understanding you’ll know that students who are falling asleep aren’t bored. They’re lacking a basic need: sleep, and there’s a reason for that. Talk with them privately learn about their situation and thus avoid misunderstandings. With higher level needs such a love, esteem, and self-actualization you’ll probably find something lacking in every challenging student you encounter. Think about:

  • The way you teach: your beliefs versus their needs and expectations.
  • The atmosphere in the group: is it supportive, safe and friendly?
  • Your own personality: are you always fair, open and understanding?
  • The bigger picture: do students know why they are doing what they’re doing?
  • Space: is there space and time for students to put their personalities into their work.

If I’m able to eliminate issues related to basic needs, I can focus on belonging, esteem and self-actualization by asking myself questions like those in this illustration:

These ideas from John Medina’s book Brain Rules is also a framework:

  1. We can fully concentrate for only 10 minutes. Then it is time to wake up the brain with a break that is somehow related to the topic.
  2. Our brain loves balance so provide a combination of rules and improvisation. Make it clear how things work but give time and space to practice it in various situations.  Don’t let students wander around hopelessly in exercises or feel stupid because they can’t get a rule from context because their brain works differently.
  3. The more senses you involve while learning, the stronger the memory path that is created and I presume the more students will remember. Definitely, learning will be more enjoyable.

By paying attention to brain rules like these  — especially with teens and young adults — we make learning actively purposeful and therefore increase the level of class satisfaction.

Psychologist Ed Diener writes thatpeople evaluate their own lives more highly when others in society also have their needs fulfilled. Thus life satisfaction is not just an individual affair, but depends substantially also on the quality of life of one’s fellow citizens.”

Replace the words lives/life, society and citizen with learning, the class and classmate.

The spirit of a class is as important as the information we pass to our students. If everyone in class is learning happily and needs are being met, challenging students are less likely to be difficult.

~  Vladimira Chalyova

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Critical Thinking – Vladimira

Vladimira ChalyovaMy Inner Velvet Revolution

by Vladimira Chalyova

Any growth requires a temporary loss of security– Madeline Hunter

As scary as it may sound, critical thinking is neither a threat to a teacher nor another skill to learn for a student. Yet just like happiness, it seems to be difficult to understand, grasp or achieve. My comparison to happiness is not accidental, though. Both critical thinking and happiness have a couple of things in common and I believe that the same kind of journey leads towards them.

  • It is something we long for but don’t necessarily know how to get there.
  • The farther we get, the more complex it becomes.
  • It follows the inside – out principle

(we won’t see it out there unless we find it inside ourselves)

  • It enriches the life of an individual as well as the community.

As teachers we can’t teach critical thinking. However, we can facilitate and equip our students with skills and help them develop abilities so that they do the exploration for themselves.

For me, the exploration into the realm of my own critical thinking was almost like a revolution. Not an aggressive or turbulent one. Quite the opposite! I come from a country, Slovakia, which is famous for its peaceful separation – the Velvet Revolution.  I like to think the similar process happened inside me as well.

As a child I almost always followed the rules, mostly because they were not just given to me as an order, but explained to me as something that was there for all to create an environment where everyone can learn the importance of each other – the meaningful and relevant rules, for a nourishing and safe environment, of course. At the same time I was given enough time to explore my interests and enough freedom to change them as I grew up. I was a member of all kinds of clubs, attended various courses or activities until I, myself, found out what filled me most with the sense of curiosity and drive.

It is not that much about the things we are good at or we like that help us develop our critical thinking. Rather, it is what we find challenging, what pushes us forward to break barriers inside!

This way I was building my own understanding of things and reality. I was building my own point of view and more importantly, the way to explain it to others. I found out I was well able to form my own “state” within the community of others, accepting others and at the same time not giving up on what I believed in.

Please, don’t forget this important element of acceptance along your journey!

I think that forgetting it or leaving it behind is why we have started relating critical thinking to a threat or even something negative such as criticism. Acceptance should be always mutual! You do your part by being a model for others; don’t force them.

I accept that you face challenges on your way and you accept that mine are most likely to be different than yours!

All of us face them as we move forward, maybe in a different direction or pace, but we all do!

And have I reached the destination of my journey – exploration?

Does it all end once we become independent?

Does happiness end once you find the source? Of course not!

It is never too late or too early to embark and in a quiet moment reach deep and find what challenge you need to overcome this time to move forward. The journey itself, every step forward towards the new understanding of yourself and the world is a reward. Let your students see that you, too, are on the way and be an inspiration where it may lead them.

The Special Needs Issue – Vladka

Be A Guide: Find The Wayvladka-cokoladka

There is no such thing as students with special needs or learning disorders. It is the society we live in that has created a special place for those who haven’t learned how to conform their uniqueness. We all were once special needs learners!

Before I share my story with you, let me share one really thoughtful and bold statement I heard recently from one psychologist. She said that it is the conformity, sterility and rigidity of society that doesn’t allow us to have time and patience to deal with special talents and the courage to see that this just reflects who we are as adults.

Teachers or parents, you can either address a special need as a disorder and use it as an excuse for your decisions or actions, or you can embrace it as an opportunity to look inside the pure nature of unspoiled learning that does not follow the norms yet!

As a teacher, a good one, you choose responsibility and the place where the sun shines on others. It is not about rewards, comfort or recognition. It is about being a guide — and the guide is never the main hero in a story.

Please never, never ever blame children for not making your life easier.

My story is about a little Italian boy I met during a summer school who stole my heart in the most sincere way possible. He came into my elementary class and all we shared at the very beginning were a very few, basic phrases in English. Very soon I found out about his dyslexia. I knew I wouldn’t be spending more than a couple of weeks with him, but I couldn’t give up on him.

The natural instinct to learn is very alive in kids and if they are not made to feel they are part of the class, they can act in ways we perceive as disruptive.

I am not trained to teach such kids so I had to rely on some basic elements of intuitive learning:

Be attentive

Be flexible

Be mindful (here and now)

I had to observe him, the things he did, the way he did them, and what he didn’t do, while paying attention to his smiles and the look in his eyes. I could go on with all the details but the thing is we eventually found out the way to teach each other, connect the whole class and break any form, order or disorder.

I noticed he was really talkative and for that reason he naturally used his mother tongue. He paid attention when I used pictures and when I was talking in small chunks of the target language. His eyes got that famous spark when I showed interest in his language.

Don’t put your comfort above the desire to learn!

As a result, we created our own little game. My homework was to remember the words in Italian he taught me and his work was to remember the same words in English. Every time we met we tested each other. I said an Italian word and he responded with the English translation. He said an English word and I had to remember the Italian equivalent. The whole class worked that way and we could build on that.

It may not be a very sophisticated technique or effective for everyone, but the point is that as a teacher you need to step back and bring out the best in your students by letting them work the way they prefer to work. I just spent some time to learn who he really is, not only who he appeared to be, and none of us gave up on each other.