Challenges, Project and Opportunities – Chris

Professional Challenges: Looking Back & Looking Ahead
 – Chris Mares

Chris Mares
When I began teaching, the challenges I faced unsettled me and caused stress and anxiety, not to mention sweaty palms and a racing heart.  This was natural for someone aged 21 with no formal training, plunged into a country he had never been to before to teach students whose native language and culture he was not familiar with.

Decades later, in another country, and with another nationality it is the challenges of teaching that I find the most interesting and rewarding aspects of the job.  That is where the heart of our mission lies, in the recognizing and overcoming of challenges whether they are internal or external.  To do this we must be honest, reflective, and creative.  We need to think rigorously, take risks, and find fresh ways to understand the world.

Although I didn’t realize it at the outset, of course, my biggest challenge was myself.  Or, more specifically my naïve and somewhat blinkered view of the world and my inability to step back and critically observe myself and everything I encountered.

Perhaps the most important point to bear in mind is that whatever context you find yourself working in, there will necessarily be constraints and possibilities.  The trick is to be able to understand the nature of the constraints and also to see the range of possibilities, even if they aren’t immediately apparent.

Let’s consider challenges in ELT from the perspective of the key issues in ELT:

How we view language

How can language best be described or organized for teaching purposes?

How can language be graded?

How we view language learning/acquisition

How is language learned or acquired?

What conditions are necessary for learning and acquisition to occur?

How we view learner

Is a learner and empty vessel to be filled?

What do learners bring to the classroom?

How can we build on what learners already know?

Are there different types of learners?

What needs do our learners have?

How can they be classified?

How do these differences impact our teaching or the materials we use?

How we view teaching

What is good teaching?

What are the principles on which good teaching is founded?

How teacher centered should teaching be?

How do we evaluate teaching?

How we view teachers

What is the role of the teacher?

How independent should teachers be?

What responsibilities should teachers have?

What norms should teachers conform to?

The contexts in which we teach

How will the contexts in which we teach influence what or how we teach?

What are the positive or negative factors related to the teaching context?

How can these be capitalized on or offset?

The materials we use to teach

What are good materials?

What principles should they based on?

What are the advantages and disadvantages of commercial materials?

How much teaching materials should teachers be expected to develop themselves?

The way we assess students

When? Why? How?

What are the different ways in which we can assess students?

What are the advantages or disadvantages of different ways of assessment?

By considering these key issues in English language teaching and the accompanying questions that naturally follow, we have a framework for approaching many of the challenges we face as teachers.

A final suggestion I have comes from Adrian Underhill and pertains to ‘low yield’ questions versus ‘high yield’ questions.  Here as a scenario that illustrates what I mean.  A teacher has prepared a class that she feels will be engaging and useful, one that focuses on her students needs and interests but for some reason the class is a complete flop.  The teacher is forlorn and frustrated and asks herself, ‘What’s wrong with them?’  This is a ‘low yield’ question.  A ‘high yield’ question would be, ‘How could I have approached that lesson differently so that the students became engaged and interested?’  Whatever challenges we face we should always search for the ‘high yield’ question.

To overcome most of the challenges we face it is necessary to take a step out of oneself, to exhale slowly and let go of ego and emotion and then to work through a series of questions such as these.  In my experience there is always a solution and it is simply a matter of working through the situation in a rigorous and principled manner.


Join Chris and more than 30 other iTDi presenters for the iTDi Summer School MOOC live through August 17th 2014. Enroll anytime and get lifetime access to all recorded #iTDiMOOC sessions, tasks, quizzes, and discussions. View the complete #iTDiMOOC Session Schedule and enroll today.

Challenges, Project and Opportunities – Marcia

Reflections on a Successful Collaborative Project – Marcia Lima

Marcia Lima

“We participate in meaningful online learning through connecting with educators and mentors in social networks, open online courses, and online educator communities. We feel supported, inspired, and learn tons. We also establish lifelong friendships with other teachers worldwide. Our online learning, blended or online courses should reflect our own personal experiences. Integrate these experiences for your learners. Have them share and exchange via online chats; contribute to class learning by collaborative curation with bookmarking tools like Pearltrees, Listly, Pinterest, or Educlipper; or meet each other via video chats like Google HangOuts or Skype. What has made your online learning a journey, adventure, and experience? Add this to your blended learning or online teaching project and you will have given your students an experience in digital learning that is meaningful.”  – Shelly Terrell

Shelly Terrell always challenges us to be the best educators we can and I have always said “YES”! I have recently had the chance to experience an online collaboration project for the first time in my thirty years of teaching. Not that I hadn’t wanted to do it before, but having been teaching mostly YLs and exam classes somehow kept me postponing it. My last collaboration project was with Israeli students over five years ago, still using letters that came by post, and I must confess I’m too hyperactive to keep waiting for the mailman, let alone my teens!

It all started when I was taking two mobile learning courses last March: the iTDi Advanced Course  “Language Learning To Go” led by Shelly Terrell and Mobile Learning EFL, moderated by Ana Maria Menezes and Jennifer Verschoor. The final task of Shelly’s course was to adapt three activities to use with my class. Soon after starting to work on my final assignment (check it here), I came across Ana Maria’s post looking for a partner to collaborate with on an online project. As both of us are Brazilians and our students could end up using L1 rather than L2 for the project, I did not volunteer to do it, although I felt very tempted to. It was then that I thought of adapting it to fulfill Shelly’s assignment. That made me even more willing to try it.

The first problem I faced was that the only two classes I was teaching that semester were two young learners’ classes, aged four to six. As I’m managing director at my own language institute, I managed to solve that initial problem by “borrowing” some students from two intermediate classes. So now I needed a partner and the first name that came to my mind was my friend Marijana Smolcec, from Croatia –  a Webhead like me and a real enthusiast of mobile Learning and collaborative projects. In fact, she was already developing a couple of projects, but I was lucky enough she accepted my invitation.

A Google Doc and Skype made our planning easier: I had the adaptation made for Shelly’s assignment, so it was only a matter of adjusting it with Marijana so we could invite our students. We decided to leave students free to decide whether they wanted to join or not, as I had chosen to do it as an extra activity, and to my surprise, many more than I could take volunteered.

The choice of who not to choose was not an easy one, but because Marijana’s students (sixteen-seventeen year olds) were older than mine (thirteen-seventeen year olds), I had to tell my thirteen-year old boys their time would come (I will devise a project for them this semester, but that’s news for another blog post). Marijana’s girls wanted to be paired up with my boys, so Facebook profiles played an important role in helping us match up the students – but I must say it was much more “feeling” rather than a scientific selection method.

Facebook was not our platform choice, though, and neither was Edmodo, which my students associate with homework. Facebook wouldn’t let us divide students into pairs in a group and it would be difficult to organise/visualise posts. We decided to try out Google Community as it can be private to participants and enables us to easily create discussion pages within the community – so it would be perfect for each partner’s interaction. Another advantage of Google+ is letting students look at and take part in other pairs’ discussion, which we encouraged them to do.

Ten Brazilian students were then paired up with ten Croatian students to learn during four weeks as much as they could about the other student, football in his/her country and the place where he/she lived. At the end of this period of time each student would write a report on their findings. The students started to join Google+, which was a new platform to most of them, and exchange their first  “shy” messages, which included their names, ages, home town and  “if you want to add me on Facebook, here’s a link to my profile…”

A little pushing was necessary for some pairs to engage in conversation. I suggested to a student “write about your fifteenth birthday party plans and how you are involved in its preparation” and to another “share the news that you are joining Carnegie Mellon University” and I then commented on their posts and wrote follow up questions, even when that was not needed any longer, just to show them I, too, was enjoying the sharing.

But then our students surprised us, doing more than we had expected them to: Silvija shared a Tackk she wrote about Zagreb, followed by Juliana, who also did one on Rio. Sooner than we had expected, all of our students were writing about Brazilian and Croatian cities and even The World Cup.

What nice additions they were to our project, and even more meaningful, as they came from the students. They wanted to understand each country’s educational system a little better too, so we added a new discussion page to our community. The school year in Croatia came to an end,  bringing along the feeling “I want more”, so the Croatian students asked Marijana if we could continue developing the project in their next school year, which my students happily accepted.

Speaking of “accepting”, you might be asking yourself what happened when the students, new to Google+ communities, exchanged links to their Facebook profiles. They did befriend each other and used Facebook messenger a lot as they were more used to it and they seemed to get notifications more quickly. This, however, did not hinder the validity of the project. Rather, one of the greatest outcomes of this project was that the students really managed to build a connection with their partners through social presence. Next term, this experience will be enriched through the use of such other platforms as Skype, Google Hangouts and Instagram.

Reflecting on our experience, I believe I was very lucky to have come across Ana Maria’s project, which required little adaptation, and to have chosen a great partner with whom to collaborate.  If I were to do this project again, the only thing I would be more careful about would be to start it in the beginning of the school term and not at the end of it as was the case for both Brazilians and Croatians, so we could wrap it up properly.

And if I were to give one tip for those who have never done a collaborative project, that would be to listen to your students and be flexible: there is no need to be afraid of changing throughout the project if you listen with your heart.

Tech is just the tool: what connects is the people using the tech”  -Chuck Sandy


Join Marcia and more than 30 other iTDi presenters for the iTDi Summer School MOOC live through August 17th 2014. Enroll anytime and get lifetime access to all recorded #iTDiMOOC sessions, tasks, quizzes, and discussions. View the complete #iTDiMOOC Session Schedule and enroll today.

Challenges, Project and Opportunities – Ayat

Enjoy the Challenge & Move Ahead – Ayat Tawel

Ayat Tawel

Challenges are tests. Either you pass them and celebrate moving one step ahead or just surrender and stay still in your place. Since I opened my door to the online virtual world of wonders, my professional development as a teacher and my whole life have changed a lot.

The first challenge I faced was how to apply what I had learnt in the TESOL Electronic Village Online session Becoming a webhead – my first ever online course – into the classroom. Having low tech resources at my school – no internet connection or a computer in class- was a big challenge that couldn’t stop me from achieving my goal of putting onto practice what I learnt to make learning a language as communicative and authentic as possible.

I was able to collaborate with my dear friend and colleague  Maria Bossa, an EFL teacher from Argentina, who used to be my colleague at the same course . I used my own laptop and USB Internet connection to have my students interview Maria via Skype about Argentina as we had part of our curriculum about South America. I was also interviewed by Maria’s students in a similar context.

Having very positive feedback from our students, we decided to extend the project by starting a Facebook group where students from both countries could communicate, interact and learn from and about each other. Having passed this challenge successfully, I was able to go beyond Skype and Facebook in other projects.

In my second collaborative project, I went a step further as I collaborated with a colleague from Canada – starting a reading project where our students were able to read a book, learn vocabulary, analyze events and answer questions in Edmodo. They were able to work in different small groups and were able to exchange cultural information about their own countries by the end of the project.

Joining online communities doesn’t only allow you to learn new things and collaborate with other colleagues to open your classroom to the world, it also gives you lots of opportunities for professional development. Being offered opportunities to present my projects at online events such as Learning2gether, VRT and RSCON was another challenge which I could pass and even get rewarding constructive feedback. However, it left me thinking how I can pay back to such online communities that shaped and enlightened my journey of professional development. I thought volunteering to help moderate or facilitate some of these online events is the best I can do.  However, it actually gave me more than I could give as it opened another world  – which is called voluntary though you’re actually paid a lot.

RSCON was one of the big online events in which I had the honor to be a presenter and a moderator. As a moderator, you are offered pre-conference hands-on training on how to manage a room, deal with technical problems, introduce presenters and help participants before, during and after live-sessions . That’s not the only thing you’re offered; joining organizers and other volunteers in a backchannel room is a real joy. We spend days and nights planning who will moderate which session, moving from one room to another, joking around and definitely learning from each other. It is one of the most enjoyable experiences I have had.

The last challenge I want to share with you is one we all come across, which is how to spend the summer holiday, without feeling bored and if we can get some professional development to refresh our experience without spending too much and at our own pace … whenever and however we can and want.

iTDi solved this challenge and offered me all this in one place!! iTDi is an exceptional community committed to providing teachers with all kinds of inspiration and all the professional development they need. Since I joined iTDi, I have been getting regular updates of ways I can enhance my career. To start with, iTDi mentors, associates and educators from all over the world share their experience, new trends and various ELT topics in inspiring blog posts monthly. They can change your classroom into a different and more creative one every month if you apply new ideas shared and it can also keep you learning something new from each and every post.

The blog posts range in topics from research to practical classroom techniques and anything else you might think you need to learn. Another important and main iTDi activity is the teacher development and Advanced Teaching courses.

But  back to the summer holiday challenge, I have had the most fruitful summer ever this year. I was able to join the iTDi Advance Course Breaking into Business English. It was perfectly designed to suit teachers with good or little experience in teaching Business English and  was offered by Vicki Hollet –  an exceptional figure in the field of Business English. I was able to learn with and from other colleagues through live sessions, forum discussions and sharing lots of resources in the course forums on the iTDi site. The course was four weeks long, but you get access to all resources for ever – making it all an ongoing place for sharing and collaboration .

Going beyond business English, iTDI has generously started its first Summer school MOOC (Massive Open Online Course). It’s a course that extends for a month with daily live sessions in almost all ELT topics. You can enroll anytime and attend 30 live sessions offered by presenters from all over the world. The first week was exceptionally inspiring starting with a keynote by Vicky Loras showing how teachers can collaborate together no matter how far in distance they might be, adding their human touch to the educational process.  More practical classroom ideas on how to better teach teenagers, the use of art and storytelling in the classroom and rapping your vocabulary lessons with rhythm and rhyme, to examples of successful collaboration projects were other sessions of the week.  I couldn’t imagine I would get so much involved in a session about poetry. However, being very creative, Chuck Sandy could get almost all participants to innovate ways to use poetry in the classroom. He was even able to get all participants excitedly collaborate in making up a poem by just sharing the first line and then asking everyone to add a line. Yes, all this and much more is offered in one place: iTDiMOOC and for free.

If you haven’t registered yet, don’t worry. You can watch the recordings at any time and still enjoy wonderful sessions for the coming weeks. Among many wonderful sessions, I am excitedly looking forward to Budi’s session on how to make writing fun and engaging as my students have always found writing a bit boring, and also Vicki’s session on how to make videos, which is a skill that can change many classroom activities into more engaging and motivating ones.

So, I will be waiting for you at iTDiMOOC. Enroll now for free, but don’t forget to also join iTDi as this MOOC is just one of lots of goodies offered from

Forgive my enthusiasm, but being a part of the iTDi community has changed my life!


Join Ayat and more than 30 other iTDi presenters for the iTDi Summer School MOOC live through August 17th 2014. Enroll anytime and get lifetime access to all recorded #iTDiMOOC sessions, tasks, quizzes, and discussions. View the complete #iTDiMOOC Session Schedule and enroll today.

Challenges, Project and Opportunities

In this issue Chris Mares, Marcia Lima, and Ayat Tawel share projects, discuss challenges, and share opportunities for professional development.

Chris Mares
Chris Mares
Marcia Lima
Marcia Lima
Ayat Tawel
Ayat Tawel


Join Chris, Marcia, Ayat and more than 30 other iTDi presenters for the iTDi Summer School MOOC live through August 17th 2014. Enroll anytime and get lifetime access to all recorded #iTDiMOOC sessions, tasks, quizzes, and discussions. View the complete #iTDiMOOC Session Schedule and enroll today.


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