Shakespeare and Shadow Puppetry

All students have heard about Shakespeare, but few of our students would know any of his plays. The main reason is that educators feel that the language is too complex. However, I have always felt that this is not justification enough to deprive students of the beauty of Shakespeare’s stories. So, when I came across this set of abridged Shakespearean stories I bought it with no real plans on how it would come in useful. What I liked in particular is that these books are a quick-read with large fonts, crucial to draw in reluctant readers.

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Whenever I have a class of students who struggle with independent reading (practically every year) I allocate one term in which students choose their own books to read rather than follow a designated class reader. Usually this includes regular visits to the library, sessions of book recommendations and generic activities, however, this year I wanted to use the Shakespearean set. In pairs, students chose a book from the available options and they were given two lessons in which to read it and take notes to fill a book review sheet. Afterwards, they had to select their favourite scene and create the corresponding dialogue. I don’t hide the fact that due to absenteeism and several outings, this took longer than I anticipated. Eventually, students started working on the cutouts for shadow puppetry. A colleague suggested using the class projector to facilitate the tracing of the characters’ outline and this worked brilliantly.

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Some kebab-sticks, a torch, a box was turned into a theatre with a sheet of parchment paper and we were set to go.

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The creative aspect of the project generated a lot of interest in the students and while they were helping each other to set up their puppetry show, students were sharing the stories. Some looked up film adaptations and a few even asked me to borrow a couple of the other books to read at home. The following video shows snippets from a selection of the students’ presentations.

 

 

 

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Flipgrid – a few months after

Last year I felt dissatisfied with the work I was assigning related to speaking skills. Most of the speaking happens coincidentally in my class whether we are brainstorming ideas for an essay, discussing the topic of a comprehension or retelling a chapter of a book. However, I wanted something more structured where speaking skills are the ultimate objective of the lesson. I already had a few lessons which used role-play and picture interpretation to target speaking but I wanted a lesson where students could reflect on and evaluate their performance. Along comes Flipgrid. The premise is brilliant – a video discussion platform, and it is absolutely safe and free.

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The plan was that students would be assigned monthly tasks to do on Flipgrid. Initially, I would be the only one watching their video and providing feedback until eventually they would start sharing their videos and even build a ‘conversation’. The tasks consisted of introducing themselves, hobbies, book talks, movie reviews until eventually the issues started popping up, the number of responses started dwindling and I stopped the project with a heavy heart but also with the knowledge that this was an ‘arrivederci’ and not a goodbye.

The pros:

Easy-to-use, free, enables personalization, allows students to record short videos of themselves, they can film themselves as often as they need until they are happy with a version they are willing to submit for feedback. Feedback is sent to the student and is not visible to others.

The cons:

Some students had issues with the website and came during the break to submit their replies, perhaps their computer was not equipped with a microphone and camera. There is a deep reluctance to film themselves, they especially hate the idea of sharing their videos with the rest of the class. As a compromise I allowed them the possibility to film a pet/ a soft toy/ a still image/ themselves wearing a mask and record a voiceover, but in reality this defeats the purpose of practicing their presentation skills.

Bottomline:

I will try using Flipgrid again next year because the potential is appealing enough to warrant another try, however, I hope this time round I hope I manage to instill not only better speaking skills but also self-confidence.

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Game-based Learning

I remember myself spending hours in front of the playstation. That does not mean that I did not read or do my work, but my holidays were always filled with the excitement of a pc or a ps game. Nowadays, I have less time for that; but I never refuse a games’ night with a couple of friends or a card game during a family picnic. Whether digital games, board games or card games, the thrill of the game is invigorating.

That is why my long essay during my studies was an exploration of games in the teaching of English. What better way to revive the students’ excitement for learning than a game?  There are many books with numerous ideas of how to include games in your teaching. These are some of my favourites:

Language to go by Araminta Crace

inspiration: Teacher’s Resource Pack by Jan Bell

Timesaver Games by Jane Myles   

Grammar: Games and Activities for Teachers by Peter Watcyn-Jones

Following are a few ideas how I have used games in my teaching.

Ready-made games

There is a wide range of games for ESL classes. The following is a collection of games provided by the school where I teach or ones I have personally purchased. I have used some games specifically as a way to introduce a language point or to give a context in which a language point can be drilled. I also use games as a motivation for students to finish their work, by allowing a group who is ready early to play a language game while the others are still working.

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Role-playing Games

These are games where students take up fictitious roles. I wanted to consolidate reported speech. I told the students that they are at a party and they have to mingle with the other guests. I gave all the students a statement on a slip of paper, such as; I am feeling tired, I have just lost my job, My sister is getting married. While mingling they had to say that statement to the other guests. They had five minutes. After those five minutes they had another five minutes in which they had to remember as many statements as possible and write them down following this model: Mrs Carabott said that …. The winner was the person with the most accurate number of reported sentences.

This lesson can be adapted to any level, depending on the intricacy of the sentences on the papers.

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Escape Rooms

I am a big fan of escape rooms. What better way than locking your students inside the class to get them to study? 🤭 However, the tricky bit was that I wanted this to be related to the content I was teaching them at the moment. So, I informed them that it would be a good idea to revise their set poems and know them well *evil laugh*. On the day, the students divided themselves into groups. They found a set of statements on the board, each referring to one of the set poems we did in class throughout the year. The poems were printed out, numbered and attached to the class walls. The students figured out the code and managed to open the first lock. They had other challenges which tested their knowledge of quotes, figures of speech and themes. Luckily, by the end of the lesson one of the teams succeeded to find the key to the door and saved the rest of their classmates from a horrible fate of additional time in the English Room.

It was a smash, the kids loved it and I loved seeing all  of them doing their utmost to help their teammates. 

 

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Sometimes, we tend to limit our use of games to beginners or reluctant students, however, it is a pity that we overlook the benefits of game-based teaching with our stronger students. The choice is so varied that we can find something for all levels, addressing practically all our objectives.

 

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Interactive Displays for the Secondary Class

The classroom is an essential part of my methodology. Not only does it allow me to control the seating setup but it also provides a resource for learning. This post will visit a couple of ideas that I’ve put in practice along the years. Many of the ideas have been inspired from other teachers while some are the fruit of a little experimenting. What you need is a school system that supports teacher-based classrooms and lots of patience. The only encouragement I can give you, is that it is worth your time because a warm classroom set-up will translate in more learning and increased student appreciation for what you do.

  1. Writing Display

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Throughout the year I select some of the students’ writing tasks to display in class. I include a sample of each genre that we do during the scholastic year to serve as a visual reminder that different genres have different stylistic requirements. Sometimes I choose the best essay and use the display to award the student for the effort, whereas at other times I ask a student to edit the essay and use the board to motivate the student to do that little bit of extra work. At the end of the year both the students and I feel a sense of accomplishment in the knowledge that they can write a variety of genres. I have included the composition marking criteria  so that students who are absent on the day when essays have been collected, can copy the criteria from the display before handing in their work.

2. Vocabulary Display2018-05-28 11.18.27

The vocabulary display is largely the responsibility of the students. Throughout the term, they decide which vocabulary should be displayed on the wall. A student in each class has the responsibility of taking note of any new vocabulary discussed during the lesson, irrespective of whether it is during a language or literature lesson. At the end of the lesson these words are attached to the wall using blue tack. Once every term I remove the words from the display and distribute them equally among the students. They have a couple of days in which to look up the definitions. Afterwards, they challenge other groups by reading a definition and checking whether the other teams remember the word. The objective of the lesson is to consolidate vocabulary learnt during the scholastic year. The fun element is a bonus 🙂

3. Making Memories

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Teaching is a journey in which we meet many people along the way. At the end of the year I take a picture of the students (the ones whose parents would have consented). These pictures are eventually displayed in the bubbles floating around the English tea-cup. The idea is that visiting ex-students enjoy reminiscing about the old days, whereas new students feel a sense of reassurance that their siblings, cousins, friends were previously in this class. It is always a nice conversation starter for the new students looking at the pictures of former students.

4. Discussion Windows

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One of my favourite teaching objective is the argumentative essay. However, to attain that skill, students work in groups to brainstorm the pros and cons of a variety of topics. These topics include: siblings, computers, marriage, tattoos and so on. These topics are often selected based in the students’ age and areas of interest. During the lesson the groups write the advantages on the yellow strips of paper and the disadvantages on the red strips of paper. At the end of the lesson they use blue tack to attach them to the windows. Initially, I used to feel that the windows were actually wasted display space, however, the window panes provide a neat line of demarcation between the different topics.

5. Literary Terminology2018-05-28-11-17-35-e1527702136108.jpg

You already got the idea. No space is wasted in my class. These beautiful posters can be bought from the website Teacherspayteachers. I liked this particular set because it provides a comprehensive list of literary terminology with definitions and examples. It is a good idea to laminate the posters so that you enjoy them for a number of years. I believe that the fact that important literary terminology is on display in class all year long, can help students’ memory retention of what is otherwise technical information.

6. BFG Display

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This display was one of my first. Back then I taught form 1 students and among the available texts we had Roald Dahl’s BFG. For those of you who are familiar with the story, you might remember the part where Sophie discovers that the children’s dreams were stored in jars. During one of the lessons students wrote their dreams on coloured card-board.   These dreams were read in class and the rest of the students had to guess who was the owner of the dream. Eventually the dreams were displayed in class. I love working on displays inspired by literature, following are two more examples. These were created to showcase students’ work in the school’s corridors.

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On a final note, I would enjoy reading some of your ideas on how you use displays in your teaching. I still have some empty spots in class. ;P

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Youth Fair

How often have we asked the boys not to spend all the day on their gadget or computer? However, do we offer alternatives? Does the community around our students provide activities they can engage in?

On April 27th 2016 our school organized a Youth Fair with the main goal of encouraging students to establish a balance between their time spent online and offline and to consider participating in sports, volunteering and a number of alternative activities within their community. Speakers from the Malta Communications Authority, the office of the Commisioner for Children’s Rights, Appogg and the e-learning department accepted our invitation to address our students in informative talks. Furthermore, a number of additional entities took part in an exhibition in which they informed our students of their services. These included Centru Tbexbix, the student advisory service at Junior College, Cottonera Resource Centre, Tghanniqa, Kellimni.com, Agenzija Zghazagh, Kalkara Football Nursery, the Pharmacy Department at University and the school’s Book Club.

A number of parents joined us during the event, and we hope that more parents will be attending these events in the future. It is important that all the stakeholders join forces to enhance our students’ education.

This event was organized by Mrs Sephora Busuttil, Mrs Diana Carabott, Mrs Marlene Galea,  Mr David Salem Rizzo and Mr Simon Schembri.

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Book Club

Every Wednesday during the mid-day break form one students meet up and choose books which are both age appropriate and do not exceed three hundred pages. Yes! The thickness of the book is an issue with struggling or hesitant readers, so keep your unabridged classics locked away unless you want your kids to roll their eyes and stamp their foot. Opt for a couple of these series instead which the students will feel comfortable holding in their hands. For humour check out Stink by Megan McDonald or Geronimo Stilton published by Scholastic, for horror check The Saga of Darren Shan by Darren Shan and anything by author R.L. Stine. For fantasy my best bet would be Beast Quest by Adam Blade and for action-packed stuff check work by the acclaimed author Anthony Horowitz.

Our library is well-stocked with most of my suggestions and once they have a book in their hand students can join the Teen Book Club weekly to discuss their choices and listen about what their friends are reading. Form one students have also benefited from the help and support of fifth formers who have guided their assigned buddy during their reading. Students’ progress is recorded on a record sheet, whereby we log in the books they have read, level of difficulty and genre. Upon the completion of a book, students get a green ticket. Upon completing the record sheet (10 books) students will be entitled to a gift. Students are able to monitor their own progress by logging in books read on a personalized bookmark. The following pictures show some students who meet up every Wednesday during the mid-day break.

Throughout the years, Teen Book Club has organized fundraisers, organized short plays  in English and has also set up presentations and activities to encourage non-members to read more.

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Update 2016:

Inspired  by Epic Rap Battles, Book Club featured a short sketch in English during Celebration Day. Taking something students love, The Mutant Ninja Turtles and using it to teach them about the Renaissance Artists, felt like a major accomplishment to the Book Club Members. We were very proud of their efforts and the finished product. This was the work of all the Book Club teachers : Mrs Carabott, Mrs Bonnici and Ms Cutajar.

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Teacher Training

Many people have the wrong idea that teachers graduate, spend a couple of years preparing material and then have it easy for the rest of their career. That might have been true a long time ago, but that is certainly not the case nowadays. In-between juggling new social problems that students bring to class, a  plethora of corrections, new text books, new syllabi, new curricula, new directives and all the educational innovations some people dream about overnight, yes, teachers even find the time to invest in their own professional development.

Whether attending Professional Development sessions or In-service courses, teachers are continuously encouraged to keep up-to-date with the latest educational approaches. Furthermore, some interesting opportunities arise and teachers are invited to attend a vast array of seminars or, as this article will discuss, an Immersion Programme abroad.

Over the Easter holidays of 2015, Ms Lindsay Dimech and Ms Diana Carabott, teachers of English within St Margaret College, participated in an immersion programme in Edinburgh. This experience was enriching from both a pedagogical, as well as a cultural perspective. The tutors who delivered the training were very well-informed in their area of expertise and carried out a number of inspiring lectures and workshops where teachers from different parts of the world shared their best practices and discussed various ideas for the classroom. The participants came from Germany, Italy, France, Reunion Island and Malta.

2015-04-03 10.53.00Teachers were updated with the latest methodologies practised in different class setups. The lectures provided the participants with a lot of innovative methods to cater for mixed ability classes and actively engage students in classroom activities. These included the use of music, ICT, literature, and collaborative tasks. The benefits and limitations of CLIL were introduced and discussed. The teachers were also immersed in the language which enabled them to brush up their linguistic proficiency.

The programme included a visit to a book shop in which an expert on children and teens books provided an overview of the most popular reads amongst the younger generations and recommended the best buys according to age, gender and level of literacy. Scotland’s educational system was outlined and presented and teachers were given the opportunity to reflect and compare it to their own educational system.

In their free time the teachers visited the National Gallery and Museum of Edinburgh and various other landmarks including Calton hill and the Edinburgh castle. They also joined the locals, who were wearing kilts, in a lovely traditional dancing evening where the fiddle was played and the Ceilidh was danced. Various excursions were organised to supply the teachers with a broader cultural knowledge of this British country. Did you know that the typical non-alcoholic drink in Scotland is called IRN BRU? It is like the Scottish version of Kinnie. Do you know what haggis is? What about the meaning of the words ‘bairn’, ‘wee’ and ‘bonnie’? The cultural aspect complements the study of the language and in turn the teachers can now transmit this knowledge to their students. These visits included a tour around the East Lothian coastline and its castles including the majestic Tantallon overlooking Bass Rock. Another tour took the participants around the city of Edinburgh exploring all its nooks and crannies with anecdotes about each place.10653403_10152827180513481_8329341689243362254_n

Due to the participation of various countries this experience enabled the teachers to create links with the world outside Malta making it possible to collaborate in further educational projects.

This project was financed by Erasmus+ and the teachers shared their newly acquired knowledge not only with their students but also with their colleagues, to encourage them to participate in such inspirational programmes to further enhance their understanding of the British culture and language.

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Ict-Enhanced Learning

Ict-enhanced teaching is an essential strategy for the contemporary English classroom. Technology is an integral part of our students’ life and we would be renegating a big part of their reality if we refuse to tap into these resources and finding their educational potential.

The following clip shows two sets of lessons that I have designed, making use of ICT to teach English.  The first objective was report writing and this was done by asking half the class to view a crime, whereas the other half watched the interrogation of the suspects. Students were then asked to share information to formulate a police report. The second objective was following and giving instructions and  this was done by following a How-to video to make an origami swan and later filming their own How-to video.

This set of lessons was awarded an Embed award. This is the mission statement behind the Embed awards:

“The Directorate for Digital Literacy and Transversal Skills has a key role in promoting good practices of digital competences in the classroom. The Embed Awards recognise those whose exemplary work provides a model for teaching and learning in the digital age.

Educators are invited to submit projects based on a number of experiences and activities related to digital literacy, carried out over a period of time, so as to give ideas the time to develop and mature.”

I encourage educators to submit their work because apart from the feel good factor in being acknowledged for your efforts and innovation, you will also come across a network of like-minded educators with whom you can share ideas.

 

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Hail all Nerds!

I have always thought about writing this post, but for fear of being misunderstood, until today I never did. So I start my post excusing myself and that in itself makes me angry. When people use the term ‘Nerd’ it is always in a deprecatory tone. Ha! A Nerd! One who wears enormous spectacles, pulls their pants ridiculously high and always talks about stuff no one understands. Is that what people understand by the term Nerd? Probably! I don’t. For me a nerd is a brilliant student sitting quietly in a classroom listening to his classmates’ empty bragging about imaginary weekend conquests while his mind wanders to the ambiguous meanings behind the lyrics of a REM song or the amazing Matrix ending or the ridiculous puns found on Memes.

The Nerd is the guy the jock will deliver the post to, the one who people will call the tech wizard in the office, the one who will be paid large lumps of money for lecturing about finance and law, the one who has learnt that investing in his intelligence is far wiser than investing in fame, for the famous guy will have to start from scratch when he leaves school while knowledge accumulates. Do you think Mark Zuckerberg, Sheryl Kara Sandberg, Quentin Tarantino, Steve Jobs or Anne M. Mulcahy wasted time trying to impress their friends by piercing their face in the weirdest of places? steve-jobs-wp Outside the limited confines of school, nerds are the ones with the money and power. Students use the word ‘Nerd’ liberally often with the attempt to put down those they feel are somehow future treats. With hindsight, to these labelled nerds I say, ‘Rise to the challenge. Prove yourself a Nerd and be proud of being one. For you, life is pretty hard right now but that guy with the silly laugh will stop laughing when waiting in line for social services or  trying to make ends meet to pay the bills. Stand tall and never, ever lower your eyes to the ground in shame.’

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Deal with the real.

When people discuss banning exams I always wonder whether it is some kind of maternal instinct to protect the child talking or a real belief that no matter how varied, an exam can never be a fair measure of all the possible skills out there.

To give merit where it is due it is my belief that exams have improved along the years, changing from a series of repeated gap-fillers to more engaging questions. Some exam papers even include graphics and a whole range of assessment techniques.

The whole debate though seems to center around all the stress students have to undergo before the actual sitting of the exam. Parents get worried watching their children breaking their school-museum/football-homework-tv routine to a school-museum/football-homework-study routine and I guess the saying is true; all work and no play made Jack a dull boy with a couple of some very exasperated parents.

No one can express my feelings better regarding exams than a self-made person like Bill Gates who has famously said; ‘Your school may have done away with winners and loosers, but life HAS NOT. In some schools they have abolished failing grades and they’ll give you as MANY TIMES as you want to get the right answer. This doesn’t bear the slightest resemblance to ANYTHING in real life.’

I remember myself as a student obsessing about any detail which might have escaped me during my numerous analysis of the textbooks. I used to make my own notes and then for good measure make shorter notes of the notes. Yes! I was obsessed. But, no, I don’t regret it. That obsession has taught me that no matter how poor your memory is, repetition drills in the longest lists of quotes and historical dates. Granted, dates and quotes I forgot the following day! That obsession has taught me the satisfaction of getting high grades after long hours of hard work. I have learned to strive for more, knowing there is no limit to how much one can achieve when the commitment and dedication is consistent. Obviously there were moments of disappointment, but from those you strengthen a backbone which keeps you standing tall when no one else believes in you.

For the dedicated scholar, hours spent on books are not wasted. Admittedly, I am not a dedicated scholar. I always preferred learning skills which give immediate satisfaction. Learning for the sake of learning is still something I hope I will have learned by the time I retire. Nonetheless, there are so many possibilities out there, so many skills one can master and in doing so one meets a very interesting set of people whose outlook in life is inspiring.

I only hope that through my job I am for my students one of those inspiring people like some teachers’ passion before had been an inspiration to me. And this is how I would like to conclude, by saluting teachers everywhere for facing ingratitude with an unwavering passion.

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