by Vicky Papageorgiou
The interview first appeared on ELTA Serbia newsletter Autumn 2018 edition
by Vicky Papageorgiou
The interview first appeared on ELTA Serbia newsletter Autumn 2018 edition
This interview first appeared on the March-April issue of the ELTA Serbia newsletter
By Vicky Papageorgiou
Daniel Xerri is a Lecturer in TESOL at the University of Malta. He is a member of IATEFL’s Conference Committee and of TESOL International Association’s Research Professional Council. Between 2015 and 2017, he was the Joint Coordinator of the IATEFL Research SIG. He holds postgraduate degrees in English and Applied Linguistics, as well as a PhD in Education from the University of York. He is the author of many publications on different areas of education and TESOL. His most recent books are The Image in English Language Teaching (2017, ELT Council), and Teacher Involvement in High-stakes Language Testing (2018, Springer). Further details about his talks and publications can be found at: www.danielxerri.com
Vicky : Daniel, first of all, I would like to thank you for agreeing to give this interview.
Daniel : Thanks so much for inviting me to be interviewed. I’m very happy to share my thoughts and work with your readers.
Vicky : You are a very active and creative person. How do you manage such multiple interests?
Daniel : I don’t sleep much and work most of the time. Joking aside, I think it’s all about doing things that I’m passionate about. I’m lucky enough to be able to find the time to work on the things I’m interested in. Writing is perhaps what I enjoy doing the most in my professional and personal life. So, I consider it natural to spend a lot of time every week working on new articles and books.
Vicky : I know that your interest fields are creativity, research, CPD, etc. The fact that one of your research fields is poetry I think is fascinating. Can you tell us about using poetry as interview stimulus material?
Daniel : In my research on creativity education, I’ve used poetry as a means of exploring the attitudes, beliefs and practices of teachers and students. This involved providing them with a reflexive poem that depicted a lesson scenario and asking them to comment on it. By discussing the poem, they revealed what they thought about creativity and the use of creative texts in the classroom. The poem acted as a stimulus for their thoughts and perspectives.
Vicky : I was reading another article of yours on ‘teacher versatility’ and creativity and how much you value the openness that teachers should cultivate so that they allow their practices in the classroom to be influenced by disciplines that could be even totally unrelated to language teaching. How do you think that teachers can accomplish this?
Daniel : Teachers are thinking beings and they have views on a myriad of things that might not be directly related to English language teaching. By tapping their different interests and by being open to external influences, they can enrich their teaching and enhance their students’ learning experience. The important thing is to be willing to make connections between elements and disciplines that might not seem to be explicitly connected. Language teaching is not a compartmentalized activity. It is something that can draw energy from other fields of activity. Being willing to enrich language lessons by means of one’s different interests is the first step to being more versatile as a teacher.
Vicky : Knowledge of the language or knowledge about the language? Which of these two is more important for a language teacher?
Daniel : I think they’re equally important and it would be mistaken to ignore either one. A fairly good level of language proficiency is necessary in order for a teacher to teach the target language but so is well-developed teacher language awareness. In fact, some argue that language awareness contributes to more effective teaching. Teachers – and by extension learners – benefit immensely from initiatives aimed at developing language proficiency, language awareness, together with knowledge of teaching methodology and other competences.
Vicky : There has been an increasing interest of English language teachers in research. What are the challenges of training teachers to do classroom research?
Daniel : One of the biggest challenges consists of the way research is conceptualized. Even though research can be a powerful form of professional development, the way some teachers think about research can act as an obstacle to them engaging with and in research. If teachers limit themselves to the conceptions of research foisted upon them by academia, then they are unlikely to see research as something that they could do in their own context.
Vicky : Can you talk to us about your plenary speech at our ELTA Serbia Conference?
Daniel : In my plenary, I plan to challenge traditional conceptions of research and demonstrate how teacher research is a democratic activity that belongs to all classroom practitioners. My talk is based on a project that investigates the views of academics, teacher trainers and teacher association leaders from around the world. The people who have contributed to this project share the view that research can be an empowering activity for teachers if they are enabled to see it as an integral part of their professional identity.
Vicky : Daniel, with already over 100 publications, a very active professional life, what are your plans for the future?
Daniel : My immediate plans are to complete two books that are being published later this year, and strive to meet the deadlines for different articles and chapters that I’m currently working on. All that is on top of refurbishing the 300-year-old house that I’ve just moved into!
Vicky : Thank you!
Maria-Araxi Sachpazian [BA education & RSA dip/tefl (hons)] is the owner of Input on Education (www.input.edu.gr), an e-consultancy firm that provides academic, business support and IT solutions to Foreign Language Schools. Maria has wide experience as a teacher, teacher trainer, educational management specialist and materials’ developer. She is also the current chairperson of TESOL Macedonia-Thrace, Northern Greece.
(This interview first appeared in the ELTA Serbia newsletter March – April 2017 issue ELTA Serbia March – April 2017 )
Vicky: Dear Maria, thank you for your time and for agreeing to give this interview!
Maria: Thank you so much, Vicky. I am so honoured to be talking to the members of ELTA Serbia and to you.
Vicky: Maria, you are an extremely busy and successful teacher, businesswoman, presenter, manager. I can go on and on with the variety of your roles… Do you miss quiet days at all?
Maria: I am blushing now. Thank you. I am indeed busy and I do miss changes in the pace of my work but I feel that quiet days are a thing of the past. I don’t know if it’s simply me and my many priorities or if it’s Greece and its financial situation but I find it very hard to reject projects or to decline invitations to present, therefore I always end up with more that I had initially bargained for. I must say, though, that I believe this is the greatest gain for us, the generation that had to suffer from the Greek financial crisis during our most productive years. This crisis has shown us what we can accomplish and how much we can do. Personally, I wouldn’t have ventured to teach abroad nor would I have invested in my own company, though keeping it is far from easy.
Vicky: Can you then describe a typical day in your life?
Maria: My days vary depending on what I have to do. I am an early riser so I am up round 6:30-7:00 and it’s usually my priority to walk Brandy, my seven-year old beagle dog. I make a point of setting out my work programme and the things I need to work on before I go to bed the previous evening so after breakfast (or rather while I have breakfast) I hit the books. Planning and in general my pedagogic deliberation is my first priority, no matter what else I have planned for the day. If I have Input projects or meetings with clients I either plan ahead or wake up earlier. My days are full of phone calls, skype meetings and also a lot of writing but I like that a lot. After lunch time (which in Greece is round two) I start my teaching day which usually finishes round 10:30 in the evening. Then I either see friends or go home and plan my next day. Fortunately, I can concentrate everywhere so I feel blessed that I can work equally well in my office, in my classroom, in the living room or at an airport.
Vicky: You are also Chair of TESOL Macedonia-Thrace and this year you organized your first TESOL Conference. Can you tell us what you consider the biggest challenge of organizing big conferences?
Maria: This is an easy answer. Money. As I told the TESOL MTH members in the AGM this year, the resources of TESOL are changing. Publishers and exam boards are still eager to help but they cannot help in the way they used to some years ago. Nowadays, TAs have to prove their worth both to the members and to the stakeholders and the money that comes from membership is equally important as the money that comes from sponsorship. A second challenge, which is still closely related to the first one mentioned, is the fact that TESOL MTH does not employ any staff or have a physical office. This means that we have to do everything ourselves and sometimes this is difficult as we are all volunteers with jobs, families.
Vicky: You are also the owner of INPUT on Education, a company that provides consultancy to language schools. How can small language schools take advantage of consultancy in such tight economic times?
Maria: Small schools were the very reason I was inspired to start Input on Education. While private schools and large Chains of Foreign Language Schools can afford to employ their own specialists, smaller schools cannot do so. The upshot of that is that owners end up playing all the roles and this means that sometimes they either get too isolated, and therefore easily scared and demotivated, or they cannot deal with certain aspects of their extremely complicated role. That’s why we have many FLS which do great work on an academic level but they have nobody to promote this and publicise it to the target audience. We also have the other example, of the school that produces a great flyer but has little substance below to support this. In this case, clients come and register but leave as soon as they realise that there is little connection between the flyer and the reality of the school. This is where IoE (Input on Education) comes in, with affordable, value-for-money, customized services we study the school and its people and suggest practical solutions.
Vicky: Recently, you gave a seminar on ‘Lesson Planning for Creative Teaching’ at City College in Thessaloniki. Can you tell us more about it? Also, allow me a second question, why does creativity in the classroom matter now more than ever?
Maria: First of all, I would like to thank Dr. Paschalia Patsala for suggesting me as a speaker and her colleagues for their help, support and warm welcome. I was very happy when this particular topic was chosen as I feel strongly about it. Lesson planning is one of my favourite topics and I believe that it has been both misrepresented and misunderstood. As a student and an RSA candidate, I remember pouring over one single lesson plan for hours and thinking what that would be like if I had to plan for 3 or 4 lessons. This is the most common problem. The process of lesson planning and the pedagogical deliberation that goes with it, is first presented to students of TEFL as very meticulous and time-consuming one. I don’t mean that it is not or that experience does not make things a bit easier. What I have seen is that most novice teachers go from the ultra-detailed lesson plan to nothing at all. Some teachers go as far as to suggest that lesson planning is a luxury. For me, it is far from a luxury. It is a necessity and an absolutely essential part of teaching which is based on the teacher’s knowledge of the material, the students and their needs and the aims that need to be accomplished. The message I tried to put forward at City College was that it makes little difference if the lesson plan is written or not, if it’s typed or handwritten, if it’s on a post-it or a special notebook what makes the greatest difference is the teacher taking some quiet time to sit down and see how to arrange the steps and stages of the choreography so that the lesson can have fluidity, cohesion and the learners are engaged. Getting learners to understand the connection between what they do in class and its usage when using the language is part of this and it cannot be accomplished when teachers go mechanically from exercise to exercise without doing much to put their own finishing touch to the material. Having said that, I don’t want to think of teachers as over-dependent on their lesson plans to the point that they cannot replace a colleague or make the necessary changes if the existing lesson plan does not seem to work.
Vicky: What are your plans for the future?
Maria: I plan to go on teaching because I feel that no matter what other things we do in our field (training, blogging, material writing, consulting) once we stop teaching we gradually become irrelevant. I am also planning to work a bit more on webinars for Input on Education so as to make sessions more affordable for teachers everywhere and finally, it is part of my plans to write a short volume on consulting based on my articles in ELT NEWS.
Vicky: I wish you all the best and a lot of success in all your ventures.
Kieran Donaghy is an award-winning writer, teacher
and trainer with a special interest in the use of film in
education. His website on the use of film in language
teaching Film English http://film-english.com/ has
won a British Council ELTons Award for Innovation in
Teacher Resources, the most prestigious European
media in education prize the MEDEA Award for User Generated
Media, and an English Speaking Union Award. He is the author of the methodology book on the use of film in language teaching Film in Action (DELTA Publishing). You can find out more about Kieran and his work at his website http://kierandonaghy.com/
(This interview was first published on the ELTA Serbia newsletter July-August 2016 issue )
Vicky: First of all, Kieran, I would like to say that it is a pleasure to have you with us.
Kieran Donaghy: Thank you very much for inviting me.
Vicky: Your last book, ‘Film in Action’ has been out for some time now and has truly
made an impact. This is the first one actually you are not co-authoring. What are the
challenges of writing a book on your own, without sharing the ‘load’ with someone
Kieran Donaghy: ‘Film in Action’ has been out for just over a year now, and it has a
lot of very positive reviews. My publisher, Delta Publishing, are very happy as sales
are very high for a methodology book. Writing a methodology book on my own was a
real challenge; I’d previously co-authored books and this has lots of advantages –
you share the workload, you can bounce ideas off each other, and you can help to
motivate each other when things get tough. When you write a book on your own it
can be a very solitary experience. However, I had the great fortune of having a truly
wonderful editor, Mike Burghal, who put his heart and soul into the project, and in
many ways it was as if I had a co-author in Mike as he helped guide me and motivate
me throughout the writing process. If the book is any good, at least half of the credit
has to go to Mike for the fantastic work he did on it.
Vicky: You are a fervent believer that films can play an important role in education.
What will this role be?
Kieran Donaghy: This is an excellent question which requires quite a detailed
answer. Firstly, we need to examine the role of film in society. Today, we acquire the
majority of our information through moving image media: the cinema, the television,
the internet, and the screens that surround us where we work, shop, travel, socialise,
and learn. Film is very much at the heart of these moving image media which are an
important and valuable part of our culture. Technological developments, such as the
advent of the internet and the digital revolution, the proliferation of mobile devices
which allow us to capture moving images easily, the introduction of cheap and
accessible video editing tools and the emergence of video-sharing sites such as
YouTube and Vimeo, have changed for ever the way moving images relate to
society. In his excellent book The Age of the Image, which I think is required reading
for any educator, Stephen Apkon argues: ‘What we are now seeing is the gradual
ascendance of the moving image as the primary mode of communication around the
world: one that transcends languages, cultures and borders. And what makes this
new era different from the dawn of television is that the means of production – once
in the hands of big-time broadcasting companies with their large budgets – is now
available to anyone with a camera, a computer and the will.’
The fact that children and young people now have access to technology which allows
them to become media producers in their own right has important consequences for
our society and educational system.
It would seem, therefore, to make sense for schools to focus on the moving image
and capitalise on students’ knowledge and enthusiasm. However, many teachers
believe that a focus on core issues in the curriculum does not allow time for films and
television. Furthermore, there is a tendency in society to assume that moving image
media are bad for children and could detract from ‘real’ education. On the whole, our
educational systems have been very slow to respond to the new visual technologies
and the ascendance of the moving image in our society.
In English Teaching and the Moving Image, Andrew Goodwyn comments on the
failure of our educational systems to embrace the moving image effectively: ‘Given
the prominence of the moving image in twentieth century culture, and the current
evidence that it seems to be even more dominant in the twenty-first, it may seem
more peculiar that its study is not at the heart of a postmodern education.’
To better understand this slow reaction of our educational systems to the new visual
technology and the dominance of the moving image, it is necessary to explore the
concept of literacy which is currently undergoing a radical change and its impact on
our educational systems.
Literacy has been traditionally linked to an alphabet or a language code – that is,
through reading and writing – and linked with print media. There has been a strong
dependence on linguistic theories to define literacy. Consequently, education has
been dominated for centuries by written language and by print in particular. For a
long period, the book was the dominant medium of communication. However, with
the challenge of a technologically evolving landscape and the ascendance of the
image, particularly the moving image, the screen has taken that place. The fact that
the book has now been superseded by the screen in the role of dominant medium of
communication means the definition of literacy as decoding print is now outdated and
deficient, we must combine language-based theory with semiotics (the study of signs
and symbols and how they are used) and other visual theories, to provide an
appropriate meaning to the term ‘literacy’ in the twenty-first century.
As literacy, in its broadest sense, now reflects a wider cultural competence, the
hugely important role of film in our culture and society should be sufficient
justification for ensuring their integration in our educational systems. The importance
of visual literacy in education is widely acknowledged. It is generally agreed that
education needs to develop students’ skills and ability to interpret image and to
communicate visually, and in schools there is a very gradual move away from a
reliance on print as the primary medium of dissemination and instruction towards
visual media and the screen. However, visual literacy and, more particularly, film
literacy are still absent from, or on the margins of, national and international policy
agendas. While the ‘traditional’ arts such as music, art and literature have long been
established as core elements of national curricula in many countries, film education
has typically been ignored. There is a lack of understanding by policy makers about
the importance of film in children’s lives and, as a consequence, in our educational
systems. There is also a lack of a structured, systematic opportunity for students to
watch, analyse, interpret and understand films, and even less opportunity for
students to make their own films as part of their overall preparation for adult life.
If students are to successfully meet the social, cultural, political and economic
demands of their futures, they need to be able to read and write in all forms of
communication. The film director George Lucas asks the pertinent question: ‘If
learners aren’t taught this new language of sound and images shouldn’t they be
considered as illiterate as if they left college without being able to read and write?’
Educating children and young people to be film literate is about democratic
entitlement and civic participation. The skills needed for the modern day workplace
are quite different from what they were even twenty years ago, yet our educational
systems seem to be caught in a time trap. In our schools, we urgently need the
introduction of structured, systematic opportunities for students to watch, analyse,
interpret and understand films, and opportunities for students to make their own films
as part of their overall preparation for life.
Educational programmes should make use of visual and digital media, and show
students how to make their own visual texts, which better prepare students for their
futures in a rapidly-changing world because, film-making develops many of the life
skills – such as communication, creativity, collaboration, innovation, conflict
management and decision making – that are increasingly valued in the modern-day
I’m sorry that my response has been so lengthy, but I hope it answers your question.
Vicky: Is there a visual language analogous to written language? How easy is it for
us teachers to teach our learners how to critically think about it?
Kieran Donaghy: Yes, there is undoubtedly a visual language which is analogous to
written language, but to comprehend this visual language we need to explore the
terms ‘text’, ‘to read’, and ‘to write’. Text has traditionally referred to a book or other
written or printed work. However, we can also use the terms ‘visual text’ to refer to
photos and paintings, and ‘moving image text’ to refer to feature films, clips, short
films and videos, as well as learner-generated content. They are texts, in the same
way that books are texts – in the sense that they can be read (analysed and
interpreted) and written (created). To read has been used for centuries to refer to the
action of decoding and understanding written or printed texts, and to write has
conventionally referred to the ability to communicate in writing or print.However, we
can also use the term ‘read the screen’ to mean to analyse and interpret moving
image texts, and the term ‘write the screen’ to mean to make moving image texts.
So it’s necessary not just to think of texts as only books, reports, books etc, but also
photos, paintings, videos, films, etc. When we understand that photos, painting,
videos and films are visual texts we see that we can analyse and interpret them.
Indeed print and moving image texts share many common textual strategies. Both
print and moving image texts:
• tell stories;
• differentiate between fact and fiction;
• present characters;
• convey a sense of place and context;
• include generic features that help us to recognise certain types of stories.
Research also shows there are many connections between the processes involved in
reading print texts and moving image texts. Children who are able to draw on these
connections and parallels between moving image texts and print texts are more likely
to become confident and critical readers across different media, including print.
The concept of narrative is fundamental in linking print and moving image media. By
exploring how a moving image text ‘tells a story’, children use the concrete examples
of the visual to develop their comprehension of the more abstract nature of written
Children’s understanding of narrative structure, and their ability to develop
understanding of characterisation and plot, are similar for both print and moving
image texts. Thus, print literacy and moving image literacy are not mutually
exclusive, but can be developed alongside each other to mutual benefit to enhance
learners’ understanding of all texts.
To answer the question about how easy is it for us teachers to teach our learners
how to critically think about it, I would say it can be very difficult as the vast majority
of teachers have received no specific training in visual literacy or media production. I
feel strongly that training in visual literacy and media production should become a
standard requirement for all teacher teaching training programmes so that teachers
can learn to teach communication in all its forms and build systematic opportunities
for their students to watch, analyse, interpret and understand moving images texts.
Sooner or later ELT has to deal with the issue of visual literacy, but seems very
reluctant to do so.
Vicky: Your very successful blog site, Film English, is now known and used by the
majority of ESL teachers worldwide. Updating such a blog regularly, like you have
been doing for years, with new lesson plans may, at some point, become a routine.
How do you keep your enthusiasm and motivation high with this project?
Kieran Donaghy: I’ve been writing lesson plans designed around short films for Film
English for the last 6 years. The site has been more successful than I ever imagined
even in my wildest dreams; there are about 35,000 subscribers and it gets about
10,000 page views a day. However, it’s very difficult to find the time to maintain it
regularly as I have full-time teaching schedule, do teacher training, speak at
conferences, write books and articles, as well as having a family. I used to add a new
lesson plan every week but that’s impossible now; I try to add new materials every 2
or 3 weeks now, but as I don’t charge anything for the materials and as I get more
requests to do writing projects which pay, and I need to pay my rent, it’s more difficult
to update the site regularly. Having said that, the positive feedback I get from
teachers around the world does help to maintain my enthusiasm and motivation. In
addition, Film English has always been a labour of love for me and I put a lot of
myself into the materials, so that also keeps me motivated.
Vicky: Where/how do you find the films you use in your lesson plans? How time consuming a process is it?
Kieran Donaghy: I find nearly all the short films I use on Film English on Vimeo
which is a video sharing site. What makes Vimeo different from YouTube is that it is
a relatively small community of film-makers who share their short films on the site;
you don’t get the overwhelming quantity of videos you get on YouTube, and the
quality of the short films is much higher; so it’s much easier to find high-quality,
artistic short films on Vimeo than it is on YouTube. On Vimeo I only watch films which
are on the Staff picks channel, which, as its name suggest, is a channel where the
people who work at Vimeo select what they think are the best short films. When I first
started writing materials for Film English it took me an incredible amount of time to
find the sort of short films which are effective in the language classroom. However,
now after having watched literally thousands of short films, I’ve got almost a sixth
sense for the type of film which will work well with language students, and it doesn’t
take me so long. Nonetheless, it’s still a very time-consuming process to find just the
Vicky: Kieran, thank you for your time!
Kieran Donaghy: An absolute pleasure, Vicky!
Olja Milosevic has been involved in second and foreign language teaching at all levels in primary, secondary and tertiary education. She holds a PhD in Applied Linguistics and is primarily interested in second language acquisition and maintaining mother tongue. Olja is also interested in teacher training.
(This interview appeared first on the ELTA newsletter May – June 2017)
Today I am interviewing a wonderful lady from the ELT world who also happens to be president of ELTA Serbia. I think we all deserve to know her better.
Vicky : Dear Olja, I am so happy you have agreed to do this interview with me! You are the President of ELTA Serbia and a lot of people know you. But I am also sure that you are quite a private person and do not share a lot of details about yourself. Can you tell us a few things about you so that everybody gets to know you a bit more?
Olja : I live in Belgrade and I teach English as an additional language in the International School of Belgrade. I teach grade 6, 7, 11 and 12 students. They come from many different countries and teaching them is a privilege. In my spare time, I love to hike and to spend time in nature.
Vicky : Would you like to share with us something that most people do not know about your life (an achievement, a quality of your character that is not easily discerned , etc.) ?
Olja : Most people do not know that I taught English to the elderly. That was 65+ club, but many of them were well over 80. Teaching them was a great experience.
Vicky : You are a member of the C Group, among other things. In your bio for the C Group (Creativity Group) website, I read about you: She believes that only creative teachers could stay sane. Can you explain more about what you mean with this statement?
Olja : Teaching is a wonderful profession, but also a very stressful one. Including creative elements in my lessons helps me to ‘destress’ students and when they feel well, I feel well. Also, for me, being creative means doing things differently so you are not bored, and when I enjoy the class, there are better chances that my students will, too.
Vicky : What is your motto? What is the main belief that you follow in your life and guides you?
Olja : One of my teachers told us once that you may compare your life to a piece of writing. One of his rules was that each essay we write should have a margin. The margin makes writing easy to read and pleasing to the eye. To have a successful life you need to draw a margin (a line) and have a life outside of work / school / university. I love my job, but there are so many other things that are important and not related to it.
Vicky: We were only introduced last year for the first time but I was pleasantly surprised by you because, most of the times, women in leadership positions, have frequently be described as unapproachable, dominant and/or aggressive. You, on the other hand, are a very warm and kind person. Theorists argue that this has been the case with women because in trying to attain these power positions they have to assume a more male role in order for them to be identified as ‘leaders’ themselves. Do you think that strong women today can balance between power embracing their femininity more successfully, when they are in leadership positions?
Olja : I am not sure if I could act any other way. Part of it is my Balkan background. When we have guests, our sole aim is to make them feel happy and you were our dear guest, Vicky.
As for leadership, there are different leadership styles and I just happen to be comfortable with being approachable.
Vicky: What makes you such a successful President in ELTA Serbia? What are the main difficulties that you have to overcome every day?
Olja : Thank you so much for your words of praise. However, the words of praise should go to the whole team. And I guess that the success comes because we all work hard on different aspects to promote and develop our association. My biggest difficulty would be the lack of time.
Vicky : What are your plans for the future?
Olja : We are trying to develop a self sustained project for teachers. That will be my big project for the next academic year.
Vicky : Thank you so much for your time and for answering my questions. It has been an honour!
JJ Amaworo Wilson is a German-born, British-educated debut novelist. Based in the U.S., he has lived in 9 countries and visited 60. He is a prize winning author of over 20 books about language and language learning. Damnificados is his first major fiction work. His short fiction has been published by Penguin, Johns Hopkins University Press, and myriad literary magazines in England and the U.S.
(This interview appeared first on the ELTA January – February 2017 issue ELTA Serbia January – February 2017)
Vicky : J.J., thank you so much for agreeing to give this interview!
J.J. Wilson : My pleasure, Vicky!
Vicky : I know that you have traveled to a lot of countries in your life. Which one is the most memorable?
J.J. Wilson : Every country I’ve been to has at least two things that I love about it. The first is always the people.
Vicky : I personally would like to know more about the time you spent in Lesotho and your school theatre.
J.J. Wilson : I got there the year before Nelson Mandela became President of South Africa, and it was already clear that big changes were about to happen in that part of the world. I was lucky enough to get work teaching and running a school theatre, so I produced and directed plays about what was going on there. We did a lot of Athol Fugard (the great anti-apartheid playwright), but also Beckett and Shakespeare. No one has more to say about tyranny than Shakespeare.
Vicky : You are a very productive writer, not just in the ELT industry though. I know you have written short stories, for example. And about a year and a half ago, if I am not mistaken, your novel ‘Damnificados’ came out (which I really loved reading, by the way!). Tell us about the Tower and how you came up with the idea of your novel.
J.J. Wilson : Firstly, thank you! I’m glad you liked Damnificados! I was on a book tour in Venezuela some years ago, and I couldn’t sleep. I took a long, late-night walk and saw the Torre David (Tower of David). The tower was unfinished, but hundreds of homeless people had moved in and built a community. I’d known nothing about the tower, but when I got back to the States I researched it. I discovered that the community living there was incredibly creative and resilient, like many poor communities. For example, the lift was broken so they built wooden ramps up the side of the tower and motorcycle boys gave people rides. They built an outdoor gym on the helicopter pad at the top of the tower, using leftover building materials – pulleys and iron bars. Their resourcefulness inspired me to write about them, but I turned to fiction because that’s how my mind works.
Vicky : ‘A modern day David & Goliath of epic proportions’, ‘Moses meets the desperados’, ‘Mad Max meets the favelas’. Which of these metaphors better represents your first novel?
J.J. Wilson : All of them! There are a lot of Biblical references in the novel. The hero is a Moses figure, discovered beside a river when he was a baby. He later leads his people to the Promised Land – the tower. I included a terrible flood in the novel. That’s taken from the Bible, although there are floods in the literature of all the major religions. The tower is also the Tower of Babel, with everyone speaking different languages. The Bible is full of great stories that writers can steal.
Vicky : One of the central messages that your novel conveys is that of social justice. Do you feel that social justice is a utopia in the world we live in?
J.J. Wilson : Utopia is like the horizon – beautiful and always out of reach. We walk ten paces towards it and it’s still out of reach. We walk a thousand paces and it’s still out of reach. We walk a thousand miles and it’s still out of reach. And that’s the point of Utopia. It keeps us moving. The struggle for social justice will never end. Humans are too flawed. Moving towards Utopia is all we can do.
Vicky : When narrating a story like the one in the Damnificados, does it actually sound ‘inevitable’ to resort to magical realism because…how else can you portray the absurdity of our times?
J.J. Wilson : I don’t think it’s inevitable. That story, like all stories, can be told in a straight, factual way or in a satirical way, as Orwell would have told it. Magical realism was a style I adopted because of what I like to read and because it’s the great Latin American style, practiced by some of my favourite writers: Marquez, Allende, Borges, and Asturias.
Vicky : While you tackle on many different issues (homelessness, urban social politics of power), you also make an interesting point about polyglotism. Introducing languages means we are forced to recognize diversity. One thing you were not afraid to use in your novel was languages! Do your damnificados respect each other’s diversity more than people in the rest of the society? And why?
J.J. Wilson : I’m not sure they respect one another’s diversity more than anyone else. They’re just used to the fluidity of languages. It’s like this in many parts of the world. There are parts of Nigeria where you’ll go out to get your morning coffee and newspaper and you’ll speak four different languages before breakfast. Australian aborigines might switch languages when they arrive at a certain river or rock, because that river or rock belongs to a different linguistic culture. The damnificados in my novel simply have to work together to survive, regardless of race or nationality or language. It’s not a choice they make out of respect. It’s out of necessity.
Vicky : I know writing takes up a lot of time but I also know you love it. Are there any plans for a new novel or an ELT book?
J.J. Wilson : I’m working on books in both fields – ELT and fiction. It’s good to switch between the two. They use different parts of the brain!
Vicky : Thank you so much for your time!
*I hereby certify that I have the right to publish these photos
For over a year now, I have started interviewing several people of the ELT world for the ELTA Serbia newsletter and I am now going to share these interviews on my blog. I hope you find them interesting. My first interview was with the lovely Shelly Terrell. Here it goes.
Interview with Shelly Sanchez Terrell
by Vicky Papageorgiou
(This interview appeared first on the ELTA March-April 2016 issue )
Shelly Sanchez Terrell is an international speaker, teacher trainer, elearning specialist, and the author of The 30 Goals Challenge for Teachers and Learning to Go. She has trained teachers and taught learners in over 20 countries as an invited guest expert and has been recognized by the ELTon Awards, The New York Times, NPR, and Microsoft’s Heroes for Education as a leader in the movement of teacher driven professional development. Recently, she was named Woman of the Year by Star Jone’s National Association of Professional Women, awarded a Bammy Award as a founder of #Edchat, and named as one of the Big 10: Most Influential People Transforming EdTech by Tech & Learning (2015). In 2015, she founded Edspeakers to help spread diverse voices at education conferences worldwide.
Twitter handle- @ShellTerrell
Vicky : Hi! First of all, I would like to say that it is a pleasure to have you as a guest.
Shelly : It’s my pleasure. Whenever I can meet up with friends, even virtually, I try to make the time.
Vicky : I know that you are extremely busy every day trying to juggle an amazing number of tasks successfully so I‘d like to ask you to describe a typical day of yours.
Shelly : I have two types of typical days. If I’m not traveling, my day consists of at 1 to 3 virtual trainings with teachers either via a webinar or learning management system (LMS), grading, updating websites, phone call meetings for consultations or projects, conducting interviews, and hours on social media (Twitter, FB, Instagram, Voxer, LinkedIn, GooglePlus, my blog, etc.) for my various passion projects and as one of the social media managers for American TESOL. Most of my day is spent creating and designing content. Typically, I write at least one blog post or article a day, create a lesson plan, and do some graphic design. I also help at least one or more teachers find resources.
I travel at least 100 days a year and usually more. When I travel, I do most of the rest above in addition to giving keynotes and workshops in countries worldwide.
Vicky : Can you tell us where you are teaching/working currently?
Shelly : Currently, I work for American TESOL as an instructional designer, social media specialist, and instructor for the course I designed, ESLTEC.com. I also work as an ESL Specialist for the U.S. Embassy and Georgetown University. I also manage the various projects I’ve founded, which include The 30 Goals Challenge for Teachers (30Goals.com) and Edspeakers.com.
Vicky : You initiated the movement called ‘30EduGoals’ and hundreds of teachers followed you and started writing, reflecting on their practice and blogging because of you. How does it feel really to be able to have an impact on so many people from different cultural backgrounds and different countries?
Shelly : I feel really blessed to be able to inspire and help teachers worldwide. Teachers are what help shape the world. I still pinch myself and am in awe that teachers complete the goals and share their passion with me daily.
Vicky : Your book is already a big hit. Do you have any future plans for a new book?
Shelly : I also published Learning to Go with The Round. I’m working on a few projects including a digital citizenship book, Byte-Sized Potential in a Digital World of Possibilities. This one involves lessons to help students learn science, math, and English, but also impact their world through social media. I’ve already tested out some activities with teachers worldwide and give some free templates on my blog, TeacherRebootCamp.com, such as the student epic selfie adventure and creating hashtag movements. I am working on a lesson book based on the use of emoticons and emojis for writing and literacy. I also do creative writing and am working on finishing my second novel.
Vicky : I also know you are a visiting lecturer in Venezuela (or is this a permanent position? – You have to enlighten me here). How easy is it to teach in another country? What can be the possible problems?
Shelly : I love the teachers in Venezuela. I have many close friendships there now. VENTESOL has adopted me into their family and I’m thankful especially to VENTESOL President, Mary Allegra, who has created the many projects to have me visit and work with such a dedicated group. I am fortunate the U.S. Embassy and VENTESOL have continued to bring me back to help them develop and design online courses at the universities, train teachers on how to integrate technology and mobile learning, and help institutions develop their own textbooks.
Vicky : When DO you find some free time for your private life with such a busy schedule?
Shelly : I have to make time and will often send myself Google calendar reminders to take time off. I’ve learned to let go of perfection in my work and be satisfied with great work but having a life. When I travel to other countries, I take time to visit with friends and go on adventures. When I’m with friends, family, or loved ones, I put down my phone and other digital devices so I can give the moments the attention they deserve. Of course, this is a learning process and in the beginning I wasn’t so great at taking time for myself. I’ve realized it is really important so I keep up with my health, spirit, and passion.
Vicky : Thank you so much for your time!
My interview to Vicky Loras!
Our February interview is HERE! This time, with a great educator from Thessaloniki, Greece – Vicky Papageorgiou! Vicky and I met in person last year for the first time and she is the amazing generous person you can see on social media, engaging every day and sharing great content.
Vicky Papageorgiou is a foreign language teacher (English, Italian, Greek) with approximately 20 years of experience with mainly adult learners. For over 15 years she has been preparing students for English language exams of various exam boards. She holds an MA in Education (Open Univ. of Cyprus) and an MA in Art (Goldsmiths College, UK) and she is currently studying at University of Wales Trinity Saint David for her PGCE in Technology Enhanced Learning. She studied in Greece, Italy and the UK but also participated in an international project for the McLuhan program in Culture and Technology for the University of Toronto, Canada. Her fields of interest are Inquiry-Based Learning, ESL and Art, translation, use of video. She is currently based…
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This is my 2nd interview in which I present another creative colleague and a very dear friend, Christina Martidou. We first met here in Thessaloniki, our hometown, and we ‘clicked’ immediately. I particularly like her inquisitive and restless spirit which led her to create, along with her sister Marina, a little ‘gem’ : a digital storybook for young learners of English, «Dylan & Lydia», which is actually the theme of our interview! I have to tell you though that this is actually a ‘double’ interview. After interviewing Christina, I asked her to interview her students who took part in the making of this storybook by lending their voices. I think she did an excellent job and we have come up with a wonderful video which I hope you will enjoy watching and which will also give you a better idea of her work.
Interview with Christina Martidou
Vicky : Christina, so nice to have you here!
Christina : It’s my great pleasure and honour, Vicky!
Vicky : Christina, I hear 2 little kids, Dylan and Lydia have stolen your heart!!! Who are they?
Christina : That’s right! Dylan and Lydia are the main characters of my first digital storybook designed for young learners of English around the world.
Vicky : Now, how did you come up with the idea that two small children like them could actually ‘choose’ their own fate?
Christina : I generally believe in the power of choice and creating one’s own destiny. Throughout our lives we face various dilemmas and the decisions we make, lead us to different paths or can even change our lives forever. For me, it’s good to let children know early on that actions have consequences and we should use our power to choose as wisely as we can.
In the case of our storybook, we also thought that offering ‘Dylan’ and ‘Lydia’ the opportunity to choose their own fate empowers the user who can pick the direction of the story in the role of the protagonists and create his own reading path.
Additionally, it makes the storybook even more interesting and rich in content since the readers can enjoy two completely different stories with different endings and morals in one App!
Vicky : Can you tell us a bit more about the plot?
Christina : Dylan and Lydia are two amiable 9 year-old- twins who live in Oxford. On a day trip to London, they meet Madame Sonya, a famous Fortune teller, who will slyly try to trick them into her evil plans. The twins have the chance to travel to a wondrous place for children called ‘Fantasy Land’ or experience adventurous moments with notorious pirates on a real pirate ship! Dylan and Lydia end up learning important life lessons about the value of true friendship and trust.
Vicky : Who wrote the story? How did you get inspired?
Christina : My younger sister Marina and I came up with the stories on a boat trip to Corfu, a beautiful Greek island. Then, I set out to write the stories in English and design the accompanying activities, dictionaries and games.
Our sources of inspiration have definitely been all the fairytales and Disney movies we have read and watched throughout the years. Writing and publishing our very own children’s book was one of our childhood dreams. This storybook is the outcome of a greater need to be creative in a time of deep financial crisis and stagnation in Greece.
Vicky : How difficult was the realization of this dream (making this app) and how long did it take?
Christina : It was much more challenging than we had originally anticipated. It took us about 6-7 months of full-time work to complete this project. However, this has been by far the most enjoyable and creative experience of my professional life and we really look forward to the ‘Dylan and Lydia’ sequel. Needless to say that this App wouldn’t have been realized, without the invaluable help of remarkable colleagues like Hanna Kryszewska, Charles Boyle Edmund Dudley, John Hughes and Esther Martin. My students’ contributions also make this storybook stand out.
Vicky : I know that several of your students took part in the making of ‘Dylan and Lydia’. Can you tell us more about this experience? How easy or difficult was it to include them in this process?
Christina : My students participated in the whole process very actively! Firstly, we had all the materials (texts, graphic designs, games& activities) tried and tested by 9- 12 year old students (boys and girls) from different backgrounds and language levels. Their feedback was really valuable and we actually implemented many of their ideas in the storyline.
More importantly, the roles of the main characters have been narrated by students of mine who are non-native speakers of English. Thus, when children read the storybook, they can easily relate to other fluent young learners of English. The experience at the recording studio was unique! My students were more than happy to participate and thrilled to visit a recording studio! However, some of them were initially intimidated by the microphone. The tricky part for us was to achieve a satisfying level of performance (good pronunciation and acting) without losing students’ spontaneity by having them repeat their lines again and again. Luckily, with a little encouragement, the recordings were completed successfully.
Vicky : What kind of important life lessons can the children learn? Tell us a bit more about one of these life lessons!
Christina : Through the stories children empathize with the main characters and in this way learn useful life lessons. One of them is that true friends are important in life, they can help us through difficult situations and we must never betray them!
Vicky : What are your plans from now on?
Christina : I usually avoid making long- term plans. However, I do wish to keep developing both personally and professionally. Right now, I’m working on a handbook for all teachers who wish to read and explore our educational App with their students. It will include extra language activities, worksheets, DIY crafts and drawings for further practice and fun! This will soon be published on my personal edtech blog (http://christinamartidou.edublogs.org/) and it’ll be free to download.
Thank you for this interview Vicky mou !!!
In fact, just before we were ready to publish her interview, Christina had already prepared this handbook and was kind enough to offer it to all our readers today. Here it is!
Christina Martidou has been an English teacher for the past 14 years. She holds a degree in ‘English Language and Literature’ from the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece and an MA in ‘Media, Culture and Communication’ from UCL.
She has worked both freelance and in private schools with students of various ages and levels. She currently works at Perrotis College, American Farm School of Thessaloniki. Christina has a genuine interest in educational technology, mobile learning and continuous professional development.
Christina is the author and creative director of ‘Dylan& Lydia at the Fortune Teller’s’, a double- path digital storybook created for young learners of English (http://bit.ly/1pzv6O8 ).
She loves blogging about edtech- related topics at: http://christinamartidou.edublogs.org/
Art does not reproduce what we see; rather, it makes us see.
I met Chrysa Papalazarou, online first (through social media) and then in person, early this year, and we both thought that we had a lot in common, especially our love for art. Chrysa has been using art in her English class in a systematic way for the last 3 years and has created two blogs for this purpose. Her work caught my attention immediately because it was the first time I saw a colleague use a systematic research-based framework to ‘marry’ ELT and the Arts. The framework in discussion is Visible Thinking which stems from Project Zero (Harvard University). Even more intriguing though, is the fact that through these lesson ‘proposals’ , as she likes to call them, Chrysa tries to raise her students’ awareness on contemporary issues such as War and Peace, bullying, disabilities, etc.
The following is a video Chrysa created to talk about her work :
Chrysa, I would like to welcome you and thank you for this interview. First of all, please tell us a few things about yourself.
I work as an English teacher in a state primary school in Greece. I have also worked in secondary education and as an educator with adults from socially vulnerable groups.
I would like to ask you about your blogs and how they started.
There are 2 blogs I have worked on this year: A personal blog (Art Least http://artleast.blogspot.gr) and a class blog (Art in the English Class http://1stchaidarienglish.blogspot.gr ). I started elaborating on the idea of a personal blog, to share things I have worked on or would be working on, last summer after coming across Kieran Donaghy’s Film English, a website I love.
The Art in the English Class blog was a way to publicize students’ work during the project; a place where they could watch again the audio visual material used in class, their own photos from class work, share and read extracts from their learning journals, and an attempt towards more interaction through their comments.
Why ESL and Art?
Art is an extremely effective way of realizing educational aims and improving the quality of learning; language learning alike. I work a lot with paintings, photography and video. I try to use visual stimuli which provide an aesthetic alternative from commercial standards. I also try to choose topics that teach values. I am worried to see children so prone to acquiring a pseudo visual literacy devoid of meanings, true information and feelings. Media over exposure to consumerism ideals is responsible for that. I believe this approach enhances their ability to evaluate the huge amount of visual information they receive daily. It also helps them become active readers of images. Coupled with the powerful effect of thinking routines it can stimulate curiosity, imagination, creativity, and develop their critical thinking skills alongside their English language skills.
What is your relation to art? Have you studied art in any way?
My relation to art is that of someone who appreciates art and looks at it with wonder just like my students. There are always so many things to discover.
Do you think that any ESL teacher without any specific knowledge of art could use these lesson plans? How could they benefit?
Yes, the lesson proposals in Art Least provide step by step guidance. I use the term proposals instead of lesson plans. This is deliberate. To my mind, it means a greater degree of flexibility on how to make use of them. Someone may decide to experiment with the entire idea of the proposal or choose one or more steps and work on them. I was happy, for example, when I got feedback from colleagues who had tried out successfully in their teaching situations specific steps. The greatest benefit is in experimentation per se; in the will to try something different, a change for them and their students.
What about the students? How interested were they in these lessons?
The students were very interested and this was really rewarding. Working without textbooks, team work, ample of visual stimuli, meaningful themes, activities that ignited their curiosity, publicizing our work through the blog were some of the sources of their enthusiasm. They also loved the thinking routines we used, and this validates the Making Thinking Visible approach in that it fosters engagement and motivation.
Are you going to continue with your project next year?
This is an excellent question I keep asking myself, as well. I honestly do not know. The Art in the English Class Project has been a wonderful experience, enriching for students and me alike. But no two classes, no two projects are ever the same. I will be revisiting this question in September.
Thank you, Chrysa, for agreeing to talk to me and for your time.
Thank you, Vicky!
Anyone more interested in Chrysa’s implementation of the Visible Thinking Approach as well as Project Zero itself might find useful the links below.
Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum / Project Zero Educational Collaboration in http://www.pz.gse.harvard.edu/isabella_stewart_gardner_museum.php
Papalazarou, Chrysa. The Art of ELT & the Power of Thinking Routines in http://itdi.pro/blog/2014/06/13/the-art-of-elt-chrysa/
‘Visible Thinking’ in http://www.visiblethinkingpz.org/VisibleThinking_html_files/VisibleThinking1.html