Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Teachers learn from teachers

This time last year I was one of the lucky teachers who was taking part in the Teaching Excellence and Achievement Programme (TEA, a programme of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the U.S. Department of State). One day I was at home dreaming of becoming a better teacher and the next day, I was in Washington DC listening to experts on education, surrounded by more than 60 secondary school teachers from all over the world (Europe, Asia, the Near East, Africa, and Latin America!). I must confess I felt the luckiest person on Earth! Whenever I remember those days I can’t help but smile. Every single minute was simply extraordinary. I was not only given a unique opportunity to develop my expertise, but I also had the chance to increase my knowledge of the United States and… the world! Many people might think that having a course on methodologies, lesson planning and ICT in the U.S. was the best part, but that was not what happened. Can you guess what the most enriching experience was? Well, learning from other teachers like me was by far the best thing. I can guarantee there is no development course or conference that compares to sharing useful activities and strategies with peers.

I could really start learning from colleagues after the3-day Orientation Course in Washington. Twenty of us travelled to Bozeman, Montana and spent 6 weeks there. The programme included a forty-hour internship at a secondary school so that we could actively engage with American teachers and students. We could observe classes and we also had to deliver some (that was a real challenge!). In my case I was partnered with Erica, a social studies teacher at Bozeman High, and I had a great time observing her classes and reflecting on what happened each day. It was then that I discovered what a powerful tool observation can be. Too often we tend to view observations as necessary while “in training” but unnecessary afterwards. In fact, it was during these observations that I could get new ideas, see different teaching techniques and learn classroom management tips, even from teachers who taught literature, psychology, Spanish or science. Now, I'm totally for peer observation and I feel we should include it as part of our routines.

That was not all. As part of our training we were encouraged to share some of the favourite activities in our bag of tricks. That was AMAZING! All of us wrote several lesson plans and demonstrated different activities we loved. The plans were compiled in a booklet and we were filmed while teaching (that was fantastic but a little scary, ha ha ) and I can still have a look at any plan or activity I want to. These are 2 of my favourite, which I used in class last week when the school year began here in Argentina.

Guess! (a game you can use if you want students to get to know you). Thanks Juliana for sharing it!

You write some numbers and names which describe facts about your life on the board (6 or 7 numbers and names would be enough). I can write 34, for example, because that’s how old I am and Andrés (that’s my brother’s name). Then you divide the class into two groups and ask them to take turns to guess what the numbers and names refer to. They can only ask yes/no questions, such as “Is Andrés your father?”. When the answer is “yes” you give the group a point and you may expand on your answer. Students love being able to ask you personal questions (and you can control what you want to talk about)!!

Our favourite words (an activity to get to know new students) Abder shared this with us and I have adapted it a little bit.

You write some words on the board. Then you tell students these are your favourite words and explain why. For example, you write “respect” and then say you chose it because you believe everyone should be respected. After that you tell students they should choose 2 words they consider important and explain the reason they chose them to another student. After they have finished, each student should share what the other person told him/her with the rest of the class. Finally, each student writes the words on a piece of paper and the whole class designs a poster with all the words they love (the picture that illustrates this post shows a poster my students created last week). You can also create a word cloud using wordle (click here to see and example)

What’s in YOUR bag of tricks? Which are your favourite activities? Let’s share some and learn a lot!!

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