viernes, 18 de diciembre de 2015

End of Year Meeting with my Travelling Aunts

I have named my students this year, the Travelling Aunts, since they have all come to me with the purpose of consolidating their English speaking skills for the sole purpose of travelling.  When I decided to hold a meeting with them only some of then had met before.  I did not know what to expect or how to prepare for this meetup.  I took some notes on an article about travelling and found a cozy place where we could have a cup of tea and a piece of cake.

The afternoon of our meeting was a typical December day in Santa Fe, 32 Degrees Celcius and 70 per cent humidity, so we ended up ordering lemonade with lots of mint and ginger.  The cakes were delicious but what I enjoyed best was the conversation that developed swiftly among people who had met for the first time, who shared a common interest: the awareness of the importance of learning English.  Some of my students had been touring different language schools looking for the right kind of class for them.  Others had been through difficult situations abroad where they needed to use English to solve a problem.  All of them shared their stories as language learners and users with enthusiasm and laughter.  By the end of the meeting they were talking as if they were old friends and they urged me to set up another meeting so that they could continue the conversation.

As for me, I forgot about the notes I had taken and I felt that my job had yelded great results this year in terms of engagement and confidence.  It also made me reflect on the value of  human contact and community building when we are learning languages.
A final thought.  As I was uploading the pictures I noticed the tag on the lemonade: "Hecho con Amor" = "Made with Love".  What an important ingredient in the teaching equation!

My Session Recording of FAAPI Conference, Cordoba, September 2015

Attending a conference is not only an investment of time and money.  For people who live far away from the place where the conference takes place, such as my dear friend and colleage Zoraida Risso Patrón, it also involves a 10 hours´drive from home to cover a distance of  over 1,000 km.
This year´s FAAPI host city was Córdoba and the venue was the Languages School of the 400 year old university of Córdoba.  For me this year, and for the first time in several years, the trip was only a short 5 hour trip from home and I decided to arrive a year before so that I could catch up with the cultural life of a city I had always wanted to visit managing my own itinerary.  I was thrilled to visit the renovated Museum of Fine Arts: Palacio FerreyraPaseo del Buen Pastor and the city´s several Jesuit churches.  I even attended a fashion show in a building that used to be a church!
The sessions I attended this year featured the usual tools and techniques for the busy teacher,  but also some  low tech ones such as the Kennis Look´s one on Speaking and Listening from the heart, which is an activity by which students take turns to listen and talk without interrupting each other in circles, council-like, which I found particularly appealing for my conversation classses.
As for my session, it was the first time I presented with a full house, with people sitting on the floor! I really hope the attendees found my session useful. I meant to share what I do to try to cope with the various levels, interests and scenarios I have taught this year and I did so in the hope that maybe there were some things that could save my dear colleages a bit of time in their busy schedules.
I am looking forward to next year Teachers of English of Argentina Conference, which will be held in San Juan city.
Below is the video recording of the session called: Web Content Curation:  An Inspiration Source for Busy Teachers. Hope you like it!

jueves, 10 de septiembre de 2015

´Congreso Internacional de Educación, Santa Fe, Septiembre 2015

I´m going to start with one the last day´s plenaries, not because of that phrase: "The last shall be first", but because I was startled to know these figures.  In Argentina every given day 12,358,248 students and 758,522 teachers get moving during a normal school day.  Luz Pearson showed us these numbers during her joint presentation with Pablo Bongiovani.  Luz and Pablo shared with us their experience of collaborative work with students who are studying the same thing.  They called it "Aula Red" in Spanish, (something like networked classroom?)  In Spanish we say "Hay Señal" when we want to say that there is wifi connection that enables us to use our devices to communicate.  They showed a slide with the following: "Hay Señal Humana" (There is Human Connection?).  I particularly liked this play on words because I´m constantly experiencing the human touch in my daily contact with teachers from whom I learn every day.  It has been happening on a regular basis since I started interacting online back in 2012.  Today we are not constrained by space and time, they said, on the contrary these boundaries are blurred by the use of technology.  I was happily surprised to see Mariana Fossatti, a dear Uruguayan teacher who led me during those early times of web use in one of their slides.  Small world!
I met another person from Uruguay: Jose Miguel Garcia who was responsible for my tears on this congress (I always cry at congresses at some point) when he showed a video made by students who were invited to re-imagine schools.  I was delighted to hear his story of how collective knowledge is constructed within the Plan Ceibal, a scheme I have heard of first regarding the distance teaching of English, via Grahan Stanley. 
Several speakers stressed the importance of reflective practice, and the need to create opportunities for critical analysis of media in a country where there are more screens per family than books and magazines.  
I was attracted by the slogan of the congress and I hope that what the speakers shared during these days catch up in Argentinian classrooms.  I am already looking forward to next year´s edition.

viernes, 21 de agosto de 2015

Where I stand as a teacher and where I hope to be

@mariacolussa, Mint. 2015

As a result of joining the many teachers out there who share their journeys on blogs, I have learned that we have more things in common than  I could have ever imagined.  Hana Ticha's reflections after a casual friends meeting reminded me of several conversations that I took part in where a group of teachers gather over a glass or something or a cup of coffee, or a round of mate, the typical Argentinean drink that inspires and accompanies philosophical exchanges among friends.  Just a few weeks ago I heard a teacher say that he wasn´t interested in the "word of online teaching" because he preferred the "human contact" as if they were mutually excluded or as if only one was allowed at the expense of the other.  I did not give any thought to that remark at all at the moment.  I considered that it was not the time and place to talk about that.  Plus I had not seen this person in any of the online events that proved that his remark was absolutely groundless. In fact I consider it a lack of respect towards so many people that have done so much for online teaching and learning, such as Dr. Nellie Deutch, just check out one of her many recorded sessions: Leading from Within. That´s what I should have said.  However I feel that this person was trying to conceal a lack of interest to invest time and energy to learn something new.  
Apparently we are all concerned about being the best teacher out there.  By 'the best' I mean a constelation of qualities that the mythical foreign language teacher is bestowed with.   We should be proficient in the language, the pedagogy, plus we have to somehow integrate technology.  
My road so far has been like a ride in the quiet waters of a stream.  I started teaching without technology, simply because I did not have access to it.  Then I taught like crazy for over 12 years to finally quit out of failing to find relevance in what I was doing.
Today my reality has changed.   I was helped and taught patiently by strangers for free online as to how to harness the potential of the web to scaffold learning.  I was also encouraged to take risks and pay it forward by sharing what I have learned with my fellow teachers.  On the way I had enjoyed myself with master learners/sharers like Vance StevensShelly Terrell, and the amazing Hello Little World Teachers Skypers team. 
I have been enjoying myself learning and teaching with my colleagues and students.  I am now teaching in contexts that my teacher training college did not prepare such as adult education, teaching to a visually impaired student, in-company teaching, and soon online teaching.  I have also been invited to give workshops on the things I have been doing with my colleagues and students.  Accepting every single one of these challenges was a leap of faith.  One that I wouldn´t have dared to face had I not been connected to the wonderful people out there who share what they are passionate about.  
When I think about learning and growing as a teacher I immediatelly think about the EVO Sessions, the Electronic Village Online, which played such an important role in my motivation to explore digital tools with the help of other teachers.  When it comes to blogging I think about Sue Waters and her drive to spread the word about the benefits of bloggins for children and adults alike.  This is the kind of professional development that has worked for me during the last three years.  I admire those educators who gather together to organize conferences, online or face to face and I attend both with an open mind.   Because there are just too many interesting things to learn, I often feel frustrated about not being able to watch recorded sessions or read my favourite blog posts.  
I try to attend and mingle with my master learner teachers as much as I can, because after these meetings I feel energized and full of drive to go about the wonderful job to teach languages.
What do I want to do next?  Well, I hope to continue hanging out with my network of educators.  I like teaching adults, so I will probably go on doing so.  
I will try to concentrate my energies on doing what makes me happy as an educator.  I found setting your teaching manifesto a very healthy exercise.  It was suggested by Shelly in one of the sessions of her 30 Goals Challenge Conference 

sábado, 2 de mayo de 2015

Spreading the Word about the Benefits of Mystery Location Calls in the ESL/EFL Classroom

My demonstration session at the Artesol Southern Cone Conference 
Buenos Aires, May 8th/9th, 2015

My notes on the Southern Cone ArTESOL Conference

Yilin Sun mentioned Intercultural Communicative Competence , and she also talked about the need to help our students become responsible citizens, fully competent language users, critical thinkers and constructive social change agents.  Teachers play a vital role in the mission to teach English for social responsability: helping everyone in the world to communicate with each other to prevent global disaster.  It is not necessary to travel long distances to do so.  Today technology allows us to do so with a fairly cheap technological equipment and a decent internet connection.  However the idea of "Glocal" action is also important to become agents of change in our own communities first to later make an impact in the world: Global Perspective, Local Action.
I specially liked a picture she showed us about the "Alphabet taught to kids today" displaying all the technology related words our students come to learn at a very early age.
I agree with Yilin about people wanting to hear your story.  This also emerged in Mathilde Verrillaud´s plenary on how to use pop culture in the English classroom. The Humans of New York facebook page and website aims to show precisely that it is our human nature that binds us together.  If we are able to find that connection and use it to our advantage, learning will become memorable as Marge Tye Zuba also showed in her session about teachers´learning preferences.
Mathilde made use of infographics to provide students with culture rich information which they would later have to rephrase or make their own infographics to explain a similar themes in their culture.  She suggested Piktochart for this activity.  An artist I can´t wait to share with my students is  Amit Shimoni for its originality and potential for discussion with my adult students.
Yilin Sun revisited the art of formulating questions not only before but during and after reading.  Pre-reading questions activate schemata and stir predictions, During reading questions aid selective reading.  Post-reading questions refine our predictions and help us make connections.  Our universe becomes richer after reading.  I found the "Question Hierarchy Techniques" very interesting and I also realised that I have been using this technique in some of my classes.  Here is a question that came to me as I was writing this post:  Why not using the same technique for a listening piece?  I will give that a try too.
I attended Dana Poklepovic´s session on how games in the Business English classroom are a serious thing.  Management techniques can effectively be used in English as well.  When doing so we focus on helping our students become fluent and become aware of their strengths not only as language learners but also as members of a team. I was thrilled to have the chance to thank her in person after I attended the 2014 EVO Teaching Business English Session, where she moderated the topic: "Developing Interpersonal Skills" week.

Stop and smell the roses.

I always like that space that conferences provide for reflection and sharing.  It was great to be able to talk with hard working, creative people and I am already looking forward to the next one!

Artesol, Buenos Aires, May 2015

sábado, 14 de marzo de 2015

My experience teaching English to a visually impaired student

There are many things I was not prepared to do as I graduated from teacher training college.  Teaching English to the visually impaired was one of them.  There are also many things I dared to do after building a professional network of trusted and likeminded educators.  Having them at my disposal via Twitter, Facebook, Skype or Google Communities gave me the confidence to say yes when Gustavo, a visually impaired 45 year old Informatic System Engineer, asked me to teach him English for an upcoming leadership course he was invited to attend in the Netherlands.  If I needed help I knew I could always ask my PLN for help.
The first adjustment I had to do was forgeting to work with pictures and paper coursebooks.  However Gustavo is able to read digital content at home by means of a special magnifying tool installed in his personal computer, so everything I decided to deal with in class I then transcribed to a shared Google Doc,  This document became our online workbook and everything we had to share we did it via  this Google Doc. Since he would be asked to interact in English with people from different countries, some of them visually impaired as well, and we did not have much time (only 3 months) I decided to focus on delevoping his speaking skills during classtime and leave him the responsability to devote as much time as possible to listening to everything he was interested in outside class.  I compiled a good list of podcasts for him to download and listen on the go,  his favourite was Elementary Podcasts , a series by the British Council that has often come in handy and is very popular among my students.
I also compiled a list of useful conversation phrases and at the same time I went over the basic survival vocabulary.  His previous knowledge was one he acquired from work, which was a good thing in terms of grammar structures, but I still needed to work on personal introduction and group socializing.
In the meantime, he had to prepare some content for the course so we decided to work on that.  He had to be prepared to talk about his personal and professional, life as well as his volunteer work in the association for blind and visually impaired people in our neighbouring city of Santa Fe.
As I was surfing the internet, exploring sites related to visually impaired and blind people, I came across Insight Radio and Insight Extra, a wonderful initiative to bring blind and partially sighted people content refering to sight loss issues from around the world. My student was able to listen to music as well as people speaking in English online about all sorts of stories.  I myself became a listener as I discovered the variety of options available in the different shows.
Then the day of the Skype session with one of the course trainers arrived. Being a Hello Little World Teacher Skyper I could only reassure him and tell him that everything would be all right with me on the side.  It turned out to be a wonderful experience where the interlocutor showed herself interested and kind and there were moments when the conversation seemed to flow as if we had been long time friends.  All in all it was woth every drop of Gustavo´s sweating!  My role was to set up the call, and keep my intervention to the minimum, I just provided the unknown words and intervened only when I realised that the message was not clear.  Because I had time and my phone was handy I decided to record the conversation.  I had never done it before because the mere thought of being recorded makes my students start sweating.  However Gustavo was too engrossed in the conversation to realize that I as recording him (Am I too mean for this?) and I coul not be happier later on.
Many times I heard about the benefits of videoing or recording ourselves while teaching.  It wasn´t until I did it that I came to realize how useful a recording version of a class can be.  With the digital recording of my student´s performance in my hands  I was able to upload it to the Google Doc we used as workbook.  Later on I used it to note down grammar, lexis and phonetic areas which needed to be dealt with in the course of  the following classes.  The recording was a record of my student´s achievements as well.  I highlighted phrases and sentences that I considered brilliant and complimented him on them.
My job has not finished yet and there are still many things to be done, but as I am sitting here looking  back at the work done during last month I am aware that pulling yourself out of your comfort zone by doing things in a different way is a rewarding experience.  I used my PLN when I contacted Shelly Terrell, the I-pad queen, to ask her about orientation tools or other tools that my student can use in his I-pad.  She responded asap via twitter message, and I am thankful to her for that.  It´s a great time to be a teacher today and I am glad to have taken the challenge to teach Gustavo.

sábado, 14 de febrero de 2015

#EVOSessions2015 Flipped Learning

On the question of flipping

(I wrote the draft of this blog post on 31st January, 2015)

Buenos Aires Botanical Gardens, by Maria Colussa

2012 Lesson Planning
Previous to class
1. Grab Book
2. Check Content
3. Design Warm up, Presentation, Practice, Production activities for the day/week, based on the book contents.
During Class
4. Deliver Class - Assign standarized homework. Hope for the best! :)
(Repeat 1, 2, 3 above)
Following Class
5. Check homework.
(Repeat 4)
Note:  Teacher is the sole provider of content.

2015 Lesson Planning
Previous to class
1.  Surf the internet for content with pedagogical potential.
2.  Save links in the appropriate place according to  age, level, interest, objectives)
3.  Sit down in front of the computer and design activities to exploit the material.
(optional:  When focusing on specific skills search for ready made systematized tutorials or make them myself to attach to the class material.)
4.  Make class available in students´shared folder.
During Class
5.  The class can start at any point of the previously designed plan.  This will depend on how much of the shared content the student has already seen previous to class.  The most interesting or challenging material can be tackled at  this point of the class.
6.  Teacher suggests options for follow up activities for the student to do by himself.
(Optional:  Additional content can be added according to student´s interests and needs.)
After class
7. Teacher´s suggested activities or student´s generated alternative  ones are done in a shared online document where the teacher can provide feedback .

Conventional                                                                   Flipped
Teacher is Content provider                                         Students gather information and content
Teacher has absolute control                                       Teacher is a learning facilitator
Fixed Syllabus                                                                Part of the syllabus is fixed, most is flexible
Homework is impersonal                                               Homework is as personalized as possible
Student is a passive recipient of knowledge              Students are actively involved/responsible for                                                                                                        learning      


On Flipped Learning and how I can make it work for me

After attending the EVO Sessions on Flipped Learning I learned a few things regarding this approach to teaching which is here to make our lives easier and help us make the most of our classes.
In times when many people are talking about students´voices, personalized and differenciated learning, what we decide to flip would be the impersonal, yet necessary, part of the curriculum, so that we can devote valuable class time to getting to know our students by listening to  them (and I mean Listening).  The classroom becomes the space for  teachers and students to play with the language, to test their hypothesis, to interact.  It also becomes the teacher´s research field,  During flipped classes the teacher becomes a learning coach encouraging students to anchor the language to their learning objectives and lives.

Flipped learning does not solely have to do with screencasting our content , though this is certainly an important technique.  It is also about creating spaces and tasks during the class for students to meet other students, to share their learning journeys (just like we have been doing in the discussion groups and google communities during the EVO sessions!)
Flipped learning is about being on the lookout for interesting projects or content with which to make our students engaged beforehand.
I have been flipping things here and there.  It will be my personal mission to flip whatever I can in the hope of making each class a memorable celebration of learning for my students and for myself!

jueves, 29 de enero de 2015

Why do we (EFL Teachers) need to know about Copyright?

Mainly because we need guidance.  Can we use internet based material for our classes?    The web is populated with lots of interesting authentic material we can´t wait to share with our students.  Every time one of my students finds something I´ve chosen for them interesting they say: "I didn´t know this was on the web! It´s amazing!"  So when this type of engagement occurs in my classes, it´s like music to my ears!

Here are my reflections and notes on the second and third week of the 2015 Educators and Copyright, Do the Right Thing

These are the links and notes I consider useful as reference material or that I might use in the future, taking into account my doubts and needs as regards copyright. (from Weeks 2 and 3 EVO Educators and Copyright Session, January 2015)

Useful tool: Open Attribute once installed an icon will appear in address bar whenever you´re on a page with CC licenses.  Clicking on this icon will give you an attribution line to copy and paste.

We can copy and share ALL works with any CC license.


...only SOME CC licenses give us permission to
edit and remix. 

What do we have permission to use?


Mixed media

List of works created under a CC license

A Sample Lesson with my questions about it...

My Sample Lesson for an adult upper intermediate student who loves British English but who is about to travel to New York City and wanted to get practice in speaking and listening  American English.
I sent her the Google Doc below with some links of material I considered useful and interesting for her to start getting used to the American accent and I gave her full freedom to choose the task she felt more comfortable with.  We would talk about and work with it in our first class.  The doc is shared only with her (and now with you for educational purposes) and we use it as an online notebook where we keep not only the links to the material but also her responses.

As you can see I have chosen Voice Of America, Learning English which was introduced to us in a TESOL conference last year in my country, but as regards the remaining 2 links ( and ESLPod ) I´m not sure if I can use them or how to reference them.

Travelling with Adriana
Getting ready to travel to NYC

Hello my dear student!

  1. The first task for you today is this:
Film.pngYou are going to watch a video report about “Mindfulness Meditation and Stress”. (Retrieved from VOA, Learning English )

Have you ever meditated?  
Have you ever been to a yoga class?
Do you pay attention to your breathing?
What do you do (when you are nervous or in a tense situation at home or work) to calm down?


  1. Write down words you consider important vocabulary.
  2. What is the definition of “mindfulness meditation”?
  3. What are the benefits of Mindfulness Meditation?
  4. Write your personal opinion about the subject. Would you like to try this technique?
2. Conversation

In order to listen click on the link that says: “Click for audio”


3. Listening
ESL Pod (Retrieved from )
Explore the different options and choose one to listen. (Remember you can download the podcasts to your smartphone to listen on the go)

miércoles, 14 de enero de 2015

EVOSessions. Flipped Learning

Photo Credit: Photograph by Maria Colussa

Discussion Questions Week 1
Reflecting on what you've read and watched this week, please give a preliminary justification for flipped learning (or not) in your teaching situation. Please use the Week 1 section of our Google Plus EVO Community to post your comments and to respond to others' posts.
The case for the Flipped Classroom has been discussed lately as an approach which seeks to both optimize classroom time and cater for students mixed abilities and interests.  In my case, a freelance EFL teacher of English working mostly one to one with access to technology such as good internet connection, mobile devices and no behaviour problems, the idea of flipping to enhance certainly attracts me and I have to confess that after I read and watched the material from week one I was happy to see that I was doing some things in the right way.  Diving for my students main interests and identifying their strengths and difficulties is something I do and consider when I search for  potential content everywhere, mainly on the web.  However when we talk about flipping we mean more than that.  We also mean producing or looking for content that is specifically designed or tailored for my students.  I haven´t swam these waters yet, the production I mean, but I will surely give it a try this year.  
As with the E-book idea last EVO2014 sessions, incorporating these "new" approaches to teaching takes my brain a little while to get adjusted.  From what I gathered in the discussions in the Google Community I share some of the same concerns of my fellow "EVOers".  Will the students actually take the time to check what I send them?  Will they be engaged with the material?  How good will I be producing the content?  The question could well be: How do I flip appropriately?  We´ll see, I guess that as with many things in life I will be learning by doing and this is the place to start my first small steps...