Friday, 30 December 2011

IS THAT THINKING OR KNOWING? - teaching Vs testing

Being a teacher is one of the most thrilling and exciting risks one can choose to run. It's so rewarding, funny, amazing, never boring, yet so difficult. You are never 100% sure you're doing the right move at the right moment. The very first rule I learnt as a teacheryoungling, years ago, was this one: rest assured, you'll eventually find out if what you did was right or wrong for your students - only, you'll find out months, or even years later (when it's too late!).

I told Dr Diana Hicks my doubts about being successful in my job: how can I be sure my kind of teaching is what my class needs? her answer was another question
"is that thinking or knowing?"
And this question has been my mantra through my job ever since.

If what I do is about knowing, if there's just one right answer, then it's not teaching, it's a test.
Teaching activities have to do with thinking (how?).
Testing activities have to do with knowing (what?).

It may sound ovious, but it isn't - at least, not for me. And I think all teachers run the risk of misunderstanding this difference. Of course assessment is an important (and difficult) part of our job, but if our teaching is not successful, if we are testing our pupils all the time instead of making them think on their own, our pupils are doomed to failure.

That's another reason why I love EU projects: Comenius, eTwinning, Erasmus, and all kind of real-life educational experiences that let pupils (and teachers) meet the unexpected - school is so boring otherwise. Through these programmes, we meet new people and ideas, and we (pupils and teachers) are forced to think, as what we know is not enough. That's how we get to know something new by thinking. Together.
So, teaching first, then testing. And teaching in a way that makes pupils think, not learn by heart - and forget the very next minute after the test.

I'd like to close 2011 with these pictures of the eTwinning Camp in Budapest. A place for teaching and learning, and for sure, a place for thinking.
I'm saying bye to the adventures and experiences of this year with the images of students happily engaged in learning and having fun.

Thank you eTwinning, Comenius, Dr Hicks, and thank you friends all over Europe.
Have a great 2012, full of satisfaction, success, and fun.

After all, despite the tons of bureaucracy and boring papers, ours is still the best job in the world :)

..and now, that's thinking
(and then knowing!)

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

an eTwinning story with the little ones

time is very true. My small pupils are 8/9 years old now, and for the third year we are together in our class.

I remember how excited I was when they started school - it was the very first time I could work as a primary school teacher. I had so many questions in my mind - will they really read, count and write, will I be able to  teach them all these important things? And another question: will they enjoy school? I just hoped the answer could be yes.

One of the very first school experiences for my pupils was an eTwinning project (Celebrating International Days for a Special Reason!, founder countries: Greece and Poland). It was a challenge for me too, because I "used" the project for building our community as well. I was lucky because we had partners from more countries in Europe, and we collaborated with kindergardens and primary schools, so it was perfect from the point of view of my pupils' age.

Children enjoyed the project activities, and at the end of first year we went to Budapest to take part in an eTwinning competition, and we celebrated in the classroom our fantastic prize: a new television! together with families, cakes and fun.

What does an eTwinning project mean for my pupils? interesting activities, friendship, opportunity to learn something not included in our school-books, experiences and having fun.

Just an example: at the end of our second school year one of my pupils asked me when we could go again to Budapest to participate in an eTwinning programme. I answered: I think, we can go again if we will "work" in our project. She told me: it is not a problem, we do it gladly, we just would like to go again.
For me it was great to hear it: if children are motivated, they do the activities because of eTwinning, just because they like them.

And yes, we went again to Budapest to play eTwinning :-).Just look at the picture about eTwinning Day for Children:

Saturday, 24 December 2011


Dear friends,

I'd like to wish you all a very merry Christmas full of peace, happiness and joy with all of the people you love.

Monika, Agneta, Daniela, Renata, Sanjo, Elena, Marilìa, Tatjana, Christine, Irene... and all the others... I thank you so much for your lovely wishes: your video Christmas card was the sweetest present for me in these hard times.
Now I'm sure I'll recover quickly thank to the nice people who support me - here and from far.
After all, you don't need to live next door to be friends with someone.
And I know I have many friends who care.
That's why I think I'm lucky even in this difficult Christmas.

Love to you all


Friday, 23 December 2011

new learning strategies - involving experts

I would like to share with you some of our new experiences. We talked here together with you about the importance (and sometimes the difficulties) of motivation, and new kind of activities. It is a very special experience if our pupils and we, teachers enjoy together the lesson.

This time I read a book about the "flow" at school from Prof. Csíkszentmihályi. I found his book very interesting. He defines flow as "the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it"

I like try out new kind of activities. I think, international projects give us many possibilities. We partecipate in eTwinning and in Comenius programme as well. And, together with our partners had great adventures.

In one of our eTwinning projects (BE TWIN! - Twinning up the everyday lesson) we work together with our Italian friends.
The project helps me a lot as a teacher to motivate my pupils to study Italian language.
During our last Italian lessons we talked about the "restaurant", which is an important topic in every languages. This time I tried to choose a new kind of activity to motvate my pupils.

The gastronomy is a part of culture. If we have more knowledge about it, we can know more about the lifestyle in Italy, where our friends live.
The new words help us to develope the key competencies (communication in a foreign language), and help us to have new information.
If pupils can try out what we learned in a natural/practical situation it is very helpful in the learning process.
So..what we did? After we learned in the classroom the most important words, we asked experts to help us.

Our experts:
1. Dott. Alessandro Rosselli ( University of Szeged)
2. Zsolt Karda - proprietary of an Italian restaurant in our town.

We visited the restaurant, my pupils had some "role-plays" as waitress and guests, after we had a lesson in the cuisine :), and learned about the cooking of Italian "pasta", when my pupils asked our experts. After? We ate what we cooked as well :).

We enjoyed a lot the activities, and I am sure, my pupils were motivated.
You can see the results too (it's true in Italian and Hungarian languages), because one of my colleagues, Tapodiné Atlasz Marianna registered everything with a videocamera.

Hope, you like it).
Hugs, Mónika

Thursday, 22 December 2011

eTwinning Conference "Leading 21st century education" - conclusion

It's kind of funny when you think how many ideas, projects, doubts and (especially) questions can come out of a single event. The eTwinning Conference held in Genova was a gold mine for my personal reflections, not only dealing with the future of eTwinning, but with the future of the EU and the future of European education.
Which means, a huge part of my own future (and yours, if you're a teacher). Something we cannot fully decide for ourselves: and it's quite scary when you feel someone else is deciding for you.

 So, while in Genova, I just sat there all the time, staring at the policy makers, burning with questions, and hoping for some answers. Unfortunately, there actually was very little time for questions. And I must admit what was said was not exactly answering my doubts.

If you want the official covering of the event, you can have a look at the article on the eTwinning portal When eTwinning meets policy makers! You can find videos there , documents and much of what was said and done.

And if you want my very personal, very unofficial and very uncensored opinion as well, just go on reading!

I was convinced by:

Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou's speech. True, eTwinning is an EU success story, and Heaven knows if Europe needs success stories these times. And true, as a success story it deserves more attention and recognition by the political world. Now, the question could be: is the political world interested in common EU success stories? or individual (national) selfishness is bound to prevail?

- The four workshops. Of course I loved mine (Pedagogical Practices), I found I had so much in common with the experts in my panel, even if we came from very different experiences (with me being the only simple teacher...). But I liked all of the workshops I could attend, and it was pleasant to see there were teachers in all of the panels: after all, there was someone who knew what we were talking about in practice, not just delivering a lecture. What's more, the workshops were the ideal size in terms of participants, so we could exchange ideas and try to find common solutions for our (common) issues. There was a debate, not just a speech from a stage. And here, there are two questions as well: 1) did the policy makers understand the real value of this cooperation between teachers all over Europe? or 2) did they look at it as a non-expensive toy to keep their teachers entertained and professionally growing (without them having to do anything)?

- Anne Gilleran's sentence: eTwinning is a place where you're allowed to fail. Great! Even if as teachers we're usually obsessed with being perfect, in fact we can't be. And it's a relief to feel free to make mistakes once in a while - and learn from them. That's what LifeLongLearning is supposed to mean. Now, to the question: will policy makers understand this? will we still be free to fail in an "institutionalized" eTwinning?

I was NOT convinced by:

- the projection of a bright technological future for the European schools, where teachers and students communicate via twitter, regularly meet on social networks and happily exploit ICT as creative educational tools. I've visited schools in Tuscany (and we're supposed to be one of the rich parts of Italy) where the ICT equipment is zero. A high percentage of teachers can't even hold a mouse. Lots of pupils think exploiting ICT means playing Wii or Play Station games. And there are even more serious issues: more and more families, in this time of crisis, can't afford buying a pc or paying for the internet access. Lots of Municipalities have less and less money to provide their schools with ICT equipment. Not to mention the crisis of European Education we've been discussing in another post (how can we forget all of those un-met benchmarks?). My feeling was that the impact of the present crisis was underestimated. It's my personal opinion, but the efficient and creative hypertechnological school of the future is Utopia school... or (worse) it is going to be an elite school for those who can afford it.

- the policy-makers speeches: sorry, apart from very few happy situations, the distance between the politicians and the EU-minded experts (Eugenio Riviere, Santi Scimeca, Anne Gilleran, Donatella Nucci etc) was patent. The politicians just kept seeing their small slice of the educational world, while the others talked in a wider perspective. And sadly, I'm not sure they had the same goals in mind. My question: did they understand each other?

Ok, that's all for my experiences and thoughts about Genova. I know maybe I've been boring with all of these posts, but we are living such a difficult period for the EU and the debate in Genova got for me a wider meaning, going beyond eTwinning.

After all, in my opinion the question is not if eTwinning will or won't be recognized by the institutions of the different countries. The question is: will the different countries recognize the existence - and value - of the European dimension in education?

Saturday, 17 December 2011

CLIL lesson for Science/Geography

This lesson plan is another "present" by Dr Diana Hicks. Brilliant course and brilliant teacher indeed. So, once again, thank you Mrs Hicks and thank you Comenius :)
I was planning to try this activity in one of my History courses, as it can be adapted to suit different subjects. But in the end I never actually had the time to try it with my students since, as it often happens, we had to rush through things during this first semester.
But rest assured, it will be for the new year! And for all of you who asked me for some scientific activity, why don't you give it a try? You could have fun and, why not, find some interesting variation to this lesson. Let me know!


about 20 students - 12/13 years old

subjects: Science/Geography/Technology/History (or better, all of them! these disciplines are connected)

Pupils drawing on their own, then working in groups of 4/5

Instructions given in English - pupils can answer and discuss, when needed, both in English and in mother tongue.


1) Take a piece of paper and draw a river - this will be river Nile

2) Draw lots of fields close to the river (drawing squares of different sizes will be fine) - these are your fields
3) You're a  farmer and you wait for the water to come to the fields, so your crops can grow
4) Take your drawing with you and sit in groups. Each group will be given a dice.

5) Now, the members of the group roll the dice 5 times each

6) Each time, after rolling the dice, put a cross on your fields corresponding to the number you got on the dice (example: you got 5, you put a cross on 5 of your fields; you got 3, you put a cross on 3 of your fields, etc.)
7) When all the members of the group have rolled their dice 5 times, count your crosses. If you're under 20, you're DEAD.
8) Now, rolling the dice 5 times corresponds to 5 years. If you made less than 20 crosses, that means the river didn't reach enough of your fields, you didn't have enough water, and you couldn't grow your crops. You and your family were destined to die. Now you understand: living there is a gamble.
9) What could the people do to help the situation? Discuss with your group (English or mother tongue), then write down a short list of possible solutions: begin the sentence with "they could..."
10) All solutions are collected on the board
11) What did they really do? Let's take the book (or pc, or anything) and have a look together.
Well, I loved this activity when we tried it out at the training course (I always love role play, and I adore being the pupil !!! It's definitely less stressful than being the teacher... ok, points of view, I know). So I'll take advantage of this with one of my classes in the near future.

What do you think, can it be for you as well?

Sunday, 11 December 2011

my best CLIL lesson of 2011

If you've been following my summer CLIL-soap, you'll know by now I've been reflecting on (and practicing) CLIL quite a lot during these months.
All of the people who regularly come to visit me in this blog (thank you!) helped me a lot here. We've been discussing theories and different approaches together, we've shared experiences and we've tried to overcome our empasse points. I've often been asked to share some practical tips, worksheets or lesson-plans of my everyday teaching. Part of them are, as usual, uploaded in the TNG TwinSpace.
But since we are reaching the end of this 2011, I'd like to share here my favourite CLIL lesson of this year. Important: I didn't make up this lesson on my own, I worked on a structure suggested by Dr. Diana Hicks during my summer course. Anyway, it turned out to be so nice and motivating after being customized to my case, that I think anyone can take advantage of it.
So have a look at it, and see if it can work for you as well!


about 20 students - 12/13 years old
subjects: History/Literature/Languages
Pupils working on their own, in pairs when asked
Instructions given in English - pupils can answer and discuss, when needed, both in English and in mother tongue.

1) Take a piece of paper and draw a country - not an existing one, just make up your own. Place a capital city. Draw a river across the capital city. Give a name to the country, the capital city and the river (that's the funny part: pupils can be quite creative at times)

2) In the capital city, draw a Cathedral and a Town Hall (this will be useful later, when we'll set the story in the Middle Ages)

3) In this country there are two political parties. You're a politician of the leading party (if you want, you can have fun here again letting them name the parties). One day, you're sent on an important mission to the Pope, in Rome. While you're away, there's a rebellion in your country. The enemy party takes power, all of your friends are imprisoned or killed and you are exiled. Now, your family is still in the capital city, you love them and your city and you miss them. You want to go back. What would you do?

4) Write under your drawing at least 5 things you would do in order to go back home. (They have to start each sentence with "I would", then they can end it in English or mother tongue). Remember, if you go back and they catch you, you'll be executed.

5) Now work in pairs. Compare your answers with those of your partner. Are there any common ideas? Can you make up anything new together?

6) Now: the story is set in 1300. Please delete all of your ideas that don't suit this age (rest assured, there will always be plenty of bombing, alien-invading, and monster-related options).

7) All of the remaining ideas will be collected on the board.

8) Ok, now I can say: this is the story of Dante Alighieri, and you were acting as Dante himself. What did he actually do? Let's take the book and find out together.

That's all. It turned out to be a very active and involving lesson, and even the always-sleeping students had for once something to say. We had fun, they managed to speak a lot without the usual fears, and to their surprise they found out they would do lots of things Dante actually did. And even if they wouldn't have written the "Divina Commedia", believe me: they won't forget Dante and his story from now on !!!