Rliberni's Blog – Radical language

January 19, 2011

Learning together – the value of sharing

January saw not only the dawn of a new year but also the second professional workshop for teachers of English held in this little corner of Yorkshire.

When I first advertised the event I wasn’t sure anybody would want to brave a wet, cold English winter for anything – so imagine my great surprise when the first reply came from a teacher in Brazil!! I have to admit I did worry and sent out as many snowy, grey winter pictures as I could but undeterred, Cecilia (@cecilialcoelho) was determined and arrived on a dull January day in the Yorkshire market town of Northallerton along with her compatriot Wellington (@wellingtonros) and two Greek teachers Dina (@DinaDobru) and Maria (@mariazygourakis).

After half an hour to unpack, we got straight into things – English afternoon tea (tea and Christmas cake), a candle-lit christmas tree and an hour of introductions. After five minutes it was as if everybody had known each other for ever and so some of us had – we had met on twitter!! One thing about teachers is that we are rarely backwards at coming forwards and we so like to talk!! So, plain sailing so far.

After a shared dinner we gathered in our makeshift cinema to watch the first of the 3 Bronte films planned (we never made Jane Eyre deciding instead to go to the pub!) The Tennant of Wildfell Hall.

The following morning we set out for Bronte country to see their house, walk the cobbled street they had walked and stride across the moors that had been the source of much of their inspiration.

Haworth did not disappoint. A cold, misty January day is probably the best time to see it when studying the Bronte novels. There was still enough cheer in the Christmas lights to lift the mood of the place and it is certainly a great example of how life might have been in nineteenth century Yorkshire. We didn’t manage the walk but did stand on the edge of the moors to see the terrain and certainly froze for the photo opportunity!

Freezing on Howarth Moor

This visit seemed to set the tone for the rest of the week. It grounded us all in the place and the mood but more importantly in togetherness. It was different, new, interesting and we were learning about each other, our teaching lives, our aspirations and our loves and hates.

The trip ended with a visit to the old Victorian station in Howarth (this is the train line used in the Railway Children). We were lucky enough to arrive just as the last steam train of the day was about to come into the station a great end to a long, yet interesting visit.

Here we were, a group of strangers brought together by the common bond of our profession and the desire to share and learn from each other.

Back to the Victorian Era!

The opportunity to live and study for a whole week allowed us to fulfill this desire in a very relaxed way. We returned home, ate and watched the first part of Wuthering Heights with the reality of the moors and the surrounding areas in our blood.

Our 6th member of the group @shellterrell arrived very late on the Monday after a horrendous journey that took her crisscrossing over the US and Europe. She arrived bloody but unbowed and was able to spend two days with us before going on to Cambridge and London.

During the next two days we explored ideas, methods and tips for teaching skills, vocabulary, grammar and for helping our students to get the most out of their English learning. From the most experienced to the least, everybody had something valuable to contribute. We worked hard morning and afternoon but also laughed a lot. We had afternoon tea, ate Greek delicacies ate a wonderful Brazilian meal and were introduced to caipirinhas!

On the Wednesday (January 5th) being Twelfth Night I had planned a party which included a special meal (we ate goose), a traditional Christmas play (A Mummers Play) and then some Parlour Games (namely Charades, Articulate and a Questions Game).

Some Brazilian Dutch Courage!

We began the evening with more caipirinhas – once the players had chosen and donned their costumes – which were, I have to say, very impressive!

The play was great and everybody performed with great gusto!

The games were great too and we ended up playing until quite late – all games were ones that could be easily played in the classroom to practise vocabulary, question forms,  tenses and a host of other items. We had a fun evening!

On the last two days we explored more ideas and experiences around speaking and reading. Copious amounts of tea and coffee were drunk as we shared resources both online and offline, demonstrated activities using the computer, whiteboard and anything else to hand (including the contents of my bathroom cabinet!).

On the Friday we got an extra surprise as it began to snow!  Out came the hats, scarves, boots and gloves! Out came the cameras and bang went the session! It was such a lovely and magical end to the week’s activities.

Playing in the snow

The group spent the Saturday exploring York and then it was over :-(.

Looking back it seems an age ago and while we were together it seemed like much longer than a week.
So why am I telling you about this?
Well, because to eat, sleep and breathe our subject, our teaching, our ideas and experiences together was a unique experience. I provided the physical platform for this but the fact that it worked and was a valuable (I am speaking for myself but I think/hope the others agree), very enjoyable and thought-provoking week is, I think, worth sharing!
I will leave you with some of the handiwork!
See post on the first worshop – Creating a teacher workshop
Find out more  about teacher workshops in Yorkshire
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August 12, 2010

Creating a teacher workshop

The idea of  deepening and expanding learning by living and studying together is something which has underpinned education for many years and can be seen in many different cultures. The UK boarding school and university systems were created under this principle and many other educational systems through time have seen the value of this shared way of life. With this in mind,  I set out to create a teacher development workshop for a small group of practising teachers.   

The workshops would last for a week, bring together 6 teachers to explore, share and learn. I created a rudimentary timetable which I hoped would give us a basis from which to begin our short, learning journey but which would be broad enough to allow us to travel in any direction we desired during the week.   

I also wanted to have a focus away from, yet related to English language teaching which could help to develop our own personal language and  have local flavour. I chose the Bronte novels. I grew up very near Bronte country and had always enjoyed both the place and the novels. They are universally known, great stories to read and discuss and we could also look at the place of literature in the English language classroom. We would read/re-read our favourites before the workshop, discuss them, visit Howarth, take the walk in the surrounding moors and then watch the films in the evenings.   

The land of the Brontes

Everything was in place and now the only thing was to see who (if anybody) might be interested in such an experience! I have to admit to a lack of research on the matter and I went ahead feeling that as this was something I would love to do then there may be others who would too!   

Fortunately I was right and in June I had my group. Three were teachers from my twitter PLN (Eva, Culya and Alex) and two I knew personally (Blanca and Merces). I was thrilled and very excited about bringing all of these teachers together. In the end Merces wasn’t able to join us but the others were intrepid even though the trip to Yorkshire required a train journey from London!   

    

 On Sunday evening August 1st we were finally together!   

Hard at work!

For the rest of the week we shared experiences, ideas, knowledge, camaraderie and food.   

We looked at grammar and skills and explored ways of moving all of these online using an amazing array of tools shown to us by Alex and Eva. We explored humour, some weird and wonderful vocabulary, quirky ideas for class activities and of course those brooding Bronte novels.   

On the first night I realised that my DVD purchase of  Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights and The Tennant of Wildfell Hall was not, as I had though three films but the BBC series comprising over 10 hours of footage!! Undaunted we decided to give it a whirl and set out to watch all of the episodes through the week. It was a bit of a race to the end but we managed it staying up until midnight each evening ploughing through each story.   

The advantage of the BBC series was that we were presented with more of the story and particularly with Wuthering Heights, which we all hated, we saw more of the dark truth behind the novels than we would have done with a shorter film version. It turned out to be a very intense and emotional engagement with the stories.   

 

At Home with the Brontes

The Bronte walk (which was longer than anticipated) gave us a good feel for the place and we were delighted by their house yet saddened by their plight.   

Bronte Bridge and Waterfall

There were unexpected bonuses too! We had Spanish peppers and Turkish shepherd’s salad for lunch. Turkish coffee and Turkish delight during our shared edchat session, a delightful Madeira wine for aperitif and of course, afternoon tea! We were even invited to a local organic farm for a tour and to sample Yorkshire specialities.   

Alex the Horse Whisperer

Alex fell in love with our sheepdog Maguire and took him off for walks (although at times it was not certain who was taking whom!) Our other little dog, Duffy, who is less of a handful, trotted along with the others as they explored the local countryside.   

 

It was a unique experience and I hope everyone agrees. To hear an account straight from the horse’s mouth, so to speak, see Eva’s beautiful piece ‘Far Far Away From The Madding Crowd‘ and  Teacher Workshops. Alex’s fantastic account Amazing Stories of Sharing  and Culya’s lovely summary of the experience The Adventure of my Life. Eva made a Glogster too!

A Visit to a pub - naturally!

For me it was a rich and rewarding experience and it proved a point:  

 if you take a group of dedicated and committed  teachers and place them around a table real or virtual, they will grow and learn together.

 English language students can come and stay with me for immersion courses all year round – one to one or in groups of up to 4 people (come with colleagues or friends).  Our next Teacher Workshop  is scheduled for January.

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