December 31, 2010

Attention, Attention: 2010 is Now Leaving the Building!

Here it is, the last day of 2010. The holidays are wrapping up and soon it will be back to the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Like others, I’ve been reflecting on the past year. I do this every year to the Honey’s chagrin with my Christmas newsletter. Some years are better than others and some years have many moments to be proud of. For 2010 I’m pleased with what I’ve encountered and experienced, and happy with where the year has taken me.

The month of December has flown by as I’ve been busy with lessons, meetings, and doing lots of baking. Normally I have my Christmas shopping done by October or early November (yes, I’m a freak in that respect), but this year most of it hadn’t been done by mid-December. Stress had begun to set in. My mom and sister were coming from out of town for the holidays and that meant a little more stress. I love them dearly, but my sister has a tendency to fly off the handle at the drop of a pin. As she’s matured, my sister has been better at managing her anger, but with her new stressful job she has been letting loose a little too frequently. Nonetheless, it was time to unwind and unwind I did.

Cooking relaxes and de-stresses me. When I’m in the kitchen the tension disappears. I’m lost in my thoughts or a recipe, or bopping along to a song on the radio. Since moving to our house I’ve found myself singing more and more while in the kitchen. I used to quietly hum along or mouth the words. Recently I’ve caught myself belting out the lyrics along with the radio, and while I’m far from being on Broadway, I’ve come a long way.

In the last month I’ve learnt how to make pastry; something I had always been terrified to try. As a result I’ve been making my nana’s mincemeat tarts like crazy. In past years I would just use the frozen pastry tarts at the grocery store and endure the pain the wheat protein would put on my body. But this year, I put fear to the side and went for it. Homemade pastry makes the tarts even better; just like my nana’s.

I also made my first plum pudding. In the Honey’s family Christmas is not Christmas without plum pudding. This was new to me. Although my nana was as English as they come, she made mincemeat and trifle at Christmas. The Honey’s family was all about the pudding, and being Irish, it packed a punch. I kept this in mind as I made mine, an easier recipe than soaking it in booze for weeks and steaming it on the stovetop all day. The honey and a cousin were the first to try as they had many years of tasting practice. Happily it passed. It’s not grandma’s, but it’s still excellent.

As Christmas drew closer so did some sadness. While the holiday is about happiness and enjoying family and friends, it’s also a time when we remember those who are no longer with us. As we put up our tree for the first time in years we remembered the Honey’s mom, who loved this time of year. Christmas was her favourite holiday and we remembered how she had decorated the house every year. While every Christmas is difficult, this year was even more so as see had passed away ten years ago at Christmas. And as the New Year comes around, we’re also reminded of her birthday and the death of my nana, who passed away a few weeks later. Remembering my nana is usually easier as we bring up situations that make us laugh or are followed by ‘That’s so nana!’. Remembering my mother-in-law is harder because she was so wonderful in every way.

It’s times like these that remind me to enjoy the moments and take time to enjoy the things that give me pleasure. It also reminds me to surround myself with those I care about (and care about me) and spend time with them (including my sister and her temper tantrums). Moments are created, no matter how small they may be, to be remembered.

December 18, 2010

TESL Ontario Conference 2010

Well, the TESL Ontario Conference was well over a month ago now and my bag of books and notes have finally been unpacked (better late than never).

I had taken a few out to use with my students with positive outcomes, and two arrived by courier a month ago and the last one (the one I’ve been dying to receive) arrived a few weeks ago.

The majority of my classes are private and so this One-to-One book looks wonderful. The units are very short (2 pages) and have everything you need.

Of course, supplementing the lessons is a given and you could adjust them for the student’s needs and goals. One of my students is very advanced and I couldn’t wait to try this with him.

While at the conference I saw/participated in some really great workshops. I may have mentioned before, if the session blurb says ‘paper’ or ‘presentation’, I take a pass as that means ‘LECTURE’ and from experience they are really dry and boring. I have yet to attend one that hasn’t been like that. I also take a pass at many publisher sessions. I used to think ‘Oh awesome, a chance for a free book’, but often I was disappointed in the presentation and materials. It ended up being a waste of my time. The title has to be pretty catchy and sound very interesting if I’m going to attend any of those three.

Some advice I have for those wanting to go to conferences: 1) Choose sessions that you will find interesting and benefit from. If work is paying for you to go and they want you to attend a particular session or two, you might as well as it’s their money; 2) Make time for breaks. You’ll need to visit the washroom, grab something to eat or drink, or need a breather; 3) Take something small to eat. Depending on when the session is, you may get the munchies or your tummy begins grumbling. Have something with you that can tie you over and is somewhat healthy. I discourage noisy snacks; it’s disrespectful to the presenter and those around you; 4) Take advantage of the tea breaks and water stations. You’ll need to keep hydrated and possibly need the caffeine, especially for those early morning or late afternoon sessions. And don’t worry about chugging them down quickly; you can take them into the session with you; 5) Didn’t get into the session you wanted? Stand in line at the session door and if there’s room, you’ll get a spot; 6) Talk to those around you. I don’t mean tell them your life story, but chat and talk about the sessions you’ve been to; 7) Take paper and a pen; 8) Wander through the exhibitors and check out the materials. If you’re like me, you’re never sure what to order because you don’t know what the book is really like. This is the perfect opportunity. Even if you don’t buy anything, write down the titles and authors or circle them in the catalogue. Chat to the reps as they may be able to recommend something or help you decide. The materials are usually discounted for the conference and by chatting to the reps, you may be able to obtain the discount if you decide to order a week or so later. An additional bonus of chatting with the reps: If you buy many books, they may be able to give you an even bigger discount (when one rep found out I was paying for my own materials he gave me two books free – so appreciative when they are normally $50 each).

Here’s a run-down of the sessions I attended (I tried to keep it brief). If you’re interested in one of the sessions, contact me and I may be able to send you a copy of my notes or the handout we were given:
Tania Iverson – Success with English for Specific Academic Studies As always, Tania put on a great session. Although it was based on a textbook series, she had loads of practical ideas and points that could be used with any business or technical material.
James McMullan – Developing Focused Non-Comprehension Strategies to Improve Communication I’d never heard the word ‘Muddlygump’ before, and now it’s ingrained in my mind. This was a fun and interactive workshop looking at what your students say to show their lack of understanding and strategies they can use that mimic how native-speakers really speak.
Andrew Taylor – I Can’t Believe I Learned Grammar His energy filled the room as he presented communicative oral tasks and activities to use with students to teach, practice and improve their grammar. While teachers may use communicative tasks in their lessons, not many may use the excitement and energy needed to get their students interested and excited about it. Weeks later, I still picture him Jazz Chanting ‘going to’ sentences while snapping his fingers in keeping time.
Mike Simpson – Websites and Blogs Although I often use websites for my lessons, blogs was a new one. I blog, but don’t often use them with my students. There was a new idea or two here relating to blogs, but I’m not sure if I’ll use them. However, for someone who doesn’t use either one for their lessons or with their students, they are missing a great tool. The possibilities are endless for material, activities, topics and themes, and the dreaded grammar.
Radmila Rakas – Teaching About and Appreciating Nature It was nice to see a thematic workshop showing people that one can use the usual tasks and activities for vocabulary, listening, etc with a specific topic.
Angelica Galante – Reducing Learner’s Language Anxiety This workshop discussed some of the ways anxiety occurs with our students and ways to minimize it in the classroom. It was interesting because many teachers do these things already (I assume), but minimizing anxiety may not be the goal, it’s using the suggestions for communicative practice, skills practice, grammar, etc. I found the connection with this just awesome.
Teresa McGill and Jayne Edmonds – Crucial Lessons Learned in Corporate ESL This workshop was more like a story-sharing moment for the presenters. From an administrative position it may have been great, but from a teaching point of view, not so much. The gist was not to put all your eggs in one basket: if all your contracts are with one company/department and the contract dries up or goes somewhere else, you’re screwed. It seemed like common sense, but maybe that’s because I’ve encountered that situation before at a school I worked for.
Tim Westhead – Picture That! Great Writing Prompts for Students There were great ideas presented (sadly I use them all already so didn’t learn anything new) in using pictures and visuals with your students for writing prompts, advertisements, guiding with headlines and ideas. From experience, these really work well and if your students are hesitant to write, try them out. A word of warning: Tim Westhead likes to make comments about how little teachers are paid, the school should pay for your materials, etc, etc; and if you’re like me and work in the private sector (unlike Tim who worked for a school board), this can be really annoying. I’m sure Tim would be shocked to learn the salary I survive on. So my advice, try to ignore it as the other stuff he says is pretty interesting and helpful.
Marijke Wertheim – Activities for Teaching Listening Strategies I’d heard positive things from a peer about this one – and it was really great. I took so much away with me on using listening material other ways. Tables worked together discussing strategies and ideas, and luckily, there was time for some Q and A at the end. Although I had tried things suggested before (yea me!), I hadn’t realized the benefits and outcome for the students. Here, you’re getting away from the typical textbook listening tasks. You know the ones. They just test your students on the right/wrong answers. Instead you can use them for teaching strategies, use for critical thought, the type of language used, discussion, making predictions beforehand, having students write questions to answer themselves, do note-taking, and analyze language, tone or emotion. However, to do this you have to give the students a very specific purpose (like any of those just listed) and build up to it like you would with any other task.

December 6, 2010


Blogs and websites can be amazing. Seeing what people are making, hearing about what’s going on, learning about certain things. Personally, I’ve come to really enjoy them. But the one thing that is missing from blogs and websites are mistakes. We all make them. No one, and I mean no one, is perfect; including Martha [Stewart] and my step-mother despite what they may think.

Last month Karina, at Gluten-Free Goddess, apologized to her readers because she hadn’t taken any pictures of her latest creations. They didn’t look good enough was her reasoning. It got me thinking: Must everything be perfect to post? Are people afraid to post their mistakes?

As an ESL teacher I urge my students to make mistakes and not be concerned with them as that helps their learning and improvement (believe it or not). I also see things I do or mistakes that happen as ways to learn. I keep a simple gardening journal to help me with this for our garden. I don’t want to repeat my mistakes in the garden as they can be costly. Mistakes help us learn either for our improvement or not to repeat what we’ve done.

There have been many fiascos in my kitchen, first as I learned to cook as a university student and now as I experiment with gluten-free baking and cooking meat. Sometimes the results are humorous (Frisbee shortbread cookies anyone?).

And sometimes they can be downright frustrating (It rose perfectly. What happened?!)

What I’m trying to say is: Don’t feel like you’re alone. Mistakes happen and everyone makes them. Especially those who you don’t think encounter them.

December 4, 2010

Have You Got The Time?

This week has been much of a write-off. Besides having my usual students, I had two government French tests to do on Friday – reading and writing.

My French isn’t too bad and I can usually pass as an intermediate, but it’s often a struggle. And don’t expect perfection. My French teacher often wondered how I could use conditionals with ease yet mess up my prepositions so badly. I take French courses here and there trying to keep it up and fresh, but ironically, I have little opportunity for practice. When I have the chance to speak with some colleagues it’s usually just the pleasantries, and there’s absolutely no chance of speaking French with my students. I’m being paid to speak with them in English, not just during class, but also before and after.

This week was cram week and it isn’t fun to cram with languages. Literature, environmental science, business, okay – doable. But languages, forget it. My teacher, who was also swamped this week, was nice enough to meet with me and give me some tips, notes, and some practice tests. I also borrowed some materials from school to help me out and dug out my notes. An advantage was that I know what the test was about, what ‘they’ are looking for, and tricks that get you (ie Anglicisms). I took the tips and tricks I give my students and applied them for myself. Doesn’t seem to bad, does it?

With a week of cramming things got a little neglected around the house. Pans from the previous weekend were left on the stove. Not as much laundry got washed, and if it did, it was on the drying rack a lot longer than usual. Papers were left on the dining room table instead of going into my students’ files, hence being left at home. And Zoba still wanted her scratches and playtime. Like a usual cat, these didn’t last too long before she got bored or tired (our critter is a little out of shape). Raspberry Roobios tea from David’s Tea helped keep my nose in the books.

Dinner was fast and easy this week. I picked up some tilapia and chicken breasts and made enough to last a few evenings. I put them on some foil, drizzled some lemon juice on the foil (not the meat), sprinkled some herbs de Provence on them all, and popped them into the oven. I had also picked up those big packaged salads, the ones in the container with all the veggies. With a homemade dressing we could still have a quick and healthy meal.

Some canned soup got me through the week too. Some of my students had cancelled due to meetings so I got to come home for lunch and get more studying done. We always have some cans or boxes in the cupboard and while I don’t usually like having them as a meal (homemade is my way to go), they are perfect for those days you forgot to put a lunch together.

With some crumbled feta cheese, fresh ground pepper, and a slice of gf bread it warms you up (and it was chilly earlier this week) and gets you going for another few hours. Or in my case, until the next study break.

And how did the tests go? Don’t ask. I’m purposely not thinking about them. We’ll see what happens with the results arrive in a week or two.

BTW, Campbells’s is introducing gluten-free labelling on their products