Nobody Told Me There´ll Be Days Like These...

Writing from the heart has always been my main passion, speaking from the heart, better said. It is obvious I am not THE writer I wish I were, either in my native Argentinian Spanish or in my second language, English. 

My source of inspiration are mostly songs lyrics and, in this case, "Nobody Told Me" ... which was written by John Lennon, but released after four years of his murder, fits perfectly into My Life. It is not the lyrics this time but the title of the song that resonates in my mind all the time, as I would have never expected to spend days like these...

These past two years have been rough, but, at the same time enriching, of permanent growth and positively challenging. I have crossed many bridges, swam in many lakes and rivers to the point I felt as if I were an athlete training for the Olympics, battling every moment of sorrow and desperation, killing feelings of abandonment and sadness, choking with my own tears, swallowing my pain, letting only some things go, getting over other things, praying quietly, but at least trying to do the best to keep the spirit up for my own children: and for somebody else´s children too: my students. Being a committed educator gives you headaches and rewards. I keep the rewards. Lord, I did make it meaningful!

If there is any educator who took many risks, innovated, made the class go global, took her/his students virtually outside the classroom walls and gave students voice, and show them they matter, that is ME!.


Why Go Global?

During 2015 many positive and negative things happened in my personal and professional life, but still, undoubtedly, I have preferred to #TrendThePositive no matter what. This feeling of positivity and this type of mindset have helped to keep going in the educational-connected world I have been part of, for the past fifteen years or so.

Right now, I am getting ready to present at the Global Education Conference 2016 for a fourth time: this time is special: my presentations will be in Spanish and English, something I have never done before.

Global Education Conference 2016: Online and Free

Sharing what I do in class has not only made me a much better educator but also my experience has been very rewarding: connecting my students with others around the world asynchronously has been exciting and very enriching for both sides.

Looking for pictures to include in my slides, I came across one of the most emotional ones I have taken lately, and that one was with Mr Mohamed Sidibay, a former child soldier from Sierra Leone, now a senior at George Washington University studying Peace and Conflict Resolution, who was one of the Keynote speakers at iEARN Brazil Brasilia 2015 and brought tears to my eyes, touched my heart with his unbelievable story and enlightened us with his peace speech.

Mr Mohamad Sidibay and me, Fabiana Casella at iEARN Brazil-Brasilia 2016

Mohamad´s life story, featured in the My Hero Project is one of the most striking ones anyone can hear, or anyone can survive. He is a full role model to follow by many young people and why not teenagers wasting their valuable time and lives not doing something positive for themselves and/or for the world. 


Adversity and Obstacles Made Me a More Resourceful Teacher

Back in the late 1980´s when I started teaching English as a Foreign Language at different places: at a Primary school, at a private language school for children, teens and adults, all the materials we had were a coursebook, workbook and cassettes to practice listening comprehension. We also included film watching for listening and speaking practice. Those tapes would stop working in the tape recorder/player from time to time because they had been used too many times, or just by rewinding and fast forwarding them to find the right lesson made them unplayable in a short time.

Times changed so we started to use CDs, and later usb flashdrives or pendrives, as they are called here in Argentina.(I really haven´t found what the difference between the two words is). Definitely, my first close encounter with technology was when I began to teach in the US in 2001. Having an Apple computer in the classroom, free access to many computers in the school library and laptops in a cart which I could book in advance to take to my classroom to make my students surf the web and see what we, Argentinians actually look like, was like a dream! The fact that I could email anyone, anytime really helped me to adapt myself being away from relatives and friends in my home country. So, almost everyday, since I was teaching in a completely different environment from the one I was used to, I was not only amazed at the use of technology in the classes, but also at the type of organization and simplification of school life in many aspects. 
Did all this advancement imply some training or rehearsing before each class in which I wanted to implement some of this revolutionary technological practice? It was a question of self-motivation, curiosity and self-assessment: I would sit at my desktop computer and start playing with the different tools to make, for example,  my own school webpage where I included background tango music, filled with Argentine websites, maps, places to visit, and also homework, classwork, extra practice, and much more. It goes without saying that anything related to technology was not such a big surprise to my students, as it was for me. Through SchoolNotes the District provided every teacher the possibility to have her/his own webpage! Amazing! I added all I could, tango music in the background, links to argentinian websites in Spanish and English, apart from the required today´s activities, weekly planning and homework/follow up practice at home.  
After all those years when my professional development happened to me almost accidentally every single day, the moment I landed in my former classroom in Argentina in 2010, the feeling of frustration and disappointment kept growing as time went by: it was not the school environment, or the unresponsive students, quite the opposite, students were fascinated to Tweet about World Peace Day (those that had internet in their personal phones), prepare lessons on segregation in the US, celebrate World Water Day or criticize the United Nations...they had a voice in classes.
However, keeping in touch with my former colleagues in the US, I realized technology was implemented very seriously in the classrooms no matter which one it was. I had experienced that myself: my ESOL students using Google Earth to locate their hometowns, or practicing pronunciation, studying Math, Science and Social Studies online. In 2011 in Argentina, Blackberry cellphones were already in the market so we were "Wow!! you have a Blackberry!". So, after checking how many of my students had a smartphone, I felt I had to do something new, innovative and creative: I could not sit still waiting for digital devices to be delivered to me: I had to look for a way to work with those phones my students had, although I did not have one myself. Soon after that, I decided to buy an LG cellphone with a built-in camera to take photos and record video: 2 gigs but not so good to connect to Internet. I NEEDED to innovate! I had to! I couldn´t accept I was in a classroom environment where books, cds and handouts were the only resources available. So what I did, was to start taking pictures and recording very bad quality videos of my students while they were working on projects.

Later that same year, I enrolled on an online course offered by one of the most well-known technological universities and delivered by a very well-known specialist. So, after a couple of weeks my innovative-educator life began at the same moment I was invited to join the 30 Goals Challenge for Educators. 

Why did I mention adversity and obstacles if all I had written here were mainly successful events? 
All that glitters is not gold, oh yes! I had to face adversity and tackle or kicked obstacles out of my way! Power outages, exams rescheduled due to different reasons, health problems, not being recognized for my teaching background and knowledge, bad pay and low-tech are enough reasons to quit. 
Despite all the above mentioned, my students´motivation, enthusiasm and response kept my hope, my own enthusiasm and motivation alive.

Not being able to Skype with a computer or big screen and projector, has not stopped me to connect my students with classes in the US and Canadaasynchronous conversation and collaboration have become usual activity in our classes which are always focused on Grammar and Language practice for Cambridge Exams.
Instagram and Snapchat are making miracles nowadays: by just making our students upload an introduction of themselves and share their accounts on Padlet, ask and answer questions on Voxer, my colleagues abroad and myself have made global classrooms a reality in our lives as connected educators: adaptability, flexibility, resourcefulness, organization, creativity, brainstorming, willingness all key ingredients to make this dream come true: now we Tweet, "Scope", Periscope and Voxer many times a week.
Socrative and Buncee are common words in my students´daily conversation. I had to adapt my tech classes and my mindset to certain limitations: difficulty connecting to cellphone data, low batteries or broken screens.

Besides, being a mom who loves to be very present in my children´s lives makes me face challenges all the time!. 

Here´s a list a videos I have of just some of ALL of MY AWESOME students:

Their latest work on Snapchat, an app my students master! (I really do not!)


Why Goal-Minded and Globally Connected? I´ve Been Edumatched and Edupassioned!

It has been a long time since my last post. Many good things have happened, though. Despite being a full time mom and educator, I have tried to be engaged in online events and share my passion for teaching. However, I must be totally honest: I really need more than 24 hours on a single day to get all done...am I being very original! Of course not!. We, fully engaged educators, don't pay much attention to the time spent doing things we like!. How can we pass on to our students in our classes all this excitement and enthusiasm? It is hard but not impossible. See for yourself!

This past July there was an amazing 24 hour online conference EdCamp Global 2016: you can check the schedule, presenters and topics just by clicking on the name. In my case, the easiest way to present all I have done in my classes along the last two years, was to Periscope. Organizers were amazing, all was fun, inspiration, motivation and passion: games and prizes were bonus features!!


The second online event I attended and presented was organized by Shelly Terrell and Sarah Thomas Edupassions Web Conference on September 3rd: presenters and passion pitches presenters were a treat! The best thing is that the whole event can be watched on You Tube
For a change, there was something that had to happen and it was that after I presented for the second round of Passion pitches, Internet was down due to power outage, so I spent almost ten minutes trying to figure out how to light my face in the dark, so I kept moving my laptop and changing seats in my house looking for the most lighted dark place. Anyway, just  listening to all the presenters and their wonderful ideas, has energized me to continue and make a last effort to finish my 2016 school year, definitely a year full of successful experiences, great connections and above all good vibes, good people as well as students, and the best PLN in the virtual world.


Blame It On Pokemon! The Blessings Of Motherhood, Bilingual Motherhood...

"Listen to what a mom does for her child!", I told one of my friends during our chat today: my son, now nineteen, used to be and still is unstoppable: multitasking, with a strong memory to remember brands, logos, facts and events, super curious, communicative, extroverted night owl talker and sharer. 

Since he was a baby, he would not go to sleep until very late or woke up many times at night.  He obviously started talking at a very early age so the moment he was able to build sentences he asked me "Mami, ¿por qué tengo que ir a dormir si yo todavía quiero seguir haciendo cosas?". He made himself very clear what he thought about the "going to sleep issue". He didn´t want to go to sleep because he still had too much to do!. 

On one of those long evenings, he started to watch Pokemon which was on Cartoon Network at 10 pm on weekdays. I knew I was not doing anything good by letting him see that cartoon, there had been rumors about it, children having seizures after watching and he was only two to be up so late, it was not the type of cartoon he was supposed to be watching. He was not supposed to be up at that age at that time. Period!!. 

Anyway, did I make a wrong/right choice?. As a desperate mother and teacher, I needed myself to stay up to do school or house work. Did I make the right/wrong choice to let him watch tv so late?. I didn´t think deeply about it and simply decided to take advantage of the situation by turning on the tv SAP function with which audio is provided in the original language. In that way, he would watch Pokemon in English as I didn´t want him to understand what they were saying in Spanish. Why? I don´t know: maybe there were negative words like hate, battle, defeat beat... It goes without saying that neither me nor my husband took the time to sit down to listen what the characters said or did...the characters chose to fight to "Catch ´Em All"! 

Parenthood is a blessing but nobody else but you are responsible for your choices to make it a real blessing. Motherhood and/or Fatherhood was in front of us both, so we were "experimenting", trying to be the best parents. Parenthood is a little bit like that: you try so have 50% failure or success;  you learn from your own mistakes: already written "excellence formulas" just work for a few people, and we were definitely not among those parents.

Going back to my Pokemon themed post, I must confess that to my surprise he would watch attentively every night without saying anything or even asking me what they were saying, until he once asked me: ¿Mami, por qué Pokemón está en Inglés?. ¿Por?, I replied. "No, nada" he answered, "nothing", he said, and kept on watching. That was his very first continuous exposure to English, because here in Argentina, the first language is Spanish. From then on, he had no problem to watch and or listen to English.
To make a long story short, when we moved to the United States where I was offered to teach High School, he was almost five so he was admitted in K5. 
To my amazement, while we were spending a sunny Saturday at Granite Quarry Park, after only two weeks of attending school, he told me "Mom!" "Watch this!" and he made a trick in the monkey bar. He was already using phrases and understood most of what was said in class.
He picked up the language so easily that he became a Advanced Reader by age six: he learned to read and write in English and he applied the rules while writing in Spanish as well. He became fluent reader and writer in both languages at seven. I would like to think that one of the most influencing factors was our habit to attend the local public library where he would always take lots of books home. 
He immediately got used to reading a book or two a day either at home or at school where there was a special Pizza Hut or Subway prize at the end of each month for those students who read the most. 
He definitely had the gift to learn easily as he was placed out of the ESL program after only two years of being pulled out of the regular class to practice English only. teacher told me he had progressed so much that he only needed to be monitored once every semester!. 
He was completely bilingual Spanish-English when he turned seven!. My husband and I couldn´t be prouder and happier!. We spoke Argentinian at home and read to him in Spanish so the exposure to both languages was huge.
Then, back in Argentina in 2008, his passion for Pokemon games and his ability to create made him start uploading Pokemon tutorials in English on You Tube. Even today he still does make some uploads: he has many subscribers: my students too!.
That is why when parents asked me what the best way to learn English was: I always told them: make them watch tv, listen to music whatever is available but all in English! It DOES work. If you don´t believe what I am saying, check the following:
My other testimony, is my daughter now 8 who, unlike her brother, was born in America but has been living in Argentina since she was eight months old. We talked to her in Spanish and some English sometimes but she has always watched and listened to English on television and on Internet, and I can say she is fluent in English without having been taught how to!. 


World Refugees projects 30 Goals Challenge for Educators: Give Peace A Chance #ImaginePeace

For this school year I had planned two projects

With my 14-15 year-old groups: World Refugees: #YouMatter and "Be the Change You Want To See In The World"/ My Name is Malala: with my 12-13 year-old ones. My following post will be about the Malala project.

The first project** was inspired by Rusul Alrubail who wrote a heart-felt article on her experience of being a "refugee" herself. Rusul is a teacher-colleague from Irak now living in Canada, whom I "met" during her keynote for Shelly Terrell´s 30 Goals Web Conference, whom I follow on Twitter and thanks to Vicki Loras´ tweet, this idea came to my mind: I asked Rusul if she would read the article she wrote for PBS for my students to listen to her while they readmy goal was to double the impact: to read and to listen to real testimony. So, as soon as Rusul sent me the audio, I had my classes listened to her and write down questions she would kindly answer in the near future. 
My students´ reacted quite positively and maturely to the idea of listening to a "real person telling her story" for further analysis and discussion. Honestly, what we always practice is Listening Comprehension with the coursebooks´ cds. After listening and reading the article, they were a bit shocked by the reality: first, it was hard for them to understand how I knew Rusul and second, the fact that I could direct message her to ask for that favor: all was a bit confusing for them: they would not believe me that she had sent me the audio on Facebook Messenger. Right now, we are in the process of sending her some questions: Do you miss Baghdad?, Did you ever go back there? Did you understand what the word war was? 
This project is in collaboration with three more teachers at school: I shared my idea the History teacher who immediately jumped in, together with the Civics and the Geography teacher: they were fascinated!. The Social Studies teachers are in charge of introducing what ISIS is, terrorism in Europe, Syrians fleeing their country: routes in Asia and Europe. Although all the content is in Spanish, I make my students comment, read and listen about these topics in English, which can be considered a full CLIL  class. Up to now, I have done this with one of my Intermediate classes. I will have my other class do the same activity the first weeks in April.
This activity is definitely challenging (as an educator you never know how your students will take this kind of piece of news), inspirational, thought-provoking but most of all, it gives teenagers the chance to reflect, think beyond borders, develop their sense of empathy and awareness: it opens their minds and eyes to the living world, it shows them that the purpose of schooling is not only for them to be taught, it is a place where they can show their feelings and emotions, express their opinions: summing up in one word: it helps them to have a VOICE to comment, to express themselves, to develop their critical thinking, to say something, or add any type of previous knowledge they had about it and at the same time to become aware of what is going on in the world they live in. 

**It is relevant for the reader to know that I teach English as a Foreign Language in a private school in Buenos Aires, Argentina where the official language is Spanish, my students are practicing the foreign language with authentic material which gives them a better training and connection to the real English-speaking world.

Another idea I implemented in class with one of my senior groups back in 2012, was to first. ask the them if they had a Twitter account, reliable Internet connection in the cell phones and those who did, "tweeted" their PEACE wish to Imagine Peace Tower on October 9 the day of John Lennon´s birthday (ex-Beatle, singer, song-writer, peace activist) and also on September 21, which is United Nations International Day of Peace. We also listened to Peace songs like "Give Peace A Chance" and "Imagine" by John Lennon, "Awaiting On You All" by George Harrison, "Pipes Of Peace" by Paul McCartney, "Ebony and Ivory" by McCartney/Stevie Wonder, and relate the lyrics to the below featured Global Goals: 


How to Keep Motivation Alive

I recently listened to Vicki Davis´ talk with Ron Clark in "Every Classroom Matters", on BAM radio network, about methods to reach the hard-to-reach students. How does this connect with "keeping students motivation alive?. I will try to make a difference between the conversation between Mrs Davis and Mr Clark had in which they described so clearly -I could almost see the expressions on their faces despite the fact it was a radio show- the effort that teachers have to make to engage a whole class in certain activities or topics. In my opinion engagement has to do with motivation, whether intrinsic or extrinsic, both co-exist among a school population. I would like to understand that one type of motivation is intrinsic to the person itself or the so called self-motivation, whereas the extrinsic one is the one caused by the educator´s magical touch or the student´s desire to achieve a goal or get something special. I could name another type of motivation which is not motivation itself, but it´s the child´s knowing that at school he has to complete assignments, it is part of his life as a child or as a teenager. Yes! Believe it or not, some students function like that!. I am a real witness of several types of students´ functionality. Ron Clark made a point when he said that children should not be given a trophy to show them they are great. (I am not so sure about this because my own child used to read a great number of books from the library to get a coupon to eat at Pizza Hut or Subway, which helped him not only to be fluent in English in less than a year, but also to be Advanced Reader when he was six). Ron Clark also 
added that that was something he had seen for years: parents claiming a prize or trophy was typical of "our society", he meant the American one: parents demanding teachers to treat their children as if they were champions in everything they do. Mr Clark states "We, Americans, are raising kids who cannot take a "No" for an answer". I only wish I could tell him this happens only in the United States: it is a worldwide problem. To make matters worse, what I also see really negative in all that is that children cannot take orders or instructions easily or understand when something is not right and should not be done.

As an educator who has worked in a private school in Argentina, my native land, since the late ´80´s and for North Carolina Public School System from 2001 to 2008, I not only know exactly how the system works but also how students behave in both environments. I personally think some children are spoiled by their parents, I was once told while working in the US... Spoiled??, I wondered ...Yes! I first heard that word while working at ERHS and did not understand what it meant very much at the beginning, but later I realized what that sweet secretary wanted to tell me: Señora Casella, that is how she would call me, "in America", she said, "our children are spoiled", she would add: "parents give fancy cars to children when they are 15 or 16, they get any electronic device easily, the last video game or whatever t-shirt, pair of pants on fashion". I felt so puzzled and more did she until I told her, she was totally unaware that almost the same happens here with middle-class children, tweens and teenagers, or at least in Buenos Aires, the capital city, where I live: to my amazement, about a month ago I saw a mom walking her toddler on a stroller  and the baby was playing with an ipad!. I remember I got very upset when a student of mine, back in the 1990´s was given a brand new car even though he had not graduated from school: he never studied for the easy tests I used to give that class!. The truth was that I was almost thirty but I couldn´t afford a car of my own in those times!. I was not envious I was upset. 

Anyway, I believe, like many of the awesome teachers in my PLN, we all have a talent and we deserve to be acknowledged for that talent. I´m not saying every time a child does something well needs to be given a gift, aka trophy. This is the kind of message, I understand, Ron Clark wants to deliver: in a way what he says is that children need to understand that sometimes they are better or not that good than others at doing something, that they need to face reality from childhood, because they will grow thinking they deserve a trophy for every good deed, but what the point is that their good actions DO need to be addressed as GOOD and well-accomplished without over-reacting or "over-awarding" them.

Image credit Edutopia-Mary Williams-Educator
In my opinion, what truly matters is how much effort and enthusiasm students put in what they do. I strongly believe all students can learn, and it is true that some of them learn sometimes at a different pace, but in the end, we all deserve to see the result of an effort: I love to enhance the I CAN and "I am going to get it", so I am sharing this screenshot from a fantastic webinar given by Susan Hillyard in November 2015.

Going From I Can´t To I Can! by Susan Hillyard.:

Image credit Susan Hillyard

As a caring educator and mother myself, I need to express my disagreement with certain attitudes and decisions some teachers make, especially with self-motivated students. I have met self-motivated children who participated actively in class, finished classwork really quickly and were always ready to write on the board, answer questions, volunteer or do whatever task I proposed. Unfortunately, sometimes this type of students are those seeking perfection and feel really frustrated when they can´t get to the level they are expecting to achieve. I have found this wonderful, very useful chart on Change Your Words-Change Your Mindset, which applies to those children who try to do their best, but still can´t fully succeed, the same way those who try their best, get it and when they do not, they feel fully accomplished.

Image credit Pinterest-Growth Mindset Board
Going back to Mr Clark´s opinion on giving a trophy to every student, in my opinion, an it could be an alternative to that method, what teachers CAN do, and now addressing a colleague, (whose name will be kept anonymous because he/she was not able to deliver a good message properly along the year) is give just a simple word of encouragement, a personal note to the pupil, or some kind of reward or praise: a thumbs up stamp or smiley face would have worked wonderfully. The praise and words of encouragement, which were used all along the year according to this above mentioned "educator", were almost never effective in this second grade. And I am talking about second graders!. These methods did not reach most the class, quite the opposite, they encouraged misbehavior. I am not criticizing a colleague, I am intending to evaluate the educator´s role and point out the negatively increasing level of frustration this educator caused in most of the students, especially in those students who are faithful, good followers and allies of the teacher´s instructions. Honestly, what worries me most is that this person denied all feedback given by parents and was totally backed-up by the administrators. We, teachers cannot definitely lose students who are already intrinsically motivated!!

Image credit Education Week Teacher      
What is the consequence of all this? What is the worst outcome of all this lack of classroom management? It is a fact that good students get disappointed, lose motivation or any passion for learning, whereas those that do not care much about studying, have a great time doing what they want to do: nothing at all. One of the solutions to these type of problems is what Ron and Vicki suggest in the interview: if we give all students the same type of praise or message, we are capitalizing or socializing the classroom, children will no longer believe in us, because we tell the same to everybody. 

Image credit Fabiana Casella created with Quozio
via Edutopia-Maurice Elías   

It goes without saying that we, educators, cannot do what our students want us to do or say, but we have to have the perception, that one thing or sixth sense of who is who in our class, or what to tell who under certain circumstances, or who does what or does not: if we cannot figure out that "thing" after a couple of months, we are definitely not in the right job, for example: not to allow the whole class have recess or not finish reading a book at the library because some students are misbehaving is not fair to all students in that class. I would not want to be reprimanded like that if some other teachers do not do their work: whatever order or instruction authorities give should be directed to that specific people and not to the whole group: it causes disengagement, frustration, bad mood and discomfort

Image credit Fabiana Casella created with Quozio via Edutopia-Maurice Elías  

We, teachers, have to work hard on classroom management, set rules from the beginning of the school year, and be flexible enough to adapt those rules to certain moments or situations. Showing you care is so easy, the difficult task is keeping your energy until the very last minute of class to be able to achieve our goal: to reach at least one difficult student!. (Vicki Davis-Ron Clark)