Mindfulness for ELT Professionals by Trish Reilly 27 May 2022

This session was hosted by Rachael Roberts/ELT Freelance Professionals Lightbulb Moments/Earn, Learn, Thrive. (Link is to the Facebook Group that Rachael manages, where this session was advertised.)

Trish started with a little breathing exercise, breathing in and out 3 times. 3 breaths stop. Take 3 deep breaths, releasing each one fully. A little break from where we were to the present moment. Any time you need a quick reset, you can do your 3 breaths, without anyone even noticing. A quick, simple technique to learn and use – before a class, before a meeting.

She asked us “Where is your mind?”. We are often on autopilot. She told us a story of how she drove from home to ballet on autopilot and had no recollection how she got there. It’s very easy not to pay attention to what is happening. And before you know it, you’ve had 5 chocolate biscuits from the packet. Regular tasks can be done without fully engaging brains but it doesn’t help us with fully living our lives. Our bodies are here but where are our minds? We live in the story of me. We might be in the past thinking about regrets or anger or frustration. Going over and over things. Or we might be in the future worrying about something that will happen, or fearing it. The story of “what if…”

The mind is its own place and in itself can make a hell of heaven or a heaven of hell (John Milton). We can be in a tricky situation but if we can give ourselves space to be with what is, it can be a situation that we can gracefully take ourselves through. Our minds create our reality. How many thoughts do you think you might have in a day? is the next question. Research says we have up to 70,000 thoughts in a day, which is incredible when you think about it. Most of our thoughts are not real. Mindfulness helps us become more aware of our thoughts and emotions for what they are, thoughts and emotions not facts.

John Kabat-Zinn – “Mindfulness means to pay attention on purpose in the present moment non-judgementally.” We did a short bodyscan and I nodded off, oops. It is also a simple practice moving your attention from one body part to another to another and focusing your attention on it non-judgementally. Next she asks us to remember a stressful moment. That creates stress in our bodies. Our brains can’t tell the difference between imagining difficult things and having to deal with difficult things. So we get the same stress response by thinking about things as by experiencing things. The stress reponse activates the nervous system.

We take a few minutes to deal with that stress before we move on, by doing a short breathing practice called the 3-6 practice. Breathe in to the count of 3, breathe out to the count of 6. The parasympathetic nervous system is activated by this and activating it tells your body that it is in a safe state. Making the outbreath longer than the inbreath calms the stress system.

Next she wants to talk about stress. She asks us what comes to mind when we think about stress. All the comments are about the negative aspects of stress e.g. time pressure, anxiety, overwhelm. But the stress system actually evolved to keep us alive. It gets us active in order to deal with a threat. Short term stress is fine, long-term stress can be a problem. Short term it energises us, focuses us; it is a short cycle after which we can return to balance. Long term stress is when it becomes chronic and then it can lead to illness, exhaustion, low performance and you can’t see the big picture. In the modern world, the stress system is triggered many times a day by external stressors e.g. deadlines, meetings, tricky people, pandemics and internal stressors e.g. our thoughts and emotions. Usually a combination of both. We are hard-wired to seek out the negative/danger. If there are a dozen good things and one bad thing, we will tend to focus on the one bad thing.

Oh, brain!

Mindfulness helps us break the stress cycle and avoid getting into a chronic stress state. We pay attention, notice, things like tension in shoulders and jaw, and take a few minutes to do a body scan or some 3-6 breathing and break the cycle by returning to a calm state. The strategies are mindfulness techniques. If you regularly practice mindfulness, you are more able to respond more positively to stressful situations and you create a muscle memory which is able to become your parachute. You don’t want to start trying to do mindfulness practice when you are super stressed, you want to develop it when you are calm so you have more tools to choose from when you are stressed, in order to respond.

Breaking the stress cycle

Research shows many benefits: being happier, better focus, being able to return to calm more quickly, improved relationships, deal better with strong emotions, be better able to learn, plan, think and remember. Mindfulness is any time, any place for anyone. It’s not a religion, you don’t need to be in a particular place or do particular yoga positions, you don’t need to empty your mind. It is simple, practical techniques you can use. It is not a cure for serious depression. It can help anxiety and stress and generally improve our quality of being.

Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery but today is a gift and that’s why they call it the present. Mindfulness is all about being present with what it is, without judging it. The question we want to ask ourselves is do we want to be mind-full or mindful?

Mind-full or Mindful?

John Kabat-Zinn has videos you can look at. Tricia wants to run a course for ELT professionals, which she will post more information about it in the ELT Lightbulb moments group in due course. Mindfulness increases the connections between the amygdala and the pre-frontal cortext so practising is literally ‘weaving the parachute’ – do it on a daily basis don’t wait til you need it! NB it doesn’t need to be an hour a day, 10 minutes on a regular basis will have a positive effect.

And that was the end of the session. My attendance was serendipitous as I hadn’t realised it was on until a minute before it started when I happened to notice an announcement about it! None of it was new to me but it’s always good to be reminded and I’ll be interested to hear more about the course too. I liked the image of not waiting until you are jumping out of a plane to weave a parachute. I.e. develop mindfulness techniques when things are calm so you can use them when things are not calm.

Woah, we’re half way there…

Woah…living on a prayer!

This popped into my head because we are just reaching the end of Week 6 of 12 teaching weeks this semester! 🙂 [Edit: it has become the end of Week 7 – the small matter of some coursework marking to take care of, you see…] And, what with the whole Covid situation and negotiating blended learning and the complications it entails, the “living on a prayer” bit is not entirely untrue either! About 5 weeks into the semester, I remembered I have a blog, and this week I am finally getting round to actually using it for a change. WordPress seems to have changed again since I was last here, as far as how the post drafting page looks. In particular, the font and size; not in a good way either (kind of uncomfortable on the eyes!), but here we all are. I’ve slightly mitigated by figuring out how to make the font bigger and making the background sort of orangey, which makes my eyes feel like they are straining less, though this seems to work per paragraph block rather than the background as a whole. Also not sure how it will interact with the finished product/my website “look”! Will I need to finish by getting rid of these changes? Time – and preview – will tell! [Edit: Preview suggests that things stay very big and orange if I leave as is!! Good to know!] (If anyone has any handy workarounds for making the drafting stage more visually friendly e.g. being able to choose the font/size/background, without it affecting what comes out the published end, please let me know! (Previous iterations of WordPress blog drafting have been annoying sometimes but not uncomfortable so I am not au fait with changing everything up.)

So, blended learning. Our blended delivery works as 2 x 1hr lessons delivered online and 1 x 1hr lesson + 1 x 2hr lesson delivered F2F. In terms of materials, that works out as 3hrs of core material and 2hrs of supplementary material. In practice, I tend to spread the core material over 5hrs and do 1hr of supplementary (usually listening or speaking lessons) each week. Part of the reason I have been so busy is that as well as prepping the new core materials each week and making or adapting new material for the supplementary hours, and working on the development team for the Semester 2 materials, is that I have also been going back and reworking things in previous weeks of this semester, based on this semester’s experience of what is and isn’t working. Overall, being able to spread the core materials out a bit and having more class time to work through the content is working really well and the structure of the week (1hr, 1hr [online], 1hr, 2hr [F2F]) means that the 3rd hour is usually the listening/speaking skills lesson, which breaks the week up a bit and allows a bit more time for homework tasks to be completed between core lessons. I’m really enjoying it all – the teaching and the materials development – but it is keeping me VERY busy (hence forgetting about the existence of this blog!).

Timetabling has been….interesting…this academic year (I am eternally grateful not to be in charge of it!). – Hence “living on a prayer“! We started out with part of our student population already in the UK and another part still abroad at home. So that translated into a mixture of blended and online-only groups. However, that is not static – students are drifting across to the UK in dribs and drabs continually, so it was decided that there would be entry points into the blended learning classes for students arriving in the UK. (To do it as and when would be a timetabling nightmare, apparently it is bad enough with entry points!) So, at the beginning of Week 4 and the beginning of Week 7, our classes have had the potential for change. Mine maxed out in Week 4 so I had no further changes in Week 7 but the shift in ratio of students abroad and in the UK has meant some online classes being closed, some combining and more F2F ones opening. Under 18s do have to be slotted into F2F classes straight away, but for the rest the next entry point is at the end of Week 10 (or was it the start of week 10…). Next semester, we will also have the January cohort doing something similar. By April, all students should be doing blended classes due to visa requirements changing at that point (but we shall see – we had that thought would be the case in September and it was pushed back!), so possibly less chaotic then?!

Nevertheless, being back in the classroom has been brilliant. I and my students all wear masks at all times (other than to have a drink of water from time to time), which makes it harder to hear what they are saying at times but it does push them to speak up in order to be heard! Monitoring speaking activities is particularly challenging because apart from the masks, the classroom layout is not conducive to monitoring (rows of desks) which in one of my rooms I can go to either end of the front row and one end of the remaining rows and the other only one end of any of the rows except the front row. Nevertheless, I just do my best. One thing I noticed at the start was while I could still easily learn their names and faces despite their masks being on all the time (eyebrows, hair, eyes etc.), when they first came in without a mask on (sometimes they get in the room and then put it on), it threw me because I hadn’t learned the usually masked up bit of their faces! It was grand to be able to do the name game (I am _____ and I like_____. This is ________ and they like________; I am________ and I like______ ….and keep adding on student by student) and so nice to get them to do stuff in pairs and groups without breakout rooms coming into it.

One of the things I have been able to start up again is the start of class meditation I instigated a year or so pre-pandemic. I am only doing it at the start of face to face classes, but it does have a positive effect on their focus in those. Mid-semester student feedback has also been positive. I have also brought back the Homework log I used to use with the addition of an in-class materials tab because we no longer have paper workbooks, just electronic handouts. I started out using Padlet, but while visually appealing it was limited by not being unlimited (!) – that is, I couldn’t use a different padlet each week, I had 2 in rotation, so one served odd number weeks and one served even number weeks, which meant there was no fixed point for students to come back to and find their handouts. This means that being able to refer to documents would rely on them having a sensible system of saving them to their Google drives. So, in Week 6 I switched to using the Homework log, with new added in class materials tab on Google sheets. Less visually appealing but more useful in terms of the materials links being in one place, with more added each week, and thereby building up a sort of workbook. The next problem, of course, has been getting them to use it. I’ve yet to get all 19 of them to open it in a single class. (It would have been the same with padlet but is just more immediately obvious with Googlesheets!) Which of course means they cannot participate actively. Well, less “cannot”, more “will not”. (I put the link in the chatbox, literally all they have to do is click on it!) I get it, they are in a new place, there is a lot going on, they have a lot of subjects to follow, they want to party all weekend (away from home, “post-pandemic”, no restrictions here!), and as the loooong semester wears on they become ever more tired etc, but it is still frustrating. Of course the coursework quality is very much divided along the lines of participation – that is, those who don’t participate (and by participate, I am not demanding chatbox interaction/breakout group interaction, I mean, I am, but I would settle for opening the handouts at the relevant time and following quietly if that is all they can cope with on a given day!) have done more poorly, those that do have done much better in terms of what they have produced. Yesterday, I talked to them about it at the end of our F2F class, so we shall see what happens next week. I anticipate they will have forgotten by then, so I will need to incorporate some kind of reminder slide…

Now that I have built up some experience of blended teaching and discovered some of the strengths and pitfalls, it is time to work out how to make it better, beyond what I have already tried to implement and discovered in the process. As such, I am about to embark on two recently published (April 2021, September 2021) books about teaching online:

(My teenagers are older teenagers but teenagers nevertheless! 17-18 year olds.)

My goal: make the second half of the semester better than the first half. I did my best during the first half but my best can get better! Hurrah for more learning.

What books/articles about online teaching and learning would you recommend? NB those with digital editions preferred! Also those geared towards an EAP context!

End of (another) academic year

Somehow or another, another academic year is drawing to a close. I said goodbye to another group of students today (lovely group, they were!) and all that remains is some writing exam standardisation, a pile of exam marking, and some coursework misconduct meetings next week. (Also next week, I will be getting my second dose of vaccine, woohoo!) It seems the appropriate point to reflect on the goals I set at the start of the academic year and look forward to next academic year.

I finished last year in a pretty sorry state in some ways – poor health, feeling burnt out and uncertain about continuing in my role as ADoS. A good long break helped and I came back to work with the following goals:

  1. Be curious! By being curious about everything that I encounter, all the newness that is ahead, I can open up lots of opportunities for learning and growth. 
  2. Be patient! With myself, with my colleagues, with my students. It won’t be an easy year and that is ok, it can still be a positive one.
  3. Be grateful! Look for the positives and appreciate them. Smile lots. 
  4. Be open to challenge! It’s ok, good even, for things to be difficult, challenge leads to discovery and growth. 
  5. Be kind to myself! Look after myself appropriately, maintain a good work-life balance (easier with the 4-day week!), keep meditating, eat well, exercise regularly, spend quality time with my girlfriend regularly. 

In the end, I decided to continue in the ADoS role and so now have another year of that under my belt. It has been a year fully spent working online/remotely. It has also now been a year and a half since I last worked in our building, which seems extraordinary to say the least! So, how I have done with the goals?

  1. I have learned a LOT this academic year. Amongst other things, I have put myself in online class student shoes by participating in Italian language classes once a week. I have done courses with two different providers and continue studying with the second provider. Each provider gave a very different learning experience, both of which I have blogged extensively about. What I have learned by being a student, of course, I have also been able to apply to being a teacher. I think I have become a reasonably competent online teacher, comfortable with this way of teaching. However, there is plenty of room for improvement. Use and monitoring of breakout rooms comes to mind. With a class of 20 students, I struggled with this. Feedback from my students, obtained through group discussions of a list of questions which they summarised their answers to in a Google doc will be useful going forward, as will the feedback from my line manager’s observation. I was lucky, they were a great group and I enjoyed teaching them. Other learning opportunities have included attending online TD workshops, from which I came away with ideas and food for thought, and reading – journal articles, blog posts, books. Finally, due to the high standard of my own application, I have been a fellowship assessor for two application cycles, so when people have submitted applications for becoming Associate Fellow of the Higher Education Authority (AFHEA), FHEA, and Senior FHEA (what I achieved in May last year), I have been one of a large group of people who have assessed those applications. I sat out the most recent round (as a voluntary role, you can elect to sit out for a cycle when you need to and I decided for this one I needed to!) but in the two that I did do this academic year, I learnt more about what my colleagues across the university are doing, which was fascinating. I would say yes, I did open up some good opportunities for learning and growth. May this continue.
  2. I think I have been more patient this year and allowed it to be the year that it was. I have tried to meditate more regularly but it has been sporadic. That said, I am nevertheless getting better at pausing rather than reacting, which also helps on the patience front. One of my goals for this holiday is to really get into a proper regular meditating habit as I very much believe it will help me next academic year when things are all change again!
  3. My gf and I keep a gratitude calendar together. Every evening before bed, we add in all the things we are grateful for from that day. It’s just a google doc with a table. Some days it is harder than others but on all days we can find stuff. And that in itself is something to be grateful for! (I recommend keeping a gratitude calendar – I kept one alone before my gf and I got together; we only started doing it together during the first lockdown when we were apart, as a way to continue to bond – it is a great way to cultivate a mind that finds the positives and very simple and quick to do. You could use a notebook, a word doc, whatever works for you.)
  4. Well, this was rather a vague goal wasn’t it. But here we all are. Could almost argue that by doing my job for this academic year I was by definition open to challenge! I think getting fully to grips with online teaching (last academic year was just one term and we were doing a very limited amount of live stuff) has been a big challenge, in particular how to look after my students, how to make the lessons accessible to them, how to support their learning and assessment effectively. I feel I have come a long way since September 2020 when we kicked off. In terms of ADoSing, it was my partner teacher’s second year of doing it so it has been solid. Good teamwork, pretty smooth. The odd hiccup but dealt with effectively. Next year, I will have a new partner ADoS as the current one is going on maternity leave. I think I have been in the position that much longer than last time I was in this position and hope therefore to be a better mentor – it is certainly something I will be focusing on. I will also hopefully be making SMARTer goals… 😉
  5. Ah yes. The first year of 4 day weeks. 🙂 I can say without doubt that it was definitely the right decision for me. I am in a MUCH better state than I was this time last year. While it has been a markedly less stressful academic year than the previous one, in which we were throwing down the train track as we hurtled along it, I am in no doubt that my quality of life has improved significantly with the change from 5 days to 4. The balance is just much, much better. Working from home has continued to be positive, also since I moved in with my gf. Being able to cook and eat lunch together has made eating less monotonous and we manage to do it healthily. Exercise is MUCH easier with a 4 day week because I can do my long runs or bike rides on my not at work day, while she is working, and therefore not be choosing between spending quality time with her and doing substantial exercise. At the weekends we do things like swimming and paddling together and I fit in shorter runs/bike rides sometimes too.

While I was writing this, I just received, in my email inbox, a recognition award:

Not just me, all the ADoSes. Honestly, I reckon the entire centre deserves one. Everyone has put such a lot in since this pandemic started. These awards were put on hold for a while due to financial constraints but it seems they are back again. It is always super nice to be appreciated! Very motivating.

Looking forward to next year, it is going to be a year of great change. After a year of being fully at home and online, it is back to the college for us! Something that is both scary and exciting. However, I am going to treat myself to having my holiday before I think about my goals for next academic year. That will be a job for nearer the time of The Great Return. For now, I will wrap this up and with it academic year 2020-21 (minus the final marking week, of course). Overall, I would say, a definite positive one. Hurrah!

Creative commons licensed https://www.flickr.com/photos/54724696@N07/24160789397 feels fitting for the culmination of this year, made it to the top of another academic year mountain of learning, challenges and life.

Upper Intermediate Italian Lesson 8

I actually finished this course prior to Easter, finally catching up on the blog posts!!

I was bang on time, on the nose, no time to spare. Gf and I were watching Star Trek downstairs ’til I noticed it was 1829 and legged it up to my computer! Still first though, and by a good way. The first student arrived (to our relief) at 1837. And another soon after.  So I had five minutes of talking to the teacher again. I wasn’t very good at expanding on my answers! Nevertheless, we talked a bit about lockdown easing and my time in Sicily. Then once the others arrived, the second arrived soon after the first, same two as last week, we started talking about International Women’s Day (which is today). That was cool.

Newsletter thingy. Oops I had misunderstood. The other student who I thought had also done it already last week actually hadn’t. So when the teacher asked who wants to do it this week, I said her name, because I didn’t want her to miss out two weeks in a row but instead I guess she felt put on the spot, oops. Instead, we are asked to ask the five W’s to the third student and he should reply and that should form his contribution (as not already done also). I haven’t done another one but I don’t think it will matter as I suspect once we finish this one that will be it for tonight and we’ll move on to something else. I forgot, but also subconsciously probably reckoned, based on how things have gone, that I have a week in hand! Really better do one this time round. Well…mayyybe. There are only two more lessons and two other students still have to contribute…hmmm!

The student is asked to write it for next week. Then we move on to reviewing combined pronouns. So I was correct about not needing it. Not convinced I will next week either, or the one after, but I will TRY and do one. Then it’s ready for when it does arise, if it does in the last two lessons that remain after this one! Also because it is good practice.

Reviewing pronouns takes the shape of the teacher reading the extract to grammar book to us.  In English cos it is slides made from that book that has explanation in English. Haiya.


A grammar controlled practice. We do it with no prep time. I misunderstand the task on the fly, oops. But correct myself easily. Straightforward, then, despite no time to do it before going through it.

Then we move on to a review of the imperative. We haven’t done the imperative so far this course but ok. Again, the teacher reads us the grammar book. Ahh, the point is what we do with pronouns and imperatives e.g. Marco, mettiti la giacca. The pronouns go after the imperative, attached.

P99 – Verbi monosillabici all’imperativi + pronomi

=We had to take it in turns to read the forms aloud e.g. I had fa’ fammi fallo fammelo.

Then I got lost again, turned out the activity we went to next was ABOVE the grammar box not after it. I still got mine right though even though I still hadn’t found the task, based on the teacher saying it to me (the teacher hadn’t realised I was lost, they used this approach with all of us). Lots of grammar tonight.

Then we move on to do some reading on p.103.  Joy of joys we get time to read alone – it is a longer text and we are allocated a third each to read and then summarise. Then we discuss the topic of the text. Which was cool.

Io sono dell’idea che… (This, the teacher said in an incidental kind of way and I noted it down because it is a nice phrase for expressing opinion)

Next we move on to a film “il mostro” with Roberto Benigni. There is a long description in English and then some tasks in Italian, including watching the film extract. I mistakenly answer directly for the first one but for once in a way we aren’t supposed to, oops.

  1. Sono troppo stanca. Mi fa male la testa.

^^We have to make up common excuses. Then watch the extract and try to pick out any excuses that we can. 

  • Sto male, sto molto male
  • Scusi ho un altro impegno

B. Now we have to try and hear what the amministratore says.

  • Ma che dice?
  • Signora aspetti
  • Un giorno gliela farò pagare
  • Pagherà tutto

C We have to compare what happens in Italy when someone calls in sick to work with here.  There, someone might go to your house and check.

darsi malato – call in sick

Dobbiamo solo presentare un certificato medico se stiamo a casa più di 5 giorni

And finish! As we are finishing, the teacher asks us if we would like to do more with films next time. I said yes! It was nice to be asked about future lesson content.


  • I only have two more lessons left, eeek! However <drumroll> I have finally pulled my finger out and found another course to do. This time it is with International House. I did the entrance test and got 41/48 = advanced. The levels are broken down into numbers (just like they were when I taught at IHPA so I guess that is maybe an IH thing as this is not IHPA!). Advanced goes from 17 through 22 (more numbers than there were at IHPA, but the courses are shorter too) and in consultation with them I am going to enter 19. (Mostly because the day/time of the class is suitable – as in, same as the current one!) It is a six-week course, one a week for two hours. I am excited! It starts in mid April so I get a little break after this course before starting the next, which is also nice.
  • Thinking time. Having been in the student position, I am getting a lot better at giving students thinking time! Not being afraid to wait that little bit longer. Some of the activities in our materials are ‘do as you go along’ type ones but they tend to be chat box based – which reminds me, come to think of it, we have used the chat box very little as students in this Italian class. The teacher uses the chatbox a fair bit but we students use it much more infrequently – the main time I remember is when we were doing the chain stories thing. The ‘do as you go along’ activities tend to be done verbally, one at a time. I suppose this is also due to difference in class size. The Italian class is small enough that you can do that, with generally about 3 of us, and at most 5.
  • If there is the freedom/scope to do so, involving students in the choice of lesson content is motivating. It really was nice to be asked. Honestly, for this course, I am still not sure what, if anything, is core/required content and what is teacher choice. The grammar points? <shrug>
  • When we did the reading activity, I read the whole text in order to make better sense of my bit (I had the final third). I think for information gap type activities, the information each student has should be able to stand alone in terms of meaning/coherence. I suppose it’s about making sure the text and the task are well-matched. It was fantastic being given time to read quietly though, rather than doing the read aloud thing.
  • We do a lot of controlled practice grammar activities but a lot less in the way of freer practice. Which is frustrating because I know the grammar but I need practice using it communicatively. Hopefully will get more of that in the next course I do. It would also be nice if the grammar was more rooted in a context.

Upper Intermediate Italian Lesson 7

I arrived first (as usual!) and for five minutes was chatting with the teacher. Was quite nice actually.  They’ve been in the UK for 5 years and are from Rome. Then another student arrived, which was nice too. A relief for the teacher, methinks 🙂 (Well it would be for me if I were in the teacher’s shoes!) I feel quite relaxed tonight. Nice and calm.

Intendersi – to be understood/to be knowledgeable about

Another five minutes, another student arrived. We’re talking about how to find a nice house. One of the students is between houses, staying at a friends.

  • bisogna accontentarsi
  • non ci sarà mai la casa perfetta

Oooo newsletter. My two weeks ago homework, perhaps. Yes…one of the other students has also done it so it seems more likely we will do something with it. Yep. So I suppose this means I will have to do homework this week to make another one in case we do it in a future lesson again.

Quest’anno a gennaio, 582,538 persone di 209 paesi SI sono iscritte a uno sfida globale – Veganuary. Questa sfida richiede a ciascun partecipante che l’accetta di evitare l’uso di ogni prodotto animale, cioè, provare di  a vivere vegano-a modo vegano. Lo scopo di questa sfida e di proteggere sia gli animali che l’ambiente e, faccendo cosi faccendo, migliorare persino la salute dei partecipanti. Questa volta la gente pensano anche a Covid perché si vogliono anche evitare altri pandemici pandemie. UnA gran parte di loro continuano a seguire uno stilo di vita vegano.

Not bad! Especially given how hastily done it was and how tired I was at the time. We didn’t use the other student’s this time so actually that will likely be for next week, meaning it is less urgent for me to make another one! We gave mine a title Veganaio: come ti salvi il mondo. Wow, turns out one of the other students is vegan too. Another doesn’t have eggs or milk but has meat sometimes.

Cacciatori-raccoglitori – hunter-gatherers

Course we end up having a discussion about veganism hehe. Good fun.

Un essere senziente – a sentient being

As ever, I feel sad that I haven’t been able to CHAT with the other students during this course. Even with just the limited exchanges through the teacher that there have been, I am getting quite fond of them!

Avere a cuore – hold something close to heart e.g. avere a cuore gli animali


Funnily enough it’s the facing page to the one with the fridges from the first lesson! Short text. No read silently time and I didn’t bother to ask again for it this time. Just cope! Ooops I was so busy trying to get my head around the text I am not entirely sure what the follow up task is – to make questions or to answer the ones below the text!


Am back a minute or two early it seems. And it is create questions (I used the time to ask). I thought it was but then I wasn’t sure. I should have more faith in myself!

Qual è il problema secondo Alberoni?

There we go.

My fellow vegan isn’t back yet.  But the other student is so we ask our questions through the teacher. And discuss the topic a bit.

The teacher feeds in vocab (like the above) in the chat box as we go.

È importante avere una diversa percezione individuale.

Ah! Now we are returning to those pronouns that we started at the end of last lesson! We do a series of grammar exercises of the sort that are in grammar books like Murphy’s English Grammar in Use for Italian but with explanation in English rather than Italian. The other student and I are asked in turn to answer. But we don’t do them by ourselves first. Which is ok because this is familiar ground.  Then we have to complete a table in the course book.

P. 92

Not quite the above but similar! The one in the course book has also ce and ne. We actually got some quiet time for that one! But then we didn’t go through it all and skipped to the next exercise of using combined pronouns to replace the nouns in bold. But no time to do it quietly first. But we managed!

We finished with three minutes to go and the teacher asked what we’d like to do so I said talk because there’s no time to start anything new. The teacher agreed, fortunately, and asked us how we felt about combined pronouns. And that took us to the end of another lesson! The third student didn’t attend the second half and the other 2 didn’t show up at all.


  • Being relaxed from the outset made a huge difference. Where a week ago it was the Monday after an intense week involving the first aid course, this time I had both shifted the backlog created by the course and had a lovely, restful weekend. I was better able to enjoy the lesson for what it was. And the two students who attended were the two I feel more rapport with (because they attend most regularly out of the total of 4 apart from me in the group), which also helped me feel relaxed. It was also nice when we did the discussion about veganism and I learnt something new about them, which was something we have in common as far as one was concerned. Oh to have done a getting to know you activity involving finding things in common and more personalisation activities throughout! I think, particularly in courses like the one I teach on which are very time-limited and all the more in the context of online teaching where students can’t chitchat at the start of the class while they wait for the teacher or when they finish an activity early etc, it is important not to underestimate the importance of getting to know you activities at the start and scope for personalisation throughout. I will be mentioning it in our imminent meeting about planning the course structure for next year (we are going from three terms to two long semesters). Being comfortable and relaxed makes a big difference to being able to learn and we can facilitate that to an extent (not entirely – some of it also depends what else is going on in students’ lives etc!).
  • You can get used to anything (and it is a lot easier to learn when you have adjusted to a greater extent) but it takes time to adjust. I think that is true of life (to an extent!) as well as language classes! Adjustment takes time. I think changing education systems (/learning in a way that is different from how you have learnt – or taught! – previously) is a form of culture shock. Which makes it make sense that each week I do get a little closer but it also isn’t quite linear. I have already mentioned this idea of adjustment previously but am repeating it because each time I have a sense of “oh I thought I had already got used to it but actually in comparison to today, I wasn’t as used to it as as I thought” or I think I’ve got the hang of it but then something happens that throws me off balance again. More and more I think it would be really helpful for teachers to incorporate an element of transparency around how and why things are done, particularly early on in a course so that students get a clear idea of how things work and why in your lessons. I think that would probably help with the process of adjustment. Obviously the lower the level of the language learner, the harder this would be. I suppose course books provide an element of this if they are used systematically. I think if you only draw on them for the odd activity and jump about, or you don’t use a course book at all, then you need to be more explicit to fill that gap.
  • Doing this course is making me think a lot about course design and delivery. Our course (the one I teach on, I mean), for example, is heavily skills-based and assessment-driven. Students are time-poor due to huge workloads so it is critical for us to make it absolutely clear how each lesson helps to prepare them a) for assessment and b) for university (with the assessments being designed/intended to teach and test skills needed for university study). Our students are motivated by requiring certain scores in order to progress onto their chosen degree course. They will do what is required to achieve that but they mostly don’t have time to go beyond. Which is fair enough. We can help (including to maintain their motivation to keep doing all the tasks) them by making clear links. This Italian course is VERY different, obviously. It is not assessment driven (that I am aware of), there is no particular end goal other than improving our speaking/listening/reading/writing skills in Italian. This means that there is a lot more freedom in the lessons for the teacher to do whatever they want with us. Which is lovely in theory but in practice is, I think, a lot more of a challenge for the teacher to do well. Even in IH Palermo, so another private language school context, there was more structure to the language courses. There was a set course book, or half course-book, for each level and we worked through that with the students. They had mid-course tests to check progress and end of course tests in order to progress to the next level. Of course creativity within that framework was encouraged. For the Italian course, we do have a course book but it is used somewhat randomly so if there is any recycling or progression built in, we lose that. Which means the onus is on the teacher to build it in. Likewise with learning outcomes. I think if I had to teach a course of this nature, I’d use a chunk of the first lesson negotiating learning objectives for the course and topics of interest. I’d want to know the students’ motivations for doing the course as well. So that there would be some framework to work within and so that the students would know about that framework and have a vested interest in it. That could also be revisited, added to etc. I wonder if that would make attendance less patchy. Maybe yes, maybe no. Depends entirely on the reason(s) for it!
  • We have used very little in the way of authentic materials so far. This has occurred to me in thinking about the above bullet point. There was that love song, that’s the only thing I can think of. The course book has some authentic material in it – extracts from Italian literary texts and the like – but we haven’t used those. I think that’s a missed opportunity, given we have a reasonable level of Italian (Upper Intermediate/aiming towards that or within it, in theory) and given there are no apparent course book usage requirements (in terms of how much is covered or in what order or to what end). Again, though, I suppose it is challenging to do that well (though if we have no objectives we need to achieve then perhaps it would be enough to use it in whatever way?!).

Think I’ll leave it there for this time – now managing to fairly contentedly trundle through the lessons yet plenty of food for thought still. It’s been such a learning experience. 3 more lessons left! Still not got much further with investigating a follow-up course… I need to do the IH level test to start with, to know my level according to them, so that I can then find out when courses run. Of course with things opening up, there is a question mark over whether there will be an online course still to join! My gut feeling is yes, though, as schools will want to have a wide portfolio of offerings to get as much business as possible. It’s whether I can do it when I want to do it (Monday nights because Tuesday is my NAW!)! We shall see when I have enough brain to do the test… ! 🙂

Mental Health First Aid

I am now a qualified Mental Health First-aider! I completed a two day course run by MFHA England on 17th and 18th of February (been playing catch-up ever since because of losing those two days of work!!) in order to be a Mental Health First Aider for my team at work, along with a colleague of mine who did it the same week but a different two days.

Part of my certificate!

This blurb is also on it:

The course took place entirely online and consisted of 4 live sessions and 4 independent learning modules, all of which were integrated in their online learning platform. The course took place entirely online and consisted of 2 days which included 4 live sessions and 4 independent learning modules, all of which were integrated in their online learning platform. We also received hard copy materials – a thick manual and a workbook – in advance of the course. Before the pandemic they did face to face classes but, like everyone else, they had to adapt to the pandemic.

In this post, I will share one key concept and a related concept that I found really helpful and that I think could be helpful for anybody and everybody to know about, and how I have already integrated it into my teaching.

Stress Container

MHFA Stress container

This is the first time I’ve come across the idea of a stress container and having a stress container but a quick Google shows that it turns out to be in wide usage. It has been adapted for workplace training materials, for students etc. The size of your stress container is influenced by your frame of reference (another useful concept) which is your window on the world. It in turn is formed by, amongst others, age, gender, work, hobbies/interests, place of birth, early childhood experiences, socio-economic background, cultural influences, sexuality, education, aspirations, spirituality, likes/dislikes, any disability, any chronic illness, family situation/size, achievements, values and relationships. Currently, also experiences of the pandemic. Depending on your experience of any of the above, the size of your stress container may be bigger or smaller i.e. you can tolerate higher or lower levels of stress before the container is filled up. If it gets full, problems develop – chronic stress, exhaustion, anxiety, depression etc. Stressors can be many and varied and may be in there temporarily or long term. Importantly, they may be good (e.g. a wedding next year, a new job/a promotion, a new relationship), stressors aren’t necessarily bad but whether good or bad, take up space in your stress container levels.

However, we can open the tap and let some of the contents flow out from the bottom. This means using helpful coping strategies such as meditation, connecting with others, exercising, getting enough sleep, participating in hobbies/leisure pursuits – generally anything that helps you relax without further damage to your body/mind. Of course, people also use unhelpful coping strategies in order to cope with the stress of life, such as smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, overeating etc, which may numb the effect of the stressors but not relieve it. This is akin to the tap getting blocked so the contents of the stress container cannot be released, which again leads to problems developing as overflow/overwhelm happens.

So that is the general idea of it. It is a way to conceptualise/visualise stress levels and coping mechanisms. This in turns allows you to evaluate yours – is there more in it than you realised/thought before considering what is in it? – and recognise when it is filling up and take positive steps to relieve that (and feel justified in doing so – it is all too common to feel guilty for taking time for oneself in whatever format that takes!). It can help you make sense of why something that “doesn’t ordinarily bother you” or that you “normally find easy enough” is difficult on a certain occasion or occasions. If you are anticipating a number of incoming stressors, you can prepare by proactively using your preferred positive coping strategies and planning how you will continue to do so when the stressors enter your container. It also allows you to visualise how and why things different affect different people differently and to differing amounts. For example. a busy period at work may be experienced differently by someone who is also going through relationship difficulties or suffering with poor health or struggling with home-schooling children. Depending how full a stress-container is, a seemingly small thing can be the final straw for someone because there just isn’t space.

To me, none of the above is particularly new in and of itself but the stress container metaphor helps give it all coherence and, importantly, while the locus of control for some of it is outside our control (stress container size, stressors), it does show that we do have some control which it is important to exercise for our wellbeing, in terms of which coping strategies we use and when/how often we use them. I have already used the stress container/stress bucket metaphor with my students since learning about it. I did a mid-term feedback form and one of the questions asked them how they are feeling at the moment and stressed/under pressure/tired were common themes. Which is normal on an intense course like the one they are following with us (multiple modules, not only Academic English, and a heavy assessment load all round). In a subsequent lesson, as part of responding to the feedback I introduced the stress container/bucket, using images found online, reassuring them it was normal to feel stressed (it doesn’t mean they aren’t good enough to do the course or that they are a failure or anything like that – which is not a common assumption to make when you are in the midst of doing something that generates stress!) and that the important thing is to deal with it appropriately so that you don’t reach the point of overwhelm, and got them to share their favourite positive coping strategies in the chat box.

Having awareness is the first step towards having more control. If you are aware of what is happening, you can do something about it before you reach a crisis point. I plan to return to it periodically (another bonus of a coherent image is that it is easy to keep coming back to it because there is something tangible to come back to!) and continue with my Wellbeing column on our Class Noticeboard Padlet – where each week I share a resource/idea relating to promoting mental health and wellbeing (see examples below).

I don’t know how much of it they access but at the very least it, in combination with the feedback form question and feedback, sends the message that mental health and wellbeing is important, that mental health isn’t something that is only talked about when things go wrong and that things being difficult is nothing to be ashamed of. It also means that as time wears on (we are still in term one for this cohort!), and the stress load increases for these students (if not this year, then when they go on to university), they will know they aren’t alone with it, hopefully feel less ashamed than they might otherwise have to own it and be more willing to access the support that is available to them.

To finish off, here is an MFHA link from a 2018 campaign which focuses on stress and contains a little slide show about the stress container and some awareness raising activities. I hope it, and this post, will be of some use for you. I would recommend to anybody thinking about it to do a Mental Health first aid course both for personal gain and for better ability to help others.

Upper Intermediate Italian Lesson 6

Phewwww I made it just on time (and still the first!). Still got my positive attitude, also got a lot of tired because of how intense last week was. I managed to do my homework, amazingly. I wanted to do it enough to make it happen on Sunday, but I did it on my tablet so it has no accents yet <edits furiously while the others arrive> Yet another tech-related thing haha.

Homework: Quest’anno a gennaio, 582,538 persone di 209 paesi sono iscritte a uno sfida globale – Veganuary. Questa sfida richiede a ciascuno che l’accetta di evitare l’uso di ogni prodotto animale, cioè, provare di vivere vegan. Lo scopo di questa sfida e di proteggere sia gli animali che l’ambiente e, faccendo cosi, migliorare persino la salute dei partecipanti. Questa volta la gente pensano anche a Covid perche vogliono anche evitare altri pandemici. Un gran parte di loro continuano a seguire uno stilo di vita vegan.

We started with the newsletter thingy i.e. homework. Turns out Zoom is like Blackboard in that participants only see chatbox content sent after their arrival into the room. So there was a bit of confusion as the teacher hadn’t realised that.  Then I had to read mine from last week aloud, not sure why. Now we are going through one of the other students’ homework, which has given me some welcome breathing space, in between answering questions. That done, we establish that I and two others now have stories in the class newspaper and the teacher asks the remaining two (both of whom are here tonight) for their contribution. We review the 5 w’s again. Major communication issue with the student who was absent last week and doesn’t understand what we are doing – I feel you, student! Eventually we have moved on to something else instead. I’m not sure if the student understood in the end or not because I had a slight concentration lapse as the whole thing took a while. My homework was not required, after all that effort!

Now we are continuing with the grammar point from last week.

Congiuntivo trapassato + condizionale passato.

We use the rest of the exercise that we started two weeks ago and I did as review between the two weeks ago class and last week’s class (so that was nice and easy for me tonight!).

  1. Se fossimo rientrati più presto, avremmo potuto vedere un bel documentario in tv.

Now we are looking at some pictures. Describing what the person is doing and how they feel.

Oberata – overwhelmed by work

One thing I do not like about Zoom: When the teacher shares their screen, it goes full screen on my screen, meaning my notes window is hidden. So then I have to get it to shrink again. Every time.

We are spending a LOT of time on this activity. I am very curious what it will lead into! 🙂 I wonder how it would be if we had been given the pictures and had to work with a partner to say and/or write something about each one, perhaps in response to prompts to direct our attention to what is required, then share whole class quickly…

BREAK TIME! And we are told we will do some reading after the break so I guess that is what it leads into – the suspense is over!

End of break. We seem to have lost 2 students and the other 2 are still switched off but appear soon after.

Wheee I was brave. Teacher set to having us read aloud directly and I asked if we could have 5 minutes to read quietly first. I then had to then clarify that I am happy to do the read aloud thing if we could do that first, as the teacher objected defensively initially, saying they wanted to hear our pronunciation. Am now quite glad I went with my gut instinct on not giving unsolicited feedback on lack of opportunities for group work! At least this was just a simple request and that was hard enough.

Ho fatto la fame – suffer from hunger (hyperbole)

So we read silently then aloud. We didn’t discuss pron though <shrug>. Vocab, yes. So that is a bit confusing! But never mind. Then we had to write comprehension questions. Actually we did this whole activity from lead in to this point with the other text of this pair a few weeks ago, I just remembered! So I guess we will be retelling the story using the pictures after this.

My question: Che tipo di carattere ha Natalia Aspesi?

Yep, we are doing the retelling the story using the pictures thing. Fair enough. At least this time there are only 2 pages of pictures! Less epic scrolling up and down by the teacher necessary! Yay!  Ohh, also because we didn’t have to do the ordering thing this time so as they are on the page they are in the right order for the text. Everyone had to take a turn doing this. Which I only discovered when I eventually got called on. Confession time, I was splatted on the futon behind my computer at the time. Having one of THOSE evenings. But I managed just fine.

Now we have moved on to object pronouns suddenly, 9 minutes to go. A bit disorienting! And we are reading aloud a grammar explanation page. We have used this book before and it isn’t the course book (as I have discovered since getting the course book). It is aimed at English people. Teacher is explaining mostly in Italian which is nice. Then we made a list of things to take to a party and went through it saying “I will take it” or “I will take them”.  I wonder if this means we have finished with the unreal if clauses now. Next week we will do combined direct and indirect pronouns. No homework. So…I guess we have finished with the newsletter thingy? In which case I did my homework for nothing. On the other hand, if we do go back to it even though it wasn’t reset for homework explicitly this time round, I can use it. We will see…


  • For the first time since the course began, I did not put 100% in during the lesson. My intrinsic motivation was outstripped by my fatigue and I didn’t find the lesson engaging enough to balance that out! I am reminded of Dörnyei and Ushioda (2012)

“Motivation is responsible for why people decide to do something, how long they are willing to sustain the activity and how hard they are going to pursue it” (ibid: kindle loc 259, emphasis as per original)

and also the motivation model with its ideal self/internal factors, ought to self/external factors and L2 learning experience as the three contributors to motivation (kindle loc 1852) and how motivation is not static (kindle loc 1903). It is so true. Also, I don’t blame the teacher for it. I found the pace too slow but that doesn’t mean the pace was too slow – it might have been just right for some or a bit quick for others. I feel that my motivation is my responsibility but equally I am not going to beat myself up for not putting 100% in to this lesson. Energy is limited. Good enough is good enough. Nobody died! I think we need to accept this with our students as well. Their motivation, performance, participation will all fluctuate from lesson to lesson and within lessons. And that’s ok. We do our best to create an engaging learning experience but we won’t always be able to balance out everything else that is going on. Even more so when there is a global pandemic going on!

  • I’m glad I finally addressed the reading aloud issue. I thought when he let us read silently before the jigsaw activity in a previous lesson, we had cracked it but it turned out not to be the case. I think it’s important for teachers to listen to student requests and, where possible, if they aren’t unreasonable, fulfil them. In this case, all that was requested was 5 minutes of delay in order to read quietly first before reading aloud, so a very small ask. The teacher wasn’t happy, though. I think we need to remember that a request is not a criticism of us as teachers, it is just something that the student wants/needs in order to learn better. I actually struggled to read the text in five minutes because of how tired I was. Turns out reading in another language is hard when you are tired. Despite the fatigue and struggle, though, I did the reading aloud thing much better having read to myself first. I won’t be addressing the lack of pair/group-work thing as the above response suggests the teacher wouldn’t be open to it especially as it would require a greater degree of change than the five minutes of silent reading request.
  • It’s annoying from the student perspective if homework is set and then forgotten about. I don’t mind that much because I know doing the homework helped me learn more, made me use more Italian. But if I’d known it wasn’t going to be used or submitted or anything, then I might have chosen to just go splat on Sunday (when I did it) instead, because I was exhausted from the work/mental health first aid course combination of during the week beforehand. We’ll see what happens in the next lesson. It may be we do something with it then, in which case I am ready already which could be a score – watch this space!
  • Thinking about homework has also made me think about how I have done very little autonomous learning thus far. I completed an activity we had started in class on one occasion (the one we then came back to in this lesson!) but other than that about all I manage to do is watch something in Italian about once a week (on my NAW day). Why? Because priorities and juggling. Work, obviously. But in my free time, I spend time with my girlfriend and that is important to me because I think quality time is important for a relationship to flourish. It’s not long since I moved in with her so there has been a lot of adjusting to a new way of being. It is (obviously) very different from living alone/with a housemate. I also need to exercise regularly. Plus cooking and cleaning and suchlike. Time is finite and there is a lot to pack in. I suppose also it comes back to motivation. I’m really motivated to do my best in lessons and learn what I can, when it isn’t trumped by fatigue, but doing extra work outside the lessons is an extra time commitment and I lack the motivation to prioritise it. Other things have higher priority as mentioned above. And I don’t mind if it slows down my rate of improvement either, I’m not in a hurry and have no external factors pushing on me for it (e.g. moving to the country, needing a particular level of the language for work or study etc). Yet I remember when I was in Palermo, we had a big expectation on students to do lots of autonomous learning and I did loads of work trying to get my learners to engage with that (which was far from wasted!). I think ultimately it’s about making it clear to the learners that improvement will be quicker if they do engage with autonomous learning and making sure they have the tools and know-how to do it, providing the support, but letting them make the choice as to whether and how much they engage, which will depend on their motivation for doing the course and on what else they are juggling in day to day life and how they choose to prioritise things. It may be the course is a once or twice a week time to do something nice and different for oneself but otherwise not a priority, just a bit of fun and that should be just as valid as doing it for work/to be able to move somewhere else/to get more money etc where autonomous learning may be more likely to be prioritised if the learner is aware of the value of it. As far as my current students are concerned, I am not trying to get them to do any extra stuff at all. They simply don’t have time. They have multiple modules all with a heavy workload (and at least one is attending school in her own country – China – as well!). If they do their coursework, their homework and any flipped preparation, that is enough. There is extra stuff available and signposted but it is entirely their choice how much or if they engage, so that it doesn’t become another stressor for them. They have enough of those filling their buckets!
  • Was just thinking, there are only 4 more lessons left for this course (and even this far in, I come out of it with something new to chew over every time!). This means I should start looking into other courses like I said I was going to… Time, eh. Maybe that will be my homework for this week! Before any more marking comes in on the teaching side of things…

Ok, wittering over for another week! See you next time! 🙂

Upper Intermediate Italian Lesson 5

Despite my busy week (I am now officially a Mental Health First Aider!), I am managing to squeeze publishing this post in as my last task for the week! That means I will now be up to date with this series of posts again!

I am first as usual! :-p So punctual, me. And I am here with all my positive attitude. I realised I have mostly focused on challenges/difficulties/negative things (not exclusively though!) so tonight I am going to focus on positive things! Try to challenge the old negativity bias.

….And I am alone…! Phew another student arrived. Until she did, I was chatting with the teaching in Italian, which was nice. ..Aand another. Now we are three and the teacher. And we are talking about the newsletter thingy from last week. Also, I did my homework so I am all prepared for it, whoop. My girlfriend gave me an idea for what to write about!

Qualche settimana fa, c’era c’è stato un incidente di macchina stradale a Woodseats, su una piccola strada nella periferia di Sheffield. Erano Coinvolte erano tre macchine, due delle quale che andavano troppo veloce e una che era parcheggiata accanto al marchepiede marciapiede. Una delle due macchine che andavano troppo veloce era rimasta sottosopra si è ribaltata. Quella che era parcheggiata sosteneva ha subito anche dei danni. Gli autisti non erano feriti ma poi hanno litigato nel bel mezzo della strada. La polizia dovevano ha dovuto chiudere la strada. Uno degli autisti lavora per una pizzeria e sfortunatamente i clienti quella sera non ricevevano non hanno ricevuto le pizze.

  • Novità?
  • Che mi racconti di bello?

These are ways to ask someone for their news, which is apparently what we are doing here!

I had to share my homework in the chat and like the one at the end of last lesson, we are going through correcting it, with the teacher displaying it on screen. (And I corrected my version above as we did it!)

Hurrah I passed! It satisfied requirements. Phew. It was nice to get all the corrections. I have discovered I need to review when to use imperfect vs perfect tenses. I can find where in the coursebook that is covered and use it to review 🙂 (When I get time, not this week which is crazy busy!)

Now we are talking about news again.

Notizie su – news about

La pagina culturale – culture

Societa – lifestyle

La salute e il benessere – health and wellbeing

We have to do another one for next week, but something like an article that belongs in the above section…I think… Still needing these 5 ‘w’’s but I think maybe it is flexible… I will again invent something anyway. All good. (Haha uploading this blog post has reminded me I still need to do this before Monday evening, haiyaaa!)

And now onto grammar review of the unreal if clauses.

Se Boris Johnson avesse preso delle decisioni adeguati, non avremmo passato un’anno così caotico.

P.86. We have to listen and tick but I don’t have a pencil to do so, so doing it this way instead:

  1. C
  2. G
  3. M
  4. C
  5. G
  6. M
  7. C
  8. G
  9. G
  10. M
  11. M

This kind of activity is harder than a T/F kind because the statements can’t follow the order of the text so you have to have attention in multiple places. We listened to the first part/person. Then stopped and read the statements we are to tick aloud. Then listen with pauses and teacher repetition. Then went through the answers for the first person. Then we listened to the next one twice through and then went through answers. Then the third one once. I managed reasonably well! This time the teacher had the audio ripped into their computer and was able to play it for us and it worked ok. When I’ve done listening with my students, I’ve had them go away and listen to a link and then come back. I suppose with a small group as we are tonight, there is a lower likelihood of audio and connectivity problems as fewer students to have them. Also we in this class are all UK-based while my students are all over the place with varying quality of connections!


Only 2 of us came back after break. Lost the other. <shrug>

p87 A speaking activity based on the listening. We had to use those unreal conditionals to talk about one of the speaker’s life.

Se Monica non avesse smesso di giocare a calcio, non avrebbe studiato all’università. Se non fosse andato all’università, non sarebbe diventata un insegnante e non avrebbe tempo per fare la fotografa.

Next exercise is doing something similar but with our own experiences!

  • Se non avessi fatto preso il diploma CELTA, non sarei diventata insegnante di Inglese come lingua straniere.
  • Se non avessi preso il diploma DELTA, non sarei andata a Palermo.
  • Se non fossi andata a Palermo per insegnare, non avrei imparato l’Italiano.
  • Se non avessi provato un sito di incontri, non avrei trovato la mia compagna.

Ooo the one other student who came back after break taught English in Poland for a while! (I learned this via her sentences for the above activity!) We only did 2 of the sentences so no coming out for me after all. :-p

Next, listening to a song. We have to write down the phrases we understand and write down any vocab we don’t know. We should also try to understand the general meaning of the song.

  • Io e te by Battisti
  • Qualcuno ha scelto forse per noi
  • Poi ho incontrato te
  • L’esistenza è diventata
  • La stagione nuova
  • Fra le tue braccia calde
  • Io e te
  • Stesso io desiderio

I have been told to listen for general meaning this time round.

Con lei non ha paura di morire…?

 It’s quite long and whiny hahaha. Lurrrve song. But I could understand a fair bit til the background music got too loud compared to the voice. I also had to unplug my big monitor to adjust the volume as it was too loud then after teacher’s voice was too soft so more unplugging and replugging. Tech! But I managed. The third time round we listen with the lyrics. Then we look at the lyrics and discuss the meaning. Then we did a memory based gap fill lockstep. Then teacher tried to make us memorise each line.

And, with some more discussion of it, that brings us to the end! Now half way through the course!! And thinking after the end if I can do another online class (if they are still available, not all back to f2f) with another language centre, e.g. IH, it would be interesting to compare!


  • I quite enjoyed the lesson. Partly because it jumped about less than previously (we stayed in the same general vicinity of the coursebook once we moved onto it; the existence of homework linked us back to the previous lesson for some review as well as going through the homework; we did some grammar review; the listening was connected to the language point. Only the song was random but hey why not!).  Partly because every week I am a little more used to how it goes and what to expect and therefore it is less stressful.  It’s taken me to half way through the course for this to happen. Wonder if it would be quicker in a subsequent course. Something to do with getting used to being a learner again in a formal setting i.e. the (virtual) classroom. It’s also about getting used to having to find the energy on an evening after work – I am less exhausted by half way through the lesson now, though I do appreciate the break half way through – enough time to get a cup of tea and have an eye break.
  • I get excited every time I learn some little snippet about my classmates. I want to know more about who they are and what keeps them plugging away at these courses. As in their motivation for learning. Sandy commented on a previous post-lesson blog suggesting I try to give the teacher feedback directly about the lack of groupwork but I don’t feel comfortable to. The other students may be quite happy with the status quo (they are back for another course after all!), I don’t want to rock the boat being the only newcomer.
  • It’s interesting that there are two of us who are teachers. Not sure what the other three do. The other teacher is the one who uses English strategies a lot. The only other thing I know about her teaching is that it involved a school trip to Germany a couple of years ago as that featured in the anecdote she did for the first newsletter thingy. I wonder what teaching and learning experience and beliefs she has.
  • I’m starting to consider other courses after this one = I am enjoying being a learner again despite all my trials and tribulations with it! In one sense it’s a pity it didn’t occur to me sooner to try (the pandemic has made online learning opportunities proliferate where they didn’t before) but on the other hand I had enough on my plate coping with adjusting to new work conditions, building my new relationship, negotiating health issues and moving house!
  • So far I have been first to arrive and first back after the break every lesson and the only one to have attended all five lessons from beginning to end. I hadn’t anticipated this being unusual given it isn’t free! I used to admire my students in Palermo for coming to their evening classes regularly twice a week in the 1930-2050 slot – they had to actually come to the school not just log onto a computer on time. I can just about cope with once a week on a computer in my house! No travel time or effort needed.
  • It’s been interesting seeing how the teacher does feedback on oral and written production. How to do feedback effectively is something I think about a lot! Of course what works with a class of 3-4 students isn’t necessarily compatible with a class of 18-20 students! However, using the share screen function to use a word doc with a text and making corrections to it live is certainly something I could try. Though, share screen uses a lot of internet and could create problems for my students with dodgy connections I think. We are advised to avoid it where possible. But I suppose a Google doc that students have the link to could be used in the same way. I will keep it in mind…

Overall, half way through the course, I’m really glad I signed up for it. It’s been so interesting to go through the process of being new to the class, getting used to how it works, working through the barriers created by my expectations and frustrations. I feel really positive about it. Let’s see how the next five weeks go! It’s nice to be blogging regularly again too. I think once this course (and any sucessors I might join) comes to an end, I will try to set aside time each week to self-teach myself again. Continue with Italian? Try Polish again? Try Mandarin again? And blog about it, of course! We shall see. I just love language learning!

Upper Intermediate Italian Lesson 4

<I am running a week behind as last week was especially busy due to the need to prepare for this week where I am only in work two days because of the remaining three one (today) is my not at work day and two are allocated to a Mental Health First Aid Course – starts tomorrow, eek! So there will be two posts this week and then I will be up to date again!>

I am first to arrive again. Insufferable. :-p Then one other student arrived so we could do some talking. But through the teacher, not directly, of course! Bit by bit, students arrive. I feel more relaxed tonight, so I think my reflections after the last lesson have helped me! 🙂 My webcam isn’t working tonight, not sure why. Tech, always tech.

= Some of the vocab that came out of the chat – the question was ‘what are you missing during lockdown?’ – Also vedere gli amici/la famiglia più facilmente

Then we moved on to…

Se aveste 1000 sterline a spendere in modo frivolo, come li spendereste?

Tonight I am experimenting. Using the everyone chat to communicate directly with students. The everyone chat though. Trying to get some kind of rapport with them! I tried with the student who arrived late, in response to the teacher-directed conversation.

Se avessi 1000 sterline, andrei in Sicilia, poi darei il resto in beneficenza.

We are up to our full 5 students including me again. Me and two others with no webcam, the teacher and two others with webcam.

We are going back to the topic of last week. p80. Grammar presentation. The one we opened with 3 mins to spare last week. We are reading it aloud. Haiya… And teacher is explaining, in Italian and then in English.  I guess we are doing ye olde PPP! At least being done in Italian first, I can get some listening practice from it!

Ohhhh, I was thinking it feels like way too much explanation, but then remembered I have the advantage of knowing these structures, on a metaknowledge level, in English, because of being a teacher. 

  1. Se Luigi avessi preso la medicina, forse adesso sarebbe guarito.
  2. Se il vestito avesse costato meno, forse l’avrei comprato.
  3. Forse sarei riuscità ad andare al lavoro ieri se non ci fosse stato uno sciopero degli autobus.
  4. Se fossimo stati meno stanchi,  saremmo partiti per il fine settimana.
  5. Se fossimo usciti più presto, forse saremmo arrivati in tempo all’appuntamento con il nostro amico.
  6. Se l’agenzia di viaggi

We did the above as read aloud and answer directly, no time to do it ourselves first. I wasn’t asked to answer before I had done them all first. Mini-success for me, making it work for myself. I think the teacher feels the need to be talking to us all the time, not letting us do activities by ourselves or in pairs in between.  Ah ooops, turns out there are more questions so we went through them in order, 1-4, up til me and then suddenly jumped two ahead so I hadn’t done it in advance. (I might have got that far if I’d realised the activity went overleaf so could have continued doing it for myself in advance, oops.) Still, I can complete the exercise in my own time for practise. No problem. Good revision.

Reading, a text. Waaaait. We might be doing a jigsaw of sorts, We have been allocated paragraphs. We must read and make a summary. Omg, I think my feedback landed. Amazing.  I got to read my paragraph and the rest of the text and write my one sentence summary. So nice to have actual time to read silently. And the text was on the page after the grammar exercises and actually relates to them. Hurrah.

L’autore parla dei rimpianti che possiamo avere se ci chiediamo cosa avrebbe potuto succedere se avessimo fatto scelti diverse di quelli che abbiamo fatto.

*cosa sarebbe potuto succedere

*scelte diverse

*da quelle

We each did our summary of our little paragraph and then…


Now we are jumping back 30odd pages, p54

Whyyyyy. Oh well. Here we are.

Studentesse rubano profumi per regalarli ai loro fidanzati = a title. Then there are some words in a bubble.  Ci sono vari elementi.

Era poco prima di San Valentino. Tre studentesse  sono andate in supermercato. “Pensavamo di comprare qualcosa per dare ai nostri fidanzati ma poi abbiamo visto quanto costavano e non potevamo permettercele” hanno spiegato più tardi quando erano arrivati i Carabinieri di Monteverde dopo la sicurezza li aveva visti che rubavano alcune confezioni di profumi invece di pagarli.

Quite happy with my effort!

Then the teacher started on about chi (who), dove (where), cosa (what), quando (when), perché (why) and that these 5 things are in every newspaper article.

NB still not a clue how, or if, this links to the first half of the lesson!

La cronaca – local news. In it: Moda, sport, pettegolezzo, cibo, viaggi, tecnologia. Tanti argomenti che si referiscano alla propria vita.

I chose food. Teacher suggested I write something about healthy food. For a weekly class newspaper.  But I am confused because a food column isn’t really a wwwww thing. So I wrote in the chat in Italian to ask, then audio and teacher replied in English, doh. Said I could change theme then.  I literally have no idea what to write about. Teacher is keen to put it in an Apple pages template we were shown. 

Ok we are supposed to do it now. I think I now gather that this is not going to  be a weekly thing as in doing it every week, just a way of describing the output for tonight.

Interesting: I am using the chatbox more tonight because my webcam isn’t working. But in general anyway I like writing and putting it in the chatbox ok (except tonight when I really don’t know what to write!), but another student in the class is quite resistant to it and prefers speaking. Ooo according to her anecdote she is a teacher. See if we had ever had an opportunity to converse, I might know that already, I’d like to ask her about it.  I did put a question, in Italian of course, in the chatbox, asking what she teaches, but she is busy trying to deal with the task, which is fair enough. Bad timing! My chatbox experiments are falling flat on the communication with other students front.

Still don’t know what to write. I don’t have a picture in my head of what the finished product is quite supposed to be like. I totally understood the first activity with the prompts. But I am confused as to the content of this one. It’s supposed to be about me? But nothing happens to me, especially now. And it doesn’t fit the genre of newspaper. Am I supposed to make it sound like a newspaper article but it’s something banal? One student told an anecdote from two years ago about a pickpocket. How does an anecdote from two years ago fit with newspapers or food writing? Having discarded that theme, what theme should I do and how to connect that? One wrote a few sentences about what gossip is and illustrates which was a different genre again. I…(shrug). But teacher is more fixated on this Apple pages template thingy and in goes the anecdote, which the teacher is now going through and correcting with the student who wrote it.  Am hoping that we will run out of time to get to me. But two students left at break time so there is less cushioning time-wise in that sense.

WE HAVE HOMEWORK! The above. Ok, I will write something. Maybe I will just invent something. I tried to explain my problem. The mismatch between an anecdote and a newspaper and not understanding what it is I am supposed to write, I said I’d like to see an example of what I am aiming for, but it fell on deaf ears. The teacher got quite defensive. Even though I tried to explain I want to do it I just don’t understand what to produce.  

Interesting night!


  1. Se Luigi avessi preso la medicina, forse adesso sarebbe guarito.
  2. Se il vestito avesse costato meno, forse l’avrei comprato.
  3. Forse sarei riuscità ad andare al lavoro ieri se non ci fosse stato uno sciopero degli autobus.
  4. Se fossimo stati meno stanchi,  saremmo partiti per il fine settimana.
  5. Se fossimo usciti più presto, forse saremmo arrivati in tempo all’appuntamento con il nostro amico.
  6. Se l’agenzia di viaggi fosse stata sempre aperta, sarebbero potuto comprare il biglietto.
  7. Se fossero arrivati in tempo, non avranno perso il treno.
  8. Se non avessi mangiato troppo, non avresti avuto un indigestione.
  9. Se non avessi passato troppo tempo al computer ieri sera, non avrei avuto mal di testa.
  10. Se fossimo rientrati più presto, avremmo potuto vedere un bel documentario in tv.

Qualche settimana fa, c’era un incidente di macchina a Woodseats, su una piccola strada nella periferia di Sheffield. Coinvolte erano tre macchine, due che andavano troppo veloce e una che era parcheggiata accanto al marchepiede, e una delle due che andavano troppo veloce era rimasta sottosopra. Quella che era parcheggiata sosteneva anche dei danni. Gli autisti non erano feriti ma poi hanno litigato nel bel mezzo della strada. La polizia dovevano chiudere la strada. Uno degli autisi lavora per una pizzeria e sfortunatamente i clienti quella sera non ricevevano le pizze.


  • It is weird when the first half of the lesson before break and the second half after the break have absolutely no discernible connection. Would have been nice to do some speaking or writing that were connected to the text we read, which itself connected to the grammar we had done. Or at least either at the end of the first half or start of the second half some kind of transitional element between the two.  I seem to spend a lot of time wondering where we are going and how where we are relates to where we have been. So though I began the lesson feeling more relaxed, it was a bit stressful at times. But not as stressful as it would have been if I hadn’t been more relaxed to start with! So I still feel that I am making progress in (coping with) being a learner again! 🙂
  • We are now 4 lessons in to the course, nearly 50%, and there hasn’t been any opportunity for speaking directly to classmates even though we are upper intermediate and capable of conversing even if we make a bunch of mistakes. Nearly half way through the course and I barely know who they are.
  • It is really hard when, with the best will in the world, you don’t understand the task you have to do. Especially if that is then taken as being obstructive. Relatedly, models are worth a thousand instructions. If I could have seen a model, I would have been able to figure out the task requirement. Not understanding made me feel frustrated and sad. I wasn’t being deliberately obtuse. Would have been handy to be able to ask classmates quietly, as one could in a regular classroom!
  • It was exciting to have homework even though I didn’t understand it very well. I also made my own homework by finishing the activity we started in class. And it was also good to have time to read silently before doing things with the text. Hopefully this won’t be a one-off!
  • My couple of attempts to use the everyone chat box to communicate directly with other learners kinda failed. But at least I experimented! It might be because who I addressed is the same one who doesn’t like writing because it is too time-consuming.
  • Having background grammar knowledge is useful. More difficult if L1 doesn’t have equivalents or you don’t have explicit meta-knowledge of the L1 equivalents.

Upper Intermediate Italian Lesson 3

I am here with a minute to spare. Phew. Ooooo Ghost Student (the silent “X’s Ipad) from the last two lessons now has a face (and a new internet connection – apparently that was the issue), yay!

Omg we’re back to the fridges! But just a short review, this time, phew.

Oooo there’s a new student, but connecting connecting…

p75 Se le strade del mio quartiere potessero parlare (parlassero), chiederanno chiederebbero dove sono tutti gli abitanti.

I had to complete above phrase, from course book but then we have switched to chatting, with the new student (she managed to connect in the end! – new to me but not new to the courses). New student is really good at having a go and not worrying about making mistakes, seeking missing language etc, though speaking in English a lot around the Italian. Is interesting, the use of various strategies but so much in English.

Ooo back to my sentence. Oh except now being asked again which one I want to do. I had thought I was being asked for my sentence because we went through the which do you want to do ok now do it before. Oh well. Everyone has now got a sentence to complete.

My feedback may have been listened to – we were told the purpose of this activity: to review the grammar structure. At the same time, we are talking about a listening activity but some of us don’t have the cd (others) or haven’t got it on the computer (me). The chopping and changing is a bit confusing.

Back to the sentences, teacher has now changed the stem a bit, hence the bit in brackets. Oooo there are now four of us students. I wonder if pair-work will be a thing tonight?

My turn for the sentence: p75 Se le strade del mio quartiere potessero parlare (parlassero), chiederanno chiederebbero dove sono tutti gli abitanti.

I made a mistake with the conjugation – I am tired! I guess we all are.

Now p65 – for the listening activity (jumping around in the course book big time!)

No time to read the questions, then a leetle bit of time cos tech issues. But not enough!

1.a 2 falso (vero – in parte, stupid question) 3 falso 4. vero 5. vero 6 un litigio…/ una tempesta 7. falso 8. falso 9. alla rubrica delle lettere 10. vero 11. falso

We listened once in entirety then went through bit by bit. The audio quality was poor.  The teacher repeated the audio slowly and then elicited answers from us (also making us read aloud the question first, of course!). No pair checking stages or anything.  

It’s also difficult when teacher connection struggles and words get lost. Or is it my connection creating this… connections, ay. Perennial problem.

…break time? Hopefully soon, is the time. I need it! Ahhh after we have finished this feedback. Yayyy.


Everyone came back after break – there’s a first time for everything!

The teacher did a screen share, my screen then went funny format-wise (went tiny, couldn’t see them etc), I was on mute but didn’t realise, all a bit of a mess but eventually sorted it.  Gotta love tech. We are looking at images which apparently have something to do with some reading we will do. Hopefully not aloud. No idea where in the course book or the overall topic…! Trying to see poor quality pics and understand what is happening is hard, turns out…

p.84 (!) Oh we’re reading aloud. Joy. Guess my feedback fell on deaf ears. Teacher started to tell us to read it ourselves but then stopped and reverted to read aloud. I made everyone wait very briefly so I could read my bits quietly first, so I could chunk it all properly – that worked better. Then I read the whole text properly while teacher did the ‘underline the words you don’t know’ and my classmates took turns asking their words. Given the chance to read, I didn’t need to ask about any words. I had no understanding of the text until I could read it through quietly myself though. Only my bits in isolation, not the meaning of the whole.

We then had to put the pictures in order according to the story. Except we can’t see them all, so we have to have the memory of all them and which are and aren’t already used. And the teacher is scrolling up and down randomly which hurts my eyes. Haiya.

We are asked who wants to retell the story using the pictures (that are still being repeatedly scrolled…). I didn’t volunteer.  This could have been a good activity in pairs having sent us a pdf with the pics on it. Both the ordering and telling. The pairs/groups feedback also fell on deaf ears I guess. In the coursebook, this and another text were a paired information gap activity, but not for us. We just looked at the one text as described. I had to contribute anyway, to this retelling, and managed to without any trouble. (See, I did understand the text when given the chance to actually read it…)

5 minutes before the end of the lesson, the teacher started explaining the (different from the one we have already looked at which came later in the course book) congiuntivo structure in the text (there was one example). Haiya…

p.81 with 3 mins to go… we look at an activity  about this new grammar point and then the teacher does the first one for us and that brings the lesson to an end with a “we’ll continue this next time” – which I can try to use as a springboard for preparation!

What I learnt about being a student in this session:

  • Jumping around in the coursebook is confusing. This doesn’t mean I think it should be followed to the letter, but at least the general direction for new learning should be forwards through the units (within each of which, of course, you might add, add to, remove from, remove etc activities depending on the type of lesson and students). It’s been a while since I have taught using a coursebook though – in my current context, we have set materials for each lesson (powerpoints, student handouts where relevant). I edit them to suit my class but that is generally in terms of how I think best to reach the goals of the week across the 3 lessons I have with students. This term I am reteaching Term 1 to a new cohort so last term I made a lot more changes, this term it’s more tweaks based on the students being different and what did/didn’t work last time. I think, on reflection, having been an EAP teacher for a good number of years now, I am used to EAP-style teaching and learning, which is quite different from general language teaching and learning. So being a student in a general language classroom is another level of very different experience, than just being in student shoes full-stop is. This is helpful to realise though. From my point of view as a student, I realise I need to relax my expectations as to what I will get out of the course learning Italian-wise and accept that’s it’s just a once a week general language evening class and there won’t be the structure to things that I am used to in my context. I came into it wanting to get as much as I can out of it, maybe I need to be more realistic about what that is. E.g. the opportunity to speak was a big one but given pair and group work aren’t a thing, there’s more limit on how much – I need to work with that, figure out how to maximise what there is. But also, from my own students’ point of view that this is how they might feel as they adjust from their previous systems of learning to the college’s system of learning. So this is now another way I can empathise with my students.
  • Jumping around in the coursebook being a thing means it is impossible to prepare for lessons in advance unless information about the following lesson is given in advance. Of course I am referring to my plan to read ahead to make the reading aloud thing less of an issue for me. I didn’t actually get round to it in advance of this lesson (partly  I suppose because I was hoping my feedback would lead to there being time to read silently before reading aloud! As, I had an email saying the feedback had been anonymously passed on to the instructor and would be acted on…) but if I had, it would have been fruitless anyway.  I would have had to have read about 10 pages of coursebook, including well into the next unit. For the listening, another 10+ pages in the other direction. I think next lesson, if we have to read aloud without time to read silently first, I will raise my hand and ask for a couple of minutes! Try the direct approach to problem solving.
  • It takes time to read and understand listening questions. Because they are out of context, you need to read the question, process the language and deal with the decontextualised nature of it all. Particularly when questions are quite random! And if you don’t have time to do that before you start listening, you get woefully left behind, trying to read questions and listen to the recording at the same time. Ohhhh, we didn’t do any lead in to the listening topic.  I think a bit of a lead-in and some time to read the questions before listening would have helped a lot. A pair work stage after the first listening would have been good too, to share what we understood so far before listening again. I think because we are a small group, the teacher doesn’t think breakout rooms are necessary, maybe. But I think they could still be put to good use.
  • It’s frustrating to be asked to give feedback, to put effort into making it constructive (rather than just complain without explanation or suggestion or just say all is fine) and for it all to be ignored even though it would be easy to implement. I suppose the centre is collecting feedback rather than the tutor. (The original information about the course email said there will be questionnaires sent out regularly to get feedback to improve the courses etc so I guess I will be asked again. We shall see!) Where I work, feedback is also solicited at centre-level, but I do my own Google forms as well. I’m assuming there is no test for us to take at the end of the course, though I guess there might be and I just don’t know it yet! There shouldn’t therefore be tension in terms of what needs to be covered in a given time period (this supposition is also based on how long we spend on some activities and the repetition of the activity from the first lesson which didn’t go exactly to plan etc.). Honestly, I have no idea. I don’t know where we are headed or how we are planning to get there or how we will know when we have arrived. Actually I remember in the first class of the course, it didn’t feel like a first class because I was the only new student and it seemed like a continuation of something else rather than a beginning. I’m assuming we aren’t intending to get all through the course book given we only have 10 lessons and it is a substantial book. Half of it maybe? I remember that is how it was when I taught in Italy. Half a book per course. Clearer information around this would be useful, not least to inform expectations!
  • If you want students to look at pictures and do things like order them and use them to tell a story, make a one page pdf that they all fit on to and share that with the students to refer to during those activities. This would save eye strain from the repeated scrolling up and down thing and free up brain space that would no longer be taken up by trying to remember which pictures have been used and which still remain and what are they again. Handouts can still be a thing in the virtual classroom?
  • I think the teacher can over-rely on students’ L1 to explain things. I don’t speak enough Mandarin or Arabic for that to be an issue for me with my students (majority of them are from those linguistic backgrounds) but when I was in Italy and had learned some Italian, I didn’t keep speaking to the students in Italian. It would be the odd incidental word where translation would be easier than explanation, not instructions and explanations of instructions etc. I think encouragement to speak the target language combined with patience when understanding or communicating falters would be better. I wonder if that student using all the communication strategies in English would be able to use those strategies in Italian if that – classroom language/language for clarification/circumlocution etc in the target language – had been encouraged to develop (by Upper Intermediate, there is no reason why that shouldn’t be possible) rather than reliance on L1 still being a thing.
  • It’s hard to feel comfortable with classmates who you don’t have the opportunity to speak directly with. There was very little in the way of getting to know you in Lesson 1 and no incidental chat can happen if you are never in pairs or groups with any of them. It’s a bit of a shame really, in that if I am not getting to know my classmates or working directly with them, I might as well be in a 1-1 lesson or teaching myself. Until now, they are mostly just people who happen to be in the virtual classroom with me. I don’t know their motivation for doing the class, I don’t know what they do outside the class, I don’t know how they feel about the activities we are doing and so on and so on. I think virtual classrooms are tricky. Unless you use breakout rooms, it’s like the teacher is standing on top of you the whole time and the focus is on the teacher so there is no room for target language phatic communication. In a real classroom you can be less conspicuous but if you are all in the main room, whatever the size of the group, it is as though in a real classroom the teacher is sitting at the table with you or standing right by it (and in this case leading the discussion/task/whatever it is at the time). As teachers, we learn how to use body language and position in the classroom to achieve various things; I guess we have to relearn how to do that in a virtual environment effectively too.
  • Being a student really is a great way to challenge and explore one’s beliefs about teaching and learning!