August: this month I have…

  • Been recovering from three weeks of fun and teacher training in Kyrgyzstan!
  • Started a new job in Change Management – to be covered on this blog soon.
  • Set up a lunchtime German conversation group with my colleague Rachel, in the hope of putting my language to good use.
  • Eaten some delicious meals at the Chester Arms, the Pickled Walnut, and Manos.
  • Started planning the autumn term at FELLOW.
  • Picked more blackberries than I know how to cook.
  • Met representatives from the University of Oxford to discuss an ESOL project they are planning to support local Syrian and Kurdish communities.
  • Acquired a new housemate!

I went to Kyrgyzstan (part two)

Here’s the second part of a series of blog posts about my teacher training travels in Kyrgyzstan. To read a summary of my trip, click here.

An introduction to Kyrgyzstan

I landed at Manas International airport groggy and dehydrated. Two red-eye flights in a row, plus a mad midnight dash through Istanbul Atatürk airport to avoid a missed connection, had meant little sleep. Plane travel is not my friend: I find it hard to sit still, I choke on the smell of stale coffee, and I really don’t like the food!

Luckily Andy, the volunteer coordinator for the project, was waiting to meet me at Manas International with a bottle of water and conversation to keep me awake. We waited a little while in a small café at Arrivals for one of the British undergraduate volunteers, Rosie, before piling into a taxi and heading to our hotel.

We drove around – rather than through – Bishkek to reach the hotel, so my first impressions of Kyrgyzstan were: dust, watermelons, shipping containers… and Angela Merkel. Dust flying up behind the cars in front of us, children rolling watermelons home along the roadside, shipping containers standing in empty fields, and banners featuring the smiling face of Angela Merkel because she happened to be in town at the same time as us. It was about 10am, and already 30°C.

Happily, Bishkek is a green and leafy city with those broad, open avenues and huge squares that Soviet architects loved so much. When we made it into the city centre later that day, it felt nowhere near as foreign as I had imagined.

Most of our four days in Bishkek were spent eating. Andy took us to Navat, a traditional chaikhana where we ate ridiculous quantities of meat, delicious borsok and fresh jam. We branched out to smaller restaurants where we tried manty (dumplings, often filled with pumpkin or chives) and many questionable types of dairy product. Then on our second day in Bishkek, we were taken to Supara, an ‘ethno-complex’ of yurts and traditional buildings, for our induction with representatives from the women’s NGO Erayim.

The visit to Supara was fascinating: we got to learn a lot about Erayim’s work with self-help groups (micro-financing operations), enjoy a traditional meal, and go on a guided tour of different types of yurts. There are more of these than you might think.

We also played some traditional Kyrgyz games with sheep bones, and did a few getting-to-know-you activities that I did not have to organize! Erayim did a wonderful job of setting up the day, and it was a brilliant way to introduce the volunteers to Kyrgyzstan.

You can see a few photos from the induction here (note the photo of me talking, and everyone looking uninterested!).

And here is a tunduk (the central ring of a the roof of a yurt) for good measure:

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I went to Kyrgyzstan (part one)

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A couple of months ago some followers of this blog very kindly donated teaching ideas in preparation for a trip I was planning to Kyrgyzstan in support of women’s charity Erayim. I came back from Bishkek last month, and I thought you might be interested to hear a bit about how it all went. What follows is an overview… more detailed thoughts to come.

In brief: it was fantastic! Kyrgyzstan is a very interesting country, and a land of contrasts: imagine a land of rugged mountains where the people are Asian and speak Russian, vodka is the tipple of choice, and you hear the call to prayer five times a day.

I spent the first four days of the trip in the capital city, Bishkek, where I met some of the British undergraduate volunteers and attended an induction day led by representatives from Erayim. As part of the induction process, I led a day of teacher training for the young British volunteers to prepare them to lead month-long summer school courses for children. We covered a few basic teaching principles, and I shared the ideas that were kindly donated. These went down very well! The volunteers also benefitted from some OUP resources books, and together we spent a couple of hours picking out activities and discussing how we could adapt them for different scenarios.

After a comfortable few days in Bishkek, I was taken to Chaek, a village of approximately 7,000 people. Chaek is the main village in the Jumgal valley, and is even considered remote by Kyrgyz standards. No taxi driver in Bishkek seemed to understand why I would end up there! This perceived remoteness will change sooner than you might think: China has invested millions of dollars in a road-building project to connect the large cities of Osh and Jalalabad (in the south-west of the country), with Issyk-Kul and the Chinese border crossings in the north-east. The road (which is shaping up very nicely), will open up new trade frontiers in Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan, but it will also have untold benefits for the isolated inhabitants of the Jumgal valley. The new road will bring both passing trade and tourism to the valley, which is home to the second-highest mountain lake in the world (Song-Kol), and the local people want to learn English in part to make the most of this exciting opportunity.

I led a two-week teacher training course in Chaek with the support of Andrew, a recent graduate from Leeds, and Gulzada, a local woman who currently teaches English in Bishkek. We had thirty English teachers in total, all experienced professionals working in state schools at primary or secondary level. While I led methodology classes and the occasional skills lesson, Gulzada focused on teaching grammar, and Andrew on speaking practice and games. At the end of the course, each teacher received a certificate of completion, a copy of Murphy’s English Grammar in Use, ten Anglo-Kyrgyz dictionaries, a CD and booklet of songs to use in the primary classroom, and a booklet containing all the activities that had been donated by my lovely friends and colleagues from OUP and beyond.  Feedback from the teachers emphasised how happy they were with the course content. In fact, their only major criticism seems to be that the course should have been longer!

I’m incredibly happy that I got to have this wonderful experience, and spend some time getting to know a country about which I had previously known so little. If you have a couple of weeks to spare next year and are interested in getting involved (I can’t recommend it enough!), then please get in touch and I’ll give you some more information about the project.

And, as I mentioned at the start, I’ll post in more detail about my time in Kyrgyzstan very soon.

I’m (still) here

It’s hard to believe that I haven’t updated this blog in almost seven weeks. And (surprise, surprise) it’s because I’ve been busy. Really busy!

Over the last few weeks I’ve spent a lot of time getting my head around my upcoming trip to Kyrgyzstan. I feel as if I’ve been planning it for years, and suddenly it’s only a couple of weeks away! The practical aspects of the trip are almost sorted: flights are booked, equipment has been bought, and I’m officially vaxxed to the max. There’s still quite a lot of planning and preparation to do around the teacher training course itself, and unfortunately I have recently received some bad news: two of my teacher training colleagues for the project are no longer able to fly out to Kyrgyzstan. This leaves me running the show! Thankfully, two new volunteers have stepped in to fill the gaps – and I’m so happy that they’re able to commit to the project at such short notice.

This week I’ve finished putting together my activities booklet, and I’ve also sketched out a rough plan of the methodology-oriented sessions I’m going to teach. Once at the teacher training centre, I won’t have access to a computer, printer or a photocopier, so I need to make sure that I have compiled all my materials and emailed them to the office in Bishkek before my arrival. It will be interesting to see how I survive without the internet…

June has also brought some interesting developments on the FELLOW front: we sent one of our committee members to this event in Birmingham, and I had a very productive meeting with a senior member of the University with regard to educational provision for displaced persons in Oxford. I hope that I will be able to share some exciting outcomes from that conversation soon!

Finally, I’ve also made a big professional change: from August, I’ll be taking a sabbatical from the big wide world of ELT and making my first forays into Change Management! I’m really looking forward to trying something new, and I’m hoping to take away some innovative ideas that I can employ in my teaching and training. I can feel a few more blog posts coming on…

April showers (bring May flowers)

Now, where were we?

I can’t believe it’s been so long since I have updated this blog!

Well, actually – I can. April has been about as unpredictable as the lovely British weather. I spent the first half of the month in bed (or wishing I was in bed) because I was struck down with an unexplained stomach problem that was so painful that I even ended up in A&E! Happily, all is well now.

Personally, it’s been a jam-packed month: I’ve attended birthday parties, hen parties and dinners – and also managed to squeeze in a weekend visiting my grandparents in The North.

Professionally, it’s been even busier. My two main projects are at critical stages in their development and there is plenty of work to be done. I couldn’t even make it to IATEFL this year, which feels slightly shameful as it was only a 90-minute train journey away! Let’s see if I make it to Glasgow next year…

Over the last month I’m pleased to say that there have been some great developments around my planned trip to Kyrgyzstan.

A couple of weeks ago I had dinner with Claire, the UK coordinator of Erayim’s educational project, to discuss plans for the summer. Claire has loaned me some brilliant books about Kyrgyzstan in English, German and Kyrgyz (!) so I have plenty of reading material to peruse over the coming months – along with my trusty Bradt guide, of course!

Claire and I spent the evening talking about the structure of the teacher training course, which I was pleased to learn involves a mixture of grammar, vocabulary, skills and methodology classes. There will be four volunteers running the course, and we will divide the subject areas between us. This is positive news for me (I do love a good reading lesson) – and I was even happier to learn that the teaching day will end at 3pm. This means there’ll be plenty of time for exploring!

I had a lovely evening chatting about Kyrgyzstan with Claire and, as she’s Swiss, I also got to spend most of our time together speaking French!

I’m also making strides in my plans to secure resources for the trip. At the beginning of the month I launched a materials drive (details available on the blog here) to complement the graded readers that have been donated to the project by OUP. I’ve had a great response to my request for donations so far, with international colleagues and some fantastic ELT authors submitting activities to the cause. I’ve even had some people offer to help me compile and edit! I’ve been overwhelmed by the enthusiasm with which my idea has been received, and I know that Claire has too. Thank you!

Finally – this week I was able to lead my first ever teacher training session! I have co-taught teacher-training sessions before, but Monday evening was my first solo attempt and I was more than a little nervous. I was faced with twelve new FELLOW recruits, to whom I needed to teach basic skills for planning and conducting conversation classes with minimal resources. I also had to cope with minimal resources: the data projector malfunctioned and I couldn’t display any of the sample materials I had prepared. We had to crowd around my tiny MacBook screen instead! Despite the technical issues, I think the session went well and I had some positive feedback from volunteers. Time will tell if they decide to commit to FELLOW, though! One of the favourite resources of the night was 2 Kinds of People: a fun (and stylish) way to get students talking about themselves and their preferences. Good ideas are meant to be shared, but I do slightly regret giving up this one because now I can’t use it at FELLOW for a while! If you know of any other Tumblrs that could form the basis of a good conversation class, you know where to send them…

It’s been a frantic month – and I think this will be the first in a series of posts to get the blog up to speed. Stick with me! And don’t forget to submit your teaching idea for Erayim.

Can you help me help others?

Dear friends and colleagues,

I’m writing to ask if you might be willing to lend some (non-financial!) support to a voluntary project I am undertaking this summer.

In July I am travelling to Central Asia! I am going to provide teacher training and EFL support to an NGO called Erayim, based in Kyrgyzstan. Erayim’s main aim is to improve the lives of vulnerable people through self-help (e.g. community-led co-financing projects), but they also run summer education programmes for children and young people with the support of a British charity, The Erayim Aid Trust. University undergraduates in Russian Studies usually teach these summer education programmes, and last year the programmes involved over 500 children across the country.

During my time with the charity I will run a two-week EFL and teacher training course for local English teachers based in the village of Chaek, in central Kyrgyzstan. I will also contribute to the training of the student volunteers in Bishkek at the start of my stay.

Like me, the majority of the volunteers will live in rural villages where there is no internet access and teaching resources are few and far between. As such, I am working to put together a small booklet of tried-and-tested quick classroom activities for the volunteers to use – and this is where I need your expertise!

I would like to ask if you would be willing to ‘donate’ your favourite classroom activity to the Erayim resources booklet. I’m looking to gather games, activities and teaching tips for the low-resource classroom that have been handpicked by trusted professionals (that’s you!) for use by new teachers in a challenging low-resource context. If you can spare ten minutes to write up your favourite activity, please let me know and I will supply you with a short brief and template. I would like to collect all the activities by 5 June in order to edit, design and print by the beginning of July.

Thanks for reading! If you would like to learn a bit more about student volunteers’ experience with the programme, you can check out their site here.

Best wishes,

Caroline

February: this month I have…

  • Completed my first MOOC! (Oxford Teachers’ Academy Teaching English to Teenagers, if you’re interested)
  • Given my French a workout with the help of myfrenchfilmfestival.com, a fantastic annual online festival. Check it out next year!
  • Enjoyed (and appreciated) this brilliant Vice article on ESOL in the USA.
  • Celebrated a friend’s birthday with a stand-up set by Isy Suttie, and some delicious Indian street food at Bhel Puri.
  • Considered LX in ELT materials design, with the help of Nick Robinson’s blog post and webinar. I’m looking forward to learning more about this in the coming months.
  • Been contemplating ways of improving FELLOW volunteer recruitment.
  • Been getting excited about my Dad’s plans to learn Italian!
  • Wondered whether Spritz could help me improve my own language skills…
  • Bought my plane tickets to Bishkek, as well as this book – which means I am actually going to Kyrgyzstan this summer!