I was reading the New York Times today when something caught my eye. It seems that even the Hippocratic oath has it's limits in the War on Terror . In an article on the limits permitted American "interrogators" (a polite euphemism, if ever I heard one) the journalist mentioned this in passing;
I was just explaining to my daughter, Lydia how to use a cassette recorder. No big deal except that she knows how to use an ipod, PC, Mac and the internet. I guess it's moments like these when you realise that many of the things you took for granted growing up are soon going to seem quaint, even unfathomable to people born after the 90's. For example having to fast forward through a cassette (what's that?) in order to get to the next song on the album.
I'm reminded of the time I found a box Brownie lurking at the back of a shed on my grandmother's farm, Although I recognised it instantly as a camera it seemed to me something that belonged in the Ancient Artifacts section of a museum, next to to the clay amphoras and arrow tips.
The school year has more or less finished for me here in Thessaloniki. My students have taken their exams and the language school where i work has closed down till the summer courses begin in June. So, I suppose this is as good a time as any to look back at what the year like was for me in teaching terms. Think of it as a State of the Union address for EFL/ESL in Greece.
In many respects this year has been just like last one. Although I have learnt an enormous amount about using internet an computers in teaching my ability to translate these skills into practical classroom practices has been hampered by a number of problems which haven't disappeared since May 2006. Technophobia, lack of equipment and a widespread ignorance of computers and internet has meant that in school my attempts at introducing new computer based ideas into the classroom stalled.
It's very hard to teach using the internet if there are no PCs or indeed any kind of technology that wasn't invented in the 70's. Audio cassettes and the occasional VHS video are about the limits of what is acceptable. This meant that that I was reliant on students being able to have access to a PC and internet at home. Yet even using this as a means of teaching was frowned upon and it was made very clear to me that it was not approved of. It distracted from the more serious goal of getting students their certificates.
Once again the lack of control over what I teach in class meant that integrating more up - date methodologies was limited and this, of course included the use of "new" technology. Exam practice, endless discreet grammar exercises, long word lists were once again the order of the day.The fact that students do well in their exams is, I suspect, despite all this not because of it.
On the other hand the students I tutor privately benefitted from using technology in a more creative way. I used blogging, vlogging, DVDs, digital photography, video and social networking tools to allow them them to use their language skills in real life situations. I think that their blogs alone (see here and here) show how much fun they found this. So much so, that Some of them have been teaching friends how to blog.
As far as next year is concerned I think that I'm not going to use the internet in school. The obstacles are too many and the resistance to innovation too fierce. I work too hard and my commitments too many to waste my energies on battles I cannot win. This is such a pity as I really wanted to explore the possibilities that things such as the Horizon project offer school. However, without the backing of the administration this is not feasible.
I will continue using the internet with my private students as I do believe it has really made a difference in many situations, especially with learners who have become bored with more traditional teaching approaches. I have seen disaffected teenage boys who loathe learning English work their butts off to improve, simply because we started doing activities on the computer that were based on their own particular hobbies and interests, be they football, cars or Star Wars.
After finishing the lesson with Maria and Marianna, two delightful nine-year old students from Euosmos I I headed into the centre to pick up books, cassettes and other assorted teaching materials from Stephanos near the Kamara. While waiting I managed to kill half an hour taking pictures. Later on I it was a off to Noesis to catch the light before the sun set.
Taken between 5 and 8 pm whilst walking from lesson to lesson. It seemed that there was a lot happening in the city, beggers at the church door, anarchist protesting the arrest of a student, a woman offering free hugs near the Kamara. Just drifting through the centre I just enjoyed the fact that for a few hours at least, I had no commitments and no particular destination.
Although school has finished, it seems that I'm as busy as ever. As well as a couple of private lessons I managed to fit in a visit to the Telogleio Foundation of Art which is a holding an exhibition as part of the Thessaloniki Bienniale 2007. Later on I met up with friends for coffee. In the meantime, as you can see, I managed to take a few photos, inspired by those I saw in the exhibition.
However, somebody did threaten to, "kick my head in" if I dared take any photos inside a church whose gates I was photographing. Strange as I had just come out the place and nobody seemed bothered by my presence there. Absorbed by what I was doing I didn't take in what he'd said and by which time I turned round the man had walked off.
I've taken to carrying my camera wherever I go and it is simply because sometimes walking through the city you see the most amazing sights. An example of this is this man, who I photographed today in Aristotelous Square. When I noticed his quiet dignity and sense of calm self - possession it immediately made an impression on me. Even though he must have been in his 80's you could tell be his clothes and freshly barbered hair that he still took pride in the way he looked.
I love this particular spot as it combines my two loves, cheap food and wonderful faces. Whenever I go there I sit munching on some kind of pie whilst looking at the people who wander to and fro in the market there.
It's been a long time since I've tried this. I played around with Photo story 3 a while back since it seemed such a s great tool for presenting images. A great way to create videos without having to go to film school or poring over editing manuals. So here is my latest effort. I was trying to show a different side to Thessaloniki that incorporates all its diverse, contradictory elements.
Today my students at school were taking their interviews for PET, FCE and CPE interviews. happened to have my camera with me. Surprise, surprise!! Chatting to them afterwards, it seemed that they did pretty well and the preparation we did paid off.