Thursday, 24 September 2009

My First Scrapblog

Looking through Room 18's Learning Journey lovely blog via the September 2009 Blogging Challenge, I spotted the word "Scrapblog" amongst many other e-tools, in the sidebar. I was curious so I looked. The site said "creating a scrapblog is easy". Now, for some reason the word "easy" is always an irresistible force for me, especially if it is connected to new e-tools. My gut instinct told me to give it a go, just for fun. I have seen some amazing scrapblogs on other sites and it seemed as if a lot of technology was involved. Well, the hype lived up to its promise and it was indeed easy to create my very first scrapblog using my own photos. The potential for using Scrapblog for teaching and learning is great and it's a fun way for students to create all manner of projects for classwork or for more individual creative effects.

Monday, 21 September 2009

Rumble in the Valley

I have been very quiet today, pondering on the force of Mother Nature. I seem to have an inherent knack of indirectly foretelling what is to hapen in my life. My previous posting had a fun title "Rumble in the Jungle". I chose this title just because I liked the sound of it. Rumble has these meanings. Last night, indeed, the word rumble took on a more literal and sinister meaning with reference to thunder and here is the story.

A Dark and Stormy Night

It was a dark and stormy night. I had just finished tweeting and was going to settle down with a glass of Trebbiano d'Abruzzo with my beloved, when suddenly, lightening lit up the sky and in the distance the rumble of thunder shattered our quiet relaxation. The rain began to pour down violently. We switched off the power supply from the mains and lit candles (mostly with the image of Padre Pio - they are very good for such emergencies). The rain intensified. It started coming down the chimney in ever increasing worrying dribs and drabs. Outside the cascading torrent of rainfall was deafening. Heaven and earth had opened up. The lightening became more electrifying and illuminating, the thunder ever more cacophonous.

Sinking Hearts
We heard an ominous dripping sound. OMG. What was that?? With trepidation, we went into the back room and yes, the new roof was leaking. Our hearts sank to the floor. How could it be possible?? The new wooden beams had been fitted securely, a waterproof layer had been installed. It should have been watertight. But it wasn't. It was midnight. The drip drip drip was disheartening. There was nothing we could do but hope the violent storm would subside.

The Mop-Up Job
This morning the task of cleaning up began. A whole river of mud had flowed from the upper fields surrounding our house and had chosen to cross our garden. My parsley and cabbage seedlings were totally swamped. Silt had invaded all my major plants. Snails were absolutely everywhere, loving the damp conditions. The outside staircase was a bed of mud. K hosed the mud off while I duly swept the aqueous substance into the yard. Yes, I pondered to myself, this is what living in the countryside, restoring an old farmhouse, entails. It's not always a bed of roses.....

A Comparative Study of Styles
So, today my hubby and I both wrote on the same topic for the first time in our history..... He has his unique, inimitable style. I have my own. We both shared the same experience. You can read K's posting here.

So that's it. A night and day in the life of a TEFL teacher in Italy.

A Special Mention
Kalinago English Blog has just celebrated its first anniversary! I believe it is a fantastic blog and Karenne Sylvester has done an amazing job in inspiring a huge amount of people in so many different ways. I have just posted a comment to Karenne saying "These are the days that should happen to you". Here is a link to One.

Another Special Mention
One of my favourite blogs is "Bits'n'Bobs, Show'n' Tell" I like it, because it is exceptionally well written, always original and intriguing. If you don't know it, I recommend you have a look!
At the moment, Chris Adams has bravely offered to do an improvisation challenge for his future blog posts. He has just successfully completed his second challenge and is on the lookout for some more....

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Rumble in the Jungle

The past few days have been spent on and off in front of the computer, happily busy with Twitter, Wikis, Nings, Acronyms, TEFL, PLN, CPD and Blogs, to the unfortunate neglect and detriment of my poor garden. As Voltaire famously said in "Candide" - "Il faut cultiver notre jardin". In English it means "You must look after your garden". Well, this saying has been praying on my mind recently and I have watched the huge mass of verdant vegetation above expand uncontrollably and unrelentingly. It has become a veritable jungle, with lush dense vegetation growing at a rapid pace. In fact, it has become a fertile breeding ground for all manner of creatures. The picture below was taken by K this morning. A romantic couple of Praying Mantises enjoying some R & R on our land, would you believe!

The Root of the Problem

I now have a good picture for use in future Idiomatic lessons. What is Janet holding?? One of the unsolicited bushes from the land was dug up and its amazingly long roots were extracted forcefully. They were almost as tall as myself! Have we now got rid of the deep-rooted problem? I would hope so!
Nature idioms abound here in Abruzzo and today the expresson "Idioms are the salt and pepper of speech" has just come to mind after picking my yellow pepper below.
Please click here for a previous posting on Making Hay while the Sun Shines which contains a selection of Nature Idioms.

An absolutely Divine Intervention
Drinking my post-prandial Espresso infused with the absolutely divine Amaretto, I was most surprised to hear a distant rumble in the jungle. K and I rushed to see what the noise was was the local farmer Marco, in his tractor, cutting our jungle down, with its enormous blades. We hadn't asked him to do this huge job, so we were thrilled to see the land now actually becoming more visible. It would have taken K and I probably weeks (I am not exaggerating) to mow the "lawn" down with the tools we have, so it is a big relief for us both. It has also preserved K's sanity!! I will ring Marco later to see how we can repay him. I think maybe our land stood out like a sore thumb amongst all the beautiful surrounding countryside and he has taken pity on us for the sake of his aesthetical principles. Boy, am I very happy about this!!

A Penny for his Thoughts?

What is Kelly thinking about? He does look rather deep in thought. He is a very happy dog nowadays, his tail always wagging and wanting to play games all the time. When he first showed up here totally uninvited, he was unkempt and badly injured. He had wounds on his throat which had become abcesses. He was half the weight he should have been. He had a skeletal framework. He was a scavenger. He had matted greasy fur. In fact, he was a total mess. I didn't like or trust Kelly at first as he looked totally rough and any attempt at affection could have turned nasty. We were worried about the girls' reaction. Would he transmit any afflictions? Would he turn on them? We didn't know. However, Kelly persevered with us with quiet determination and we took him in initially because we felt very sorry for him indeed. Quietly but surely, he grew in our affection and the girls love him to bits. He transformed himself to the dog you see above. With love and affection, this is the result. He is now part of the gang and no way, is he going anywhere else. Ever. He is my most faithful companion, following me around with dutiful enthusiasm.

Ad Hoc Style
Well, I've had some fun writing up this post. I really liked the title "Rumble in the Jungle" and this "ad hoc" posting is what I have come up with as a result! Totally unplanned, but it has a connection with events today.

See you on Twitter or on your blog in a mo?? Bye for now...............

Thursday, 17 September 2009

My Life in TEFL

Where is TEFL?
"Where exactly is TEFL, my dear?", I was once memorably asked. I was giving a talk entitled "My Life in TEFL" at a local club in Oxford and all the attendees came from different walks of life, none from the TEFL sector, so this question did not really come as a surprise.

Well, TEFL is where my heart has taken me. It's in my blood. It's a universal place. It has no boundaries, no discrimination, no age limit. Everyone has become a part of this unique and all-encompassing world.
September 1979 is a very special month and year for me. I began my teaching life in Madrid, 30 years ago. I cannot believe how fast the time has flown. I have honestly enjoyed every single year of my professional career as a teacher of English as a Foreign Language. I have not wanted to do any other job nor been tempted to give it up at any stage of my life. It has truly been dominated by TEFL and I am very proud to still be here, doing what I love. The past year has been a mixture of studying and teaching, both F2F and online, interspersed with settling down in the beautiful region of Abruzzo.

Inspired by Karenne Sylvester's post called "What's a TEFL teacher?", I would like to go down memory lane and mention 30 reasons why I love TEFL. One reason for each year.

  1. I gives me a buzz, even after all these years
  2. It keeps me on my toes
  3. It's taken me to the most amazing places
  4. I have met incredible students, teachers, directors and school staff.
  5. I met my hubby -K
  6. I have had the priviledge of working for the amazing Lake School of English for over 20 years
  7. I have learned so much from my peers
  8. I have taught angelic 6-year-olds in Fuerteventura
  9. I have danced the twist with Sister Carla, a lovely nun from Italy
  10. I have taught a 70-year-old Japanese retired businessman in a class of teenagers
  11. I have taught 3 Libyan brothers in the same class
  12. I have eaten fresh fish caught by my fisherman student in Fuerteventura
  13. I was given a lifelong battery as a parting gift from my Thai student- I still have it!
  14. I have smashed plates in a taverna after drinking Metaxa with my class in Patras
  15. I have created many worksheets connected to slang, my fave topic!
  16. I have attended many fascinating conferences
  17. I have met fellow TEFLers and educators around the world
  18. I have taught FCE to 50 students in one term in Greece
  19. I have sung Karaoke with my students in Oxford
  20. I have 3 albums (retrieved today from Box 75) containing photos from the 1980s, 1990s and 2000-. I will treasure these forever- my link to the imminent future past
  21. I have made life-long friends with some of my students
  22. I have taught English as an existential subject to a young Italian university student interested in philosophy (I gemmed up on Nietsche and Sartre for the lessons)
  23. I have taught Shakespeare English to Yokko, a Japanese student and now a dear friend. We read through chunks of plays and discussed scenes at great length.
  24. I had fun using a Bandar machine back in 1979 (no photocopiers in those days!
  25. I have experienced many teaching styles, but realised it's all a circle! Trends come and go and are recycled with time
  26. I started my teaching career with "Briam's Complementary English Grammar" an in-house publication which I used in Madrid. It is on my bookshelf now. I am so glad I kept it.
  27. I had a Stasi member in each of my classes in Dresden. I was strictly forbidden to discuss politics, the monarchy and religion in my lessons.
  28. I smuggled in a copy of "Animal Farm" and "1984" for Uli in the GDR. If caught, I would have been duly expelled from the country. I will never forge the adrenalin rush I experienced when crossingthe East German border at Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin.
  29. I have dressed up as a cocktail "Pink Flamingo" on one of the many brilliant parties at the Lake School of English.
  30. I have been a mentor for newer teachers and loved every minute.
TEFL has been very kind to me. It has been a non-stop teaching and learning fest.

My TEFL Future?
Where will TEFL lead me to next? I don't know. It is an ever evolving world, one which is at times frighteningly fast. I feel I am hanging on, but only just. It takes a lot of determination to remain in one job for most of one's life, but if it's the right choice and you love it, then it makes things much easier.

I would like to say a BIG thank you to everyone who has shared my life in TEFL, everyone who has helped me along the way, especially all my lovely students, all my fantastic co-teachers, all my wonderful bosses, all my kind mentors,all my new online colleagues, wherever you may be. Cheers!!!

Tuesday, 15 September 2009


Here's a slideshow I have just created on, using photos I like. I have been meaning to learn how to do Power Point presentations but I got a bit side-tracked by this neat little tool! It's very easy to register and takes seconds to create some very effective slideshows of your pictures. Give it a twirl!

Saturday, 12 September 2009


Acronyms seem to be everywhere nowadays and it's easy to get lost amongst them if you are not careful. Do you know the meaning of NETTEL? I didn't know this acronym until this morning, when I read Valentina Dodge's very interesting comment in Lindsay Clandfield's "Six Ugly Words in English" blog post , where she refered to a new acronym called "NETTELS" which came via Schott's Vocab.

Some interesting acronyms:
  • WAG The English Blog has an excellent headline which mentions WAG
  • TEFL Teaching English as a Foreign Language
  • ASBO Anti-Social Behaviour Order Please refer here to the meaning
  • IPOD Insecure, Pressurised, Overdrawn and in Debt. Please click here for a previous post.
  • NYLON A regular commuter from New York to London
  • SKIER Spending Kids' Inheritance
  • NIMFY Not in My Front Yard!
  • BHAG Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal Please click here for an explanation
  • SPIN Small Plot INtensive Please click here for an explanation
  • KIPPERS Kids' in Parents' Pockets Eroding Retirement Savings Please click here for an explanation
Wordsearch Puzzle
I have created an Acronyms Puzzle using How quickly can you find the 11 acronyms inside the puzzle?

Click here for the pdf link.

An Acronym Story
Can you make out what this story is all about? I set myself a time limit of 5 minutes to write whatever came out of my mind and this is it- a bit of fun!

Victoria had been in the SPIN farming business for too long and she was fed up with being a SPINNER. So she had a BHAG! She decided she would like to become a WAG so she went to Boujie's night club in London and hey presto, she netted herself a very striking, handsome Premiership footballer called Joey Cascarino. He was a bit of a NIMFY at heart, so he wasn't happy with where he lived. He decided to move to New York but Victoria didn't want to leave England so they agreed to become NYLONS for a while. Unfortunately, this arrangement didn't work out and she became an IPOD. This led to her being given an ASBO for unruly behaviour. The relationship broke up and she went back to her parents to ask for help. Unfortuately, they were SKIERS, so they were out spending all their money while they were still able to do so. They told her she shouldn't be a KIPPER and told her to find a job. She saw an ad in the Guardian for a TEFL job in Civitaquana and went for it. She got it! She is now on top of the world. This story is purely fictional, if you were wondering!


Which acronym is the "Odd Word Out?" Why?

Questions Questions Questions
  1. Do you think TEFL is an interesting profession?
  2. Has SPIN farming taken on in your neighbourhood?
  3. Have you ever had a BHAG? Did you achieve it?
  4. Would you become a NYLON for the love of your life?
  5. Do you think ASBOs are effective in curbing anti-socal behaviour?
Acronym Name Quiz
This is an Acronym quiz based on the letters of my name. Not sure if I agree on all of them! Which adjectives does your name generate?

It's funny how one simple acronym like "NETTEL" can inspire a blog post!

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

WikiEducator Update

In answer to the above question, created on Wordle, I certainly have! If you read on, you will find out why I have been staying up quite late recently.

I finished my WikiEducator L4C29 online course last week and I am now reviewing my notes from the excellent tutorials. I started off a bit hesitantly and I had a few doubts whether I would be ok with something new, but with the help and expert guidance of my tutors and moral support from my co-participants, I was able to work through the schedule and learn a lot of new things such as the special syntax which is a part of a wiki and templates for worksheets. I found out about Liquid Threads. I participated in a live WizIQ workshop and saw and heard my tutors and I actually said something "live". I felt a bit shy about doing this, I don't know why! I took part in discussions, commented on other participants User pages, made friends, read lots of interesting things written by the participants and generally tried to collaborate and share the learning process. I still have lots to learn and practise but it has been great fun and the support has been excellent. I am interested in doing the next Learning4Content -30th Online Workshop starting here in order to brush up my existing skills. I highly recommend the course. It has opened up a new dimension of learning and sharing for me and one which I would like to investigate further.

I was able to master Apprentice Level 1 after 2-3 hours, then I progressed to Apprentice Level 2, and finally I was thrilled when I achieved the status of WikiBuddy in my last week. I have a lot of reviewing to do now as it was quite a lot of information to take in. As an exchange for the free workshop I had to sign a contract which promised to share a worksheet or lesson plan with WikiEducator. I thereby got down to creating some tips for teaching idioms using Web 2.0 tools and set about creating entirely new activities to add to the free open resources for WikiEducator.

As I will be adding this to my User Page as a feedback to the course, I would like to present what I came up with in order to create the new worksheet. It was a fantastic opportunity to use my imagination and I had to work under pressure as I wanted to have most of the worksheet prepared within the course parameters.

Again, I worked very hard during the 10 days but I really enjoyed the challenge of being with people who all shared the same aspirations and objectives as me. All the participants were committed educators from around the world. My eyes opened up to a whole new universe of experts in technology, wiki masters, professors at leading universities, e-tutors, Heads of IT departments, writers, Web 2.0 specialists from around the globe. The huge talent and resources that lies within the WikiEducator community is absolutely astounding. Everyone has a common goal: to share, remix and reuse some content freely within an open educational context.

I created the following examples of idioms using freely available Web 2.0 tools such as,, and These tools can all be used in a variety of ways to teach all kinds of subjects. Your imagination is your key to open up a whole world of exciting possibilities!

My Bookr Idioms

My Newspaper Idioms

My Xtranormal Idioms

My Comix Idioms

If you would like to learn more about WikiEducator and build up your wiki skills, please click here for a link to the information and registration page for the next workshop, which begins on September 21st for 10 days. I am sure you will enjoy it!

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Box 45.......

.......has unleashed a host of memories. Unpacking Box 45 (out of 82) yesterday left me 2 hours lighter. The contents were an eclectic mix of books that had lain quietly and patiently in the small box since October 6th 2006. There are too many books to mention in this short post so I have had to scale the list to 5 of the ones which caught my eye and which forced me to flick through them and thereby rekindled memories of yore.

The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness by Erich Fromm.
This book goes back to the 1980s when I first discovered Erich Fromm's work. I was fascinated by it because it delved deeply into the minds of people infamous in history due to their evil nature. What separates a person from good and evil? Is it genetic? Is it hereditary or is it just one second of madness which changes a person's life forever?

As an aside, I will also include the Art of Loving (in Greek!), written in 1956. It is not a self help guide book as the title may suggest, but rather a very complex analysis into the theories of love. In the front page I had written * Paco- the "hypothetical" Romance Gran Tarajal 1984. I vaguely remember having a big crush on a very handsome "Majorero" called Paco, who in fact introduced me to the works of Eric Fromm. Why I bought the book in Greek, though, I have no idea!! Well, maybe one idea is I went straight from teaching in Fuerteventura (the Canary Islands) to Greece and I got it to learn Greek and to remind me of my philosophical discussions relating to the meaning of the book? That is one theory, anyway!

A quote of Erich Fromm I particularly like is this one:

"Paradoxically, the ability to be alone is the condition for the ability to love."

Le Deuxieme Sexe by Simone de Beauvoir
The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir as it is known in English was one of my prescribed texts for my degree in French Literature. I remember being fascinated by it. The book (in two tomes) outlines the female condition, both biological and social. It was thought-provoking and I read it many times and dissected it for a few hours on one of my literature exam papers. I recall Simone de Beauvoir painted a rather grim view of marriage. The book focused on some aspects of the sad pre-ordained destiny of women (in the author's opinion), including the ritualistic cleaning of the household- "Jusqu'a la mort elles seront soumises a ces rites. Manger, dormir, nettoyer...". This translates roughly as "until death, they (women) will be subjected to these rites. Eat, sleep, clean..." This work was at the forefront of Feminist literature and had a major influence on my life.

Sir Bob by Salvador de Madariaga
The book is inscribed "To Janet Bianchini and personally autographed by Salvador de Madariaga, Oxford, August 1969. It is a 1930 George Routlidge and Sons hardback edition. I was 12 years old when I was given this book by the great man himself and until yesterday, it had lain hidden away for nearly 3 years. It is "a Tall (Though Not Grown-Up ) Story for Children from Nine to Ninety. It is a humorous book and I intend to re read it this week in order to refresh my memory!
I think I will relate my connection to Salvador Madariaga in another future post, so watch this space...

"Stasiland" by Anna Funder
This book was like taking a walk in the past and it brought back so many memories of my time in The German Democratic Republic, where I had the privilege of working for one academic year in 1981-82. "Stasiland" is a brilliant account of the passionate search for a brutal history in the process of being lost, forgotten and destroyed. Living in a state of constant surveillance was grim for the people who had no freedom to travel abroad to western countries. I recollect listening to DDR radio and listening to the dull droning of the announcers constantly denouncing the wicked Imperialistic West and proudly boasting about DDR productivity levels, surpassing output by the day, or so it seemed. Luckily, I wasn't brainwashed by all this inverted propaganda and I picked up a lot of useful German vocabulary from the broadcasts in the days before I had made any close friends.

Ein Rundgang durch die DRESDENER GEMALDE-GALLERIE Alte Meiste by Harald Marx
This book has a collection of the most famous paintings to be found in the Dresden Art Gallery (Old Masters) in 1981. I bought it in Dresden in October 1981. I used to spend all my 200DDR Marks per month salary on books and travelling around the GDR, as in those days, because it was forbidden to take currency out of the country I was obliged to spend ALL my money in one way or another! My Dresden Technical University students presented me with a fabulous gift of a brochure of big posters of the most famous paintings in the Museum and these are my favourites from the book above.

I love Jan Vermeer's "Brieflesendes Madchen am offnen Fenster" 1659. I have used this picture as a visual aid for story telling countless times in lessons. Who is the letter from? What does it say? How will it affect the young girl's life?

Pintoricchio's "Portrait of a Boy" is a fabulous painting. What is the boy thinking about? Why does he look so grumpy? What was happening just before the portrait was being painted? What can you imagine about the young boy's lifestyle?

Jan-Etienne Liotard's "The Chocolate Girl" 1744/45 is again one of my favoutites. According to my book, this painting is quoted as being "one of the most beautiful pastels ever seen". It is simple and elegant in design. This young maid is carrying a glass of water and a cup of chocolate on a tray. Who are these items for? Is she happy in her job?

A reproduction painting of Bellotto's/ Canaletto's "Dresden from the Right Bank of the Elbe above the Augustus Bridge" 1748 was given to me by my best friend Marion from the former GDR and it hung in the hallway for 17 years in Oxford until October 2006. I can't wait to unearth it from my "Pictures" Box Number 70 and place it somewhere in my Abruzzo home. What a coincidence! Marion has just sent me an email from Dresden!

Raphael's "Sistine Madonna" is a delightful painting and I have to admit I used to view this every weekend on my regular visits to the Art Gallery. I loved the two cherubs (or "putti") you see at the bottom of the painting. These two have spawned an amazing growth industry in Cherubanalia. I'm not sure if it is a well-known fact that they are part of this fabulous painting.

If you register, you can view the whole gallery of paintings from the Old Masters in Second Life, if you click here. What a fabulous idea!

Well, this concludes my summary of my walk in time relating to Box 45. There are still many more boxes of books to go through and unpack, but I will leave them alone for the time being while I get down to my addictive WikiEducator course, which I will tell you more about soon....