What have we learnt?

When I run online training courses for new volunteers (as I’m about to do again today) I always try to emphasise that what we do in the Hands Up Project isn’t really teaching.

It’s not teaching for two reasons..

Firstly, because the young people who we work with online in Palestine and Jordan already have English teachers in the room with them, and these teachers don’t need people like us to try to do their jobs for them.

In fact these teachers are in a much better position to teach English than we are as remote volunteers; they know the curriculum inside out (what’s in the coursebook, what may come up in the exam, what the learners have already explored and where they might be trying to get to), they know the first language of the learners very well (which means they can more accurately predict the level  of challenge of linguistic input and can more easily use translation as a teaching tool) and, perhaps most importantly, they know the learners very well (their needs, their strengths, their personalities, their learning preferences etc).

Secondly, an online session probably isn’t the best format for the teaching of language anyway; it’s often hard for us to hear each other comfortably so models of language get lost somehow and need to be reinforced again by the classroom teacher.

This is not to say of course that there isn’t learning happening and that what we are doing in the Hands Up Project isn’t useful. In fact, from the feedback we’ve had from teachers and learners in Palestine who’ve done sessions with us, it seems that for many people these online connections in HUP are some of the most powerful learning experiences they’ve ever had.

Here’s what one of our most experienced volunteers, a classroom teacher in Gaza, Amal Mukhairez, said about it.

“I think these sessions open up a new world of learning English. A world where students are not burdened with linguistic rules and exams which is, I believe, the key to getting more excited and effectively involved in the process of learning. The most interesting part about these online meetings is that students are introduced to the language more authentically and much more smoothly.”

And Hands Up Project sessions can also be a rich source of learning for the classroom teachers and remote volunteers themselves. Another long standing volunteer with us in Gaza – Sahar Salha, presented about this at last year’s Hands Up Project conference and at the IATEFL conference in Liverpool. Here’s what she wrote in her article for IATEFL Conference Selections (due to be published very soon)

“Being an English teacher can be a very lonely job, especially in a place like Gaza. We don’t have many opportunities for teacher development sessions and sometimes we have no idea about what other teachers are doing in their classes. It has been a real privilege for me to see another teacher from a completely different context, suggesting, explaining and implementing activities to do with my own learners here in Gaza. Sometimes I then try these activities out in my other face to face classes and they work really well. Maybe one of the most important things is that it’s made me realise the potential of my own students to use English naturally and communicatively with people outside of Gaza. So, I think I have higher expectations of them now and that is a very good thing”

Sahar feels that the online link ups have also helped with her own language development…

“Doing these sessions has also helped me with my own English. Until I came to the IATEFL conference in Liverpool, I had never been outside of Palestine and I’ve had very few opportunities in my life to interact in English with anyone who isn’t Palestinian. I can feel that my own English level has improved a lot by having this chance to communicate regularly with Alex”

And the feeling of learning is something that may happen to both the classroom teacher and the remote volunteer…

“Alex has also told me how she feels she has developed as a teacher through working with me. She always tells me that I have a great way of working with the girls, pushing them to do their best and managing things so that everyone feels involved. This is not easy in a class of 45 students with very few resources and where many of the learners are suffering from trauma. But this is one thing that we teachers in Gaza have learnt how to do to, and it feels good to be able to pass on these skills to Alex”

So over to you now….

Remote volunteers, Palestine based volunteers, students..What have you learnt by doing sessions with the Hands Up Project? Please write something in the comments below.

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Lots of learning happening in this session with classroom teacher Atiyyeh and remote volunteer, Michael 


15 thoughts on “What have we learnt?

  1. That’s really great !! The hands up has a spectacular effect on both teachers and students. According to my 4 years experience with the Hands Up, I suggest that each teacher should join his or her class to the HUP sessions . You can’t imagine how enthusiastic the students are and how their English improve during the year !!


    1. Thanks very much for your very positive comment. Can you be a bit more specific? Why do you think the students are so enthusiastic about doing sessions? And which aspects of their English is it that have improved so much?


      1. Let’s talk frankly. Students are enthusiastic because they have the chance to talk to native speakers of English . They learn real English outside the classroom . The Hands Up breaks the stereotype in learning English ; students don’t learn for exams , they play games and practise the language happily . The HUP meets children’s needs as it offer stories to practise English. Also they are enthusiastic cuz they meet their partners around the world; for example, my class met students from Russia , Spain and Italy. They learn about other cultures and tell others about our food and culture.
        I think their speaking abilities improve as they try to imitate the tune of native speakers and engage in many plays. In addition to writing, they write alphabet stories . The HUP reveals the cover over students’ hobbies , they become famous people on YouTube. Hope they are Hollywood stars one day😉. I don’t think this is strange because I said before that they became young Shakespeare as the joined the HUP.


        1. Thanks for your response Sahar. You make a great point about empowering students by turning them into authors (of published books of plays https://handsupproject.org/how-to-buy-toothbrush-and-other-plays/) and actors on youtube
          https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLwTmDrk314J46nnSNg6qoDEwHNEixIt7- )

          When you say ‘Native speakers’ I guess you mean just speakers of English who aren’t Palestinian, right? Did you know that most of our volunteers around the world are not native speakers of English at all, though of course they all have a very high level of English. As I see it the value comes from interacting in English with someone in a different context with a different perspective on the world. Would you agree?


          1. You’re right . I know that most of the HUP volunteers aren’t English, but their accent is closer to native speakers’ accent than ours . This because their interaction using English in different subjects . So this encourages us as local teachers to improve our English which is really becomes better and better through the HUP sessions and post session discussions


  2. I’ve learnt so many things from doing online sessions in this project. When I started it about four years ago, I was always worried that not everyone was getting the chance to come up to the webcam and interact with the remote volunteer. In a class of 30 students or more, how could we ensure that everyone was getting a chance to speak with the remote volunteer? Well I’ve learnt that we can’t, and I’ve also learnt that we don’t necessarily need to get everybody speaking in order to promote learning for everyone. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that it isn’t necessarily those who are speaking the most who are actually learning the most. If the others in the group are listening and focussed on how the student or students at the front are interacting with the remote volunteer, they may actually even be learning more. As they don’t have the pressure of having to speak they may actually have more brain power available to notice and take in new language. That’s one of the key things I’ve learnt from doing these online sessions and it’s something I take with me into my non-online classes.


    1. that’s right Nick . I think those online sessions meet all the learning styles in the classroom. It.is not a matter of how fluent you are! Some students find themselves in listening and focusing on others learning . Its their golden chance to listen to a health pronouncuation from a HUP native speaker and to the interaction with their classmates.
      Keep up great work!


  3. I have been teaching English for.6 years and I have always thought about the best way to teach English as a language not as a school- subject , till I have found it – online sessions.
    I have learnt through online sessions.that learning a.language is not a race towards.fluency . it is the eye contact you have with this HUP volunteer.it is also the body language and the facial.expressions we share to do a part of a conversation , story and a play and that’s surely affects the learning aspect because the new language becomes clearer and more authentic ( no rights and wrongs)while doing this . It is also how to perfect your English -as a teacher and a student through the real.
    -authentic contact with a native speaker. Online sessions mean that you put your students in a real authentic context of learning a language away from the stress of pen and pencil, and you help them to practise their English which is the best way to.move foreward in their learning .
    The most effective aspect of.doing this for our students in Gaza is that:
    Those sessions are giving them the chance to speak up and to tell their stories the world . One of my students.say about this , ” online sessions are giving us a voice when we are voiceless . They are motivating.us when we are demotivated and they
    are making us wait English class to.tell this HUP volunteer how happy we are !.Those students can’t really travel , but they can do this by their hearts and minds to prove to everyone how creative they are .
    Go for those sessoins.it’s worth it 🙂


    1. Thanks very much for your comment Haneen. I love what you say here…

      “I have learnt through online sessions.that learning a language is not a race towards fluency – it is the eye contact you have with the Hands Up Project volunteer. ”

      This pretty much sums up what we’re all about in my opinion.


  4. The Drama Club is one of the most enjoyable experiences in my life that developed from my acting and linguistic skills that will definitely help me in the future. I also participated in the competition that made me travel to the other side of Palestine and this thing was impossible for me because of the blockade, but it was achieved by this distinguished project In this project, we are talking to Mr. Nick, founder of Hands Up Project that supports Palestinian students, as we play some games with him and tell stories that we represent and this year we were able to write stories with distinct ideas and then we convert them into a scenario and represent them in a play This is a great achievement by us and in the end I would like to thank you very much for this project and all of the work and contributed established to he supports the talents of the children of Palestine


    1. Hiya Haya 🙂

      It’s great to have a comment from a student of English in Gaza and one who is very experienced in learning English through drama. Thanks for telling us about the process that you use in your drama club for creating plays. It sounds amazing. I think there are teachers all round the world who can learn from your experiences.


  5. As a student who has joined the hup last year, I have to say:
    since that time ,I have made many amazing thing and learned a lot .I have bacome.a very famous writer and I share my stories to.a HUP volunteer-Peter Oswald. I can’t really describe how enthusiastic I was when we had the first session with Mr.Nick bilbrough and how much we played ,laughed and had a very beautiful time.with the language .
    you know . we , the Palestinians face so many disabilities around us in everything , so it’s our time to face all these and tell the whole world that we are brilliant.
    If.one ask.me:”Do.the HUP project develop.your learning ?of course I’ll say YES . I one year , I have learnt how to write stories very well and how to.change them into a script , with the support of our teacher Haneen ❤ to.be performed remotly to.Peter Oswald.and other HUP volunteers around the world. so as young students who are writing now many stories in a language that is not.ours, I can sat that it is a very rich-extraordianary experience.it’s a very meaningful way to show the whole world our only ability.to.do everything . and when you talk to a native speaker in English it’s really to develop our skills in this language and having courage to speak and learn more and more . so I want to tell you that the HUP was the most amazing experience in my whole educational life and I’ll say thanks to Nick bilbrough and peter aswald and all the people who have made this. keep going like this and really it’s worth it 💜


    1. Hi Nour, Thanks very much for your very interesting comments. I know that you love writing in English and that you are very good at it. I’m really interested to know how you change a story that you’ve written into a script? Does one person do it, or does everybody make suggestions and then you agree on the best one? Does your teacher help you with this too?


  6. Hi Nick. Thank u for your beautiful words about me 🙂 .
    The process in which we create a play is.like this:
    1. Mrs Haneen asked us to write one story at home individually
    2. we come to the drama class and each group discuss the stories of members together , then we choose the best one
    3.We have discussions on this story and we started to create a poster like this :
    what inspires us to choose this story?
    and we bring pictures as well about the story
    4. Mrs Haneen gives us a model.script to.immitate and we work as a group to.turn this to a script.
    5 . Each group starts to have training sessions with the support of the teacher to perform the play
    6.We.perform.the plays to a HUP volunteer in another country
    7. we get feedback
    then we develop this and Mrs Haneen publish our plays in the school magazine and create a youtube channel for this .


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