There were way too many things that I went through in 2013. These way too many things – not necessarily time issues – have somehow gotten in the way of doing many things I thought I’d be doing throughout the year. Yet, there’s always something that keeps calling you back to the things you like. This time it’s a blog challenge that has drawn me back to the blog, which I’ve kept more active than it seems, but never really managed to get down to writing anything in its entirety. This will hopefully change after a short break in which I’ll try my best to put my head back where it belongs. Before I start, I give you the rules of the challenge:
1. Acknowledge the blogger(s) who’ve tagged you
2. Share 11 random facts about yourself
3. Answer the 11 questions nominating blogger(s)
4. List 11 bloggers
5. Post 11 questions for the nominated bloggers you’ve chosen and let them know they’ve been tagged. don’t nominate bloggers who nominated you.
I’ve been tagged by Leo Selivan, Juan Uribe, and Roseli Serra. Now, I’ve had the chance to meet Roseli in person this year, and she’s just lovely! By the way, I loved the bolo de rolo, Roseli! I still haven’t had the chance to meet Leo and Juan face to face, but I do believe we’ll manage to do so any time in the future as there are yet many conferences to attend. One of the many benefits of being part of this online community is that there will always be someone you ‘know’ in any conference you decide to attend. Now, to keep it simple, allow me to get down to the challenge.
11 Random Facts About Me
- I am upset when people don’t follow simple rules.
- I like cooking – but not from a recipe.
- My favourite pizza topping is cheese – plain and simple.
- My favourite desserts are chocolate mousse and cheesecake. I actually was befuddled the very first time I went to the Cheesecake factory and saw a chocolate mousse cheesecake as I couldn’t believe that was possible.
- I have no fashion sense whatsoever. I once wore a bright yellow shirt, red bermudas and blue sneakers to the gym and found myself laughing at how weird I looked when I got a glimpse of myself in the mirror.
- I have never lived nor studied abroad. I learned English in Brazil, mostly because I started teaching English. I felt that I had to learn a lot more than I had learnt in my regular English course and ended up continuing my studies by myself.
- I once wanted to be a history teacher and I actually started studying history at university. My favourite part of history is the Middle Ages.
- I used played RPG and was a storyteller for both GURPS and Vampire: The Masquerade. I actually miss having the time to play RPG.
- I enjoy arguing for the sake of the argument. I think it’s a good exercise for your brain.
- I’ve used computers from a very early age and I really like technology.
- I like learning about many different, unrelated things.
ANSWERING THE BLOGGERS
1. What is your favourite level to teach?
I like teaching exam classes, mainly for the CAE and the CPE exams. However, I’ve learned to enjoy teaching all levels after a certain while. I guess this happens to all teachers after a certain while, right?!
2. If you had the time to blog about something other than education / ELT what would it be?
I’ve given this a lot of thought and one of the things that I’ve been planning to do is starting a blog about education in general, but written in Portuguese. My other thought is to write about things I witness daily, which would probably lend itself properly to the word BLOG.
3. What takes you longer: writing a blog post or inserting hyperlinks into it?
I guess it takes me longer to insert the hyperlinks. My reason for blogging is mainly reflecting on what I’ve read, and it’s easy for me to get lost in my thoughts and simply forget to quote where the inspiration for that thought came from, or just adding a link for further reference. It takes me time and discipline to do so.
4. What is the weirdest thing you’ve ever eaten?
I’m not exactly fond of trying exotic food. However, if you’re not Brazilian, I guess eating chicken hearts may be considered weird for some cultures.
5. A phone call or text message? Why?
Hmmm… I prefer talking to people, but as I’m constantly in the classroom, a text message might make it easier for people to reach me.
6. Cats or dogs? (No need to explain why)
Dogs! I’ve had dogs ever since I was born…
7. If you were a fruit what would you be?
What kind of question is this?! LOL…. well, in Brazil, we do have the fruit women, so this is kind of an awkward question to answer as I can’t think of a fruit without thinking of a funk song in which someone would be singing about me. I like fruit… and my favourite fruit is banana. That doesn’t mean I’d be a banana if I were a fruit, does it?!
8. What kind of jokes do you like?
The silliest the better… or the complete opposite of that. I have a … peculiar sense of humour.
9. What’s your favourite computer font?
Lately, I’ve been particularly keen on using Helvetica. I don’t really know why.
10. What present would you like to receive for your next birthday? (that is if you celebrate birthdays)
This is a tough one for me as I never really know what I’d like to get for my birthday. Perhaps having the chance to meet most of my friends would be the ideal birthday for me. So, how about attending a conference and finally meeting most people from my PLN?
11. Why do you think almost every blogger in this chain challenge has asked a question about reality TV shows?
Oh, that easy! Teachers live a life that could easily be broadcast on live TV as one of the most successful reality TV shows in history. So we all secretly believe we’re TV stars and would like to know if the other blogger follows out TV show.
1. What would you do if you were not an educator?
Hmm… I think I’d be an astronomer, an architect or a psychologist.
2. How do you relax?
I like watching sitcoms and playing mind-numbing games.
3. Do you write a diary?
4. What is love?
… and baby don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me, no more! (Haddaway) It’s a 1993 song track!
5. What book are you reading now?
The Social Neuroscience of Education, by Louis Cozolino.
6. Do you have a pet?
Well, it’s complicated… I haven’t got any living with me, but the three dogs that my mum has are also mine, or at least I like to think so!
7. Do you collect anything?
I used to collect keychains a long time ago. I also have a collection of beer mugs and cachaças, but it’s nothing exactly serious.
8. How do you have fun?
I like going out with my friends and chatting.
9. What can you cook?
I can cook anything that’s in the fridge! And this is literally true. I do like cooking, and I really like experimenting with different food. so I can turn aubergines and zucchinis into something I like.
10. Do you exercise much?
Well, I haven’t exercised at all these days, but I was once an athlete who practised more than 6 hours a day… One of the things I’d like to change next year is this – having the time and discipline to exercise at least 30 minutes a day.
11.How would you describe me?
Well, you strike me as someone who’s truly passionate about life in general. You also seem to be someone who enjoys a good laugh and also some silly jokes. I think you’re open to new ideas and you like taking place in discussions. Did I get any of these right?!
1. What’s you favourite season ?
I like winter. However, I don’t think that means I like it better than the other seasons.
2. Do you like celebrating your birthday with parties full of people?
Hmmm… I like celebrating my birthday with my friends and people who actually care about me. I think we know a lot of people who are just acquaintances or colleagues but we aren’t particularly close too. As I like talking to people, I’d rather have fewer people in my birthday parties than lots of acquaintances.
3. Do you have any hobbies?
Believe it or not, writing this blog has become a hobby. One to which I hope I’ll have the strength to return to next year.
4. What’s the best place you’ve ever been to?
Gee… I really would like to go back to NY, Washington D.C., and Boston. However, if I think about the best memories I have, these tend to be created mostly by the people I’pm with than the place in itself. For instance, I really love going to Pirenópolis – but that’s where I spent my honeymoon in…
5. What’s the worst film you’ve ever watched? Why?
Gangs of New York…. I didn’t like the plot, I guess.
6. What city in Brazil would you first like visiting? Why?
Right now, I guess I’d say Recife because there are many people I’ve met online who live there. Besides, the only time I went to Recife I was very little to remember anything.
7. Are you a good cook? What kind food do you cook best?
My friends usually say I can barbecue like no one else. I guess barbecue it is!
8. Do you have a favourite song? Why is it your favourite?
I really like music, so coming up with a favourite song is quite hard. I like Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Dire Straits, Metallica, Led Zeppelin… but if I had to choose one song it’s be Mr Jones, by the Counting Crows. I guess it’s a song that makes me happy.
9. What was the best year in your school times? Why?
My senior year in high school was probably the best one. Hmmm… because we won the competition against the other groups?! As I’ve studied in the same class from my second grade to my senior year in high school, it’s hard to say which year was the best.
10. What do you consider to be the best thing about being and educator?
In a nutshell, having the chance to help other people in their quest to finding out who they truly are and teaching them about citizenship.
11. If you had three wishes for 2014 what would they be?
Hmmm… I don’t think you’re looking for answers from beauty pageant contests, right?! Let me think about down-to-earth wishes… re-learning how to relax a bit more, finding the balance between work and personal life, and meeting more people from my PLN.
This has been a lot of fun, actually. Hopefully, it’s also been the push I needed to resume blogging… but only after a short while as I’ll be traveling to try to relax a bit after such a tough year. Way too many bloggers have been nominated and this means that it’s actually quite hard to come up with 11 bloggers who haven’t been nominated yet. Maybe I’ll be faster on the next challenge so that this task of nominating others is easier.
Doing Some Thinking has been nominated for Best English Blog Awards 2013 by the folks at Really Learn English. One of the most interesting parts of this award in particular is that, as Adam said in his post about his nomination, they were careful enough so as to interview each blogger and they have given you a chance to learn yet a bit more about those who write their texts. So, why don’t you pay their website a visit, get to know all blogs running for the award – and they’re all brilliant – and cast your vote?
Even though it’s been a while since I last had the time to write, edit, revisit and reflect on the blog for absolute lack of time due to many changes I’ve been through in my professional life, this will soon change (fingers crossed) and there are plenty of things to write about. I hope to see you in the (very) near future.
If you haven’t been involved in #ELTChat discussions on twitter for the past couple of years, you should know you’ve missed the chance to connect with fantastic like-minded educators who pursue PD and always strive to do best for their students. #ELTChat is a discussion held every Wednesday on Twitter, and even though I wasn’t able to participate in the last discussions, we could always refer to the website that had been created as a repository for the discussions. This was only possible due to the hard work of all those who are involved in getting things up and running. If anyone here has been involved in any kind of endeavour, be it online or offline, you’ll know how hard it is when things seem to fall apart – but they only seem. As someone who has benefitted a lot from #ELTChat, and someone who appreciates the work that’s been put up by the team of moderators in ELTChat, I’ve decided to share what Marisa Constantinides has written on her blog here. This is not meant as a manifesto, but I believe those who keep looking for opportunities to keep growing professionally should know where they’ll be able to find the new website for #ELTChat, and a couple of words by the moderators on the reasons for the change. I’m posting the post in its entirety, as it’s been written on the original blog post, without adding nor deleting any word from it. Without further ado, here goes the repost from Marisa’s blog:
Blog post August 10, 2012
Like many great ideas, it didn’t hit just one person but several.
The website to keep up the communication of its members, a base and repository of our ideas was one of the first things we all thought of creating – the wiki came later.
Andy Chaplin was keen to join the moderation team and help with podcasts and technical stuff; he was quick to buy eltchat.com and announced the good news to us after the fact.
A few months later, right after TESOL France 2011, he suddenly disappeared – some say for reasons of health.
We never found out for sure.
We never received a single word of response to our emails.
eltchat.com was and still is registered in his name.
And yesterday we lost it
On August 8 the domain expired and we have no way of taking over unless it goes up for sale again; it was very sad that Andy Chaplin did not find it appropriate to renew.
The news is really upsetting.
The work we have put in on this website cannot be told in a few simple words – but it has been a labour of love and we have got so much out of it that we have never regretted one single moment
We are pretty upset at the behaviour of this individual – disappointment is one big understatement.
But we trust that our community of #ELTchatters, our PLN for short, will again gather round the new domain which we have purchased – eltchat.org
It will take us a few days to put the website back on its feet
And all will be as it was before – all the posts in place all your thoughts and comments, all the polls and great summaries which got us on the shortlist of the ELTon Awards nominations
We will be back with a vengeance
We are not just a website – we did not get on the ELTon awards shortlist as just another website!!!
We are a great community of teachers and we have a Plan B!
See you all in September!!!
Marisa Constantinides – Shaun Wilden
P.S. We would greatly appreciate it if any of you belonging to this great community of teachers, teacher educators, bloggers, #ELTchat followers, reposted this on your blog
If you decide to do this, please add your name to the post under ours.
This might come across as cliché to those of you who read this blog. I mean, one of the best things about blogs and twitter is that we are able to find people who are willing to share. This is the main advantage I can see in this “new” media. Many teachers do tell me that they can’t see why they should be on twitter, or that there’s no time to waste with it. I can even understand the time issue – I myself have been struggling with time this semester – and I do try my best to listen to and understand the reasons why people think this world of twitter and blogs is nothing but a fad and a waste of time. However, there’s one thing I cannot put up with – people who can’t listen to what others have to say. And it gets worse than that… but this is not a rant; a praise it is supposed to be. A praise to twitter, blogs and what it has got to offer to teachers.
This week, as I was teaching a lesson on approaches and methods in ELT to a group of post-graduation students, we finally got to the point of discussing The Lexical Approach and Dogme. This is the second time I teach this course, but it somehow feels different. A couple of years ago, when I first taught it, I wasn’t that involved with twitter and blogs, and the fact that I’ve joined this group has made a difference in the discussions I hold with the students. Someone said that these two tools have leveled the play field in the world of ELT. It certainly helped me to go beyond the world of academics and authors that I used to read before. Thornbury, Harmer, Puchta, Nunan, Ur, Meddings, and Brown (to name but a few) are still required reading, if you ask me. However, there are just so many other great people out there who can now be heard regardless of a publishing contract that it’s made our lives a lot easier. We can now read what Karenne Sylvester, Jason Renshaw, Shelly Terrell, Cecília Coelho, Willy Cardoso, Mike Harrison, David Warr, Dave Dodgson, Sabrina de Vita, Richard Whiteside, Sara Hannam, and many other people that know what they’re saying and whose posts are consistently good, have got to say. Maybe they were already part of your readings, but I only started reading these people after joining twitterville. Those were the days when publishers and editors chose who we had to read. But it’s done a lot more than merely allowing content to be spread and commented on.
On April 26, while I was talking to my students about Dogme and teaching unplugged, I couldn’t help but remember some of the activities that had been shared online by some of the bloggers I read. Among these activities, I briefly demonstrated Jason’s The Wandrous Whiteboard Challenge. Obviously, it generated some discussion in class and we started coming to some conclusions. “Oh, if only I could get Jason to participate in this class…” did cross my mind. However, as this was something that had sprung up out of a class discussion and I hadn’t really planned to have such a long discussion about these activities. A whole bunch of coincidences happened at this point. First, I had already talked to my students about both #eltchat and #breltchat. Second, it was a student’s birthday, and her friend had asked me if we could have a short break as she had bought a cake. During this short break, some of the students asked me again about twitter, and when I opened my tweetdeck, I saw that Jason had just tweeted something. I immediately tweeted him back, telling him that we were discussing one of his activities. Jason asked which activity we were discussing and this is what followed:
We ended up having a fantastic skype session, as Jason was really kind to make an impromptu appearance in our class. This was absolutely amazing, as students had the chance to ask questions to the person who actually had written the text. If I could get Luke and Scott to skype while we were discussing about Dogme, Richards and Rodgers to talk about approaches and methods, and Harmer to discuss CLT, my job would pretty much be to bring the computer to class and call them on skype.
The four walls of any classroom have been brought down. Those were the days when the teacher was supposed to be the only one who knew everything in class. We can now share the load – it’s much easier to do what we preach. Get students to learn, not memorise. Get them to discuss points, to reflect. Invite other people to enrich the discussion. I was fortunate enough to have the chance to invite the person whose activity I was discussing at that very moment, and one whose knowledge I learned to respect. But this is just the tip of the iceberg.
The four walls around us no longer exist, but only as long as you don’t want them to exist. If your co-workers are not willing to discuss ELT issues in a way that fosters growth, never mind. Twitter has become the largest staffroom ever. Oh, and everyone there is willing to share, learn, and discuss. I’m sure you can learn how to use it effectively, and, once you do, you won’t regret it.
I don’t think I’ll ever cease to be blown away by twitter and what all the connections we can make there. Even though I can’t put my finger on the exact moment I met Fiona Mauchline on twitter, I certainly remember the moment her thoughts called my attention. If I’m not mistaken, after one or two innocent tweets with another tweep, the discussion got momentum and, as it usually happens on twitter, a whole bunch of tweeps came onboard to join the discussion, and Fiona was one of these. At that very moment, I knew it would be a great chance for me to have a guest post here, as she was certainly making me do some thinking. She’s also the author of two blogs, macappella and blood, sweat, and gazpacho. I thoroughly enjoyed reading her post, and I do hope you all enjoy it too – oh, and Fiona, I’ll definitely have you back for part 2!! It was definitely worth the while! Now, without further ado, here it comes!!
La Pasión Turca
Holes in the Wall and Postman knocked twice.
At the recent ISTEK conference, Scott Thornbury gave a plenary session listing the six most significant influences on or sources of inspiration for his own professional development and direction. As is becoming the norm for these events, Twitter was a-flutter with tweets during the plenary, and while many merely passed on the birdsong, some chirped in less dulcit, more sceptical tones.
Of course, a good plenary will always provoke anti as well as pro opinions – the worst thing that can happen to you in a talk is to provoke no opinions whatsoever – but as I read the tweets, I couldn’t help but feel that some people were either simplifying to the extreme or slightly missing the point, in relation to two of the ‘influences’. Since then, I have found myself pondering those tweets and what it was that made me feel uneasy, sense that those tweeting weren’t looking closely enough. I have found myself pulling over into lay-bys to take notes and chewing my pen in coffee bars. This post is the result of those ponderings and, as such, is totally non-empirical, but if you don’t mind that and a couple of spoilers, read on.
Part I: Holes in the Wall (of dissent)
In 1999, Professor Sugata Mitra, now of Newcastle University in the UK, carried out the first of a series of experiments he called the Hole in the Wall (HIW) experiments whereby he literally made a hole in a wall in a rundown urban district in New Delhi, India, and installed a kiosk containing a computer. He also installed hidden cameras nearby and waited and watched what happened. Local children crowded round to teach themselves to use the computer and the internet, with no external ‘bothering’ by teachers. Mitra called this Minimally Invasive Education (MIE). With the success of this initial experiment, other hole-in-the-wall computers were installed in India and, latterly, in Cambodia, and the results were similar. As a by-note, these experiments were also the original inspiration for the scriptwriter of Slumdog Millionaire… However… What Scott said he had drawn from these experiments was the fact that children – or learners – do actually have an innate desire to learn and will both absorb information and be motivated to learn if the circumstances are right. These experiments also favour learner-centred learning and put a huge question mark over the role of Teacher as generally perceived by The Establishment. In fact, they show that a teacher – or at least an adult Teacher is not always necessary.
But the tweets went out ‘Ah but they worked because it was all about technology’ ‘It was using computers that made the experiments work’ ‘How curious that S Thornbury should be inspired by experiments showing that computers help education’. And this is where I beg to differ.
Professor Sugata Mitra works in Educational Technology, yes. That is his current field and he was using those experiments to find out if using computers and the internet is something that kids can learn for themselves. Rather like Chomsky might try to find out of we have grammar hard-wired into our brains. That was his ‘agenda’, if we can overlook the negative connotations of that phrase.
However, Sugata Mitra is not a Mr, he’s not a research students or a Microsoft employee, he’s a Professor, and a polymath at that. He has also worked in other scientific fields, and what brought about his interest in computer networks was his work on neural networks and cognitive science. By the time he carried out his HIW experiment, he had also being studying learning styles as well as learning devices for years. So it’s fair to say that he probably based his experiments on rather more than a desire to find out/show how cool computers are in their ability to teach children to, um, use computers (NB not to teach them languages). And personally I think the conclusions that can be drawn from the experiments are multiple. The following are my own.
In terms of showing the virtues of technology per se, the bottom line is that the HIW experiments proved that use of computers and the internet is easily self-taught (backed up by the fact that even I’ve managed it) or semi-peer taught (peer-teaching was also highly influential in the children’s success), which, in turn, suggests that overt teacher-led teaching of internet/computer use in schools is a waste of time as, given the right environment, kids will teach it to themselves. This should ideally result in an effect on school time-tabling… It also means that we can get on with our jobs as language teachers and have little responsibility, moral or otherwise, for teaching IT, which in turn means that doing IT (pun intended) or not doesn’t much matter, as you aren’t intrinsically smarter, more professional etc. either way. It simply indicates different teaching styles, different choices, different preferences, underlying characteristics of being human.
It also means that, despite what many of us ‘older’ (ie more aged) language teaching types may think, technology will only add a WOW factor to our teaching in areas where access to computer/internet use is rare; in other areas, children will be self-taught from an early age and furthermore will simply ‘do IT’ without much thought. Technology will not make a class memorable just because. We should only use technology in class where it’s fully justified (and sometimes it is), not because we think it’s ‘gonna be cool’. T’ain’t what you use, it’s the way that you use it, to paraphrase an old jazz number. Common sense to many, unfathomable to a few.
However, on the other hand and nevertheless…
to my mind, Sugata Mitra’s experiments showed a lot more than a couple of characteristics of technology. What the children were actually doing rather than what they were using is more significant in terms of implications to language learning. Without any reference to Mitra’s conclusions, here are mine (largely drawn up while sitting in the car) with some implications as I see them.
The HIW experiments were about kinaesthetic-visual learning. Much teacher-fronted teaching is aimed at ears, which is pointless in a society where children find listening harder and harder. In many cases we actually need to sharpen students’ listening skills before we can start. The HIW experiments were based on, essentially, hitting keys in a trial & error way, reading instructions on the screen and then clicking on the appropriate thing, watching other children using the computers, and working together. Children learn to use video consoles in the same way, so perhaps it’s not news in the area of children-using-technology, but the kinaesthetic-visual combination is also behind the huge success of the scratch & sniff Geronimo Stilton books which have seen many 8-10 year-olds start reading for pleasure, expanding vocabulary and improving literacy. Not just black words on a white page, these books incorporate words written in a way that makes their meaning clear, and include scratch & sniff pages to appeal to/revolt the senses. The books are fun, and they work. So perhaps language teaching should pay even more attention to this combination, using more mechanical, visual, and sensory stimuli to enhance learning, and making the teacher’s voice/presence less intrusive, more of another resource or back-up system on hand for support. Personally, I have worked a lot with this idea, particularly with under 8s and over 13s, with wonderful results, and others I know who have also worked with it say the same.
Secondly, what children in the HIW experiments were doing was a type of puzzle-solving, an activity which is intrinsically motivating (think of the popularity of Sudokus, crosswords, illusionists etc) and forms the basis of much of our learning in life. I noticed last December at our town’s Christmas Market that the stall you could hardly get near was one selling wooden puzzles. In particular, boys and men would stand mesmerised trying to rebuild a town, release a bottle or fit all the pieces back together. At this ‘hands on’ stall, the concentration was total, the sense of satisfaction great and, I suspect, the sales figures impressive. So if problem-solving has such a pull, whether in middle-class Spain or less salubrious areas of New Delhi, why not incorporate more into language teaching? Yes, many ELT materials nowadays do (although the grammar box still refuses to relinquish its grip) and some teachers do, but there is still too little of it and too much spoon-feeding. Yes, educational software is good for problem-solving, but it is not unique.
Thirdly, as well as learning from the screen and from trial and error, the children learnt from each other. Peers replaced adult teachers. This has always been the case, for example when kids get together to kick a ball around or to build a kite/tree-house/den/go-cart. The implications here are clear – group/team work, peer-teaching/correction. Again, the teacher’s role in the language classroom should be reviewed and this idea of group constructed knowledge embedded in teacher training not only for us CELTA/DELTA types but across the board.
Finally, the HIW experiments strike me as being somewhat rooted in behaviourism – as much of human learning is – in a ‘get it wrong, it doesn’t work; get it right, yippee’ sort of way. So my final implication is that children should be allowed to get it wrong and not be penalised during the learning process, simply encouraged to try again until they get it right (‘right’ meaning ‘get their message across, achieve communication’ at early stages – polishing can come as they develop and become used to reworking, to trying again, rather than to being demotivated by red pen and numbers). Rewards should be as significant if not more so than penalties. A sense of ‘you’ve won the key to the next stage’ would replicate the computer experiment observations and what keeps kids on those pesky video games for hours This, of course, means reviewing how we deal with errors and feedback.
Now I’ve far outstayed my welcome, but there was another ‘big idea’ that got a volley of tweets and, indeed, is still causing ripples and waves, so I shall leave Part II of La Pasión Turca (dangerously called Postman (always) knocked twice) for another day…. if Henrick will have me back!
I live in Cáceres in Spain, a beautiful and inspiring sort of place to live, and I’m a teacher, trainer, writer. mother and life-enjoyer. Although I originally trained as a translator and interpreter, I’ve been in ELT since the late 80s and, as a person who trained when Headway was just out, I now tend to teach dogme and am co-moderator of the Dogme web group. I’m big into visualisation, sensory stimuli for the imagination, motivating even the ‘grottiest’ of teens, learner-generated materials and a heap of other things, many of which are not related to teaching, but I give workshops on the ones that are ELT related. I’ve also written coursebooks and other ELT materials.
Coming back to the blogosphere after a rough beginning of year has been, well, tough! To be honest, ever since I joined the cause I knew it would be pretty much impossible for me to read every single post with all the care and attention they truly deserve, and despite all the learning that the experience has led me to, there are times when your life beyond the computer/Internet does not give you enough time to do the things you both enjoy and profit from. Anyone, I’ve read a couple of interesting posts recently, and decided to participate in David’s mini-challenge. It consists of creating a word-cloud from your blog and then doing a brief analysis of it. I used wordle, and this is what I got:
Apparently, I’ve been writing a lot about students and language. The words writing and tests were also quite big on the cloud, maybe because I’ve written two recent posts on these topics. However, I guess I’ll look at this from a different perspective and try to give meaning to the way the words appeared together, shall I?
The first thing I noticed was the position of the words L1, English, far, big, and things. When looking at this, I thought about the fact that, yes, learning a foreign does open doors (excuse me for the cliché), it’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently. If Google and other companies are finally able to perfect online text and voice translators, why would anyone care to go through the hardships of learning a foreign language, say, in 15 years’ time? I guess the answer is that learning other language apart from your L1 allows you to do far bigger things and accomplish a lot more by the simple fact that learning a foreign language, in my humble opinion, does broaden the mind.
The second bit that called my attention was this one on the right that puts the words grammar, reason, and testing together. First, I’m not against tests and I see a good reason for them in the language classroom. However, if the only reason for testing is grammar in some kind of an order, this is likely to fail flat and not allow for learning opportunities. Tests have got to allow for learning opportunities. Otherwise, we’re just pretending to be testing learners, and they’re just pretending they’ve learned the subject for the test. Assessment is a lot different from testing, and teaching is a lot bigger than both.
This was a rather interesting one and I guess pretty much all words are important, so I’ll just talk about it instead of pointing out the words. I guess speaking too much is one of the first problems one faces as a language teacher. there are, of course, times when it’s OK to forget about Teacher Talking Time (TTT) if you know what exactly you’re doing and depending on your approach to language learning. It also seems acceptable, at least for certain levels, to speak a bit more. If you want to teach well, just don’t forget you’re not alone in the classroom and always remember to take your students into account.
Following the train of thought from the snapshot above, it’s only clear to say what good teachers do, or at least should do: help learners. And if you’re in teacher-training, you should get your teachers to help their learners, which will, in turn, change them into good teachers. Got it?!
This is also rather interesting. In spite of my personal interest in pronunciation, it’s not just about having a pretty accent. Learning involves many different things, such as grammar, vocabulary, pragmatics, speaking, listening, and reading. Learning, however, also needs writing. It’s not just about writing, obviously. Nevertheless, I truly believe that pronunciation is not the only thing that is neglected in out teaching (for many different reasons), but so is writing. Perhaps we could also look at it more carefully, huh?!
As a dogmeist, I couldn’t leave aside the bit of the cloud that deals with conversation. In a way, if we give our students a chance to talk and really communicate, it might be a lot easier for them to learn the language. Nevertheless, teachers cannot lose sight of the fact that mere conversation isn’t enough – learning has got to be the main point of the activities if we want our students to succeed and come across as independent users of the language.
This last bit I’ve chosen to analyse might be a note to myself. Even though I’ve been feeling like writing more often, perhaps my writing isn’t exactly good. Has it actually gone bad? Has it ever been good? I mean, maybe it’s time I started changing the focus of the blog and the posts, which might perhaps help me improve on my reflections on teaching and learning. Or, you know what, maybe the blog should keep on as it was conceived – a place where I can share my views, hear other people’s voices on the matter, and finally be able to learn a tad more about what I was thinking. To be honest, I don’t expect it to be good or bad, as long as it was worth your time reading up to this point. And if you happen to have the time to leave a comment, or go through some of the old posts of mine I linked to throughout the post, even better!
Even though things have been a lot quieter than I wanted them to be, I’ve been doing lots of thinking lately. There are many posts yet to come in response to other blog posts I’ve read, and a couple of extra material on the way. This semester’s been particularly busy as I’ve taken up some new responsibilities, and I’m still getting used to the new workload. It’s all falling into place, and I hope I’ll soon be able to resume my writing on the blog.
However, I’m writing this quick blog post as a call for collaboration. Last year I wrote a post asking for the same thing. A couple of teachers responded to it and we even started planning things, but it never took off. Regardless of this unsuccessful experience, I asked my students to create a wiki page on topics of their interest and, closer to the end of the year, I was joined by a teacher in Atlanta and we could actually put our students to work together. It was a wonderful experience for students, albeit short.
Nevertheless, it was enough to give me some practice and also to spot some problems that came up and think of strategies to solve them. This year, I again call for the collaboration of teachers interested in getting their EFL/ESL learners to collaborate with our class in Brazil. I’m trying to keep things simple, and they seem to be working all right. I’ll also introduce new tools for students to work with as time goes by and more people join in. The idea is for learners to practise using English in an authentic and meaningful environment.
Our learners are from all different levels – A1 to B2 in the CEF, or beginners to upper-intermediate – and they have been told they are to work together to get their message across. Anyway, in case you are interested in joining, pay a visit to our wiki: http://crossculturalelt.wikispaces.com and send me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or a message on FaceBook.
Teachers who join are free to work in any way that suits his or her needs, be it for assessing students or simply giving them a chance to talk to people from different cultures. They may also choose to help me with the organisation of the wiki and the tasks or not – no need to worry about extra work on our already over-worked lives!
Once you join, I’ll also ask you for the logo of your school to add to the main page.
There are two different kinds of PLNs, as I see it. First, there’s the virtual PLN, the one you create through your visits to other educators’ blogs and engaging conversations on Twitter, blogs, or Skype to name but a few. This is a PLN which is filled with teachers who are willing to share, grow, learn, and keep an open mind to all that’s new and everything that might enhance your students’ learning. It’s an active space, and it’s open 24/7. The second kind of PLN is your real one, made of teachers who work with you in your school. The good side of this PLN is that it shows you you that, sometimes, the world you live in is still not ready for all those changes that so many educators worldwide have been talking about. They understand your context, and they face exactly the same difficulties you have to face. That could even be called the ‘keeping-it-real PLN’.
However, one thing that usually strikes me as odd is how often I hear people from my virtual PLN complain about the lack of interest and willingness to change from those present in their real PLN. I’ve already heard a couple of times that it would be wonderful to have all of those people from your virtual PLN working together in the same school, aiming at providing their learners nothing but the very best. This would be a place where people wouldn’t fear making mistakes, and mistakes might as well happen. However, no mistake would be made owing to lack of action. Things would always be going forward.
If this ideal school existed, perhaps change in education would come at a much faster rate. If there are people who are also as committed as you are working with you, it’s always easier to make things happen. If, on the other hand, there is no one interested in joining you and helping you in your physical surroundings, things get much tougher. Fortunately, the distance between the virtual and the real PLN is getting smaller by the day. Thanks to technology, it’s now possible to get your students to interact with students whose teachers aren’t that afraid of attempting to get things done. Sometimes it’s easier to get two classes from two different continents to collaborate than to get two neighbouring classes to do so.
That’s one of the things that most people realise once they join the world of blogs and twitter, to begin with. They learn that there are other people who are also interested in bringing about change. There are other educators who are 100% sure they’ve still got a lot to learn, and they find other educators who think just the same way. Working alone is pretty hard, but the power of two has something magical about it. If you’re working together with people who also share your principles and, despite being snowed under with work, still manage to make time for sharing and learning, you know that’s the right place to be in.
Nevertheless, sometimes our co-workers and members of the keeping-it-real PLN need a little push. They’ve all got it inside themselves – this ideal towards learning and helping students thrive. It may have been forgotten somewhere because of the treatment that’s been dispensed to educators for many, many years, but it’s there. If we all work together and give this little push, we’ll find out we’re not alone anymore. The power of two will make it a lot easier for you to do what you want to do. Mind you, this doesn’t mean you all have got to agree on everything; it only means there are at least two people willing to shift gears and get things evolving at a faster pace.
A while ago, I wrote a post about what had brought me back to twitter. As we’re on this subject matter, another post I wrote was on the effect of PLNs on my professional growth. I’ve also written something about my fond memories of Braz-TESOL conventions and how much I treasured them. That’s all fine, and I do believe all those things, namely twitter, PLNs, and conventions do add a lot to my professional life. But how so? And, even more important than that, why bother?
How does being the member of a community help?
Even though this is not the most important question, the answers to this question are just too many to be written in a single blog post. Pretty much all posts you can find on this blog were the result of some sort of interaction I had with other teachers, students, or just people who weren’t even in the field of education. When you join a community and become an active member of it, you’re allowing yourself the chance to reflect on lots of things you believe in. However, you must always keep an open mind as this activity is bound to show you ways of thinking you couldn’t probably fathom before.
A lot comes from online communities, building your PLN, sharing and contributing with like-minded people as well as people who disagree with you, but know how to do so reasonably and also in attempt to get something out of the discussion. When we’re online, we also have the chance to interact with people from different countries a lot more easier than you can do face-to-face. However, I always feel there’s something missing in the online component of interaction.
Despite all the benefits that arose from Web 2.0, it’s still hard to beat the atmosphere from a face-to-face convention. Having had the chance to attend the last Braz-TESOL national convention with more than 1200 teachers from all over Brazil and all over the world, I can certainly assure you that the things you experience in such a convention are a lot more intense than what you usually get online. It’s like one thing complements the other.
Finally, joining a teachers association, online or face-to-face, is helpful because it puts you together with people who, just like you, believe that teaching means acknowledging you must constantly be learning. Teachers who are members of a teachers association are willing to share information, experiences, and anecdotes that might help other teachers. Members of these associations aren’t selfish and believe that the ones who benefit the most of such exchange of information are they themselves. Oh, really? But why is that?
Why should I join a teachers association?
I believe that sharing what I know with others and listening to what they’ve got to say, and trying out new things in class is done with the sole purpose of helping learners. I usually tell my students that teachers should care a lot less about their teaching and a lot more about their students’ learning. This means teachers should learn how to truly listen to their students. In language teaching, I very much agree with the idea of working with language that’s produced by learners themselves as this is more often than not a lot more personal and meaningful to learners than a pre-fabricated chunk of language used to show a point. If you’ve paid a visit to this blog before, you probably know what I mean by this.
That’s fine, but what’s this got to do with joining a teachers association? In a nutshell, the better the teachers are, the better students will be. If you believe you’re a fantastic teacher but you don’t share what you do in class, you’re likely to have to start from scratch every semester or year. I honestly can’t think of an educational setting in which students only have one teacher. This means that the better our peers are, the easier our job will be every new semester or year. Instead of having to teach students from scratch, you can just continue what had been done in previous semesters. Now, if that happens, and if you believe you’re such “a fantastic teacher, like, the best teacher in the world ever”, how much do you think you can accomplish if you haven’t got to worry about teaching your students the basics, or things they should have learned long before they were your students?
If we accept that teachers who join teachers associations as teachers who are always willing to seek what’s best for their learners, then it’s likely that students who have been the students of teachers who participate in such associations are better prepared than students whose teachers do not take part in such associations. And the better prepared our students are, the easier our job is. Would you agree with that?
Where to go now? Well, if you’re reading this and you’re an English teacher in Brazil, you could start by clicking here (or on the image below).
A while ago, I published a post asking for EFL/ESL teacher whether they’d like to join in a cross-cultural exchange project. We actually managed to get a good group of committed teachers who were willing to take it further. We moved from a wiki to a ning, and more and more teachers joined it. However, I believe there were just so many teachers involved that it was hard for me to keep track of it. Unfortunately, that didn’t really work out the way I thought it would when I wrote that post. You see, it outgrew the idea of a cross-cultural exchange project for students learning English and became a cross-cultural exchange project period. Wonderful, yes! But, again, not what I had in mind. Nevertheless, I haven’t given up on the idea – having a space for English Language Learners to collaborate and have another space to learn English in a more meaningful, authentic environment.
So, we’ve piloted a project on a wiki with some of of our students. You can check the results by clicking here or on the image below:
First of all, the students would be thrilled to see on the little globe in the main page that their work has been seen by people from different countries. If you could even send them a message on this wallwisher, I’d be very grateful.
Second, and I daresay most importantly, I’d like to invite teachers who may be willing to have this kind of project run in collaboration with our students. As I said, this has been piloted in the first semester, but now it’s time for it to become a tool for interaction instead of a “mere” tool for information sharing. I’ve already created a wiki called http://crossculturalelt.wikispaces.com, and there are some guidelines already on the other wiki, which had been created for teachers: http://crossculturalelt-teachers.wikispaces.com/
If anyone is interested in joining, please let me know by comments, tweets, or even by filling out this form. We have run the project with student from their very first semester studying English to students preparing to a CAE exam. All students from all levels are welcome.