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Where’s the change?

December 19, 2012 3 comments

We’ve moved yet one more year into the 21st century. Yet one more year towards the future. ‘Tis not a future with flying cars or the Jetson’s robot maid Rose cleaning your house; no, we haven’t gone that far. However, there’s seems to be no denial we’re in the middle of a very important revolution. Or are we? The fact that there’s a lot of change taking place due to the role that technology has been playing in our lives is undeniable. It’s been ages – especially when years account for a lot more than they did in the past – that educators have been advertising the benefits of technology in education, the end of an era, and that technology has the power to transform everything we do.

"Would you exchange, a walk on part in the war..." | Photo on Flickr by love2dreamfish

“Would you exchange, a walk on part in the war…” | Photo on Flickr by love2dreamfish

Needless to say, a tad after that, other educators decided to shed some light into the matter. It’s not tech that will revolutionise education nor will it change the world as we see it. The “digital natives” should be seen as individuals, not as a label, and this has certainly helped us move yet one step forward. A while after the buzz that new tech caused and all that it’s stirred in the lives of tech aficionados, it was clear that anything new that we could bring to the equation had to be seen for what it truly was – a tool. Just like any tool, it requires a skillful educator to use it effectively to actually help, and not hinder, learning.

Apps and sites bombarded us with myriad choices – we could pick and choose from thousands of different tools that always offered to be THE one solution to make teaching effective. Some teachers were able to take things as they were supposed to be taken instantly (cautiously and carefully), others needed more time to realise that it’s not about using lots of different things – ’tis all about making the right choice for each one of your learners, and helping them realise you’ve been very careful with your choice and aren’t simply tossing things at them bringing a new gadget every day.

Nonetheless, I wonder whether we’re even close to tackle the problem of changing the face of education as we see it. I wonder whether we’re prepared for that, or even if we actually have any kind of control of how things will evolve. We talk about teacher-centred and learner-centred education, but all that we do is simply repeating what we’ve been doing time and again. In 2006, Sir Ken Robinson went on stage to talk about schools killing creativity and the urge for change. Sugata Mitra showed the results of his “a hole in the wall” experiment on a later talk, the Khan academy initiated some sort of revolution that seems to be a possible way forward for some subjects.

Despite all that, the vast majority of teachers I know is still oblivious to all that’s been written above, which is a lot worse than being against it. Many teachers and administrators simply don’t care about new things and are absolutely OK with doing the same thing that their teachers had done to them 50 years ago, and each one of them – teachers and admins – has his or her reasons for doing so. Some might even read about success stories from different schools and educational systems around the world, but it all sounds too far-fetched for them and it is understood as something that “would never work in [add your city/country here]“. It’s a lot easier to keep doing things the same old way and going with the flow, isn’t it?!

How much of a change has there really been? Our kids still are educated in a classroom where there’s one person who tells them what they need to learn. One person standing in front of them and leading the way and, even when there’s a certain amount of flexibility given to students, such flexibility can only go as far – we do have a syllabus to follow, after all. It’s imposed on us, teachers, and we’re expected to teach it as students will be tested on such syllabus in the years to come. Where’s all the empowerment we hear so much of, yet do so little about? Have we really been able to teach children how to think critically about matters when they haven’t even been taught to criticise whatever it is that the one person standing in front of them says? Are most teachers even prepared to be questioned like that?

If we simply talk about a learning model for teaching instead of a teach-learn model, but we don’t walk the walk, it’ll be years before we can attest its efficacy or lack of efficacy. Few have really taken the plunge, and out of these few, we hear even fewer stories, and most of these are from the ones who happened to have succeeded. It is hard for us to publicly acknowledge defeat, though we praise those who are sufficiently self-assured to do so. We all make mistakes, we should all learn from our mistakes, but apparently we’re afraid of what others will think of us if we show our weaknesses, particularly when we’re so vulnerable for judgement in this new world of social media where many truly believe to be the upholder of the truth. How silly is that, huh?!

Where’s the real change? To be honest with you all, whenever I wonder if we can drive such change, I’m 100% positive that we can. I also know this won’t happen overnight. There’s no such thing as the right answer for the problems we’re facing in the world of education and the challenges that lie ahead. This I’m pretty sure of. And, finally, when I ponder what big change I’d like to see in most of our schools, I guess my answer doesn’t seem to be any different from the answer of many who have been involved in education for quite a while. What shocks me is that we’ve been struggling hard to implement simple things and we are rushing to the-next-big-thing without pausing and reflecting, analysing and criticising whether or not this or that should be the way forward. Isn’t this kind of reflection we’d like our kids to do?

Real change will take place when students no longer see their teachers as the one on stage and the one whose words they should copy and abide by. This may sound simple, but if you bear with me and look at things more carefully, you’ll see it’s not exactly happening. The more resources learners have available to check their facts, the lazier they’re getting. I’d like to see students able to analyse their own opinions and thoughts critically. I’d like to see teachers feeling confident enough about what they’re doing so that they won’t be afraid of being questioned, hence the importance of being knowledgeable.

I think we’re amidst a revolution. I think things are indeed changing. I don’t think we’ve been able to make sure most of us realise the importance of keeping abreast with this change and the necessity of taking risks to actively control what’s to come instead of passively waiting for it. Things will change whether we want it or not. We should have been prepared to lead such change consciously, but apparently we’re still a couple of people short. But I do see that, little by little, things are a-changing. I just wish that, for the year to come, we were able to move the spin of change faster, that we could get more people onboard – not virtually, but mainly those who work right next door, within the same school borders. This seems to be the way forward to me. We can’t expect change to happen if we’re scattered all over the globe. Getting teachers to think critically about their actions and learning how to work collaboratively so that we may, in the near future, feel comfortable with leading our students towards the same path. How can we teach, inspire or simply engage people when we ourselves seem to lack what it takes to get things going?

Then again, this might all change in my head tomorrow. It’s been a hell of a busy year, but I think it’s important to remind myself that it’s OK to have your thoughts, to write about them, to have others agree, disagree or simply not mind them. It’s all OK as long as we’re trying to move forward.

Guest post – Teacher Luiz Eduardo (Dudu)

August 4, 2012 6 comments

Hello everyone! I know I’ve been quiet on the blog for a couple of months now, I do have some (good) reasons for that. First and foremost, this blogger got married in June, which meant a lot of hard work with planning everything, and a bit of partying afterwards. I’ve also attended and participated in the 13th National Braz-TESOL convention in Rio de Janeiro. I was really honoured for having been invited to be the MC for the convention (and I hope those who attended it thought it was a decent job), and I also presented a Pecha Kucha in the very first PK night in the history of Braz-TESOL. Most importantly, it was a great pleasure to have the chance to attend the convention with other staff members. One of these has actually written a guest post and has kindly accepted to be published here. Without further ado, here comes the first text of this new semester in Doing Some Thinking, a guest post written by teacher Luiz Eduardo, or, simply put, Teacher Dudu. I hope you enjoy what’s to come!

 

The teacher must have a heart

After attending a week of professional development, such as the 13th BRAZ-TESOL National Convention, teachers normally go back to their schools full of new ideas. They heard Christine Coombe talking about the 10 characteristic of a highly effective teacher; Kathi Bailey speaking about the bridges to link what students can say to what they want to say; Ben Goldstein and the metaphors in English; Jim Scrivener developing the interaction between teaching and learning; David Nunan mentioning the proto-language and real language; Luke Meddings giving ideas to teach unplugged; Herbert Puchta showing thoughtful aspects about Neurolinguistics; Nicky Hocky and the digital literacies; Jeremy Harmer elucidating the myth of multi-tasking; and Lindsay Clandfield talking about critical thinking, among other speakers. And I’m not even mentioning what teachers have certainly learned from all the workshops and talks they have attended in addition to the plenary sessions.

Photo on Flickr by riekhavok

Although they have probably enjoyed learning and remembering so many things, they now have a big problem in their minds, which is how to apply all those things in their classroom. Is everything suitable to their reality? Should they try to do everything they have heard from these highly-respected professionals in ELT? But… how???????

This is exactly my point in this reflection. Though teachers should always try to keep up to date, they are the ones who know their students, classroom, school, city and country. They are the ones who must feel when to use certain activity. They should know how adapt activities to different contexts. They have to make students embrace the activities and the ideas they’ve been presented with. They are in charge of the responsibility to teach their students. Finally, they are the ones who have to cope with such diverse teaching situations.

Thousands of activities without feeling aren’t worth it, just as feeling without any activity is equally worthless.

It’s possible to say that the teacher should have this balance: to keep up to date, but always remembering that they need a reality filter. As Christine Coombe ranked ’the calling to the profession’ as the number one characteristic of a good teacher, I think I can say that the teacher’s heart is this reality filter I’m talking about.

I fortunately work in a school which encourages teachers to try new ideas, and to be always pursuing self and professional development. I am, most definitely, looking forward to putting to use the new ideas I had during this fantastic brainstorming week.


@teacherdudu

I am a teacher at Atlantic Idiomas in Brasília, Brazil. I was born and I’ve grown up here in Brasília, the city which has the most beautiful sky in the world. I have a BA degree and teacher’s course in History from Brasilia’s Federal University (UnB). I am finishing my undergraduation Language course, majoring in English, this year; also at Brasilia’s Federal University (UnB). I’ve been teaching English since 2004 and I really love what I do. From now on, I want to participate more actively in the online teaching world.

Teachers in training

February 15, 2012 9 comments

What's deep for some may be shallow for others... | Photo on Flickr by FeatheredTar

Suppose you want to start teaching English. Now, suppose you have never taught English before and that you’re looking for a way to start your new career. This is the moment you will get acquainted with acronyms and abbreviations such as TEFL, TESOL, CELTA, DELTA, TTC and a couple of others. I mean, you may come across these if you’re lucky (?); another possibility is sitting through an initial pre-service session lasting anything from simply receiving your textbooks and a quick hello from your coordinator to a longer training session to teach how to implement the magic method that is likely to – ahem – make all learners, from all sorts of backgrounds, learn English magically and miraculously. Ask any experienced professional in the field of ELT and you’ll hear that there are, until today, many language institutes that abide by rigid methods from the days of yore.

On a different note, you may have come across this post that questions whether teacher preparation courses are dangerously irrelevant or not. This is something that strikes a chord with me as I’ve been involved with teacher training and development for quite a long time, and this is likely to become my main activity in the foreseeable future. Are teachers really being prepared effectively to what they’ll face in the classroom? Are they being prepared to deal with the fact that the role of the teacher is changing faster than many of them would like it to? The question, to me, is not whether teacher preparation is irrelevant or not, but whether we’re doing it right or not.

I guess one of the most complicated things these days is that we’re in some sort of a conundrum – many teachers believe that what matters is what you’ve learnt, and not the piece of paper you’ll get afterwards. Yet, teachers themselves tend to only favour teacher training programs that will give them a piece of paper to be described in their CV’s without actually looking for learning opportunities that may also be fruitful. But instead of questioning the validity of certificates and such, I train my words at another target. I’m yet to hear from any teacher who gave informal PD a serious chance through actively participating and engaging in the world of blogs and twitter the words that I hear from many teachers who are forced to participate in sessions given by their school – it was a waste of time. Much on the contrary, actually. You don’t even need to ask, teachers who engage in PD online are the first ones to say they have learnt more in 8 months of twitter and blogs than they’d learnt in 4 years of college. Even if this is something that we can’t measure scientifically, it does say something. The message conveyed here is the one that we experience a sense of progress we don’t usually experience when we are shoved training sessions.

Could this be easily explained through motivation? We do know that motivated students tend to learn more effectively, or at least they try much harder. When we’re told what to do, do we look at it as if someone else tried to tell us what we need and, even if it’s subconsciously, sabotage any learning experience that may come from that? Is the belief that teachers should know all so ingrained in some (most?) teachers that it prevents us from opening up and making our weaknesses seen? Do we honestly believe that we know everything someone is trying to teach us? All of these could be drives for our motivation, which would then lead to lack of commitment in any kind of teacher training programme.

On the other hand, when we think of online, informal PD, we soon discover that it’s all about sharing. We’re not being taught, we’re discovering things together, exchanging ideas and opinions, but not being told, “this is right, and that is wrong”. Is the fact that we don’t need to fear being graded, or is the fact that we feel we’re not being judged or assessed so liberating that we finally open up for learning? The intriguing thought to me is that we can certainly see the benefits of sharing online, learning from so many different and interesting people, and yet fail to see that we may also learn from those next to us. How many teachers, for instance, would be dying to attend a conference with only ‘local’ teachers?

Training and development are two different things, but if we believe that teachers are not to be replaced by machines and computers, if we believe that teaching is a lot more than simply transmitting information, then we should embrace each and every opportunity that comes our way. But how do we know what is worth? This semester I’ve decided to deal with teacher training and development more as tutoring than as lecturing. Is this the right way to go? Well, at least there’s one thing I’m sure of – it’ll certainly help me spot talents and identify those who are willing to walk the extra mile and separate the wheat from the chaff. In a smaller scale, tutoring makes it harder for those who simply attend lectures and sit in classes to get away with laziness and last minute cramming.

By and large, traditional teaching is not as beautiful as we wish it were. There are many “teachers” who could care less about their work and don’t really worry about their students’ learning. And it’s a shame that many schools (at least where I live) look at education as if it were simply another business and give these “teachers” a job. this is why the best place to find like-minded educators is online and elsewhere instead of in the same teachers’ room you’re in. Isn’t it time we started changing this and accepting that the guy next doors can teach us, in the broad meaning of the word, as well as, or even better than the VIP speaker who comes and talks to an audience for a couple of minutes? But most importantly, isn’t it time we accepted that, as teachers, we should be open to learning and developing? Teacher preparation is not dangerously irrelevant, but perhaps our attitude to it is.

What’s your PD story?

July 31, 2011 12 comments

When I first started studying English, it was in an environment that shunned the use of L1 in the classroom and favoured native English speaking teachers (NESTs) to Non-NESTs (NNESTs). In my very first class, the teacher did not speak a word of Portuguese. To be honest, as far as I remember, the teacher couldn’t speak Portuguese – he was a NEST. There’s only one thing that I remember from that teacher in particular – when he was trying to turn on the tape-recorder but was holding the power cord in his hand. It is only this goofy moment that I can remember from that particular teacher. Later on, I remember I had only NNEST as teachers, but the same restriction held true: no L1 in class!

Some people even fool themselves by telling other they keep their eyes open for new ideas. Do you know anyone like that? / Photo by DerrickT

As this was the experience I had when I was a language learner, it was what I believed in when I started teaching. I felt that I could never be a good teacher if I were ever to use L1 in the classroom. How often do we reproduce what we’ve lived? Many people I know claim to only “learn” how to do something if someone else shows them how to do it. They them start simply repeating the processes that they’d witnessed and that’s how the cogs of the machine kept moving. Every now and them, though, someone would look at the process and come up with a different way to make things move. If it worked, they’d be regarded as very creative people who had an awesome idea to make things simpler, while a whole lot of other people would look at the proposed solution and wonder how they could have missed such a simple thing. If, however, things didn’t work, that soon to be acclaimed creative fellow would then be called a crazy man whose far-fetched ideas were to be laughed at.

I honestly think that creativity is under-rated in our schools, but I just can’t help hearing a line from Sir Ken Robinson’s TED talk whenever I see people praising every different and strange idea. Creativity is not the same thing as being wrong, and it’s not the same thing as having different ideas that might, once in a blue moon, work. What I believe in is that we need to know a lot about something if we want to be able to think about it more creatively. I’m not saying that knowledge and creativity are the same, but I certainly believe that the more you know about something, the easier it is for you to find creative solutions for the problems you have.

In the first year of my teaching career, I simply refused to hear about language classes that welcomed L1 in the classroom. It was, based on my experience and the kind of training I had, wrong in just so many ways that I couldn’t even fathom the possibility. I would attend seminars just to get practical ideas that I could implement in my very next class, and, looking back right now, I thought, after being in the classroom for a very short time, that I knew all that I needed to know. I thought that learning about the history of ELT, the myriad approaches and methods, and different things that people were doing was just a waste of time. What is funny is that this is something that I usually think about anytime I talk to a teacher who hasn’t been teaching long and who is reluctant to adopting a new approach to teaching based on his or her “vast” experience after being in the classroom for 3 years or so.

It was only after I attended my first large conference in ELT that I started looking at things from a different perspective. It was then that I first heard of the terms NESTs and NNESTs. It was the first time that it hit me: what I was doing in class was simply what I thought to be right based on what my teachers did in their classes. I had no clue whatsoever to why I was doing such things. Little did I know that there were people trying to find out different ways to help learners. Never before had I heard that there could be a reasonable way for people to use L1 in the classroom. It was during this conference that I also found out how passionate I truly was about being a teacher, on a very special session to me.

The conference I’m talking about is the National Braz-TESOL, in 2000 in São Paulo. To be fair, I was also fortunate enough to have, by then, two bosses who helped me immensely in this eye-opening process I had to go through, and one that I personally think all teachers need to go through themselves. It was in 2000 that I had the chance to attend a 3-day workshop on the use of Drama in the classroom by Ken Wilson. It was the first time I realized that, yes, it was possible to teach English in many different ways. It was on the very same conference that I first heard about the IPA and that there was a way for me to work on my pronunciation without having to live abroad. This and many other workshops have totally reshaped the way I looked at ELT. It wasn’t something done simply by repeating what had been done to me in my language classes – there was a whole world outside and all I had to do was look for more opportunities. It was only then that I started valuing the texts that those two bosses I had made available to us and that were not merely about grammar.

It was only after learning more about language teaching and learning that I understood how little I knew – something we are always told in our philosophy classes at school but we never really grasp it until reality hits. It was then that I realized that I didn’t have to fear using L1 in class as long as I knew when and how to use it. It was then I realized that I could learn many more practical ideas to implement immediately in class by learning more about theory than by just reading about practical ideas. The more we learn, the easier it is for us to find creative ways to better cater for our learners. The more we know, the easier it is for us to innovate. It’s the turning point anyone who wants to walk the extra mile should look for – use the right R: REFLECT, don’t simply repeat. And never ever wait for others to do it for you. If you want it, you have to get it yourself. Teacher development is easier than ever these days with all the online possibilities. My concern, however, is that there’s a new generation of teachers simply repeating what they’ve read online without thinking about how it could help their learners. Not everyone will be a trendsetter, but not everyone has to be a blind follower either. How many teachers do you know who had been teaching for longer than 5, 6, 7 (or more) years but who still think like teachers who have jus started teaching but truly believe they’ve already learned it all? And how many teachers who have just started teaching but are aware of the fact that they have to go beyond what their first employer has taught them? And, finally, what was your real eye-opener in your career? What’s your professional development story?

A class, two chats, and an interview

May 15, 2011 10 comments

Honestly, I hadn’t really planned to write a follow up to my previous post. However, things just seem to happen in a certain way and you have to do your best to adapt and make use of them to your advantage. I’m a strong proponent of meaningful and interesting conversation used to promote professional development. If you keep yourself open to learning possibilities, you’ll certainly see that people everywhere are dropping hints on how you can improve your game if you listen carefully. I had mentioned Jason’s participation in my class on my previous post, and students told me they enjoyed it so much that I could actually get a second guest teacher in that class. this time, it was Cecília Coelho, and we had a marvellous talk about assessment. Time was, again, an issue. Unlike Jason, who is in Australia, Cecília and I share the same timezone. Yet, our teaching schedules make it somehow hard for us to connect. I thoroughly appreciate Cecília’s effort dashing home to join the class – and I also thank the students for staying a bit longer than usual. It was definitely worth the while! :)

In addition to all of these wonderful co-teaching moments in my class, I’m also really happy with our #breltchat. In case you’re an English teacher in Brazil and you still haven’t heard of it, then you should pay a visit to our blog and join the conversation. #breltchat is the younger brother of #eltchat, a chat for English language teachers eager to discuss some issues we have to face on a daily basis in our profession. #eltchat takes place every Wednesday – twice! Currently, the first chat starts at 8:00 a.m. and the second one at 5:00 p.m. Brazilian time. This is a very successful chat on twitter, and 5 Brazilian English Language Teachers decided it would be a great chance for us to help Brazilian teachers develop and think about the particularities of our educational system. Bruno, Raquel, Valéria, Cecília and the one who writes you gave it a go and, fortunately, a wealth of Brazilian English teachers bought the idea and have made it a success. We hope it keeps growing from now on, and I’m sure the teachers who started participating in it won’t drop the ball now! :)

Anyway, our last chat was about Dogme and we decided we were going to try and interview some of the Dogmeists out there so that they could explain the concept better to teachers who still don’t know much about it. We also asked them about a couple of possibilities and suggestions that could possibly work in Brazil. Apart from Willy (interview coming up soon, hopefully) I don’t think they actually knew much about our educational system in Brazil, but they still agreed to help us think about some matters. You’ll soon be able to watch all 5 interviews: Fiona Mauchline, Luke Meddings, Scott Thornbury, Shelly Terrell, and Willy Cardoso.

Learning from a conversation? Well, I guess then these interviews are going to give you a lot to think about. On behalf of the #breltchat team of moderators, I hope you enjoy this interview with Scott Thornbury. Oh, and I hope you can get past my initial nervousness… trust me, it gets a lot better after the first answer! :)

http://vimeo.com/23712883

I’d like to, once more, thank Scott for his participation (and apologise for my poor introduction). I’m sure this interview will be helpful to many teachers out there. :)

I hope you’ve enjoyed this one. All 5 interviews will soon be available at #breltchat. In the meantime…

  • Watch Bruno’s brilliant interview with Shelly here.

A thank you note

October 27, 2010 11 comments

This blog is about to turn one year old and I must say I’m rather surprised by that. I guess once we find out our true passion, it’s easy for us to keep doing things, huh?! But what exactly does that mean to me? Is it a landmark to be celebrated on its own? Not really. Is there a lot more behind this? I truly believe so.

I recently paid a visit to my very first posts, and I thought back about what motivated me to write the blog. What I had in mind is that this could serve as a nice place for reflection, and I believe this is still what I’ve been doing. I have shared lots of my personal beliefs towards language teaching and learning, and general education as well. I said once and I’ll repeat again: I believe I’ve “learned” more in almost a year of blogging than I did in 4 years of college. However, this doesn’t mean my education in college was useless. Much on the contrary. I don’t think I’d be able to profit as much if I hadn’t read and studied the basics. Would it be too much? I still remember Jason’s post referring to the sharing of information that takes place in blogs and social media in general as trying to drink from a firehose. And I can’t say he was exactly wrong. If one does not lean how to handle all this wealth of information, one is bound to be gobbled up by it.

However, how can one turn off so many interesting posts that lead us to reflections and to sometimes question our own beliefs? How can you simply decide you’re not going to participate in twitter discussions such as #edchat (I still remember the first adjective I hear to describe it was eye-ball spinning), and, more recently, #eltchat? The more we connect, the more we learn. I don’t think we have ideas because we have to be the very best at what we do at all costs. An idea, alone, can hardly ever be a great idea. It’s only through sharing, listening, discussing, changing our minds, and discussing again that big changes can occur. I recently heard an interview on the radio in which the interviewee was talking about a book whose author investigated the origins of good ideas. Do you believe in those ‘Eureka!’ moments? Apparently, none of the 250 inventions mentioned in the book happened that way. This is a short version of the author’s ideas:

I guess that’s pretty much in synchrony with what I believe in. My hunch is that in the near future people will start valuing informal learning a lot more than today. People have been forced to learn new skills, to collaborate, to think outside the box, to understand and tolerate differences. It doesn’t really matter if you know more in the class – information is easier and easier to find. The big question is: do you know how to look for the right answer? Is there anyone you can turn to?

How about your PLN? You still haven’t heard about this concept yet? There are just so many new ideas percolating on the Web these days that you can’t help but be a part of it. Learning is dynamic, and teachers have got to keep the pace. We’re trying to teach people to learn how to stand on their feet in a world we still don’t know what it will be like. But one thing is a fact, these students will need to be able to respond to change a lot faster, they’ll need to learn the power of collaboration, they’ll have to learn how to listen to one another.

This is what blogging for almost one yea has done for me. I started out following some of the tips I got mainly from Karenne, Shelly, and Burcu. I’m really happy to see that one year after I have started, these people are more and more responsible for my learning. I’ve made friends and connections I could only dream of in the past. All right, I have to say I’d love to have the chance to go to the US soon and talk to some of the friends I’ve made online, such as Brian. And what about going to Europe and getting to know many of the people in my PLN, some of which were people I really look up to and I never thought I’d ever have a chance to engage in conversation with! And I can’t forget the land down under, as Jason himself has been mentioned in this post. Luke, Herbert, Nick, Jason T., Kelly, Susi, Barbara, Cecília, Willy, Denilso, Sue… you know what, it’s just too hard to name them all, and it’d probably add at least another 1000 words to this post. Perhaps you should pay a visit to my twitter page and check the people I’m following. They’ve all been very important to me these days. :)

What have I got from blogging? A lot more than I could ever expect. Fortunately, I’ve never thought of it as a place to build me a name or anything like that. Truth be told, I didn’t really think I was going to get past the third post. But learning is fun, sharing is fun, blogging s a lot of fun as well. And the best part of blogging so far are the comments – which is why I’d like to thank each and everyone of you for helping me out on my journey of learning. I really appreciate each and everyone of the visits and comments I’ve had. And if there was ever anything that you disagreed with in one of my posts and you felt you’ve wasted your time reading it, think twice. You’ve helped this chump learn a bit more. :)

In case you’re interested in the full lecture given at TED by Steven Johnson, here it goes:

The power of two

September 27, 2010 11 comments

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.

Following or reflecting?

September 2, 2010 12 comments

Are you happy with just reading the headlines, or do you feel the need to read the news?

What do you usually expect to take away from interactions with other teachers? How often do such interactions and exchanges fall short of your expectations? Just like everything we do, we usually engage in conversations with other people because we expect to have some sort of insight or at least to have something to think about that might change us, slightly as it may be, but still, something that will definitely contribute to our growth. Needless to say, we do have some meaningless conversations in our daily lives, but we deride a great deal of pleasure from such chit-chat that this is also something we benefit from. However, my focus here is how often do we tend to reflect about the things we talk about to other people or how often we simply repeat what we’ve heard.

One of the things I’ve been thinking about lately is what I look for when I go to a convention or a lecture. I remember that in the past, I’d always look for practical, hands-on activities that I could instantly use in classes. After all, variety is the spice of lessons as well, right? I didn’t expect anything else but ideas that I could simply go home and use straight away in my morning lessons. As time went by, I believe my focus has changed and I am now a lot more interested in learning a bit more of the theory that leads to such activities. What is the rationale behind them? Why is it that this or that results in more effective learning or recalling?

I wouldn’t say that there’s anything wrong with either of the approaches. However, I must say that I don’t think teachers will fully develop unless they start investigating their own beliefs towards learning and teaching. Why do I do the things that I do? Why do I believe that activity A is likely to work with that specific group whereas activity B can simply be dismissed out of hand? No matter how little you do it, reflecting about what others tell you is always a sound thing to do. And so is challenging your beliefs.

I wish more teachers understood the importance of actually trying to come up with their own personal language teaching methodology, as Jason Renshaw did on this post, and Marisa continued doing on this post. If you’re just following in your teachers’ footsteps, you’re always going to be a follower, and chances are you’ll progress very little. On the other hand, if you start thinking about what you believe in as a language teacher, you’re bound to always look for more effective ways to help your students learn. If I were still doing the same things my teachers did when they taught me, no matter how good they were, I’d probably have done very little. Fortunately, at least some of my teachers taught me that there’s no way one can know everything. If there’s one thing I still follow, it is this – always strive to improve.

I don’t know if it’s just me, but I sometimes feel that more and more frequently conferences are becoming a place for teachers to share practical ideas of what they’ve done in class and expect others to follow them blindly. I don’t think I was the only one who came across someone who simply refused to listen someone else’s opinion because it was entirely against what they were saying. Pity. I see in that a great opportunity for growth. Having your ideas challenged, or even putting forward something that others might not entirely agree with should be a healthy habit. When is it that people stopped trying to answer WHY and only focus on HOW? I guess when you expect a lot of answers to WHY, some of your professional interactions may actually fall short of your expectations…

Minimum requirements for (language) teachers

August 27, 2010 9 comments

How do you know if you’ve met the minimum requirements to walk into a language classroom and teach? Is there such a thing as minimum requirements, to begin with? Shouldn’t teachers be ‘lifelong learners’ themselves if they expect their students to learn new things every day? Will I be able to really help my students learn? Have I got what it takes?

I’m pretty sure most teachers have already thought about these questions – even if it was only when they first started working. As I see it, if you decide you want to do something, you must make sure you have a shot at getting it. This means you should always think about what is it that you need in order to have the chance to actually do what you want to do. Just the other day, there was a nice discussion on Twitter about language level, certification, and other related matters concerning language teachers. What are the minimum requirements language teachers should meet in order to walk into a classroom.

I’ve already written a post or two on this blog – or many – on what I believe to be essential qualities and skills teachers should develop. I still believe ‘people skills’ is one of the most important skills that language teachers (or all teachers) must always strive to improve. However, when we’re thinking of language teachers, we mustn’t forget about one crucial point – command of the language. Now, bear with me for a moment, I’m not saying here that NESTs (Native English Speakers Teachers) are better than non-NESTs. This will have to be dealt with on a different blog post – in the meantime you could have a look at this post I wrote that touches this matter.

So, for the time being, let’s stick to non-NESTs and the kind of command of the language that is necessary for one to walk into a language classroom. In 2009 I attended a lecture by professor Jack C. Richards where he addressed “what a good English teacher is”. He mentioned nine core dimensions of teacher development:

  1. Acquiring appropriate proficiency level in English
  2. Acquiring content knowledge
  3. Acquiring Contextual knowledge
  4. Acquiring a repertoire of techniques and routines
  5. Developing learner-focussed strategies
  6. Developing pedagogical reasoning skills
  7. Theorizing from practice
  8. Joining a community of practice
  9. Becoming a language teaching professional

All of these are things English language teachers should worry about if they really care about their job and about their students. Professional development is paramount! Even though these are all core dimensions of professional development, I believe the very first one is what will allow for the development of the others. I do understand that context is key, and I very much agree with what Stephen Bax said in his text entitled “The end of CLT – a Context Approach to language teaching” (you’ll need to register to read the article – it’s free). Context is indeed very important, but, the way I see it, language level also has got to do with our own personal language teaching methodology. Our approach, and consequently our theories of language and language learning (Richards & Rodgers – chapter 2) will play a big role in defining what the minimum requirement is.

What's number one on your list?

As I see it, language, especially nowadays, language is a means for communication – spoken and written. If that’s the case, shouldn’t language teachers be able to prepare students for both kinds of interaction with the target language they’re working so hard to learn? And if, again, this is the case, I want to believe that there’s a minimum requirement in terms of Language level of teachers – and if we think in CEF terms, I’d say C1 is the minimum, which would be equivalent to a CAE certificate issued by Cambridge ESOL. I’m pretty sure there are a lot of other more important skills that teachers need to develop and possess. However, language proficiency is the one thing teachers should try their best to acquire even before they start teaching. It’s the one thing that will allow for the development of all of the other skills. Language proficiency is also the yardstick against which many learners measure their teachers’ teaching skills, and this might even account for how high students hold NESTs despite their teaching skills.

The discussion on twitter was really interesting, and I had the chance to talk to one of my old school teachers right after it took place. He’s also a language teacher, but he teaches Portuguese. I asked him the very same question I ask now “What is more important for language teachers – language proficiency or teaching skills?” We seem to see eye to eye on the matter. There’s a lot more to teaching than language level. Nevertheless, it’s much harder for teacher trainers to work on language proficiency than it is for them to work on other skills. Jeremy Harmer’s “How to teach English” also deals with the topic of good teachers. One of the most important characteristics of good teachers is willingness. And this is particularly true if you think about willingness to become a better teacher. All of the nine core dimensions listed by professor Jack C. Richards are important and have got to be pursued by good (language) teachers.

Can we consider being knowledgeable as the most important factor in a teacher’s life? Some may argue that there are lots of other skills that are way more important, that knowledge these days can be found in many different sources and that teachers should aim at being facilitators of learning. However, I still truly believe that being knowledgeable is the one thing that will make all of the others easy on the way of becoming a good teacher. What do you think?

Why join a teachers association?

August 22, 2010 11 comments

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.

Photo by Ian Sane

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).

Professional development? Why don't you join Braz-TESOL?

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