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Posts Tagged ‘Writing’

And let 2013 begin!!

January 7, 2013 12 comments

In hindsight, 2012 was quite a… different year for many different reasons. For one thing, I got married in 2012, which was the big highlight of the year for me, but there were other a whole bunch of things which weren’t, well, that good. But let bygones be bygones and let’s start a new, fresh 2013. Today is actually my very first day at work after a well-deserved 2-week break – and I really mean it when I say I needed that break.

mappa_blog

mappa_blog (Photo credit: francescopozzi)

One of the things that got me thinking was how often I visited the blogosphere in 2012, and mainly in the second semester of the year. It all started when I read a blog challenge and I thought to myself that I give it a try, but then, as usual, time and work got in the way. In addition to that, it made me realise how much time I’d spent blogging and around blogs in 2012… very little!

No, I honestly don’t think that was a serious issue or anything like that. However, the few times I blogged last year I could certainly feel how good it was to put into words what I was reflecting upon, and how things simply piled up when I stopped doing that. Well, I guess I could say blogging does the same for my mind that going to the gym does for the body and the mind – and I haven’t done much of either last year.

So, it’s now time to resume the activities, and the very first thing to do is coming up with a regular schedule for posts. Even though I’ve never really thought this to be mandatory, I guess it would be good to get my weekly dose of medication for the mind (or monthly, or daily… I honestly still haven’t decided on that yet). But what I’ve decided is that I want to resume blogging even though there are some rumours on Facebook that ELT blogging is something of the past. Is it really? Well, fortunately, I don’t really care much about trends, fashions or fads. If it’s good and it feels right for you, do it, I say. Isn’t that right?

This also means fixing a couple of things on the blog, checking the blogroll, updating Google Reader, posting more comments and… that’s pretty much all I need to do really. Oh, and, obviously, reconnect with a whole bunch of people I had to leave aside for a while. And if there’s nothing to write about, I can always use Leo’s tips for new bloggers, which, well, was a response to the blog challenge I couldn’t take up! When do you stop being new at blogging, by the way?!

And if after all this time being inactive you’re still following this blog, HAPPY 2013!! I hope you enjoy what I have to say, and I certainly do hope to be able to write much more this year! Perhaps I’ll have enough posts to join Adam’s 13 of 13 blog challenge! See you around!!!

Some thoughts on my blog as a word cloud

March 28, 2011 18 comments

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:

My blog according to Wordle

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!

Cheers!! :D

Teaching writing

February 10, 2011 16 comments

If you haven’t had the chance to participate in this Wednesday’s #ELTChat, you may not know that we discussed writing and how to teach writing in our classes. One of the best things about these discussions is all the ideas it generates afterwards and the discussions that arise from it. In one of my tweets, I suggested that students are likely to need writing skills more than speaking skills. Fortunately, this didn’t go unnoticed and @ma_luv2teach sent me another tweet soon after the chat was over:

If you haven’t had the chance to participate in this Wednesday’s #ELTChat, you may not know that we discussed writing and how to teach writing in our classes. One of the best things about these discussions is all the ideas it generates afterwards and the discussions that arise from it. In one of my tweets, I suggested that students are likely to need writing skills more than speaking skills. Fortunately, this didn’t go unnoticed and @ma_luv2teach sent me another tweet soon after the chat was over:

The reason why I’m posting the conversation here is that we did exchange a couple of other tweets on the matter, but I believe neither could go on much further due to everything we have to do in our daily lives. Now, I really like it when there is some sort of healthy disagreement about a certain point of view and we can discuss it nicely. This was the case, and even though we finished (for now) our conversation by disagreeing on the writing vs. speaking focus issue, I’ve been thinking about it all day long and decided I could write it here and let others join the discussion and perhaps help me look at things from a different perspective. So this is what I have so far:
1. EFL learners need writing more than they need speaking:

My point here is that despite the use of technology such as skype, FaceTime, or any other voice communication software, most communication at work still have to be written. For one reason, most of the times, instrutions, memos, proposals, requests, or any other kind of document needs to be available at a later time. I won’t argue the importance of a nice chat in a business meeting, but I believe you will agree with me when I say that most learners will not be the ones in charge of upfront negotiations. Sure, some will, and these need to develop such skills, but most will be following instructions and trying to comply. They will probably be emailing foreign clients or suppliers asking for something, not calling them. It is much easier to sort out a mistake if you have written proof of what has been agreed on. Again, unless you record all of your phone calls, emails are likely to work much better.
In addition to this, we can also think of teenagers. No matter how easier it gets for them to speak to their friends, they do seem to prefer texting. For one reason, it’s much more private to text than to speak on the phone. Only those who are looking at your screen are able to read what you’re typing whereas anyone around you will have an idea of what you’re saying. Most people will only have a chance to practise their speaking skills when traveling for pleasure to Disney or going shopping in NY. I’d love this to change; I just don’t see it happening so soon, though.
2. Learning how to write is not an easy task

I’ll start this by quoting Harmer in his How to Teach Writing:

However long ago writing really started, it has remained for most of its history a minority occupation. This is part because although almost all human beings grow up speaking their first language (and sometimes their second or third) as a matter of course, writing has to be taught. Spoken language, for a child, is acquired naturally as a result of being exposed to it, whereas the ability to write has to be consciously learned.

Most students, especially these days, look for language classes that promise an emphasis on conversation. This means a lot of speaking practice and very little grammar – especially to the learner. If you allow me, I don’t think they are actually looking for conversation alone. I do believe what they mean is communication, and the reason why they dread sitting through grammar lessons is mainly because of the bad experience they had been through while studying in school. “Grammar lessons were not communicative nor engaging. Therefore, if a course teaches grammar, it will never teach me how to hold conversations” may be one of the things crossing a learner’s mind. When we ask our learners to write, we are going to correct them on their grammar sooner or later. It’s actually a good thing for the teacher as it might show him or her a couple of things that students need further practice in.

Learning how to write is time consuming, and based on the L1 teachers I talk to, it is something that students have difficulties with even in their L1. I have to be honest and say that it is exactly because of the fact that learning how to write is usually frowned upon by students that most language schools and teachers fail to emphasize it. This sometimes doesn’t even have anything to do with beliefs or lack of will, but it may just be a matter of how students see it. Language schools are, let’s not forget that, a business. In order to be able to exist, hire and pay teachers, they need students. If there is another school across the street that says students will be able to learn the language in less time and studying much less, many students will eventually go there, and now the other schools have two options – follow suit, the easy way out, or try to stick to its beliefs and hope that students will see they are right and come back. Whenever I think of this I remember the recurrent articles published every year about language courses that should be avoided. However, as long as people believe in magic solutions and are afraid of working harder than others to reach their goals, they are likely to buy it and go with the flow – if they turn out to have been fooled afterwards, at least they were not fooled alone.

3. Learning how to write will boost your speaking skills more than the other way around

OK, I could actually spend sometime talking about the difference between learned and acquired language, but as the difference is kind of blurry, I’ll just make use of another point. We need exposure in order to be able to reflect upon our sentences and utterances. This happens very fast when we are speaking and we hardly ever have the time to analyse what we are saying so that we can rephrase what we are trying to convey. However, when it comes to written language, it’s a lot easier for us to go through what we thought we were trying to say and be aware of different ways to say it. It’s much easier for us to be consciously aware of our production and remember it when using it in different occasions. Here I’d make use of Bialistok’s model for language learning:

I believe it’s much easier and faster for learners to refer to their explicit linguistic knowledge in order to progress than for them to base their learning experience on speaking practice alone. “Eh?! What happened to language being conversation driven, you dogmeist you???” Fret not, I’m a firm believer in the fact that language is conversation driven (at least until today). Written production may be an excellent source of input for learners and also an excellent source for them to learn about their own mistakes and be more conscious of them while holding a conversation. Let’s not forget that there are still many illiterate people out there who can even speak in public very well, but are incapable of reading and writing. Yet, I’ve never seen anyone – please, let’s not go into disabilities – who’s able to read and write but can’t speak. Much on the contrary, even in L1, it’s quite common for us to witness people becoming more proficient speakers once they start writing more. I really don’t think you’ll become a better writer by speaking more.

To sum it up, writing and speaking are both important skills that should be well attended to in class. My point, however, is that we tend to go from one extreme to another quite too fast. It is much more pleasant to talk to others in class than to write messages. You don’t walk around writing things on a piece of paper and showing others, but, IMHO, when it comes to foreign language interaction, writing is still a lot more common than speaking. A good example of it? How many voices do you know from the people in your PLN?

** A big thank you to @ma_luv2teach for helping me think more about this topic. I’m far from having this as my final word on it, and I do hope others (if they could put themselves to read this till the end) can also help me on this one.

Collaborative project

June 18, 2010 9 comments

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.

Using CNN student news

December 11, 2009 Leave a comment

I haven’t heard many things about CNN student news even though I find it useful in the classroom. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s a daily video-podcast which lasts about 10 minutes, and, as you can guess from its name, it’s made by the folks at CNN.

Anyway, I decided to share an activity I tried out in class successfully this semester in which I used it. I used with a C1 level (according to the Common European Framework of References for Languages) group, but the activity may also work with B2 students. The activity lasts about 45 – 60 minutes. Later you can let me know what you think of it.

Material: 2 sequential episodes from CNN Student News – in this class, I used the episodes from August 21st (Friday) and August 24th (Monday). It is important to use episodes in which some of the news complement what was said on the other episode.

1. I started the class with a writing activity. The students had already learned the mechanics of writing a proposal, but they had issues when it came to planning. So I started by eliciting from them techniques they use while brainstorming ideas for a composition. We planned the outline of a text together and talked about the importance of planning your compositions prior to writing them, and the fact that it actually saves time when you’re writing.

2. I divided the group in two and explained what they were supposed to do. One of these two groups (let’s call it group A) would stay in the classroom and the other group (group B) was taken outside. Group B was supposed to work on the brainstorming of ideas for a piece of writing they’d have to write for our following class – a proposal. They should work together and come up with an outline for their proposal, and they’d have 10 minutes for this. In the meantime, group A was going to watch one news episode from CNN Student News (which lasts 10 minutes).

3. While watching, the people from group A were asked to take notes about the pieces of news. After the episode finished, group A went outside and group B stopped their planning for the proposal and went back to the classroom. This time, group A had 10 minutes to work together and share their notes about the pieces of news they’d just watched. They were asked to try to reconstitute what had been said in the episode. As we’d been working with reporting verbs, students were supposed to try to use different verbs when sharing what they’d heard. They had 10 minutes to do that and write down their notes on a piece of paper. During these 10 minutes, group B was watching another episode from CNN Student News.

4. After the episode is over, group B will now have 10 minutes to share their notes. Group A, at this moment, is told to stop working on the notes and start planning their proposal.

5. 30 minutes after you’ve started the activity, students get in pairs (one student from each group) to share their pieces of news. Before they start talking, they’re reminded of the reporting verbs. The importance of choosing two sequential episodes is that they’ll be able to understand why such and such things are in the news (group B) as well as find out what the conclusion of the news was (group A). This discussion usually lasts for about 10 – 15 minutes, depending on the group.

6. After there’s been a wrap-up discussion with the whole group, you now turn to their notes for their proposal. Students share what they’ve come up with and talk to each other about their ideas. The proposal is assigned as homework.

I hope the description of the activity is clear. If it isn’t, just let me know.

Any thoughts? What other activities do you do with CNN Student News?

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