Saturday, November 30, 2013

Pairwork Activities - If Students Aren´t Sharing, They are Not Pairing

What is a “pair”? The American Heritage dictionary begins its definition of this word by calling it “Two corresponding persons or items similar in form or function”. 

_1030187 15/12: Ceci & MarianoFor the purpose of language teaching or any other kind of teaching, for that matter, the “corresponding” aspect is of the greatest pertinence. A moment comes in a great many lesson plans when the teacher thinks, for example, “OK, we’ve gotten through inductively figuring out how the present perfect is different from the past tense. Check. We’ve engaged in a spate of mental gymnastics filling in blanks in a series of PPT sentences. Aha! Used a technological resource. Check. Looked at lines of prose and eliciting individually in a crisscross pattern among students sitting in a U-shape that facilitates eye contact and intelligible oral exchanges…. decided which sentences contain the present perfect tense and why that tense was used in those situations. Check. Now it must be time for pairwork. Right. So the students are given the assignment to work in pairs on exercise B on page 46 of their textbook. Right timing; ineffective strategy. If the students are naturally gregarious, they will do the exercise collaboratively, or at least verify whether their responses match. But, was there anything about the exercise which necessitated a joint exchange, mutual input, utterance and response? If the answer is “no”, then you don’t have pairwork; you have two individuals sitting side by side engaged in a similar task which can be carried out without the “correspondence” of two people who depend on each other’s contributions to achieve a requested result. 

The following are a few examples of textbook-type set-ups that result in genuine pairwork.
Two students have cue cards which indicate the direction a question & answer exchange might take:  Policeman vs person suspected of automobile theft.   
              P:    for the past three hours
              T:    shopping mall
              P:    own the car you are driving
             T:    two years                                     

Students receive A & B dialog cards to practice role-play situations which include the structure or vocabulary in focus and which can be sequentially shared whole-class; these varied dialogs can also be rotated from pair to pair in closely timed progression.

Two students exchange comments on the ways in which a city has changed in the past few years, the ways in which parental rules have been modified, the changes that have taken place in common domestic technology.
Students pair up to ask and answer questions which will result in the creation of an ID profile card which can then be shared with the rest of the group. Ex: Where have you lived, worked, studied, traveled – etc – in the last two years?

 Variations of these possibilities are as infinite as our general inclination to communicate, and can be found by way of multiple resources, including – most probably – the textbooks you are currently using. But awareness is key in your inclusion of pairwork in your lesson plan:  as regards your students, if they’re not sharing, they’re not pairing. 

Katy Cox

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Self-Reflective Piece on One of my EFL Classes with iPads

For the first time ever, I decided to try the book projects with iPads. Until that moment, doing book projects (Teens 6) always involved cardboard paper, colored pens and pencils, glue, ruler, magazines and all the other classroom material available for such a task. But what about classroom management? Would I be able to control my big group of restless teens? Could I trust them to handle the tablets for a specific purpose? Would they know how to get around the device and utilize the specific app proposed? In sum, there were many  questions and few answers.

Therefore, I had to get ready, and my first step was to undergo the iPad Training Session at Asa Norte. In our daily busy routine, it is hard to find the time to go through all the apps available for educational purposes, but I expected to have a better idea of the most used ones in the classroom. Of course, I am still far from mastering every single one of them, but I had the chance of browsing through and by the end of the section, select the most adequate app to offer students for the activity I had in mind. Since I wanted students to prepare posters, I asked them to use
Viz, but they had a second option which was Picollage.
 Students had been told of the date they were supposed to do the book report long in advance, so they had time to read their books and decide if they wanted to do the book project individually or in pairs. On the scheduled day, they were only supposed to bring the books they had read and nothing else.

With iPads in hand, I began the class by showing them the basic devices and the app that I wanted them to use. That was part of my organizational scheme. Students were warned of basic care needed and time available for the project, which was 50 minutes. Also, I wrote the questions I wanted them to answer in the project, which were:
1-What ´s the story about?
2-Who or what are the main characters?
3-How does the story end?
4-Would you recommend it to friends? Why? Why not?
Pictures and organization was up to them and they were free to use their creativity the way they wished. For my surprise and relief, they were acquainted with the app and did not have many doubts. And the ones who were not, had the help of more experienced peers. The student´s sense of collaboration and engagement was overwhelming. Then I was free to help with the English.

The result was superb, and I couldn’t have been happier. The following class, I projected their work in the classroom, and friends had the chance of judging and making comments on each other´s project. Finally, I could feel students were proud of the outcome, and I had the chance of proving iPads relevance for education.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Image Conference

The image Conference, Organized by the BRAZTESOL Brasilia team was a perfect combination of keynote presenters, great atmosphere and interesting, colorful, dynamic sessions. Workshops  were delivered in 45 minutes. I was not sure at first I would like my session to be so short, but I enjoyed the format as a participant because I got to see much more, and as a presenter because  Denise De Felice and I had to do our  best to be concise and efficient in our delivery. 

Here is a peek of some of what happened in the conference.

From Images to Deep Learning

 A Whole Brain Perspective

A new bridge between neuroscience and language teaching is being built, and teachers today can learn more and more about the learning brain. Images, videos, and games have always been explored in the language classroom in different, creative ways, but teachers  are now becoming aware of how tasks affect the brain biologically, how emotions trigger or hinder the learning cycle, and how knowing all that can help teachers design more engaging tasks. Many of the ideas here were inspired by the book The Art of Changing the Brain.

Play with the images to to create a story.

Listen to the story and check how different they are.

We asked participants to reflect on what Hamilton`s problem was by showing a series of "why" questions. It was very interesting to see the "why" technique in action. The audience starts to feel the power of brainstorming as one more "why" on the slide projects the impression that the group needs to keep collaborating, thinking to reach a high order conclusion.  

Here is what the audience said

He was asked to do what he couldn`t do.
He was not motivated enough
He was too passive
The kind of exposure he got was always the same
He never got a chance to actually be a more engaged student
because of the way he had been exposed to input, he became too passive
He never got the chance to actually be a more engaged student
because of the way he had been exposed to input, he became too passive.

Ham`s problem according to The Art of Changing the Brain.
"Ham`s mind was in the past, it depended on sources outside himself, and thus he had no power. He had no control over his own learning.
I am not saying that he didn’t need information or that he should abandon his television programs. Experience and information are necessary parts of learning. They are the raw materials for it. But by themselves they are not enough; they are about half of what it actually needed.
The structure of the brain tells us this. There is a part for receiving, remembering, and integrating information that comes from outside. And there is a second part for acting, modifying, creating, and controlling. If we are to learn in the way that transforms, we must use both of these parts of the brain. 
"Ham needs better communication between the back and the front of their cortex, between temporal cortex and prefrontal cortex. But since the prefrontal and temporal cortex are so distant from each other, you might wonder if the connections between them are strong. Maybe it isn’t so easy to keep balance. Maybe the front and back parts of our brains don’t talk to each other much.But, again, the actual physical structure of the brain gives us new insight. In fact, some of the most obvious wiring in the brain is designed exactly for this front/back connection.
You could confirm this yourself with the simplest of dissections of one of the cerebral hemispheres. If you were to gently slice open the top of one hemisphere from front to back and a few centimeters from the midline, you would see large tracks of fibers running along from back to front. And if you dissected carefully, you would find four major bundles of nerves that carry signals between front and back.We can also see this bridge in the learning cycle, as shown in the illustration below. It carries us over the line that separates the experience and reflection part of the cycle from the abstraction and active testing part. Data enters learners through concrete experience where it is organized and rearranged through reflection. But it is still just data until learners begin to work with it. When learners convert this data into ideas, plans, and actions, they experience the transformation I have described. Things are now under their control, and they are free of the tyranny of information. They have created and are free to continually test their own knowledge."

A concrete example

A Practical Example
Concrete experience
Abstract hypothesis
Reflective observation
Transformation line

Reflecting back

Compare the two tasks below and reflect on what happens in the learners` brain. Which task engages students` brain more deeply?

Task 1 - look at the images and create a story. Compare it to the actual story.

Task 2 - Listen to the story and put the illustrations in order.

Our point - there is nothing wrong with the tasks, They are just different. It all depends on the teacher`s objectives. Task one helps to engage more areas of the brain as compared to task 2, which may help to promote deeper learning.

Here are some posters we can ask students to make. Having students  manipulate language and images to create  posters engages the learning brain more deeply than just showing students a poster that someone else created.

What can you do with a chair?
What other purposes, other than teaching, can you use a chair for?

After delivering this workshop, our aim is to keep thinking about the learning cycle and tasks can engage the learning brain more deeply.

Thanks Denise De Felice for being my partner and inspiring change in me.
Thanks Cleide Nascimento for illustrating the story.
Thanks Katie Cox for lending us your storytelling expertise.