Thursday, December 12, 2013

What do You Think? Questions in the EFL Classroom

“What do you think?” For most students, there is no question more enervating than this one. In reality, Fernando is thinking about Natalia’s rear end, Leticia is thinking about red shoes, and Amelia is wondering if her hair should really be so pink. The teacher is referring to the North Pole, to a week in the desert, to a flight to outer space. “What do you think?” Think what?!

Teacher In Classroom

Let’s get more specific. Look at the paragraph on page 94. “Most people start a diet on the first day of the week.” So, asks the teacher, on what day did Mary probably start her weight-loss program? Monday, teacher. Great! Is that enough thinking for the day? How many minutes are left in this class, anyway…..
Is it hot or cold in the Amazon? Hot, teacher. Is Florida north of the equator; yes or no? Yes, teacher. What do you think about the architecture in Brasilia? Think what?

Questions that are too broad or too narrow are really a dead-end with regard to inducing extensive thinking or communicating. “Thinking” is usually best fueled by substance, in the form of reasoning, figuring out, relating to experience. For example, among the classes which are a requirement for people wanting to obtain a driver’s license, there is one session devoted to small-group discussion of contentious traffic situations  described by the teacher on printed handouts. In this case, “what do you think” sparks a heated exchange between persons who have experience these or similar situations, who know others who also have, whose speculations and opinions are percolating with reciprocal mental energy in the buildup of accelerating reactions among the participants. This is thinking.

Yes/No questions, queries which ask for a fact or statistic, all have their place in classroom work, in the daily constructs of communication. But they do not usually result in the extent or complexity of thought – hopefully, expression – which the teacher has in mind when he envisions students in the process of interested reaction to stimulation of thought. Some questions inspire furtive, repeated attention to the movement of the minute hand on the clock on the wall. On the other hand, effective thought-provoking strategies can open up fields of mental/verbal exploration that will result in looks of surprise and slight frustration when the bell rings. Already, teacher?   

Katy Cox

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Teacher - Only Human

The teacher is only human, after all. The repeated emphasis on students’ needs indirectly encourages forgetting about those of the teacher. Male or female, the human ego feeds on reward and recognition, and your teacher ego perks right up when a student loves to respond, laughs at your jokes, asks you for help as though you were the last life-saver on the boat. 

SAD_Hortons_Kids 114 You use your instructional energy generously and it doesn’t really take much to – in return – make you feel like a good looking genius. Therein lies the cyclical danger. The teacher’s well-known duty is to pay equal attention to all students -  to prevent the guilty recognition that the girl in the left-hand corner never says a thing because she is not spoken to; to avoid having to admit that most of your lesson moved energetically along with lots of participation but – come to think of it – not from the left-hand side of the room. Why can’t you remember the face of what’s-his-name who always sits by the door (and who eases smoothly out of that exit as soon as the bell rings)? Even the trouble-makers are more appealing, testing your patience and your class management skills; victories with these in-your-face challenges can make you feel especially self-congratulatory….while the “escape artists” shroud themselves in a cloak of invisibility as they look for a dropped pen, a misplaced paper, a book in a backpack, and successfully evade the teacher’s attention (which is inevitably on the eager beavers with their hands in the air…).

The skilled fugitive knows how to keep his head down; the wave of willing responses will satisfy the also needy elicitor… Every teacher should have a fool-proof system of checking production frequency among all 12 or 16 or 20 students – who spoke, how often, how much – and making sure they know who you are and that you care. In ensuring uniformity and truly collaborative direction in your work in the classroom, your heart-strings are not as consistent a guide as your intellect and your eyes.   

Katy Cox

Friday, December 06, 2013

Seeing your Students

Can “seeing” your students influence your relationship with them and their willingness to communicate? What does this question really mean? 

Let’s examine the following situation: You have created an eminently respectable lesson plan; it includes the requisite phases for pairwork, attention to textbook activities and grammar orientation, hands-on dynamics to practice the topic of the day, periodic white-board use, and appropriate technological inclusions. Your “flight check” for that last part resembles NASA pre-lift-off procedures as you punctiliously check CD tracks, PPT slides, computer connections, volume register…..all that is essential to take your lesson safely to its destination. 

Your concentration on your multiple responsibilities occupies your thoughts almost exclusively as you enter your classroom and attend to setting up what your students will experience for the next 150 minutes. Ah, yes…the students…. a gaggle of girls and a band of boys, all dragging roller bags and the paraphernalia of study and play…. assemble in noisy desks, a crowd with a collective identity. Who among them so you see and greet? Believe it or not, this could be a moment of potential significance – the fresh encounter, the time to reconnect and begin anew. 

TopkidsErika_LAS (1)There is one of two ways to envision this scenario: (a) The teacher is absorbed in class prep, back turned, the students gathering facelessly in their predictable arrangements, or (b) the teacher greets the students as they enter, acknowledging a new hairstyle, a happy face, a new pair of bizarrely bright orange running shoes…..If it can be managed, the time for the lesson and techno-check is when the classroom is empty, silent, awaiting the next round of action. The time for precious rejoining with your students is when they enter the environment you share; that is when you “see” them and rekindle the energy that fuels what you will experience together in those minutes that you hope will be memorable, that will make your students look forward to the days and weeks to come. 

Even with all your attention to your lesson plan, first and foremost, smile and look your students in the eye. This is the moment that could determine how far and how well your lesson will actually fly.     

Katy Cox

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

iPads in the Kids´ EFL Classroom - A Post by Two

I am currently on maternity leave, enjoying every little second of the gift I have received. This time has flown by, and has been a much-needed break from the hustle and bustle of work. However, I sometimes use some of my “free” time to read about educational technology (a passion) and many times ideas bloom in my mind.

Last September I received an email announcing a contest for CTJ teachers, where we should think of innovative ways to teach using iPads. As I read the email, I knew I wanted to participate, not only because of the chance of winning a really nice prize, but also as a chance to put into practice new ideas. Since I have no books at home at this moment, I had the idea to plan a lesson for my kid’s class (so I could refer to his book to plan the lesson). I called dear colleague Carol Godoy (my kid’s teacher) and proposed her to pair up with me in this journey, so she would be the one to test the ideas with her students.

It all worked out really fine. The students were engaged, motivated and most importantly, learning in different and meaningful ways!

So, here’s what we’ve done:

Students were studying about animals and superlatives and then we used the app Tiny Tap where it is possible to create personalized games. It is indeed a chance to spot students difficulties with the content they have been exposed to while they are having fun. I created the slides on a PowerPoint slideshow and imported them into the app, where I recorded my voice and set up the tasks.

As a follow up, students were supposed to use their knowledge to create a collaborative poster using the app Popplet, a well-known educational tool. So, students paired up and wrote sentences using the superlatives and images to come up with a beautiful poster. The final product could also be printed and become part of the students’ portfolios to be sent to parents by the end of the semester.

This was a nice and rewarding experience. Looking forward to test more apps and contribute to students learning next semester! 

Tiny Tap and Popplet - slideshows

-------> Now read Carol's version of this tech journey! :)

My name is Carolina Godoy and I'm a teacher at CTJ. Last semester I had two TPK classes and Lilian's son, Gabriel, was one of my TPK students. For this reason, Lilian invited me to participate in this project, and I'm really glad I accepted her invitation. To take part in this project wasn't a last minute decision, but we certainly did not have a lot of time to plan its execution. As Lilian previously explained, the project required us to use iPads in the classroom, so it was necessary to book them in advance. Since other teachers were also engaged in the project, it wasn't easy to have the number of iPads we needed when we needed them. However, I'm glad to report that everything went really well. 

Lilian did all the planning, whereas I was responsible for putting her ideas into practice. She designed two activities for the children. The first one was a multiple-choice exercise that included interesting and motivating pictures and sounds. The second activity required the students to take a more active role in the learning process and was, therefore, a bit more challenging. 

The students responded very well to both activities and seemed extremely engaged and motivated. When I told them that we were going to use iPads in the classroom, they got really excited and literally couldn't wait to touch the screens with their little fingers.
I believe that the use of technology in this particular class enhanced their ability to learn and boosted their confidence as students in this new technological era. In addition, students at this age are used to following a routine in the classroom, and this project was a very creative and useful way for us to take a break from more ordinary activities.  
I would like to thank Lilian for this great opportunity. It was a pleasure to work with her and to be her son's teacher this semester. I really hope we can develop more projects like this in the near future and learn a lot from each other while having lots of fun.