Saturday, July 19, 2014

Daring and doing: the first decade

Professional development is a big deal for us here at the Casa. So much so that we hold our very own yearly seminars, which are attended not only by our local TEFL community but also by professionals coming from different cities and states in Brazil. It is an amazing opportunity to strengthen our "PD muscle" and connect with amazing professionals and individuals from all over the globe. The 2014 edition of the CTJ TEFL Seminar was no different, and yet, it had a special flavor of accomplishment to it, since this year we celebrated its 10th anniversary.

The day began with ESL professor Rob Jenkins' plenary on a topic which never gets old - motivation. Rob reminded us of the importance of successfully developing an atmosphere that fosters student confidence, and that we should always be deeply aware of the difference between teaching and learning. That teaching has to be regarded as a byproduct of learning, and that it is our role as teachers to be deeply aware that what may seem to be great, solid teaching may not necessarily result in learning, especially if we find ourselves teaching lessons in spite of the learners and their individual learning styles, cognitive abilities, and unique personalities.

Later on, I had the pleasure of engaging a group of ten fellow teachers and professionals in my Seminar presentation "On wearing two hats: Teaching and responding to writing". I began my talk explaining how the idea for that session had come up. That it had actually sprung up from a training session I had delivered earlier this year, and from the connections and the contributions made by this group of pre-service teachers who were absolutely motivated to learn more about teaching effective writing lessons, as well as providing effective corrective feedback on students' writings. I also mentioned the fact that I'd begun blogging earlier this year, sharing with them the one feature of blogging that I appreciate the most (other than the fact that I simply love writing), which is the possibility of connecting with others. It was a very productive session, thanks to the amazing contributions made by my colleagues throughout. We got to discuss extremely important concepts when it comes to teaching writing. The first one is how fostering a sense of audience in our students is critical in actually motivating them to write. The second, the awareness that our students are in a quest for finding their voice and that we teachers need to nurture that.

After a lovely lunch (some delicious feijoada) by the Paranoá lake with a dear friend, I had the pleasure of attending an ever so useful session called "Mobile devices in the EFL classroom: What's App 101", delivered/facilitated by fellow teachers Daniela LyraLeonardo Sampaio and Paola Barbieri Hanna. The session began with some very pertinent discussion on the topic of cell phone use in the classroom, and how we deal with excessive student texting during lessons, for example. We also had the chance of clarifying any doubts we had regarding the use and the functions of What's App, followed by some discussion on sensible social media use policy in schools. Daniela Lyra took us through the SAMR model, explaining each of its stages with some practical classroom examples. The session progressed into a more hands-on stage, with each of the facilitators working separately with smaller groups, sharing some extremely engaging activities in which students use What's App in so many effective ways for learning and practicing the language.

It was then time for the last plenary of the Seminar, a virtual plenary delivered by RELOBrazil EFL consultant Heather Benucci. The title of the plenary says it all: "Care and feeding required: Sustaining your personal learning network (PLN)". Heather shared with us some smart strategies for building and sustaining a strong PLN, as well as the countless possibilities of achieving professional development goals with the support of a solid PLN. One particular aspect she discussed called my attention. The fact that, after a while, and after you have managed to build a good PLN, we need to beware of the echo chamber effect. We need to try and diversify our connections by finding professionals and individuals who may not have similar views as our own, and from whom we may actually learn new things and broaden our perspectives, stepping out of the comfort zone. Another highlight of her plenary was an amazing video by Derek Sivers. It reminded me of how I felt before I began blogging and building my beloved PLN.

So, I leave you with this bit:

Maybe what's obvious to you is amazing to someone else.

Ponder that for a while.

Clarissa Bezerra

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Classroom Issues: The Power of "NO"

Felipe is Young – nine years of age in Junior 2 – but not new to the school. With three semesters of experience, he’s already a Casa Thomas Jefferson veteran. He’s uncordially known to guards and hall monitors; given the number of his visits, he could accurately describe the arrangement of objects in the Coordinator’s office. She’s a beast. Probably has bad breath. His teacher ( like the others ) is a nit-wit. “OK, guys, let’s….” play some silly game where we all compete with each other like mad and get virtually nothing. But he’s not a groupie. He’s a (short) heroic rebel. His friend Pedro can’t take his eyes off him. Watches his every move, even at the lunch counter. Rewards (slavishly) by repercussive imitation. Is faint with fear (of association) and admiration. “So…let’s go, guys!” Fresh and false. But – like Superman stopping a train – Felipe takes the lightening in his hands. Crosses his arms on his chubby little chest. And says “NO!”

There’s an attempt at persuasion. Great; it augments the audience potential. Felipe has already been separated from Pedro, who is inwardly applauding; look at his almost envious eyes. The arms are tighter across Felipe’s body, the mouth a facial fist of defiance. “No!” The rest of the students are speculatively waiting….How will this momentary power-play pan out? With another visit to the Dragon’s Den? Or with miraculous (unlikely) capitulation?

This is when the Power of No hangs in the balance. The teacher can bargain, in a way beg, try to integrate, make promises – and with every strategy pulled out of the deck of tactical cards, the frontal approach can be met with an impenetrable shield. The ungiving power of “no”. The teacher can expediently remove the offender. But the message is that she has had to pull rank and use the power invested in her by the rules of the system. To rid herself of a nine-year-old child, she has to call for irresistible reinforcements: the Coordinator and her henchmen. Ha!   A battle may have been won, by some means, but possibly only to be fought again at another moment.

A diversion might be tried instead. How about “Oh…you don’t want to do that? No problem. You stay here – this is where you want to be, right? And we will all move over there and play this game in a slightly different way.”  The focus is re-directed -  away from the nay-sayer. For force to be used in a way that strengthens the group (not the teacher, not the offender), it has to be divided among the students. When the students are enjoyably engaged – with Felipe in a kind of time-out situation – the dynamic will change. With no “teacher vs student” issue at stake, Felipe will be disempowered passively, frustrating the attempt to turn up the tension. Don’t worry about Pedro. With no rebellion to support, he will probably opt for relative invisibility with a noncommittal  colleague.  

“No” is powerful when it causes divisiveness, a taking of sides, a hardening of the spirit. Turning a grumbling giant into a mewling midget requires finding a tactical instrument that will simultaneously puncture the rebel’s carapace of negativity and inject the fellow students with a purpose that pleasurably ignores conflict. 

“No” doesn’t need to fill up the room;  instead, it can become a very flat balloon.

Katy Cox

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Simple Prep iPad Activity: Creating iMovies in Class

“… ten years ago, not one student in a hundred, nay, one in a thousand, could have produced videos like this. It’s a whole new skill, a vital and important skill, and one utterly necessary not simply from the perspective of creating but also of comprehending video communication today.” (Stephen Downes)

Task design has a lot to do with choosing activities that will tap right into our student’s needs and interests. Teachers have known this simple fact for ages, but learners keep changing, evolving and developing, so teachers also change. I believe it`s safe to say that our learners nowadays love watching short movies on YouTube and vines, and if teachers are able to turn passive watching into a productive and creative learning process, students are likely to engage and experience deep learning.  iPads are truly an awesome step forward in technology because students can make movies easily and share their work with a broader audience.

So, if you like having a lively productive class in front of you that requires little preparation on your behalf, you might want to check some of the ideas below.

Make a commercial selling a product

Make a silent movie

Make  a personal narrative 

Tell a story - Use one of the texts in the book to make lexis come alive. My students drew target vocabulary and created a short video retelling the life lesson in the book in their own words.

Getting to know - make a short video with animoto or magisto (few clicks required) about yourself and let students make guesses about who you are. Ask students to make videos to introduce themselves too.

Have students create language tasks to practice language
1. Students can create a dialogue, but record only the answers so that the rest of the class has to write the questions.

2. Students make two short videos and the others have to spot the differences.
In the first video there is a students, and in the second there are two....
In the first video the boys are dancing, and in the second the boys are writing...

3.  Show and tell - share students work and practice language by playing a game - students have to recall from memory.

4. Ask students to make a video to teach the others how to make something. In this example, my son was teaching the other students how to draw a parrot fish as a follow up activity to a lesson about animal features.

5. Promote real communication among students by asking them to record questions to other students, teachers, or someone abroad.

Are you eager to try using imovie app with your students and see it for yourself? If you need some help to get started, watch this short tutorial and have fun in class!

Dani Lyra