Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Starting Afresh with Ipads in the Classroom

Yesterday I taught my very first class to a lovely group of upper-intermediate teenage students in one of our many outposts. I'd made up my mind to try something different and fresh this semester so I went for an ice-breaker activity using Ipads in the classroom. Here's how it went.
My PicCollage
We used an app called PicCollage, which allows you to create posters with photos, stickers, and text, among other cool features. I had previously used it to prepare a poster of my own, so I began the lesson showing it to students so that they'd get to know me a little better. I then asked students to pair up and, inspired by the imagery, come up with some questions they'd like to ask me about the poster and about my life.
After about five minutes, students began asking me questions, which were, at first, mostly prompted by my poster, but once they began feeling more at ease with each other (and with the teacher), they began asking me other questions, such as "what does your tattoo mean, teacher?" (They never fail to ask me that one, I tell you.)
Sharing time!

Now it was time for the fun part. Each student got an Ipad to make a poster of their own - a small snapshot of who they were, so that later they would share it with everyone else in the group. I could literally see their faces light up the minute I unzipped the two suitcases and began handing out the Ipads. That in itself already gave me such a heartwarming feeling. They were truly engaged! So off they went, and began to work on their posters. I set a time limit of 10 minutes and made myself available throughout, walking around and monitoring. Some took a little longer to get started, as they were figuring out how they'd add their photos to the app and some ideas began to came up. Pairs were helping each other and English was being used for an authentic purpose (how delightful!) right off the bat, on the very first activity of the very first day of class.
A couple of students used
their own devices.
Once they were finished, it was time for them to share. I asked them to stand up and walk around the room, showing each other their posters, asking each other questions. I did, however, give them one very specific piece of instructions: they had to first talk to people they didn't know so well or had never met before. I also gave them a clear goal: in the end, they'd be asked to share something interesting, funny, or surprising about someone they had talked to during that stage of the acitivity. This stage lasted for about 10 more minutes. There were 12 students in the group so they could talk with absolutely everyone. We rounded up by sharing interesting things we'd found out about each other. 
The entire activity lasted for about a half hour and it was worth every minute. Students were using the language authentically at all times, they were curious and engaged, and were fully energized for the rest of the afternoon. They got to know me a little better, they got to know each other a little better, and I have a feeling they actually enjoyed themselves in their very first English lesson of the semester. Talk about good first impressions, huh?
Students showing off their posters!

How about you? Would you be willing to try something like this? I certainly hope so!
Clarissa Bezerra

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Empathy: Another Challenge in the Classroom

flickr by @auro

As I see it, an important tool a teacher should always have in his/her box is empathy: the ability to put himself/herself in his/her students' shoes. By doing that, the teacher is able to prepare and evaluate his/her class from both perspectives. It is through the eyes of empathy that a teacher considers his/her students' characteristics, development stage, interest,  learning styles among so many other aspects. According to Jacob Moreno, the creator of Psychodrama, empathy is the ability to see the other through his/her eyes. By looking at the world from our students' perspective, we'll surely be more lenient when they text message instead of looking and paying attention to our wonderful power point presentations. We still belong to a time when students paid attention, took notes, read, and communicated. Nowadays, more is asked from us. Students are unable to stand still for more than ten minutes due to the many new cultural tools we have and the effect they have on information processing. So, empathy helps us reach the students and also respect our strengths and weaknesses. I do not mean we should let students do whatever they want to keep them motivated. The key is to use the tools that are appealing to us whenever possible.

One of the activities I usually develop on the first day of classes is to take to the classroom as many diffferent objects as possible t. Then, I display the objects and ask the students to choose one that says something about him/her. They work in pairs and later share their ideas with the whole group while I take notes as a means to use the information whenever applicable. Finally, I ask the students to choose an object they think would represent me, and they have a chance to ask me questions. Since empathy is a two-way road, it is also important to let students know something about their teacher (10 minutes).

Another idea is to include five or six pictures about my likes/dislikes, family, teaching experience, for example, in a slide (PPT) and ask students to work in groups of four and create as many questions as possible (10 minutes) to ask me. They should pay attention to their partners so as not to repeat the questions and they should also take notes about what I say. Then, it's their turn. The students draw their likes, dislikes, interests (10 minutes), show them to their partners, ask and answer questions (15 minutes) and then share their drawings and information with the whole group (10 minutes). The students can also use the I pads for this activity and prepare a slide with pictures. I'm sure I learned this activity from a teacher a the Casa in an In-Service and I apologize for not remembering his/her name to him/her credit.

As one can see, there are many activities to develop empathy in class. The most important, however, is to remember that empathy is built every single class not only on the first day. 

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Culture of 'Busyness'

Is 'busy' your middle name? 

Read this...and think again. 

Over the recess period, I spent loads of quality time with my family. Having decided not to travel, not physically at least, I took the time to connect with people who had something to say. I began by reactivating my Twitter account. And so my journey began...

On the second day of the new year, I came across this Tweet by Dean Shareski (@shareski), which had been Retweeted by Alec Couros (@courosa):

The 'anti-busy' bit caught my eye. I decided to check it out. In his post, Shareski expresses his annoyance at the word 'busy' and how often it has been thrown around in day-to-day conversation. I instantly thought about - guess who - all of us, teachers. We are definitely a kind that has a lot on our plate, all the time, so you might imagine how it felt to read the following: 

"I'm not suggesting your life isn't full but for the most part 
it's the life you've chosen. You can argue that sometimes 
it's not, but you decided to have kids, you choose to work where you work, 
and you choose to be a good person and help others out." 
Dean Shareski

Shareski then argues that many of the people who constantly declare their 'busyness' may actually come across as wanting to bring others down, as if not being busy all the time meant one of the following three options (or all three of them): a) there's something wrong with you, or b) you're clearly not doing your job right, or c) you're just plain lazy. 

I was blown away by Shareski's honesty. Reading his post would be my first 'Wow' moment of the day. I wanted to read more on the subject, so I decided to check out his other suggestion - a great article by Tyler Wardis. In it, Wardis eloquently explains "why busy isn't respectable anymore", candidly admitting how being busy actually used to make him feel important, valuable, needed. I was compelled to read on. 

According to Wardis, there has recently been what he calls "a widespread frustration with the perpetual busyness of life," which has been raising more awareness of, as well as questions about the issue of 'Busyness'. He ventures into giving some answers himself, which for me turned his article into a must-read, but not before sharing a very interesting experience carried out by a friend of his, and finishing by proposing a challenge. 

There I was, on day two of the new year, and I'd already had two 'Wow' moments thanks to my PLN. In the spirit of new beginnings, I invite you to read what these guys have to say about the culture of 'Busyness'. I want to thank @courosa@shareski, and @tylerwardis for the inspiration. 

I have made up my mind to take on the challenge proposed by Tyler Wardis.

How about you? 

Clarissa Bezerra