Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Seating Arrangements?

Most species arrange themselves in juxtapositions which are indicative of purpose or customary convenience. A lone eagle grasps a rocky crag or high, bare branch: He takes a position which will offer the best vantage point from which to sight a salmon swimming upstream, a rabbit pausing in a clearing. A trio of lions hunting: Their proximity is guided by expediency, the strategy which will result in the separation of a slow calf, a lame elder, a single zebra in panic and tiring. Elephants circle for collective protection, penguins for warmth. 

What about people? When they are safe and comfortable, people are gregarious. They seek convivial exchange and the reassurance of belonging, similarity to each other. People congregate in various situations for specific purposes: In church, with each individual reflecting on a speaker’s words, people sit in pews. In a theater, attentive to a sequence of actions designed for their appreciation – not participation – people sit in rows. The arrangement is the same, expanded, at soccer and baseball games. Viewers are not in attendance to perform. But what about a business meeting? Each person present will be somehow judged according to their input, the timeliness of a suggestion, the interjection of pertinent wit. 

Many communal rituals, from primitive to pompous, take place in a circular conformation, with a common view of each face, each voice having equal value. A party? How do people situate themselves at a party where everybody’s having a good time? Do party-goers naturally convene in lines along the walls? Reiterating: people are naturally gregarious – i.e. social, companionable, tending to “flock” together. This characteristic relates to what is most inherent in humans – their dependence on communication. Language teachers study, among many things, strategies to propitiate communication – natural, spontaneous exchanges between humans of all ages. 

What are the most convenient conditions for these exchanges – the windswept rock, the dusty plain, dimly lit lines along the walls? Probably not. The vital potential of democratic communication lies in the equality of exposure, of being comfortably visible and audible. A neighborly livingroom, a table at a local eatery – these are situations propitious to communal communication; our classrooms, when they can, should emulate this companionable condition. So…. Are you planning class activities that maximize genuine communication? Think about it:  Shift your focus from “seating arrangements” to “speaking arrangements.”  

Katy Cox

Friday, February 14, 2014

On Wearing Two Hats: Teaching & Responding to Writing

This morning I had the opportunity of engaging with quite an interesting and energetic group of bright individuals as part of our institute's training of newly-hired teachers. The goal was to discuss the teaching of writing to our EFL learners, what it is that an effective pre-writing lesson should entail, as well as ways of responding to students' writings. It was a hands-on session, with some initial discussion and brainstorming of lesson stages with a specific writing prompt in mind, which was then followed by their response to and correction of an authentic writing sample. The idea was to familiarize teachers with the kind of response to writing that we believe to be in keeping with the principle that writing is a recurrent process, non-linear in its creative nature, and the very expression of one's voice.
Roll up your sleeves and let's get down to business
Teachers worked in smaller groups and were asked to respond to and provide corrective feedback to a first draft sample of a five-paragraph essay written by an upper-intermediate level learner. Along with the sample, they received a copy of our correction and proofreading symbols, as well as a scoring rubric by means of which they'd grade that first draft. They immediately set out to accomplish the task, industriously reading the piece, red pens in hand, and... Stop. Wait a minute. Do you feel an urge to begin crossing out and underlining spelling mistakes and wrong verb tense use? You do, don't you?
Step away from the red pen
Before you unleash your full corrective-feedback-giving potential, put on a different hat. Be a reader. Respond to your students' content and ideas as a real person. Familiarize them with that sense of having an audience. We use language to communicate, be it in spoken or written form. Let them know that you are truly listening to them. Try to find at least a couple of aspects in their writing that are worth a compliment. Relate to their ideas, share a little about your own experience by commenting that maybe you once felt the same way as they did facing a certain situation in your own life, and that you know how wonderful or how difficult it must have been for them to go through it, as well. Empathize. Connect. Engage. 
Respect individual stylistic choices
It's always a challenge to provide corrective feedback without stifling the writer's voice. What I mean is, are you (over)correcting to the point of forcing the student to write as you would have if expressing a similar idea in written form? Of course there are instances of L1 interference that must be addressed, such as word order issues to name one, but we teachers walk a fine line between pointing our students in the right direction and simply imposing our own style on them. Keep an awareness of the fact that your students are experimenting with language (a foreign one, as a matter of fact), and that they are, knowingly or not, in their own quests to finding their voice. Cherish. Allow. Enable. 
Sounding curious as opposed to judgemental
Instead of saying something like "this paragraph is too short. Please develop your ideas here." how about offering something more in the lines of "I wonder if you could tell me more about this experience/situation." or even "how did you feel?" and "what did you do next?" The point is that by asking a simple question, you may elicit just the response you want from a student, instead of making a direct comment that might come across as judgemental, in that it is an affirmation made by you, the teacher, who is supposedly the knowledge authority on all subjects language-wise. Don't point fingers. Ask more questions. Provoke. Entice. Foster.
This set of guidelines sprang up from this group's engagement and reflections during our training session, so that gives you a pretty good idea of how lucky we are to have gathered such a great collection of curious and avid learner-teachers. Thank you all, Casa newbies, for inspiring me to write this piece.
Welcome aboard, guys!

Clarissa Bezerra

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Using I-Pads to practice the Present Continuous with Flex 8 students

A poster made by a student
In an effort to overcome my resistance to – or fear of  using technology in class, I gathered all my courage and, in the second week of our classes, I  decided to take the risk of using IPads with my Thomas Flex 8 group of adult students.

I chose PicCollage, an app I am quite familiar with and not very difficult to deal with. My aim was to have students practice the Present Continuous, a tense which, although having its correspondence in Portuguese, causes a lot of problems to students. I started perspiring when the guy entered my class with the IPads; however, I tried to disguise my lack of confidence and asked the class what they knew about the chosen app. To my disappointment, no one had ever heard of it. I carefully demonstrated how to find and open PicCollage. 

To model the task I had in mind, I picked up a slip of paper where I had written an action – “read a book” – mimed it and asked a student to take my photo. Then I showed the class how to use the photo on PicCollage and how to add text, using a verb in the Present Continuous: “The teacher is reading a book”. When I was sure they were ready for the activity, I distributed slips with actions – “draw on the board”, “play basketball”, “dance” etc. - and had them work in pairs. One of them would mime the verb, and the other would take the picture, use it on PicCollage and add a sentence. To my surprise, some students were even able to insert stickers to their PicCollage posters. After they had finished the task, I wrote a short exchange on the board:

A: What’s your friend doing?

B: My friend  Bruno is playing basketball”.

Students were supposed to stand up and talk to three people, asking the question above.

My students had fun, were able to identify their problems – omission of verb to be or final –ing – and I was happy to have taken the risk and been successful! 

Do you see yourself trying something like this with your adult students? 

Beth Blom 

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

In the EFL Classroom: Simple mLearning Activity that Works with Beginners

On the second day of class, I was supposed to review the verb to be to talk about a third person (This is Ana. She's a teacher. She's 36 years old. She's from The United States). 

We practiced questions/answers in pairs and played a guessing game about Brazilian celebrities. I had planned to use the I-pads after this practicing, so students could share some curious facts about different international celebs. However, I had no idea what tool to use in order for the students to, once again, practice the structure they had learned and share that. 

So, I called Carla and she suggested that I use the students' cell phones instead. It would be simple, practical and fast because students were already acquainted with their devices, so they would quickly know exactly how to perform the task at hand, which was search for information about an international celebrity. 

That's what I did and the result was fantastic! Thanks to Carla. I'd NEVER have thought of using the cell phone. I was appalled it hadn't occurred to me! 

Activity: Google a Celeb

1) Hand out slips with names of international celebrities. Here are a few:

Bruce Willis 
Keanu Reeves 
Nicole Kidman 
Mila Kunis 
Martin Lawrence 
Natalie Portman
Emma Watson
(Late) Audrey Hepburn 

2) Explain that students will search for the following: Their name, birth place, age and occupation. 

3) Ss search for the information and take notes using the verb to be.

4) Ss in small groups share their findings by showing their cellphones screens to colleagues and saying, "This is... He's ... years old. He's a…He's from…"

5) Monitor Ss' errors in pronunciation/structure. 


It was great to see how students enjoyed the authenticity of such task and their reaction to their peers' findings! Some were very surprised, so they would say,  "Oh really! Interesting! Wow! I don't believe it!"  In sum, they had a lot of fun, and I was glad with the result.