Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Positive Psychology

Last year I first heard of Positive Psychology during a course I attended at UnB, and believe me, it was love at first sight. Just like its founder, Prof Martin Seligman, I found my motto and what was missing in Psychology. But let me begin from the beginning and explain what Positive Psychology is and is not.

For over 50 years, Psychology has had a pathology- based view on human functioning, which has proved to be really valid. A wide range of mental illnesses have been described and categorized. Psychologists can now not only identify, but treat and even cure one or another mental problem.  And psychologists and other experts have been able to produce a compendium of disorders, now the DSM- V (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). But it is about time to shift interests and to get away from repairing damage or healing only, to developing positive qualities. What about the positive aspects of human experience? What is right in human beings that promote well being?

Positive Psychology is a relatively new field of Psychology that examines how people can become happier and more fulfilled. It is the scientific study of the strengths that enable individuals to thrive. Human beings want to lead a meaningful life and enhance their experiences of love, work and play. Positive features that make life worth living, such as hope, wisdom, creativity, future mindedness, courage, spirituality, responsibility, and perseverance have been ignored or explained as transformations of more authentic negative impulses. Then positive psychology has been trying to understand and build factors that allow individuals and communities to flourish.
However, it should not be understood as the science of happiness. Nor should it be mistaken with self-help philosophies. It is based on a cumulative body of scientific research. 

Also, positive psychology is not only about thinking positively. To think so is really naive. Part of the misinterpretation comes from the book titles on happiness. According to Dr. Seligman, “a complete science and a complete practice of psychology should include an understanding of suffering and happiness, as well as their interaction, and validated interventions that both relieve suffering and increase happiness— two separable endeavors (Seligman et al., 2005).”  

Then how can we apply it to EFL? It is well known that a positive school climate predicts both the teacher and student satisfaction. If the teacher invests in positive psychology, he/she will have students in class who have a positive outlook, try hard, and help others, present fewer negative behaviors and greater motivation. So positive psychology teaches social and emotional learning skills that change how much -- and how well -- students learn by changing how they feel. In my next post, I will be describing a few exercises that teachers could do in the classrooms.

Patrícia Villa da Costa Ferreira-PhD

Monday, October 26, 2015

Tips for Helping Adult Students Blossom in the EFL Classroom

It is our role as teachers to instill a fruitful learning atmosphere. However, how can we build a learning environment in which adult students will lower their affective filter, generate rapport and blossom? Here are my top beliefs. 

1.    Personalize your classes by giving examples using what you know about your students. Instead of saying, “John wakes up at 7.00”, why not change John for the name of a student in class? Much more meaningful and inductive, besides showing they are important for you.

2.    Believe your students can be fluent. They are there because they believe and when they believe they work harder. So do you. When you believe your students can make it, you will start thinking of ways to help them improve their learning process and this might make them trust you.

3.    Provide students with meaningful feedback on how they can improve their English or the best practice for them to be a successful language learner. Show them you care.

4.    Praise your students even for little achievements. Show them you’re taking their improvement into account. Tell them you know they can do it, and when they get there, make sure you point it out. This way they will see that you are attentive to their progress.

5.    Be a Role Model for your student. Students usually look up to the teacher, so don’t speak Portuguese. The moment you resort to Portuguese to explain something, you’re allowing them to do the same. Challenge students to understand and communicate using the English they have.

6.    Sympathize with your students. It’s not easy to learn a new language at adulthood. It takes a long time for you to be in control of your life, and then when you start learning a language, you don’t have a voice. How frustrating is it? Show understanding and encourage them to keep on track. 

7.    Share your story too. Let your students know about yourself. Illustrate an explanation with examples of your life too. They want to feel you are approachable and, luckily, there can be some interaction too.

8.    Value their expertise – let your students show their expertise in their field. It can be something simple like explaining how easy stand up paddle is, for example, but let them feel valued and show they can collaborate too.

9.    Lighthearted classes are fun, time flies and you want to be there again. Make your students have a good time with the right mix of responsibility and humor. A friendly atmosphere engages learners.

10.  Add your tip here so we can make 10.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Speed Friending

For our 4A course, there is a lesson about speed-friending (Unit 1, Lesson A), which is an event where people have just a few minutes to ask and answer questions before moving on to the next person, if one finds another they would like to get to know better, they can contact them after the event.

Teacher Danilo came up with an idea which we executed together: We both had 4A groups and organized ourselves in a way in which we would have both our classes take the same lesson on the same day and decided to host a speed-friending event among our students.

The way we did it was to number them from 1 to 32 (total number of students – we printed the numbers and had students tape them to their clothes) and give them slips of paper with the questions suggested by the book, ones that people usually ask in such events. However, they were not told what the event was.

The eight questions suggested are:
            1 – How do you like to spend your free time?
            2 – What music are you listening to these days?
            3 – What was your most valuable possession as a child?
            4 – Can you say no to chocolate?
            5 – When did you last stay out after midnight?
            6 – Who’s your favorite celebrity?
            7 – Have you ever won a prize or a contest?
            8 – What word describes you best?

Students were told to go downstairs, where chairs had previously been arranged in two circles, facing one another. One group would sit in the inner circle and the other in the outer circle.

We gave each student four of the eight questions (the first four to my group and final four to Danilo’s group) and told them they would have two minutes to ask as many questions as possible, and take notes of the answers along with the number of the person who had answered them so they could keep track of who said what. After they finished, they went back to their classrooms and answered questions like “Do you think that was enough to get to know the people you talked to?”, “Who do you think you would like to talk more and maybe be friends with?”, “Have you ever imagined this type of event?” – only then would they be told what speed-friending is.

As students carried on with their conversations, we monitored and timed them. This activity worked well as it provided them with real-time interaction as they got into it and became more comfortable as time went by. Later, they all said what a fun day that was.

This lead-in activity introduced students to the concept of speed-friending and made for a much more interesting class as it got them excited and interested in the other exercises in the book, like when they were asked to come up with questions that they thought would be interesting to ask in such an event. That was a speaking exercise that really worked well and got them engaged into discussing the topic at hand.

All in all, students felt good with this unusual class and practiced and learned something different culture-wise.