Thursday, November 17, 2016

Are You Doing Too Much Teaching?


You are the model provider. You have studied every aspect of your lesson; you've anticipated every doubt that might arise, every aspect that might cause curiosity or confusion. Are there points that might need additional information, areas that could require more extensive orientation? You've got it covered. 

In the classroom, you are energy exemplified. You're at the board, making lists; you're at the computer, running a succession of pertinent slides; you’re a windmill of demonstration and personal illustration. You willingly contribute to the interpretation of the listening exercise; you want to guarantee comfortable comprehension every step of the way. 

Your students are raptly attentive, obviously following those steps that have been programmed for them. They enjoy the performance that brings the lesson to life and, a real investment bonus, that lets them in on your personal life and habits. They absolutely love your (endless) English and your vivacious competence in the language which they are there to learn. 

In the process of provision and performance (enthusiastically, even lovingly offered), how much are the students participating? Do you take their single-syllable responses as sufficient indication that they fully understand the concept and content of the lesson you have designed for their benefit? Does minimal verbalization actually constitute “practice”, or “communication” when it is the hesitant result of so-called “pair work”? 

In every class, there must be a realistic measurement of the proportion of “teaching” and the actual amount of “learning” that is, in fact, taking place. If your show consists primarily of production and corresponding audience appreciation, then you need to reassess your objectives and the means you are taking to reach them. Regardless of the skill in question, learning is usually the result of doing, the frequently rehearsed mind-mapping of procedures or strategies ….. and you are the only one who can program that kind of acquisition with any assurance of a productive outcome. 

After all, would you want your heart surgeon to have acquired his knowhow by faithfully watching the medical practitioners on “House”, “E.R.”, and “Grey's Anatomy”?

Katy Cox

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Fundamentals of Assessment is an integral part of our job. It can be be informal such as when we assess students’ understanding of the subject explained and evaluate/adjust our teaching or formal as in written or oral tests when a specific day and length of time is allotted for students to take it.  Either way, there is no questioning that assessing is of utmost importance for it connects the learning and teaching processes providing feedback on next moves for teachers and students as well.  

Due to the effects tests have on teaching and learning, also known as washback effect, what is taught and what is tested should always be aligned. Moreover, tests should drive learning. Consequently, there is more to designing a test than just picking up an exercise and grading it. Knowing the foundations to design a solid assessment gives us a broader perspective of all that is involved in designing tests, assessments or even graded exercises. The literature lists seven cornerstones:

1    1.    Usefulness and purpose are considered the most important cornerstones. They have to do with the purpose of the assessment and how aligned it is to the course being taught, the students being tested and the language use you want to evaluate. Let`s say you want to test your students` ability to order food in a restaurant, then you would need to have a reading that reflects that specific situation in terms of language and text style. A passage from a newspaper would not meet the purpose of the test or be useful for that group of students.

2    2.  Reliability is related to the consistency of test conditions and score. If a student takes the same test at another time, under the same conditions, results have to be the same. To be reliable a test should be neither too difficult nor too easy, questions should not be tricky or ambitious, directions should be clear, the right amount of time should be allotted for most students to finish and there should be scoring rubrics to guide teacher correct all tests using the same criteria.

3   3. Validity checks if the item really measures what it is supposed to measure. If the test is about listening, for example, students’ ability in spelling and grammar cannot be evaluated. Besides, the vocabulary, sentence structure and grammar usage cannot be beyond the level of the students. Otherwise, you will be testing them on more than just their listening comprehension skills and thus decreasing the validity of the test as a measure for listening.

4    4.  Practicality is how teacher-friendly the test is. If the correction requires a great amount of time, there will be a practicality issue. Ideally, tests should be corrected, graded and returned to the students promptly so they can benefit from the feedback.

5    5. Washback concerns the effect of testing on students, teachers and the program. For a test to have positive washback, “teachers should link teaching and testing with instructional objective and provide feedback in a timely manner so that students learn and benefit from the assessment process.

6    6. Authenticity refers to relevant use of real-life contexts which motivate students to perform well in the test. This way, a course designed to develop students’ ability to answer phones in English asks for an oral exam which mimics a telephone call format.

     7. Transparency has to do with the availability of information to students. Students should know what they will learn, how this will be assessed and graded. When students have the chance to practice question types beforehand, anxiety is reduced and they focus on the completion of the exercise and not on the directions.

In a nutshell, not only do these cornerstones allow us a more comprehensive look, but also help us make more effective choices when designing or analyzing assessments.

Cláudia Furtado

Based on the article written by Dawn Rogier named Assessment Literacy: Building a Base for a Better Teaching and Learning in English (Teaching Forum – number 3, p. 4). 

Monday, May 30, 2016

Selfie Videos as a Tool for Language Learning

photo credit: Körsbärsblommorna i Kungsträdgården 2016 via photopin (license)

Being a teacher for some time, I have seen first hand the impact the adoption of technology has had in teachers' and in students' lives. Having that in mind, one cannot deny that it is important to adopt technology for teaching. In line with this premise, I would like to share something I learned in one of the many interesting presentations at the 2016 TESOL International Convention & English Language Expo in Baltimore, USA. This practice-oriented presentation (by Loni Thorson, Kyla Masciarelli, and Christine Discoe) was entitled "Using Selfies to Promote Language Learning."

What the presenters pointed out was  that technology is what students want. Linking the drive to communicate with the technology available to us, selfies are a trend in the world today.  One point in favor of using selfies, the presenters argued, is that video chat is a growing trend. This is really true and the proof for that is that if we look around, we will see people making either video or picture selfies almost all the time. Besides that, video chat through Face Time, Skype or other channels are quite frequent among learners young and old. Educators have to admit that this is a sign that people in general are comfortable with this technology. This brings us to the first argument they presented in favor of using selfies as a means to learn a language: classroom  comfort.

Classroom comfort informs us that in order to have effective and authentic tasks, students need to be comfortable with the assignment. We observe that students are very comfortable with their cell phones. Actually they are uncomfortable if they don't have them. Social comfort is also important. Students need to be comfortable with the technology (cell phone).  Being digital natives, students are used to seeing themselves in videos. They want that image to be curated. We want students to want their image to look good., they want to sound good, their pronunciation to be good, they want their image to look good. We teachers want students to want their image to look good. So, they have a natural desire to self-correct in terms of how they sound and how they look.  This is exactly what we teachers want.Video chat is a comfortable environment for them.

When people make a selfie video, they generally explain their surroundings and they give an update on what they are doing, they also explain if they are having a problem or if they are sick. All this updating creates a one to one interaction and, as a result, it increases comfort between students and viewers. A comfortable relationship with the teacher is created through this open communication channel. Besides that, it also creates comfort between students as they see themselves and their classmates in the videos. As time goes by, students that might  not have been happy with how they looked or sounded, feel more comfortable seeing and listening to themselves. Some report never have listening to or seeing themselves before. As they report feeling more comfortable doing that.

Why are selfies important?
Some reasons that make us convinced that using selfies in the language is useful relate to comfort and attention. There are two types of attention: inward attention and outward attention. They are mutually exclusive and you cannot have the two going on at the same time. Why is it important to understand this concept when making selfies videos? While making a selfie video, students do not only direct themselves outward, but they also have to direct themselves inward to see what is happening to themselves. They correct themselves during the video and sometimes after the video. This kind of attention works as meter against which they evaluate their performance, and as a result, they record multiple times just to make sure they get it right. They are aware of their own self-presentation and they make more selfies as assessment or a class task, they get more confident of their performance and become more confident and fluent speakers.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

How to Help Adult Learners Deal with the Stress of Speaking

Have you ever had a student in your class struggling to survive until the class is over? Or having a blank when speaking even when they volunteered to participate?  How would you deal with it? This situation can be quite uncomfortable for everyone in class and can be a good reason for a student to definitely quit a project of learning a foreign language.

Having difficulties speaking in class or exposing your ideas in another language to others is not uncommon, but suffering almost the whole class period can hamper the learning process and influence the atmosphere of even a light and productive class.  It´s not easy, if not impossible, to measure the degree of stress one is going through, but there are some steps you can take to help students deal with this stress and feel more comfortable in class.

First, the problem has to be spotted.  Many times, what seems to be an ordinary difficulty is, in fact, a freezing sensation that blocks a student´s thoughts and exposes them to their peers. This happened by chance in one of my groups this semester.  A student of mine confessed at the end of a class that she had been suffering the whole class because she was afraid of speaking and that it was always a relief to see that the class was over. I was really surprised. I had noticed she had some difficulties expressing herself, but not that it was so painful. Helping her find the words that escaped from her mind while she was speaking wasn´t always enough to enable her to express her whole message, and adding comments to her broken speech to call the groups` attention to me and ”save” her from her long pauses and embarrassment wasn´t a solution to this problem either.  So, this situation became a challenge to me.

The next step is to approach the student and find out what is causing all the anxiety. This way, the student can not only become aware of the real sources of the problem and face it, but also see the teacher as a support they can count on. Most frequently, the fear of speaking to a group, being on the spot and being negatively evaluated are the causes for anxiety and stress.  The brain´s capacity to process ideas is affected and the situation gets even worse when the required oral production is in another language.  The result is long pauses, stuttering and difficulty in formulating a coherent speech. My student´s case was specifically related to speaking in English, for she had the preconceived idea that she wouldn´t be understood and that her pronunciation and vocabulary were worse than that of her colleagues. 

Finally, show the student concrete techniques to develop their speaking abilities so that they can become more confident and lower their anxiety of speaking.  One way is through improving their listening skills by doing exercises from specific sites, such as Breaking News English, BBC or English Central, watching movies and listening to songs.  Not being able to understand what is being said at normal speed or being afraid of mispronouncing words are barriers to effective communication and also food for failure and nervousness.  Ten to fifteen minutes of listening practice a day will certainly help improve speaking. Also, taking every opportunity in class to practice in pairs and in small groups before speaking to the whole class and changing partners frequently will help the student get used to different accents and speed, and to gain fluency and   confidence as well.  Another helpful tip is to control the speed of speech

When someone is on the spot, their breathing gets faster, they start perspiring, becoming nervous and speaking faster.  Speaking more slowly will provide better breathing and a chance to organize thoughts, hence lowering nervousness. The teacher´s role is crucial to set a light, sympathetic and supportive atmosphere in class, showing interest in and respect for each student´s challenges.  In the case involving my class, although my student was a bit of a perfectionist and took her performance very seriously, she ended up learning to laugh at her mistakes, becoming more relaxed and motivated.

These relatively minor attitudes can make a big difference in the learning process and should be addressed to the whole class in the beginning of the course and reinforced through the whole semester.  

Tuesday, April 19, 2016


Patrícia V. C. Ferreira

When I decided to embrace my PhD studies, there was only one topic that interested me, as a teacher: ADHD, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. It happened that I began to read articles and books mentioning the various positive characteristics of ADHD. Then I focused my studies on the relationship between ADHD and creativity.
It is well known that various specialists and doctors consider ADHD a mental disorder that begins in childhood and can continue through adolescence and adulthood. The use of the word disorder had always bothered me and it sounded too much of a weigh for the various very interesting people I had met with such a syndrome. Of course I realized that these individuals had trouble to focus and pay attention. Some of them were also hyperactive or had trouble being patient. And it is a fact that ADHD can make it hard for a child to do well in school or behave at home or in the community.
But these individuals also:     
  • prefer exploring new ways of doing things,
  • take more risks than the average person,
  • challenge the status quo,
  • want to try new things,
  • delight in solving problems,
  • prefer to research and continuously learn new things over implementing routines."

So I realized there was an undeniable power in that condition, which could be used for the student´s and community´s own good. Finally, there is still a lot of research to be carried out, but meanwhile, I prefer to address ADHD individuals as attention different. They do not have their attention impaired, but actually, they have attention for everything, which makes it harder for them to focus in only one aspect of life or learning. Our challenge as teachers and educators is to help them focus and not lose interest in the learning process.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Bitsboard: a teacher's Swiss Army knife

How many nights have you spent preparing PPT games and vocabulary presentations wishing you were watching Netflix? And you really could not surrender to temptation because you knew you would hear that question. My fellow teacher, I have great news for you that might give you just enough time to catch up with the Walking Dead. There is an amazing app that turns one virtual board into over 20 different games. And it gets even better: it is free and available on CTJ’s IPads.

Bitsboard is very user friendly and does not require internet connection to work, although you will need it just to download or create new boards. This means that, once the gadget has the board, it can go offline. The boards can be downloaded from the huge free catalog it offers or created from scratch.  It has very interesting tools, such as selecting the flashcards you want to use in each game, allowing audio hints or not, adding new cards (called Bits) or deleting others and adjusting the level of difficulty for each game. It also gives students feedback on their results. It seems great, right? And if you are not familiar with this amazing app yet, here is a quick tutorial to help you get started.

How to download or create a board

To download a board, Go to Catalog/Shared/Search box and type key words related to the topic you are teaching. Click on the results to see the flashcards it contains and click on Download. Remember you are free to edit it, deleting unrelated words or adding others.

To create a board, go to Settings/Boards/Add Board. Add new cards by clicking on the add button. It opens a window that shows a slot for pictures and a type box. Type the word first if you want to see options of images that are already on Bitsboard. You can use any of them to make your card. It automatically gives you the recording to that word if available. If the play button does not go green, it means you might have to record it yourself by clicking on the red button. If you want to add images from your picture gallery, click on the picture icon.

Selecting the Bits you want to use

If you do not intend to use all the bits on a board, go to Settings/Board/Board name (e.g. Action Verbs)/Select and mark the pictures you want.

Game Settings

        To start playing, go to Home/Boards and select a board.  A window showing the games available opens automatically. Once you choose it, select the number of players. Click on More/Game Settings and adjust the level of difficulty to that game and if you want audio hints or not.

Sharing your boards and downloading to other devices

      Whenever you create a new board, the app opens a dialogue box asking if you intend to share it on the catalog. If you do, click on Share. I suggest that you name it very specifically so you can find it easily on the catalog. You can also upload it to Dropbox and Quizlet or share it via Airdrop by clicking on Share.

Skills to practice in each game

This app is really good for vocabulary practice at the word level. I divide the games into these categories according to the way they can be used in class and the skills they focus on:
  1.     Vocabulary presentation => flashcards (use the projector adaptor to turn it into a whole class presentation), explore, puzzles.
  2.     Vocabulary Practice =>

  •      Listening:  photo touch, memory cards, bingo, photo hunt, explore.
  •      Reading: reader, word search, side by side, pop quiz, match up.
  •      Spelling: spelling bee, word builder, unscramble, word chunks, missing letter( pre-writing stage), trace it (pre-writing stage).
  •      Critical thinking skills: Odd one out, sort it, sequences.
  •       Writing clues/review: story time, review game.

I hope you like Bitsboard as much as I do. Cheers!

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Google Forms

There many ways to promote engagement and making in the classroom, and using gadgets to give students the opportunity of being producers of content is a not only effective, but also very relevant nowadays. I am teaching a group of 12 very active teens, who are constantly talking about their idols and favorite songs. On the very first day, I asked them to make a list of singers they enjoy listening to. When I realised that the book I am teaching - TimeZones 2 by National Geographic had comprehension questions about a teen fashion idol, I guessed it would be a good opportunity to engage students in a sentence level grammar practice.
The first thing to do was to make a Google form myself, for I needed to understand how it works. I resorted to the list of students` favorites, and made an example form- a quiz about Ariana Grande. I loved the possibility of adding videos and images straight from the web, but as any other digital project with kids, I faced some challenges. I made a list here so that you can learn from my experience and have a wonderful digital maker learning experience with your students too.

Screen Shot 2016-04-04 at 4.59.36 PM

Internet was slow
I could not get my students to open the form in class because the connection was slow and many iPads were not logged in to the right account. Fortunately, I had saved the link, and I projected the form using the classroom`s  projector. The result was an engaged group of students performing the task I had given them.
I decided what would engage students myself
Some of my students were really excited, but I also had some not so enthusiastic since they do not like Ariana so much. The result of my making a form about a person I assumed students would like could have been catastrophic, but, as it turned out, I was very lucky. Students asked me if they could make their own questions about their own idol, so the activity moved from students answering questions on a form to having them actually make their forms, practice language, and  learn a digital skill.
I did not know how to facilitate students` making their own forms
Having set the model, I wanted my students to make their own forms because I was aiming at having them produce digital content and language, but I had no idea how I would do that. I learned from Thais Priscila, the Information Technology team member at Casa Thomas Jefferson,  that students would have to access GoogleForms using the web, not the app. We had emails and logins ready for each group, and all they had to do was  login - one Ipad per group and start typing the questions and answers we had been working on.
I had no time to spare
To make sure everything would work smoothly, I made sure I delivered clear instructions and monitored the group closely.
Even after proofreading, students kept making new mistakes on the forms.
When students are ready to share, make sure you tell them to add you as a collaborator so that you can also edit the forms after they have finished. I took notes of their mistakes, provided corrective feedback, opened the forms, and we edited their language mistakes as a group.
Students made the forms. Now what?
language teachers know how to take advantage of learning possibilities. I will share with students all the forms so that they will be exposed to correct language and  have meaningful exchanges of information in the target language.
IMG_20160404_144108774_TOP  IMG_20160404_144606177  IMG_20160404_144050279

I hope this posts makes you feel like using Google Forms with your learners. Check some of the forms students made below.

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Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Interaction and Learning: A reflection between the mediator teacher, the students and the knowledge

Albert Einstein once said, “I never teach my pupils, I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn”. We all know who Albert Einstein was, but why would he say those words? It is easy to understand when we look at it from a practical perspective. Teaching is not as powerful as creating and finding real opportunities for our students to develop their own knowledge. This is true for all kinds of learning, including English language learning. Among all the skills and contents to be learned, there is the facilitator teacher. Students of English benefit from a teacher-mediated focus on specific language forms, for example. 

Why is this true and what are the factual supports for that statement?

The reason why students of English benefit from a teacher-mediated focus is highly related to how our brains learn. It is interesting to notice that, according to James Zull, deep learning occurs when there is a sequence of experience, reflection, abstraction, and active testing. Whenever we are lecturing, we are not providing our students with the challenge to go through all these stages. To create opportunities for them to learn and deeply acquire the language, for example, is to have them experience it, reflect upon this experience, hypothesize and finally test their hypothesis in an active way. That means that they are doing the job, not us. What Einstein tried to say is that teaching is about exposing knowledge. Learning is about creating knowledge. 

However, if students can create their own knowledge, why would they need teachers?

Students need teachers because although awareness and ability are developed autonomously, there must be an interposing between the communication environment and the students. Only by designing favorable circumstances for the students to interact, they are able to learn. In an attempt to explain the language acquisition, Krashen has stated that it happens through interaction in an environment where the learner has lots of comprehensible input. However, as Vygotsky theorized, the language input must be one step beyond the learner’s proficiency stage. Both, Krashen and Vygotsky agree with the fact that the teacher is a mediator, and the teacher’s role is to provide this favorable learning environment. 

So, how can teachers deal with this situation?

In fact, teachers deal with language acquisition and mediation situations all the time. EFL teachers are not different from that. When EFL students are learning specific structure and use of language forms, for example, their focus might not be the language study itself. According to Harmer, it should take place in a lesson sequence. It is the teacher’s responsibility to design a lesson that supports all the learning opportunities, including the ones related to language forms. However, these opportunities are better designed when covered through interaction-based activities. That means that, although the lesson includes language forms, the structures are presented, practiced and produced along with well-designed activities that prioritize interaction.

            A good example to illustrate a situation where a language form is being comprised in a lesson sequence is the following. Last year, my group of adults was learning how to make questions with the verb be. They did not know that they were learning about this because the focus was not on the questioning itself, but on the fact that they had to know about each other's information in order to fill out a survey. Their objective was to complete the sentences:

____________ is married.
___________ is single.
 _____________ is an architect.
 __________ and __________ are from Rio. Etc.

In order to complete the sentences, they had to interview their classmates. To get the right answers, they were supposed to invert the be sequence and form questions. Although they were not aware of the syntax rules for question formation, they could follow a model and apply the logical conclusion to all the sentences. For example, the model on the board was:

Are you married?

With only that model, they could produce all the other questions, practice the new structure and grasp the rule by themselves. There was no deductive explanation and the focus was not on the structure, but on the task.

Every learning process benefits from a facilitator teacher that creates real opportunities for learning to happen. Being a facilitator means making appropriate stimuli available for interaction to take place. It is only by mediating the interaction between the content and the learner that deep learning takes place. Mediating knowledge is helping our students go beyond their proficiency stage. Although teachers may focus on specific structures, the lesson objective must be interaction. It is the teacher’s role to design effective lessons that build an invisible bridge between the structure and the students’ communication in class.

Juliana Canielo de A. Benedetti

Read more:
Jeremy Harmer ( 2007) The Practice of English Language Teaching.
James E. Zull (2002) The Art of Changing the Brain.
Stephen D. Krashen (1987) Principles and practice in Second Language Acquisition
Lev S. Vygotsky (1987) The collected Works