Showing posts with label Motivation. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Motivation. Show all posts

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

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Finding Motivation by Motivating Students

What do you do when your students fail their tests? Do you blame them or yourself? I used to blame myself, but I’ve learnt that the best alternative, at least for me, was to stop assigning blame and start thinking outside the box.

It’s natural to think that there are predetermined roles in the classroom and that simply by enrolling or being in the classroom, everyone will know what to do. That is exactly how I thought things were: I would go to a specific classroom in a specific time and so would students; I would teach and they would learn. It was only when I was confronted with terrible grades — only 3 out of 10 students had passing grades on their first written test — that I realized I was wasting a great opportunity.

My first reaction was to think I was a terrible teacher. After all, I am an absolute beginner, having only less than two years of experience. I spoke to several senior teachers and asked for advice. The first one I received was to check what exactly the students’ mistakes had been. Had they all made the same mistakes? If yes, I needed to check the way I had been teaching them. If not, I should check the students’  academic records to see if they had had difficulties in the previous levels. After some research, I realized two things: all students, even the ones who had good grades, made the same kinds of mistakes; and none of them had had a history of below average grades.

It’s important to note that students in the lower intermediate level get a really bad reputation. They are said to be the “weakest links”; students who didn’t do well on their replacement tests. I kept hearing that those bad grades were just what I should have expected. I felt extremely uncomfortable to just accept that these students were weak and that there was nothing I could do. In my mind, If I had been a better teacher, they would have done better. Besides, I had looked into their academic records and I could not find the proof that they were just bad students.

Another thing I was told by senior teachers was that there is a large gap between the Teens course and the Lower Intermediate course. In the latter, tests demand a lot more from students’ cognitive abilities. In fact, the one difficulty all students had was with listening and reading comprehension. It wasn’t something I had taught them; I had been too focused on teaching grammar and vocabulary.

My first step, after gathering advice I had received from several senior teachers, was to deliver the news to the students about their low performance and, at the same time, motivate them to do better on their next test. It seemed impossible! But the teachers I spoke to knew me and trusted me. They said I could do it. So I asked students how they had prepared for the test, how they thought they did, and if it had been easy or hard. I spoke to them in Portuguese and they opened up very quickly. I found out a lot from my students that day. They are under a lot of pressure from their parents, their regular schools and themselves. They also thought, same as I did, that teaching and learning were automatic processes, and all they had to do to get a good grade was to “sit down and study”. For them, given how they did on their test, it hadn’t been enough.  I thought they were being too hard on themselves, but then again, I realized I had been too hard on myself too.

I needed to take the focus out of this blame game. I asked the students to trust me and to help me help them. Thinking about it now, I noticed that what I did was to ask them to stop looking for someone to blame and start focusing on learning. I remembered something that my coach had told me on my first semester at CTJ: “We a have to teach students how to learn”. So based on that and also on the things I have been learning at the TDC - Teacher Development Course, I started changing the way I planned the lessons for that specific group.

The first thing was to teach them strategies such as scanning and skimming. I showed them how to look for information, how to look for clues in exercises, patterns in sentences, and in essence, how to develop strategies to solve the exercises. I also turned the wrap up stages of the lessons into mini projects. For example, after a lesson about the differences between past simple and past continuous, I told the students to create a story using only three sentences. They all sat down on the classroom floor to make a poster together, and it was the first time I saw them actually happy to be in class.

Basically, I started focusing on making the students feel independent and in control of their own learning. I stopped simply giving them information and started giving them the tools to get there themselves. I noticed a complete change in behavior. What I had thought was just normal teenage behavior during a class at 2pm had basically been lack of motivation. Before, they were barely present in class, mostly quiet and unresponsive. They didn’t do their homework and they didn’t answer my questions. They also spoke a lot of Portuguese. Now, they try harder to speak English, they use the language being presented, they respond faster to eliciting. And, I’m relieved to say, out of all the students, only one had a below average grade on their second test. It was not a miracle change though, — the lowest passing grade was 76 — but I’m counting my blessings!

This had been the one group I dreaded meeting every week. They made me feel like a real failure. Now that they are motivated, they are the best part of my week. I’m glad I stopped focusing on laying blame and decided to trust the advice of senior teachers: I learned that motivating my students was the best way to motivate myself.