Showing posts with label conference. Show all posts
Showing posts with label conference. Show all posts

Thursday, May 07, 2015

TESOL 2015 - Kahoot: A Game Platform to Spice Up your Classes

TESOL 2015 - Kahoot – A Game Platform to Spice Up your Classes

Just another thing I discovered in TESOL International Conference in Toronto. Actually, my colleague Ana Cristina Gerin had used it and mentioned it in one of our EdTech meetings. I was a bit busy with other projects and did not have time to try it out, though. So, while in the last TESOL conference, I had the chance of attending a 25 minute session in the Electronic Village in which I had a hands on experience with the tool. Back to my routine, I decided to give it a try and my students and I just loved it. Kahoot is free and it is in its own words is “ a classroom response system which creates an engaging learning space, through a game-based digital pedagogy.” To use it you will need internet connection and a device (iPad, smart phone) for each pair of students. So, let me explain to you how it works.

Create your own 

First, you will have to join Kahoot. After you create your account, you can create your own games (called kahoots). You can create three kinds of activities: quizzes, discussions, and surveys. To create a new kahoot, you will have to click on “new” and add your questions. Once you are done, it will be saved to your account and you can play it as many times as you wish. Besides that, you can also share your creations with your friends if you happen to know their user names.

Find other Kahoots

Once you are in, you can also use one of the thousands of public activities you will find for free on their site. To do this you will just have to use the search feature, find the one or ones you are looking for and check them to see if it suits your purposes.

Play the Game

Now that you are in, it is time to use it in class. You should first log on to your account and choose the game you want to play. Next, you should ask your students to open their device’ browser and search for Kahoot. The search will give them two results. Ask them to open the Kahoot it link. Once they do that, the platform will ask for a game pin. This is when you will have to launch the game by clicking on “play.” The next step will involve students choosing their nicknames, which can be a combination of the paired students’ names. Once everyone joins the game you can start playing. After each question, the platform gives a score ranking students as first, second, third, and so on.

A Gift

I have created two games for my Teens 7. So, here they are,

What did she say?   A quiz on reported speech.

What's the correct answer?  A quiz to test will and going to future.

I really need to work on tagging and creating names that will help others finding my quizzes.

A Tutorial

Here is a tutorial to help visual learners to grasp it a bit better.

Friday, September 19, 2014

ABLA Conference 2014

It is a great honor to have been invited to present at  the ABLA (the Association of Binational Centers in Latin America) Conference about our ipad implementation project for the classroom and Resource Centers.

It´s been a long ride since 2011 when we participated in a Latin American grant contest from the American Embassy that would award a certain amount of money for any project in the technology area. We had the idea of having a trifold project in which we would implement the use of mLearning at Thomas, work on the ACCESS students´ digital literacies and use the opportunity to train our teachers, besides keep looking ahead in terms of best practices in the realm of Educational Technology.

We got the grant, we started, we expanded the scope of the project, we learned and we keep exploring. So, this is exactly the story I want to portray in the Conference to help other Binational Centers who want to implement this kind of mlearning project. Also, it will be an amazing opportunity to learn from the ones who have been in the same path.

All the resources and slides I´ll be using in my presentations are available online at 

Monday, May 26, 2014

TESOL 2014 – Mousetraps for Language Teaching

Being a so called TESOLer is having an opportunity to be part of a dynamic community of professionals.  Therefore, it is always a rewarding experience to attend (and present at!) a TESOL Conference, and this year couldn’t have been different. I knew in advance that I would have a chance to attend presentations with Diane Larsen-Freeman, Douglas Brown and Penny Ur, among others. In fact, there were so many different presentations with interesting titles and renowned presenters that it was hard to choose what to attend.
However, having read, studied and used as reference Dr Douglas Brown’s books for so many years, it would be inevitable not to share his presentation here. His My “top ten” list of mousetraps presentation revolves around the “mousetraps” which work very well in our profession.

He started his presentation by asking the audience to think about the mousetraps – “principles, methods and the kind of foundation stones” - we have been engaged in during our professional lives. Dr Brown made us stop to think about the kind of methodology we rely on in our teaching when we plan our classes. After a brief review of his “Ten Commandments” (from 1990), the presenter stated that, at the time, he simply pictured everything relatively unified in some kind of Strategic Investment Mousetrap, meaning that we teachers would get our students to invest in the language we were teaching. 

Then he wondered whether or not we were right to do so at the time, however, what really mattered was that we were on the right track. From then on, Dr. Brown stated that many things have changed, for there have been lots of research for the past twenty-four years, and that there are now better mousetraps, showing the audience how our profession has progressed in many positive ways. However, before starting to talk about those “top ten” mousetraps, he made a point of telling us that things have evolved, becoming simpler, but not that the twelve principles from his well-known book Teaching by Principles (1993, 2000, 2007) don’t work anymore, for they are still great principles; it’s just that researchers have improved on them. 

That being said, the presenter made it clear that those changes encompass all the connections that researchers in the field have been making with learners, for they revolve around what makes students successful and what makes them interested in learning, not forgetting about all the global implications of teaching English worldwide.  Based on that, he compared the traditional mousetraps to the better mousetraps for language learning.  

Traditional Mousetraps
Better Mousetraps
# 10 Behavioral vs. Cognitive
         Competence vs. Performance
         Innate (acquired) vs. Learners
Dynamic Systems Theory
Emergentism (This term is used to say that language learning is like any other learning, for it emerges from the human being like other skills emerge.)
# 9 Transfer
Embodied Cognition
(According to Brown, cognition is part of a whole picture: body, mind and world connections. He states that it’s like “opening up and capturing the concept of transfer, interference and overgeneralization in a much more holistic and refreshing way for teachers”.)
# 8 Focal vs. Peripheral Attention
      Controlled vs. Automatic Processing
Form-focused Instruction (FFI): Noticing
(The idea here is to get sts to work with the pieces of language they learn and put them together with a whole form with all the communicative efforts. Students need to notice the language in order to be successful at using it.)
# 7 Strategy-based Instruction (SBI)
       Awareness -> Action
Self-regulation, Scaffolding
Mediation, ZPD
(This mousetrap is about having teachers mediate the learning process that learners are going through in the classroom and how they can work within sts’ zone of development to keep them progressing along with awareness and action.)
# 6 Intrinsic Motivation
      Meaningful (vs. Rote) Learning
Imagined Community
(This principle is important to remind teachers that the perception learners have is more important than the reality they face. As teachers, we need to help learners square their imagination to their own reality; to the community they will be using the language with.)
# 5 Personality & Cognitive Styles
      Anxiety, Risk-taking, Empathy
Communities of Practice
(According to this principle, nowadays, teachers shouldn’t look at learners as individuals who are striving to overcome their anxiety and self-esteem, but as communities of learners. We should see our classrooms as communities of practice and the future of the language in those communities of practice.)
# 4 Community Competence
      Willingness to Communicate (WTC)
Interaction,  Collaboration
Communities of Practice
(Once again, Dr Brown states that researchers’ theories and methodologies are showing that learners shouldn’t be seen as individuals working alone in the world, but people relating to other people, within communities. It’s all about the social nature of language.)
# 3  Intercultural Competence
       Cross-cultural Analysis
       Social Distance, Optimal Distance
(With the global use of English, in this mousetrap, the presenter says that the concept of crossing-cultures is changing and that the term Languaculture is being used, for it captures the notion that language and culture are intertwined.)
# 2 Language Ego
(This is an extremely important principle, for the whole notion of identity is related to the way people talk, and that is something we can’t change. There are few things you can do to improve the way people talk, because the way they talk is the way they are.)
# 1 Empowerment
(This is the concept which Dr Brown believes wraps it all up, for it reminds us that, in his own words, “our mission with our students is to help them to be agents, using the language, internalizing the language, making choices of their own, and not think of themselves as second class citizens”.) 

Before his closing remarks, Dr Brown mentioned he hopes that, in a couple of years, there will be no distinction between non-native English speakers and native English speakers, for this distinction is something from the past. He also added that non-native English speaker teachers who have learned English as their second (or third) language are the most wonderful teachers that one can have, for we are agents; we have identified ourselves in the English language.

The presenter ended his presentation with a quote from Gandhi which says that we “must be the change we want to see”. Douglas Brown thinks that we are becoming even more humane in the process of being English teachers. He is also encouraged by what has been happening in the last four decades and the directions that our profession is turning to and the methodology that has been embracing the different identities of our learners. For all of us there, he left the challenge of taking those principles and making them work in our classrooms.

As for me, I left his presentation not only feeling blessed for having the opportunity to attend it, but also with the feeling that one of my favorite authors, who has inspired me as a professional for more than twenty years, has shown that I have also been on the right track by researching and trying to adapt the mousetraps to my own teaching.

*H. Douglas Brown & Heekyeong Lee are launching the fourth edition of Teaching by Principles, in early 2015.  

Thursday, May 15, 2014

BRAZTESOL Conference - Different Generations: A common Goal

We, Carolina Piacenti and Evania Netto have just attended the Braz-Tesol Conference in João Pessoa, AL. It was a great conference: well organized, in a great site (Escola Internacional Cidade Viva) and in a beautiful city. Furthermore, the quality of the presentations were fantastic and there wasn´t a single talk or workshop that we didn´t like or regretted attending.

However, as the topic of our own presentation was “generations” and the way that different generations of teachers can benefit by working together, we started paying attention to the mix of generations that could be seen and heard in the event. To start with, we browsed through the program and realized we could choose from a workshop given by one of the most renowned ELT senior representatives from Brasília-Sara Walker, watch the plenary session given by the brilliant Jeremy Harmer or feel touched by the emotional session about getting older given by Jane Revell. It was not only the senior generation that made presence in the conference, though. Looking again at the program, we could easily verify that the Baby Boomers and the members of Generation X were also active, bringing innumerous contributions to the field with names such as Ben Goldstein, Paul Seligson and Jeff Stranks. 

On the other hand, if one preferred to see the newer generation of speakers, they would not be disappointed as they would be able to check CTJ world-wide technology expert Carla Arena, an academic session about gaming and gamification used in teaching and learning a second language given by Janaína Weissheimer or the fantastic J.J. Wilson talk about teacher development. Nevertheless, due to the amount and variety of choices, one would not be able to see everything and would have to choose something related to their own field of interests which would turn out not to make attendees less enthusiastic but to enhance their social networking and ability to reflect upon their careers as they could see themselves working in pairs with Scott Thurnbury, Steve Taylore-Knowles, Élcio Souza or just a novice teacher who had just graduated from college.

So, as you can see, Braz-Tesol was a fruitful and enriching professional experience where different identities met to form a mosaic of generations that by collaborating could help each other achieve the goal that the older, the middle or the younger generations of teachers  have in common - to teach English in effective ways. 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

IATEFL 2014 - ELT Conference Highlights

Harrogate is a beautiful former spa town in northern England and it was in this cozy city where spring was blossoming and flowers were everywhere that the 48th Annual IATEFL Conference was held. It was my first attendance at an IATEFL Conference and I was quite impressed with the extraordinary multiculturalism , the astonishing volume of choice , the impressive array of speakers and the cheerful atmosphere among the participants.

 Overwhelmed by such a rich, diverse choice of options, I tried to select as many interesting  sessions as possible and spent four days  running around the beautiful Harrogate Convention Center trying not to miss anything. I attended excellent plenaries and also got in touch with teachers from different parts of the world who work and do research related to coaching and  mentoring, one of my areas of interest and also the topic of my presentation in the conference.

The coaching and mentoring delegates formed a team in Harrogate! We attended each other’ s presentations and exchanged a lot of information and experience. It was wonderful to see that people from the most distant parts of the world have been working hard to implement collaborative practices in order to enhance teachers capacity and at the same time promote professional development. All the sessions were excellent.

One valuable presentation I was able to catch was given by Dr. Svetlana Belic  Malinic from Belgrade, Serbia.  Svetlana presented the results of an  action research conducted in an international school in Serbia which aimed to bring about change in teachers perceptions of their pedagogical practice. The teachers were introduced into reciprocal coaching schemata and, by doing peer coaching, were able to support one another in their professional growth, which positively affected their self-assessment. This shows how valuable it is to work collaboratively and how teachers gain by exchanging their experience and practice.

In addition to the thought-provoking presentations I attended, there was one innovative session format I really appreciated called  ELT Conversation , which involved discussion between two leading ELT professionals, Jeremy Harmer and Scott  Thornbury. In this session the speakers interviewed each other about the Communicative Approach. After 20 years, is it time to redefine its concept?  Is there a contemporary view of CLT? For more than one hour, in a full auditorium, Harmer and Thornbury discussed the gains and losses of this so well-established approach for language teaching followed by questions addressed from the audience.  A wonderful moment to revisit this approach and reflect upon what we have doing in our classrooms in the last decades.

In the opponent flow, Jim Srivener gave a lively presentation reassuring the importance of teaching grammar and urged the audience to ignore those voices that tell you that you have to communicate all the time. The presenter stressed that, yes, students want, need and learn from grammar. The question is how teachers can make grammar genuinely engaging, valuable and challenging. In order to make grammar really meaningful, Jim Scrivener stresses that we should use lots of examples. They are input. And we should play with examples. This is practice. We should never forget to make examples sound real. Personalization is fundamental. After personalizing , students then are able to use the language.

As you can see through my highlights above, IATEFL was filled with diversity and innovation which have made me an IATEFL convert. Those were professionally inspiring and enjoyable days that will always remain in my mind. My thanks for the support and encouragement the Casa has given me to participate in such a fabulous event.   

Margarete Nogueira

Saturday, April 12, 2014

TESOL 2014 Through Gamification and Complexity Theory

Going to the TESOL Convention in Portland last March made me feel realized as an English teacher for two reasons: first, that was the second time I had the pleasure of attending an international convention; second, I was there as a presenter! Last year, my friend and co-worker Carolina Barreto and I decided to submit our workshop and, fortunately,  it was accepted to the TESOL 2014. Both of us were anxious to be presenters in a foreign country to an audience from all over the world. The result could not be better - the spectators were engaged for 1h45 minutes, actively participating in the hands-on activities we were demonstrating in the workshop named BREAKING THE ICE - Going beyond simple icebreakers through motivation.

I am a teacher who loves creating games to use in class with my students, so the topics that caught my attention were the ones related to the use of technology or practical games. I have to confess that I did not see many innovations in terms of technologies in the classroom. For this reason, I have to admit that the work we do at the Casa may be considered at par with the most recent trends in terms of Mobile Learning.

One of the presentations I attended drew my attention because it was called The Gamification Of Learning Outcomes  ( . In that presentation, 3 professors from Colorado first clarified that gamification is not game. After briefly mentioning some theoretical aspects of language and technology, they exemplified with their work with foreign students, using facts, statistics and results.  They ended their presentation showing the survey they did with those students about that work, and, at that time, did another survey with the audience. ( Each person had to use his/her own mobile phone to send his/her opinion about the presentation.  The results were shown on the screen. It was dynamic, easy and interesting.

Attending  the session Think like a Video Game Designer to Build Better Courses, by Josh Wilson, from the Kansai Gaidai University, I became aware of many concepts about games that I had never realized before, such as: games are fail positive environments; games escape from the real world; games are learning tools and learning platforms; games design the experience for choice and to be won; and some others. These concepts are certainly going to help my reflection upon the games I create to use in class.

In my opinion, the top presentation was the one by the famous linguist Diane Larsen-Freeman, Complexity Theory: Renewing Our Understanding of language, Learning, and Teaching. Besides admiring her ideas and her culture for a long time, I liked the fact that she spoke for about an hour about how language changes day-by-day, and we, teachers, have to be aware of those evolutions and adopt them in our classes. In her words, she manages to introduce some humor to make the audience feel comfortable and engaged in her lecture. It was a blast!

Friday, April 11, 2014

TESOL 2014 - Some iPad Tips

TESOL is definitely an overwhelming experience. One has so much to explore that is almost impossible to see everything you want. While I was there I learned a lot from the presentations or workshops I attended. I saw things I already knew through a new angle and I also discovered some new things that I think is worth sharing with our teaching community. So, let me tell you about some iPad tricks and apps worth exploring. 
Remote desktop access
There are solutions that allow you to control your desktop while walking around the class that do not rely on a wireless mouse. At TESOL, two teachers reported using two apps that have such affordances. One application that wirelessly mirrors your iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch screens to any Mac or PC is Reflector.  To allow desktop control you will have to install it to your PC and your device. Besides that, one can connect multiple devices to the same screen. One license allows you to install it in up to five PCs.
Another one that has the same feature is Doceri. Doceri also lets you control your desktop from your device (iPad, iPhone, iPod) with the added feature of transforming it into a smart board once it allows you to draw and annotate any file that can be shown on your Mac or PC. The drawback being that licenses have a price, the good thing is that they help us get rid of the cumbersome cable and let us roam free around class while displaying whatever is being shown in our mobile devices’ screens.. Reflector and Doceri allow  free trials. So, you can download them and see how they work for you. 

Giving control to students

If you have a blue tooth keyboard that connects to your device, how about connecting it to your iPad and creating interactive activities. You can pass it around class and your students can perform some tasks displayed on the big screen if you mirror your iPad using a cable or one of the apps suggested above. You could create quizzes or have a competition to answer questions. If you have more than one keyboard, it becomes even more interesting. 

Turning your iPad into a Speaking Device

How about turning your iPad or iPhone into a speaking machine? To do this, you will just have to activate the text to speech feature. You will have to go to settings, general, accessibility, speak auto-text (turn it on), then choose the language. This will allow you to listen any text you select. It also reads out loud whatever you are typing. You can use to read your e-mails for you if you are busy doing something else. In class, you can use it for dictation or to improvise a listening comprehension task. By the way, you will have to adjust the speaking rate to turtle or hare on speak selection

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

TESOL 2014 Educational Snapshots

I could be here focusing on the interesting ideas that I learned from presenters in the TESOL Conference 2014, but by having the snapshots, quick notes I took during some sessions, you  might come across interesting references, links and people that will inspire you. 

Some topics that caught my attention:

Many Intersections Sessions that I attended focused on Mobile Learning. It is noticeable that though we all work in different contexts, the challenges are very similar, lack of infrastructure, difficulties with bandwidth in an ipad rollout program. Teacher training is also in the agenda of every Institution who wants to have a successful program. In my notes, I added some apps and resources that were mentioned. One thing that I missed was more presentations on learning outcomes with a more intensive use of mobile devices. Any qualitative and quantitative differences in the results of students who have been using smartphones/tablets and the ones who are not?

Marsha Chan, in her presentation on how to help students improve their oral communication skills, suggested using Youtube Playlists to help students find relevant content for further practice. At the end of my notes, you can find Marsha´s notes with all the links she mentioned. 

Nick Robinson´s advice and thoughts on the future of ELT publishing really got me hooked. Many interesting points about possibilities for self-publishing and concrete examples already in the market. I had the pleasure to meet Andy Boon (thanks to Nicky Hockly!), one of the authors in a self-publishing/independent project. We were immediately hooked to the story and downloaded the multi-pathways stories available in Kindle. You can learn more about those great interactive stories at . Learn more about Nick Robinson´s ideas at  and 

Another excellent presentation that got me with an irresistible thirst for more was one on gamification by Josh Wilson, who focused on the game-like mentality for educators to prepare better, more engaging lessons. Josh´s presentation was much more focused on the strategies and mechanics that we can learn from a game designer mindset to make our students learn in a more enjoyable way, not in the aspects that many consider as the core of a gamified lesson, points and badges. Not at all. Josh consistently mentioned that these are just part of the sum. Here are some key concepts:
Design the experience
Quantify everything (score; progress)
give choices
External pressure
Constant feedback 
Design the context
Imagine your learners as players

In fact, this is an area that I´ve been consistently studying, and two resources that you might want to check, a Google Talk, Smart Gamification: Designing the Player Journey with expert Amy Jo Kim

Also, the book "The Gamification of Learning and Instruction" by Karl Kapp

Another presentation that was very useful, highly intense in terms of ed tech resources we can use in our classrooms was Lea Sobocan´s digital tools session. I´ve just checked her scoop it, which is a true gem: 

I could go on and on with my highlights of TESOL 2014, but I´m sure you´ll find your own treasures by exploring my Evernote notes with some great presentations I had the chance to attend. I´d love to know what you found.

Crossposted at

Monday, April 07, 2014

TESOL 2014 - How Wide is the World of Pronunciation?

With every year that passes, TESOL is acquiring a more egalitarian personality and is more dedicated to the recognition of the various purposes for English teaching, the broad spectrum of ownerships of the somewhat organically mutating language that we know as English, the ways in which this language unites many different collectives around the world. That’s a long sentence; in a way, it tries to convey the scope of the conference we attended and the direction it took. 

Among some of the teaching concerns being approached along refreshing new lines is pronunciation. With the acceptance of the nature of English as a multi-communicative connector, the influence of pronunciation is also shifting slightly in intent and interpretation. In previous conferences, I have attended several sessions dedicated to a focus on pronunciation as having a form of purifying influence on the production of English, creating exercises and games to attend to the oral exactness of the “th”, the shaping of vowel sounds, the oddly difficult combination of “orld” in “world”, etc. Attention to pronunciation more recently is not related to what, in the past, were common references like “standard American English”, “standard collegiate English”, etc. After all, what is “standard” in South Carolina is not necessarily standard in Oregon or Nevada, and the “college” in question might be in Sidney, Glasgow, London, New york, or somewhere in South Africa or India. 

Twenty speakers in different locations around the world might give surprisingly different renditions of the following sentence: “I hurt myself working on the hood of the car in the late half of the day.” What is definitely a priority concern is the intelligibility of the message, the immediacy of its power to communicate; this concept broadens the scope of how to regard pronunciation and its effective connection  – for better or for worse – to the result of an attempt at general communication.

One of the sessions I attended took me momentarily back to a bus tour that I took some years ago in Scotland.  I was sitting right behind the bus driver and happy to be receiver of many side comments he made during the trip; one of these remarks was offered to describe what a large number of laborers were doing on the road at almost dusk…the driver said they were walking/working on the road, and in my interpretation of the driver’s tone, neither activity was appropriate for that time of day. The problem was one involving accent; I couldn’t for the life of me determine (even upon further inquiry) whether those people were “walking” or “working”, because of the pronunciation of the vowel in the main verb….and no amount of repetition on the driver’s part shed any definitive light on the subject. I finally decided that those men just shouldn’t be on the road doing anything and would be better off at some nearby pub. End of subject. 

Fortunately, the subject of pronunciation has not ended, and this conference was an example of the variety of views that are developing with regard to the influence of pronunciation on communication and to how general is the acceptance that the “native English speaker” is not “the” norm, but - instead – just one of them.            

Katy Cox

TESOL 2014 Highlights

Participating in International conferences is an amazing opportunity to network and see what is going on in the world concerning education. This was my first time as a presenter but my second time as a TESOLER. And I can say this was a great chance of seeing how Casa Teachers are avant garde in so many areas! People stop us when they see we belong to the Casa and anxiously ask us when our presentation is going to be once they are used to attending them and always learning something new, creative and interesting! It's a pleasure to work in such a well recognized bi-national center!
Also, I am the incoming EFL -IS chair elect (2014/2015) of TESOL and this was a totally different experience and I have to confess I was kind of frightened. I didn't know what I was going to do... But I must say that keeping in touch with the EFL community from all over the world is rewarding and enriching.
All in all, sharing is of great relevance and I am sure I myself benefited a lot not only as a professional but also as a person; and my students will consequently profit from my experiences.
          by  Carol Barreto

Friday, March 21, 2014

The Art of Designing eTasks

There are at least two different ways to help teachers who are designing iPad activities with students to evaluate the tasks they create. The  SAMR  model helps a  teacher/task designer become aware of what stage the task falls into in terms of the use of tech.  The Bloom Taxonomy applied to apps helps teachers think about the kind of questions we ask students and how we should vary the tasks we offer. By delivering the workshop From Image to Deep Learning, I started to understand that  teachers can also look into the learning cycle as a whole, and how the human learning brain works to promote deep learning. The ideas I share here were inspired by the book The Art of Changing the Brain, which is a must read for any educator willing to take a look into the biology behind learning.

In the workshop, I asked the audience how to teach questions with does to teens, and develop tasks having the learning cycle in mind. After a quick debriefing, I showed a simple iPad activity I carried out in class of 11-year-olds, talked about my take in the lesson, and expanded on why I think this task pleases the learning brain. Now, I post my ideas here to help me reflect on my practice, having the learning cycle described in the aforementioned book in mind.

I showed students a quiz about a famous person I knew they would be interested in. Students took the quiz, and I inductively helped them notice how to make questions about a third person`s likes and dislikes. Then, I asked them to gather information about a celebrity they follow to make a quiz of their own.
I was afraid that I`d have no pictures to work with on the following class, but to my surprise, students had bought the idea and had pictures and lots of information to work with. I was ready to go, so I set the iPad activity and monitored students. Here is what two pairs produced using a wonderful app called visualize.

In the art of changing the brain, Zull talks about phase 1 - concrete experience. In this phase, there is activity in the sensory cortex, where we receive, gather and begin to process the visual, auditory, tactile, olfactory, and gustatory information. Phase 2 - reflexive observation, seems to describe an activity that takes place in the integrative cortex. It is time to connect sensory images to prior experience in one`s neural network or schemas. In class, passing from phase 1 to phase 2 might take time as learners need to relate new information to what they already know. We cannot rush. We must allow time for thinking/recalling as well as time to reflect upon the learning experience.

In the activity I proposed, my students were exposed to a visually appealing quiz about a person they were genuinely interested in, and took the quiz themselves to find out how much they knew about the person. As I see it, students went through stage one and two of the learning cycle before we started the second part of the activity.

In phase 3 - abstract hypothesizing, the front integrative cortex is at work. Students start to prepare to do something with the recently acquired knowledge. In the iPad activity, I asked students to get the information about their favorite celebrities and start to put it in the format of a quiz for the other students in class. And by asking students to make these quizzes to communicate their recently acquired knowledge, teachers allow students time to test their hypothesis and think. In phase 4 - active testing, students shared their quizzes, and by doing so, provided peers with concrete experiences, so the whole class was back to phase 1. Learning becomes cyclical and on going, and hopefully they will remember the language point long after the day of the test.

In conclusion, instead of asking students to pay attention, it is better when we can engage students in tasks in which they  are supposed to reach outcomes, or ask them to look at the topics from different angles. Instead of sitting still, learners could be asked to move around to see the details. In other words, by making learning more concrete, we might reach concrete outcomes.

Friday, May 10, 2013

IATEFL 2013 - On Listening Tasks and Tests


Attending and presenting at both TESOL and IATEFL conferences was a rewarding experience.  I always have two different perspectives when I attend and when I conduct a workshop. Attending a conference is a moment in which you see new trends in language teaching. We have contact with different and often revisited  viewpoints of what we sometimes  believe are unchangeable truths, and we have the priceless opportunity to meet old and new friends, professionals  who have a lot to share with you. As a presenter, I feel that a conference is a moment for networking and assessing the repercussion of the material you have been developing. Both are very motivating and make us want to share and learn even more. It is a never ending endeavor. I am sharing here an enriching presentation that I attended at IATEFL Conference in Liverpool, 2013 - Listening tests and tasks versus listening in the real world – by John Field (Oxford University Press). The talk outlined the types of mental processes involved in listening. Then it evaluated whether recorded material, formats, and items of conventional second/foreign language tests really tapped into this processes. Finally, suggestions were made for new forms of teacher-designed test and task that are more closely linked to real-world communication needs and to the listening construct.

Listening is a process taking place in the mind of the listener. The only way we can test the skill – or check understanding in the classroom – is indirectly - by asking questions. ELT teachers have to ask questions for three reasons: to test, to check understanding and to diagnose listening problems. This already distances the behavior of a learner or test candidate from that of a real-world listener. Then, what does a language test actually test?

We know that it is crucial for the learning process to consistently develop and assess the listening skill. We must, therefore, have in mind that it is impossible for a test to replicate the circumstances of real-life language use, but it is reasonable to ask to what extent a test (directly or indirectly) elicits from test takers’ mental processes like those that they would use in a real-world situation. This is a critical question in tests that claim to predict how well a candidate will perform in a real-world context, such as an academic institution, a professional position or an immigrant situation.

Cognitive validity is a well-established idea and educational researchers in the U.S. have investigated and questioned the following aspects of testing. Does a test of physics show that the learner can think like a physicist? Does a test of logical thinking test what it claims to test? Does a test in Medicine just show that learners have mastered facts – or does it show that they have the ability to diagnose? These intriguing questions lead us to reflect upon what listening consists of.

According to Mr. Fields, the model of expert listening starts with a speech signal – decoding and word search – and is followed by word parsing – separating the sentences into grammatical parts, such as subject, verb, etc. – which eventually leads to meaning construction. This model may question whether present listening tests / listening tasks materials elicit behavior from the listener that is like real-world listening processes, if they are comprehensive enough to cover most or all of the processes involved in listening, and if they are graded in a way that reflects learners’ development as listeners. He concluded that listening tests / tasks materials provide listeners with scripted (or even semi-scripted) recordings with little resemblance to natural everyday English, actors who mark commas and full stops, lack of hesitations and false starts, quite long utterances and regular rhythm, and voices that do not overlap. Aside from that, test setters sometimes put in distractors, making the recording much more informationally dense than a natural piece of speech would be.

The difficulty lies in the recording itself. Test designers and teachers tend to judge the difficulty of a piece of listening and even what points of the information to focus on by referring to a taspescript. However, these decisions also need to be made when listening to the recording. What parts of the recording (words or points of information) are prominent and easy to recognize? What characteristics of the speakers might make the recording more difficult? To choose recorded materials, teachers  have to take into consideration if it is authentic, recorded, scripted or improvised, analyze how now naturally the speakers include hesitations, for example, how fast they speak, how precisely the speakers form their words, the degree of formality, accents, if it is a dialog/conversation/interview, the frequency of the vocabulary uses, the complexity of grammar, the familiarity with the topic, the length of the recording, how dense the idea units are in the recording, how clearly structured is the overall line of argument and how concrete or abstract are the points made.

Mr. Fields concluded by affirming that conventional formats – multiple choices, gap filling, visual matching, true/false, multiple matching, identifying the speaker who said - require the listener to map from written information to spoken, eliminate negative possibilities as well as identify positive ones (multiple choices and True or False), read and write as well as listen (gap filling), and engage in complex logistical tasks which take us well beyond listening (multiple matching). He also claims that lower level learners understand far less than we assume, listen out for prominent words and try to match them to words in their vocabulary, are dependent on picking up salient words rather than chunks and whole utterances, a tendency that is increased by the use of gap filling tasks that only focus attention on word level.

He finally suggested that we provide items after a first playing of the recording and before a second. This ensures more natural listening without preconceptions or advance information other than the general context.  He insisted that we keep items short, since loading difficulty on to items just biases the test in favor of reading rather than listening. He made sure we use tasks that allow the test setter to ignore the order of the recording and to focus on global meaning rather than local detail. The information provided by Mr. Fields may not be new to many of us, but it always wonderful to listen to a specialist confirm or deny our assumptions, basing his conclusions on accurate research and studies. That is why attending a conference can make a difference in our lives.

Friday, May 03, 2013

Reminiscing on IATEFL 2013

An international teachers' conference makes room for quite a hectic audience. There are English teachers
coming from all corners of the world, all in search of professional growth, new academic ideas and technologies and the acknowledgement of being on the right track regarding teaching and teaching methodologies.

Although there are not many new proposals regarding TEFL for the current tendencies, there is still a lot we
can learn about the teaching of English. In fact, there is always something to learn or recall. One of the lectures I attended and enjoyed very much was Edmund Dudley's "High-achieving Secondary Students". Mr. Dudley is a teacher and teacher trainer working in Hungary. His main concern is to teach the student as a whole. In this process, he focuses on the environment of the class so that it can "nest" students positively and help them overcome any obstacles they may have in the process of learning English. However, he has stated such obstacles may actually not even refer to difficulties in assessing language. It has been the object of Mr. Dudley's studies and involvements the fact that there may be lack of motivation for learning even among those students considered high-achievers. Among the many aspects of teaching pointed by Mr. Dudley, he has suggested that our attitude towards the learning situation be able to bring out the challenge, the relevance, the value and the novelty of lessons. In his presentation, each of these topics was associated with an array of examples and ideas on how to promote creative learning.

Another presentation which was highly motivating for me was Gavin Dudeney's piece on technology. Still a
bit of a challenge to me, technology is more present in our lives on a daily basis than we even realize. Just
as we turn lights on and off, start the car, use the dishwasher, the air-conditioner or heater, or simply change
channels on TV, for example, in quite casually habitual, if not automatic daily attitudes, we also make use
of technology in a much more routine-like manner than we can acknowledge. Most people start their days
making use of the cell phone, smart phones, connections to social networks, or the accessibility to intranet
at work or the Internet for more personal endeavors, to name a few only. Our day is filled with opportunities
for using technology, being the classroom the one place which offers the most fruitful chances for efficacious,
audaciously creative teaching and learning.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

IATEFL 2013 - The Future is Now – What Tomorrow’s Schools Will Look Like

International conferences are a great opportunity to learn new things, debate controversial ideas, and check if you are doing a good job at your school. The IATEFL annual conference is especially exciting because you have teachers from all over the world sharing information on teaching English as a foreign language. So there I was, ready to take part in this international exchange of ideas.

Being a tech-savvy teacher who blogs and reasonably up-to-date on technological advances, I was quite curious by the title of this presentation by Peter Davidson (Zayed University, United Arab Emirates) on Thursday, April 11th 2013. After all, he was asking questions such as, “What will classrooms look like in the 21st century?”, “Will there be classrooms?”, “Will there be schools?”, “Will there be teachers?”. Looking for answers and for new ideas, in I went.

Peter Davidson started talking about the factors shaping education at the moment, some of which are economics, globalization, research, and technology. Going on to the topic of curriculum and tools, He mentioned blended learning, online learning (MOOC), laptops, tablets, and phones. After cruising through web tools, he got the audience to discuss the role of the teacher in the future. Will we be facilitators, enablers, guides, mentors, gurus, or just bystanders? 

Finally, the session went onto the future of education. Whether education will be challenging, frustrating, chaotic, fun and exciting, Peter Davidson concluded that teachers need to not only be aware of the changing face of education, but they need to embrace this change and help to shape it. This change needs to lead to more effective learning. According to him, and I fully agree, teachers and educators need to shape the future of education – not Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. 

The important question here is, “Did I learn anything new by watching this presentation?” The answer is no. However, what I would like to emphasize is how rewarding it is to know that Casa Thomas Jefferson is one of the frontrunners embracing this change. We, as teachers, have been using web tools for several years. Online and blended learning are already part of our reality. Computers and tablets in class are our daily routine. Even living in a developing country facing a never-ending economic crisis, we are not bystanders. Into the future we boldly stride.