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.

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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

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Positive Psychology applied to EFL

Here I am again to talk about Positive Psychology and its application to our classrooms.  In 2006, a little before I began my Doctorate in Psychology from the University of Brasília, I heard that I should think twice before assuming such a decision because a Doctorate was a long term commitment and that it involved a lot of suffering.  Also, some people would come to me with stories of doctorate students losing hair, putting on many kilos, or even falling into a state of depression. Nevertheless, I was determined to be a candidate and if accepted, to carry on with my goal.
It turned out to be that I was accepted and very soon, I began to feel guilty for not suffering at all. Actually, I cherished every single moment of my being at University, doing research, having contact and discussions with knowledgeable people, and learning, learning a lot. So if you ask me what my story has to do with Positive Psychology, I will tell you that it is the very essence of this area of Psychology. Learning cannot and should never ever be related to suffering. Learning is discovering, expanding, flourishing. Then let´s see how Positive Psychology may be applied to EFL teaching and learning. Below, I will suggest three exercises I have already carried out with success, and I invite you to try with your own classes.
Research shows that gratitude can be trained and increased. Interventions may result in a positive state of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, attentiveness, and energy. So I got my teen students into a circle to discuss the idea of Thanksgiving. Not everyone actually knew how and when it had begun and what individuals did in such a celebration. After showing them a video from YouTube, I asked each one to write a short paragraph about a person who has had a positive impact on their lives and who they were thankful to. When they had finished, I asked volunteers to telephone the person they had written about and to read the exact words on the paper. That´s when the magic occurred. There was a lot of emotion and tears involved. One of the girls preferred to write about a peer who was present in class.  As she read her beautiful and revealing statement, the whole class was involved in a unique and memorable exercise.

What went well ? Living positive education.
General well-being—how much positive emotion, how much meaning in life our students have is fundamental for the generation of success. Learning to value must start early and can be practiced in any educational environment. Students should have opportunities to speak about themselves and to open their souls and hearts to others. It provides synergy among class members a sense of togetherness, engagement and happiness. Finally, teachers should bear in mind that academic success is not only a function of academic knowledge or cognitive processing. Success is a function of the connections to self, others, and the world that shapes our brain.

The magic ball-making compliments
Students should be standing in a circle. Then, the teacher should start and throw the ball at a student and make a genuine compliment at him/her. The students would carry on with the activity until everyone has had the chance to throw the ball and hear impressions and compliments. The activity involves emotional strength, when students recognize the relationships, and applaud personal accomplishment.

So dear teacher, remember that teaching in joyful and supportive ways is the best means to learning. Thus, I am here to invite you to try differently and practice the conditions that nurture strengths that enable students to self-regulate. I invite you to assure students can find their own meaning in learning and distinguish between achievement and accomplishment. Build your students capacity to flourish

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.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Of Tigers, Strippers and Communication

Once I asked a student to explain what a tiger is, I couldn’t help laughing when I heard “A tiger is a big car with strippers”. My poor student, let’s call him David, was only trying to say “stripes”, but he mixed-up the spelling and that was the result, followed by a funny explanation of what a stripper really is, which made the class laugh quite a lot. This memory is a good example of a student that is not afraid to speak and make mistakes, and this fearlessness is a key point when learning another language.

The fact above happened in 2006 in Brazil, and David had been my student for a little over two years then. He used to be very shy, afraid of speaking and making mistakes, which would drive him to avoid chances of expressing himself, as he would try to analyze everything he wanted to say in his head beforehand. A mistake like the one mentioned above would make him feel terrible. I have always told my students that it is important for them to speak their minds, to participate in speaking activities, regardless of mistakes made. Above all, they should focus on achieving communication, and if there are grammar errors, that is what I am there for, to polish their use of English as they make use of it. David had heard this speech many times before, but could never really grasp the concept that when students concentrate more on the message and less on grammar, it helps them produce more English and, therefore, feel more confident about doing so. However, in spite of my constant attempts to try and make him speak more freely, the results were unsatisfying and David’s progress was slow.

Salvation had come in November the year before; his boss asked him to go to Washington, the capital of the United States, to participate in a conference and people from all over the world would be there. Of course, David couldn’t say no to this chance and I encouraged him tremendously. I later learned that he was so nervous about not being able to rely on Portuguese, his mother tongue, to talk to people in the conference that he was shivering as he boarded the plane.

Now this is interesting… how afraid a person can be of making mistakes. David wasn’t nervous about going to a different country, thousands of kilometers away from home. He wasn’t nervous about reporting the conference data to his boss. He wasn’t nervous about dealing with different weather and culture. What made him shiver was the fact that he was going to have to speak English! That’s how much making mistakes affected him.

When he came back to class after his trip, he was a whole new person. He was speaking his thoughts as naturally as he did in his first language. It’s not that he had mastered the use of English in the fifteen days that he was in DC; he simply overcame his fear of speaking. The fact that he was forced to handle himself in English because of the conference is irrelevant. He still made grammar and vocabulary mistakes, but he did not fear them anymore, and that did wonders for his learning progress.

David later told us that he made mistakes when he was in Washington, but he had no choice, he had to speak to people. As the days went by, it dawned on him that he was communicating very well with other English speakers, and he began to relax about his conversation skills and stopped worrying about eventual grammar mistakes. He started learning, by himself, strategies for communicating or figuring out vocabulary, even if it meant making mistakes like saying tigers are giant cats with strippers. He learned not to dread his errors, but to see them as an opportunity to learn new things and, why not, have fun with them. David leveled up his English amazingly, simply because he was now focusing on getting his message across more than using good grammar, which improved naturally.

David’s story is the one I like to share with my students to help them realize what he did: That being unafraid of mistakes makes them happen less and less frequently. The “perfect” use of grammar that my students keep trying to reach will come naturally from all the practice they will get exercising how to exchange ideas. After all, studying any language is about, first and foremost, communicating.