Monthly Archives: October 2010

The importance of reflection!

I have just read a post by Pat Hensley : Dark Clouds or Sun? and it has triggered a chain of thought in my mind. I definitely agree with Pat, light and dark live together inside everyone. We are human beings and therefore, we are full of contradictions inside ourselves. For that reason, it is extremely necessary to reflect upon whatever we do, to realise when we are turning into dark clouds so that, we can go back to the right path and shine again.  This reminded me  of a situation I’ve had with my teenage students, in which I believe I have been able to become a sun again, and make them reflect about their role as students.

What are you? (I love this photo. I took it in my last holidays in Tucuman, Argentina)

On Friday, my teenage students were reluctant to work. I have the last two hours on a Friday, so I generally find it quite difficult to make them do some serious task. For that reason, on that day we generally work on movies, games or some light speaking activity. However, last week, apparently I was a bit lost in time and I brought a reading activity (quite difficult I must admit!). My students spent like 15 minutes trying to convince me not to do anything on that day. We finally agreed that when we finished the reading activity, we would play a game. They spent a lot of time doing just nothing and wasting their time. I was starting to get a bit angry (just a bit!) and I had no better idea than to ask them to hand in an assigment that was due on that day. And guess what? Only one student had completed it! You can imagine that I really got on my nerves. I told them off and I was very surprised at their reaction. They just did nothing! They were there staring at me in silence! They said absolutely nothing!  I found it really strange and I told them that as they didn’t want to do anything, we wouldn’t do anything. I thought that they would start talking and enjoying their free time. I was wrong. They continued looking at me in  silence. I started feeling unconfortable, but I wanted to wait for their reactions. When the bell rang, I asked them why they had reacted in that way, and they told me: “Because you are right. Everything you’ve told us is true.” Why hadn’t they told me that before? I imagine that they are too used to being told what to do, so when they are encountered with a problem, they just can’t react.  I left school with a strange feeling. I knew that I had to do something about it, but what? While I was reading some blogs, I found a great solution (thanks @english raven). I was going to use this activity to make them reflect on the importance of occupying spaces and voicing their opinions.

The following class (on Monday), all my students entered the classroom. I greeted them, and I passed a piece of chalk to one of them. He looked at me wondering what he was supposed to do. I said nothing and pointed at the blackboard. He got the hint and wrote: “I’m Gino and I’m 14 years old”. Good start! Then, I asked him to pass the chalk to another student. One by one they came to the blackboard and wrote something. Some of them wrote interesting sentences, some of them wrote just a word and some even wrote funny things. They even had the cheek to make a joke about me (which I loved, but don’t tell them!). Finally, something similar to what happened to Jason here happened to me. One of my students didn’t want to participate. I grabbed at this opportunity. It was perfect for letting me show them what I wanted to teach them. I took the chalk myself and wrote: “Today we’ll have lots of homework.” The students started complaining of course, and I laughed a bit. I was having great fun. ( Of course, I was not planning to give them lots of homework, I’m not that evil) I started asking questions about what they had written and we had a nice conversation. I taught them some new vocabulary and grammar based on what we were talking about. And when we got to my sentence, I asked them some questions for them to reflect on what had just occured:

  • Why do you think we did this activity?
  • What happened when Marila didn’t want to write on the blackboard?
  • Can you make any connections to what happened here on Friday?

They concluded that it is very important to occupy spaces when they are offered to us, because if not, they are occupied by somebody else (in this case the evil teacher that was going to give them lots of homework). We talked about the importance of expressing our opinions, of apologising when we’ve done something wrong, of talking about our feelings and expressing our anger at the moment in which things happen, and most important of all, of being responsible for our learning.

I think that my students have learnt a lot from this lesson. They have acquired skills that will serve them for life. The ability to reflect is one of the most important abilities we should develop at school. School is not about transmitting information anymore. As David said in his post, information can be found online. Maybe, we should start teaching/guiding our students on how to access that information, how to become better learners and better citizens, what to do with all the information we have in our hands, how to be critical with what we read, how to create their own content online, how to learn collaboratelly, and so on and so forth. To sum up, how to become autonomous learners. As David said:

A teacher is one who makes himself progressively unnecessary.
– Thomas Carruthers

Dogme with Young Learners

I’m writing this post in response to @kalinagoenglish challenge presented in her blog. You can read my answer to the previous challenge here.

Been thinking quite a lot about dogme recently, and it has just struck me that I am applying it in my young learners classes without even having noticed it. The quotation with which Karenne has opened this new challenge is:

The teacher’s primary function,

apart from promoting the kind of classroom dynamic

conducive to a dialogic and emergent pedagogy

is to optimize language learning affordances,

by directing attention to features of the emergent language;

learning can be mediated through talk,

especially talk that is shaped and supported

(i.e. scaffolded) by the teacher.

According to Wikipedia “Scaffolding Theory was first introduced in the late 1950s by Jerome Bruner. He used the term to describe young children’s oral language acquisition . Helped by their parents when they first start learning to speak, young children are provided with instinctive structures to learn a language… Scaffolding represents the helpful interactions between adult and child that enable the child to do something beyond his or her independent efforts. A scaffold is a temporary framework that is put up for support and access to meaning and taken away as needed when the child secures control of success with a task. ”

With my second grade students (they are between 7 and 8 years old), we always start the class with a set routine. It consists of completing a calendar that we have hanging in our classroom with the date, month and weather; establishing who would be the teacher assistants on that day and finally, the dogme part, talking about their news and problems.

I devote quite a long time to this part of the lesson and my students love it. They all want to participate and tell the rest of the class about their news and problems. They talk about birthday parties, problems at home, their illnesses, their trips, or whatever comes to their mind. They sometimes even make up some stories and they retell them as if they have really happened to them. As they are not very proficient in English yet, they say whatever they can in English mixed with a bit of Spanish. They come up with something similar to: “Yesterday, I went to the park and played in “las hamacas” (“the swings”).

And this is the point that reminded me of Bruner’s experience.  There are some things that they don’t know or they don’t remember how to say in English. They need help, and it is provided by the teacher or by their peers. Sometimes,  I just  repeat what they have just said with the English word they need, and in general, they repeat it after me and incorporate it in their sentence without giving it too much thought. They are more concerned with the message they want to get across. There are some other times, in which they don’t remember a word we have previously seen in class, so they are helped by their partners or by the posters we have in the classroom. I believe that students are greatly helped by visual scaffolding.  As Stuart  Ewen said ‘… if you really want to move people, don’t use words, use images’.

I have been doing this for a long time, and I haven’t realised it was kind of a dogme class till last Monday 18th. The previous day had been Mother’s day here in Argentina and therefore, I asked my students to share with the class what they had given their mothers as a present. Most of them had given them clothes. As they had never seen clothes vocabulary before, I taught them the items of clothes as they needed to use them and made some drawings on the blackboard for them to remember. When we had already repeated T-shirt a thousand times (most of them had given a t-shirt to their mothers apparently!) one of my students said: “We have repeated this word so many times, that now I remember it!”. That was one of those magical moments for a teacher! Learning was taking place now and there!  I’m sure they will never forget that v0cabulary as they will always associate it with Mother’s Day!

Flashforward! Isaac Asimov and the use of NTIC in education!

I saac Asimov, the famous science fiction writer, was interviewed in 1988 by Bill Moyers. And guess what? He spoke about the use of NTICs in education. He made some very sensible points about it. He was obviously a visionary and what he said in that video is totally up to date. I believe that it is very related to what Sir Ken Robinson said in his speech about creativity and education. You can see the video and my reflections about it in this post. ( Sorry, it is in Spanish but if you need a translation just ask me for it) Well, I ‘ll stop babbling and let you listen to the expert…. I would love to read your opinions and comments after you watch the video.


Fear of the unknown!

I’m writing this post in response to @kalinagoenglish challenge presented in her blog. You can read my answer to the first challenge here.

As I have mentioned in my previous post we should always have our learners in mind when we deliver our classes (even if we are using a coursebook).  Our students’ concerns, interests, desires and needs should always be taken into account. We should avoid feeding our students with units of grammar and vocabulary without considering their own learning needs and styles. Up to here everything seems fine and possible, because we are talking about the teacher’s role… But when it comes to the learners’ role, things become a bit more complicated…

Learners should have a very active role in our classrooms. They are meant to take ownership of their learning and share responsibility for what is being taught in the lesson. Language should emerge as a result of the interaction between the learners and the teacher in the classroom. As Karenne said in the quote that appears in her blog:

“If learners are supplied with optimal conditions for language use,
and are motivated to take advantage of these opportunities, their inherent learning capacities will be activated, and language – rather than being acquired – will emerge.”

It would be ideal to create a classroom atmosphere in which students are motivated to take control of their learning and be ready to interact in the classroom so that L2 emerges naturally, without the necessity to force its appearance. However, I believe that  for this to happen, students should be intrisically  motivated to participate. A lot of work is expected from them. So, what happens if they are not willing to take such a huge responsibility?  For example, those  students  who come to our classes because they have to, and not because they want to…  Will they be motivated to take such an active role? Will they be able to let language “emerge”? Are all students willing to have such an active role?

I have come across some students that expect and demand their teachers to use a more traditional approach. They like their teachers to be the ones who posssess the knowledge. Maybe, it makes them feel secure and it is easier and less demanding for them. They are used to working with language as an external subject distanced from themselves and they don’t want to change.  They are not used to student-centred lessons, and expect the teacher to provide them with ready-made “grammar/lexis McNuggets”. Too much student autonomy makes them feel uncomfortable and left uncared for by the teacher. How can we overcome these students’ antipathy for dogme? Should we overcome it  or should we respect their preferable  “way of learning”? Is it real that they prefer to learn like this or is it just fear of the unknown? I guess, we’ll never find the right answer to this.

Nineteenth Edition Of The ESL/EFL/ELL Blog Carnival Is Up!

As Larry Ferlazzo has already announced in his blog, the new edition of the ESL / EFL/ ELL carnival is already online. This time it was hosted by Ms. Flecha (if you haven’t taken a look at her blog yet, this may be a great opportunity to start browsing it).

In this edition of the carnival you will find inspiring ideas from 20 teachers. I have known some of them but some others are new for me. Apparently, we’d never end finding interesting teachers to add to our PLN. There were so many contributions this time that they’ve had to be organised into different categories. Here goes a preview of the categories, if you want to know the content, you’ll have to go and visit Ms. Flecha:

  • A Conversation on Language
  • Dynamic Teaching…Games, Teaching Tools and Strategies
  • Classroom 2.0
  • Learning and Teaching with Eyes Wide Open (reflective teaching)
  • On the Job Front

Finally, I would like to say that I’m very honoured to have taken part in this edition of the carnival and especially to be hosting the next carnival. It will be published on December 1st and I’d love to receive contributions from all of you. You can contribute a post to it by using this easy submission form. If the form does not work for some reason, you can send the link to me via email. Looking forward to your posts.

What really matters: OUR LEARNERS!

I’m writing this post in response to @kalinagoenglish challenge presented in her blog

I have heard about Dogme very recently. Therefore, I’m not a specialist on the subject. However, I believe that some of the ideas supported by this methodology / approach (?) to TEFL make a lot of sense, as they are down-to-earth, common-sense ones.

When we have just graduated and we are teaching our first classes, we get so engrossed in trying to make our lessons as complete and interesting as possible; we are so worried with time limits and afraid of running out of activities; that we forget the most important element in a teaching-learning situation: THE LERNERS! They are the main protagonists and they are not taken into account. We don’t leave any space in our classes for them to take control of their learning and work on their interests, likes, needs and so on and so forth.

But Why do the lives of the learners matter? Reading some of the bibliography that Karenne has provided, I have came across an answer to this question that I’ve found quite satisfactory.  In the Delta Publishing blog it is said: “… Not just because they are interesting; not just because their exploration yields language that is of immediate relevance and value. But because without space for them in the teaching process, space to establish and express the identity they want to bring to the classroom (real or virtual), they will be disenfranchised. And they won’t learn the English they need…”

After all, as it is said in Karenne’s quotation “Learning is a dialogic process,  where knowledge is co-constructed rather than transmitted or imported from teacher/coursebook to learner.” The teacher is not the one who possesses the knowledge and transmits it to his/her students. Learning should be constructed as a result of the interactions between the teachers and the students. As we cannot plan in advance what the students are going to say or propose in our classes, we should leave space in our classes that will be filled with what comes out in our lessons on the spur of the moment . We should react to our students’ needs as they appear in the classroom and a coursebook cannot cater for that.  It is an indirect route to learning as the book doesn’t cater for our own students’ needs. It is not personalised.

To sum up, I believe that there is a great temptation for using a coursebook in our classes. We tend to think that it simplifies planning and we feel more secure. In general, we don’t trust so much in our ability for creating our own activities and lesson plans to cater for our students’ needs and interests. But it is unbelievable what wonderful things we can do, if we just give it a try. Believe me, once you tried it, you wouldn’t like to go back to teaching with a coursebook anymore. You would feel constrained by it.  What do you think? Share with us your opinions and experiences.