Blog Archives

RSCON3: It’s all about them…

RSCON3 is over… is it really over? Of course not, there are still a lot of presentations I would like to watch. But wasn’t it on 29 / 07 you may be wondering… Yeah, but that’s the magic of an online conference. If you could not attend, don’t worry you can always watch the recordings. I strongly advice you to do so, if you haven’t yet. You can find all the recordings here.

Fortunately, this time, appart from attending this wonderful conference, I was able to give my own presentation. I really enjoyed it. Even though at the beginning I was a bit nervous ( it was my first presentation ever), I managed to relax and have fun. I would like to thank @davedodgson for having helped me by doing a wonderful job as a moderator. I love learning collaborately, so I am very thankful for having had this opportunity of giving a bit back to my PLN, after so much taking. If you haven’t attended my presentation, and you’d like to see me in action:  here you can watch the recording, and here you can find the powerpoint I’ve used during it. I would love to know your opinion about it, get some advice on how I can improve my presentation skills or whatever comment you may want to do.

But let’s stop talking about me and let’s pass on to the important thing: my reflection about the conference. I don’t have a lot of things to say, apart from the fact that it was a wonderful experience, I’ve added a lot of new memebers / friends to my PLN, and I’ve learned a lot. However, what struck me the most, was that I have attended many sessions about completely different topics, and we all ended up speaking about the same: our students. Our students were the main protagonists of the whole conference. That shows how much passion we all put into our profession. We are all trying to improve and to find the best way in which we can teach them. We may not have found the answer yet, but the fact that we are treading this path, looking for it together, is more than enough. We are already reforming education, by making little (?) changes in our classrooms. Let’s keep on walking along this path, let’s meet again in RSCON4. See you there! =)

Collaborative learning path leading to RSCON4

Reform Symposium 3: Dogme with young learners and beginners…are you nuts?

In a few days, nearly 8000 educators from over 40 different countries are expected to attend a free 3 day virtual conference, The Reform Symposium, #RSCON3. This free award-nominated e-conference is going to take place on July 29-31st, 2011. Participants can attend this online conference from the comfort of their homes or anywhere that has Internet access. This amazing conference provides educators new or currently active on social networks the opportunity to connect with educators and professionals in the field of education worldwide. With over 12 Keynotes, 80 presenters, and 3 keynote panel discussions you are bound to be inspired!

I am very proud to count myself among the 80 presenters and I would like to invite you all to attend my session. It is really important for me to receive your support… I would appreciate if you can invite the people you know to attend and spread the word…
Here you can have a preview of what my presentation will be about… Hope you like it…

We would like to thank the incredible organizers– Shelly Terrell, Kelly Tenkely, Chris Rogers, Lisa Dabbs, Melissa Tran, Clive Elsmore, Mark Barnes, Ian Chia, Cecilia Lemos, Jerry Blumengarten, and Kyle Pace- and Steve Hargadon of Classroom 2.0 and The Future of Education online communities for making this incredible conference possible.
We hope you can join us for this incredible professional development experience!

Just Feel the Music…

Itay Talgam, an orchestra conductor,  has discovered that the secrets of good conducting shed light on leadership in general… and I can add that it is very relevant to teachers too. First, have a look at the video and enjoy the music.

Talgam opens his speech by saying that a conductor’s ability relies on just using a small gesture to create order out of chaos. A teacher’s dream come true! A finger-snap and all the students on task… Well, we all know that this is an impossible mission to achieve, so let’s try to figure out what is behind that small movement that creates a ripple effect.

The secret apparently has to do with finding equilibrium, not being authoritarian, and at the same time keep on being the authority figure. YEAH,  we all know that… but how can we achieve that  F***ING  balance that is being preached everywhere in this new-age, zen era we are living in.

Talgam in his video shows us different styles of conducting, from which we can derive some practical ideas. Let’s start talking about  Ricardo Muti’s style. He has a strong sense of responsibility. He wants to be so clear that he becomes overclear (what an irony!). There’s only one interpretation of the music and that’s HIS (we all have our little egos in there apparently)… If we transfer this to the classroom, it reminds me of  the teachers who consider that it’s THEM the only ones that possess THE KNOWLEDGE. Knowledge is given, it is not a construction. It is not developed in the classroom. It is a finished thing, to be introduced in the student’s mind. Things have to be done, in the way they have always been done. There’s no room for innovation, and therefore, there’s no room for development.

Maybe, these teachers suceed in having quiet students, who follow their orders to the letter and repeat parrot-like whatever it is they have “taught” them. But, have they learnt? Is this the aim of education? Are we teaching the students or the book, as the third conductor presented by Talgam does?  Do we want students who just mirror us and repeat our stories? or do we want to learn with them and create a trascending story constructing knowleadge together?

By taking into account the other conductors’ methods presented in the video, we can conclude that they believe the musicians need to have a voice too, which derives,  following our metaphor,  in students having a voice in our classrooms. We should just guide them and not give orders to them. Why? Because in this way we are really teaching them, we are giving them space to find their own way of doing things, of telling their own stories… As Talgam explains, this method without clear instructions works because it’s as if the musicians are on a rollercoaster. The forces of that process put the action into place. You know what to do and you become a partner. This experience is exciting for the players. The “teacher-conductor” is just there effortlessly enjoying the music.

But what if someone deviates from what he’s supposed to be doing? Then, the “teacher-conductor” enters in action. He is still a figure of authority, but he is not authoritarian. The authority is there,  but authority is not enough to make people partners. The teacher should keep some control in the classroom, but not all of it. Let’s overcome our fears and start giving students more control … we may be surprised at the results (let’s allow them to solve their conflicts, choose the topics they would like to discuss in class, and so on and so forth). We may feel at the beginning that we are loosing authority, but that’s not true; we are becoming partners, we are creating together and sharing the responsibility of making the lesson and the course a successful one.

Little by little, step by step, empowering our students, we may get to the wonderful point of “doing without doing”…  because

If you love something, give it away…

First Class: All About Them Lesson Plan

Classes have finally started here in Argentina. First classes are always difficult to plan for me, because I believe that the focus should be on getting to know each other in a fun and interesting way. I’m always short of  ideas, and for one reason or another I don’t want to do the same I did the previous year with my new classes. However, this year, I’m very happy with how everything turned out (hopefully next year I will still be as glad as I am today with the results and will be eager to repeat the experience).

I started the classes with a very simple activity; an activity I bet you have done several times: throwing a ball and asking the one who has caught it to tell us their name. This time, however, I gave it a little twist. The person who had the ball was asked to introduce the person sitting next to them. They had to talk about the things they like, don’t like, personality, and whatever came to their mind. This was a great warm up and preparation for the last  activity I was planning to do on that day.

Then, as they didn’t know me. I prepared an anagram with my name and words related to me in some way. I gave them a clue and they had to guess the word. For example, the first word is my favourite sport (SWIMMING). Once they guessed the word, I gave them some details about the topic to make it more fun. For example, in fact, it is not that it is my favourite sport, I hate sports, and that’s the only one I can at least do (LOL). Here, you can see my anagram. CHALLENGE: Would you like to guess in what way the other words relate to me?

ME!!!!!!

Finally, I asked them to create crosswords about them in small groups. The words that would form the crosswords would be their names. They had to create the crosswords and write the references. At the end of the class, we exchanged the crosswords and they had to solve them. It was great fun, student centered, students created content, by them and about them, and I managed to make them write without complaining in the first class. Proud with the results, here you can see some of them (the photos quality is not very good, sorry):

If you want some more ideas for your first week classes, have a look at this post.

Heeeeeeeeeeelp!

We have finally got to Dogme Challenge Nº 10 , and Karenne has invited us to ask questions. I will grab at this opportunity, as I’ve been having this question at the back of my mind since I read about dogme for the first time. So please, my wonderful, supportive and encouraging PLN can you help me in this one?

PLEASE!!!!!

I have been thinking a lot about dogme recently, and it comes natural to me when I have to “teach” writing or speaking, but what about as regards reading and listening? I don’t have any clue as how to go about these skills doegmecly. Could you write some tips about this? What do you do in your classes?

Critical Thinking, we aim at it…

Writing in answer to Karenne’s challenge Nº 9 after having read Diarmuid Fogarty’s contribution: This is a critical update, seems to be more like an impossible mission. What else can I add? Anyway, I will give it a try… Here’s my humble attempt at it.

Let's start thinking out of the box...

 

I believe critical thinking to be one of the most important aims of education. As I have already said in this post we should not be just English teachers, we should become EDUCATORS. As @ddeubel pointed in his  post: Teachers- who needs them?: “After hearing the line the film, it dawned on me that it should be updated to, “I just thought it was a big waste of money for something I could learn online”.  The internet has allowed us, the amateur, to prosper.” I’m not saying that we should do away with schools, but a paradigm shift is peremptory.

We, teachers, cannot continue being just transmitters of knowleadge (encyclopeadic information). The internet will always defeat us, if  we choose that path. Today, information is everywhere, we can acces it quite quickly (and more complete and thorough that what we get at school). Maybe, we should start teaching/guiding our students on how to access that information, 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, we should show them how to use internet to its full potential and not eating up everything they are told.

But what does it mean to be critical? Can we achieve it? Obviously, we cannot in every single class (we are human beings after all), but it can happen… According to @thornburyscott in Dogme: nothing if not critical a critical pedagogy:

1. is transformative, and seeks social change
2. foregrounds social inquiry and critique
3. challenges the status quo and problematizes ‘givens’
4. devolves agency to the learner
5. is participatory and collaborative
6. is dialogic
7. is locally-situated, and socially-mediated
8. is non-essentialist, i.e. it doesn’t reduce learners to stereotypes, but rather legitimizes individual identities
9. is self-reflexive

It happened to me once, that with my business students we were reading a text about the role of women in society. We end up discussing weather things are equal or not between men and women. They all had quite a traditional point of view around the issue: (should point out at this moment that they were three men and ME =) ) we are all for equality, but at the end of the day, I want to go back home and have everything spotless clean and the children ready to play with me, of course I may HELP with the dishes. Does it sound familiar?

I won’t define myself as a feminist, but I go for choice. It is ok is some women choose to be devoted housewives, but what if that is not their choice? I started posing them lots of questions, to make them realise that we are far from being equal. What happens if a couple agrees on the woman being the breadwinner and the man staying at home doing the housework and looking after the children? Their first reaction was, I would feel guilty if that was my case. They looked at me even with greater astonishment when I played the devil advocate and said: “I’d love to have that kind of agreement. I hate cleaning, cooking, etc. And I love my job” Why isn’t that possible? Who decides that? Not happy with that, I retorted: what happens when a woman says she doesn’t want to be a mother? Why is it ok when a man says that and we cannot accept it in a woman?

We concluded that there is nothing wrong with traditional families and we can take our own decisions, however, we shouldn’t criticise other people’s choices. My students left the room wondering. At least I have shown them that there is not one-fit-for-all answer for certain issues, and we should become more tolerant and respectful. Is this what you would call critical thinking? What happens in your classrooms?

Unheard Voices

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

Providing space for the learners’ voice means

accepting that the learners’

beliefs

knowledge

experiences

concerns

& desires

are valid content in the language learning classroom.

In the answers to this challenge we have heard the voices of  two teachers having a conversation , one teacher singing and we have talked and discussed thoroughly about the need to let our students take control of their learning, and the importance of listen to their voices and adapt our classes to cater for their interests, likes and dislikes. However, what should we do when our learners are reluctant to have such an active role in our classroom? What do we do with shy students? Shall we push them to take part or let them be?Apparently, as David R Hall says, students know what their own needs and interests are. So, if what they want is to have a passive role in our classes, why not let them?. I don’t have the answers to these questions, the only thing I can share with you are two examples of this situation that I have in my classes.

Case 1:

I have one student, who speaks very little in her every day life. In the past, she didn’t use to speak at all (obviously she has some kind of psychological problem). However, what really surprises me about her,  is that even though you may think that she is not at all present in class ( one hardly ever gets to hear  her voice), she does all the written activities perfectly well. She succeds at writing letters, doing grammar exercises, passing the written tests, etc. I sometimes wonder if she is happy in her silent world. Shall I leave her like that or shall I try to make her talk? I sometimes even feel sad, because I consider that I’m excluding her in some way, since I don’t ask her questions as I do with the rest of my students, because I believe she will feel unconfortable. Is it right? Or should I have continued addressing her till the moment she decides to interact with me and the rest of the class? Don’t really know.

Case 2:

This is the girl that has refused to take part in the activity I have discussed in my post “The importance of reflection” This is a totally different case from the previous one. She is an excellent student, very good at speaking, very fluent. However, she always place safe. She just answer whatever she is asked, but never enlarge on the topic. She wants to be as unpercievable as possible. For example, once the class had to be divided in different groups and for that reason, we were making a kind of raffle with their names to make the groups. Each student at a time had to take a piece of paper and read the name on it. When her turn came, she refused to take a paper. It was really unbeliavable, as she would not be compromised in any way by choosing one piece of paper. Her classmates tried to convince her, but she didn’t change her mind. If she refuses to “become active” even in the less demanding activities, how can I expect her to express her ideas and interests in front of the class? Or is it that she is being an autonomous learner and expressing the way in she wants to learn (with a more traditional approach, in which she is not required to take such an active role)? Difficult question to answer.

Well, as you can see I have too many questions and no answers at all. So I decided to conduct some research and stumbled upon a piece of advice that @thornburyscott was giving to an EFL teacher on the issue  at Onestopenglish. Scott gave some practical tips and finally concluded that:

If all else fails, you can take heart from a piece of classroom research conducted by Dick Allwright several years ago, in which he observed a class for a term and noted that, despite the highly interactive nature of the lessons, there was one student who hardly ever participated in group or class speaking activities. However, at the end of the course she scored as highly, if not more highly, than her peers on several measures of proficiency, including speaking! Allwright concluded that “for some students at least, learning a second language is a spectator sport”.

What do you think? I’m not totally convinced, but who knows… maybe those unheard voices are claiming us to let them be.

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.