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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…

It all comes down to PASSION

The Dogme Blog Challenge Nº6 is out, and even though at the beginning I thought it was going to be rather controversial, up to now they have all got to the same conclusion.  In Cecilia’s words:

Being an effective teacher – whether in an unplugged setting or not – is not about being (or not) a NEST.

Henrick Oprea and Richard seem to agree with her, and me too of course. They have clarified perfectly well the differences between the NEST and NNEST and what each of them brings to the classroom. I am not going to go more deeply into this topic in order not to be repetitive.  To me, it doesn’t matter whether you are a NEST or a NNEST, what really matters is wether you are passionate or not about teaching. Here, you can see a graph of what the main elements that an EST, with or without N =), should have are:

Passion is the key element for happiness in life, and it is even more necessary if you are in the teaching field. If you are passionate about what you are doing, you wouldn’t mind getting up early in order to go to school (even if you are a night owl like me!), you would learn how to live on low salaries, you would do your job with a smile on your face (most of the time, at least, we are not walking clowns after all), and the most important of all, you would care for your leaners. You would listen to them and not just hear them as Ceci pointed out in this post. This is one of the Dogme premises: build your class catering for your students needs, interests, passions. How can you aim at this if you don’t pay attention to your students? You would also sympathise with their insecurities and problems, and therefore, know when to stand firm and when to apologise. You would really try hard to move your students beyond their comfort zone to challenge their confidence so they can become more confident.

Apart from that, passion is the motor that pushes you to become better. It encourages you to try harder in order to become a better educator (and not just an English teacher), to take risks and try new things. You wouldn’t be giving Dogme a try if you were afraid of risks.  I’m almost sure both NEST and NNEST find the idea of giving students more control and more class plans flexibility totally scary at the beginning.

Furthermore, Passionate educators are not afraid of  making mistakes, as they can learn a lot from them (the most useful inventions resulted from mistakes!). And most important of all, they have a good attitude towards students mistakes. Smart, self-motivated, hard-working, wide-awake students don’t need to be taught. They are the other ones that need always to be taken into account. Good teachers always reflect upon their teaching, and wonder especially, what they did wrong for those one or two students who are demotivated or at a loss in their class.

Finally, Passionate teachers are always busy, and this is not because of the amount of classes they have to teach. They prefer to be busy and know that the work of good teaching expands to fill every moment they can give it. When they are not writing in their blogs, they are planning classes, marking exams, interacting with their PLN, and so on and so forth (does it ring a bell?).

Let's explode the myth


Summing up, and trying to answer Karenne’s questions:

What do you think? Are Non Native English Speaking teachers disadvantaged?

Yes, they are.  But only because we humans beings tend to be prejudiced. Let’s explode the myth “that only native-speaker teachers can feel fully comfortable in this unplanned teaching mode”. Dogme teaching just requires a passionate teacher in front of the classroom. I have already described what are the traits that a passionate teacher has and how why they are necessary in a dogme class.  I really believe these characteristics can be found in both NEST and NNEST teachers. But Unfortunately, not in all of them

English Teacher vs Educator

My students from 5th grade have suggested me working in class with Pink Floyd’s song: “Another Brick in the Wall”. I was surprised by the demand as 10-year-old students are not supposed to like those songs. And without even noticing, as I was preparing the song worksheet, they made me reflect a lot about my role as an English teacher.

As regards their English level of proficiency, they are elementary students (A1). Of course they will find the song very challenging, but that didn’t worry me. They are very motivated to listen to the song and I’m sure they will manage with the help of the you tube video and some guiding questions.

While I was writing them, I realised that  I cannot use this song in class without having a thorough discussion about its meaning. What is education? What type of education do we want? Are there right or wrong answers?  What is the importance of  having our own ideas? Most probably my students won’t be able to discuss these issues fully in English. Nevertheless, I believe that even if they speak Spanish, the debate will be worth it. After all, I’m not teaching just English, I am trying to be an educator.

And this brought me to my perpetual professional dilemma one more time… The issue that faces me with cyclical professional crisis. What am I doing there in those crowded classrooms? Teaching English? I don’t want to do that, I don’t believe in that. English is just a language, a tool. Very necessary and important. Yes, of course. It  has opened me lots of doors.  It has put me in contact with lots of very interesting people. It has let me access books in the authors’ mother tongue and has surrounded me with poetry and hundreds of magical stories. However, we shouldn’t forget it is a TOOL, just like Spanish is.

I’m not saying that I don’t want to teach English anymore. No, I love what I do. What I don’t want is  to teach JUST English. English is not the object of study in my classes. It is the MEANS to access a bunch of knowledge. It is the tool that will allow me and my students to access lots of information, to get to know new cultures, different ways of thinking, different points of views; that will allow us to reflect on important issues, defend our opinions and why not, also get to know each other more. That’s what education is all about after all: developing CRITICAL THINKING and SOCIAL SKILLS.

It sounds pretty simple, though, how difficult it is to teach that! To teach our students to think by themselves, to defy our (the teacher’s) points of view. It is very difficult to get them used to the idea that sometimes there are no right or wrong answers. And of course, sometimes it is even difficult for us , the teachers, to give them more freedom to think and take control of the class. It is easier not to do so. We should overcome the resistance to change. Students should be in control of our classrooms:  rethinking and reinventing knowledge; learning collaborately with the teachers as facilitators, not as THE ONES WHO POSSES THE KNOWLEDGE.

Well, that’s all for now folks. What do you think about all these incoherent ramblings of mine?

Blogs Worth Taking a Look at…

I am very honoured because Philb81 has tagged me in his wonderful blog Classroom201X as one of his 10 blogs worth taking a look at. This is a new  initiative in the ELT blogosphere at the moment. If someone tags you in their list of 10 recommended teaching blogs, you then prepare your own list of 10 other blogs you would be willing to recommend, paste the logo above into your post and link back to the person/blog that initially tagged you. So here goes my list of 10 blogs to recommend (they are presented in alphabetical order):

  • David Truss Pair-a-dimes: Great reflections on education, technology and learning.
  • ELT notes : I always find a lot of food for thought from Claudia’s reflections.
  • English Raven: It helps me to have a look at TEFL from a different perspective
  • Kalinago English: I have taken lots of ideas from this blog and I have already tried many of her lesson plans. Thanks Karene for all the hard work!
  • L_missbossy’s ELT PLayground: A great blog about TEFL for Young learners
  • Marisa Constantinides- TEFL matters: Reflections on TEFL from a teacher trainer.
  • Movie Segemnts to Assess Grammar Goals: It contains a series of movie segments and activities to assess or practice grammar points through fun, challenging exercises. Thanks for sharing Claudio!
  • Succesful Teaching: A blog where you can get some strategies and ideas in order to have a succesful teaching experience. Thanks Pat for all the inspiration.
  • TEFLclips: A site dedicated to the possibilities for YouTube and other video sharing sites in the classroom. I love using videos in my classes and this site has helped me a lot. Thanks a lot Jamie.
  • Tu remanso: A blog in Spanish worth having a look at for some good reflections on education. Thanks Cinthia for sharing your reflections.

Hope you’ve found some new blogs WORTH TAKING A LOOK AT…

Meme: Passion Quilt

I can fly
Cargado originalmente por Andrés Lázaro



I have been tagged for this meme by Liz Davis. I have chosen this picture because one of the things I love about my job is encouraging students to try and do their best; to keep trying and practising, even if the task seems impossible to achieve. It is generally said that practice makes perfection, so we’d better not give up and we may end up flying .

Here are the rules:
1) Think about what you are passionate about teaching your students.
2) Post a picture from a source like FlickrCC or Flickr Creative Commons or make/take your own that captures what YOU are most passionate about for kids to learn about…and give your picture a short title.
3)Title your blog post “Meme: Passion Quilt” and link back to this blog entry.
4)Include links to 5 folks in your professional learning network or whom you follow on Twitter/Pownce.
Really looking forward to see what: elemenous, susant, jenverschoor, englishstudio and gsellart are passionate about teaching their students.