Sunday, October 27, 2013

Pondering ...

“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.”  (Benjamin Franklin)          

 A week has gone by since the last two conferences (see previous posts), and a lot is still very fresh in my mind. And what's amazing is that since they have both ended, greater things have begun. 

For starters, I have become an even bigger fan of Twitter and Facebook! Well, if you know me, you may not be surprised (lol) but the fact is that through blogging, tweeting and posting it has become even clearer to me how great a community is out there for professional development...and the cherry on top is the new friendships you make! Such wonderful people online, sharing, (re)connecting and you really do feel like your circle has gotten bigger. 
I still wonder how some people are not on to this yet. I mean, OK, I get it; some people are simply not (too) comfortable with the tools. At one of our last in-service meetings at work, one of my colleagues even mentioned that she uses social media in her lessons very little, and naturally I was intrigued as to why; she then went on to say that this is because many of her students are so much ahead, and know so much more that she doesn't feel she could keep up. Immediately, I thought: "have THEM teach you!" After all, we are all learning and sharing together, right? Well, maybe some people just don't see it that way .... 

My greatest challenge these days is keeping up, and putting into practice the great ideas I have learned recently. I confess to still feeling a bit overwhelmed by everything that is available; as wondrous as it may be ... how to keep up?? And how to prevent myself from forgetting so many great things that I know my students would love?!? 

Yep, I have some homework to do on all of this, but I just had to share how great a feeling it is to be a part of such a huge community of friends. The coolest thing is that whenever I travel abroad, there will be one, or two, or perhaps three people that I will look forward to meeting! o/ 

Recently, I watched Vicky Saumell's session on 'Speaking Homework,' of which I have already commented on. It was great meeting her face-to-face, and before that, I had previously 'tweeted' with people in Rio and other Brazilian states. When we did meet up (or should I say "tweet up") it was great fun. 

My question to you: what do YOU do to remember all those awesome ideas you saw in conferences? I would love to read your suggestions.

Have a great week, and happy teaching / learning! 

Thursday, October 17, 2013

More of the same: RSCON4

As I reflect back on the conferences I attended this past weekend, I realize how wonderful it is to use technology to our advantage, in our profession. Although there are the non-believers and the reluctant teachers who very candidly express their opposition to this avalanche of resources possible for classroom use, I insist on building on the possibilities (which are endless!). Learning becomes so much greater and more meaningful when classroom walls come down and the world is a part of the learning environment. 

Yesterday, I shared my enthusiasm of what I had seen both at #RSCON and #ACINNE, and they seemed as eager as I to try out some of the ideas, so I am determined to put several into practice very soon! :)

Here is a taste of what I mean: @CraigYen's awesome session during RSCON on using Twitter in the Classroom. Some of his ideas include:

a. Creating a class Twitter account for students to post. For each topic, create a hashtag. Note: I thought of using #healthyfood after having watched Supersize Me, for ss to share their views)

b. Tweeting with another class. There are several Twitter accounts for classrooms worldwide. Just search Google for more.

c. After having read something, ss can use Twitter to summarize the story, etc.

d. Tweeting a problem for SS to solve.

Great session, Craig! Many thanks!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

#ACINNE 2013

Today I'd like to share with you some ideas I collected from sessions I attended, many of which were awesome and great fun to attend. But first, a little about ACINNE. The acronym stands for Associacao das Culturas Inglesas do Norte/Nordeste do Brasil (Association for the Cultura Inglesas in the North/NE of Brasil). Cultura Inglesa is the language institute where I have been working for five years, and there are several 'Culturas' throughout Brasil. This outstanding event brought together over 400 participants from around the country to share and learn ... quite an outstanding event, and I am happy to have been a part.

On the first sessions: 
Presented by a teacher in one of our local Culturas, J Reinaux, this session was entitled 'Fostering teenagers' engagement in meaningful, exciting and provocative speaking activities'. Some of the ideas presented included discussing Maroon 5's 'Daylight Project' video, where several teens around the world discuss what they like, hate and want out of life. Amazing video, and rich in content. Some of the activities suggested including making comparisons of the people in the video with our groups, and if they'd agree to take part in a video such as the one shown.

The next activity he presented contained a video from the band One Direction, Little Things. But first, he showed us how to elicit students' opinions on plastic surgery, more specifically getting a nose job. Would they get one? Do they think it is OK for teens? He then shared a video on a teen who was bullied into plastic surgery, where possibilities for discussion on whether or not her parents were right in agreeing with the procedure. Finally, he played the song and worked on vocabulary, such as 'dimples', etc.

Reinaux also used Linkin' Park's 'What I've done' video, to discuss world issues, human behavior and destruction. His ideas were great because they're so easily adaptable to teen groups, in general. Depending on class profile, any of these may be adapted to your syllabus with guaranteed success.

Another session I enjoyed was presented by Paul Seligson, who brought new insight on how to use songs in class. We are so often used to presenting song activities with the whole text, making it more of a reading and (ugh!) filling in the blank activities, and creative measures are definitely called for!

Seligson shared many activities where lines of the songs are fruitful in providing greater opportunities for learning. Ideas such as displaying 'famous lines' of a song such as 'Hey Jude, don't be -------, take a ------ song and make it better', where students would say what is missing. Or perhaps, show lines of a song with extra words.

He shared with us that it is common for students to keep trying to find the melody in their heads, rather than completing the task at hand but that this does not hinder the learning experience but enhances it. 

Other ideas included watching and listening to a certain video and counting how many times a word is mentioned, or correcting the grammar in sentences such as 'I can't get no satisfaction,' 'We don't need no satisfaction,' or 'Tell me more, tell me more but you don't gotta brag.'

There were other sessions, of course, but this is just the first of several posts on the conference. Hope you like, and share your comments with us.

Monday, October 14, 2013

No PD available??!? You have GOT to be kidding!

I guess the best way to start this post is to affirm one thing I am sure of: if you happen to be complaining that you are bored with teaching because you seek and do not find professional opportunites, you must be in hiding!! With all that is available, both on and offline, I cannot even fathom this sort of comment being a reality.

I am addicted to learning, I admit it. I love studying, teaching, reading, sharing and being a teacher allows me to do so much with so many great educators worldwide that it just makes me want more and more.

Just a few weeks ago, I was honored with an invitation from Shelly Terrell to take part in the #RSCON (Reform Symposium E-Conference), and I need to admit: I wasn't sure if I should celebrate and be thankful for yet another learning opportunity, or to fear the thought of presenting virtually to a community of global educators without any knowledge of platforms such as Blackboard Collaborate. I chose the first and went on from there.

It wasn't too long before I had collected my thoughts on what to present, so I went on and revamped my previous 'What is this new writing?' session and there I was, all set to go. But still fear lurked on, as I felt the insecurity setting in, due to my total lack of knowledge about BbC. That's when Chiew Pang came in, as one of the organizers of this wonderful event. He was awesome in helping me overcome my fears, providing support and some lessons even at times when his time zone had reached near midnight. I am grateful to him for his help...Chiew, if you read this, thank you SO much. Your help was very important, and it is always a pleasure to connect with you.

Well, then came the day of the presentation. Everything was set and I was mentally (psychologically?) ready. Naturally, as a first-timer you begin to imagine of all of the things that can go wrong, and this is what sparked a sense of insecurity. Fortunately, everything went A-OK!

Now for some impressions of my own: speaking for nearly an hour without anyone physically present is quite a trip. It was quite strange indeed, and throughout my talk I kept wondering whether or not people at the other end of the cables could see/her me and/or my slides. They could. Yes!!! And it was wonderful to count on the help of my moderator, Dina Dobrou. Dina ... if you read this ... " muito obrigada!!" :)

Would I ever do it again? Definitely! If I am honored with another invitation, it will be chance to brush up my skills and improve. Let's see what happens there.

And now about the event. I had posted about RSCON3 two years ago, and how much I liked it! It is simply amazing to have so many wonderful sessions, plenaries, keynotes without leaving your home ... and for FREE! I feel, however, that the word needs to go out more. Not many teachers, on a local scale, were even aware of the fact that a conference such as this exists, and is so easily available. As part of the Braz-Tesol Pernambuco chapter, it is also my responsibility to share this information with other teachers, for more adherence and, consequently, learning and sharing so that was done. Still, I am looking forward to RSCON5, and all of the wonderful sessions that will be a part of it. And if you'd like to watch the sessions (which btw were ALL recorded and are available to you also at no cost whatsoever) just follow this link, and best wishes for great learning!  Ah, and be sure to pass the word on!

Final words: I can never mention enough how Twitter has been such a great resource in my professional road to greater development. It is there where I met such inspiring educators as Chiew, Shelly, Dina and so many other amazing people. So ... ready to stop complaining and start learning??! The time is NOW, and it all starts with one simple 'click'. Good luck! :)

Friday, September 27, 2013

Reform Symposium 2013 - RSCON4

Are you ready for a great ELT event online, taking place between 11 and 13 of October? The 4th annual Reform Symposium Conference (RSCON), a free online three day event bringing together educators, students and innovators from around the world, will be held October 11th to 13th in conjunction with Connected Educator Month. The entire conference will be held online using the Blackboard Collaborate platform (formerly known as Elluminate/Wimba).
The Reform Symposium Conference is a global community initiative to transform teaching and learning.  The Reform Symposium Conference will be a highly inclusive and engaging event that will encourage students and educators around the world to share and learn about transformative approaches to learning and teaching. To attend this year's conference and to be kept informed of the latest conference news and updates, please check for more info here

On October 11th, at 6pm (Brasilia time), I will give a presentation on Writing through Multimodality. More info here. Hope to 'see' you there. 

Sunday, September 22, 2013

The roles we play

Most of my planning time is spent on preparing lessons for teens. This in itself can be quite a challenge, if you are a teacher who labels them as "difficult, moody, restless, intransigent, undisciplined... and a host of other negative attributes." (foreword from the OUP title 'Teenagers'). I could also agree to some of these adjectives at times, depending on who I am dealing with. Some of the kids can really get on your nerves.

Note to self (and those of you reading this post): rather than regarding them as a "noxious problem," why not stop and take a look at your 'teen' curriculums. In our staff room, I have overheard several of my colleagues mentioning that finding a 'good' book for teen levels is not easy, in fact, it can be quite daunting since some of the topics in the books have so little in common with our learners in this age bracket.

My take on this is that course books are not meant to be used from cover to cover. Because they should be seen as a source, and not used with page-by-page instruction, the topics they present should be fun, encouraging and address their needs. How is it possible, for example, to address the topic of interviews or checking in in a hotel if your students are 12 years old? Let's face it ... they will probably not care with a few quickly looking over to their mobiles for more interesting issues. Also, if and whenever they go on a trip, surely someone will take care of that part of the trip. Yes, it's good to know, but really? A two-day lesson on this? I don't think so ... so I work on the language and skip everything else.

I find myself skipping pages more often these days, and rather than focusing on what is on the curriculum I am having much more fun - with my students - when we ignore the book and unplug. More than worrying about hotel procedures, why not have them come up with an alternative syllabus, and perhaps fit in what is 'necessary' to cover for the exam. (I won't go into that again ... let's leave this alone, ok?)

Fluency is a nice buzz word, along with learner-centered instruction, but sometimes these can be more of a sales pitch than anything else. Sorry to say this, but whose interests are we focusing on anyway? Parents would be happy to hear that language schools (all schools for that matter!) are catering to their child's needs, and would be thrilled to hear that programs do so with the child's best interests in mind. And now let's look at the kids: what do THEY want? And what is it that the INSTITUTION wants? Who are we, anyway, and what do we propose? How much consideration is given to how these goals are relevant to their students' lives? Or are we just teaching the book to strengthen our ties with publishing companies? Who is actually pointing the way?

Does your program give room for promoting critical thinking? Is any of what you are doing linked with any other areas in your teens' education? The other day, I heard from a mother that one of the reasons her 14-year-old son was reluctant to coming to class is because the school offers little in terms of collaborative learning through projects. I had to agree. Collaboration leads to character building and strengthens an individual's awareness of his role in a society.

A tool which can greatly contribute to that is technology, and all of the gadgets available today...tons of them: apps, sites, flogs, blogs, wikis, etc .... but what 'technology' mean in some schools? Simply that there is an e-board ...

Yes, teens can be quite troublesome or perhaps much too quiet in class. Some consider themselves 'shy.' But wait! One of my quietest students finally spoke out this week when the movie 'The Matrix!' came up in class...see what I mean?! Do you understand what is happening here? It felt great to see that!

Bottom line: There is more to teaching teens than following a script (curriculum or book guidelines). Try it some time. They can be amazing! And when you have a moment, share your 'Eureka!' moment with us.

Friday, September 20, 2013

On any given class day

When in search of a grand topic to write about, life kicks in and hits you with the fact that you don't need a ground-breaking idea or never-thought-of method to spark a good entry. Just by keeping a closer look at what goes on around me, on a day-to-day basis has provided me with enough material for thought and observation. Every day something interesting happens in life which might be easily overlooked when you are too tired or upset about a personal issue. It could be anything from a compliment on how your hair looks that afternoon to a question on a current televised event. Tuning in has been something I've been working on so as to have a better grasp at things. And this is not only to improve my own perception skills as life moves forward, but also to be aware of the small intricacies which can transform an atmosphere into something more complete and meaningful to myself and those I share it with.   


Also, writing has always been a sort of therapy for me. It helps me organize thoughts, ideas, and who knows ... maybe someone out there, in this huge techie world of ours, might be interested in what you have to say? :) That thought is what has kept me going, and encouraged me to keep posting, so here goes.

OK, I admit it. The other day I was too quick to judge one of my students this semester who, at my first reading, seemed uninterested in class, always on her mobile, and quick to frown at any activity presented  in class. Book work didn't help, neither did flashy smartboard presentations - regardless of which technologies are available in school. Then, within her speech in class, I began to understand what was going on with her. Perhaps it had been too soon to make the mistake many of us teachers, in general, are guilty of: unfair judgment.

We are much too good at labeling which of our students is 'nice', 'a troublemaker,' 'a nerd', and I am no exception. But life gives a shout-out, and you realize there is more to it than that. Personal stories - some too painful to share -are always there, and it isn't always that you get a chance to learn a good lesson on how to stand back and move out of your 'teacher/controller/commander' position and observe. Listen. Understand.

This was the lesson I learned these past weeks, and I confess to feeling privileged to be slowly gaining her trust to share her story with me. It could happen on any given day, when you least expect it. Question is: are you paying attention?