Iatefl Blues, yellows and greens. And a sense of direction.

Blues, Yellows and Greens... Pick your color! (Photo by Max A Mauchline on ELTPics - CC license)

Another Annual IATEFL Conference has come to an end.

An intense week of attending presentations, checking out what new books and resources there are in the market, meeting old friends, making new ones, discussing teaching and teacher development. It’s so intense and you get such an adrenalin rush from all of it that it is inevitable to feel a bit blue afterwards.

The venue was excellent – even if a bit far from the city (just a 15-minute walk, but with the programme, there isn’t enough time to go eat something in the city centre and go back in time for the next session). Good rooms, well located exhibition, plenty of places to sit down and meet people. I do, however, think two things didn’t work as well as they could – and I know I echo what some of the other people, who have posted reflections about the conference, in what I am about to say. The first is that some of the talks I wanted to attend were in small rooms (and I do realise some of the presenters specifically requested a limited number of seats, but that was not always the case) and by the time I got to those rooms, there were no more seats. Because of health and safety regulations, we couldn’t sit on the floor or stand on the back. I know it is difficult to predict who will have a large number of people turn up for their talk and who won’t, but it doesn’t stop being frustrating. The second is that the venue being somewhat far from the city centre made lunch time complicated (long lines in the places at the venue, or missing the first afternoon session if you decided to eat at the Bistro there). Maybe I was badly spoiled in Brighton last year, where there were many options around the venue. It also represented a problem at the end of the day, when a large number of people got out at the same time and tried to find a taxi to go back to the hotels or to one of the evening events. I understand there isn’t much the coordinating committee can do about them, but those were the two things I felt that could have been better. That is the yellow (making an analogy with traffic lights, I guess) part.

On to the greenMy overall conference experience this year was even better than last year’s. Maybe I got luckier at choosing the sessions I attended, going to sessions that were more relevant and meaningful to me. I also think there is a little of what Adam Simpson says on his A Tale of Two Conferences (part two) post: being involved in sharing and connecting through social media and being involved in the ELT blogosphere (reading and writing in them) changes your conference experience. And not only for the people you meet – first virtually and then in person. More importantly, having a PLN and being active on Twitter and reading people’s blogs has given me a better sense of what people are involved in, what they do, their views on teaching. It broadens your horizon. So now when I go to a conference I recognise many of the names in the programme, either because I interact with them virtually already, or because I have read about them in other people’s blogs. Whether that is the reason or not, my experiences at conferences ever since have been much better, I have taken much more from them.

Instead of blogging about the sessions I went to – especially because other people do a much better job at it – I decided to talk about a great, motivating feeling I got at the IATEFL Conference in Glasgow. A feeling that struck me on the very first day and it continued on during the week. A feeling that has made me very happy. It is a distinct feeling of a common topic and way of thinking among many of the presenters and participants. It gave me a sense of the direction I believe (and sincerely hope) ELT is going towards.

Which way are we going? Finally a sense of direction! (image by @Cgoodey - ELTPics on Flickr, CC License)

This “sense of direction” started taking shape after I attended Anthony Gaughan’s session “The Seven Deadly Sins of ELT” (which by the way was a session many people I know tried getting in and couldn’t, for it was full already). In his talk Anthony challenges many of the practices considered “sins” in the ELT classroom – especially after the communicative approach – and made us reflect upon benefits from using them in certain situations and for the right purposes (At this point I am thinking I’m going straight to ELT hell for all I have sinned!). Among the sins are repetition drilling, translation, L1, teacher explanations and telling your students they are wrong – as opposed to recasting. You could hear the sighs of relief across the room!!! The truth is, so many of us (I wouldn’t dare say all of us, but the thought did cross my mind ;-)) already think that way and do those things in class, but many do it hoping no one finds out. The majority of those who do it certainly won’t do it if/when being observed by a DoS or another teacher. Because we have been told over and over not to. Because those techniques are old. They’re not communicative. But, as Anthony asked himself: “Does everything have to have communicative value?”. Personally, I think communication is the end, where we want our students to get, but not necessarily the ideal means in every moment of the class. Any extreme is usually flawed. Anthony’s session was filled with questioning and ideas of how / why to use those techniques.

In the afternoon, that same day, I went to Jim Scrivener’s “A Proposal for Active Interventionist Teaching”. Jim says the communicative approach has settled down into a safe, peaceful dead-end, and it isn’t leading to very much learning. While I don’t entirely agree with Jim that we are in a dead-end (after all, not all of us are limited by it, even if no openly. Much has been done and progressed), I could relate to it – and it resonated so closely to what Anthony had said in the morning. He questioned the label of teachers as ‘facilitators’, as passive people standing on the back guiding students into developing their own learning. He stated that it is an active, creative, shaping role – not an abdicating one. He reflected upon the amount of empty praising there is going on in classrooms around the world and whether it really is effective. He suggested real, effective feedback as more efficient tools. Just as Anthony, he said problems have to be pointed out to students and that teachers have to cease being scared of hurting the students’ feelings. We should not be mean or rude – by all means! His point was that we can’t be overly afraid. We have to give teachers permission to teach again.

Those were just the two first sessions that gave me the sense of direction I mentioned. Throughout the rest of the week other sessions steered in that direction as well. If last year I felt the conference was about technology and tools to use with students, this year, for me the conference was about stopping on our tracks for a bit, assessing, reflecting and evaluating what really is working and what isn’t in the way we are expected / supposed to teach these days. We have to use some critical thinking (which we talk so much about teaching to our students – it’s time we use it as well!) and be honest about it. And make any necessary changes, adapting and personalisation needed without being afraid. We are the experts in class. We should be allowed to teach and decide which technique or activity will be more effective with each learner / group of learners in different moments. Effective teaching, as far as I am concerned and have noticed over the many years I have been teaching, is not black and white. There is no absolute truth, or a right and a wrong way of doing it. There are uncountable shades of gray, because teachers are different, students are different, needs and learning styles are different… And the teacher should be allowed to decide what works best for his/her learners and groups without being judged by it.

The conference in Glasgow was great for many reasons. But the one thing that gave me a breath of fresh air and motivation to go back to the classroom and do my job was the feeling that we are slowing demanding (as teachers) and giving (as students, DoS and “thinkers”) teaching back to teachers. And that feels good.

I guess I won’t be going to hell anymore, after all ;-)

Before a Language Teacher… I was a Language Learner

For me, one of the best things about blogging is reading the comments after the blog ans seeing how people from different places, different contexts and experiences read and understand the same post. How they see different aspects – our view of things passes through the lenses that our experiences have given us. I love learning about how other teachers around the world see things, wonder what makes them that way. And one of the most effective ways of doing that, and getting a wide variety of teachers sharing their experiences and views on the same topic, is a blog challenge.

Brad Patterson proposed the latest challenge in my PLN with a post where he shares his story of learning a foreign language and posing a question for anyone wiling to share their story:

“I challenge you to blog a story of your language learning, be it a success or a story about what didn’t work for you OR for your students if you’d like.”

So… without further ado, here’s my story.

Curly-haired, blondish Ceci with dad and bro

My mother used to be an English teacher. I was a very curious child – always wanting to learn things and asking questions. So naturally, I was intrigued by that different language my mother spoke. I leafed through her books, looked at the images and wanted, more than anything, understand what the books said. I learned to read and write earlier than most kids I played with – at 4 to 5 years old. Books have always been my passion.

So my mother bought me English books that came with records (Yes, records!) of cute songs and had beautiful pictures and words under it. And I listened to the records and repeated the words. I listened to and sung the songs. I wanted to be part of that. I wanted to communicate. So my mother tried to enroll me in a private English course when I was 6. The course wouldn’t accept me as a student, because the minimum age then was 7. My mother, after much talking, convinced them I wouldn’t fall behind or have discipline problems, so I started my formal studies of the English language.

And a whole new world opened up. It was easy for me. I could reproduce the sounds quite effortlessly, I learned without major problems, I spoke English in class all the time and progressed quickly. By the time I was 13 (with 2 hours of class a week) I had completed the whole course, including advanced conversation classes. Languages are a passion. Communication is a key aspect of my life. Nothing makes me more frustrated than not being able to talk to – or understand – someone.

The first time I really understood what it meant to be able to communicate in another language came when I was 12 – my first trip to the USA, to visit Disneyworld in Florida. I could talk to everyone, get around, order things and, most importantly I understood all the explanations, all the signs… I knew what people were talking about. More than the adults on  the trip! I could never understand how a person can visit a foreign country without being capable of fully understanding what is being said to them. How could they go on a ride (in one of the amusement parks) and not understand the story, what the guides said?

When you visit a foreign country and you don’t speak the language, you don’t get the full experience. You can’t really experience the culture. You don’t get a full idea of the people and their habits. That, for me, is special.

In Kansas, on top of some bails - at 15

After that, when I was 15, I spent a year as an exchange student in rural western Kansas – a year that changed my life and gave me a much broader view of the world, the different people in it. It opened my eyes to diversity and the beauty of it. To how much we learn and grow from being exposed to different cultures, habits and beliefs. I started teaching English when I came back from the exchange program, after some training at the school I had studied at (yes, I know…too young, no real training… that’s a topic to a whole post, I’m afraid)

At about the time I got back to Brazil, I also made a decision. My first life goal. By the time I was 35 I wanted to be fluent in 5 languages. I can tell you right now I did not accomplish that (35 is passed and gone). I did, however, study Spanish – where I consider myself fairly fluent. I also started studying French after I had my second child. But the method and the lack of time didn’t help and I quit after a year. I still want to go back to it. My phonetic talent has persisted, and I still seem to be able to internalize and process foreign languages fairly easily.

But for me, the biggest consequence of my experience was my awareness of the world and to how important knowing other languages is if you want to communicate effectively while experiencing the world. Both my children study at a bilingual school, and I plan for them to be fluent at English by the age most kids go on exchange programs, so they can go to a country to perfect their third language. I speak to them in English often – for them it’s not really any difference whether I speak in English or Portuguese (though they do struggle more with English). They love it and see the benefits and reason for it, because they have been to foreign countries and were able to communicate on their own. I took my kids to visit my Kansas host family and they felt confident (and safe) enough to spend full days with people other than me. They would go on their own to ask for things and information when we went to Disneyworld. They talk to my English-speaking friends when I am on a call on Skype. They see the why, even if they can’t quite verbalize it.

After all, in the age of globalization, information and communication… being able to express yourself properly is key, isn’t it?

How good a liar am I? Taking up a PLN challenge

No, I can’t resist a challenge. And even though I am completely overwhelmed with the arrival of midterm, with grading, assessing efolios and report card writing, I made time to take up Dave Dodgson’s Challenge. On his post, he talks about an acitivity many of us have done in the first day of class, which is saying things about ourselves and slipping a lie in the middle, to have students speculate which one is a lie. Dave recorded himself doing it and invited readers of his blog to guess among the five things he said which two were lies, which were true. Here’s the challenge:

  • Post a video, audio recording or just a regular post on your blog in which you state 5 facts about yourself – 3 truths and 2 lies.
  • Invite your PLN to quiz you and speculate on what the lies are!

So here’s my recording, and I invite you to guess which 2 things are lies. I have always wondered how good a liar I am.;-)

Can you tell which two things are not true???

PLN Blog Challenge – Compare and Contrast

A new PLN-proposed blog challenge…. by Anne Hodgson and turned into a challenge by Brad Patterson.

Choose two photos to “compare and contrast”.

Now, if you have read some of my posts – or have known me for some time – you know I have a problem with challenges – or rather my inability to decline them. It’s a weakness, one that has been very linguistically fruitful :-)

But as I was looking through photos to choose a couple for the challenge, I caught myself looking at it a little differently. I have always focused on ELT here, but this challenge will take a more… personal.

So here are my 2 photos:

One little ballerina...

And…

... and another ballerina - and a fan ;-)

  • Who are the people in the pictures and how are they related?
  • How do the clothes indicate different situations, despite the obvious similarity (ballet dancers)?
  • What are the similarities – other than the subject being ballerinas?
  • How could you use this in class? What else could you focus on despite comparatives (and superlatives?)

It’d be great to see a lot of people taking up the challenge, so why don’t you???

Others who have taken up the challenge:

Baiba Svenca

Ceri Jones

Chiew Pang

Janet Bianchini

Michael Harrison

An Explanation….

Photo by myguitarzz on Flickr

 

I have neglected my blog terribly for too long. No excuses other than lack of time. I believe most teacher will understand when I say it was a mix of end of semester, training sessions, a trip to the 9th Southern Cone in Curitiba (which I have a post in my mind, sharing what I learned there), preparing for and helping organize the Reform Symposium… and one week off to recharge the batteries for the new semester that begins Monday – not to mention the RSCON that’s taking place this weekend.

For those who subscribe and follow my blog, my sincere apologies. I promise to try to be better :-)

Learning, Sharing and Tweetups = My Week in Fleetham Lodge

Fleetham Lodge - My home for a week in January

 

It all started in the end of a session during the 3rd VRT (Virtual Round Table) last October. Berni Wall (@rliberni) said she would do another ELT PD Week for overseas teachers in January, and invited applications. I had my attention grabbed right there and went to her website to check the details. A week in Yorkshire, with other ELT teachers discuss teaching? I can’t think of many better ways to spend part of my vacation. A few email exchanges later I was buying my tickets.

 

The idea was to tackle the most important topics related to English teaching during the days and discuss/watch films of the Brontës novels in the evening. Most of us arrived on January 2nd: me and Wellington Oliveira (wellingtonros) from Brazil, Dina Dobrou (@dobroudina) and Maria Zygourakis (@mariazygourakis) from Greece. I had been interacting with Berni through twitter for a while, she is a moderator at the wonderful #ELTChat and is also the head (and creator) of Gapfillers - a great website for English learners. She came pick us up at the Northallerton train station. I recognized her as soon as she pulled up – another great help from twitter and PLNs. that day we got to know each other a bit better, then a wonderful dinner and we watched the first Brontë film: “The Tenant of Winfell Hall”.

 

Berni lives (and teaches) at Fleetham Lodge, an incredibly beautiful place, with fireplaces everywhere (Thankfully – it’s was a very cold week!). I slept alone for the first day, for my roomate, the fantastic Shelly Terrell (@shellterrell) had some problems making it from the US to Yorkshire. On Monday we went to Haworth, the city where the Brontë sisters lived at and their father was perpetual curate of the church. What a wonderful day! A charming, old town, cobblestones, buildings and business that have been there since the Brontë sisters lived there… We visited their museum with their possessions, clothes, manuscripts…), the church, the cemetery, strolled around the streets, tried reaching the ruins they say inspired “Wuthering Heights” – it was too cold to walk all the way there. It was a perfect day. We even had lunch at the pub where Bramwell (the Brontë sisters’ brother) used to go to! Personally I was fascinated. I always am when I see things that bring closer, bring to reality things I’ve read about in books. I recommend anyone who has the opportunity to visit Haworth. After dinner we started watching “Wuthering Heights”. Shelly arrived late that first night. And she is everything she seems to be on twitter: sweet, smart and an insomniac like me (which translates into looong talks into early hours of the morning).

 

Maria, Wellington, Berni, Immy, Me and Dina walking on the moors.

On the first day of PD we discussed Listening, Vocabulary and Technology. We talked about our views on teaching the first two and using the third to promote learning, but mostly – and more importantly – we shared. We shared our opinions, shared approaches and activities that worked with us, shared doubts and insecurities… When we discussed technology it was a real treat having Shelly with us, who not only is a fantastic teacher but also is a pro at how to integrate technology into the classroom and use it for enhancing students’ learning experience. At night we watched the second part of “Wuthering Heights” after dinner that I had cooked (some Brazilian flavors: caipirinhas for cocktail, fish in coconut sauce and cashew nuts rice).

 

On Wednesday Shelly had to leave us. In the PD front we discussed grammar (shared views on form X function and lots and lots of activities). we took a break to participate in the #ELTChat. At night, since it was the 12th night, we had a special dinner of goose and did our version of the “mummers play” – which Berni’s husband (and fabulous cook) filmed and photographed. We had such fun!

 

The Mummers Play on the 12th night

 

 

On our third day we tackled blogging, error correction and speaking.  Our serious professional development session was interrupted by a heavy snowfall which made the 4 of us – not really used to snow in our home countries – go outside to enjoy the snow on the ground a bit.

 

On Friday we discussed reading and in the aftgernoon Berni took us to Northallerton to walk around the town and do some shopping. On Saturday we had a day off, so the four of us took of and spent the day in York. We visited the York Minster, walked around the beautiful streets, had fish&chips for lunch… another perfect, fun day. Then on Sunday it was time to say goodbye – how quickly a week goes by when you’re enjoying yourself and the people you’re with!

 

Tweet-up! Shelly, me and Berni

 

My final assessment of that PD week? Well, before I went a friend, who also works with ELT asked me what she (Berni) got out of it. After all she is opening her home, her family life to a group of “strangers’, housing and feeding them with no financial payback. So what does she get from it? I didn’t ask her that, but I can wonder. I think she – as a passionate, committed teacher – loves sharing, exchanging ideas, learning how things are done elsewhere. Kirkby Fleetham is somewhat isolated as far as ELT goes. Of course Berni goes to conferences, she reads, moderates ELTChat… But mostly she works on her own. So I think in a way, the PD Week opportunity she offers is a way for her to have a bit of a teacher’s staff room for a week, as well as connecting with teachers from different cultures and realities. She is a wonderful teacher and has lots to share, and I consider myself very lucky to having had the chance to experience that. It only served to prove even further what I feel about sharing and how much sharing is an essential part of a teacher’s life (you can read more about my views on sharing in this post I wrote about it). Besides, Berni and her family have a heart of gold. I learned a lot that week. Things that I’ll use in the classroom, with my students and in my life in genral. And I thank Berni for the opportunity. :-)

Musings About the Year Past – Wishes for the New One

Words from the year that's almost over...

 

As a new year approaches it is seems  inevitable to look back to what happened in 2010, acknowledge what we did right and hope for more fo those in 2011 and at the same time be humble to admit what we that didn’t really work the way we had planned it to – and hope for improvement in the coming year. So my last post of the year will be a reflective one.

 

2010 brought a lot of big changes to my life, on both personal and professional areas of my life.  Changes can be a very scary thing, but it usually means development. And I choose to look at the changes that I went through this year as that: an opportunity for development. In the first semester, the restructuring of the handbooks we use for the High Intermediate groups in ABA (the school I work at) was finally finished. As the leader of that project, along with a fantastic teacher and great friend, Roberta Ferraz, I was very pleased to see them being used in class and getting the positive feedback of the other teachers as they came to use them. Of course it’s not perfect, and we’re changing what doesn’t work as we see it. but overall it’s been a great change. Getting positive feedback on something you developed/put together is an amazingly rewarding feeling and it was a big plus in my year.

 

Taking part in the 12th Braz-Tesol Convention in São Paulo was a big highlight as well. Being there, meeting people, attending fantastic presentations / talks / plenaries, overcoming fears and presenting. What I saw there, what I heard and talked about, the people I met and connections I made gave a breath of fresh air, great motivation to venture new paths, trust myself more, go back to studying, experimenting, researching… I came back to Recife and started a new semester completely refreshed. It’s amazing what a good conference and sharing with people from other places, other cultures, other contexts can do to motivate you.

 

And then, in the second semester of 2010, when I came back from São Paulo I discovered what a PLN was and started building my own, connecting and sharing and learning from educators (and especially English teachers) from all over this diverse world we live in. And what a fantastic ride it’s been. Learning about new tools, participating in my first webinar, experimenting in my classes with things I learned from my PLN friends, reading so many amazing blogs, starting my own blog, being nominated for best new blog in the Edublog Awards (and being chosen the first runner-up among an incredible list of blogs), learning, sharing, learning, sharing… Then, having the fabulous opportunity of beginning the new year taking part in a Teacher Professional Workshop in England, offered by Berni Wall and having a chance to reflect upon my practice with teachers from all over the world (not to mention meeting two of my favorite PLN members: Berni and Shelly Terrell!!!). I had never, in my wildest dreams, thought the year could turn out so well. And in great part, I owe that to my PLN, so here’s my big THANK YOU to the incredible group of people I follow on Twitter.

 

So what to expect from the new years that is just around the corner? I can only hope. Hope I can continue sharing and developing with (and through) my PLN. Hope that I can experiment and find even better ways of teaching my students and help them learn English, to make it a tool for improvement and development in their own lives. Hope that I can make my way to IATEFL in Brighton in April and meeting a big part of my PLN there, learn lots from them and others who will be presenting there, continue reflecting, always knowing we never know enough, we can ALWAYS do better. I hope my children continue to grow the healthy, happy, healthy children they are now. That I will be able to continue and get more serious about my professional development, take part in courses I plan to, continue my education. But most of all, I hope 2011 brings peace. I hope it brings peace and understanding to the world. As I interact on twitter with people of the most diverse places, faiths, upbringings, beliefs it never ceases to amaze me that no matter where we come from, what we believe in, we connect, interact, progress together, learn from each other, respect each other. And it makes me wonder why we can’t have that not only on twitter and within our PLN, but also throughout the world, among governments and peoples. As cheesy as it sounds, that’s my wish for the new year. So I’ll finish this post with a poem by Francisco Gomes de Matos, a great peace linguist, who I am fortunate to know and work with, for he is the president of my school’s board. Always good to reflect about peace and tolerance in my opinion. And no more appropriate time for that than now, as we start a new year – fresh slate perhaps?

 After all, we all have a right to peace. And maybe, as educators, we can try and bring  a little peace and tolerance teaching to our classes. Teachers have great influence, we might as well use it to make the world a better place :-)

 

THE RIGHT  TO PEACE :A Nonkilling  view

by  Francisco Gomes de Matos

 

When the Right to Peace is  stated
How does Humankind usually feel ?
Do human beings show they are elated
or do they expect  something real ?

The Right to Peace  two major dimensions cover:
One that is spiritualizing :

 Meditation, in which paths to  tranquility we may discover;

 another,that is  conciliatory: Mediation

 

The Right to Peace entails a very demanding obligation:
That to Dignity and Justice,

all Humankind should be committed

Of the Principle of Nonviolence,

 helping the propagation and educating

 so that forms of life-killing are not permitted

 

How can the Right to Peace be universally  achieved?
This also calls  for socioeconomic-political transformation

 In which the benefits of equality by all are received

 and people violating peace will have nonkilling preparation

The Right to Peace on Earth let´s firmly globalize

So that by conflicts and wars,

less and less people will be harmed

 As appliers of the Right to Peace,  let´s harmonize

 And one day,in a nonkilling future,all nations will be disarmed

 

Happy Holidays everyone. I’ll be traveling to the UK this week, meeting some of the fab members of my PLN (Yay!) before the new year comes and then on to Berni’s workshop, where I expect I’ll be able to get back to posting. Until then, I hope you enjoy the season!