As Focused as a Goldfish

My wife and I were talking about how hard it is to sometimes focus, to concentrate on a specific task.

I find it hard to dive into a book for more than 2 pages – especially if it’s on a Kindle. My wife can’t watch a TV program for more than 15 minutes without channel surfing.

Yesterday I came across a study sponsored by Microsoft stating that our attention span has shortened to 8 seconds from 12 seconds in a little more than a decade and that the typical goldfish can focus an average of 9 SECONDS. (You can read the whole study by clicking the following link: http://advertising.microsoft.com/en/cl/31966/how-does-digital-affect-canadian-attention-spans

The claim is that today’s digital technology with Twitter, emojis et al, make it very hard for us to concentrate.

Imagine when you are a teacher trying to grab the attention of kids or adults for 60 minutes. Many students of mine come to class with not one but 2 mobile phones – and during class those little evil creatures (the phones not the students) keep on vibrating, ringing, dinging, lightening up or doing whatever to get the attention of their owners (should I say servants?)- the students not the phones.

A hot trend nowadays is gamification – aiming to fight this ever-shrinking attention span – making workers or students to adhere to a series of games where they’ll be competing against each other, against time or against themselves. Ok, but is it feasible to be ever introducing new games?  Sooner or later they’ll get tired of that formula and then?

An article by the Medical Daily website presented 3 easy steps (easier said than done) for people to improve their physical and mental ability to concentrate:

1. Drink fluids – nothing more simple – but it’s unbelievable the number of people who don’t drink enough liquid to prevent mild dehydration. Coffee, tea (other than herbal) sodas and alcoholic beverages , even though liquid, cause more liquid loss.

2. Exercise – nothing like a walk around the block if nothing else, to clear up your mind. Yeah, you have a deadline but you’ll be better equipped with a better oxygenated brain.

3. Avoid electronic devices – adding insult to injury – set a timer for you not to touch or look into your smartphone, tablet of notebook (30 minutes of freedom during the day, for example, or switch them off for good at night).

The article ended with a simple question:

“So how many of you got through this article without checking your electronic devices”?

The funny thing is that I read this article with a student who really avoids even taking her cellphone out of her bag but, needless to say, even she failed in the test. During class her phone rang and she had to answer it.

In class the teacher will have to be creative in the activities provided and reduce the time allotted per activity. The challenge will be to keep every activity connected to the previous one so that learning will be continuing spiraling up and not in fits and starts. 8-seconds-attentionCheers and great concentration

Mo

Is time money? So invest it wisely!

We live in times when it’s almost a status symbol to say we don’t have time. We’re constantly in a rush. Sometimes it feels we’re running like the rabbit in Alice in Wonderland: “I’m late. I’m late. I’m late for a very important date”!

Invest your time wisely
Invest your time wisely

This week, a student of mine, Rodrigo, was saying that to his defense he hadn’t had time to do his homework. He has 2 young daughters and a wife to care for at home. And his work is very demanding.

It sounded as if I gave him homework as a form of punishment. Actually, I couldn’t care less about it. Do it. Don’t do it. I won’t be any wiser because of that.

The only reasons I give students homework is to give them direction to review what was seen in class, to practice reading and writing and to expand vocabulary.

I asked Rodrigo: “Ok, let’s have a math class (incorporating other subjects to English): how many hours do we have in a week?”

After fumbling a little  – 24 hours in a day – 7 days in a week … and spilling some zeros on the floor, we settled at 168 hours a week. He has 1 hour of English class per week.

“Ok,” he said. “But I have to sleep”. “Right”, I said. “So let’s be very optimistic and say you sleep 8 hours a night – in a week? 56 hours – that still leaves you with 112 hours to expose yourself to English”.

In a year? 8760 hours – if he never misses a class he’ll have had 52 hours worth of  English classes. Will that be enough for any student to gain fluency?

You know the answer. So dear students, if you want to learn you will have to devise your own ways to better use your time – be creative, think out of the box.

Rodrigo likes football/soccer – great hobby – listen to podcasts about it. Read a news article online every day about the British League, translate one paragraph from the sports section in his local newspaper into English, etc.

The secret is not setting aside some crumbs of minutes to “STUDY ENGLISH” but to incorporate English in your everyday life.

Cheers,

Mo

Invest your time wisely
Invest your time wisely

Growing through trials

Going over my lesson plans in 2014 I came across some notes on the book of James. The author emphasized how God has been patient with us for thousands of years. And sometimes we can go through hardships that are like those the people of Israel  had when they journeyed in the wilderness.

In Deuteronomy 8:15 we read:  He led you through the vast and dreadful wilderness, that thirsty and waterless land, with its venomous snakes and scorpions. He brought you water out of hard rock.”

Why does God put us in the wilderness? So that we can see what’s in our hearts.

The author of the book of James starts saying that “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds” (James 1:2). Does he really mean that? Is he making a mistake? Has he been drinking? What drug is he on?

It takes supernatural revelation in the midst of trials  to reveal our needs.

In the book of James we are admonished (I like this word), to consider trials pure joy. Why? Is it because we must suffer in order to pay for our sins or for our ancestors sins? Is it to appease angry gods?

Hardships will help us develop spiritual stamina. In Luke 2:52 we read:  And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.” – growing up Jesus most certainly didn’t have it easy but he grew physically, mentally and spiritually.

God wants us to stop going round the same mountain.

We were never promised to always have smooth, sunny days. Storms will come. Let us learn to grow with and despite our trials.

Cheers,

Mo

Sometimes the rain comes
Sometimes the rain comes

When enough is enough or not

How long should a student stay with the same teacher? That’s a question quite often asked.

Answers may vary – some schools rotate teachers at the end of a stage/level. Others change teachers month. There are schools which rotate teachers every class (which is a strategy to keep students attached to the school not to a particular teacher, given the high turnover in the industry).

My wife started learning English at a language school years ago, which rotated teachers at the end of every stage, but she had a teacher – Wallace* – who had noticed that students were not reaching higher levels at the expected pace. So Wallace tried an experiment staying with the same group of students from beginner to advanced in order to identify where the weakest link was. When reaching the Advanced level -C1 – students were more confident in language production and more fluent. But the experiment  was inconclusive whether the positive outcome was due to the same teacher or whether Wallace was a better teacher than average, or the rotation made students fluctuate and slide back in their progress.

A few weeks ago, my Student Rosie* told me of a dream she’d had that I was in her bedroom answering phone calls on her landline and had asked her not to disturb me. What would have triggered such a bizarre dream?

Well, the night before she’d been talking to her mother saying she’d have to get up a little earlier the next day because she had English class. Her mother asked her if she was still having lessons with that teacher who wore glasses and had a captivating smile (author’s imagination) and Rosie* nodded. Her mother asked how long she’d been having classes with me and she said “nearly 10 years maybe”.

Then I told her that it would be around 19-20 years – on and off of course. I moved to the US for a period and then to Ireland. But it made me wonder what would make someone pay a teacher almost long enough for the latter’s retirement.

For many years she was what we would call a regular student – using textbooks, doing or trying to do homework, etc. But in recent years, we’ve been basically having “communication-based” lessons, sometimes throwing in some work-related material or presentation she would have to go through.

She has achieved a fluent advanced English level – which does not eliminate mistakes. She still confuses he/she  and his/her/your. Sometimes, tenses are a nightmare, but she feels perfectly capable of carrying on a meeting or phone conference, or making a presentation.

Now, am I taking advantage of a situation and should tell her to terminate her classes? or is she still benefiting from those classes?

After a serious and hard analysis, I came to the latter conclusion. Both psychologically and linguistically she still can improve and she does, although slowly and haphazardly.

Sure, most people will benefit from a 3-5 year language program, but the same way that some professionals seek continuous improvement so some language learners require and can afford long-term language assistance.

Cheers,

Moknowingwilling

* all names have been changed to prevent any legal issues.

“You’re just a number”

I’ve been a self-employed teacher for over 20 years and have never looked back. Well, … with the exception of a few times.

Working for yourself, you can “choose” your students and working hours – in a certain way, set your fees and run after Teacher Conferences in order to network (which I rarely do) and get new ideas (which sometimes do come).

Being self-employed one must be constantly updating one’s expertise, getting familiar with latest trends and materials – books, apps, pills, etc.

I’ve always prided myself of my ability – by God’s grace – of never being without a student portfolio – never been unemployed – if you get what I mean.

During all this time one of my main corporate clients has been the Arab Banking Corporation in Brazil – having taught past and present Presidents and a wide array of directors and VPs since 1994.

During this time I’ve been loyal to the bank having translated several of their annual financial reports and enjoyed some perks – had a badge that identified me as an outsourced worker which allowed me access to some areas of the bank. I could also have my parking validated. Well, basically that was all.

Now apparently, Human Resources –  under new management – has decided to wage a war against Language Teachers – alleging that we take up unused meeting rooms during lunch time – that’s when classes take place or after 6pm when most meetings have already ended.

Now they’ve taken my badge away, so every single day I have to identify myself at the reception in the lobby and wait for authorization to go up. They are also requiring that I must wait downstairs for my respective student to come down to “collect” me and if I’m thirsty or need to go “powder my nose” in the gents’, said student should accompany me as well. Adding salt to the wound, if the student is late because of a meeting or any other reason, I must stay downstairs waiting, standing in a seat-free lobby. After all, we can’t tolerate loitering, can we?

So, this is one of the few disadvantages of being a self-employed teacher – I was complaining to my wife and she, the very commonsensical she is, just commented: “That’s the corporate world – you’re just a number”. And after rendering educational services for over 20 years at this fine financial institution I have nothing to show for it – not even a badge.

But I refuse to end this post on a grumpy note – after all these years I’m proud to show many students at that bank who today are fluent and feel comfortable when using English in the toughest business situations.

Cheers,Badge

Mo

7 Podcasts every ESL Teacher needs to know

Having upgraded my iPhone 5s to an iPhone 6, I was afraid I’d lost all my files including all my list of podcasts -but, God bless the iCloud team. Everything was backed up and recoverable.

But after procrastinating for a few weeks I’ve finally come round to listing the podcasts which might be interesting to all ESL/EFL teachers and students as well.

1. KKLC ELT Podcast  there are only 5 episodes available dating back to 2013 but still relevant dealing with learning styles or language and technology.  http://www.kkcl.org.uk/category/podcast/

2. Masters of Tesol – Andrew Bailey introduces tough topics on language teaching – the latest episode tries to show how to teach English intonation. https://mastersoftesol.wordpress.com/category/podcast/

3. The History of English podcast  an in-depth study on the origins of the English language  dating back to when everybody spoke Latin – http://historyofenglishpodcast.com/

4. Grammar Girl Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing- always useful tips to help students  http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/grammar-girl

5. TEFLology – three self-appointed Teflologists discussing TEFL – discussing all TEFL issues and news plus interviews on different TEFL themes. http://teflology.libsyn.com/

6. Edgycation – two funny teachers discussing all things ESL/EFL – unfortunately the series ended in 2013 – but most of the topics discussed are still relevant today. http://edgycation.org/

7. ESL Teacher Talk – great podcast series for ESL teachers – ended in 2010 but still great talk and input on all things ESL. http://www.eslteachertalk.com/

There you have it… hours of great teacher training material within your reach.

Hope you enjoy these podcasts. Although some are no longer produced they are not gone.

Ok, I confess. I just wanted to share with you guys that I’ve got a brand new iPhone 6 as a wedding anniversary gift from my Sweeheart – woohoo – but these podcasts are quite useful and will provide you with many hours of information and education.

Cheers,

Mo

Travel English

One of these days, a fellow teacher, Paschoal,  who’s starting his solo  career in ESL teaching, asked me if it was ok to accept some students who don’t REALLY want to learn English but just be handed the most basic phrases for a trip to the U.S. The students want only to learn what to say when checking into a hotel, or going to a restaurant, or at the airport, or when shopping (a Favorite for all Brazilian tourists).

Paschoal said he felt extremely uncomfortable taking on students who didn’t want to be students. They wanted to be travellers, or for a narrower concept, ” Touristers”.

Not everyone wants to learn a second language and if they are willing to learn some basic phrases just to get by, why not? Maybe after their travel experience they will change their mind, if not, at least, they will have expanded a little their horizons. Hopefully!

So, Paschoal, go ahead and teach them situations at a restaurant , for example. Roleplay dialogues such as:

Waiter (speaking 100mph): hello, my name is zzzzz, I’ll zzzz. are you zzzzzzz or do you need zzzzz? Can I zzzzz?

student: uhhhhhh, Yes. image

Got my gist?

So, be ethical and tell them the importance of properly studying English as a second language and let them know they’ll be getting what they’re paying for…

Cheers,

Mo