Headway Elementary – 4th edition: a book review

I have been a fan of the Headway series since 1991 when I started teaching privateheadway advanced students in São Paulo, Brazil, and that was the book assigned me by the school I was working for at the time  (where I would become a partner a few years later). It was the Headway Advanced first edition (Oxford University Press), I believe. I was amazed at how advanced the book really was. Even native speakers would encounter vocabulary challenges in it.

Since then I have used the New Headway series and the American Headway (which is mostly an adaptation of the UK edition with more of a north American vocabulary and audio, which is a great strategy used by the publishers while meeting a demand).

Usually US publishers do not invest much in textbooks for ESL/EFL learners while the UK is always introducing new titles. Considering the demand especially in Latin America and Asia for US-based language materials, nothing better than produce the same book with minor changes for all markets.

Also the new editions tend to add just minor changes – enough to justify the need for a new book by both teacher and students and also force the teacher to discard the older book as “obsolete”. This year I was planning on using the 3rd edition which I already owned, but unsurprisingly, it was not not to be found by the students at the bookstores. Only the “new and improved” 4th edition. Talk about marketing strategies. There goes the teacher having to purchase all the set – workbook, teacher’s book and student’s book plus the CDs and DVDs. Nice, ain’t it?

The latest edition I have in my hands is the New Headway Elementary 4th edition (2011) by Liz and John Soars (the authors of the original edition). When compared to the New Headway Elementary 3rd edition (2000) – the changes were not that significant – the audio has new recordings and the texts are also new.. . but the grammar syllabus and vocabulary for instance are quite similar, even considering the way the thematic content is distributed in the units. headway1_450

A big change I’ve observed is that the 4th Edition is way too heavy on content – the books still have long units (around 8 pages each) – 12 units in the 4th edition compared with 14 units in the 3rd edition – against other trends for shorter units observed in other textbooks where each section consists of 2 pages (New English File, for example).

Let’s consider unit 7: Dates to remember – the syllabus includes

  1. Past Simple (2)
  2. Questions and Negatives
  3. Time Expressions
  4. Adverbs (regular and irregular)
  5. Special Occasions

The load of content feels like crushing against the learner’s skull. Too much vocabulary and grammar to be absorbed in a few hours. Much better would be to have shorter units and introduce each point gradually, while revisiting points previously learned.

Would I still recommend Headway to other students and teachers? Yes, if the teacher can decode and adapt the textbook to the student’s needs.

As a coursebook it would be a really big challenge to have effective teaching in a classroom with 25 or 30 students.

By the way, I am impressed by the fact that the publishers haven’t still embraced the e-book format (fear of piracy? cost?). But it would make the life of teachers and students much easier. Imagine: For one elementary student I have to carry the teacher’s book, workbook and coursebook. On a day when I’m teaching different levels how many pounds/kilos of books am I supposed to be carrying? Hellooo.

 But that’s a topic for another blog.

Happy teaching,

Cheers,

Mo

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Online Classes – 5 tips on how to get started teaching

Last week, Juliana got in touch with me via Facebook Messenger with the following request:
“Good evening, teacher Moacir, how’s it goin’? I attended your English Sabbath School Class a few years ago and I have become a teacher at IASP ( a school in the interior of São Paulo state). Someone has asked me about online private classes and since I know you teach classes in this manner, I would like to have some tips from you.
I love English, it’s been my passion since I was a little child and now I would like to work with private classes because I feel like I’m cast in plaster with the teaching methods at schools.
If you could help me I would be immensely thankful!”
Well, how could I say “NO” to someone who is passionate about the language and also willing to teach?image
My reply was:
Hello Juliana, I’m really glad you’re interested in teaching online.
1. The first thing you must do is evaluate the student’s level and encourage constancy and define the platform – Skype / FaceTime? How often will they be having classes? once a week? twice? more? From my experience FaceTime has better voice/ image quality than Skype. The limitation is that both parties must be using Apple products.
2. Class time: 50 – 60 minutes (classes with more than an hour online can become too exhausting and student – and teacher – may lose focus).
3. Price: it will vary depending on your public – usually I charge 10-20% less than my “in-person classes” – since I save on transportation and commute time. How much to charge? It will depend on your market – in Brazil it can vary from R$ 35 to R$ 175 per hour. It would be a good idea to negotiate a fixed monthly package.

4. Develop a curriculum – how long will the classes take for the student to change to a higher level? six months? one year? what materials will be used?

5. Homework – I’ve learned that the best approach regarding homework  (especially with “false” beginners and higher levels) is the flipped class style – the student will do the homework before the online class and then the teacher will correct and make the student practice points still not consolidated. Students from Elementary levels on to Advanced should be encouraged to read articles from magazines and newspapers to develop vocabulary and comprehension. They could be asked to read a news story, for instance, and then present a summary during the online session. Translation from L1 to L2 is always a good practice that students should attempt before their class.
esl teaching online 2
Whew… I hope this will give you some ideas. Any questions, just let me know. May God bless you on this new adventure.

Oh, before I forget, it’s super important to have a reasonable internet connection and sound quality.

Happy Sabbath 🙂

Mo

 

Reading in the EFL environment

A couple of weeks ago, a nearly advanced (upper-intermediate) student of mine was all excited because he had bought a book in English at the bookstore at the Santos Dumont airport in Rio. He paid more than US$ 40 for the paperback, which costs about US$ 11 at bookstores outside the airport – but the rip-off schemes at airports will be left to another blog. What his purchase showed was his commitment to developing his language skills such as vocabulary and writing through reading. The book he chose was The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. Now he wasn’t sure it had been a wise choice since he had already tripped over the vocabulary in the introduction page: The_Girl_On_The_Train_(US_cover_2015)

“She’s buried beneath a silver birch tree, down towards the old train tracks, her grave marked with a cairn. …”

And down under the stones goes my student’s confidence. His natural reaction was: “gee! if I can’t understand the first sentence of the introduction, imagine what trying to read this book will be like”. The following class he came to me with the book showing me the ungrateful text and saying: “I don’t know what a birch tree is! What is a cairn? I think I made a mistake buying this book. It’s too difficult for me.”image

After telling him I didn’t know (or remember) what a cairn was, we looked that up together on google using the entry “cairn meaning” and then Google images to visualize it. As regarding the birch tree it was enough to know (at least, at that point) that it was a tree [period].

I encouraged him by saying “it’s not a textbook or a study book he should underline or research different ideas or terms. As a novel, the first approach should be to enjoy it. Start getting used to the flow of the language, the plot, the characters and not to feel guilty if he decided to stop reading it”.

Together we reviewed a generally accepted how-to reading checklist:

  1. Previewing – what’s the story about? what do you think happened/ will happen?
  2. Contextualizing – where? when? who?
  3. Visualizing – picture the scene
  4. Asking and answering questions
  5. Summarizing – can you tell what has happened so far?
  6. Skimming – getting the main ideas
  7. Scanning – looking for some specific idea or piece of information

Of course, each student will have different needs and reading habits. Graded books can be an excellent source of pleasure and information, but he rightly tried to dip into deeper waters.

Good reading,

 

Cheers

 

Mo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Uncertainty will certainly come (and 5 ways to deal with it)

 

There are those days when you feel a little bit unsure of what to do, where to go… . And I’m not even talking about going to the doctor and undergoing medical tests,  things that I dread just based on the fear that some bad diagnosis will happen. Well, traditionally men don’t like going to the doctor because they feel they can’t get sick as they’re the breadwinners of the family, the strong sex, etc. in this day and age? Come on! Men don’t like going to the doctor, at least in my case, because we’re afraid they’ll find out something horrible and you start feeling all the symptoms before you even have the diagnosis. Talk about reasoning with your unreasonable mind. But I digress…

Uncertainty comes to teaching as well, more so when you’re self-employed. You know the drill: no student, no pay. And it’s not like when you’re working for a company / school and they will provide you with the students and if they’re generous enough they’ll give you some training and teaching material such as textbooks. They’re also required by law (at least in Brazil) to give you paid holidays and a 13th annual salary (a sort of Christmas bonus) in addition to contributions to your government’s social security pension fund. image

My wife and friends quite often remind me of how lucky I am because I don’t have a boss, which is true (although in some ways my students ARE my bosses). But the solo teaching career requires some constant care such as:

1. Attention to trends in teaching, textbooks

2. Attendance to teachers’ conferences and seminars

3. Prospecting for new students while at the same time keeping the back door shut in order to keep your current students.

4. Self-motivation – you can’t slack off and stop preparing lessons, or stop showing up on time.

5. Billing is never the most pleasurable of activities but necessary. On the other hand, there are always a few smart asses who “always forget” to pay their teacher in the time agreed and you must kindly ask them if there was any problem with their payment because you couldn’t locate their deposit in your bank statement.

Hey, life is uncertain by nature, so what I must do is to continue doing what I enjoy and  enjoy what I have to do. image

Happy teaching.

Cheers,

Mo

Study abroad at home: International Schools and bilingual education

Last week my wife and I met up with Paddy, an Irish lawyer who’s being transferred with his family – wife, a 3-year old boy and a five-month-old baby girl – to São Paulo, Brazil. Bear in mind they live on a farm in county Clare, Ireland with a population of maybe 18 (just kidding) and now they’re preparing to settle in one of the largest metropolises in the world. Liz is a stay-at-home mom but she thinks that it will be good for her 3-year-old to be exposed to some preschool education while in São Paulo.

So I started researching some of the international schools (with international certification) and bilingual schools (locally based). How could I do that in a more scientific manner? By asking my students where their children and grandchildren go to school.

Among the international schools, the leading one in name recognition among my students is St. Paul’s (www.stpauls.br) – no question it has highly qualified teachers and staff, but it carries a very elitist air with the “crème de la crème” of São Paulo’s well-to-do families vying for a place. Prospective students are submitted to an academic and psychological evaluation before being accepted despite the costly monthly and annual fees, driving especially the nouveau riche up the wall when they realize that money can’t buy everything, especially “tradition”.escola-bilingue

I never had the opportunity to attend a bilingual school but I had a very dear friend, Deborah, who  attended St. Paul’s. Her father was a Brazilian nuclear scientist who had spent some time in the UK and when he returned to São Paulo he wanted to give his children a bilingual education. Deborah’s English was perfect with a slight British standard accent and she could easily switch from L1 to L2. She became a psychologist but during her school years she earned money teaching English as a foreign language. But as it happens with any learned skills, after she stopped teaching and using English on a regular basis her vocabulary started to become more limited with tons of grammar and words stored up in a corner of her brain which would light up again and start shedding the spider webs when necessity arose. Deborah would say that the second best thing about studying at an international school was the network of friends and acquaintances she built along the year (which at times would be a curse as well- but that’s another story for a future blog).

Two other international schools (maybe lesser known just because they are newer institutions but which carry similar quality without the elitist bias) are  St Francis College (www.stfrancis.com.br) and British College Brazil (www.britishcollegebrazil.org).
I’m not quite sure why they both chose the word College considering that they are schools and not colleges – faculdades.But it also relates to the Brazilian term “Colégio” – which refers to a primary and/or secondary education school. Or maybe those institutions are already keeping an eye on their future tertiary education.

As per bilingual education focused on preschoolers – children as young as 14 months to 6 years old, my students whose children or grandchildren attend bilingual schools would recommend the following:escola bilingue

Wings to Fly (www.wingstofly.com.br)
Global Me (www.globalme.com.br)
See-Saw (www.see-saw.com.br)

They vary in size and location, but from what I could observe they follow a carefully planned curriculum to immerse children in a second language (usually English) while not ignoring Portuguese (the children’s mother tongue).

One factor that grasped my attention is that while the international schools can resort to hiring staff abroad, the local schools can’t afford all those costs and their hardest challenge is to find qualified bilingual labor.

Over the past 10 years the number of bilingual schools has mushroomed in São Paulo and other capital cities trying to meet a need that desperate parents have: give their children an edge for their future.

escola bilingue org

You don’t understand…Accent Reduction

This week I was watching a lecture (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nkQ7lwEWeGA) by a professor at the University of South Carolina’s Center for Teaching Excellence (not Evolution  as I had tried to guess by the abbreviation CTE) and for more than 90 minutes she talked about one thing that grabbed my attention:

Accent Reduction, which is bound to ruffle some feathers – there are those in favor and those against, while claiming that the accent reduction approach humiliates language learners or makes them feel less than second class citizens, while companies just want toaccent reduction 2 make money out of their easy prey.

But … Language learners quite often want to reduce their foreignness by trying to speak more like American or British or whatever local language is predominant in their area. Reasons can range from feeling more like one of us, instead of an outsider; being better understood in the workplace,  etc.

A language learner can feel that a clearer accent  might help people to better understand him. You don’t need to be ashamed of speaking with an accent as long as it doesn’t get in the way of being understood. Sergey may be a very proud Russian  man and speak with a “wery” shtrong accent. Question: will it prevent people from understanding him? Or will people just see that suspicious-looking Russian man and not hear what he has to say? accent reduction

Silvia is a proud Brazilian who loves finishing every word with a “y”  sound – I thinky we shouldy talky more abouty culturey” – but when that charming accent gets in the way of being understood or getting things done she would be wise to try to reduce her Brazilian voice and raise her American voice.

So students must be coached by their teachers to improve their pronunciation, intonation, rhythm in order to achieve better understanding and intelligibility.

But why do students have poor pronunciation?

  1. It’s usually never taught – as the student gets used to understanding what the teacher says, the teacher can  also get used to the students’ linguistic somersaults and not even realize pronunciation / accent problems.
  2. students need to learn to listen to different sounds – th/s/t  b- v   Z-S etc before producing them. Sounds which might not even exist in their L1.
  3. pronunciation requires not only knowledge but skill – which means loads of practice.
  4. English spelling causes confusion – being literate can interfere with your hearing. I’ve corrected many students so many times for their mispronunciation of words because the words they read tend to sound “different” from the way they’re spelled. – example:
    en·tre·pre·neur

    / ˌäntrəprəˈnər/

    lis·ten
    /ˈlis(ə)n/

So what factors will influence their success?

  1. Motivation and concern for good pronunciation
  2. Exposure – amount of time spent in practice. Tons of listening and speaking – in that order. Quality, not just quantity, is important.
  3. Learner’s natural ability – some students tend to get a better pronunciation than others – however, hard work will get them far.
  4. Sense of identity. The fact they are speaking more American, British, or whatever other accent will not destroy their own self.

So keep your ears pricked and your mouths moving.

Cheers,

Mo

Chunking and Pausing

chunkingMany students focus their language learning on memorizing vocabulary. The  most committed ones usually write down the noun, or verb, or idiom mentioned by the teacher in class as if that would be the solution to all their problems. Well, even if that were true, those words would be soon forgotten behind other lists and pages in the student’s notebook never to be seen again. 

But there’s an approach that can be used in class and by students on their own. Fluency and vocabulary memory can be greatly improved by students using CHUNKING AND PAUSING – techniques for effective speaking:

Even intelligibility and clarity improves much more when students focus on volume, pace and chunking instead of only on pronunciation. 

  1. Collocations – strong tea 

                            – heavy traffic /heavy rain 

                             – the national soccer team

2. Idioms – to get cold  feet

Against all odds / 

 

3. Phrasal verbs

put up a great fight / 

put up with your boss

4. a whole sentence / clause

Thousands took to the streets –

 

The Teacher must help students to:

recognize chunks and 

practice their use

 

Pauses and chunks package information for the listener. Speakers divide speech into ‘chunks’, which may be single words or groups of words to communicate a thought or idea, or to focus on information the speaker thinks is important.

Without the use of pausing and chunking, it is  hard for listeners to follow your meaning and they may be overwhelmed with too much information.

Look at these examples. Try reading both of them out loud. Which one do you think a listener would understand better?

Contextualization: 

Sample 1

Does it really matter whether people speak with an accent as long as they can be easily understood many people now believe that in an increasingly globalized world we should accept variations in pronunciation that is accent. however there’s no point in speaking with an accent if people can’t understand you is there?

Sample 2

Does it really matter /

whether people speak with an accent /

as long as they can be easily understood?//

Many people now believe /

that in an increasingly globalized world /

we should accept variations in pronunciation /

that is / accent. //

However /

there’s no point in speaking with an accent /

if people can’t understand you /

is there?//

Speech chunks and pauses are marked with a slash / or // for a longer pause.

http://www.uts.edu.au/current-students/support/helps/self-help-resources/pronunciation/pausing-and-chunking

Source: University of Technology Sydney 

But chunking is only one rung on the language learning ladder. All that vocabulary must be firmly grounded on basic but solid grammar structure. vocabulary notebook

Cheers and good speaking,

Mo