The Marshmallow Challenge

Earlier this year at the National Conference for Teachers of English in San Jose, Costa Rica,  I could attend several workshops and plenary sessions regarding English learning in the 21st century.

The very first workshop was presented by Jair Felix with a hands-on approach:

The teachers’ challenge was to build the highest frame using uncooked spaghetti, string, tape and topping it with a marshmallow. Right from the start most teachers sat on the floor and started discussing ways and ideas on how to build the tallest structure. And the biggest challenge was resisting the urge to eat the marshmallow.marshmallow

The marshmallow challenge was inspired by a  TED talk by Peter Skillman. (You may watch the YouTube edition following this link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1p5sBzMtB3Q)

Teachers were then challenged on how they could help their students find inspiration.

What’s the problem? The marshmallow

What skills are important for this challenge?

Teamwork
Negotiating
Listening
Planning
Communication
Role taking
Patience
Collaboration

Some of the conclusions:

  • Children usually have the best performance in this task losing only to architects and engineers
  •  Their minds haven’t been screwed up by notions and the world.
  • High stakes negatively impact the result.
  • The art of prototyping – how to learn from mistakes?
  • Learning takes place when there’s critical analysis of the input. You’re not expected to be perfect as a student. There’s always room for failure.
  • Diversity in the classroom

Incentives + Skills = success ✔️
Incentives + Low skills # success ✖️

“Teaching is a contact sport because we’re always dealing with other people.”

screen-shot-2012-06-24-at-9-55-48-pm

Cheers,

Mo

 

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Constructive Feedback

I have just asked this 21st Century Oracle also known as Google about a definition of feedback and here’s what I got:

“information about reactions to a product, a person’s performance of a task, etc., used as a basis for improvement.

synonyms: response, reaction, comments, criticism; More

reception, reviews
“we welcome feedback from the viewers”
 
I’m reading now the feedback from the latest TEFL conference in Costa Rica and  – phew – all of them were very positive. Not that there is anything wrong with negative feedback as long as it can be used to fix or change mistakes in my presentation.  But it does help boost one’s ego to hear good things about your work.
I tried to keep the feedback format very simple and objective. I handed the attendees a Post-it note and asked them to write at the beginning of the session what they expected to learn  from that workshop.  All questions were related to the theme of the workshop “Dogme and Technology – and how to use technology in class – only one attendee expected to learn how to use Linux and http whatever (which I’m clueless about since I’m just a language teacher 😉
After they’d finished the task I asked them to pass the note to the person sitting on their left (of course, the first time I tried it I forgot to give them clear instructions and there was some confusion = cause- effect). At the end of the presentation I asked them to write on the back of the note at least one thing they had learned during the workshop. If they hadn’t learned anything they could just write zilch, zero, nada.Feedback
All answers were very positive – and the best part is not that they all loved the presentation (which doesn’t hurt) but that they felt that they could use technology in their classrooms and not be afraid of using it (exactly the idea of the workshop).
Talk about constructive feedback!
Cheers,
Mo

Teachers Daring to Join the Change

I have just returned from four wonderful days in beautiful Costa Rica. The multitude of things one can do there is amazing – Costa Rica’s strikingly diverse terrain — lush forests, wildlife reserves, and tropical beaches — offers a little something for every traveler. Beach-lovers staying along the Pacific Coast can enjoy a palm-fringed coastline for sun and surf. Nature-seekers staying in the Northern Plains or along the Caribbean coast should pay a visit to Puerto Viejo de Talamanca before venturing inland to zip line above Monteverde’s Cloud Rainforest and hike Arenal Volcano. Whether you seek sun, nature or adventure, there’s much to discover in this paradise. IMG_9535

So which of the above took me there?  None. The reason that brought me to lovely Costa Rica was The National Conference for Teachers of English http://www.nctecostarica.or.cr/ – which gathered English teachers from all over the country and speakers from the US, Canada, Mexico and even from Brazil.

OK, I must confess I played truant one afternoon and went sightseeing at the Volcán Poás – up in the Costa Rican Alps. Unfortunately, I couldn’t see the crater though, since it is quite regularly covered in heavy fog, but I could most definitely smell it – sulfur and other intriguing aromas. IMG_9428

Who would have “thunk” that a Brazilian Teacher of English would be invited to participate in such an honorable event. Talk about breaking paradigms and stereotypes. “Native Speakers of English” never have and never will have exclusive rights to the teaching of their language, especially when it is to speakers of other languages.

I was invited via twitter by Jonathan Acuña, the program’s organizer, (may God bless technology)  and the theme – Dare to Join the Change – really challenged me to embrace the opportunity and say “Why not?”

First of all, I’d like to congratulate the organizers – I’ve had my share of TESOL conferences and some of them – dare I say it – were rather poorly organized and structured. NCTE Costa Rica did a wonderful job in getting together different speakers and workshops spread all around the “Centro Cultural Costarricence Norteamericano” – with every classroom having support personnel and dedicated staff. Loved it.

I had been warned of the Tico Time issue (which is not exclusive to Costa Rica, by all means), when things tend to follow their “own time” and tardiness is expected and sometimes even embraced. Not this time. Sessions started sharply on time – save some technological glitches. The plenaries also started punctually as scheduled.

The workshops tended to focus on English Learning in the 21st Century: diversity in the classroom, Fluent x Accurate spoken English, natural learning  and so much more. (Stay tuned for coming blogs on particular issues discussed in the conference).

My workshop was titled: “Dogme never fear, Technology is here” followed by the subtitle “How can media and dogme work together”  and was based on the premise that the simplicity in methodology and movement preached by Dogme in ELT can be enriched and empowered via the use of technology (including social media). The key is to reach a balance between effective language reception and production and unplugged learning. You may see my power point presentation following this link:  https://onedrive.live.com/embed?cid=5FB2C8AB8B478B07&resid=5FB2C8AB8B478B07%21835&authkey=ABRDhO-mHMCqr58&em=2

During the training session, the attendees were wonderful – all teachers highly Tech Monstercommitted to growth and improvement. One thing that was pretty common during the workshop was the fact that most teachers still resist to the use of social media. Technology can be really scary if you don’t know what to do with it. And less than 10% (at least in my workshop) were on LinkedIn. I urged them to create their own LinkedIn profile immediately because it is their professional digital card to their careers.IMG_9447

That’s just a brief insight of what happened on 3 days of intense and powerful collaboration. The conference was tuanis (“too nice” in Costa Rican slang).

My advice? Next time you hear about a teachers’ conference dare to join the change.

Never fear.

Cheers,

Mo

 

 

 

 

Podcasts for Teachers of English as a Second or Foreign Language

A few weeks ago I blogged about my favorite podcasts for EFL/ ESL learners (you may check the list here https://americanoidblog.com/2015/12/30/could-you-say-that-again-please-podcasts/ ) and some teachers have been pestering me, I mean, begging me, did I say that aloud?…  Some teachers have asked me about podcasts for their “continuing education”. As a self-employed educator and teacher trainer I know the need we all have to recycle, review and learn something useful for the development of our professional careers. When we work for a school or some other sort of organization, there will be times, if we’re lucky, that a course, tutorial, etc will be paid for and we will enjoy the fruits of working for a wise employer. But if you work on your own, any freebie, such as a cool podcast, is really welcome.

As far as I know, there are not many podcasts directed to teachers of English as a Foreign podcasts.jpgor Second Language (EFL / ESL) but still they are in a larger number than those for teachers of other languages. Still looking for a podcast directed to teachers of Spanish (Profesores de Español como Lengua Extranjera o Segunda Lengua).

From my experience as a long time podcast listener (since I got my first iPod in 2005) podcasts are catchier, more entertaining and informative when there are 2 or 3 people participating and they don’t go on and on for over 30 minutes (Exceptions may apply when necessary). The podcasts listed here combine knowledge and some informality with some sense of humor and not taking themselves too seriously (with the exception maybe of podcast number 4, which can be quite funny while not trying to be).

So here they are in alphabetical order (in their own words):

  1. TEFL Commute – it’s a podcast for language teachers. It is not only about language teaching.  Lindsay (yes it’s a He), Shaun and James try to present a light-hearted listen aimed at brightening the teacher’s daily commute to class. Each episode is built around a topic that could be used in teaching http://www.teflcommute.com/
  2. The TEFL Show – In these podcasts Marek Kiczkowiak and Robert McCaul explore different issues related to teaching and learning English, as well as other languages. http://theteflshow.com/
  3. The TEFLology Podcast – it’s a podcast about teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL) and related matters, presented by three self-certified TEFLologists. http://teflology.libsyn.com
  4. Vaughan Live – Although this podcast is geared towards Spanish speakers trying to learn English, Richard Vaughan many times presents some comments as an EFL teacher with more than 40 years of experience and some points are quite insightful and useful. As many teachers do, Richard loves listening to his own voice so beware. http://www.ivoox.com/podcast-richard-vaughan-live_sq_f180769_1.html
  5.  Masters of TESOL: https://mastersoftesol.wordpress.com/ Great interviews with some great minds of ELT and SLA. (Thanks Marek for the suggestion)
  6. TEFL Training Institutehttp://www.tefltraininginstitute.com/podcast – with great talks and interviews on all TEFL matters ranging from discrimination against teachers, teacher talking time and much more.
  7. ELT: WTF https://elt.wtf – no, no, no cursing allowed, I think. What Tim feels about ELT – as the name implies, Tim presents his insightful observations and ideas from Delta and other teacher certification, backpacking teachers, and much more.

Hope these podcasts will help you on this rewarding journey (not financially though) of teaching. If you happen to know of a cool podcast for EFL/ESL teachers please let me know and I’ll be happy to add it to my list above.

Cheers,

Mo

 

First word of 2016: Empathy

This time of the year comes loaded with written or spoken lists of resolutions, best quotes, funniest videos, etc. The dictionary publishers love posting word of the year, decade, or century.

Well, for 2016, I’d like to post my first word of the year, which also consists of my resolution: EMPATHY – to learn to be more empathetic along the year.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary presents the following definition:

Simple Definition of empathy

  • : the feeling that you understand and share another person’s experiences and emotions : the ability to share someone else’s feelings

I remember the first time I heard the adjective for this word in Portuguese: empático. I must have been 8 or 9 visiting my aunt in Sorocaba and a friend of hers had popped in for an afternoon cup of tea. I don’t recall the context but we were all sitting in the living room, I was listening to the grown-ups talking and I must have said something during the conversation that the lady said to me: “você é muito empático, menino” (you’re very empathetic, boy). I had never heard that word before and unsure of its meaning I just mumbled a “thank you”. I knew the words “sympathetic”, “apathetic” and “pathetic”. Later I asked my parents the meaning of “empathetic” and hearing their explanation I could see myself as being called “pathetic” or even “sympathetic”. But empathy didn’t seem to be something to aim for.empathy 2

Later I came to realize the importance of understanding (at least trying to understand) the reasons why people behaved the way they did and also to try to understand the difficulties that my students had in learning something that seemed as clear as day to me.

 

A few years ago I started learning French in an attempt to understand and remember how my students feel when learning English. And I found out that when learning a language motivation and commitment are key. You can’t expect to learn another language by studying 30 minutes once a week (in the best of times).

As a teacher I must cultivate empathy towards my students thus getting less frustrated and trying to find new ways of teaching by motivating and sharing with them different learning strategies. But the law of cause and effect will still be valid: Little time practicing, little learning. More time practicing, more learning.

So this year I’ll try to wear comfortable shoes but not forget what it means to go barefoot.empathy

Cheers,

Happy New Year

 

Mo

Golden Birthday Boy

On a warm summer night, December 09, 1965, a baby boy was born. Hopefully bringing joy to his parents, family, friends, and students.

Needless to say,  many things have happened over the past half century. Things that as a little boy in Brazil I would not even have dared to dream. But God has been good all the time.

Now –  50 years old – 32 of which, working as a language teacher. Yes, I’ve been a program director, teacher trainer, etc, but never forsook the calling to be a teacher with all the simplicity and complexity that career choice entails.

Time to stop and ponder what I would have done differently and I can confidently say, nothing, both professionally and personally.  I consider myself extremely happy or blessed (yes, now I don’t have to  be afraid to say that word) and grateful for the many blessings the good Lord has poured down on me.

Retire? As long as I have breath and mental and physical conditions I intend to continue sharing a little of the experience of learning a language with whomever is willing to work with me. IMG_4917.JPG

What lies ahead? Only the good Lord knows but he’s promised each one of us that “his plans are to prosper us and not to harm us, plans to give us hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11).

I don’t see myself getting a red convertible in a middle age crisis.  Streaking across a football field?  Well…, maybe, but whatever comes my way, may the Lord help me to appreciate each day as a unique gift. IMG_9738.JPG

As John Lennon wisely said:

“Count your age by friends, not years. Count your life by smiles, not tears.”

Cheers and Happy New Year,

Mo

 

 

Speak and Grow Fluent

I’d say most of my English Language students are upper intermediate or advanced which would lead us to believe that they are comfortable enough to speak using their Second Language.

However, living in a gigantic monolingual country as Brazil, and not working in a

Living on a monolingual island

company that requires international contacts, language learners can find themselves stranded on a single-language island or continent (Portuguese).

Today one of these students – whose class lasts only 90 minutes once a week  – when she doesn’t cancel or must finish earlier – became frustrated when trying to say something in English and blurted out in Portuguese – “tá ficando cada vez mais difícil falar inglês” (it’s becoming increasingly harder for me to speak English). Didn’t she know any of those words or the necessary grammar to say that? Yes, she knew all the words and the structure but CHOSE the easiest way – spitting it out in her mother tongue.

Dear students, I’ve got news for you. If you don’t practice your target language you will NEVER feel comfortable using it. No matter what academic level you’ve reached. And here comes my point:

My student in question likes to play tennis – 2 or 3 times a week – how about English? Once a week, sometimes. I rest my case.

So how can you feel more comfortable speaking in English?

  1. No one to talk to? Talk to yourself. I’m sure you do that in your mother tongue. Do it in English or whatever language you are learning.
  2. Read aloud a paragraph or a page. Everyday. It can be a transcript, an interview, a news story, a cake recipe… . It doesn’t matter, as long as you’re listening and producing sounds in your target language.
  3. To speak you must learn to listen. Focus on a poem, a song, etc and listen to it. Then read it aloud. YouTube has thousands of videos with poems and songs+lyrics for you to practice.
  4. Look for opportunities to use your target language. Can’t travel abroad? Look for a friend or co-worker who’s also learning and practice with them. Look for a place where that language is spoken. For example, São Paulo has a few English language religious services – visit them – it’s a FREE and enriching exspeaking-in-tongues__mediumperience. My favorite English Bible class website (www.believes.com.br) meets every Saturday in the morning. Also Calvary International Church is a great diverse and inclusive community (www.calvary.org.br) and Sampa Community Church (http://sampacommunity.com/1/

Now my students will be saying: “Come on, teacher. I’m too busy. I don’t have time for all that. It takes too much effort.”

Congratulations. You’ve got my point.speaking in tongues

Cheers and happy conversations,

Mo