…LIKE PARSNIPS?

Wikipedia will tell you that a parsnip is a “root vegetable closely related to carrot and parsley, all belonging to the flowering plant family Apiaceae. And well seasoned they might go well in a vegetable soup.

PARSNIPS are more than just vegetables

But what are PARSNIPS in the classroom?

PARSNIPS might just be the most ridiculous acronym you’ve ever come across but it actually stands for politics, alcohol, religion, sex, narcotics, -isms, and pork.

These refer to the so-called taboo topics in the EFL classroom. For decades these topics have been avoided in the EFL classroom. Not even that. They are “unmentionables”. Publishers won’t even mention their names as some news reporters and commentators did with Trump while he was in the White House. And he WAS a big parsnip.

Trump as a character was a parsnip for some

You will never find a coursebook that even infers such a subject. This is because they may cause offense to sensitive students or they may not feel comfortable speaking about them. As a result of this belief, coursebook publishers generally won’t include any material related to these topics in their coursebooks, even though they make up a fair amount of our daily language.

In Brazil we traditionally considered taboo subjects in the classroom: politics, sports and religion.

I must confess that the first time I learned about this tasteless “vegetable” was during a seminar for language teachers back in São Paulo – some 10 plus years ago. Then a light came on: So true! None of the coursebooks I had ever used included those topics. Usually natural disasters, health and fitness, recycling, and Michael Jackson (yes, I still use some older books), even war (if it’s dating back to World War I, of course) may be more palatable (even though global warming and climate change can cause varying doses of anxiety). If you think about the juicy conversations and debates you have with your friends and family, and the stories you are likely to see on the news or in newspapers, they probably all revolve around a topic that has been deemed unacceptable for the EFL classroom. Never mind the fact that our students are probably having those same conversations outside the classroom in their own language!

Should we be talking about PARSNIPS in the EFL classroom?

The tide may be slowly changing -Pearson Longman published a book series called NorthStar using authentic texts and audio recordings from NPR programs with some subjects covering parsnips such as alcohol and drug addiction. And that was Unit 1. But by Unit 5 it was talking about something more inane as Feng Shui … but that’s a starting point. The book would even mention Sarajevo and the war in Europe still in our living memory (despite an even grander scale in Ukraine at the moment I’m writing this blog). Longman started with great current authentic materials with the series Consider the Issues, Face the Issues, and Raise the Issues

Sample of the contents page of Northstar Advanced 3rd Edition (c) 2009 by Pearson Longman

Now, I know that students don’t have a thick skin, it’s more like an eggshell so as a teacher we must tread with care and avoid bringing up topics that could be upsetting to our students or even make them uncomfortable. It is important that our learners feel safe and comfortable during the lessons or else they won’t participate in the activities or engage with the language. Asking them to speak about a topic they are not happy to do is a sure way to make them drop out of the course. But we also believe that you know your students and you can make a good decision regarding what is off-limits in the classroom based on that knowledge.

So, instead of using a blanket strategy for all coursebooks, why not raise awareness and empower teachers and students on the subjects they want to use in the language classroom? In this day and age when more and more language teaching programs are incorporated as CLIL content why still resort to this form of self-censorship?

Cheers,

Mo

(1) Source: https://www.theteflacademy.com/blog/2018/06/parsnips-in-the-efl-classroom/#:~:text=What%20are%20PARSNIPS%3F,topics%20in%20the%20EFL%20classroom.

Rules Refresher for Zoom Meetings

Observing the behavior of some participants in our Zoom class session – it is worth remembering some good manners:

ATTENTION:
Best Practices for Zoom sessions:

  1. Punctuality (some students connect 1, 2, or 10 mins after the sessions started. No, no, no! Be connected to the meeting a few minutes BEFORE it starts).
  2. Find a quiet place to attend the meeting (barking dogs, meowing cats, cracker Pollies, etc won’t help your session).
  3. Keep the microphone off when not speaking (and remember for the 1,000th time to unmute WHEN YOU ARE SPEAKING.
  4. Keep the camera on WHENEVER POSSIBLE.
  5. Turn off the camera if you’re doing something that might distract others (some stay the entire session reading something else on their cell phone. No, Virginia, I don’t admire your multitasking skills. Stop it).
  6. Show interest in the meeting so that it becomes more interesting (avoid lying on the bed or sofa during the meeting, although it can be more informal session, no one needs to see that stain in your sheet)

That’s it… so online meetings will be less boring and more productive.

Cheers,

Moacir Sena

Breaking the Silence: stop the abuse of teachers

Before you say that you don’t get the title or that it’s wrong, (we are usually quick to point out what we perceive as mistakes), let me tell you that the title is correct.

Yes, you must have experienced a case of a teacher who hated your guts and tried to get you (at least that’s how you felt), but in this case let me share with you my own experience.

Being thrown into 10 classrooms with 30 to 50 students with ages ranging from 5-16 years old without any experience or training and support at 22 – is that a sort of abuse?

How about when you would turn your back to the class to write on the blackboard and some smart ass student (they always think they’re unique) would throw paper balls, or pieces of chalk or the eraser at you? Is that a form of abuse? Is it the teacher’s fault? After all, everyone knows you can’t give your back to the class even for a second?

That was in the beginning of my teaching career, and convinced me I couldn’t work with children. But even when I was teaching top executives years later, at times a student here and there would start with that locker-room banter – some men find it empowering to call each other a fag, a fairy, Uranian, a pansy, or whatever. They consider it a harmless joke.

And at first, when a student came up with crude talk like that I’d just “laugh it off” and move on… when push comes to shove he was the paying party and what could a little name-calling do to me? Until I realized that no one has the right to be verbally abusive. Willingly or not, they label you, they place you in a corner and show their superiority over you. Finally, I learned that I had put an end to that. Either by threatening them with stopping the lessons – they should look for another teacher immediately or by actually walking out of the room.

Now bear in mind that both men and women can be abusive – men in a more direct way, while women can use subtle strategies to manipulate and abuse as well.

I’d say those few bad sheep learned their lesson, despite the occasional slip back into their olden ways.

Here are some proactive measures to take:

  • Explain acceptable and non-acceptable classroom behavior.
  • Choose (pick) your battles.
  • Be open to student feedback.
  • Avoid lag times between lessons when students become restless.
  • Model positive behavior, especially tolerance toward adversity.
  • Reward student success rather than pointing out underachievement.

A Teacher’s Secret Shame:

“As a teacher, you’re supposed to do more than just teach. Every education textbook, every teacher-training course you sat through stressed the link between an orderly classroom and student achievement. “Manage your students and learning will happen“.

It’s this admonition that holds you back from reporting student abusers. What teacher wants to be tagged (as) an incompetent educator unable to control the behavior of kids more than half (their) age?

Whichever course of action you follow to stem the tide of abuse, reach out to your principal, school psychologist, even a union representative. Teacher victimization is a serious matter that you don’t have to handle alone.” source: https://study.com/blog/what-you-can-do-as-a-teacher-who-is-bullied-by-your-students.html

Verbal Abuse can be a secret shame that teachers have to find ways to heal

Cheers,

Mo

Motivation: Mission Impossible?

As teachers we have to daily fight for our own motivation, not only financial but professional and intellectual as well. What is it that makes you get out of bed and teach for a few or many hours a day? In person or online? Unpaid hours spent preparing for lessons, searching for ideas, developing PowerPoint presentations… and all that for what?

Motivation Illustrations and Clipart. 217,217 Motivation royalty free  illustrations, drawings and graphics available to search from thousands of  vector EPS clip art providers.

Even highly motivated students at the beginning of the program see their motivation wane as the weeks pass. The excitement of the new, the hope for quicky proficiency, etc, all take their toll on every student.

A few learners keep their torch burning, do their homework, study on their own, use their language tools in different situations, etc… but most of them still wait for the teacher to revolutionize their language skills.

The Longman Learners’ Dictionary defines motivation as eagerness and willingness to do something without needing to be told or forced to do it

How can I as a teacher get my students to take charge of their own learning process?

First, let us think how fast we can motivate or demotivate someone:

While motivation requires a connection that can take minutes, hours or days to build and consolidate, you can destroy a learner’s motivation in a fraction of a second with just one word. Yes, you read it right, the most demotivating speech can be just one word.

How then can I motivate them?

  1. Promote communication. Learning is a process. Input and output.
  2. Allow space for creativity and connection which will enable engagement.
  3. Build a healthy relationship with the students. As a teacher you don’t need to be their pal but empathy can go a long way in getting them started.

Don’t get me wrong. There will be good days and bad days … hopefully the good ones will far outnumber the bad ones. How? As we develop a culture of learning, provide tools for their growth and continue to encourage them in their progress.

Cheers and carry on.

Mo

Teaching Online, Revisited

After 18 months teaching exclusively online what pieces of advice, if any, would I have to share with my fellow language teachers? Here are some of the things I already knew and needed to put into practice and others I had to learn the hard way:

  1. Equipment is key – a decent notebook or computer with a good camera and microphone. My older computer had a lousy camera – six months into the pandemic with a grainy image I had to upgrade it. Add to the equipment the necessary microphone and headset (preferably with a cord to avoid interference and power surges). Also a ring light helps your professional image. Initially I thought it was just one extra unnecessary fluffy item, … but after my sweetheart gave me one, I can’t imagine going online without proper lighting. A second screen also helps a lot. Bear in mind, I didn’t say top of the line equipment – decent quality is good enough. No need to break the bank for the top brands.
  2. Camera positioning – try to show yourself from the shoulders up, prop up the notebook with one or two dictionaries (they’re the perfect size), a box, or a proper laptop stand but the right height will make the difference on how you will be seen. Since we’re talking about cameras – remember to look into the camera – don’t focus on the screen – the camera will give you eye contact with your audience.
  3. Dress properly – no top hat and tuxedo are necessary but sleeveless shirts are a ‘no-no’ for men (and women in some cultures). No need to hide your tattoos, if any, but keep a clean look … very few people can get away with a disheveled appearance and you probably are not one of them. Heard many times of people connecting wearing their pajama bottoms or none (chuckles) but my advice is: put on some pants, please. Getting dressed will help you feel like you’re doing something other than eating cereal for dinner in bed.
  4. Check your internet connection – Wifi is ok if the only option available (but preferably connect through your cable – more stable connection). Check your camera, microphone and headset before the session begins. I use Zoom for 95% of my sessions and occasionally it automatically changes my default settings for microphone and headset. Lovely, huh? More than once I’ve found myself without voice or hearing. So… once again… check it BEFORE the session starts.
  5. Prepare and Improvise – have your lesson and presentation ready, but be aware that things may change, remember that “student-centered lessons” are not just a cliché.
  6. Be careful when you share your screen – close all tabs and apps you don’t think your students would like to see or know about. TMI is still applicable online. That will make you look and sound more professional. Hey, I’m human, too. Sometimes I forget to close my tabs on the browser and there’s Twitter, and Facebook, and YouTube open – nothing wrong with that – but none of my students’ business. Do I need to say anything about porn tabs?
Teaching online can be a rewarding experience or a nightmare depending much on how you prepare for it.

Teaching online can be a rewarding experience or a nightmare depending much on how you prepare for it.

Happy teaching.

Cheers,

Mo

Ignorance is NOT bliss

Quite often when we learn about something negative and upsetting, we tend to say: “Oh boy… at least I didn’t know that before. Ignorance is bliss.” I agree with Stephen Fry who asked: “If ignorance is bliss, why aren’t there more happy people in the world?”

Ignorance Quotes
Even John Lennon agreed that ignorance is not bliss

But it ain’t so… . Ignorance is rather dangerous and embarrassing. Just the fact that you didn’t know you had been fired, or your wife was cheating on you, or you had cancer … that didn’t solve your problem. Now you know it and can start looking for another job, for divorce papers (and STD tests), and for cancer treatment.

Yesterday I came across a tweet by Cecilia Nobre where she vented her frustration for not getting offered an English teaching position due to the sheer fact she is Brazilian – therefore not an English Native speaker. To add insult to injury the ignorant teacher (an oxymoron?) said they were sure she had great qualifications but they were not enough to offset a geographical item: she had not been born in an English speaking nation. Talk about total ignorance! Ok… that teacher will allege it’s their students’ demand… but shouldn’t that be an opportunity to enlighten the students?!

How can we fight ignorance? Socrates in broad terms listed 3 weapons:

Dedication.

Patience.

Willingness to accept occasional defeat.

Recently I came across this list (https://thepavlovictoday.com/five-steps-preventing-ignorance-told-socrates/) on Ignorance and overcoming it that I would like to share with you:

  1. Ignorance is inevitable. No matter how much you know … there are millions of things you still don’t know. And that’s ok.
  2. Continuous learning is key – there’s always more to learn – be active in searching for new learning opportunities.
  3. Educate rather than criticize – that’s a hard one – we tend to criticize someone as an idiot or worse if they don’t know what we know … rather, share with them what you know.
  4. Respect the humble underdog – if the person didn’t know something how can you blame them? You were there once.
  5. You don’t always know what is best for others. Absolutely true. Ever so often someone will tell me that I don’t know what they’re going through and I not even know them to assess their needs. And that’s true. Be humble and accept we are all at different stages of our growth.
  6. Identify where your knowledge is lacking. Be humble to admit you don’t know much about physiology, for example, or Greek art, or whatever. You don’t need to know everything about everything. Actually it’s impossible to know everything. Leave it to God … he alone can handle omniscience.

At the end of the day, we are called to be humble and accept that some people will never be willing to learn but most others will be open to growth. In that case Knowledge IS a blessing.

Knowledge is a blessing 📘📙📒 - YouTube

Cheers,

Mo

REMOTE LEARNING IS EASIER?

This year ( 15 months, 7 days, 9 hours and 46 minutes into the covid-19 pandemic – yes, I refuse to capitalize you) I went back to the classroom (remotely, how else?). I needed to brush up my conference interpreting skills in this brave new world (no pun intended) of remote simultaneous interpreting (RSI – as it is professionally abbreviated by those in the know).

I knew that Zoom and other video conferencing services had an add-on feature that would/might allow for simultaneous interpreting, but now I’ve discovered that there are whole sets of platforms operating along with them. In other words, the challenge to the interpreter has risen from just knowing the vocab and terminology and having mind agility to listening in one language and blurting out in a second or third language to becoming an IT and Sound engineer – more than doubling our checklist before even uttering the first sound.

Today’s Simultaneous Interpreter is expected to know way more than 2 languages

I’ll write later about interpreting – now the focus is on remote learning.

Again the very respected interpreting and translation institution, Alumni, like make other educational structures, just transferred the onsite sessions to the online environment – same teachers, same methods, same length of sessions, same coffee breaks. Any changes necessary?

The flipped classroom format is ubiquitous – the school will send you an email with your assignments and agenda for the forthcoming class and woe is you if you don’t go over them carefully. Fine.

But they take some things for granted. In yesterday’s session, our very good trainer said – “Ok – during the interpreting practice remember to record your voices”.

Ok. Questions in my mind: “Did he tell us which app to use? how should we proceed?” It’s not intuitive.

I asked a boothmate and she told me she was using the Windows recorder. Ah ok.

Instructor: “After today’s session send me your recorded audio”.

My brain: “how? email? WhatsApp? a web platform? I don’t have his number or email address. Did I miss his instructions again?”

These are just simple examples for us teachers. We can’t just assume our students know what to do on their own (you know the old saying, right? “When you assume you make an ass of you and me”). Whatever happened to show and tell? Show me how you do it and then tell me to do it.

Pin on LOLZ
Assumptions must be kept in check

TAKEAWAY: If simple and clear instructions and directions were essential in the in-person environment they are crucial now in the remote classroom.

VIRTUAL TEACHING TIPS

Most of us have been teaching exclusively online for over a year by now and it’s always good to review and refresh our personal approach when teaching on a virtual platform:

Positioning: Try to position yourself in the center of the screen, unless you’re showing a “whiteboard” or some other image. Keep the camera at your eye level so that students won’t be looking up your nostrils or down your balding spots 😉 . Remember to maintain eye contact – don’t be looking at your own image or your students’, rather, look into the camera (usually that little dot on top of your screen).

Look into the camera when speaking not at the screen
  • Appearance: make sure you’re dressed professionally – I’m not telling you to wear a tuxedo or a dress fit for a night at the opera. Just keep it neat and as wrinkle free as possible. Remember students can’t smell you but they do expect to see you. Pants are optional as long as you’re not planning to stand up. Should I wear a shirt or t-shirt? In my in-person classes I mostly wore shirts (and a jacket in colder weather) and on casual Fridays a polo shirt. Since the beginning of the pandemic I’ve gone down a notch by mostly wearing T-shirts , but trying to avoid brand logos and indiscreet messages on them. I know I’m going on a limb, but count on your common sense and anything with F*** would be deemed inappropriate. Of course check your teeth – nobody likes the embarrassment of seeing “a deer in the garden” or something else stuck in one’s teeth.
When You Have Food In Your Teeth But No One Says Anything - YouTube
When You Have Food In Your Teeth But No One Says Anything
dishevelled hair - Brandingby Pixels
You’re not expected to look like Brad Pitt post-Covid19 but check your hair before and overall appearance before switching on your camera.
  • Background: Choose something neutral – a white wall or whiteboard would be perfect. A bookcase is fine but the simpler the better – a tv monitor switched on behind you could be very distracting, for example, as well as your pet(s) and toddlers. they’re lovely once or twice but they’re not included in your agreement pack with your students. Keep them away whenever possible.
Self-Adhesive Magnetic Permanent Whiteboard Wall – Myndflo.com
Keep your background neutral as much as possible
  • Timing and Pacing: Some studies have showed that group response rates can be up to 20% lower online than in person, especially in a group setting. Remember that your voice is important but students’ talk time must be higher than yours. Don’t go lecturing when your students could be using that time to practice THEIR communication skills. Keep track of your class activities and always have one or two activities up your sleeve in case you go over all tasks and there are still 10 mins left. But that’s quite unusual. Usually it’s too much for such a little time. I have a student who has two 45-minute classes per week – and I always go overtime with her… that’s not good business sense or academically and I have to cut back on the activities and focus on key points. Remember that sometimes students (or yourself) might be having connection issues. Don’t lose your temper and be accommodating to the situation as it presents itself.

Reflect on your courses from the first session on a regular basis, make sure you’re delivering content that is useful and attractive to your students while keeping them satisfied. After all they’re your customers.

Cheers,

Mo

Teaching online is easy but requires preparation and equipment

Recounting a teaching-related “Unsuccessful Event”

After 1 year of the Covid-19 Pandemic with companies and individuals cutting down on their expenses and labeling “language learning” as non-essential, I feel that my network of prospective students has been shrinking. New potential students don’t know me and are more focused on price than experience and great qualifications. And there is no shame in saying I need help to find new students.

Nothing better than counting on the support of an international organization with students and teachers from all over the world with expertise in student prospecting. I am sure we can both benefit from this synergy.

Part of their vetting is based on an online grammar test and writing test. Here’s my writing test:

Recount an endeavor, personal or work-related, that was unsuccessful. Provide as many details as possible. If you were to do things over, what would you do differently to ensure the success of the endeavor? *

The following will be assessed: grammar, vocabulary, and sentence construction/organization.

I have always felt that learners and teacher are partners, collaborators in the exquisite adventure of learning. The teacher will create opportunities for learners to grow and, in the case of learning a second or foreign language, to improve their listening, speaking, reading and writing skills. To learn to be comfortable in their own skin with their acquired language.

One side cannot be held responsible for everything. The student must show interest, commitment, dedicate time, money and effort towards their goal. Likewise, the teacher must be fully interested in their students’ progress.

A few years ago I had a student who was often cancelling her classes, never did any homework or any reading/writing assignments and she came up to me asking why she couldn’t feel she was making any progress.

I looked at her, took a deep breath, and said that her progress depended on her commitment and effort. She needed to, at least, try to do some of her homework and make an extra effort to show up in class.

She got furious, fuming through her eyes and nose, and said my job was to teach her. That’s why she was paying me for. I said apologetically that maybe I didn’t have the right profile for her. I expect my students to be committed.

She stormed out of the room and told her assistant that from then on I was banned from her company.  Weeks later she contacted me and apologized for her attitude, she said she was going through rough personal times and my comments had been the last straw.

That just confirmed my purpose to have students as my partners and if the partnership is suffering I cannot sugarcoat it. Only that way, shall we have cooperation and growth. 

May our efforts be rewarded,

Cheers,

Mo

Visual media as more than just entertainment

I remember when I was a wee kid in a state school in a corner of this giant metropolis called São Paulo, I would be daydreaming in class about the time the bell would ring and I would rush back home so I could watch some of my favorite TV shows. I don’t recall a time a teacher used some visual resources in class other than the illustration in a book (sometimes, which would totally grab my attention).

Stanford 'tips-by-text' program helps boost literacy in preschoolers, study  finds
Images boost literacy in children and adults

At church they were more “sophisticated”. From an early age, our Sabbath School teachers would use flannel board bible stories that would transport us to bible times and I had a red-letter day every time I was allowed to touch the figures and place them on the board. How many stories did I learn and understand thanks to those illustrations.

Staying Christian: Why I Don't Just Pick Up and Leave the Church for Good |  Resurrection & Recovery
Flannel Board Bible Stories were awesome visual resources

Today I know that Visual Literacy helps learners to follow a story and predict what’s going to happen, activates their memory and their vocabulary, as well. Many times, visual resources were used simply as entertainment or a distraction to keep us children quiet.

The influence of images on learners

Church also introduced me to the first slide projector – with colorful pictures illustrating prophecy or projecting the words to a new hymn, at a time when television was still black and white (we got our first color tv in 1978 – that was so memorable that I remember the year).

Magic lantern - The latest novelty in Church music. Substitution of... News  Photo - Getty Images

Only in college after 1983 was I introduced to the amazing overhead projector and the ability to write and highlight texts on the screen.

Mary Loftus on Twitter: "Jerome Sheahan going old-school with with the  OverHead Projector - and the lecture style - getting some laughs 🤣  @NUIG_UL_RDay… https://t.co/KMRNbDxWeC"
Overhead projectors allowed teachers to highlight points on the board

In the 1980s VCRs became more popular and pretty soon we started using some video lessons in the language classroom – those videos were especially prepared for the class as companions to their coursebooks (nothing much has changed today – maybe some time in the future I’ll talk about the video courses available for the ESL/EFL market).

If you knew somebody living in an English-speaking country maybe you could ask them to mail you one or two VHS tapes with the recordings of some tv shows and commercials and explore them to your heart’s content. (In my case, only in the early 90s did I come across some VHS tapes that somebody from the school where I was teaching had recorded when traveling to the US).

But videos were still seen as just a “break” from the lesson. When the teacher wheeled in a TV set and VCR the students knew they would have some “down time”. At best, the video was seen as a glorified listening activity or simply as a decorative resource giving a break to both teacher and students.

Today, however, we know we can use videos and images in a much more purposeful way. Here’s an example of a talk at the Global Teacher’s Festival on Visual Literacy and the many different approaches we can have:

Visual Literacy uses

Most teachers will agree that video use in the ESL/EFL classroom brings many benefits:

  1. it exposes students to authentic materials
  2. it provides more motivation and interest
  3. it gives learners the opportunity to read as well as listen to messages simultaneously

But there are also disadvantages in using videos in the classroom:

  1. video technology might be scarce or you might have connection problems
  2. it may be boring if overused
  3. it may encourage passivity on both teachers and learners (“the other day an adult learner said: why don’t you give me songs to listen to and fill in the gaps?” My answer – “do you need ME to give you a song to listen and get the words? Have you ever heard of MTV? Can’t you google it up on your own?”)

The appeal of visual media continues to make videos and pictures an amazing educational tool with a high potential impact when properly used. They are now more accessible and less cumbersome to use. Let us take advantage of them in our lessons.

Cheers,

Mo