Online Classes and Coronavirus

Here we are, March 2020 – Only 3 months into the year. Back on January 01 I said to myself: “2020, what a beautiful number. This year promises to bring optimism, economic recovery in Brazil (we have been limping since the recession started in 2016), new ideas, 25 years of Wedding Anniversaries, etc”.

Now it seems that most of the world has been brought down to their knees by a virus. It started in China, but quickly spread to other countries until it was officially labeled a “pandemic” by the WHO. Now Italy is shut down. Many countries are considering to follow suit while all others are encouraging telecommuting and online learning.

Companies and workers will be trying to follow those recommendations, even though many working parents would rather leave home for the peace of their offices. Online classes for younger people – how would they work? would they be pre-recorded or live sessions? A blend of both? Who would make sure that learners are following with their studies? How different would be the learning environment without its social aspect? Would video chats replace face to face interaction?

There seem to be more questions than answers before this new normal sets in… will a “quarantine” take place whenever a new virus appears?

I have been teaching online for years, initially because I traveled a lot accompanying my wife on her business trips and it was wonderful to enjoy such flexibility, to be able to continue classes initially by phone (we are talking here mid- to late 1990s) and then via video chat. FaceTime (it doesn’t usually work very well), Skype and Zoom (my favorite platform) allow my students to prepare for the upcoming classes by practicing listening, vocabulary, grammar exercises (talk about the flipped class concept) and it doesn’t require much technology, you don’t need special VR goggles and sound effects. Even if you have a piece of paper or a mini whiteboard, that will be enough for you to interact with your student. Duration of the lessons varies according to student needs and cash availability (hey, it matters), so it can range from 30-minute to 90-minute sessions.

online
You can teach online using simple resources and low technology (pants are optional) 

What could ensure a better flow of the classes? Preparation (by both teacher and learner). It’s a class – not a free chat session (which incidentally may occur) but a structured session with warm-up, review, speaking time, listening time, objectives, etc will yield better results.

Now I’m considering developing a language learning app for Brazilians – including pre-recorded videos with a teacher (me, who else?) and drills on grammar, vocabulary, social skills, etc. Initially it would be a general English app and later expand to a Business English context.

At the end of the day, crises must not be the end of the world. Let us think up of new possibilities. Any suggestions or recommendations?

Happy online teaching.

Cheers,

Mo img_4775teacher 3

Carta aberta para mim mesmo no meu primeiro dia como professor

mo-first-teacher-edited (2)
Alguns dos meus primeiros alunos no Instituto Roosevelt em São Paulo em 1986

Ah se eu soubesse naquela época o que eu sei hoje…

Carta aberta para o Moacir em 1985

Olá Moacir,

Sei que você é um tanto tímido e às vezes se sente um peixe fora d’água em certos lugares e ocasiões. Isso também acontecerá com você depois dos 50 anos. Portanto, vai se acostumando aí.

Mas preste atenção numa coisa: a sua escolha profissional para fazer Letras e ser professor não foi um acidente não. O seu professor no primeiro ano colegial (o curso vai mudar de nome depois mas não melhorar na qualidade ), o Valdir, Sabe quem é, né? Ele viu em você um grande potencial para idiomas, no caso dele, inglês. Também tem o irmão Santiago, da igreja – aquele motorista de táxi (um fuscão verde), ele te convidou para ensinar a lição da escola sabatina para jovens e adultos quando você tinha 15 anos, e Deus abriu as portas.

Claro, você vai ter medo. Às vezes, alguns alunos vão saber mais do que você, uns de fato, outros se achando (risos). Mas você vai inspirá-los a continuar aprendendo e desenvolvendo suas habilidades linguísticas.

Logo mais você vai ser convidado para dar aulas na escola adventista da Alvorada na Lapa, estando ainda no seu segundo ano da faculdade e sem ter a menor  ideia de como lidar com alunos entre 5 e 17 anos. Principalmente os alunos da 7a. e 8a. séries vão lhe dar muita dor de cabeça, provocar, ridicularizar, chacotear, até mesmo jogar apagador em você quando der as costas pra eles. Por falta de apoio, orientação e experiência você vai fracassar e desistir do ensino. Mas alguns anos depois vai cruzar com alguns dos alunos e eles vão te agradecer pelas aulas e pelo gosto pela língua inglesa.

Você vai buscar trabalho como funcionário público da Caixa Econômica Federal, ganhando o dobro do que ganharia dando aulas, sem falar na estabilidade e carreira vitalícia, mas vai continuar insatisfeito. Vai voltar a dar algumas aulas à noite – como bico – mas logo descobrirá que ensinar é o que vc gosta mesmo de fazer.

Ao pedir demissão do emprego estável e sólido vai se aventurar pelo mundo dando aula de inglês em escolas de idiomas e empresas. Terá que acordar bem cedo (5 da matina) a fim de atravessar São Paulo de ônibus e metrô desde a Freguesia do Ó até Santo Amaro e São Bernardo para dar uma ou duas aulas em empresas. Vai passar os intervalos procurando uma sombra para sentar e esperar a próxima aula, já que a distância impede voltar para casa. A sua última aula vai terminar às 10:45 da noite e mais uma hora e meia de viagem para voltar para casa. Mas ânimo, trabalhar com o que você ama não vai te deixar doente. Continue aprendendo e crescendo. Vai chegar o dia que vc poderá escolher os horários que quer trabalhar e até mesmo trabalhar via video – como se fosse televisão… chique hein?

Busque sempre o profissionalismo ao lidar com seus alunos e clientes. Sim, você poderá se socializar com eles, mas lembre-se de que o seu trabalho é de ser o professor e não o coleguinha deles.

Não se deixe abater se alguém lhe desprezar por ser “apenas” um professor, ou porque você não é nativo de país de língua inglesa, ou porque você nunca viajou para fora do estado de São Paulo.

Mais alguns anos e você terá o privilégio de visitar e lecionar em diferentes países. Você será convidado para pregar em inglês num igreja da Cidade do Cabo, na África do Sul. Você será chamado de Program Director numa escola nos EUA, dará aulas na York College em Ontário no Canadá e aulas na Irlanda (depois você olha no mapa para ver onde fica, tá?). Você vai viajar até a China falando inglês e espanhol. Dá pra acreditar?

Sim, Deus fará coisas maravilhosas por você que cresceu usando chinelos de dedo e shorts feitos em casa (sem nem mesmo ter cuecas). Vai demorar ainda uns 20 anos mas você vai alcançar o topo da sua carreira, até mesmo ser convidado para palestrar em conferências sobre o ensino da língua inglesa, em países como a Costa Rica, Canada e EUA.

Não me pergunte como, você vai descobrir aos poucos. Continue aprendendo, crescendo, fazendo o seu melhor e a recompensa virá em diferentes formas.

Gosto muito de você. Se cuide, viu?

Abraços,

Moacir

Mo and Shakespeare
Ensinando inglês através da Bíblia no Unasp SP em companhia de Shakespeare

DEAR BASKETBALL – A LESSON PLAN

Level: A2 and higher 

Kobe Bryant’s Dear Basketball: a love letter to a sport that is now a poignant epitaph

The NBA star’s Oscar-winning short film, in which he mused on his post-basketball future, now has a new layer of sadness and irony. May his soul and of the others in that fatal accident rest in peace.

Watch and read Bryant’s letter:

Dear Basketball,

 

From the moment
I started rolling my dad’s tube socks
And shooting imaginary
Game-winning shots
In the Great Western Forum
I knew one thing was real:

I fell in love with you.

A love so deep I gave you my all —
From my mind & body
To my spirit & soul.

As a six-year-old boy
Deeply in love with you
I never saw the end of the tunnel.
I only saw myself
Running out of one.

And so I ran.
I ran up and down every court
After every loose ball for you.
You asked for my hustle
I gave you my heart
Because it came with so much more.

I played through the sweat and hurt
Not because challenge called me
But because YOU called me.
I did everything for YOU
Because that’s what you do
When someone makes you feel as
Alive as you’ve made me feel.

You gave a six-year-old boy his Laker dream
And I’ll always love you for it.
But I can’t love you obsessively for much longer.
This season is all I have left to give.
My heart can take the pounding
My mind can handle the grind
But my body knows it’s time to say goodbye.

And that’s OK.
I’m ready to let you go.
I want you to know now
So we both can savor every moment we have left together.
The good and the bad.
We have given each other
All that we have.

And we both know, no matter what I do next
I’ll always be that kid
With the rolled up socks
Garbage can in the corner
:05 seconds on the clock
Ball in my hands.
5 … 4 … 3 … 2 … 1

Love you always,
Kobe

 

kobe

Oscar for Kobe – Complete with the verbs in the right form. You will have to use some of the verbs more than once:

WORK        CREATE              BE              TELL          USE            ANNOUNCE        WRITE           WIN            EARN         RETIRE               FALL

In a 20-year career in the NBA, Kobe Bryant (1) _____________ five championships with the Los Angeles Lakers, (2)___________league MVP in 2008 and (3) _____________All-Star honors 18 times. In 2018 he (4) _______________ another honor: an Academy Award for (5) ___________ the year’s best animated short film. At the 2018’s Academy Awards ceremony, Bryant (6) ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­____________ the coveted gold Oscar statue for “Dear Basketball,” a movie based on a poem he (7) _____________ when he (8) ___________ he (9) ________________ from the NBA. After (10) _____________ an Oscar for his very first film, Bryant said “I feel better than (11)  ____________ a championship, to be honest with you.” The movie (12) ____________how Bryant (13) _____________ in love with the game and (14) _____________ hard to achieve success and greatness. He created it with Disney animation artist Glen Keane. The “Dear Basketball” movie (15) _____________ art to help tell a story.

 

 

Oscar for Kobe (answer key)

In a 20-year career in the NBA, Kobe Bryant (1) WON five championships with the Los Angeles Lakers, (2) WAS league MVP in 2008 and (3) EARNED All-Star honors 18 times. In 2018 he (4)EARNED another honor: an Academy Award for (5) CREATING the year’s best animated short film. At the 2018’s Academy Awards ceremony, Bryant (6) EARNED the coveted gold Oscar statue for “Dear Basketball,” a movie based on a poem he (7) WROTE when he (8) ANNOUNCED  he (9) WAS RETIRING from the NBA. After (10) WINNING an Oscar for his very first film, Bryant said “I feel better than (11) WINNING a championship, to be honest with you.” The movie (12) TELLS how Bryant (13) FELL in love with the game and (14) WORKED hard to achieve success and greatness. He created it with Disney animation artist Glen Keane. The “Dear Basketball” movie (15) USES art to help tell a story.

In the newspaper or online, find and closely read a story that interests you. Use what you read to create three drawings that could illustrate key facts or events in the story. Share with the class.

Common Core State Standards: Using drawings or visual displays when appropriate to enhance the development of main ideas or points; reading closely what a text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it.

Native teachers – busting a myth

Last weekend we were celebrating my birthday at the home of a dear couple, Mari and David, who even surprised me with a deliciously personalized Black Forest Cake. They were so excited to have that cake made especially for me and quickly apologized saying that the cake maker had mislabeled it with “Congratulations” instead of “Happy Birthday”.

Black Forest Cake
Happy Birthday Teacher

We had a wonderful time together and talked about nothing and 1001 things. At one point, my wife ask Mari about her English classes.

Mari works in marketing and customer service for an international company and needs to improve her language skills so that she can participate in global conference calls and presentations.

The last time we had talked about it, Mari had told us she was having online classes with a “native” teacher and that she found it hard to study and focus but she was feeling she was making some progress.

This time, she said, “now I am having face-to-face classes at a language school near my office, after work. But… my teacher is ‘NATIVE’ “.

My astute wife shot back right away: “why are you saying he’s ‘native’? What difference would it make if  he wasn’t native?

Mari stood there (or sat there as I remember) with her mouth hanging open searching for good reasons. She realized I’m an English teacher and I am not “native”. So she said, “Yes, Mo, but you are native-like”.

Agreed, my English is amazing (may modesty take a hike for awhile), but what makes me a great language teacher (there I go again) is not simply the fact that I can speak English and can lead some people to believe I am an American, or Australian, or Canadian, or Irish etc… depending on the nationality of the students trying to guess where I am from.

I am a great teacher because:

  1. I am knowledgeable /an expert in the subject I’m teaching.
  2. I know how to convey information in a simple, brief and clear way.
  3. I’ve been there. I know what it’s like to be trying to speak another language: Empathy.
  4. I am patient.
  5. I motivate, correct, exhort, encourage learners to aim to a higher level with my own passion for the language learning process.

A couple of weeks ago I came across a post written by Justin Murray (a ‘native’ teacher of English) on the English Experts website:

“[…] Another advantage about native speakers is that their students generally feel more motivated to speak in English in class. The fact that the teacher is from an English speaking country and not the country of the students generally works as an unconscious trigger for the student to speak the language. This may have nothing to do with the teacher’s proficiency or teaching ability.”

“The final advantage, which is the most popular, is that a native born teacher will teach or transmit much better pronunciation. This is for sure an advantage, but what a lot of people don’t know is that it’s difficult for beginners and lower intermediate students take advantage of this. In my opinion, upper intermediate and advanced students will benefit a lot more.” https://www.englishexperts.com.br/are-native-english-speakers-really-better-teachers/Image result for native teacher

Having read the quote above, I risk repeating myself:

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what planet your teacher is from, what will matter is the learner’s commitment, focus and effort (time, money, skills) to learn and improve their language skills. If having a native teacher makes you feel better, knock yourself out. But that doesn’t mean you’ll learn any faster or better.

The teacher, either Native, Native-like, or Martian will be just a facilitator and provider of resources.

Happy teaching and happy learning,

Mo

(The cake was amazing, by the way)

Song about Domestic Violence – Lesson Plan

Level: intermediate and higher

Duration: 60 minutes

Teacher’s Preparation Time: just a few minutes

It all started when I was thinking of a song to use with my students today – students love songs, but our music taste can be quite different. But since I am the one planning the lesson and having ALL the work I’ll use a song I like. If they don’t like it… tough! I remembered this great song from the 80s and 90s – “Luka” by Suzanne Vega – I’ve always enjoyed its melody and the serious subject it represents through those strong words and a solid story.

You can introduce the theme:

Write the word “domestic” on the board and hold up the picture of the house. Ask Ss what they think domestic means. Write any appropriate answers on the board.

Then write the word “violence” on the board and hold up the “anti-violence” picture. Ask Ss what they think violence means. Write any appropriate answers on the board. Finally, ask Ss what they think “domestic violence” means. Discuss.

1. What is domestic violence?

2. How is domestic violence revealed? Physically? Psychologically?

My name is Luka
I live on the second floor
I live upstairs from you
Yes I think you’ve seen me before
If you hear something late at night
Some kind of trouble, some kind of fight
Just don’t ask me what it was
Just don’t ask me what it was
Just don’t ask me what it was
I think it’s because I’m clumsy
I try not to talk too loud
Maybe it’s because I’m crazy
I try not to act too proud
They only hit until you cry
After that you don’t ask why
You just don’t argue anymore
You just don’t argue anymore
You just don’t argue anymore
Yes, I think I’m okay
I walked into the door again
If you ask that’s what I’ll say
And it’s not your business anyway
I guess I’d like to be alone
With nothing broken, nothing thrown
Just don’t ask me how I am
Just don’t ask me how I am
Just don’t ask me how I am
My name is Luka
I live on the second floor
I live upstairs from you
Yes I think you’ve seen me before
If you hear something late at night
Some kind of trouble, some kind of fight
Just don’t ask me what it was
Just don’t ask me what it was
Just don’t ask me what it was
And they only hit until you cry
After that, you don’t ask why
You just don’t argue anymore
You just don’t argue anymore
You just don’t argue anymore
Source: LyricFind
Songwriters: Suzanne Vega
Luka lyrics © Warner Chappell Music, Inc
The song is available on YouTube here’s one link: http://tiny.cc/fanwfz
Students listen to the song and try to get its gist – with lyrics in hand.
1. What is the song about?
(one of my students asked – “does she live in a dangerous neighborhood?” – as if domestic violence only happened among the poor)
How naive or blind can one be?
2. Who is Luka talking to?
3. What is she trying to explain?
As a teacher you prepare a cloze exercise – to fill the gaps with information, or verbs, or nouns or prepositions.
Example: Students listen and fill in the gaps
My name is Luka,
I live on ______________________
I live _____________ from you
Yes I think you’ve ________________ before
Or Students read, fill in the gaps with the right preposition and then listen to check:
My name is Luka,
I live _________ the second floor
I live upstairs ___________you
Yes I think you’ve seen me _______
For lower levels, students can write their own versions with actual or imagined facts
My name is  Halala
I live in a house 
I live next door
Guess you’ve never seen me before

The song can be followed by a discussion on domestic violence and what we can as individuals and as a society do to put an end to this “silence”

The Minnesota Literacy Council has prepared a whole lesson plan on Domestic violence and it’s free (https://mnliteracy.org/sites/default/files/int_-mlc-_echo_-_domestice_violence_unit.pdf)

  1. Some key vocabulary on this subject:

1. Abuse –
Hitting someone or saying bad things to them is a type of abuse.
2. Abuser –
Suzanna’s dad hurts her. He is the abuser. He makes Suzanna feel pain.
3. Victim –
Suzanna’s dad hurts her. She is the victim. She feels pain because of her dad’s actions.
4. Physical abuse –
Suzanna’s dad hits her. He sometimes chokes her—he puts his hands around her throat
so she can’t breathe. This is called physical abuse.
5. Emotional abuse –
Suzanna’s dad hits her but he also says hurtful things to her. He calls her stupid. This is
name calling. He also says no one will ever love her. This is called emotional abuse.
6. Power and control –
Suzanna’s dad is bigger than she is. He uses his strength and hurtful words to have
power and control over her.

Improving your Business English

How many times have you felt that your language learning has stagnated or you’re not finding time or ways to stop from sliding back? Yes, language learning is not a precise science and if you love Math or Physics chances are you would hate learning something abstract with tonnes of rules and even more exceptions. But don’t lose heart. There is still hope. First stop considering language learning as one more academic subject. It’s a communication tool. Plain and simple. Here are seven steps to help you move forward in your language learning adventure. It’s no rocket science but it works. Try it.

1. Set specific goals – they can be as simple as learning how to use sentences in the past tense, or using the verb to be in the present (stop saying “you is“) to improving your pronunciation. But small goalposts will help you move ahead.

2. Create linguistic habits – my best time to be learning something is the morning, but you can choose any time you feel more comfortable with reading, listening, writing in your target language. You would like me to say that 15 mins would be enough but actually, until you settle down 5 to 10 minutes will have already passed… so set daily blocks of at least 30 minutes. The longer you practice the faster your progress will be.

3. Believe in yourself – yes, yes, it sounds like an old cliche but it’s true – if you try to learn something already thinking you can’t do it… what will your chances of success actually be?

4. Enjoy the learning experience – choose things you like to focus on… what’s the point in reading an article about something you hate or know nothing about? Do you like songs, for example? Focus on a song you like, try to get the meaning, the key words, pronunciation… of course, there are songs AND SONGS, if you get my gist, some songs are not suitable for language learning… that’ll depend on your common sense. Like movies? Ok, focus on a section to learn the vocabulary, pronunciation, practice telling the story (plot), rehash the dialog, even.

5. Use authentic material – read a book in the original language. Depending on your level you can buy bilingual books (those books with the text in English paralleled by a translation). In Brazil, the Folha publisher launched a whole series of literature classics in a bilingual format.

6. Join a positive learning community – one of the problems we have when learning a foreign language is finding opportunities to practice it. Today with the internet you can find virtual friends literally anywhere in the world – even language partners. Also every large city will have some places where you can practice your target language. For example, in São Paulo there is a weekly bible study class in English open to anyone interested in practicing the English language for one hour and a half and free (Unasp SP at 10:30 am – every Saturday)

7. Ask for feedback – we are always our worst critics – so it’s important to have someone who’ll provide some tips and even raise our awareness regarding some problem areas. I remember back in the 90’s I partnered up with a Canadian friend and asked him to correct me when he felt it was necessary. Most of the time he didn’t have to correct me, just the fact he hadn’t understood what I was saying would alert me to some mispronunciation or wrong vocabulary use.

Happy growth,

Cheers,

Mo

Is Homework Obsolete?

Very little is talked about  nowadays concerning homework in the Language Teaching environment. Some may say it is something of the past – perhaps gone the way of the Dodo or the dinosaurs? 8506595

Some might argue that homework was just a way to threaten students with, in case they misbehaved – “give’em more homework”. Or maybe it was just a manner to keep them busy instead of idle – the “devil makes work for idle hands”. (Me and my Puritan upbringing).

But while watching a video presentation by Penny Ur (Cambridge University Press – “My top 30 Teaching Tips” – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KQvFGyD3b78) I was led to remember how important homework can be for the learner as a tool to review, practice and clarify points seen or to be seen during the lesson. Not to mention it is a great source of feedback to the teacher.Related image

Ms Ur presented some key steps when dealing with homework:

  1. Don’t leave homework assignment to the end of the lesson, as if it was an afterthought. Tell students in advance what they’ll have to be doing afterwards.
  2. Define homework by apportioned time rather than quantity. Tell them to see what they can do in 20-30 minutes for example.
  3. Find ways to check homework without wasting half the lesson – that’s a tricky one. Today I spent 30 minutes (out of a 60-minute class) correcting the homework. Instead have students self-check; dictate the answers; check for problematic points; have pair correction; etc.

One key factor that we as teachers and students must always bear in mind is that Homework allows exposure to the language and consequently, it leads to practice and consolidation.

I remember the time I was learning how to play the piano and my teacher would assign me 4 or 5 easy songs to practice for the next lesson. The objective was to get me to practice daily and familiarize myself with the notes, the piano, the tempo, etc.

Yes, I know that some students will never do their homework, others will do it 30 minutes before class (and I’m talking about grownups), but as a teacher I know the value of a well-thought homework assignment and the benefits that it brings.

Cheers,

Mo