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

How’s English teaching changed over the last 30 years?

Wow. A landmark. 30 years of Teaching English and Spanish as foreign languages. And counting. But honestly speaking, English has always taken the lion’s share of my teaching hours.

Out of those years, over 25 have been teaching one on one so I can say a thing or two about changes in language teaching in this segment.

1. Accessibility: when I started teaching cable tv was limited. Students could watch videos of movies in English but subtitled in Portuguese. No radio programs in English…lots of English songs but how could they understand what was being sung? Limited access to lyrics. Now they have all the English speaking world at the touch of a button on their cellphone.

2. Technology – when I started teaching I not even had a cassette player and the school followed their own coursebook without cassettes. If I wanted to play a song I had to take my portable turntable and vinyl record. From cassette – to CDs and we moved up from VHS – to DVD’s and now to streaming and millions of channels on YouTube. Not to mention the hundreds of language learning apps.

3. Pedagogy – teachers were the reference in pronunciation, grammar, vocabulary. If the teacher didn’t know it how could a simple student know that word? From teacher-centered the language courses have moved on to a learner-centered approach (at least in speech). Learners can do way more than what their teachers might tell them to do (well, it doesn’t mean they’ll do it).

4. Resources – from coursebooks and the occasional imported magazine or newspaper now we all have Doctor Google. There are loads of apps for students to practice vocabulary, pronunciation, even using AI for actual conversation. They can record themselves and self evaluate their progress.

5. Creativity – that’s changed but still the same if you get my gist – I mean, we teachers have always had to resort to creativity from role playing to imaginary conversations to using tv commercials recorded on a VHS tape as part of our class material.

Despite all the improvements in pedagogy and technology some things still continue wearily unchanged.

Many students still think that a native teacher is better than a teacher who HAD to learn the language as they are doing now. After all, if the teacher says, “come, come, it’s not that difficult”, they can always argue, “not for you”. Still language schools give priority to a teaching candidate who’s spent 2 years washing dishes or cleaning houses abroad over a local language college graduate.

Many students also think grammar should be taught first even though they hate it… so it must be good like the bitter taste of medicine, right? Still controversies over teaching pronunciation and cultural values of the English speaking countries. Even those who defend the teaching of a global English accept the fact that some parameters must be defined, otherwise the English someone is learning in Indonesia might be incomprehensible to someone learning it in Ecuador.

The future will present even more changes, but some things I’m sure will remain the same: the importance of knowledgeable, committed and caring teachers working along students who have developed or discovered their own motivation.

Here’s to 30 more years of teaching!

Cheers,

Mo

Self-employment is empowering

Been a 1 on 1 teacher for over 20 years. When I tell people I am a language teacher, they usually ask what school I work for. Then I tell them I’m self employed.

Their reaction varies from ” Wow… oh to be your own boss. That’s a dream for many people”; to “oh… you can’t hold a steady job, can ya?”

There are pros and cons… as in every other professional choice.

1. You control your life.

You can choose your activities. For example you decide when you’ll go on vacation, avoid high season and having more flexibility with all bookings. You save for your future.

2. You get to choose your hours

You establish your working hours – some 8 years ago I decided I wasn’t going to teach after 6pm. A student said I was lazy ( half jokingly half seriously). And I haven’t looked back since. Yes, my income is smaller but my peace of mind and lack of stress not having to face the chaotic traffic in São Paulo during the rush hour more than compensate for that.

3. You get to work with people you like

You can pick and choose your students, in some ways…. I’ve already fibbed saying I didn’t have any available time because I knew that student would be a pain in the neck. There is nothing worse than having a student who doesn’t know what he is doing and why he is doing it. It saps the teacher’s energy, after trying for one or two months you have to break up with him or her, either face to face or via WhatsApp. The latter is better! Just say to the student: “it’s not you. It’s me.”😜 Of course you will lose income by dropping or turning down students.

4. You can make a stand

you lose income by dropping or turning down students, but … A few months ago, two prospective students approached me saying they wanted to have classes together… 2 for the price of one: always trying to cut corners and pay less. I interviewed them and found out that their motivation and language levels were different. It wouldn’t work. Most likely one of them would be absent most of the time. In practice, they would take turns attending class. I would have to repeat the same lesson. Or even worse, teach 2 people separately and get paid for one. No way, Jose. Go waste some other teacher’s time.

5. You can follow your passion

In my case it’s teaching, not correcting and grading hundreds of papers and tests. Or even worse dealing with school politics and red tape.

Self employment is not for everyone. You see that even in the pros you will have a possible money loss phase or a period of financial instability. You will lack any professional support from a company (in case you were working for a decent school – few and far in between). No labor benefits. No health insurance. No sick pay. Zilch. You earn more for your time and spend more but it is liberating. You take charge of your professional life.

Cheers and carry on.

Mo

Motivating ESL Students

Picture this:

It’s Monday morning.

First class at 7:30am.

Student A had an intense weekend, traveled, returned home late Sunday night and Monday morning he has to be ready for his class first thing in the morning. The teacher walks in and starts talking in English … the student who’s been speaking Portuguese all week hears the sounds but can’t make heads or tails of what’s being said past “how are you?”

Next, while correcting homework the teacher sees the student still having trouble expressing basic sentences – and can’t remember basic vocabulary he’s already seen before.

He can’t remember how to say in English:

Classe média (middle class)

Saudade (to be missing someone)

Poucas casas (a few houses)

Move on to the following student B – she is shown a 10 minute Ted Talk video on global population growth – and then says she’d fallen asleep half way through the clip.

Then student C waltz in. He has just had lunch and didn’t sleep very well last night… guess what happened?

So lessons to be learned:

1. Review, review, review! Grammar points and vocabulary.

2. Break video sessions into smaller chunks. Ask comprehension questions to help student remain focused.

3. Bring very strong black coffee in a thermos.

Cheers,

Mo

The Teaching of English as a Foreign Language in Brazilian Public Schools

As you know I’ve been teaching private students, mostly one on one for over 25 years so I can’t say I’ve been in touch with what goes on in classrooms all over Brazil. Last time I taught English as a regular subject at school was back in 1986, so do your math, because I can’t. I’m an English teacher after all.

So I decided to talk (via Twitter) to a dear friend and fellow teacher, Iara Will, who teaches at state public schools in São Paulo. Here’s what she had to say:

Do you use technology in your classes?

Iara Will
Iara Will

“Well…at my school in Sorocaba (Humberto de Campos) we have an IT room with 12 computers working.

But my classes have around 30 students… a tight room with broken air conditioning…, so I use computers in class only when a few students show up. The São Paulo state government has an online English Course program open to public school students who even receive a conclusion certificate. The online course presents everyday situations, videos and exercises even allowing for some interactivity. The course goes up to the Intermediate Level.

In class I allow them to use their cellphones, although it’s forbidden by law.

Reason: we have no dictionaries at the school’s library.  So.. they look up words online.
I try to give them activities that don’t have an easily found answer online, I encourage memorization and I make up many activities.

From the textbooks I only use some texts for reading comprehension.

I also use songs some old and some brand new ones.

I’ve learned that English is more of a decorative subject than really Language Arts. It’s just a complement not a real subject.

I cannot hold back any student. Don’t tell it to my dear students (it’s state secret. LOL)

By the way no one fails any subject nowadays at our schools. But even so, I make my opinion heard at school board and council,  especially in disciplinary matters, because I’m one of the few who listens to the students.

My workload is low so I have some free time. Most teachers survive teaching at least 32 classes a week. It would be writing 18 class reports for English alone.  Many teachers teach 54 classes a week. I don’t know how???!!!!

What sort of activities do you use with students?

Reading Activities with current issues from texts I find online or from the textbook.

I use songs and films subtitled in English when I know they’ve seen it 20 times, like Finding Nemo. I give them a handout to fill in the blanks and other activities varying according to their grade.

They love it, if I may say so.

I take my own tv, speakers,  I have to make my own copies.

The school says they have everything I need, until I really need something.

So…

Some students ask if they may go to the restroom in English, even during other classes, just to be funny, or to be the first to go.

We have more writing activities than conversation. It’s only 2 classes a week, I try hard to follow a program.

2 classes of 45 minutes each?

40 minutes.

Wow! Such a short time. How do you divide the time in class? Roll call? Homework? Do you have any warm up activities?

They answer Roll Call in English –  Hi, hello, present, I’m here or here. I use up to 10 minutes just for roll call.

When they return from the restroom they have to say “excuse me”

For warm-up I can use an object, a quiz or a previous activity.

They don’t have homework 😦

Interesting!!!

Sometimes we talk about special holidays, such as Thanksgiving – we have a little party – they bring some foodstuff, name it in English.

Occasionally we even pray in English taking advantage of some special celebrations.

There are cameras in the classrooms. I cannot induce them to anything.

And do the cameras work?

Yes, vice-principals, mediators and school inspectors constantly monitor them

What do your students think of studying English?

It’s hard, cool, boring, Now that I can understand it I like it… things I’ve heard this year.

What’s their social-economic status?

Many of them live in slums. I earn a little more because the school is located in areas of risk.

 

Thank you so much, Iara for sharing with us this wonderful experience as a caring teacher. chamada-publica-escolar-no-es-comeca-com-rematricula-e-transferencia_620_