Desire to Learn English

This afternoon, my 8th grade niece came home saying that she had received her English coursebook which included an audio CD but she couldn’t understand the instructions or how to use that material.

I said, “Come on, don’t be lazy, that can’t be that hard. Didn’t you pay attention to your teacher explaining how to use it?” But I must confess: it is difficult. The coursebook assumes that students have had 3-4 years of continuous English instruction so they can understand text and oral instructions. Nothing could be further from the truth. The students can’t simply make heads or tails of what they’re supposed to do. To add insult to injury the text is monolingual and just leaves the students hanging in there – sink or swim. coursebook

I’m not just blaming the teachers, who have 30-40 students in a classroom to work with, but I do know many of them are not qualified to teach English as a Foreign Language at all. Some of them not even know how to use the coursebook and no one bothers to explain to their students how to use the CD or to self-study. In some other cases (not just a few – the teacher says to the students: “I’m a teacher of Portuguese and now I’m required to also teach this …. (fill in the blanks) English language”.

Consequence – year after year students finish elementary school and secondary school having learned – hopefully – the verb to be and nothing else.

The government’s initiative to provide quality textbooks is praiseworthy but training on how to use the material is equally essential. That’s the least they can do. I remember my first formal school contact with English was in 6th grade back in 1976. By teacher, very wisely I must say, rejected the use of any textbooks – she developed her own curriculum and used dictations and the blackboard to teach us reading and speaking. I’m telling you this: I learned much more during those 9 months of class than in the next 2 years with another teacher who made us buy the coursebook – which was not bad – we used the same book in the 7th and 8th grade and not even then did we manage to complete the syllabus for the book that was geared to 5th graders.

The problem with the teaching of foreign languages in schools won’t be solved until it ceases being an academic subject and becomes a tool for the teaching of other subjects. My suggestion would be to require more user-friendly textbooks (clear bilingual instructions, transcript of the audio activities) which could be used for self-studying.

Meanwhile, the educational system will continue sending to private language teachers, tutors and language institutes hundreds of thousands of frustrated and scarred students.

My apologies to you, Maria Eduarda – Since I’m sure she can’t understand this in English (Peço-te perdão, Maria Eduarda).

Cheers,

Mo

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Summer Reading

This weekend I received a text message from my student that made my day – he was asking for book recommendations in English so he can practice his reading  and expand vocabulary.

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Of course as a teacher I must recommend books that may appeal to the student’s language level and interests. Classics? Fiction? Nonfiction? And within each of those three categories we can find a plethora of material to choose from.

The process:

Reading 30 minutes or more every day

Language level: comfortable but also a little difficult (challenging but not discouraging)

medium: whether digital (electronic) or paper – immaterial. But one advantage of the e-book is the easy access to a dictionary (which can also be distracting if the reader stops at every line)

Some of my reading recommendations: (no necessary order just as they popped up in my mind)

Here are some of my suggestions:

Young adults:

1. Tangerine by Edward Bloor- a young man learning to adapt to a new environment and go against the crowd.

2. Whirligig  by Paul Fleischman- a young man coming of age on a healing pilgrimage from Washington State to California, Florida, and Maine, describing the many lives set into new motion –

Adults: – Fiction

1. Animal Farm – George Orwell – a perennial good read where all animals are equal but some are more equal

2. Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury – impossible imagine a world without books or freedom of the press?

Adults – Nonfiction

1. Hunger of MemoryThe education of Richard Rodriguez

2. Stones in schoolsPromoting peace with education in Afghanistan and Pakistan by Greg Mortenson

Classics

1. Treasure Island – Robert Louis Stevenson

2. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – Mark Twain

3. The Pickwick Papers – Charles Dickens’s funniest novel

Happy Reading

Mo

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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