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

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Immersion Course – the Return

Today, one of my students, Isabella, returned after a 2-month-long trip to the US – one month she spent studying English at Kaplan International English School in Chicago and one month traveling across the US – a few days in Seattle, then on to San Francisco and ending her tour in Miami, Fl. “The best city by far was Chicago. It’s vibrant, culturally diverse with amazing restaurants, museums and great music”, she said. Image result for chicago skyline

Well, she had been very anxious about her arrival at the airport and customs and immigration. We practiced what she should say if questioned by the immigration officer, what might happen and she said it all went smoothly. The only drawback was that she arrived at O’Hare’s Terminal 5 and she had to go to Terminal 1 to catch the metro rail to downtown Chicago. The access information was a little difficult and it was a little bit of a hassle for her to get to the other terminal. From downtown she used an Uber driver to take her to her niece’s apartment at the University of Chicago on the South Side. Image result for chicago terminal 1 subway

She told me it was a bus commute of around 25 minutes from where she was staying with her niece to the language school downtown. She could observe the wide diversity of people and nationalities and after one week the regular passengers were already greeting her. And sometimes she would call an Uber Pool so she could meet other passengers and try to practice her English. Image result for bus downtown university of chicago

At the school she was assessed as an A2 student and placed in a classroom with some 15 students from the Arab Emirates, South Korea, China, and Colombia. Her first teacher was a nice man but who spoke way too fast and when she asked for some explanation about a point in the lesson he would not give her an answer. After one week she asked for another teacher – this time it was an Englishman (yes, I know, an Englishman in Chicago – great version for Sting’s song – An Englishman in New York) and he spoke more clearly and pausedly.  Her teacher referred her to listen to Ted Talks and watch episodes of “Friends”. Image result for kaplan school  chicago male teacher

The biggest issue”,  Isabella went on, “that I had with the school was the lack of a good language laboratory”.

Since she was familiar with the language lab concept from her years studying English in Brazil she had been expecting state-of-the-art facilities. She commented: “After 3 hours of classes I thought I would  spend at least 1 hour in a lab listening and recording my speech but it was very small and restricted.” Image result for kaplan school  chicago language lab

“Of course, nothing compares to the experience of being in another country surrounded by the language you’re learning, however, I found out that people were not very patient with me. Many people spoke too fast and when I tried to ask for something, for example, they’d say ‘do you speak Spanish?’ ”  

I asked Isabella if before leaving they’d reassessed her English level at school and she said it was raised to a B1, which she thought was much too soon.

Academically she didn’t have anything more than what she could have had in Brazil. This outcome strengthens my advice: use your time and money to study English in your own home country and then go to an English speaking country for practice, attend a course in photography, art, whatever, in your target language. The return will be much more satisfying.

Cheers,

Mo

Teaching in the 21st Century – part 2

This is the second and final part of my summary of the book – Psychology for Language Teachers (A Social Constructivist Approach) by Marion Williams and Robert L. Burden (Cambridge University Press)Image result for psychology for language teachers

“This book examines the field of educational psychology and considers various ways in which a deeper understanding of this discipline can help language teachers. Areas considered in the book include approaches to learning, motivation, the role of the individual, attribution, mediation, the teaching of thinking, the cognitive demands of tasks and the learning environment. The book does not assume previous knowledge of psychology.” (Source: https://www.amazon.com.br/Psychology-Language-Teachers-Constructivist-Approach/dp/0521498805)

One of the axioms presented by the authors is that learners LEARN BETTER if they feel in control of what they’re learning, based on the assumption that learning is closely linked to how people feel about themselves.

The idea is that Teachers must motivate Students and persuade them into learning – first of all, a teacher must learn to listen: Yes, it is absolutely conducive to communication but often forgotten and left in the background. The teacher walks in with their agenda for the day, week, semester and  earth and heaven shall pass away but nothing can change it. Sometimes, a change in voice intonation or a contextual misunderstanding could threaten the whole learning session. That shouldn’t be so especially in the language learning environment.

Starting from the premise that teachers are facilitators and mediators with what they do in the classroom will reflect their own beliefs and attitudes, consequently, teachers must show their own interest in the learning process, share their own foibles and mistakes when they were learning that language or the first language the learner speaks. Here we see a great advantage for nonnative teachers of English who can empathize with their learners. Or in the case of English native speakers who have passed through the experience of learning another language.

Image result for the art of teaching

At the end of the day, the teacher must bring forth independent thinkers and learners who after a period of time in class will be able to fly on their own.

Cheers,

Mo

Learning through osmosis

Let me cut to the chase and tell you that you can get a disease or infection by contact with a wound or a cut, through blood, saliva and other bodily fluids. You won’t, I repeat, YOU WILL NOT learn another language just by shaking hands with a language teacher or touching the dictionary on the screen of your cellphone, ok? 🙄

Well… as inane as it may sound, that’s how many students approach their decision to learn a second or foreign language. Let me give you an example:

One day, Bratislav* (not his real name) wakes up, stretches out and says to himself:

I need to improve my English (or whatever language he might think is important for him). “I’ll call this teacher who my colleague is having classes with (or should it be “whom”) schedule a start date, settle on payment (hmm, maybe he’ll be so amazed at my brain, he’ll be willing to teach me for free 😋) and I’ll be on my way towards my destiny to conquer the world.”

But poor Brat also thinks that he won’t have to do anything to make some progress. No homework. No practice. No class attendance (I kid you not, Virginia).

In 1-1 classes, the client agrees to buy a chunk of time from his teacher, be it 45 minutes, one hour, or whatever. So he must make every effort to use that time as well as possible. Time flies as the saying goes and it slips through our fingers like sand. When the student can’t or won’t have class at the agreed time for whatever reason, he expects the teacher will rebottle that time that has gone away and offer him again. Or at least offer a discount of the total value of the classes.

We as teachers have to look hard into ourselves and ask: why are we teaching? What do we want? How can we achieve our goals and our students’ goals? And sometimes we come across tough choices to be made: should I be punching the head of this or that student who’s more dead than a door nail?

During a year-end evaluation, which I had to sit next to Brat and answer it with him,

– he would not have answered the survey on his own in a million years, he told me he would like to improve his writing. Great. Now we’re getting somewhere. Or not… because he won’t have time to write anything and he doesn’t want to spend 15 minutes in class quietly writing an email, or translating a short text for practice.

So… Brat, I only have one thing left to do: I will terminate you as a “virtual” student and when you sort out what you want and how you will get there then and only then you may call me again. Or not.

I’ll be waiting at the restaurant round the corner with a Chicken Parmigiana plate balancing on my head while watching Jane Fonda work out on YouTube🤪

Cheers,

Mo

Are There Any Bad Students?

First and foremost, let’s cut that politically correctness crap that anyone can learn a second language and that there are no bad students. That’s not true. I’ve learned it the hard way.

I’m not talking about those individuals who are pure evil… What I’m just saying is that some people should focus their efforts on something attainable.

Let’s face it: some people are great learners. Others are average. Others suck at that. I was great at History/Geography and sucked at Math. Great at English and sucked at Portuguese literature. That depends on:

Personality

Commitment

Intellect

that is how your brain works. Image result for brain clipart

 

So… what makes a bad student?

1. Has No realistic goals – expects to be speaking and understanding everything in 6 hours/days/weeks.

2. Passively receives information and believes that the teacher will concoct a magic potion that will make them learn – doesn’t know why they’re learning.

3. Waits for the teacher to present interesting things for him to watch, read and listen to (during class time, of course)

4. Never reviews or records any lesson material

5. Displays weak learning skills – won’t take notes but doesn’t hav learns r-e-a-l-l-y slowly, if ever.

6.  Feels Forced to learn

The positive point is that bad learners can be converted into good learners.

First, find out what makes them tick. What motivates them (unless they’re clinically depressed – then advise them to seek medical and psychological care).

Assess their needs and their learning strengths and weaknesses – do they have a good memory? Are they slightly dyslexic? Do they need speech therapy? How’s their hearing?

Empathize

Provide opportunities for success.

Cheers,

Mo

5 tips to learning/practicing a new language

 

Many people complain that they’ve been stuck in the same language level for ages. What to do? Resign and move on?

How about losing weight without dieting and exercise? How about getting hydrated without having to drink any liquids? Or tv zapping using your brainwaves? No remote control necessary. Far fetched? The same goes to learning another language without taking time and effort into the calculation. So here are 5 fail-proof steps that will actually help you learn another language and move up to the next level.

WARNING – these steps may actually help you learn 🤪

  1. Expose yourself to the language – videos, listen to radio programs, leaf through magazines and newspapers in the target language, being in that country or not.
  2. Have language classes – get feedback – some learn by themselves but there is always room for improvement and a teacher or friend fluent in that language may be able to help you.
  3. Use Duolingo or Lingq apps  for practice
  4. Extensive reading – read a lot for fun and understanding. Yes books are still in. Don’t stop to look up every single word you don’t know. Choose a book that might have a vocabulary level a little higher than yours but not too difficult. Even the Bible. Choose a translation that is going to be easier for you.  Allow yourself to read every night/ morning for 15-20 minutes.
  5. a notebook – write down any key words meaningful to you.
Set yourself a goal: 5 words  a day,  for example – set a page per day – make flashcards – make the new vocabulary relevant and present to you – go over them  15 minutes every day – write the translation and the word in context – choose sentences or examples taken from what you heard, read or looked up on Linguee or any other source.
  There you go… ready for the next level.
Cheers,
Mo

The role of the language teacher in the classroom

The role of the teacher in the classroom must not be underestimated. So whether you’re still wet behind your ears or have grown prematurely grey due to the many years of teaching, here are some good reminders

  1. Be keen and approachable. Make sure your students know your name. You have an identity. Apologise when necessary.
  2. Avoid too much TTT (Teacher Talking Time). No matter your students’ level they want to be able to speak. A lot of a teacher’s talking time is just lost on the students. It feels very teacher-oriented when one is explaining a lot and spending a lot of time setting up activities, but students still don’t know what’s going on.
  3. Teach the students, not the plan. The teacher must be adaptable and flexible.
  4. Find a balance between allowing students to communicate freely and proper pronunciation correction.
  5. Avoid a deluge of photocopies. It’s very easy to get disorganised. From the very beginning encourage students to create their own book with the copies and a binder.
  6. Don’t expect perfection, and give encouragement. Sometimes the teacher is so eager on perfection that they won’t let students utter anything without it being perfect.
  7. Seek a balance between the grammar, vocab and pronunciation. 

 

The par excellence teaching approach philosophy today is “student-centered” which is all right and good, but then again, perhaps the classroom provides a space in which learners can basically get all the answers that they wouldn’t get if they were just out in the wild west of the real world, where nobody is there to lend a hand and it’s all just a question of survival. That’s where the teacher fits in.

This does require a particularly nimble teacher – one who is able to adapt on the spot and come up with feedback, drills, little practice exercises and questions that identify the specific problem the student has, how to remedy it and how to let the students practise it correctly. It also requires that the learners are able to go with the flow too. teacherprofiles-infographic11

Happy teaching,
Cheers,

Mo

Source: Thanks to the notes on teacher observation provided by Luke Thompson. Teacher Luke’s English Podcast https://teacherluke.co.uk/2018/02/16/512-my-experiences-of-not-learning-french-part-2-learning-language-in-a-classroom-vs-learning-on-your-own/