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

Waiting is hard

Yes, yes, I know… I could say that again… Waiting is HARD. “We twiddle our thumbs, we shuffle our feet, we stifle our yawns, we heave long sighs, we fret inwardly in frustration”.

That’s how a language learner feels… progress is slow. So instead of just moaning, we teachers must encourage our students to actively be in charge of their linguistic progress.

Are they on social media? Great. Encourage them to access accounts on Twitter, or instagram or Facebook …. using the language they’re learning.

As a teacher I know I must help my students develop a positive relationship with the language they’re learning. I must show them the value of that language, increase their interest in the learning process. Stress the relevance of they’re doing and failure is not an option. Signify to them what is done in the language they pursue and what they can do if they commit themselves to learning.

My students are my greatest asset, so I won’t treat them as morons (isn’t it a great new year’s resolution?) They’re my partners not only by paying for their lessons but also by allowing me my professional and personal development with and through them.

May the new year help us all take off to new heights.

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

Developing digital competence in ELT

“As teachers, we are bombarded with the urge to use the latest, shiny technology,  we must keep our fingers on the pulse of technology.” Steve Taylor-Knowles

In other words, we must know how to use technology – not a choice anymore, but we need to know how to apply the necessary criteria to choose what to adopt or discard.

Teachers are a very complex sort of animal. On the one hand, we are open-minded and willing to learn. On the other hand, we’re afraid of change, including new technologies, feeling burdened by having to learn a new tool, which might result in more work, more time requirements,  more tasks and chores.

Our real challenge is to go digital.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

1. Digital course management

Teachers have to get familiar with different learning management systems (LSM).

We can build data on students. What’s been done? What scores? What new plans or strategies?

2. Course Content Delivery

Resources: digital content allows for more material than what would be possible in a physical context. Both teacher and students can and should use their mobile phones as great learning tools.

3. Digital Competence

Literacy – today (August 06, 2018), the Brazilian Newspaper O Estado de São Paulo published a poll informing that 3 out of 10 Brazilians are functionally illiterate. Now, how many teachers are  functionally  digitally illiterate today?

So… dear teachers, embrace technology and start learning.

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Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

Cheers,

Mo

 

 

Practice makes perfect, but …

Since the late 1980s language drilling has been looked down upon as being bad. They’d say its mechanical, boring and irrelevant for the students. Students aren’t automatons to be repeating meaningless sentences or vocabulary.

And it’s true that too much of a thing (even if a good thing) can be its own death. But as the old saying goes “don’t throw the baby with the bathwater”. Language drills have their very good value: by repetition they can help students identify their questions and problem areas while leading them towards specific language goals and targets, therefore, drilling can help students focus.

In the not so distant past, language labs were the rage. All the “respectable” language schools had their laboratories with those sessions inserted in their lesson grid where students would be sent to a stuffy room (no air conditioning then) and they’d spend 40-50 minutes listening and repeating to an outdated audio recording, while a teacher dozed off (sorry, listened in and monitored the students).

idiomas
Language labs could resemble an industrial assembly line but production quality can vary widely

 With the ubiquitous presence of smartphones now students have a language school and lab in their hands but their needs are still the same, including the need to practice.

Spaced repetition – reviewing words over a sequence of days will work wonders on vocabulary retention, concentration, and patience.

Practice makes perfect,  but only if you practice in the right way.

“How you practice and what you do matters more than how long you practice”, Jeremy Harmer has said more than once. drilling

If you get your heart involved you will get better chances of learning.

Drilling should be genuinely communicative, psychologically authentic, focused, and follow a regular pattern.

Happy drills,

Cheers,

Mo