CONNECTING MINDS – Emotional intelligence of language teachers and learners

What matters most in language education?

  • Is it the latest audio/visual technology?
  • Games? or that loathsome word “gamification”?
  • Classes supported by robust academic research?
  • The latest coursebooks published by the largest international publishers (preferably based in the UK or US)?
  • Native speakers to teach the language?
  • One on one teaching? Group teaching?
  • F2F? or Online?

What matters most in language education: PEOPLE”

Learning takes place where three factors are interconnected: motivation; cognition; emotion.

CREATE THE FUTURE THROUGH CONNECTING MINDS | Binu Peniel
Connecting Minds

Motivation – if learners are not motivated, no matter how many virtual or real somersaults a teacher may do, they won’t get anywhere.

How to Do a Somersault: 10 Steps (with Pictures) - wikiHow
If teacher has not connected with students, there will be no point in doing somersaults for them

Cognition – Google’s dictionary defines it as “the mental action or process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, experience, and the senses.” there must be a transfer of knowledge and understanding between Teacher and learners – actually, this process is a 2-way street – it’s not a passive experience – both learners and teacher will be developing and growing in understanding each other.

Emotion – Teacher and learner must have a positive feeling regarding their relationship. Students should “fall in love” with their teacher – nothing sexual, take it easy. But they must be infected by the teacher’s passion and enthusiasm. If the teacher approaches the subject with a jaded attitude – it will not result in any excitement on the learners’ part.

Rita Pierson once said on a TED Talk: “People don’t learn from people they don’t like.” She went on to say that psychologically wise language teachers will do 3 things:

  1. develop relationships
  2. focus on positivity and growth
  3. nurture their own professional development and well-being.

There you have it… starting point towards developing a healthier relationship between teachers and learners.

Cheers,

Mo

Online Language Teaching

We are living in unprecedented times … April 2020 – we are going through a virus pandemic that no one (doctors, scientists, politicians, business leaders) cannot guarantee what the world will look like in one month’s time, let alone in one year’s time. At times my imagination travels as if there is a green, noxious miasma outside ready to grab anyone who ventures out.ArtStation - Wandering Above The Sea Of Fog, Etienne Lamoureux

Schools have been suspended, offices and malls closed. People told to stay home and safe. Actually, “Stay Safe” has become the most popular leave-taking expression of the year in English – forget about  “goodbye”,  “farewell”, “see you later”, or even “take care”.

We must stay home and be  distant socially, but not socially isolated – we can communicate with our loved ones online, on the phone, shouting from the window (if they live next door  or in the apartment block across the street).

Teachers worldwide have been told to stay home and start teaching their lessons online – some record their video sessions, others go live using Zoom, Skype or their institution’s choice, while others still have to do both.

But from the get-go, the problems started to arise – of schools and education authorities are not interested in how the teacher will do it… They just MUST do it.

Some frequent problems: 

  1. equipment – old cellphones, no computer, no access to broadband, prepaid services (which are way more expensive)
  2. Wifi – poor or no wifi access
  3. digital skills – many teachers may use their mobile phones for passive consumption of social media, WhatsApp and make the odd phone call. But to upload their lesson plan?!
  4. lack of confidence – I’m not good with gadgets. I don’t know where to start.
  5. fixed mindset – see some of the excuses above.
  6. complexity – come on… some teachers can’t adjust the clocks on their microwave ovens – do you think they’re gonna be willing to learn something new?

That leads me to a quote I read last week – don’t remember the author (too lazy to try to find out) but still true: “teachers don’t like to learn”. 

What’s the solution? No magic bullets but, as teachers we must develop more tolerance for ambiguity, and willingness to learn.

Grow in self-awareness, self-management, and problem-solving.

Our online classes will not likely be ready to be shown on national educational TV programming but they will make the difference to our students.

Keep calm and grow, baby, grow.KEEP CALM AND GROW BABY GROW Poster | liv_sta | Keep Calm-o-Matic

Happy online teaching.

Cheers,

Mo

 

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

Learning a language on your own

This week I received the following question from one of our Sabbath School podcast listeners:
“I’d like to know if reading  books in English (reading a lot) will enable me to learn the language?”
“I can’t afford a language school/course. My English level is very good. I can understand about 80% of what I read. But I find it hard to speak and write. Would it be possible for me to reach a higher level by reading and listening only? Your Sabbath School podcast (Believes Unasp Sabbath School Podcast  – https://player.fm/series/2424793) has been a great gateway for me. I’m loving the audio practice! It’s been helping me a lot.” Jefferson F.
Image result for learn a language reading
Hello Jefferson, your question is pretty fair – can anyone learn English (or any other language) just from reading? My first answer: That depends
Of course, there are many people who have learned the classical languages – Greek and Latin or Hebrew and Arabic from just reading texts.
Image result for classical languages
Can you learn a language by yourself? Yes, depending on your will, time and natural skills.
But the learning process can be more comprehensive (and more fun) if you incorporate all four skills:
Reading and Listening are receptive skills while Writing and Speaking are predominantly productive skills. Of course, if your goal is to understand or translate sacred texts, for instance, that’s where your efforts and focus should be. But…
You can and should (as much as possible) develop your “proactive skills”: speaking and writing.
Most definitely today there are millions of opportunities to practice your listening in your target language (literally). You can listen to many podcasts and documentaries, interviews, etc. Reading opportunities are basically infinite online… or at least they would last you all your mortal life and then some.
Now, in ‘modern languages’ one important challenge is to be able to communicate – either through speaking or writing – and you can practice that by finding people who are also learning or are native speakers of your target language. Email them. WhatsApp them, Facebook them.
Let’s say in the worst case scenario you have no one to practice with – start reading aloud and training your speech, pronunciation, listening to your own voice how you can improve your intonation, linking words, etc. Record yourself (even if you hate the sound of your voice – tough it up!).
Regarding the fact you can’t afford a language course, there are many courses offered in Brazil by public universities (state and federal institutions) which offer some language courses for Specific Purposes at zero or low cost. Google them up. And make YouTube one of your teachers.
Image result for ingles instrumental usRelated image

 

So… Finally, I’m answering your question with a resounding YES! Yes, You can learn English (or any other language all by yourself).
Now if you would like to have a language expert, enabler, facilitator, provider of positive feedback… feel free to contact me. Your investment will be worth your while.
Cheers,
Mo

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

Error Correction & Feedback in Writing

This week one of my students was quite inspired – something one rarely comes across these days-  that I felt inclined to ask him to write a 300-word essay about a weekend trip. He said he would. And he did. I’m quite used to students who would rather have their fingernails pulled than write a short paragraph, so I jumped at the opportunity.

Once he handed in the text I had to consider how to give him constructive feedback and the amount of correction to provide.

When checking ideas on how to correct his essay I came across the following:

“In academic writing, the end product is expected to have:

  • A wide range of vocabulary
  • Correct grammar
  • Meaningful punctuation
  • Accurate spelling
  • Varied sentence structures
  • Unity and coherence in ideas
  • Well-supported and explained major points.”
  • Source: CORRECTING AND GIVING FEEDBACK TO WRITING (bit.ly/31XLsWy)

We all have written papers for some courses to be checked and graded by
our instructors. We know very well that a paper that is returned with red
markings and notes all over is quite discouraging for the writer. Knowing
this, while giving feedback we may, of course, use green pens and put
smiling faces here and there on the paper but still we see the light in the
students’ eye fading.Image result for esl corrected essay

Image result for In academic writing, the end product is expected to have:  A wide range of vocabulary Correct grammar

If our aim is to win the student over instead of discouraging him, we should be looking for ways of giving feedback without losing the student. Otherwise they might think our “pen is pooping blood”.
The most important aspect while giving feedback is adopting a positive
attitude to student writing. While marking mechanically we may not
realize that we are showing the student only their mistakes and negative
points. If the student receives only negative feedback, they may easily be
discouraged from trying to form complex structures and using new
vocabulary.

These are a few  examples of error codes from the more “sophisticated” writing rules to basic Tense, Spelling and Word Order. Image result for writing correction codes eslImage result for writing correction codes eslImage result for writing correction codes esl

The trick is to find a balance between correcting “every single mistake” and “keeping the thought flow and meaning”, without discouraging the student.

A starting point is emphasizing the importance of spacing of lines, choice of font (if typing). If you feel that red ink is too shocking choose a softer color such as green or blue. Write the code next to the error but make sure the student has the code keys – any comments the teacher writes should be brief and clear aiming to provide positive feedback.

Not all students will write for a living or even for work. Many will use an instant messaging system such as WhatsApp or the odd email.  However, feedback sessions can be a beneficial experience for the student IF the teacher shows the learner’s strong points as well as the importance of clarity and accuracy.

Happy writing,

Cheers,

Mo