segunda-feira, 23 de dezembro de 2013

MMXIII: “annus horribilis” or “annus mirabilis”?

As we approach the end of 2013, I note that many people are referring to this year as a pretty awful one, for a variety of reasons which I’ll return to below. Some might even go so far as to use the latin term popularised in 1992 by Queen Elizabeth II, when she said, in her Christmas Day speech:

“1992 is not a year on which I shall look back with undiluted pleasure. In the words of one of my more sympathetic correspondents, it has turned out to be an Annus Horribilis.”.

Now, the opposite of that term is “annus mirabilis” or ‘wonderful year’, so, in the interests of reflecting on the past 12 months from a personal perspective, I decided to return, after a 6-month hiatus, to this blog, where I shall proceed to look back - not in anger over a love-triangle (as the British playright  John Osborne would have us do with his 1956 masterpiece “Look Back in Anger”) - but rather with a view to establishing the Good, the Bad and the Ugly from 2013.

Since I covered the socio-politically relevant events of June 2013 in Brazil in my last blog post, I shall focus on the latter half of this year, not least because it’s fresher in my memory.
As a cinema-lover, let me start by remembering some of the great films that moved or entertained me in 2013... Which of these did you see? 

In no particular order... Gravity, The Great Gatsby, Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook, Django, Les Miserables, Rush, Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Flight, Elysium, Cloud Atlas, The Counselor, Blue Jasmine, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty... to name just a few.
With some of us on holiday for the next few weeks, there’s always time to catch up before new attractions fill the movie-theatres in 2014... It’s never too late! But what of the music scene? Well, I won’t even get started on some of the catchiest earworms to hit the radiowaves, iTunes, CD stores, nightclubs etc in 2013... that would require a completely separate blogpost!

Academically speaking and specifically (but not exclusively) in terms of English Language Teaching in Brazil and elsewhere, 2013 brought the unforgettable IATEFL conference in Liverpool, UK in April, the Cultura Directors’ Conference in tropical Belém (Pará, Brazil), numerous local ELT events all over Brazil, including The 2nd International Image Conference, organised by Braz-TESOL (of which I am proud to be President until the end of next year), the conference of Latin American British Cultural Institutes (LABCI), held in Lima, Peru (one of my favourite countries in this continent ever since I had the life-changing experience of travelling to Macchu Picchu a few years ago!) and then there was ACINNE, the conference for Cultura Inglesa teachers based in Northeast Brazil, held in the heart-warming city of Recife, Pernambuco. Not content with F2F opportunities for Professional development, I also undertook this year several online courses, ranging from one on Psychology (run by the University of Warwick Business School, UK) to, more recently, the Special Educational Needs course for teachers of English, offered (at a price!) by the British Council. 

My Facebook summary of 2013 also reminds me that earlier this year I received my DELTA Module 3 certificate from the University of Cambridge and I strongly urge fellow ELT professionals to take this step, if they haven’t already, and work towards a DELTA even if, like me, you have already completed a Master’s Degree in Applied Linguistics.. the DELTA really is a different experience altogether.

In the past few months, we’ve lamented (or not) the ‘passing’ of a few celebrities and beloved citizens of the world... the most notable of course being Nelson Mandella. So much has been said about the accomplishments of “Madiba” elsewhere, that I shall let it suffice to say “Rest in Peace”, although 'rest' is hardly the right word for the nothingness that follows life (IMHO)... making it all the more important to ensure ones life is abundantly meaningful, as Mr. Mandela certainly did!

On a personal level, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the fact that it’s never too late to make new friends and take existing friendships to a deeper level, when the order of the day is respect, admiration, dialogue, openness and, perhaps above all, a good sense of humour to help us through the trials and tribulations that life can throw at us from time to time.

I hope 2013 has been as good to you as it has been to me... I am filled with gratitude to the wonderful friends and colleagues, old and new, who have accompanied me along the way. Here’s hoping 2014 is even better! 

Merry Christmas & Happy New Year... or, as we say in Brazil... BOAS FESTAS!!!! 

terça-feira, 2 de julho de 2013

Higher Order Thinking Skills and the aftermath of protests in Brazil

Last month, the International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language (IATEFL) organised a webinar for members with the renowned author and specialist from Israel – Dr. Penny Ur . The session was entitled “Language-learning task design: Using higher-order thinking skills”.

According to Ur ... or according to ‘er, if you’ll forgive the pun... Higher-order thinking skills are those which involve mental effort, which may take various forms (e.g. problem-solving, contrasting, applying, synthesizing…). They are contrasted with lower-order thinking skills which need little effort, and are mainly associated with recall or identification of ‘surface’ facts or forms.

You may remember that my previous blogpost was on the use of images, demand-high teaching and Critical Literacy. Well, Penny’s webinar focused on one aspect of the latter, which is Critical Thinking, defined by Wikipedia as ‘the process of thinking that questions assumptions. It is a way of deciding whether a claim is true, false; sometimes true, or partly true.”

I would like to reflect here on how important I believe this Critical Thinking skill is in the light of last month’s popular uprising in Brazil, known as the Brazilian Spring, #changebrazil or simply the mobilisation of a nation to demand of its so-called leaders a modicum of decency and commitment to resolving some of the country’s more pressing issues, such as Education, Health and Security.

The fact is that during the many protests, bringing-together millions of Brazilians, it was possible to spot an enormous variety of claims/demands/requests/issues on the signs being held-up for the national and international media to see (not to mention Social Media such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Flickr).

In the aftermath of such a thunderous booming of the vox populi, we witnessed an incredible array of demands, justifications, causes and supposedly `factual` information being created and shared online... some of which was well-researched and informative, whilst some was somewhat fantastical, with no apparent concern for facts. Furthermore, it was also possible to read blatantly false statements and misleading statistics being widely distributed in order to further the cause of this or that political party, religious group, lobby or movement.

Returning to the role of the teacher of English in developing Critical Thinking amongst our students, let`s break-down this important 21st-century skill into its component parts, as described by Penny Ur.
-       Analysis: being able to distinguish between categories, generalize, exemplify etc.
-       Precision: being aware of imprecision (vague, contradictory or tautologous, that is needlessly repetitive, statements) in input and one’s own self-expression
-       Logic: being aware of illogical reasoning in input and taking care to be logical in one’s own thinking
-       Criticism: being able to apply criteria consistently in order to evaluate.

If we apply these processes to some of the statements and demands made during the protests, students will find that some of the ideas proposed were actually potentially damaging to democracy in Brazil and that it may be necessary to dig a little deeper into the issues by actually reading the Proposals for Constitutional Amendments that are ‘affectionately’ referred to in Brazil as PECs (Proposta de Emenda Constitucional). Some PECs are actually really important and have been languishing in a kind of Congressional Purgatory for years since none of the country’s politicians had the courage to propose they be given priority.

Although the vast majority of signs seen during protests in Brazil, Turkey, Syria, Egypt, Europe, the USA and elsewhere are completely legitimate and make very important demands, we occasionally come across a few that were clearly written for the sole purpose of attracting attention or perhaps just having a bit of fun. Here are some examples of signs that could do with a little “Applied Critical Thinking” and may generate some class discussion on what they may be trying to say and what is ‘behind’ the apparently superficial message.

So just in case you’re still not sure about how important it is to promote higher-order thinking in language teaching, here are some of the ways in which it can benefit the learner (from Ur 2013):

Language learning
New language items are better imprinted on our memory if we use deep processing. This means relating the item meaningfully to its meanings and to other items previously learnt.
Deeper processing involves higher-order thinking skills e.g. connecting, contrasting, creating etc. - Waters, 2006

Intellectual development
This is both the learning of facts and concepts AND the ability to relate these to each other, criticize, draw conclusions, create new ideas etc.

Educational values
The ability and willingness to think for oneself, as distinct from the unthinking acceptance of facts, values, directives etc. laid down by an authority.

Activities based on simple recall or knowledge of isolated forms and meanings tend to be
boring. Activities based on higher-order thinking skills are likely to be more interesting.

Here are Penny Ur’s suggestions for some simple activities that promote Critical Thinking:

1. Divergent thinking
-How many things can you think of to say about this picture? (oral fluency)
-How many ways can you think of to solve this dilemma? (oral fluency)
-How many ways can you think of to compare a train with a car? (comparatives)
-How many endings can you think of for the sentence: If I had a million dollars…? (conditionals)
-How many ways can you think of to use an empty tin can? (A pen? A piece of plasticine?) (oral fluency, can/could)
-How many adjectives can you think of to describe the noun road? movie? song? (grammar: adjective-before-noun, vocabulary)
-How many nouns can you think of that could be described by the adjective clear? (hard? black?) (adjective-before-noun, vocabulary)

2. Originality, lateralthinking
-Think of ten ways to compare a computer with a piece of spaghetti.
-Find six questions to which the answer is …twelve…(tomorrow …of course! …my mother )
-Suggest at least three advantages of being an only child? (Of not having a cellphone? Of having no car?)
-Name ten things you have never done.
-Name six things that you can’t touch, and why.
-Say six negative things about …a pen … a cat … English.
-Say four NICE things about your friend, using negative sentences.

I'd love to hear about your experiences with Critical Thinking and higher-order thinking skills in the English Language Classroom... why not share them in the comments below?

Ur, P (2013). High Order Thinking Skills Webinar, IATEFL
Waters, A. (2006). Thinking and language learning . ELT Journal, 60(4), 319-

segunda-feira, 17 de junho de 2013

"We need to talk about Brazil": Critical Literacy & the use of images

Anyone who is not yet aware of the protests and police violence of the past few days in Brazil, notably in São Paulo, Rio and Brasília... is obviously living on another planet and has no internet connection or TV/Radio... so they probably aren't reading this blog either. The picture above was taken in Germany, just one of several European cities where public attention is being drawn to a complex set of issues that I'd like to discuss in this post.

For a very brief account of what happened during Saturday's inaugural game of football for the Confederations Cup, held at the new and absurdly expensive National Stadium (the most expensive ever built, anywhere in the world), click here.

After seeing images of shocking police brutality against completely unarmed and largely peaceful protestors, (who were trying to raise awareness of the corruption and inadmissible use of public funds to pay for stadiums and other preparations for large sporting events, like the Olympics and FIFA world cup), I was shocked to find that early this morning, on a local news programme, the largest and most influential TV station in Brazil, GLOBO, was being pimped out to the local governor, Agnelo, for the transmission of blatant lies and cynical self-promoting propaganda.

Peaceful Protests in Brasilia
Police firing rubber bullets into the crowd

Agnelo claimed that police had merely 'accompanied' the protests (from a distance!) in order to 'protect' citizens... and that they only acted when protestors tried to break into the the stadium. This is a blatant lie, but fortunately, images (especially video) do not lie... and there is no shortage of footage showing excessive use of force by police on peaceful demonstrators. 

So where am I going with this? 

Well, in addition to simply venting my anger at the way the whole incident was handled by the police (first) then by the press... and expressing my intense disgust at how the Brazilian government can spend billions on building stadiums (not to mention the millions that we all know have been diverted to assorted pockets in and out of government circles), my other aim with this post is to draw attention to the importance of developing critical literacy in our students.

As educators, we have a responsibility to ensure that 'the news' is not taken at face value, without judgment or critical analysis about where the opinions expressed and 'versions' of the truth are coming from.. and why!

A lot has been written about Critical Literacy in ELT and during my stint as Director of English for the British Council in Brazil (2007-2011), I was fortunate enough to have close contact with a number of scholars in Brazil and elsewhere in Latin America, who have become specialists in this topic, but for a brief intro, see this definition and explanation of the concept, with downloadable materials at

One way to help our learners (or trainee teachers, for that matter) to access different versions of  'the truth' is by the use of powerful images, like the ones in this post, but there are thousands more to be found on the web.

Upon putting-together a training session recently, I delved into some of the possible ways of exploiting images (and reasons for doing so) in connection with another interesting movement in our field... that of 'high-demand ELT' (Scrivener & Underhill, 2013).

Jim Scrivener asks the following questions:

Are our learners capable of more, much more?
Have the tasks and techniques we use in class become rituals and ends in themselves?
How can we stop “covering material” and start focusing on the potential for deep learning?
What small tweaks and adjustments can we make to shift the whole focus of our teaching towards getting that engine of learning going?

I would like to suggest that a great way of doing this is through the use of images, followed-up by asking the right questions and creating a space (and conducive environment) for learners to truly interact and share their personal views/feelings on a particular topic. The kind of feedback the teacher (and peers) give is also key... we should strive for more challenging, meaningful feedback after truly LISTENING to each other, rather than simply producing a generic and standardised 'Very good!' after every student utterance.

On the topic of images, Hancock McDonald has THIS to say:

A picture is a text without words. This is what makes them invaluable for the language classroom. They provide rich and immediate content, but they leave it up to the student how to put that into words. They can’tcut and paste’ as they can from a text. It doesn’t put words in their mouths”.

Here are some ways in which images can be exploited in the classroom:

Single frame: Spot mistakes (T describes an image, but includes erroneous detail);  Role-play (based on a scene with 2 or more people interacting); Opinions (especially if image has a controversial topic); Detective work (narration); 

Picture-pairs: Spot the difference; Find the difference (Ss describe in pairs); Invent a connection (random pics);

Multiframes: Identify; Matching; Sequencing; Predicting; Invent an order; Continue story; Stop-gap etc.

Source: Hancock, M. (2012) Using Pictures in ELT -

For an excellent blogpost on Images in the classroom, which rather serendipitously appeared in my feed only this morning, after I'd already decided to write these ideas here... please look at this blog post by my dear friend and colleague, Carla Arena, who is also First Vice-President of Braz-Tesol Brasilia and will therefore take-over the role of President from me in 2015.

I look forward to hearing about your experiences with the use of images, whether controversial or consensual, current or vintage... so please do post your comments below.

segunda-feira, 10 de junho de 2013

The end of an era... or two!

The end of an era is upon us!

And no, I'm not JUST talking about the end of the third season of Game of Thrones! I'm also referring to the final post by Scott Thornbury on his brilliant ELT blog, An A-Z of ELT.

In 'The End', bringing to a conclusion an alphabetical reflection on key issues in our profession (as teachers of English as a foreign language) and more generally about language learning itself, Scott presents a few telling quotes from the 7000+ comments which have been posted on his blog since it began, three years ago.

In this post, I'm going to select just one of these (for now!) and look at it from a personal perspective, whilst drawing on a very tenuous Game of Thrones analogy or two! I hope you find this reflection both interesting and useful.

First of all, then... this is what has been said under the topic "T is for Teacher Development":

"Creating the sense of 'feeling at home', i.e. creating a dynamic whereby students feel unthreatened and at ease with one another and with you, is one of the most important things that a teacher can do".

Whilst few can argue with this, of course, I do think it's worth delving a little more deeply into what the implications of this are for the teacher, and for the student.

What does it mean for a learner of English to 'feel at home'? Well, as Scott himself immediately qualifies, part of it is the creation of an unthreatening environment (in the classroom) and good rapport amongst students and with the teacher. This is all very well for the classroom, and something we all strive for and succeed with, I dare say, to varying degrees... yet the real challenge is to extend that feeling of confidence and comfort beyond the boundaries of the classroom and into the interactions that our learners may have with strange (as in unfamiliar.. but also, yes.. strange!) foreigners visiting Brazil; namely, the people they will need to interact with in English in real life, removed from the context of the classroom.... let's call them the White Walkers, if you will!

I'm sure we've all had the experience of rehearsing phrases and words in a foreign language, perhaps on a journey in a foreign land, or if we're about to meet somebody we know is from another country and doesn't speak our L1 (or L2!).. only to find that when our familiar surroundings are removed and the easy,  close relationship we have with peers, teachers, family and friends is not there (i.e. upon meeting somebody for the first time in a professional capacity)... everything we so carefully planned to say can be forgotten! Or worse... we simply freeze up and 'draw a blank'.

This is common enough for our students even WITHIN their comfort zone in the classroom, so we need only imagine how challenging it must be 'out in the cold'... almost as if they've left behind the warmth of any fire and stepped, say, beyond the North Wall of Westeros!!

One possible solution to this problem is to encourage learners to reach out and make contact with these mysterious creatures from beyond the wall (of the classroom)... a.k.a. internet users!!!! It is both simple and cheap (that is, free!) for learners to connect with speakers of English using tools such as Pinterest, Instagram, Flickr, Tumblr, Facebook, Skype, Twitter and a whole host of other resources, too numerous to mention here. What these tools all have in common is their capacity to place our students in direct contact (through wallposts, tweets, comments and chats etc) with proficient users of English from OUTSIDE Brazil. In this way, Ss gain confidence in using their language skills for real life communication  not just with their classmates and teachers (with whom they feel quite comfortable thank you very much), but also with that most feared of magical creatures... the foreigner!

In case you do feel tempted to experiment with some of these tools to enable/encourage your students to reach out 'beyond the wall', here is a shield of tools, fit for any Ser (or Lady) who thinks they might just have a claim to some of the power commanded by that Iron Throne of communication in English!

quinta-feira, 6 de junho de 2013

Telling our ELT Stories - The First Year

I recently came across this publication of classroom stories (the good, the bad and the unforgettable!) from teachers who were remembering their very first year in the classroom. This actually brought together for me two recent events that I'd like to share with you. The first was an ELT event that was entitled "Telling our ELT Stories" and the second was an invitation to write a short piece for an international ELT publication, describing precisely my own first experiences in the classroom, which took place about 24 years ago!!

As President of the local chapter of Braz-TESOL, here in Brasilia, it was my enormous pleasure just a couple of weeks ago to welcome teachers from all over the region and from other cities (such as Goiânia, Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo) who came to share their stories from the wonderful world of ELT. Our opening plenary was given by a renowned specialist in Storytelling (not to mention Puppeteering and just about every other aspect of teaching and training... my dear friend Valéria França, and it was called "A space for stories: Stories in space). There was also another great plenary from the British Council's Fernando Guarany ("Accounts from the Open Road: Lessons and Principles from an ELT Journey"). Clearly, the theme of sharing stories from our experience as ELT professionals was a popular one, and the 150 or so participants were very positive about the lessons learned and shared.

The other recent event that reminded me of the importance of sharing our experiences, and not just the good ones!... was a request that came by e-mail from an international publication's editor, requesting contributions of stories from our very first day in the classroom! The kind of responses they were looking for were to revolve around the following questions:
What did it feel like back then? 
- Was it a positive or a negative experience for you? 
- What did you do about it? 
- How has this changed you, both as a person and as a professional? 

So here goes part of my response to these questions about my first day as a teacher of English!


"I first set foot in a real ELT classroom, after only a very brief introduction to the basics of EFL, in 1989 in the NE Brazilian town of Aracaju. I was one of only a handful of foreigners in the city at the time and boasted the tender age of 17!! My ‘baptism’ in ELT was of the 'in at the deep end' variety that was so much more common in those days, when it was often deemed enough to be a native speaker, even without any degree or qualifications! I’m glad those days are gone, for our students' sake! However, contrary to what you might expect, I remember those early days very fondly... with flashbacks to hours of preparation for classes lasting only 50-60 minutes... endless searching for and cutting-out of magazine pictures to be used for flashcards etc. Perhaps the best thing about my early experience was that since I'm one of those people who never says 'NO!', I accepted everything they threw at me, so my classes ranged from VYLs (with all the storytelling and singing, cutting and pasting that goes hand-in-hand with that age group) through lots of teen classes (where I think the Ss were glad to have a teacher only a couple of years older than them!) and adult beginner classes where the sense of achievement and progress experienced by Ss in a short period of time can be hugely rewarding for the teacher... up to Cambridge English (then ESOL) exam prep classes, from FCE to CPE! This willingness to take-on new and different challenges has stayed with me throughout my career. Although I love my role as an ELT Publishing Consultant and teacher trainer, working for the best-known family of language schools in Brazil, Cultura Inglesa, I do miss those intense experiences of reflection on practice as a newbie teacher, with a view to constant development and growth, a lot of which came, in those days, from sharing of stories and ideas in the staffroom!"

Perhaps those of you who, like me, have over 20 years of experience in this field, will have supressed those memories of your first days in class, but maybe they are still as crystal clear to you as other striking/traumatic events (known as 'flashbulb memories' in cognitive psychology!).

Of course, if you have only recently embarked on this profession, you should still have fresh feelings about your first day in class!

Why not share your earliest memories of the classroom in the comments section below?

terça-feira, 4 de junho de 2013

This is where I am now!

DF 140, Brasilia_DF, a photo by graemehodgson on Flickr.
This post is of a rather different nature... only very remotely related to ELT!

As I've mentioned before on this blog, I'm taking an online course entitled WebTools4Educators, and half the 'fun' is in putting new tools, platforms and ideas into practice.

In this case, the moderator asked all those taking part in the course to post a pic from Flickr to our blogs saying where we are right now, as we work on the online tasks.

Well, as requested (and I've always had a hard time saying NO!)... this is a pic I took from the front gate of my condo, which is about 30 kms from Brasilia city centre.

The 'commute' does take at least half an hour, each way, but it's sooooo worth it to leave the stresses and strains of 'the city' behind and drive into Brasilia's famous 'cerrado' country!

So what does all this have to do with ELT?

According to Aaron Campbell, who was writing in 2007...

"Some language educators are turning to Web-based social networks in an effort to motivate their students beyond the carrot-and-stick methods of the traditional classroom. Social networks bring people together who share common interests and give those participants the tools to produce, collect, share, and re-mix artifacts (Dieu and Stevens, 2007). Such networks provide language learners with opportunities to meet and interact with people from around the world in self-directed ways on personally meaningful topics. They also give learners a chance to construct a space to call their own; a space without any institutional affiliation, giving learners complete ownership and control over their own work. As long as educators give learners the freedom to choose the content and direction of their online activities, participation in social networks can tap into the bubbling fountain of intrinsic motivation that each learner carries within.

Flickr is one such social network that uses photos as the primary content for sharing amongst its participants. Started in 2002 by Ludicorp (Graham 2006), Flickr’s membership numbers grew rapidly. Bought out by Yahoo! in late 2005, Flickr now hosts a pool of around 500 million photos (Arrington 2007)."

In fact, the latest data suggests that today the number of photos to be found, shared and available for pedagogical exploitation on Flickr is more like 9 billion!), with a 71% increase in daily uploads since Flickr redesigned their interface last month.

Whatever the numbers involved, here are just a few of the possibilities afforded by Flickr for using pictures in the language classroom (Campbell, 2007):

1.Searching for Photos
2.Uploading Photos
3.Making friends
4.Commenting/Leaving Notes
5.Joining Groups
6.Exploring Geotags
7.Photo Tours
8.Blogging Photos
9.Emailing Other Flickr Users
10.Creating Slideshows:
11.Using Flickrtoys
12.Using Combinations of the above in Project work.

A picture says a thousand words... or so the saying goes! But is it easier to get our students to produce a thousand words, motivated by just one picture?

What do you see as the main benefits of using resources like Flickr or Pinterest with learners of English?


Campbell, A. (2007) Motivating Language Learners with Flickr (available at

quarta-feira, 29 de maio de 2013

Paving the way for CHANGE!

During last month's IATEFL in Liverpool (was it really only last month? ...seems like years ago!), I had the pleasure of meeting Josh Round (@joshsround), who is Director of Studies at St. George International School in London. This chance meeting took place in a pub (where else?) during a highly-amusing karaoke night where stars like Shelly Terrell, Valéria Franca, Jeremy Harmer and Ken Wilson (amongst many, many others... too numerous to mention here) let their true colours shine, microphone in hand!!! I remember Josh also took to the stage, which is hardly surprising, since in addition to his ELT career, he has also been a theater, TV and film actor! If you'd like to know more about Josh and his work as a D.o.S, visit his blog at www.Be

I recently came across an article of his on a topic which is dear to my heart and may be a big part of your life too... That topic is CHANGE. (See The Challenge of Change - Leadership and Management SIG Newsletter, Issue No. 44, 2013).

Much has been said and written over the years about the importance of reinventing oneself and dealing with changes in our professional environment as and when they occur (which is pretty much all the time these days!) but perhaps one of the most notable paradigm shifts in our profession (that is, if you are an ELT professional like me)... was/is the advent of educational technologies in the language school context.

In 2007, Cultura Inglesa S.A. implemented Interactive Whiteboards in EVERY classroom across their 50+ branches in 5 states of Brazil... and of course many other Culturas Inglesas and similar schools throughout the nation made such an investment at about the same time.

Of course, the changes and innovations did not stop there... nor could they, since the only CONSTANT in life is change (please let me know who first said that if you happen to know... just post it in the comments section!)... Indeed, over the past few years, we have encouraged teachers to experiment with Technological Integration and to freely explore the wealth of tools, platforms, apps and other resources out there to help us engage the hearts and minds of our students of English in Brazil.

However, such changes have not been welcomed or embraced by all. One of the biggest challenges faced by Directors of Studies (or pedagogical coordinators, managers or whatever job title your institution happens to use) is that of preparing teaching staff adequately for the implemention of new resources, whether such resources be new materials (from a new partner in the ELT Publishing World) or technology in its myriad of forms.

If you are faced with the challenge of implementing such changes in your teaching context, here are some of the key elements to consider, mentioned by Josh in his article:

  • Communication (An open, two-way channel of communication needs to run through the whole process).
  • Ownership (If a sense of ownership can be created among the team, the responsibility for change becomes a shared one).
  • Piloting (Ideally, a small group will try out the proposed change and report back with suggestions for improved implementation).
  • A Chamption (Identify enthusiastic 'early adopters' and perhaps a champion to help maintain momentum)
  • Pace (Change won't work if rushed or too slow!)
  • Review (keep reviewing until the change becomes BAU - Business As Usual)
I would love to hear from any of you (in the comments below) who have been involved in a process of change in the ELT context, whether as the implementer (or champion) or as part of the team charged with accommodating the change and implementing in your daily routines. 

Tell us about the last time you had to change textbook, for example... How did it feel? How does it feel now?

domingo, 26 de maio de 2013

Why Teach Digital Citizenship?

According to the nice people at Wikipedia (people like you and me!)... Mossberger, et al. (2011) define digital citizens as "those who use the Internet regularly and effectively." 

In qualifying as a digital citizen, a person generally must have extensive skills, knowledge and access, using the Internet through computersmobile phones, and web-ready devices to interact with private and public organizations. (These factors naturally preclude many from becoming fully realized as ‘digital citizens’... such as people who are illiterate and those who have no viable way of accessing the Internet).

In terms of teaching these skills and the knowledge that empowers digital citizens, what goes on in the classroom can play an important role... 

Although this video refers to an Education Authority in an English-speaking environment, I firmly believe we need to equip students of English in Brazil and elsewhere, who are learning to use English for Global Communication, with the necessary digital skills and awareness of issues like cyber-safety from an early age.

If you believe, as I do, that the purpose of education is to prepare the learner to interact effectively with their world and its inhabitants, there can really no longer be much justification for NOT integrating technology with the language we teach in class, since the majority of our students are most likely to use that language in an online environment first (or indeed exclusively). This may be in the form of the written word as in chats, e-mails, blogs, comments on social media etc.... or in the spoken form, as with skype, youtube and other platforms using voice, but however or wherever they use English, digital citizenship is a MUST!

If you are a teacher, how have you approached this topic? If you are a learner (aren't we all?) how do  you feel about this topic? I look forward to reading your comments.

quinta-feira, 23 de maio de 2013

You can take a horse to water, but you can't make it learn English!

I'm sure you're all familiar with this ancient English proverb... "You can take a horse to water but you can't make it drink!". This has often been used in connection to the fact that we, as teachers, can point our Sts in the right direction and create the CONDITIONS for them to learn, but there is always going to have to be an element of intrinsic motivation in order for them to take the necessary steps and make the 'strategic investment' of effort (Douglas Brown) required for learning to take place.

I was recently asked by a friend and colleague I've known for over 15 years... Jack Scholes... to write a review of his latest book aimed at helping the Brazilian worker in different service sectors in Brazil to acquire the basic 'survival English' required to 'get by' in their jobs when foreigners who speak English appear before them.

Here's the review itself, if you're interested... but then I have a story to tell you below.

In order to write this short review for the New Routes magazine ( I obviously needed a copy of the book itself, which I was sent by post. Afterwards, having no need for it myself and in the spirit of generating opportunities for others which is inherent to most educators, I decided to donate my copy to a taxi driver named Pedro.

Pedro is a smart guy. He has managed to pay for his daughters' education and buy his own house all through his work as a taxi driver over the past 25 years (in Brasilia). He's also fully aware of the importance of giving good customer service as well as being polite, punctual, professional and pleasant (the 4 Ps???).

In his taxi you will never hear unwanted musical styles, loud conversations on his mobile as he drives or any kind of negative comment or complaint that could make a passenger uncomfortable (unlike some taxi drivers I've come across in my time, believe me!). He even has a machine enabling him to accept credit cards, making life easier for clients and broadening the market he is able to captivate through providing excellent service.

So, what's missing? And what's this got to do with Jack Schole's book, called "Inglês Rápido"? Well, our friend Pedro doesn't speak A WORD of English... despite regularly picking-up foreign diplomats and tourists at Brasilia airport, Ministries and hotels etc. He WANTS to learn English, or so he says, but just doesn't have the time.

So when I presented him with the book mentioned above, feeling pleased with myself as one sometimes does when practicing a 'good deed'... I was sure he would be dipping into the book during his long waits in the line of taxis at the airport, practicing new words and phrases with me during our frequent taxi rides together (at least twice a week!) and that he'd soon be telling me what a difference my gift had made to his life and the short but effective exchanges he'd be having with other foreign clients who perhaps didn't speak any Portuguese... Right?



Every time I inquired hopefully about his progress with the book... he'd say the same thing... "Ah, doutor... tive tempo não, ô?" (for non-lusophones, that's something like "Ah, sir... I couldn't find the time, see?".

Was it really a lack of time? I don't think so... As I said before, he has long waits between fares at the airport almost every day... but when I asked what made it so hard to get started, he said that he didn't feel motivated to learn English, although he knew he SHOULD... He preferred to chat to his friends, fellow taxi drivers... and that when he picked up foreigners, they'd usually have an address written down, which they'd show him, or the name of a hotel which he could recognise, even when mispronounced...

So I wonder... is English for everyone? Could we be overplaying the importance of learning English for some people? I don't think so!! I happen to believe that there are a number of benefits to learning another language, at any stage in life, that go beyond mere functionality or 'getting a job done'. Take a look at some of the reasons mentioned on these links:

To close this post then... What have you found (as either a teacher of English or a learner of any foreign language) to be the most important reasons for making this 'strategic investment' of effort (and time and money!), beyond the use of English for Work? How can we best get this message across to people who can't seem to find that 'inner will' to learn English?



I just read an article in the IATEFL Leadership and Management SIG newsletter on the topic of Continuous Professional Development.
The author, Fiona Dunlop, concludes that a successful and integrated CPD programme in a school is possible when:
¤ There is a clear school ethos and a universal staff belief in learning and development;
¤ Sufficient time and money are available to invest in structured and meaningful staff development;
¤ Academic management is aware and knowledgable of the teaching team, their strengths, areas for development and learning styles;
¤ Academic management show on-going interest in trends in ELT and lead by example in their own CPD;
¤ CPD systems and opportunities are known and available to all staff and their success is reviewed regularly;
¤ The school is welll staffed and with good working conditions.
Personally, I'm lucky enough to work in a context where such conditions exist, but I'd be interested to read your comments about what the INDIVIDUAL teacher can do to grow if their school does not yet provide this support,  and particularly how you use educational technology to develop professionally and, why not, as a person.
Comments in ANY language are more than welcome!
BTW... just wrote this entry in an airport departure lounge using the Blogger app on my mobile phone,  so I'm guessing CPD is also possible 'on the go'!