Creative English Classes

The aim of a creative English lesson is developing enough interest in participants as to generate a remarkable learning experience. This is only possible when its forming parts include variety in content and form.

Creativity in presenting the topic, in the statement of references, creativity that entails variety during introduction and that includes wide options of practices are key features in today’s classroom.

Something especially important to avoid is poor structure in interactions due to repetition of teacher-student patterns. It’s a monotone design where students open their books, the teacher gives instructions, and the flow continues with questions about content, students raise hands and provide mechanical answers.

Nope! This is exactly why people complain about the continuity of traditional models in schools. We can’t afford to lose interest in students’ minds when they think our classes are boring and unmotivating.

There’s nothing revolutionary in presenting a lesson with variety, it’s just an additional 15-minute supplement that our classes require, like the time you put into dressing up before leaving to work. It’s a necessary phase of our work journal.

The insertion of variety represents an important piece of this reflection and it includes: the layout to organize students, role plays for students to engage into, considering the different types of learning styles and including suitable material for each.

Not less important: incorporating collaborative work even in its simplest form like Think-Pair-Share exercises, asking questions that develop critical-thinking, using technology in different ways; and most of all, provoking varied types of language interactions: teacher-student, student-student, student-student-student… etc.

We can do it better, no matter if we must change old doings, wrong methods or lazy habits, it’s just a matter of decision. Let’s do it today and get classes way much interesting than ever. In the end, everybody will benefit from it.

¿Cómo mantener el Lenguaje Secundario?

En la actualidad nuestras vidas permanecen agitadas por gran cantidad de deberes y poco tiempo disponible. Entre el trabajo, los estudios y los quehaceres del hogar, se nos hace difícil encontrar espacio en nuestro calendario, especialmente para aprendizaje adicional.

Un área de la cual escucho inquietudes con frecuencia es la de hablantes de inglés como segunda lengua, quienes temen perder sus habilidades por el hecho de no darle uso continuo. Me preguntan cómo lograr seguir estudiando inglés si hay otras prioridades en sus vidas.

La verdad es que dominar una segunda lengua es un proceso complejo al cual hay que dedicar tiempo y esfuerzo para su adquisición y posterior mantenimiento, máxime, si la persona vive en un país donde la lengua oficial no es el inglés.

Afortunadamente, esta tarea se ha hecho más fácil en la medida que el idioma inglés ha tomado preponderancia, además del desarrollo de tecnologías para su uso. Adicionalmente, involucrarse en actividades que garanticen que el Lenguaje-2 se mantenga actualizado y listo para su uso cuando sea necesario.

A continuación, presento algunas buenas prácticas y medidas que pueden ayudar a mantener el lenguaje secundario en óptimas condiciones:

  1. Rodearse de exposición a todas las habilidades lingüísticas: programación de TV en inglés, listas de reproducción de canciones en inglés, podcasts de programas de radio en inglés, revistas, libros y periódicos. Finalmente, escribir un diario personal, un blog, la agenda, las notas de post-it, composiciones formales, etc. en idioma inglés.
  2. Utilizar un diccionario en el celular, tablet o laptop: Existen varias apps que pueden ayudar para estos fines. Merriam-Webster tiene algunas que son estupendas y que trabajan sin internet, hay otras que son igualmente adecuadas.
  3. Pagar una tutoría: Mantener un programa de clases individualizado puede servir a los fines de adaptación al horario personal y las facilidades de poder recibirlo en el hogar u oficina.
  4. Revisar los libros: Echar un vistazo a los libros de texto y de trabajo de niveles anteriores puede refrescar el conocimiento y aclarar dudas que hayan podido surgir. Tambien el uso de libros nuevos que esten el mercado es buena idea si se sigue un plan de clases que uno mismo puede diseñar.
  5. Hablar, hablar: Si se pudiera encontrar un circulo de amigos en el trabajo o vida personal que incluya personas que hablen la lengua, sería estupendo para mantener el idioma vivo. Viajar o visitar lugares donde podamos interactuar con hablantes es otra opción factible.

 

 

 

How to Produce Oral English

When I look back to the time I started producing oral English language, I realize that it took place long time before I was able to do so. It seems as if it worked like magic because I didn’t have to consciously remember how to say things in my native language, and the mental images would take the form of words when I needed it.

I’ve seen the same process in many of the students that I interview for placement tests and during casual conversations with intermediate levels. They are not sure how it works, but they are able to find the words and structures to express their ideas.

You too, can develop this ability if you’re serious about your effort to learn the new language. All it takes  is commitment and hard work. For some, it will be easier, and for the rest of us like it was my case, it’s the result of systematic enforcement.

Firstly, there’s the need to increase vocabulary, for this is the base of language. It’s been said that a learner needs to incorporate at least 7 new words everyday, so imagine the importance of words, expressions and collocations to speak up your mind.

Second, being aware of the structure required to keep up with a normal conversation, such as simple present tense, simple past, and future. Learn the rules of tenses including varied-sentence types: affirmative and negative statements, Y/N questions, WH-questions.

Lastly, making sure that intonation, pronunciation and clarity comply with the standard of the people you speak to; in other words, there’s no effective communication if the other person cannot easily understand you.

So just follow this 1-2-3 method to accomplish the goal of producing oral language, and make yourself proud of being able to interact with others through the wonderful English channel.

 

 

Be the Best Teacher You Can Be

Be the Best Teacher You Can Be

What do you think about the subject of this question? WHY would you want to be a better teacher? Is it important for you? for your students? for our society? When it comes to making decisions about our careers there are several considerations to take into account and it could be hard to get the right choice.

Deciding on being better at what we do can be simplified by a method, a decision model that it’s simple and efficient, especially when our decision involves two options: being a better teacher or staying the same. Here’s a plain decision- making model convenient at any given condition:

  1. Relax. Take a deep breath and expelled air, do it twice. Bringing oxygen to you brain will enhance your performance and health.
  2. Say something positive. Something like “I can do this” or “I was born for success” to boost good vibes.
  3. Identify the problem: The issue here is to make a decision that is relevant to you and many others, and what are the consequences of it.
  4. Think of all possible solutionsGreat teachers help create great students. In fact, research shows that an inspiring and informed teacher is the most important school-related factor influencing student achievement, so it is critical to pay close attention to how we train and support both new and experienced educators. Consider the consequences of your solution. 
  5. What is important to you? Are you a persistent and progressive professional? Experience is not doing the same thing over and over again but to improve the methods over the course of time.
  6. Make the decision. After reflecting on all the previous, it’s time for action.

This way, and following up a methodical path to successfully achieve the goal, think for a moment in three variables of WHAT is needed to become better at teaching:

  • Knowledge: Reflection, Self-Assessment, Conferences & Workshops, Peer coaching, Readings, Degree & Certifications.
  • Resources: Pictures, Audio texts, Games and Visual aids: Projector/Interactive Board/Computer, Lesson Plans, Teacher Guides & Textbooks.
  • Motivation: Professional Growth, Retribution, Expertise, Status, Passion and Knowledge Share.

Then follow the logical next step, which is HOW to overtake the challenge. There would be many, but we have gathered some that are essential and commonly seen in a teacher everyday’s tasks:

  • Opening our Minds
  • Planning
  • Reflecting and Sharing
  • Exploring
  • Interacting

To illustrate each, here are some stories that relate in distinctive ways:

Open your mind. One day teachers are invited to a workshop of the new Editorial assigned to make the book changes in the teenagers’ program of the school after 6 years of using another Editorial.  Through the plenary, teachers find out about the “no homework” strategy used by this new platform, and the technological input in the monitoring and assessment of students’ progress. Immediate reaction can be witnessed in the room as a negative feature to implement. The panel in charge presents three teachers through a Skype call, in order to tell their own experience using the new method. A teacher raises the hand and asks, “Does this mean I have more paths to communicate with my students at any time?” The presenters confirm the statement and elaborate based on that idea. You can notice the difference in the ambient of the room.

Plan. Jules is preparing for her Adults class next Thursday, and she notices she has only two more classes to cover a full unit. She feels nervous and anxious, since by her own experience and knowing how she likes to deliver the lesson, she would have to select the material to teach and sacrifice the rest in order to achieve the goal. While selecting the material, she feels frustrated and basically disappointed because she understands that this could’ve been prevented.

Reflect and share. The bell rings, students leave, and I stay behind picking up for myself. I start thinking of the last activity we had just 5 minutes ago, mainly about my previous expectations and how that makes me think now that it was a failure. I keep recounting my steps even after I’m home an hour later. The next day I still feel disappointed, and one of the substitute teachers was around and I decide to ask about similar situations. I tell him step by step what happened the day before, and he just looked at me and said, just play with it the next time.

Interact. “It’s time for review…” teacher Jay thinks out loud, knowing that tests are coming next week. He sits with a longing face and thinks about the lesson he’s about to deliver, the exercises to use, the topics to address, and the monitoring involved in the process. Seems to have it under control, it’s usually the same. He takes a moment to ponder of other ways to impart the review, he asks himself what can he do different and what could make my students think different than any other day. After 25-30 minutes alone with his thoughts, another teacher passes by rushing in, and greets Jay. The other teacher starts to take out some papers and items that look like monopoly game pieces, and Jay feels the burning need to ask about it, and the other teacher tells him how he got the idea to play a board game as a review from another colleague. Jay feels excited and really wants to try this.

Explore. The assessment week is here, and Rose is taking her time to grade each student carefully in classwork, homework and writing assignments. Time is running fast and she realizes she needs to speed up the process, but she’s also aware that she might need a plan B at this point. She stands up from her chair and she just takes a minute to think and then she sees a student noticing a mistake in a writing assignment she had on top of the desk. At that point she had the idea to pair students and have them do the checking on the writing assignments by giving students some prompts on how to do it. Students react excitedly and even express their willingness to do it. The teacher starts thinking what other ways she can make students feel useful and make it beneficial for her as well.

Additionally, there’s a critical view to reflect on WHO to becoming better. Reflect on these words and discover if success alone is possible or if it’s worth trying available support: “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. Next, answer the question of how often you engage in these best practices:

  • I plan my classes.
  • I reflect on what helps or hinders learning.
  • I receive peer-coaching.
  • I explore creative ways of teaching.
  • I give-receive feedback.
  • I try to keep engagement in my classes.
  • I practice professional-development.
  • My classes are based on experiential-teaching.
  • My teaching practices are oriented to meaningful lessons.
  • I ask my students to ask questions.
  • I include collaborative-learning in my lessons
  • I deliver my lessons as scheduled.

The more help we need to develop a wide set of pedagogical resources, the more we can realize that support is always available, find out about the Professional Development programs that are set up near you and reach out.

Finally, think of the question on WHEN you’d like to take steps to become better; it will depend on the opportunity you give to yourself, bearing in mind what a great scientist once said: It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.                            

Workshop at ICDA’s In-Service Sept-2016. Source: Be the Best Teacher You Can Be.

 

Cheating is Big Mistake!

Learning takes effort from students but if they follow the lesson plans from the teacher to achieve good class scores, success is granted. On the other hand, there are those who prefer to take the easy way and without regret, they cheat.

Actually, students and teachers must remember that scores are not the main reason why they attend school, but rather, to develop knowledge with classes interaction, previously organized and based on academic objectives, i.e. class scores.

On the other hand, cheating is unacceptable behavior inside and outside the classroom and it is one of the reasons why the society is outraged with cases of public dishonesty as common occurrences of failure. This only makes it worse every time!

In like manner, schools represent the future and the way learners react to academic challenges will set the pace to further demeanor. After all, Is it valid to showcase high scores when these do not reflect the actual level of skills, knowledge and comprehension?

When we see famous people, public figures, politicians and even athletes being judged because of their wrongdoings, it is a clear warning of the shame involved in cheating .

All in all, let us try to be the best we can but never forget that it will make you feel better if the rewards we are given are based on hard work and honest decisions made with a clear conscience and heart. It is even more fun, I assure you!

Ugh! Homework.

ecr 2In the first place, homework is not! Some teachers like to give it a different name like Home-Play or Extended-Activities and I’m cool with that.. students must avoid the negative connotation of this necessary re-encounter with lessons they have previously practiced to ensure effective learning.

In reality, these learning tools designed to be made at home provide several benefits for the cognitive development due to several factors:

  • Students retake the ideas discussed at school and are now able to reflect on them at a more personal stage.
  • The effect of reproducing the learning experience in a different and comfortable environment contributes to endure retention.
  • Reviewing aspects of the lesson at students’ pace facilitates comprehension of key knowledge.
  • The creativeness process is strengthened since students are free to consult external sources encouraging critical thinking and decision making.

While homework represents a complementary stage of lessons, it should be carefully planned to ensure  continuity of previously covered topics. This planning involves sequential exercises to guarantee long-lasting learning using different teaching approaches.

One particular sequence is defined through the ECRIF framework, as it depicts five stages of language learning: Encounter, Clarify, Remember, Internalize and Fluently use. In short, homework assignments should contain exercises oriented to Remember and Internalize what has been already Encountered and Clarified.

 

 

 

Four Basic Skills for TOEFL

Learning a foreign language is easy if you prepare a plan where you improve the four basic areas of expression: Reading, Listening, Speaking and Writing.

The order in which I listed the skills comes from the sequence of tasks that are given in a worldwide prestigious exam such as the TOEFL. Here, participants demonstrate their abilities by performing diverse assignments during a period of almost four hours. The exam has a cost of around $200 and it is a requirement to enter colleges in USA.

Many students overtake this language endeavor because they have gotten a scholarship, or because they are ready to study abroad under their own means. Regardless of the motivation, truth is, TOEFL will prove you abilities to the extend of being able to receive tuition in English language.

I use different resources to prepare students for this challenge: exam strategies, language knowledge and several simulation practices. Indeed, the key to get a decent score at TOEFL lays on the student’s ability to successfully understand sophisticated academic vocabulary, as well as to express themselves in written and spoken language.

A major factor is intelligibility in both written and verbal expressions. For the later, TOEFL takes into account good pronunciation, clarity and correct intonation. As for the first, students must demonstrate appropriate level of grammar and writing mechanics.

Lastly, Reading and Listening are receptive skills that can prove our understanding/reporting capabilities after the analysis of a text. To do well in these sections, we can use several resources such as note taking, transitions signal words and other language devices.

All in all, this type of exams can hugely impact on our learning experience because of the amount of language features we must use and more important, reflect upon.