The Post-IT

This school year has had many ups and downs, and we have only just begun! I am looking forward to putting the whole experience into words, but I think I need to take some distance in order to analyse it with a more positive and objective outlook. I have a lot to learn, indeed, but it is probably too early to reach conclusions.

However, in the middle of the haze of doubts, there are some things things that are working really well. I wrote a blog post about sticky notes and their amazing potential in a learning environment. Simple as they are, they have turned out to be an essential tool in my drawer.

In this post I’d like to share an activity I did in class with my first year students at school.

1) Practising verb phrases to express daily routines and free time activities.

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Fisrt year English students often have difficulties when using verb phrases with go, go to, get, or leave. A very common problem among Spanish speakers is that they are often hesitant when it comes to using or omitting the definite article the. So, I proposed a game in class where they had the chance to revise and practise them afterwards.

I posted the five verbs on the blackboard and scattered sticky notes with all the endings in a few desks. Students stood, picked the notes and had to stick them by the right verb. They helped one another and eventually created a diagram showing the main verbs with at least six examples of activities.

When that part was over, we had some feedback and took a picture of the result, which I posted on our LMS and twitter account.

The second part was a class-mingle speaking activity. I invited the students to take two notes from the blackboard and move around the class asking their partners questions with “Do you…” How often do you…” “When/What time do you…” A little bit of music in the background and lots of speaking.

I am very pleased with the result. The students improved their fluency, revised vocabulary and question formation.

 

 

 

 

Myths of Language Learning

I am afraid I may have become one of those annoying teachers that repeat the same couple of lines once and again. But I can’t complain, can I? After all, I must confess that I do spend a lot of time trying to convince students that successful language learning won’t happen unless they are proactive and take the bull by the horns. What really worries me is that I don’t feel it has ever made any difference.

It is true that some learners adopt a passive attitude mainly because they lack the time to go beyond -even when some seem strongly motivated to learn. But language learning is undoubtedly long and hard at times and not everyone is intrisically motivated and will find the joy in learning per se. In adulthood, one’s life is full of responsabilities and tight schedules, so I understand it is difficult to find space for language practice. But that doesn’t mean it is unnecessary.

I can’t help feeling that there are many language learning myths that somehow justify this passive role and make them feel comfortable with the amout of time they spend with the language, which sometimes is very little.

In this post I wanted to share some of the commonest myths of language learning that keep holding some learners back. I could easily have added a few more, but here are my Top 3 myths I regularly find myself trying to debunk.

MYTH nº1

You think you are going to learn only because you want to.

Ok. Intending to learn is a great start. Definitely, the best. But intention and motivation alone are not going to do the work for you. As far as I know, there is no secret contract with the universe that says if you want something really hard, and you close your eyes tight and imagine yourself speaking fluent English, you will get it in return.

Of course, motivation and a positive attitude are essential, they will be the fuel that keep you moving, but they have to move somebody, right?

Motivation-is-what-gets

 

MYTH nº2

It is enough to sit in class for a couple of hours.

Learning a language is not like going into a supermarket and filling your cart with goods. Can you imagine what that would sound like in a language learning context?

Today I’ll have 1 kg of fluency, 1/2 kg of listening for detail and 1/4 of vocabulary about relationships and dating. Level B2″

Imagine we could put all of that into nice-looking containers and packages, wait in a line and go back home with bags full of knowledge. It sounds foolish, I know, but sometimes I feel some learners still expect to come to class, get their daily dosage of language input and go back home thinking that they have done their job. But, just as with your shopping, there are some things you’ll have to cook!

Language learning is a very complex activity and in order to feel confident and master its grammar and vocabulary there is necessarily a certain amount of time you’ll need outside the classroom to consolidate, repeat, or even prepare, what we don’t have time for in the classroom.

MYTH nº3

I’ll only really learn the language if I go abroad.

In my view, feeling that whatever effort you make is useless only because it is not the “real thing” or because you think it is not as nearly as effective as an immersion program is downright false, self restrictive and hinders any authentic move forward.

Firstly, and most importantly, this idea will prepare you for failure, not success. It will be the cause that will justify all your  mistakes and zero improvement. It won’t let you see the value of the numerous resources and support you have available.

Travelling abroad is a wonderful opportunity that you can’t miss if you have the chance. But it doesn’t mean invalidating all other ways of learning a language, which can be just as effective. After all, learning a language is more stimulating that it ever was in the past. If you have the right combination of motivation, a well trained teacher, and relevant practice in the classroom enriched with web-based opportinunities, you should soon see the results for yourself.

 Prove the myths wrong: enjoy and learn!

Public Domain Archive

Public Domain Archive

 

 

The Powerful Aspect of Being a Connected Educator

DAY 16 What are the most powerful aspects of being a connected educator?

There is one specific dimension to being a connected educator that I love, which is the way it resembles travelling. I have experienced similar benefits connecting in chats and sharing knowledge with my PLN to the ones I have had visiting other countries, the only difference being the part of my life that was influenced.

Travelling has always broadened my perspective about life. And much as I love my hometown and its local characteristics, I have often felt it necessary and revitalizing to travel now and then so as to energize and feel more capable of tackling my everday ups and downs.

Being a connected educator has had a similar effect in my teaching practice.

All that is familiar and local is precious, no doubt of that- and I must say that I get plenty inspiration in my community without the need to explore what is done elsewhere. But when I have the chance to connect and share ideas with people from all over the world I gained ideas and inspiration. Connecting has widened my perspective on certain issues and made  me reflect on my everyday practice. Only good things can happen when you lift your eyes to see beyond what you have right in front of you.

Thanks to people who have shared their experiences online, I have been able to anticipate problems when implementing some activities. I have learned alternatives to some traditional tasks I perform in class …that have actually worked! I think I have become more resourceful and I feel more confident about embracing new challenges, and experimenting.

I feel extremely lucky to have so much input from teachers around the globe.

 

 

 

Helping Words Stick

One of my resolutions for this school year was to find new ways of consolidating vocabulary by creating opportunities for students to revise the words more often in class.

Sticky notes have become my number one ally for this, and I am actually using them more than I thought I would, and in multiple ways. Even the word “sticky note” itself denotes its usefulness. They are convenient and give place to loads of possible activities which involve very little preparation, if any at all. Simple and colourful.

So far this school year, they have been my most effective tool. Who could have guessed? My main objective was to introduce some technology to facilitate learning, but I have been struggling with most of it for the last couple of months.

Here are some of the activities I have done:

words that will stick

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1-Learners’ Choice

At the end of a lesson, I asked students to write down the words or phrases that they found interesting, weird, or the ones they feel would be difficult to remember, and afterwards, we posted them on our noticeboard. In the past, I had already done something similar, but would keep the pieces of paper in a kind of fishbowl or box.

After a few lessons, during which the words remained visible all the time, the students were given the notes at random and we played a defining game. All they needed was some time to think about the meaning and then go! On one occasion, I proposed it as a pairwork activity, but I also tried it as a class mingle activity “everyone askes everyone”, which was far more engaging.

2- Teacher’s Choice

The approach is similar to the activity above, but the choice of words is directed by the teacher, who restricts the selection in order to focus on one specific type of lexis and learn it in depth (collocations, phrasal verbs, prepositional phrases, adjectives, compound adjectives, etc).

3- The Word Cloud

Students wrote a word on a sticky note, and after a few days of having the words on the wall, I created a word cloud – I like tagxedo, but there are many others available. (The word cloud could even be done in class, provided you have the necessary online access. A group of students could be in charge of doing it and discuss the shape and colours) Once it was done, I shared it on our classroom blog, and twitter account and then proposed a revision game in class  (wordsearches, or identifying negative and positive meaning).

These are just two simple activites that I have done, but I am looking forward to doing more and experimenting the different ways of using their colours or shapes. My idea is to increase exposure to these lexical items through games. But also by making learners have an active role at this revision stage, by helping each other remember and negotiate meaning.

 

 

 

Moving, Keep on Moving…

Day 3. What are you most proud of to date in your teaching career?

This is a difficult prompt for me to answer. I think this time I really won’t be able to point out one single event, as being the one I take pride in more than others.

I often hear teachers say that their pride dwells in knowing they are making an important contribution in somebody’s life. … But quite frankly, I am not sure my teaching career has had such a serious impact on anyone’s life beyond learning a little more of a language. Because really, the main activators are the learners themselves. So, if I had to be proud of anything at all, it would be of all the students who have trusted in me and worked hard to improve every day, making my work worthwhile.

I think it is all the experiences I have had and some projects I been involved in that I am really proud of. They have made me learn a little bit more about myself. Some were very challenging, especially at the beginning.

At a smaller scale, I’m proud of all those classroom experiences that I try to promote, and which have led me where I am now. I mean, there is very little of the teacher I was when I started, and I owe it all to the fact that I’m always moving,trying to change for the better and learning from infamous Mr. Failure, who must turn up for his regular appointment…phew! 😉

The Nicest Gift

Day 4 November Blogging Challenge The Nicest Gift You Received

IMG_20141104_130525As teachers, it’s true we might occasionally get a gift and I have always felt extremely grateful for that. It is very touching when a group of students have stopped to think about something that will make you happy, just out of the blue.

The simple fact of them taking their time to do some baking or craft is so moving that it is hard not to get too emotional when it happens. I keep everything in my “very precious things” box, and they’re all very dear to me.

But on this post I wanted to talk about something curious that has happened to me regarding gifts and presents.

For some reason I have often received sweet boxes (in Spanish, “bomboneras” ). I don’t get that many presents, so four is certainly above average! The one in the picture is a beautiful glassblown jar that two students gave to me after my first year teaching. I find it very amusing because I don’t think they are the commonest gift in the world, at least not in Spain, but for some funny coincidence I have four at home, all of them from students from different schools, age groups and interests.

Why sweet boxes? (I’m the kind of person who gets very fishy about coincidences…) It is not an object we talk about in class  (I can’t remember it ever being part of a lesson) and it isn’t necessarily connected to English speaking countries.

Whatever the connection, I am very thankful for the sweet boxes, which have a special place in my house. Just as grateful as I m for every single gift, pie, wink and smile. And sweet boxes can only but remind of Sarah Louise Delany’s quote: “It is the sweet, simple things of life which are the real ones after all”