Thursday, April 05, 2018

Teaching inside Google Classroom

It was time to plan the review class for test 1 of my 3B group. This group of mine has 16 students enrolled and some of them are not as participatory as I'd like them to be. There is the worksheet that we always get in our boxes and which we can use for that particular class. In my head, just as, I believe, in many of my colleagues' heads, this is one of those classes that are usually expected to be exactly the way they have always been: students get the worksheet, they work on it, they compare answers, teacher checks it. It's either this or the other version of assigning it as homework beforehand.

This time, however, I wanted to try something new. Speaking to Ana Netto, I found out that herself, Bárbara Duarte and Talita Lima had been creating these digital tasks on Drive (forms, docs and quizzes) and had been willing to conduct a review class entirely inside Google Classroom. That's right. In class! So I decided to join them. Why not?

Ana shared the stuff they had already put together and I made some other things. In total, they were simple things like editable docs and google forms used as quizzes. I made these challenges in the form of assignments in Google Classroom and, instead of posting them, I scheduled them to be automatically posted at 2:20 p.m. on the day of the class. This way, my students wouldn't see it before the right time. Once they got to the classroom (the physical one), all these assignments previously scheduled had been posted.

Since many of them have the GC app in their mobiles, they arrived in class intrigued and curious, asking about this bunch of activities that had been posted there. The only thing I told them was "get your notebook and a pencil, and follow me". They all queued up behind me and did so. We went to the room next to the Resource Centre at the Lake Branch, the one with special desks that can be rearranged in any way.

There, I had them work in pairs. Each pair shared an ipad. They all accessed our Google Classroom and took up one challenge after the other. Each challenge had been numbered, so they just had to follow the order. As soon as a group had finished a challenge, I would release its answer key for that particular group in the classroom stream tab. The students would go back to the stream tab and check it. Then they would move on to the next challenge.

Would I do this again? Definitely yes. Why?


  • The students were not only engaged but also very excited about doing the tasks. At times, they even celebrated for having chosen the right answers when they cheked the answer key.
  • It was a completely self-paced class. Some students moved faster than others and had the chance to do other things at the end and extra activities in the book.
  • I almost didn't feel my own presence in the room. I think the students felt more independent just by being in a different classroom set and teaching approach. By facing challenges, rather than a worksheet,  they didn't feel they had to report to me all the time. Because of that, the class was naturally student-centred.
  • I believe my students had a greater sense of importance and urgency in this format than in the traditional one of doing a worksheet. As a result, they developed time management and collaboration skills as they pushed each other towards being more focused in order to finish the tasks. That definitely contrasts with previous experiences in which students would notably show reluctance and disinterest.
  • I felt a way more fulfilled as a professional since I was finally able to help my students build their autonomy and potential in class.
In this experience, the students might never notice what we do: the fact that they don't care as much about getting the answer key after they've done the worksheet as they care about taking up challenges and being able to solve problems by themselves.

Lucas Gontijo

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Public School Teacher Development Program - Graduation Speech


On March 10, we held a ceremony to celebrate the conclusion of the Public School Teachers' Development Program, a course designed and delivered by Casa Thomas Jefferson with a grant from the Regional English Language Office (RELO), U.S. Department of State. 

We would like to share with you the speech that Ana Paula Alves Torres da Costa gave on behalf of all of her colleagues. It summarizes what these professionals have gained from the program and how they plan to incorporate what they learned into their teaching. We are sure these teachers will have a great impact on their students' lives and we are honored to have had the chance to work with them. 

Here is the speech:


First of all, I would like to thank the American Embassy and Casa Thomas Jefferson for the opportunity we all had to know one another, to share experiences and to discuss so many relevant topics concerning our daily routine in our classrooms. It was a great moment in which my colleagues and I were aware of the needs and challenges one may face and discuss some possible solutions concerning the teaching and learning of a foreign language. We sure had a great time together! And we could speak English, above all, and it was amazing! After our initial discussions, which included what the best way of teaching English is, we were constantly challenged through the texts and their reported experiences on teaching English around the world.

Thus, all texts presented led to different reflections on our teaching practice. The use of authentic materials, for instance, was something that affected me in the beginning of my career, as I thought it was impossible to use such materials with our students. But you know what? I did not know the word adaptation at that time, so, for a long time, I gave up on using these materials.

During PSTDP, however, my colleagues and I had moments of strong reflections about our approaches in some issues. The teaching of vocabulary and grammar, for instance, has challenged us to teach these skills effectively in an inductive way. As a result, many texts were read and we have always looked for alternatives – either listening to one another, listening to other teachers’ suggestions or learning from other teachers’ readings around the world. In addition, our reflections on the use of listening and vocabulary tasks led us to conclude that they provide effective communication and can interfere directly in our students’ interests, motivation and comprehension. The use of vocabulary helps us communicate in a more effective way – it’s the key to communication.

That is where it finally led us to the final topic Breaking HabitsA good way to break habits depends on the kinds of activities we plan for our classes. It’s just one of the first steps to challenge our students in different ways. Learning can be fun, but to reach that, we need to go beyond our books. Some of us have tried working with games, songs, group work, comic strips, TV series, you can name it, and it was awesome! Students must identify themselves in the activities and, as a result, get deeply involved in the task.

All tasks developed during the course have helped us create alternative tasks to each one’s classroom practice, as we experienced so many times by our teacher’s guidance. I remember the pleasant atmosphere and how much we laughed together. Moments like this make our jobs memorable and rewarding. The PSTDP course certainly represented a way to improve and develop our English practice in order to make us reflective teachers and always willing to grow.

Moreover, it helped us identify learning problems and work on our students’ needs. In short, we have learned some important lessons: that all activities can be adapted to any level of instruction; we believe no activity is time consuming; and our students’ aims and motivation will differ and interfere in our daily practice. So, let’s make English meaningful for them! Let’s help them broaden their horizons and possibly show them new ways of life, despite their own reality. It has to do with getting a positive perspective of life and seeking new experiences, right? After all, learning a foreign language can lead our students to a life experience.

Finally, we assure our commitment in order to help our students to become critical thinkers so that they can become better citizens and motivate others to do so. Even in good days or bad days, facing troubles or looking for answers, let our students know English has changed our lives and can certainly change theirs! That is certainly a huge challenge, isn’t it? Way to go!





Sunday, December 03, 2017

Learning Styles as Myth

by Rosana Garcia (Writing for Teachers)



People learn in different ways and educators have to be aware of it when planning classes. Therefore, teachers must match their teaching styles with their students’ learning styles to achieve a significant learning (Doyle and Rutherford, 1984).

These are some of the ideas that have become very popular among learning style researchers. There are over 71 different theory models. The most common theory is related to sensory preferences, by Walter Burke Barbe (1926). The modalities can be divided into three main areas: visual, auditory and kinesthetic (movement-oriented). Visual learners absorb information by taking notes and observing the body language and facial expression from the teachers. Auditory learners are more sensitive to tone of voice, pitch, speed and other nuances; they learn best through talking, discussing, listening to lectures and reading aloud. Kinesthetic learners learn best by executing physical activities and can be easily distracted if they sit still for long periods.

Another well-known theory related to experiential learning, developed by David A. Kolb (1984, as cited by Putintseva, 2006), is rearranged into Accommodator, Converger, Diverger and Assimilator. These four approaches form a learning cycle from experience, to observation, to conceptualization, to experimentation, and back to experience.  

A personality-based model was built by B. McCarthy and H. Gardner (1990, as cited by Putintseva, 2006), who identified four learning styles: innovative, analytic, common sense and dynamic. Innovative learners aim for personal meaning while learning, whereas Analytic learners are reflective on facts and aim for intellectual development. Common sense learners aim for practical and straightforward solutions, while Dynamic learners make use of deductive thinking for hidden possibilities.

Although these theories of learning style seem valid at first, some well-respected researchers have debated their limitations and utility. Robert A. Bjork and colleagues (1999, p. 105) claim that “any credible validation of learning-styles-based instruction requires robust documentation of a very particular type of experimental finding with several necessary criteria.” They add that “an important feature of processing in a specific cognitive style is that when one encounters a stimulus that is presented in a non-preferred modality, one mentally converts that information into his or her preferred modality.” Stephen Downes (2009, as cited by Finley, 2015), considers the learning style approach “very narrow and based on a narrow "instructivist" definition of teaching as a form of instruction to produce content recall.”

There are few studies that have provided enough evidence for learning styles as valid, but many studies that prove these theories as myth. According to Christian Jarrett (2015), the learning style is still widely believed because teachers like to think they are sensitive to their students’ needs. Besides, it is more comforting to rely on the success or failure of a class based on a wrong teaching style.

I believe that, by observation, interaction and engagement in different activities, teachers can get the most of their students regardless of their learning preferences. Teachers should challenge their students to go beyond their comfort zone of learning. This could be achieved by offering a range of activities within a learner-centered, communicative approach. 



References:

Tatyana Putintseva - The Internet TESL Journal, Vol. XII, No. 3, March 2006.
Rebecca L. Oxford - Learning Styles & Strategies/Oxford, GALA 2003.

Joy M. Reid - TESOL QUARTERLY, Vol. 21, No. 1, March 1987.

Christian Jarrett (2015) - https://www.wired.com/2015/01/need-know-learning-styles-myth-two-minutes

Todd Finley, 2015 - https://www.edutopia.org/article/learning-styles-real-and-useful-todd-finley

Walter Doyle and Barry Rutherford - Theory Into Practice Vol. 23, No. 1, Winter 1984 

Walter B. Barbe - Psychology and education of the gifted, 1926.


H. Pashler, M. McDaniel, D. Rohrer, and R. Bjork - Learning Styles: Concepts and Evidence, Vol. 9, No. 23, 1999.

Saturday, December 02, 2017

Google tools help me deliver better classes

Google tools help me deliver better classes



Google tools are here to enhance our classes by allowing us to come up with creative solutions and alternatives that will make lessons a lot more real and interesting to the students.

For instance, for my Access class last Friday, my students were working on Present Simple questions on food vocabulary, such as “Does Linda like potatoes?” and “What does she have for breakfast?”.


Instead of just doing what the book suggests, that is, having them turn to their peers and ask random questions as they look at the pictures in the book, I decided to use a Google Form that I had created previously, containing only the name of each food in the questions. They accessed the form through the link bit.ly/doyoulikefood. You can also take a look.


My students, then, used the iPads and went on interviewing each other, marking the answers on the form and finally submitting it. They switched roles so that everybody would interview and be interviewed. Important detail: the first question in the form was “What’s your name?”. That would allow me to take my students’ experience to a final follow-up.

As soon as they all finished interviewing each other and submitted their responses, I opened the Google Spreadsheet that had been previously selected by me as the destination to which their answers would be sent. The spreadsheet contained one first column with their names and the next ones with each answer recorded by them about their personal tastes on food. To view it, click here.





Believe me, it was an awesome feeling of fulfilment to see their expressions of surprise when they realised that their personal answers had been saved somewhere and that I was projecting them on the screen. By then, I had already written some prompts on the board that would help students form questions and engage in conversations with their peers.


My next move was to model the next activity by showing them that they could ask questions about somebody in the spreadsheet and find the answers to the questions there. I randomly picked one of my name cards and asked a question about the selected student: “Does Maria like Chinese food?”. Everybody’s eyes turned towards the spreadsheet and they were all able to deliver the answer quickly: “No, she doesn’t”.

After having my students pick a random name card, they worked in pairs asking and answering questions about a third classmate as they used the prompts and analysed the spreadsheet on the screen.

The fact that Google Forms can collect answers and immediately save them in a Google Spreadsheet is only one of the captivating features that Google Tools for Education offer. There is so much more that can be facilitated in class through their use. If you still haven’t found out what you are capable of through them, why don’t you have a try at it?

Lucas Gontijo

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

The 1st THOMAS Google Certified Educator Level 1 Bootcamp


Teacher Fernanda Oliveira tells us about the Thomas GCE Level 1 Bootcamp.

Taking part in the Google Certified Educator Bootcamp was a very rewarding experience.  There were lots of fascinating insights into the Google tools and the different and innovative ways of using them with our students. We not only had the chance to learn about the GSuite tools, but also to share ideas on our online classroom and during our face-to-face meeting.


We began the Bootcamp by doing 13  online tasks  and  Clarissa also assigned extra tasks so that we could have the chance to practice and learn a bit more. It was gratifying to realize the possibilities of collaborative and creative work students can do by using the GSuite tools.
Our face-to-face meeting  was also full of insights (and fun!). We had planned to work on 18 challenges in the morning and in the afternoon that day, but we were able to do everything within 3 hours. With the support and guidance of Clarissa, Leonardo and Paola, we worked collaboratively and did not leave anyone behind that day. We were exhausted, but very proud of what we had accomplished in the end.


Lots of creative and innovative ideas popped up during the Bootcamp and we are  looking forward to using them to make a positive and meaningful difference in our students’ lives next semester. The sky is the limit, Google Educators!

Fernanda Oliveira









Sunday, November 12, 2017

Engish as a World Language


Raquel Cunha
(Blog Post written as a final assignment for the course Writing for Teachers)


Because of globalization, the English language has become part of our everyday lives (we see it in labels, TV commercials, jobs, studies, internet, outdoors etc.). English has no longer been defined by the number of people who speak it, but how powerful and influential it is in the world. This is due, mostly, to the power that the countries that speak it have, not only economically and academically, but also in the entertainment business and culture. Now, some questions that we may ask ourselves are: “Who does the English language belong to?”  “Is there a right way to pronounce it?”, “Does every country have their own English?”, “How does Brazil fall in the world of English?”
Before we go any further, it is important to know what process took place in order for the language to become what it is today. Taking into consideration that a language is a living thing, which is born, grows, evolves and may even die, we should also understand that it influences a person’s personality, and a culture may also influence its language.

The English language came to be around the V century, developed by the Anglo –Saxons. Along its history, it incorporated elements from other languages, including Latin. Though it is a very influential language today, it wasn’t always so. For a very long time, English was restricted only to the British territory and French was the lingua franca used for trade and diplomatic deals. However, with the expansion of the British territory, English was imposed on people who lived in their colonies (HOWATT, 2004).
Today, English is considered a world language or a lingua franca, which means that it is the language of common communication between different nations. It is the language that is used on the Internet, in movies, in music, on businesses, for diplomacy, for international politics, and it is the key to a successful trade.  It has become that most taught language outside its country of origin.

Although you may say that the English language belongs to the countries that have it as their mother tongue, this statement is not entirely true. It can also be seen as a successful resource for speakers of other languages to communicate with each other. So, the English language today belongs to the world. Gimenez (2006) states that it is necessary to make a disconnection between English and specific countries because speaking and being like a native is not something necessary. There are a variety of Englishnes in the world.

The influence that the language has in some countries is so great that a study conducted by EF EPI in 2016 has shown that their people have ranked very highly in fluency. However, they have added their own accent, which can be recognized easily. Thus, it is important to remember that there is not a right accent of English. Many are accepted and people should not be embarrassed or afraid of it.

We, Brazilians, can also see the influence of the mother language in our intonation when speaking English. It influences rhythmically, musically, and also in the jokes and cultural aspects. It is something that we, Brazilians, should not worry about and, instead, we should embrace it as our trademark and a positive influence upon a language.

However, a study conducted by EF EPI shows that Brazil still ranks way behind in the fluency of English. Out of 72 countries, we rank number 40 in fluency, falling behind Argentina, which ranks number 20 (the best in all Latin America). This means that we are still not very influential and this also may restrict our economic and business relations with the rest of the world.

This low rank may be due to many factors, one of them being the precarious public school system. A high level of functional illiteracy in the country may also limit the learning of a new language. The study also showed that women in Brazil are slightly ahead of men when it comes to dedication and fluency. On the other hand, the same research showed that Brazil has started to make small and recent changes to improve this situation.

Now, here are some questions that we can reflect upon on the subject, “World English”: What are some of the patterns that you have noticed in the spoken English of the Brazilian speaker? Have you noticed the influence in any other nation’s accents (that does not have English as their official language) in entertainment, in culture or even in business? How important is it for a nation to be fluent in the international language in order to grow economically?


References:

EF Education First: http://www.ef.com.br/epi/ June 21, 2017.
Howatt, Anthony Philip Reid, and Henry George Widdowso (2004). A history of ELT. Oxford University Press.
Gimenes, Telma (2006). English in a New World Language Order. Londrina UEL

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Why we should teach the five-paragraph essay

Maurício Peixoto
(Essay written for the course Writing for Teachers)


In the course Writing for Teachers, students asked to work on writing for exams. To make this a type of meta-assignment, they were given references in favor and against the five-paragraph essay and had to to write a five-paragraph essay expressing their point of view on the topic.  Here is Maurício Peixoto's essay, which he chose as his best piece for the course. 


Why does the five-paragraph essay cause so much discussion among some teachers? In fact, it is used in most standardized exams such as the TOEFL and the CPE, so students must be well prepared to take them. On the other hand, there are educators who think that this kind of essay is not effective. The point is that teachers are supposed to prepare students to succeed in writing every sort of genres, the five-paragraph essay included.

Students have to be able to take proficiency tests properly. They also need to learn how to write a 5-PE because it is a well-organized way to structure their ideas. In addition, they follow a pattern of writing without spoiling their creativity, once students are allowed and encouraged to expose their ideas about a topic. Writing this kind of essay enables students to learn the conventions of writing, which will lead them to get ready for producing other genres as well.

In contrast, students are exposed to situations that require a different approach. They will probably be asked to write a report at work or a letter of complaint to some company, for example, and a 5-PE will not be effective. Focusing on the format and structure of a 5-PE, the students might not be able to write different genres and they may have their creativity blocked. Having that in mind, teachers need to have genre awareness and provide students with it too.

It is clear that learning how to organize and structure the ideas is fundamental; however, it is also important to be able to deal with the several writing demands. Teachers should continue teaching how to write a 5-PE so students can be able to take standardized exams and succeed in them. They also have to learn how to write different genres. There is no reason to exclude the 5-PE, nor teaching this genre only. It is a matter of balance. 

In conclusion, there are arguments in favor and against teaching the 5-PE. Students must be genre aware and the five-paragraph essay is one of them. It is also a good starting point to learn the other ones. The discussion about whether to teach it or not leads to nowhere. It has to be taught due to its importance on international exams, and also because it confines students’ ideas and focuses them on the structure of writing. On the other hand, other genres have to be present in writing courses so students can succeed in all real-life situations they face.