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. 

Friday, October 27, 2017

Belonging to a Global Tribe of Connected Educators

Last Friday, October 20, I had the pleasure to facilitate a session in the Braz-TESOL Brasília Half-Day Seminar. Fellow teacher Leonardo Sampaio partnered up with me in this session called “Become Google Certified Awesome!” The purpose of our session was to demonstrate a little bit of the impact that becoming Google Certified Educators has had in our classes. It was a hands-on session, which took some participants by surprise, for some of them might have been expecting to hear us talk about the Google certification process, hence the title of the session. But we like to surprise people, so off we went on a collaborative 45-minute journey. (Quick and intense! Phew!)


Participants worked in trios, and each trio had an Ipad. They went into a Google Classroom we created especially for the session and were asked to discuss what 21st-century is, in their view, and how digital tools may facilitate 21st-century learning in the EFL classroom. After discussing within their groups, they had to write down a summary of their thoughts in the discussion stream of the task. Groups were then invited to read what other groups wrote in the discussion (inside their Google Classroom) and respond by writing comments.


The next task enticed participants’ creativity, for they had to access a collaborative Google Slides presentation, locate their group’s slide containing a crazy and unique image, and discuss what they thought had not gone as expected in the image. They had to write down a statement in response to that question about their image. Once they were done with that, groups were invited to look at other groups’ slides and write down 3rd conditional sentences inspired by the situation statements.


We finished our 45-minute session with a great video about 21s Century Learning and the 4 C’s. We asked participants to reflect on the tasks and activities they had engaged throughout the session to identify whether the 4 C’s had come up in their experience together, to which they said “Yes!” At the end of the session, Leonardo and I shared our views on how becoming Google Certified Educators has impacted our teaching practices and the learning experiences we facilitate in our classrooms. We feel that the very process of studying the units in the Google Training Center, which were made by teachers for teachers, helped us get in touch with a million ways teachers all around the world have been applying these tools in their classrooms in order to enhance the 4 C’s.

And what’s more, for me, the most valuable thing in having become Google Certified Trainer is to become part of a community of educators who are committed to facilitating learning experiences that help our students become global collaborators and creators of knowledge. After all, it’s never about the tech, it’s about the learning. It’s never about the tool, it’s about the pedagogy and, above all, it’s ALWAYS about the people.



Friday, October 13, 2017

Visual Literacy

Luis Francisco Dantas
(Final assignment for the course Writing for Teachers)

According to Kress & van Leeuwen (2006), expressing something verbally or visually makes a difference. Thus, in an era of multiliteracies, teaching ELLs how to read, interpret, analyze and synthesize information via visual input is imperative. Individuals use a variety of means in order to communicate.  This way, skills in the realm of visual literacy have proven to be essential.  In modern times, they may tend to be a matter of survival, especially in the workplace and academic environments. This is not different in the field of language learning.

Despite all the appeal means of communication dispense to imagery and visual design, EFL/ESL students still need to be aware that images, written language, and speech are realized differently. More and more, visual literacy is seen as an essential part of instruction for multimodal learning. Like linguistic structures, visual structures point to particular interpretations of experience and to forms of social interactions (Kress & van Leeuwen, 2006, p. 2).

It is also essential to analyze visual literacy from a neuroscientific perspective. According to Zull (2002), our brain is a "seeing" brain, so educators need to understand the power of visually-rich classes to facilitate learning through concrete examples that rely on the many different sources of imagery.

Along more than twenty years in the field of teaching English as a foreign language, I could notice that the ability to read images was something my students seemed to benefit a lot from. But where to start? How to introduce this kind of teaching into our pedagogy? Would the syllabus and the tight schedules allow me to introduce these notions into our teaching programs? I must confess these were my biggest worries at the time I started teaching English through art and visuals, along with regular course books and handouts. Confessions apart, I admit it was a tough decision, but at the same time, I must say it was also the best I have ever taken in my career. At the beginning it was mostly an attempt to explore the world of culture and the beauty of visual arts. Eventually, it became a desire to show my students that a language is much more than its written or spoken expression.

Through the use of art in the classroom, learners are taught that by reading images, they can explore different kinds of messages and their meanings. Moreover, in many occasions, pupils are free to create their own narratives regarding what they see and explore their knowledge of the world and creativity in meaningful tasks. They are encouraged to understand that art pieces are also seen as texts to be analyzed and understood.

Teaching through visuals is deeply rooted in the idea that images are also seen as complex visual signs (SANTAELLA, 2012), whose elements are initially perceived simultaneously, but that need a gradual and more detailed analysis in order to have their meanings unveiled. According to Santaella (2012), images are cognitive elaborations that need to be interpreted and read. Taking this notion of text into account, I have been working with a variety of images and exposing my students to pieces of work encompassing different fields of the arts.

We have experienced classes with the livelihood of Kandisnky’s shapes, traveled through the surrealism and dreams of Salvador Dali, the mystery of Da Vinci’s Monalisa, the appeal of Picasso’s Guernica and the piercing colors of Frida. Above all, we have done all this promoting the use of English as our main means of communication. Throughout the years I can also notice how much we can do for our students in order to make them widen their horizons in the sense of acquiring general culture, as well as expressing their own feelings and impressions more openly and confidently using the lens of art. I have also seen children shifting from boredom to impulses of joy and creativity while exposed to pieces of art such as Van Gogh’s Starry Night, being also able to create their own representation of it and share this experience with their peers.

One of the theoretical constructs in which this teaching approach is based has to do with the concept of multimodality. According to Iedema (2003), this term was introduced aiming at reaffirming the importance of taking into account the semiotic modes that go beyond written language, such as imagery, music, gestures, among others. This way, images contain a series of aspects which can be perfectly explored in a language class and that will make students learn more effectively and experience meaningful communicative situations. This has been true in all the classes in which I proposed the study of imagetic representations. Students are able to explore the colors, the various characters in the paintings, the perspective and different angles chosen by the artists to tell their stories through art works.

The concept of ressemiotization, which consists of the transference of the works of art from their original context, such as art galleries or museums, and  their consequent adaptation to teaching environments, has made the process of teaching and learning English as a foreign language more colorful, more meaningful and, consequently, more effective in terms of learning results.

References:

Iedema, Rick. Multimodality, resemiotization: Extending the analysis of discourse as multi-semiotic practice. Visual communication, 2003

Kress, G, & Van Leeuwen, T. Reading Images: The Grammar of Visual Design. New York: Routledge, 2006

Santaella, L. Leitura de imagem. São Paulo: Melhoramentos, 2012


Zull, James E. The art of changing the brain enriching the practice of teaching by exploring the biology. Learning. Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing, LLC ,2002.