Showing posts with label learning. Show all posts
Showing posts with label learning. Show all posts

Thursday, March 05, 2015

Promoting a Growth Mindset for Academic Success

Have you ever felt like praising a student whose grade was just a little above the average? Well, that happened to me and that was exactly what I did. I wrote how glad I was to see that his efforts, better behavior and involvement paid off and that he had to keep on doing all the exercises and participating in class. Actually, what I was trying to do was to build in him a more “constructive mental model”. Well, let me share with you a very interesting article I read as part of an online course I took called “Teaching Character to Create Positive Classrooms”.

According to this article, each person holds his/her own belief about intelligence. Some believe they have a fixed mindset, in which intelligence is a fixed entity, it doesn`t change. These beholders are performance oriented, that is, in response to failure they are more likely to give up as they see failure as an evidence of low competence and effort as a sign of low ability (not as a need to change strategy). These students don`t believe in their ability to learn, when they don’t reach a goal they feel like losers, are humiliated and, eventually, they give up. They worry more about proving they are good than improving their learning skills.

However, others believe in the Incremental Theory. This theory says that intelligence can be expanded and developed. These theorists, who believe in a growth mindset, are more focused on increasing their ability, they see effort as a way to nurture and develop intelligence; they show enthusiasm to learn and are not afraid of new challenging experiences. For them, learning is more important than performance and failure is seen as an obstacle to overcome. Moreover, the challenge excites them.

Our belief in what kind of intelligence we have plays an important role in our academic outcome. It is good to know, though, that intellectual ability can always be developed. However, this does not imply we all have the same potential in every area, or will learn everything with equal ease. The good news is mindsets and skills can be taught in order to achieve academic success. Check below a list of some key elements we should be aware of to promote a growth mindset and, consequently, academic success.

Praising plays an important role in the building of a person`s mindset - Praising students for their effort fosters resilience, a key trait in those who hold a growth mindset. Comments like “That’s a really high score.  You must have worked hard at these problems.” make students understand that their effort was responsible for their success and want to work harder to be successful again. 

Cooperation rather than competition promotes a better learning environment. Studies show that students believe that cooperation activities engage students more than competitive ones.

Another predictor of academic success is the feeling of social belonging. Students who develop a bond with their peers and teachers are more engaged, get better grades and are more successful at school.

Teachers and schools need to keep standards high and challenge students. High expectations foster motivated students because teachers invest more time on them, give more attention, constructive feedback and encouragement.

High-quality feedback with clever strategies to facilitate student understanding is among the strongest predictors of student accomplishment and teacher effectiveness. That is because it shows the commitment of the teacher to learning and belief in the student`s capacity for growth. Good teachers are like good parents—at times authoritative but consistently caring.

Scaffolding – Effective teacher seldom gives direct answers and feedback. Instead, they use hints, and gradually provide more specific hints until students answer a question correctly. 

Sense of belonging – It`s important to create a sense of fellowship between students and teachers. One-on-one attention, caring relationships and good rapport is critical. Group work can bring motivational benefits because it encourages cooperation and makes students see that their difficulty with course material is another student`s difficulty as well. Moreover, this sharing lowers the sense of frustration and provides a sense of identity.

In a few words, remind your students that success is possible with dedication, and difficulty is something temporary they can overcome rather than something that is out of their control. Greater effort yields to greater competence and the more we believe in the students` ability to learn, the easier it is for us to do our jobs. 

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Google Classroom - The New Classroom

In the first semester of 2014, Casa Thomas Jefferson gained access to Google Apps For Education (GAFE). In August, 2014, Google released the Classroom App as part of GAFE, and so our journey began. 

In the month following this release, we started phase 1 of our New Classroom project. With the help and support of our EdTech Department Head, Carla Arena, and her team, we began using Classroom in two of our Advanced Course groups. We decided we would have our Advanced Course teenagers use it to write their compositions throughout the semester. Once the semester came to a close, we sat together and shared our experiences. We decided it was worth continuing the project the following semester, so we thought about getting more teachers involved and using Classroom. 

Phase 2 of our New Classroom project has been named 'Classroom Gurus' project. One of our goals for this next stage is to create and strengthen a core group of teachers who will become multipliers of the knowledge and skills they will acquire during their engagement with their students, using Google Classroom to optimize the writing process that Advanced students engage in throughout the semester. 
Our first Classroom Gurus meeting

A group of fourteen teachers were invited to join the project this semester, and just yesterday we had the chance of sitting together for a couple of hours to launch phase 2 and get the "Classroom Gurus" inspired and motivated with the project. Our main goal was for them to get a feel for the platform, the new possibilities, the challenges and opportunities ahead through a change to a paper-free paradigm for the compositions students write in the semester with a focus on feedback rather than on the bureaucratic aspects of the writing process, as now this is going to be taken care by Google Classroom. In the platform, much of the back and forth of papers are automatically handled by the system with the automatized creation of students´ papers in Google Docs and the creation of folders for each assignment.

Here are the teachers´ first impressions:

It is a brave new world ahead where we know adjustments, failure and new learning will take place as we move forward. We feel, though,  that it is time to experiment and move on. Another point of the project is to value the human resources we so highly consider in our Institution, Casa Thomas Jefferson. We have a very potent humanware, educators who are ready for the edgy jump into pedagogical innovations when they are recognized, treasured and supported in new edtech endeavors.

Last but not least, there´s the learner spectrum. By promoting a new type of process not only are we reaching them in different ways, but also helping them enhance their own digital literacies that will be so essentially demanded from them in their educational and professional contexts. We, as an educational institution, feel responsible for students´ success in their language learning and life in general.

Sunday, May 04, 2014

TESOL 2014 - On Language Development and Affordance

One of the highlights of the 2014 TESOL International Conference was Diane Larsen Freeman’s plenary entitled Complexity Theory: Renewing Our Understanding of Language, Learning, and Teaching.  Complexity Theory in Second Language Acquisition is not an easy topic to digest, but Larsen-Freeman made it easy to understand by way of her outstanding presentation skills and the illustrative slides that helped visualize the actual simplicity of the theory and how much sense it makes.

My first more in-depth encounter with Larsen-Freeman’s discussion of Complexity Theory as an approach to second language acquisition, or rather, development, was through her chapter in Dwight Atkinson’s book on Alternative Approaches to Second Language Acquisition (Larsen-Freeman, 2011). I have to admit I had to read it three times to really grasp the essence of the theory and how it related to second language acquisition.

If you’re not familiar with Complexity Theory and its relationship with Second Language Acquisition, I’d like to share with you my short summary of Larsen-Freeman’s fantastic TESOL Plenary, particularly regarding the topics of language acquisition and language input.  Then, if you’re interested in more in-depth reading on Complexity Theory, I recommend Larsen-Freeman’s chapter in Atkinson’s book or this article (Larsen-Freeman, 2007).

Complexity theory seeks to explain complex, dynamic, open, adaptive, self-organizing, nonlinear systems (Larsen-Freeman, 2011, p. 52). Fractals are the signature of complex systems; as we go deeper and deeper into the structure, the same pattern occurs.

Larsen-Freeman’s main thesis in her plenary is that, within the Complexity Theory framework, we can’t really say that language is acquired, but rather, it is developed. Acquisition implies language as a commodity that you ingest somehow. Language development is the emergence of language abilities in real time. A pattern arises from the interaction of the parts; emergence is the spontaneous occurrence of something new. The edges of language are blurry; there is no end and there is no state. Acquisition suggests completion and a one-way process, while development is bidirectional.

Larsen-Freeman also finds the term input problematic because it dehumanizes the learner. For her, acceptability is interlocutor-dependent. Input is problematic because it is inert knowledge. She asks us why it is that students can do something in the classroom but then can't do it outside the classroom later on. It's because we don't teach language as dynamic. Meaningless repetition contributes to the inert knowledge problem. She points out that iteration is different from repetition. As a learner's system develops, it functions as a resource for further development.

Students need to adapt their behavior to an increasingly complex environment. This can be done through iterative activity under slightly different conditions. Input suggests a one-way action between an individual and the environment. Affordance is a better term to use in this case - providing a language-rich environment where students will find their own affordances; language develops from experience, afforded by the learner's perceptions of the environment.

This development is individual; learners define their own learning path. For this reason, we can't average out data. What should be taught is not only language but also learners. We need to design spaces with learners specifically in mind.

Above all, we transform; we don't transfer!


Larsen-Freeman, D. (2007). On the complementarity of Chaos/Complexity Theory and Dynamic Systems Theory in understanding second language acquisitin. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition 10 (1), pp. 35-37.

Larsen-Freeman, D. (2011). A Complexity Theory Approach to Second Language Acquisition/Development. In D. Atkinson, Alternative Approaches to Second Language Acquisition (pp. 48-72). New York, NY: Routledge.

Image courtesy of

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Image Conference

The image Conference, Organized by the BRAZTESOL Brasilia team was a perfect combination of keynote presenters, great atmosphere and interesting, colorful, dynamic sessions. Workshops  were delivered in 45 minutes. I was not sure at first I would like my session to be so short, but I enjoyed the format as a participant because I got to see much more, and as a presenter because  Denise De Felice and I had to do our  best to be concise and efficient in our delivery. 

Here is a peek of some of what happened in the conference.

From Images to Deep Learning

 A Whole Brain Perspective

A new bridge between neuroscience and language teaching is being built, and teachers today can learn more and more about the learning brain. Images, videos, and games have always been explored in the language classroom in different, creative ways, but teachers  are now becoming aware of how tasks affect the brain biologically, how emotions trigger or hinder the learning cycle, and how knowing all that can help teachers design more engaging tasks. Many of the ideas here were inspired by the book The Art of Changing the Brain.

Play with the images to to create a story.

Listen to the story and check how different they are.

We asked participants to reflect on what Hamilton`s problem was by showing a series of "why" questions. It was very interesting to see the "why" technique in action. The audience starts to feel the power of brainstorming as one more "why" on the slide projects the impression that the group needs to keep collaborating, thinking to reach a high order conclusion.  

Here is what the audience said

He was asked to do what he couldn`t do.
He was not motivated enough
He was too passive
The kind of exposure he got was always the same
He never got a chance to actually be a more engaged student
because of the way he had been exposed to input, he became too passive
He never got the chance to actually be a more engaged student
because of the way he had been exposed to input, he became too passive.

Ham`s problem according to The Art of Changing the Brain.
"Ham`s mind was in the past, it depended on sources outside himself, and thus he had no power. He had no control over his own learning.
I am not saying that he didn’t need information or that he should abandon his television programs. Experience and information are necessary parts of learning. They are the raw materials for it. But by themselves they are not enough; they are about half of what it actually needed.
The structure of the brain tells us this. There is a part for receiving, remembering, and integrating information that comes from outside. And there is a second part for acting, modifying, creating, and controlling. If we are to learn in the way that transforms, we must use both of these parts of the brain. 
"Ham needs better communication between the back and the front of their cortex, between temporal cortex and prefrontal cortex. But since the prefrontal and temporal cortex are so distant from each other, you might wonder if the connections between them are strong. Maybe it isn’t so easy to keep balance. Maybe the front and back parts of our brains don’t talk to each other much.But, again, the actual physical structure of the brain gives us new insight. In fact, some of the most obvious wiring in the brain is designed exactly for this front/back connection.
You could confirm this yourself with the simplest of dissections of one of the cerebral hemispheres. If you were to gently slice open the top of one hemisphere from front to back and a few centimeters from the midline, you would see large tracks of fibers running along from back to front. And if you dissected carefully, you would find four major bundles of nerves that carry signals between front and back.We can also see this bridge in the learning cycle, as shown in the illustration below. It carries us over the line that separates the experience and reflection part of the cycle from the abstraction and active testing part. Data enters learners through concrete experience where it is organized and rearranged through reflection. But it is still just data until learners begin to work with it. When learners convert this data into ideas, plans, and actions, they experience the transformation I have described. Things are now under their control, and they are free of the tyranny of information. They have created and are free to continually test their own knowledge."

A concrete example

A Practical Example
Concrete experience
Abstract hypothesis
Reflective observation
Transformation line

Reflecting back

Compare the two tasks below and reflect on what happens in the learners` brain. Which task engages students` brain more deeply?

Task 1 - look at the images and create a story. Compare it to the actual story.

Task 2 - Listen to the story and put the illustrations in order.

Our point - there is nothing wrong with the tasks, They are just different. It all depends on the teacher`s objectives. Task one helps to engage more areas of the brain as compared to task 2, which may help to promote deeper learning.

Here are some posters we can ask students to make. Having students  manipulate language and images to create  posters engages the learning brain more deeply than just showing students a poster that someone else created.

What can you do with a chair?
What other purposes, other than teaching, can you use a chair for?

After delivering this workshop, our aim is to keep thinking about the learning cycle and tasks can engage the learning brain more deeply.

Thanks Denise De Felice for being my partner and inspiring change in me.
Thanks Cleide Nascimento for illustrating the story.
Thanks Katie Cox for lending us your storytelling expertise.

Friday, May 03, 2013

Reminiscing on IATEFL 2013

An international teachers' conference makes room for quite a hectic audience. There are English teachers
coming from all corners of the world, all in search of professional growth, new academic ideas and technologies and the acknowledgement of being on the right track regarding teaching and teaching methodologies.

Although there are not many new proposals regarding TEFL for the current tendencies, there is still a lot we
can learn about the teaching of English. In fact, there is always something to learn or recall. One of the lectures I attended and enjoyed very much was Edmund Dudley's "High-achieving Secondary Students". Mr. Dudley is a teacher and teacher trainer working in Hungary. His main concern is to teach the student as a whole. In this process, he focuses on the environment of the class so that it can "nest" students positively and help them overcome any obstacles they may have in the process of learning English. However, he has stated such obstacles may actually not even refer to difficulties in assessing language. It has been the object of Mr. Dudley's studies and involvements the fact that there may be lack of motivation for learning even among those students considered high-achievers. Among the many aspects of teaching pointed by Mr. Dudley, he has suggested that our attitude towards the learning situation be able to bring out the challenge, the relevance, the value and the novelty of lessons. In his presentation, each of these topics was associated with an array of examples and ideas on how to promote creative learning.

Another presentation which was highly motivating for me was Gavin Dudeney's piece on technology. Still a
bit of a challenge to me, technology is more present in our lives on a daily basis than we even realize. Just
as we turn lights on and off, start the car, use the dishwasher, the air-conditioner or heater, or simply change
channels on TV, for example, in quite casually habitual, if not automatic daily attitudes, we also make use
of technology in a much more routine-like manner than we can acknowledge. Most people start their days
making use of the cell phone, smart phones, connections to social networks, or the accessibility to intranet
at work or the Internet for more personal endeavors, to name a few only. Our day is filled with opportunities
for using technology, being the classroom the one place which offers the most fruitful chances for efficacious,
audaciously creative teaching and learning.

Monday, April 29, 2013

TESOL 2013 - My Reflections Upon M-Learning

How long has it been since you heard the term “m-learning “ for the first time? Well, in my case it was in 2010. Not long ago, right? As a matter of fact,  that might be true for you, too! But how much of your time have you actually dedicated to learning more about m-learning and how it is affecting the way we teach today?I am a huge educational technology enthusiast and I would like to share some of my reflections and discoveries upon this theme based on  events I have attended and books and articles I have read recently.

 I`ve been to several different conferences before and it  is still not very common to find many sessions on m-learning. During this year`s TESOL Conference, for instance, I tried to attend as many m-learning sessions as possible but the options were very limited. There were  fewer than 10 (including the session delivered by Lilian Marchesoni and me) and most addressed similar content, such as using QR codes and other widely known apps like Educreations, Popplet and Show Me.  These numbers are ridiculous if you consider that there were over a thousand speakers at the event!

So, was I frustrated? Definitely not! The use of smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices in the classroom is a very recent trend in education and not many professionals are familiar with it. However, the number of teachers who seek innovation in their teaching practices through mobile technology grows each year as such gadgets become more popular and accessible. It is a growing movement which seems to have no turning back  and it means wee need to be better prepared to deal with the current technology.

Learning through mobility (while you are in movement) is actually not a very new and innovative concept. For many decades, people  carried books, magazines and paper notebooks with them.  Learners , thus, could always choose where and when to learn if they had access to those “portable devices” . Today, however, such “devices” have evolved to very sophisticated gadgets,  giving “mobile” a whole new meaning and status.

So, how can we take full advantage of such rich and and unique resources and make the teaching and learning experience as effective as possible?  Unfortunately, the answer for that question is not 100% known yet. Because it is a very recent phenomenon, there aren`t many scientific studies or published books linked to this field . We are actually living the blossoming of mobile computing and transformations in the teaching practice are taking shape as we speak.

But is m-learning just a fad or should we teachers embark upon this venture? Well, how many times have you already had to tell your students to turn their cellphones off while teaching something very important on the board? I am sure you will not be able to answer this question! We cannot ignore the presence of such devices in the classroom anymore! Dede(2005) states that we are witnessing the rise of generation Y and that the new technologies offered clearly match a new profile.  This new generation of learners belong to a group labeled as “digital natives” (Prensky, 2001), that is, people who were born after 1982 and grew up in the Internet era, surrounded by many of the tech gadgets we know and use today.For them,  the traditional education centered in the teacher and developed in  a linear way does not make sense. They are used to acting instead of watching or taking things passively. Instead of simply absorbing knowledge, this generation is used to producing it individually and in groups and sharing it in social networks.  No wonder why Orkut, Facebook and Twitter have become so popular. Moreover, materials produced by this generation do not rely on text and written materials only, but rather on images, sounds and animations, in other words, the use of multiple medias.  In sum, The Y generation is empowered by the massive use of technology and that is why the use of mobile devices should be considered aserious issue and an important element in the teaching and learning process of today`s generation.

M-learning has become such an important educational issue that UNESCO (United Nations Educational,Scientific and Cultural Organization) launched a document called “ Policy Guidelines for Mobile Learning” in February which listed down 13 unique benefits of mobile learning. According to UNESCO, mobile learning:

·      expands the reach and equity of education
·      facilitates personalized learning
·      provides immediate feedback and assessment
·      enables anytime, anywhere learning
·      ensures the productive use of time spent in classrooms
·      builds new communities of learners
·      supports situated learning
·      enhances seamless learning
·      bridges formal and informal learning
·      minimizes educational disruption in conflict and disaster areas
·      assists learners´ disabilities
·      improves communication and administration
·      maximizes cost-efficiency

This document not only adresses the use of mobile devices in the classroom but also the unique opportunities it can bring to distance and ubiquitous learning experiences. By the way, as a matter of fact, after attending several seminars, workshops,and webinars and reading a few books, I learned that m-learning is not limited to what we might know as “using  smartphones and tablets in the classroom” but it also comprises the use of devices to enable distance learning (online education).

So, should we then start using mobile devices on a daily basis? Not really.The use of technology itself does not imply innovation in education.  Indeed, the indiscriminate use of technology in the classroom might lead to ineffective  learning outcomes.  We need to leave the initial “enchantment” behind and focus on the true potential of technology. M-learning practices might have a focus on  its technological nature rather than the pedagogical one and that is exactly what should not happen.  Mobile devices were not specifically designed for educational purposes, so their use should be carefully planned.It is still very common to see teachers using mobile devices in practices that simply reproduce what is in the book. Honestly speaking, there is no point in taking advantage of technology if it will not improve the quality of learning.  So when is the use of mobile devices appropriate? Brazilian EFL teacher and EdTech guru, Carla Arena, likes to bring up a question which, in my opinion, is perfect to solve this dilemma :” Can you do the same thing and have the same outcome if you don`t resort to technology?  If the answer is yes, then you should think twice and consider not using it.”

According to WIN (Worldwide Independent Network of Market Research), the use of mobile devices is growing at a staggering rate all over the world.  On average,  people spend  74 minutes a day using smartphones and  71 minutes using tablets. It is thus,  paramount that we, educators, researchers and teachers observe how users handle these protable devices, how they access information, how they communicate, interact, produce and share knowledge and information. These are elements that can signal how technology can contribute to major changes in the way we think, solve problems, live and teach.In the March 2013 issue of Você S/A, a Brazilian magazine, there is a very interesting article on how technology is quickly affecting human behavior. In the article,  Kelly McGonigal, a professor at Stanford Univerity, claims that recent studies have shown that the human brain has adapted to the digital era in the sense that we starve for information just as we feel the need to eat food in order to survive.That certainly explains why people feel the need to be “connected” 24/7. Don`t you think this is another issue that we teachers also need to look at closely if we want to deal with technology in our teaching practices?

So, when going to the next seminar or conference, how about picking some sessions which address the use of  smartphones and tablets in the classroom?  Attending the sessions on m-learning at TESOL 2013 definitely contributed to my better understanding of this complex universe in which m-learning is inserted and has definitely been helping me make better decisions regarding the general use of technology in my teaching practices. By the way, have you heard of the new terms “digital visitor” and “digital resident”? I have recently learned that there is a new current which prefers to use such terms instead of “digital natives” and “digital immigrants”? When it comes to technology-related issues, concepts, trends and practices might change as quickly as technology itself. I guess we all need to get used to this new dynamics if we want to be a teacher in the 21st century!



DEDE, C. Planning for Neomillennial Learning Styles. Available at: http://net.educase/ir/library/pdf/eqm0511.pdf. Accessed: April 18,2013.

Jornal Destak. Uso de smartphones no Brasil duplica. Available at: April 23, 2013.

MARINO, C.; NEVES; N.; ROSSI, L. Viramos Escravos da Tecnologia? Ela pode melhorar sua produtividade ou disparar sua ansiedade. Como usar as ferramentas da tecnologia a seu favor no trabalho. Revista Você S/A, São Paulo, issue 178. March, 2013. (pages 27-37)
PRENSKY, M. Digital natives,digital immigrants, 2001. Available at:,%20digital%20immigrants%20-%20part1.pdf. Acessed: April 20, 2013.

SACCOL, A.; SCHLEMMER, E. ; BARBOSA, J. M-learning e u-learning: novas perspectivas das aprendizagens móvel e ubíqua. São Paulo: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2011.

UNESCO. Policy guidelines for mobile learning. Paris. February, 2013. Available at <> Access: March 2, 2013.