lunes, 9 de enero de 2017

Electronic Village Online, 2017

Teaching Listening: Principles, techniques and technologies

I´ve decided to use the ideas in Lizzie´s presentation to reflect on what trails I´ve followed and where I am now to help me focus on what I can profit from by doing this session of the 2017 EVO.

I´ll start by sharing what I thought would be useful for my students, what proved not to work and what they have chosen to use as out of class self directed practice.

To begin with adult students have a very low self esteem when it comes to their listening skills performance.  When asked how they rate themselves, they always give themselves a very low mark and often comment that they are helpless at listening.  Consequently when I announce a listening task, the usual response is one of nervous expectancy as they prepare for the upcoming ordeal.  No amount of reassuring or strategies seem enough to counteract this perception. The high affective barrier built around this skill results in an immediate rejection of the task or anything to do with trying to decode an oral message that does not come from the teacher.  I often hear my students say: "I understand YOU, but it´s very difficult for me to understand a native speaker."  This happens because as an experienced teacher (I´ve been teaching for over 20 years now!) I know that a strategy I often follow is that of automatically trying to adjust my grammar and vocabulary to one that matches the level of the student in front of me.  This results in mutual intelligibility during the class, but unfortunately does not expose them to the nuances of trying to communicate with a stranger.  To compensate this, I make sure to provide multiple sources of oral input for them to explore on their own outside the classroom walls.

This year I found and shared with my students the following links.  Each of them was received with varied degrees of enthusiasm as follows:

I thought this was a wonderful idea: Song Lyrics with annotations.  I was wrong.  No interest to my student.
What I like about this kind of website is that they often give me new ideas such as this young singer´s video that contains the lyrics, in the form of the artist´s handwriting in the video, a feature  I always thank when artists decide to use in their productions.  Who knows maybe this one is more appealing to my students.
They have lots of content and I decided to share this link about Vermeer, because the conversation at one point in the lesson derived to that topic.  However it turned out to be too demanding for my students, it appears it was more interesting for me rather than my students.  My mistake!
My student was travelling to New York and had tickets for this show.  Learning the lyrics beforehand proved to be both motivating and conductive to learning.  It was a smash success.
A spontaneous google search for a karaoke version of the song turned out to be a fun classroom moment as we all joined in singing this classic song.
I have always been a fan of TED Talks and when I introduced this site I explained the whole process from what they were to how to look for talks that match your interest and how to activate the interactive transcript and how to use them for vocabulary learning.  Another smash hit that give them plenty of content to browse on the Summer holidays. (which are right now by the way!)

Using Lizzie´s words I see I use the Menu approach in the form of a list of links in a shared google doc I design for each of my groups of students.

I have to make it clear that I am dealing with Pre-Intermediate/Intermediate students here, B1 level students are already equipped with the strategies to navigate these waters, given the appropriate guidance.  

I also fully agree with the idea of getting to know your students preferences and interests.  I always take them into account in my searches.  About this I also have to say that most of the extra content that I decide to share with my students comes to me via my Twitter PLN, a carefully chosen group of educators who tweet educationally relevant material.

viernes, 23 de septiembre de 2016


Diariamente se producen más de 25 movimientos telúricos en la región centro-oeste de mi país, la mayoría de los cuales son imperceptibles para el hombre común ya que sólo son registrados por los aparatos sismológicos que monitorean estos fenómenos. Un terremoto es el resultado de la liberación de energía producida por la fricción entre las placas tectónicas de la tierra en constante movimiento. Su energía se mide comparándola con la producida por explosiones. 
Hace aproximadamente un mes, con un grupo de amigos y con mi esposo e hijos, escalamos el cerro Uritorco, ubicado en la provincia de Córdoba. Era un día espléndido de sol y la brisa nos refrescaba mientras subíamos por la pendiente verde del cerro. Entre chistes y charlas nos encontrábamos alrededor de la mitad del recorrido cuando escuchamos un estruendo. Todos nos miramos y buscamos en vano la fuente del sonido. Mariano, que había vivido en Jujuy, casi inmediatamente concluyó: es un terremoto. Mi mente no quería aceptarlo, así que yo me quedé con que la explosión provenía de una cantera cercana de la cual emanaba un humo blanco. Luego escuchamos en la radio que habia ocurrido un sismo de escala 3 con epicentro en las inmediaciones del Valle de Punilla.
Aunque sé que Santa Fe no está dentro de la región afectada por terremotos, por las dudas cada vez que voy a caminar a la costanera, cruzo el puente colgante rápidamente, en caso de que se le ocurra a la tierra moverse y quede atrapada en la "falla de la Setúbal".

viernes, 8 de julio de 2016

My reflections on teaching and singing the best that you can

     I simply had to watch this film.  It was about a "not perfect woman" who found inspiration in art to pursue a dream.  I thouroughly enjoyed watching the film Florence Foster Jenkins and I just couldn´t stop myself from thinking about the importance of art in everyone´s life.  I remember that this week I had to substitute a teacher friend and I saw a poster announcing a play, called Richard, a farce (a play I had the chance to see and enjoy last year)  Being of both literary and historical insterest I thought about recommending it to my students.  When I asked them if they ever went to the theatre. they said they didn´t because they didn´t like it.  I then went on to ask them how many plays they had seen, they told me that many.  So I urged them to go on seeing until they saw something they liked.  In fact I told them to go to the theatre, cinema, museums, art galleries and concerts and never stop doing that.  Art is necessary in everyone´s life.
In my city and my country in general there are many opportunities to enjoy art and the many offers cater for different tastes.  It is a great thing to be able to enjoy such a variety at reasonable prices, often for free!  I usually check what´s on offer and mingle with the crowds and enjoy the influence of that "artistic feeling" long after I have come back home. Sometimes when it is a concert I sing the songs and they stay in my mind for days.
That is why I googled Florence´s original recording as soon as I sat down at my computer.  When one of the soldiers from Florence´s audience commented that his mother sang better than her, I felt identified because I grew up listening to my mother singing songs from every possible genre you can find in Spanish: tangos, zarzuelas, religious songs... even today she has a song for every comment you make for example if your sentence ends with the word "fish" she could probably begin singing the famous José Luis Guerra´s song Burgujas de amor which chorus says "Quisiera ser un pez..." (I´d like to be a fish")  My kids say: "Granny has a song for everything!"
What I loved about the film I have just seen is how it shows the healing, nurturing nature of art.  It´s not about mastering every given discipline, but about thoroughly enjoying experiencing it.  I can cook, and I do it on a regular basis, but I don´t aspire to get a Bocuse d´Or, in fact the roasted meat today was a bit overcooked, but I enjoy what comes around the ceremony of cooking: shopping for the best quality ingredients, getting inspired at the supermarket, inviting my parents, opening the bottle of malbec just before we all sit together to talk and eat.  The same applies for going to the cinema, theatre, etc.
When we teach we are also responsible for lighting in our students the love for what they are learning.  We have a great responsibility, and it hurts when we discover that our students will not be "virtuosos" of the language.  However I agree with Prof Mitra and the inspiration behind the School in the Cloud .  Sometimes we just have to be supportive and encouraging.  In another class, I was asked to make my students talk and I arranged a circle of 7 chairs to have a speaking circle activity where all of them should have to talk for one minute about something.  Of the seven students, one of them left (she is above 18, this means she can do it, and it also means that she couln´t care less about participating in this activity, judging from her behaviour during the class), another one invented some story just to "do the exercise" and the last one was releaved that the bell rang before she finished.  However, the other four shared stories of learning to ski, participating in writing contests, conflicts they´ve had at work and regrets.  Needless to say they spoke for more than one minute and they communicated fluently and openly.  As a teacher I focused on the message and I can´t say I noticed many mistakes, because there weren´t and because I was making sure they felt I was listening.  With my full attention.  I was also inviting everyone to contribute to the conversation.
Learning is a painful process, we are constantly exposed to losing face in front of others.  Florence was as well.  However, as she said in the film "People may say I can´t sing, but no one can ever say I didn´t sing."  In a world where many talk about "giving our students voices", let us, teachers be the first ones to listen.  We have a ticket in the best possible location, even if sometimes our ears can suffer a little. Let´s be our students´inspiration!

sábado, 14 de mayo de 2016

I am finally teaching online!

And the day comes eventually when your dreams come true.   Back in 2012 when I started exploring the affordances of the web, when I didn´t even know how to spell "Prezi" or "Edmodo" I made an amazing discovery.  I heard that there were teachers who where teaching online and I just fell in love with the idea whereas at the same time lots of questions arouse regarding the changes that this new modality of teaching implied.  With time and with the help of many of my online mentors I started to learn how teachers could resort to different tech tools to make an online class possible.  On my journey of discovery I volunteered to teach, I organised online meetups, I regularly met online with my mentors and I got the chance to hear about and play with many web sites and tools I found interesting.
Many times I offered my prospective students, who are always busy people, to not leave their houses and have the class online instead of having to come to my office. For some reason they preferred to take the face to face class.
Last week I was contacted by my coordinator who needed a substitute teacher for a city that is located 200 kilometres away from home and is worldwide famous for being the homebirth of Lionel Messi.  I was obviously thrilled at the chance to finally be an online teacher for the first time in my life.  I must say that I loved it.  I should also mention that I felt quite nervous before the class in spite of my over 20 years of teaching experience.  My strategy to fight off fear was preparation.  I wanted to make sure I was "over-ready" for the class.  I made contact with my students via email to make sure they did the necessary arrangements before the class such as contacting me on Skype and making sure they have downloaded Skype properly.  The online way is filled with unexpected stones such as surprise power outages, or your neighbour chopping tall tree right next to the place where your pc is located and playing dangerously with the telephone lines.  So, apart from dealing with these sources of extra stress an online teacher has to make sure they establish a good relationship with the students asap.  A substitute online teacher does not have much time for this and given that for my students it was the first time ever using skype I had to put extra attention to making them feel comfortable to allow learning to happen.  Luckily the students were extra nice and willing to participate, so the class went on normally and by the end of the clas I felt as if I´d known them for ages.
As I said, having everything set before the class, eg the material, the extra grammar, the windows open and ready to be shared made me feel in control.  Today, however as I am writing this blog post I have come to realize that there was another important factor that added to my confidence.  I was part of a global online community of coleagues who were willing to help me test the screen sharing feature from 3 different continents at a short notice before my class was scheduled.  My confidence is based on my knowledge of the tools, the pedagogy and the content of what I have to teach, but also on the knowledge that I have several communities of practice that have helped me shape the teacher I am today.  And I can´t but feel grateful and lucky for this.
I am looking forward to my future online lessons. I feel lucky to be part of several online communities where sharing best practices is an everyday thing.  I plan to continue learning and enjoy my teaching!

(The image above was generated with Keep Calm-O-Matic )

jueves, 5 de mayo de 2016

De qué hablamos cuando hablamos de docentes o aprendizaje conectado

En ocasión de la Global Leadership Week tuve la inmensa  alegria de compartir un encuentro de docentes amigos latinoamericanos en lo que dimos en llamar El Aula Global, una charla informal entre educadores apasionados por el aprendizaje global.  Los cinco integrantes de esta iniciativa pertenecemos a paises diferentes, excepto Viviana y yo, que incidentalmente nos vimos personalmente el año pasado en un congreso, pero que hacia ya un año que nos conocíamos virtualmente.  A pesar de las distancias entre nuestros campos de acción, nos fue fácil establecer conexiones entre lo que cada uno de nosotros tenía para decir con respecto a los beneficios de la apertura de las aulas al mundo real.  Me animo a decir que todos nos sentimos muy cómodos haciendo nuestros aportes y reconociendo desafíos comunes en los problemas que cada uno planteaba.
Me pasa cuando estoy en medio de mis colegas de habla inglesa, constantemente veo reflejadas mis preocupaciones, mi realidad, mi experiencia en el aula.  Y la conclusión es siempre:  No somos tan diferentes después de todo.  Al compartir la mesa (virtual) con colegas de mis vecinos países, las coincidencias son aún mayores, las realidades se sienten mucho más cercanas y la conexión es inmediata.  Entonces vuelvo a esos dias de 2012, cuando no sabía nada respecto a las comunidades virtuales de docentes que se reúnen para tratar temas relacionados con tecnología aplicada a la educación, por ejemplo, y a través de Twitter me entero de la Virtual Round Table, un evento que se realiza todos los años y que casualmente tendrá lugar este fin de semana.  Luego de superar las instancias del manejo de las herramientas de la videoconferencia, me impactó la camaradería y la enorme alegría y entusiasmo con que las organizadoras del evento llevaban a cabo el mismo.  También recuerdo la calidez con que se trataba a los participantes.  Hoy entiendo que el contacto con educadores entusiasmados con lo que están haciendo es vital para el docente en ejercicio de su trabajo.  En un contexto cambiante y demandante, encontrar un lugar virtual o físico donde se fomente la experiencia, se difundan nuevas prácticas, se comenten innovaciones en un marco de respeto y reflexión crítica es un descubrimiento invaluable.
Agradezco hoy a  mis amigos que me acompañaron el jueves pasado en El Aula Global, y espero ciertamente que éste haya sido sólo el comienzo.  Gracias por renovar mis energías y por ayudarme a ser una mejor docente.

El Aula Global, grabación

viernes, 18 de diciembre de 2015

End of Year Meeting with my Travelling Aunts

I have named my students this year, the Travelling Aunts, since they have all come to me with the purpose of consolidating their English speaking skills for the sole purpose of travelling.  When I decided to hold a meeting with them only some of then had met before.  I did not know what to expect or how to prepare for this meetup.  I took some notes on an article about travelling and found a cozy place where we could have a cup of tea and a piece of cake.

The afternoon of our meeting was a typical December day in Santa Fe, 32 Degrees Celcius and 70 per cent humidity, so we ended up ordering lemonade with lots of mint and ginger.  The cakes were delicious but what I enjoyed best was the conversation that developed swiftly among people who had met for the first time, who shared a common interest: the awareness of the importance of learning English.  Some of my students had been touring different language schools looking for the right kind of class for them.  Others had been through difficult situations abroad where they needed to use English to solve a problem.  All of them shared their stories as language learners and users with enthusiasm and laughter.  By the end of the meeting they were talking as if they were old friends and they urged me to set up another meeting so that they could continue the conversation.

As for me, I forgot about the notes I had taken and I felt that my job had yelded great results this year in terms of engagement and confidence.  It also made me reflect on the value of  human contact and community building when we are learning languages.
A final thought.  As I was uploading the pictures I noticed the tag on the lemonade: "Hecho con Amor" = "Made with Love".  What an important ingredient in the teaching equation!