Saturday, August 11, 2012

#ELTCHAT: The Loss of eltchat.com

#ELTchat: the loss of eltchat.com – Plan B


Re-blogged with permission from Marisa Contsantinides – TEFL Matters, here:
For the last – well, almost two years now, since September 15 2010, #ELTchat has kept us on our toes and forged hundreds of professional and personal relationships amongst its followers who turn up on Twitter every Wednesday to talk about topics they have suggested and voted on – a community of peers which was created by a small group of colleagues – which grew and grew some more and became something that counts as an important part of our continuous professional development.
Like many great ideas, it didn’t hit just one person but several.
And that is how #ELTchat was created.    
The website to keep up the communication of its members, a base and repository of our ideas was one of the first things we all thought of creating – the wiki came later.

Andy Chaplin was keen to join the moderation team and help with podcasts and technical stuff; he was quick to buy eltchat.com and announced the good news to us after the fact.
A few months later, right after TESOL France 2011,  he suddenly disappeared – some say for reasons of health.
We never found out for sure.

We never received a single word of response to our emails.
eltchat.com was and still is registered in his name.

And yesterday we lost it

On August 8 the domain expired and we have no way of taking over unless it goes up for sale again; it was very sad that Andy Chaplin did not find it appropriate to renew.
The news is really upsetting.
The work we have put in on this website cannot be told in a few simple words – but it has been a labour of love and we have got so much out of it that we have never regretted one single moment
We are pretty upset at the behaviour of this individual – disappointment is one big understatement.
But we trust that our community of #ELTchatters, our PLN for short, will again gather round the new domain which we have purchased – eltchat.org

It will take us a few days to put the website back on its feet
And all will be as it was before – all the posts in place all your thoughts and comments, all the polls and great summaries which got us on the shortlist of the ELTon Awards nominations
We will be back with a vengeance
We are not just a website – we did not get on the ELTon awards shortlist as just another website!!!

We are a great community of teachers and we have a Plan B!

See you all in September!!!
Marisa Constantinides – Shaun Wilden
P.S. We would greatly appreciate it if any of you belonging to this great community of teachers,  teacher educators, bloggers, #ELTchat followers,  reposted this on your blog


Thursday, June 14, 2012

Draw the English Language - Task Based Learning Activity and Technology

  One of the skills that can save an ESL/EFL teacher is the ability to draw. Sometimes teachers want to explain a new vocabulary without resorting to translation or perhaps they simply play games with their students who try to guess what teachers drew in order to revise vocabulary and, consequently, make it more memorable.
  The newest sensation in the Tablets' and smartphone's world is and app called Draw Something. Available for iOs devices and Android, this highly addictive game allows you to send drawings for your Facebook friends to guess what you drew. The game is 100% in English, thus not only gamers can exercise their criativity but they can also have their vocabulary tested and increased. And every ESL/EFL teacher knows the importance of building a large and consistent vocabulary repertoire. 
  Being a technology freak, I could not be left behind and joined the Draw Something addiction a couple of weeks ago. But I always thought that there would be a way to include that app into my lessons. I guess I found it:
    Having watched a video promoted by Cambridge in which authors at Iatefl Glasgow were invited to draw the English language and explain why - it crossed my mind that it would be a unique opportunity for students to express how they feel about the learning of the English language and what it actually represented in their lives. Not to mention a nice opportunity to get them to speak!
   Inspired by Dave Dogson's activity on his blog about logos, I created this slideshow with some of the most famous apps our students have certainly been playing and we might not even know. I checked if students were familiar with logos and then played a memory game with the logos. This was importan to get them engaged in the activity and to arise their curiosity on the topic.

   After that we had a little chat about their favorite apps, their objectives, how to play, what was the objective, how much time they usually spend playing them and if they could possibly help them learn/improve their command of the Language in any way. The discussion was a hot one and everyone wanted to share about the apps they use.
   In the sequence, I showed them the Cambridge YouTube video (above-mentioned) and using the principles in Task Based-Learning (TBL) I asked them to get together in small groups and brainstorm what the English Language represented to them, how they would draw it and why.

* I like the principles in TBL since they allow students to practice speaking skills in collaborative tasks. Students have to use language in every step: planning, executing, and presenting. Task Based Learning activities not only strengthens speaking skills but practice specific language points (phrases, verb tenses, etc) for example, teachers can give students a mistery murder case to solve in which they have to use the past tense in order to solve the mistery. It is important, however, to provide students with a solid base of guidelines so there is a structure to be followed and an objective to be achieved.

   Then, they used my iPad to draw the English language and present it to the whole group.

Check what they have produced.

as Giselle Santos (www.feedtheteacher.blogspot.com.br), pointed out on Facebook, this activity can serve as a needs analysis reflection for teachers since it provides them with substantial material for teacher to get to know their students. Great tip!

* Point to consider: an aparent simple app/activity can turn into a powerful practice in the English language. Just give it a try and let you creativity fly!

Question: How would you draw the English Language? 

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The predictability of a textbook

During a long, 12-hour flight to Glasgow where I’m presenting a talk at IATEFL about how technology can improve students’ speaking skills, integration and motivation (soon to be posted here) I had plenty of time to reflect upon what a student had told me a couple of weeks before:

Me: So, now let’s open our books to page 15. You’re going to listen to an (abruptly interrupted)
Student: I know exactly what you’re going to do (sepulchral silence in the room)
Me: Excuse me? (flabbergasted)
Student: I know what comes next! You’re going to ask us to listen to some conversation between him and her and then you’ll tell us to discuss about it and fill in the blanks with information from the listening. Isn’t that right?
Me: ….. (absolutely no reaction)

If you think this exchange looks familiar. You’re not alone. I have been questioned on the predictability of a coursebook! And I had no immediate reaction whatsoever. What would you do? Have you been through that?

Much has been discussed about how good or bad textbooks are. Dogmeist believe that teachers should take a more natural way of teaching without having to rely on materials. One of the many possible interpretations I (emphasis here) have is that textbooks have their own rationale, and as such they cannot by their nature cater for all levels, every kind of learning styles, and every category of learning strategies that exist in any class. Thinking this way teachers have no freedom to adapt their teaching because they must rely on the content of an imposed textbook.

More traditional teachers, on the other hand, claim that without a textbook learners would feel lost and might lose interest more easily, and perhaps more susceptible to becoming teacher-dependent, and perhaps most importantly is that newbie teachers feel safer since they see a textbook almost as an organism that provides support, security and guidance.

However, very little has been discussed about the predictability of the content and the way textbooks are organized. So, what’s the future of publishing in ELT industry? Teachers become authors. Authors write books which are reviewed by teachers. Some of the important aspects of a good textbook are:

· - Vocabulary work;

· -Consistency of the work on the basic linguistic, pedagogical and psychological beliefs;

· -Its cultural content and relevance;

· - Topics that are interesting for different learners;

· - Appropriateness in sequencing the syllabus and activities;

· - How grammar is presented, dealt and worked on.

Sadly, however, many fail to realize the importance of introducing some unpredictability into ELT materials, to create something new out of the ordinary, to improvise and change when possible and necessary. Actually what they fail to see is that our students are no longer interested in those cookie-cutter kinds of books that their parents have had in the past. The idea of one size fits all is no longer acceptable. (and I’m not mentioning the obvious cultural differences between nations in the world!) . Students should nowadays become co-authors of a lesson, co-authors of a syllabus, and (why not?) co-authors of textbooks! Engaging students is no easy task, we all know that. Unless we allow them entry to the way we plan what happens in our classes they will miserably just take things in with no critical thinking to back them up.

In my opinion, ELT materials deserve thumbs up when (they):

- - Reflect the reality of the students;

- - Provide enough mental challenge;

- - Culture is ubiquitously disseminated;

- - Offer periodic review ;

- - Include purposeful and objective activities;

- - Are well organized (artistically and pedagogically speaking);

- - Give theoretical orientations to the teacher;

- - And of course, provide some unpredictability!

What would you add and why?

You can always do something different out of the same lesson, the same activity and the same lesson. However, it takes up time, will and creativity.

What would you choose? Be the same cookie-cutter kind of teacher or innovate ALWAYS?


Monday, February 20, 2012

Behavior: a jointly constructed process

It’s Carnival in Brazil and “common/silly sense” says that the year only starts when Carnival is over. Thus, it’s time to think about small issues that might either save or destroy your class. This time I want to approach an old issue: behavior. Or better put: misbehavior. The origin of misbehavior may be varied and sometimes obscure ones. (As I write the word “obscure” I think of something that most teachers do not dare discus because besides being controversial it is also very difficult to deal with.) Young learners seeking attention in a negative way tend to misbehave in class for the following reasons:

· They find no real purpose for doing the activities teachers assign.

· They feel threatened either by their teachers, peers or the classroom environment itself (making they feel they don’t belong there).

· They feel underappreciated by the teachers and by their peers.

· Extra-class happenings such as family issues, divorcing parents, absent parents, unloving parents and the like. (which teachers have no control)

Finding Purpose in activities

Before endeavoring into finding purposeful activities, please think about how these theories about how children learn:

Piaget, 1970 – Children are active learners and thinkers

According to Piaget, Children construct knowledge from actively interacting with the physical environment in developmental stages. They learn through their own individual actions and exploration.

Vygotsky, 1962 – “Children learn through social interaction”

Vygostsky claimed that Children construct knowledge through other people, through interaction with adults. Adults/teachers work actively with children in the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD).

ZPD = difference between the child's capacity to solve problems on his own and his capacity to solve them with assistance

Bruner, 1983 – Children learn effectively through scaffolding by adults”

In 2001, Cameron reviewed Bruner’s theory by saying that “The adult’s role is very important in a child’s learning process. Like Vygotsky, Bruner focused on the importance of language in a child’s cognitive development. He shows how the adult uses "scaffolding" to guide a child’s language learning through finely-tuned talk.

Getting better acquainted with these theories will definitely help you find activities that are meaningful and purposeful for your young learners. Always go for those activities that reflect and at the same time impact in their day-by-day lives, likes and dislikes (why not?), style of learning and ideas. It is undeniable that children like to be challenged. Challenges provide excitement and bring vigor to your classes. In class teachers must offer a certain level of intellectual risk and challenge by:

· having YL try out new ideas

· cultivating a tradition for being willing to “have a go”

· involving them in team work and problem solving activities

· providing activities in which they have to be resourceful, inventive and creative.

Constructing a non-threatening environment

Young Learners feel the need of being valued, appreciated and that the adults surrounding regard them in any way. This is probably the most important reasons why children misbehave. Creating a classroom environment in which children feel comfortable it is a crucial factor for their cognitive development. You can do that by:

· Providing time for students to share happenings, events or items with you.

· Taking the time on occasion to share something that’s important for you.

· Allowing time for discussion about the differences in class (and in the world)

· Preventing at all cost bullying in class (and outside)

· Supporting collaborative work

· Focusing on the strengths when calling upon a student

· Promoting mutual respect

· Promoting confidence and self-esteem in class

Praise, do not reward!

Please do not get your wires crossed with bribing and positive-reinforcement. Recognition and reward in class will support motivation to learn if that recognition is for personal progress rather than competitive victories. “a reward is an attractive object or event supplied as a consequence of a particular behavior. An incentive is an object or event that encourages or discourages behavior” (Deci, 1975; Lepper, 1995). Never stoop to bribery or material rewards. Sweets or mascots may make young learners do quietly what you order but once you forget the reward or want to quit the procedure a tragedy will follow. Besides that, over-praising may be seen as cues about their capabilities. It is, thus, wise to develop a repertoire of strategies in addition to rewards. When we are working for a reward, we do exactly what is necessary to get it, and no more; hence rewards undermine incidental learning.


Obviously there are many variables involved in determining how pupils react when a teacher is standing in front of them. The same suggestions, ideas and strategies may work with some groups but not with others. I’m a firm believer that what’s truly important when it comes to behavior is:

· Get to know your students – Young learners will feel more comfortable and thus trust you once you get to know they better. (respecting professional and personal boundaries of course!)

· Involve parents – Whenever a student misbehaves constantly, try talking to their parents. You may discover some of the possible reasons for that behavior that might not be visible to the naked eye a teacher with her pre-conceived ideas.

· Estabilish a routine for good behavior; For this I have been using the following activity which is simple and should be done at the start of the semester/year of class:

Activity: OUR rules are…

During the first days of class (preferably on the first day), after greeting and welcoming your students, ask them if they think there are rules to be followed in your class. Students will think for a moment and will afterwards promptly answer: YES! After that, start eliciting which rules they think there are in your class. Agree on the most relevant to your classroom settings and write them on the board. Distribute sheets of paper and have students create a big poster named “OUR rules are…” . Emphasize that those are OUR rules. Rules that they have “discussed, created and agree upon” and thefore breaching those rules is something they should refrain from doing.
Post it onto your classroom wall, so that you can recall those rules whenever they fall into forgetfulness.

More to read on the matter

Carol Read - Three wishes - and how to make them come true! 2012: http://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/articles/three-wishes-how-make-them-come-true

Edwards, T. (2005, January/February). Classroom language is real language, too: providing a support structure for learners. ESL Magazine, 43: 7-9.

George Couros – The impact of Awards: http://georgecouros.ca/blog/archives/1079

Joan Kang Shin - Teaching English to Young Learners:


Margaret Edgington - Supporting young children to engage with risk and challenge: http://www.teachingexpertise.com/articles/supporting-young-children-to-engage-with-risk-and-challenge-2089

Scott Thornburry – S is for Scaffolding: http://scottthornbury.wordpress.com/2010/04/04/s-is-for-scaffolding/


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