A site to share and exchange ideas about English – teaching or enjoying it.

Archive for May, 2011

DISCIPLINE – What happened to it?

Nowadays, I often get the sensation I am out of synchrony with the human race. This happens when I witness disrespect, bad manners and impoliteness. To my utter disbelief, the protagonists of such sad episodes are children, in at least 8 out of 10 cases. What is happening with our kids?

Having been a teacher for quite a stretch of time, it is impossible not to compare them with children say, 10 or 15 years ago. Back then the little ones were more manageable and sweet, they showed more respect towards their parents, the elderly and to us, teachers! What I see now is – to put it mildly – a total lack of limits and the absolute ignorance of the word ‘NO’. I am not saying 100% of kids are unruly and disrespectful. On the contrary, I know a bunch of adorable kids who are just kids, testing their limits and probing away just to see how far you will let them go. But I am starting to believe they are in extinction… Nevertheless, there are now various explanations as to why kids misbehave or don’t fit. ADD, hyperactivity, Dyslexia, challenging behaviour, you name it, but I honestly don’t accept bad behaviour or disrespect in my class.

Well, what to do then with the holy classroom environment and how to deal with students’ shenanigans? You have a syllabus to cover, after all, and class time is finite. Almost everyone has a golden rule, a behaviour model, a set of rules or the key to solving the indiscipline riddle. I don’t. Throughout the years, I have many times deposited all my efforts into rules and regulations, to no avail. I tell you: what works for me is good old authority, common sense and a generous dollop of humour in the classroom.
Paul Seligson, the famous EFL author and lecturer often says: “Enjoy your classes – if you don’t, who will?” I firmly believe what he said, and work really hard to turn the classroom into a friendly no-war zone. So, what you will read below is my personal experience in ‘ruling the unruly’ and trying to estabilish an atmosphere of cooperation and respect.

1 – ESTABILISH RULES – do not impose them on students, but work them out with them. Rules are good and necessary, they organize chaos and institute fairness to everyone. You can have rules for whatever you need, from deadlines to compositions to organization of material in class. However, you have to stick to them once you decide to use them, don’t forget.

2 – PUT YOUR CARDS ON THE TABLE – always, but always tell students the purpose of what they’re doing. If you play a game and don’t say why they’ll think you’re just killing time and probably won’t get that involved in the activity. On the other hand, if they know the reason why they’re carrying out an activity chances are they’ll put their heart into it and the results will surely be better.

3 – SHOW INTEREST IN STUDENTS – ask genuine questions about their lives, their family, and try to discover something that really makes their heart tick, such as football for boys or fashion for girls. Then, try and make a casual comment about that in order to show students you care about their interests. This simple attitude will bring them closer to you as would happen with friends in ‘real life’. And as your friends, their attitude is likely to improve as well, since they’ll want to please you ‘as a friend.’

4 – HUMOUR IS WELCOME – crack an innocent joke here and there, mildly pull students’ legs, tell a funny anecdote about yourself. Don’t be afraid to sound ridiculous, just be originally ridiculous. This will (surprisingly) earn you respect, and learners will feel at ease to share their own stories with you as well, thus creating an atmosphere of trust. Humour can also be used to tell students off and to set homework without arising many complaints, believe me!

5 – GIVE STUDENTS A BREAK – find out what kind of activities they like and whenever possible, squeeze one into your planning and tell them you’re doing this because they’ve been nice guys. Since there’s no free lunch, you can and should turn this ‘break’ into an activity to their own advantage, and giving your students a song, for example, you could be recycling a certain set of phrasal verbs or prepositions. Why not?

6 – CELEBRATE VICTORIES – all the time. Praise students a lot, exaggerate even, make them feel special. Toast to the use of a difficult word in a sentence, high-five a student who makes an effort to use recently learnt vocab, even if he does not succeed at first. He will eventually and will do it because he knows you’ll notice that and praise him. I have had 15-minute parties where we celebrated marks, words learnt or the successful end of a project. Celebrating creates bonds and again you’ll bring students closer. Even the more difficult ones can be conquered with a special treat.

7 – SAY NO – yes, I mean it. Say NO when you feel appropriate and say it with conviction as long as you’re right and playing according to the class’s rules. Students will understand and will learn their limits.

8 – BE THE BOSS – not tyrannic, but firm. Not moralist, but fair. Not domineering, but the boss nevertheless. Students need to know who’s in charge, and it has to be you, the teacher.

I guess 8 is a good number, and it’s also my favourite, so I’d better stop. If you cannot or do not want to try it all, pick one and give it a go. Experiment. Find your way, because each class has its own chemistry and activities and routines work differently from class to class. Above all, remember discipline is key to a learner’s success, and it is the role of the teacher to estabilish it and maintain it in the classroom.

Have more suggestions or any stories to tell? Share them here! I’m always ready to learn. 🙂


Acknowledgement. Praise. Reward.

I live on the mountains. Being a Cultura Inglesa branch manager, I sometimes have to go down to Rio de Janeiro for meetings, and they usually start at 9 AM. This means I have to drive down to sea level very early in the morning, and it’s a pleasure. The amazing view I had this Tuesday was of a typical Autumn day, with patches of bluish sky showing timidly here and there among wisps of clouds thin as cotton candy. The tops of the mountains along the road were still lazily asleep, with thick blankets of cloud wrapped around them. An occasional shower woke up the flowers and blurred my perfect vision of the city of Rio, seen from up above. This is what was on my mind when I went down, but different thoughts occupied my brain twelve hours later, on my way back home.

Acknowledgement. Praise. Reward.

These words punctuated the meeting in various moments. In fact, my day kind of started with them, when one of my fellow managers unexpectedly paid me a generous compliment on my writing, which she said she’d come to enjoy after reading my blog. I was flattered, but most of all I was touched. And I enjoyed it. And I smiled to myself, rejoicing in her words, thinking “well, so it’s worth it after all – someone likes my writing. Hooray!” Then the meeting went on, and the words above kept popping up at various moments, diverse situations. Again. And again. And once more.

On the drive home, while my eyes concentrated on the road, my brains revisited moments of my day and my teacher psyche drifted to the classroom plus its universe of students, still with the words acknowledgement, praise, reward ringing in my ears. (…) More often than not a teacher comes to me saying “her students can’t see their progress no matter how much STT they have”. (…) After a few more bends, I make the connection and decide to write a post.

Acknowledgement. Praise. Reward.

This is the missing link in this case. Students can see how much work they do in class, they know how many words they’ve learnt, but they absolutely can’t acknowledge how much progress they’ve made since they started studying, or from one class to the next. They miss it because no one points it out to them! That’s where the teacher MUST step in, clearly showing students they CAN use what they’ve learnt in real life situations, in short, they can produce. If the teacher manages to make students ‘see’ how far they’ve gone, the learner will take stock of his status in learning the language and will probably feel more confident, thus encouraging himself to produce more.

A few ways to do that:

– If a student uses a word he’s recently learnt in a spontaneous sentence, acknowledge that. Not with a nod, or a smile, but make it big, praise him and say how smart he is, to use a recently learnt word in a perfect sentence! Use impact words, like ‘Bravo!’ or ‘Great!’;

– After a speaking activity, signal to the group how much they’ve talked (this can be measured in minutes or length of sentences, for example) and compare their production now to what it was last week. Show them their progress;

– Teach students simple everyday sentences (build a sentence bank) they can use whenever they need during the class, such as ‘Can you lend me a pencil’, ‘May I drink some water’ or ‘Do I have to copy that?’ Then, praise students EVERY TIME they use the sentences, for they will be communicating and using what they’ve learnt;

– Why not develop a rewards system, where students would get one point, or star, or anything that suits you and them every time they made good and real use of the language? At the end of the month you could count the points and have the big class champion and give him a reward, like a new pencil or pen. The secret here is never forget to reward every student, for they may not be ‘the big class champion’, but they also made an effort to try and get there. I bet next month they’ll try even harder.

Ok. Students it is. How about your teachers? A very significant portion of the secret of a good language learner comes from the teacher. Teachers inspire, and in order to do that, teachers must have high self-esteem and self-confidence. Knowing that, teacher trainers and/or managers have to do their share. Teachers have to acknowledge, praise and reward, but they also deserve it and enjoy it, like any human being. (Like I enjoyed my co-worker’s sincere words this morning.) So, read these simple ways to boost your teachers’ confidence:

– If a teacher has developed an activity that worked well, ask him to demonstrate to his colleagues in a meeting or share it in a poster in the Teachers’ Room, saying how much you appreciate his work;
– Try and identify the stronger qualities of teachers, and organize a workshop where 2 or 3 of them give the others ‘hints’ on how to do improve their performance on that specific quality;

– Celebrate victories – small and big – with simple gestures such as a thank-you/congratulations note left on the teacher’s desk or with a cake to share the success with the whole staff;

– Praise your teachers in public, and criticize in private, if it’s really necessary.

Small actions have big consequences. Happier teachers have shiny eyes and we all know that a sparkle in the eye is what makes the world go round. Let’s make the difference for our teachers and students with a little acknowledgement, praise and reward. They deserve it, we deserve it too.

A big thanks to Aline, who inspired me to write this post with her kind words this morning.

Some Dogme-inspired thoughts.

I’ve just taken part in a fast-moving, thought-provoking Twitter chat about Dogme. Wow! My head is spinning and I have to let it out.

I was very curious about Dogme, and it all seemed a bit of a gray area to me, but it’s dawned on me now I’ve been doing bits of it all my teaching life! I don’t mean teaching Dogme-oriented, but I’ve had “Dogme moments”, as was said in the chat, all the time. And to be honest, they were ALWAYS the highlights of the lesson.

I may not agree with the whole Dogme phylosophy, or ideas, but I must acknowledge it has its merits, especially when it comes to involving students and making them more responsible for their learning. Fact is, when you want to learn something, the actual learning happens in a stronger and more meaningful way. It empowers students. And this may be the secret for better learning. And better teaching!

However, I don’t believe everyone is a natural-born Dogme teacher. You need a certain degree of ‘malice’ in the trade to be able to identify and later capitalize on opportunities that appear during a lesson. This comes with time, dedication and involvement with the profession. I don’t mean novice teachers are at a disadvantage, for we all know lots of experienced teachers are extremely resistant to change and in many cases need more training than freshly graduated teachers.

All in all, I’ve made friends with Dogme now, and plan to get to know it better. Read a lot, chat more, listen, observe, listen, discuss, listen, exchange ideas, listen… Can’t promise to be 100% in favour of it, but won’t want to decapitate it either. Just let’s see what it has to offer to make learning better, more effective and enjoyable.

For those who still don’t know much about it – like myself -, I suggest reading the following:

http://www.thornburyscott.com/tu/portal.htm – the ‘father’ of Dogme







You’ll have more than enough to have your own opinion after that. Personally speaking, this chat today really got me thinking about our priorities. Should we teach grammar? Vocabulary? What should we teach, and how? The first conclusion I have is that teaching ought to be more student-centred, and the question then is ‘how to do it?’. Food for thought. It depends on a handful of variables, and that’s not up to me now. Too early to express a strong opinion.

To finish off, still fully inspired, I found the quotations below about teaching and teachers, which are, in my opinion, very much in keeping with the Dogme discussion. My favourite is this:

“The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.” ~William Arthur Ward


Quotes for Teachers – These quotes were written for and about teachers and education.

“Good teaching is one-fourth preparation and three-fourths theater. ” ~Gail Godwin

“If you would thoroughly know anything, teach it to others. ” ~Tryon Edwards

“A teacher who is attempting to teach without inspiring the pupil with a desire to learn is hammering on a cold iron.” ~Horace Mann

“Education, then, beyond all other devices of human origin, is the great equalizer of the conditions of man….” ~Horace Mann

“A master can tell you what he expects of you. A teacher, though, awakens your own expectations.” ~Patricia Neal

“A teacher is one who makes himself progressively unnecessary.” ~Thomas Carruthers

“I cannot teach anybody anything, I can only make them think. ~Socrates

“The art of teaching is the art of assisting discovery.” ~Mark Van Doren

“Knowledge is of two kinds. We know a subject ourselves, or we know where we can find information upon it. ” ~Samuel Johnson

“The only person who is educated is the one who has learned how to learn and change.” ~Carl Rogers

source: http://712educators.about.com/od/teacherresources/a/teachingquotes.htm

One month – time enough!

At IATEFL Brighton 2011

I’m back from my thirty-day-blog-leave, IATEFL-packed with ideas and news.
First of all, let me share the thrill – it was a ground-breaking experience to take part in such an event. As a Roving Reporter for the British Council, my role in the conference was in a way to ‘bridge the gap’ between some of the speakers (for there were too many of them to try and report on a lot) and teachers around the world who could not physically go to IATEFL Brighton 2011 but read/watch it online. I felt really important! A celebrity, to some extent. Of course, I was the only one feeling that. But it felt good, and I tried to live up to people’s expectations going to as many sessions as possible and reporting fairly on that.
Before travelling, my head was a helter-skelter. Family, work, kids, tickets, bags, dogs! Everything needed to be seen to so I could travel relatively free from worry. All things solved, after a 12-hour flight over the Atlantic, London it is! The last time I’d been to London was some ten years ago, I guess, and one of the things I missed most was Digestive biscuits. So, as you may well imagine, my first action when free from Immigration Control and Baggage Claim was find a shop and bite away a few Digestives right there. Total bliss! After that, a stroll in Hyde Park on a Sunday afternoon was an irresistible idea. Lovely cherry blossoms, green grass and playful kids crowded the park to celebrate the arrival of spring. Welcome to London!
Four days later, I’m towing my heavy suitcase to Paddington to board the 10:15h train to Brighton. The weather has been on and off, totally confusing the mind of the tourist – should I wear short or long sleeves? Take a coat? Wrap a scarf around my neck? All or none of the above? … Brighton was literally under the weather on Thursday. Heavy gray skies and an equally misty gray sea looked uninviting and cranky. I don’t care. I’m a Roving Reporter, and this is the place I’m supposed to be: The Brighton Centre. At four o’clock there’s a solemn meeting for the whole Brighton Online team and I feel as significant as a pea in a banquet sitting beside all those important people I’d seen online doing a marvelous job in previous years. My mouth was kept shut and it all went well. Butterflies roamed free in my stomach.
The big day comes – Friday, 15th April. The reception area is a cacophony of voices and languages – I was later informed there were over 100 nationalities and around 2.200 delegates. Wow! People queued up to collect badges, ask for information and get their conference program, which turned out to be a volume in itself, absolutely complete with biodata of presenters, session abstracts and maps of the venue.
Auditorium 2, plenary, first day. There was this austere sensation of formality, of academicism, of culture. I was on cloud nine sitting there right on the second row, ready to pen down as much as I could to later transform into a post for the IATEFL blog. From that moment on, session after session, I realized how big a deal EFL is around the world, and it also soothed me to see that what worries me in a classroom in Brazil may be the same source of discomfort for a teacher in India. Small world, connected by the English language. The topics of discussion unfolded: pragmatics, literalism, translation, grammar, lesson observation, music in the classroom, reading, dogme, technology in the classroom, pronunciation, memorization, the list went on endlessly and one just kept learning.
What changed in my life after my first IATEFL was that I understood the scope of the job we, teachers of English, do in the world. Yes, in the world, because the teaching that is done in Iceland may be repeated in Nepal and adapted by someone in Rio. We influence and inspire people to learn. We may encourage or discourage them. They either love English or don’t care about it, according to the sparkle in the teacher’s eyes. As simple as that, and before this conference it actually hadn’t dawned on me that we are so much the same regardless of the whereabouts of the classroom. Despite the distance, we are all headed in the same direction, leading and inspiring students to learn a language which opens doors to the whole world, puts down all barriers of communication and unites peoples of different races, colours, religions and opinions, but intent on achieving this one goal: communication.
It was beautiful. The best part was to find out the twenty five years of my life I’ve put into teaching were no waste. The competent, passionate people I saw and met in Brighton in a way renewed my vows in teaching and made me believe more in a better future, with people communicating better despite their backgrounds, and even more people wanting to communicate.
I went, I saw, I reported and now I reflect. Life always holds a good surprise for those who have their eyes open and their hearts ready – to learn and share. I’m sharing here and ready to learn more each day.

Visit http://iatefl.britishcouncil.org/2011/ for surprises galore!

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