Monday, December 31, 2012

Some Bags Away - Living a Better Life in 2013

How about starting 2013 lighter, getting rid of things that have passed by,
that are out of fashion, that don't do us any good.
How about starting the year of 2013 cleaning up,
feeling a sense of detachment from small things for bigger deeds,
donating for the needy ones, for example.
How about starting 2013 decluttering to leave room for renovation, well-being and new things and experiences  in our lives?
I dare you to give it a try. I certainly will.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

What's your Trademark?

Nice chat yesterday evening with my sister. She was talking about how great she feels right now, taking charge of her own life, with new projects, good bank account balance, and all, and how she has this accomplishment feeling after her coming back to Brazil, having lived for so many years in Boston.

As we progressed in our conversation, and it is always soul talking for hours in a row, my sister mentioned one dinner she had with her partner and a friend, and, all of a sudden, after her partner mentioned how hard it would be for her to have graduated and be unemployed, there was this unsettling question to her, "What's your trademark, anyhow?" The tone was one of disbelief. After all, my sister was not a lawyer, an engineer or a doctor... Justine wittily answered that her trademark was herself. At that point, it was just a way to give an end to what could have become an embarrassing moment of dinner table discussion in front of a guest. However, Justine has come full circle, with an enlightened understanding that exactly at this point her TRADEMARK is really HERSELF, clearly stated in her well-designed business card.

This revelation got me thinking about this whole issue of our trademark, identity, personal and professional lives. Have you ever thought of what your TRADEMARK is? What makes you unique as an educator, a professional, for example? What do you bring with you when you enter your classroom that it is part of who you are, what you believe in? How do you express yourself in very singular, incomparable ways? If you asked your students or co-workers what they think your TRADEMARK is, what do you think they'd say about you? Would it be more related to credentials, formal education, expertise, or would it be more on your expression uniqueness, how you connect to others and help them connect the dots?

So, here's my challenge for you: get a piece of paper, your notes app, whatever. Write in big capital letters MY TRADEMARK, and jot down your ideas on what makes your trademark.

The next time, you doubt about your skills, ability to go beyond, your worthiness, make sure you remember who you are and what your trademark is. The next time someone doubts your own capacity, remind yourself of your uniqueness. Whenever outer forces want to push you down,  keep your spirit strong, breathe, face things up, having your distinguished, exclusive self in high gear. Keep moving, cultivating your uniqueness.

Remember, your trademark is yourself. 

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Post-itING - Make Post-Its a Living Learning Object in your Classroom

Think of three ways of using post-its in your classroom to enhance learning.

Write them down in three different post-its. Then, try to come up with two more ideas based on the first three ones and add them just below the three first ideas.

Do you feel how they can come alive for learning?

Post-it Note Faces

So, how about starting a post-itING movement. Adding the idea of action and movement to very special, gluing pieces of paper?

What if you took this idea to the teachers' room and shared it with your colleagues, challenging them to keep adding more ideas to the three original ones? Endless possibilities, right? And if you try it, how about adding in the comment area your ideas or an image with your post-its coming to life?

For inspiration, check these 7 ideas to transform Post-Its into learning centers.

Can't wait to see what you come up with!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

A Professional Life Changer - Welcome to The Electronic Village Online

This is a video I prepared especially for Moldovan teachers about the Electronic Village Online, which is dear to my heart. By taking part of it, I've become the professional and person I am today.EVO shaped my view of education, interaction, and online learning. It taught me about openness and network generosity.

Here's a post I wrote about EVO:

In December, the Call for Participation for EVO 2013 will be available at

Choose your EVO session and join us in January 2013.

If you have any questions about EVO, just leave a comment and I'll be more than glad to keep the conversation going.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

On Our Vulnerability and Strengths

Today I don't want to talk specifically about the classroom, our teaching practices or ideas for our academic world. I 'm with this thought marinading over and over for the past days, and it all came to full circle this morning after watching and feeling deeply touched by researcher Brene Brown. The main point of her talk with Jonathan Fields was about understanding our own stories and putting vulnerability and fail into perspective. There are just so many powerful ideas and thoughts in this video...

Only those who are able to put themselves out there in a state of emergence and a bit of trust in themselves, even if it means to be in a position of vulnerability, will  be able to add value to every endeavor they pursue in their lives. Only when we let ourselves say that, "I don't know, but just let's  give it a try", will we get to something bigger and probably above us, something with true meaning, innovative, inspiring. We, Brazilians, come from a very rooted catholic ethos in which we need to be humble, and whenever we do something good and people praise us, it is unholy to fill up our breasts in pride of our achievements. Generally, we do the opposite, we hide our greatest conquers into diminishing their true value, saying, "Oh, no. It was nothing. Oh, no I did nothing." How many times have we hidden ourselves into inaction just because we just didn't have a little faith in our own skills and knowledge and talents, considering the others around us to be the most competent, the most suitable for that job or position, the most qualified professional we know? How about us? Don't we have anything worth it? I know many very talented people and professionals who would answer no, thinking that they are just ordinary people, when, in truth, they are a treasure box of genius. 

Our main challenge, then, is to inhabit our own world and take action, having the guts to seek a meaningful, whole-hearted life that feels fulfilling. As Brené Brown says, it is really sad when the world misses the chance to engage with people because they've just decided to be part of the audience, sitting in the breach, observing the crowd, but not taking the risk to be out there.

As teachers, we are more lenient to the vulnerability scale, for we put ourselves out there every single day, but, are we really doing that or just faking it through the same old safe routines, same beginning, middle and end? It is about time we started taking a certain number of risks and letting our learners perceive our imperfections not as flaws, but as spaces for collective explorations and growth. 

Vulnerability. Action. Emergence. That's what we should be considering right now to bring the best of us to the ones whom we care for, for a better world. So, can you shamelessly name five of your strengths and with a prevailing trust that, yes, we are good at something that is worth sharing with others? Can you do something to your life that will impact positively on how you live with your life and how you connect to the ones around you?

Thursday, November 1, 2012

On the Ed Tech Radar - Online Moderation

I've just had a very enjoyable time, looking through resources and exploring, a powerful curatorial tool for educators. It is like "Pinterest for Educators", but the layout is cleaner and it has more sharing capability. Plus, it can become a very interesting way to encourage students' autonomy, giving them choice to go through the resources in a linear or non-linear way. The comment feature can also be used for threaded discussions on a certain topic. Added to all that, you can also have a collaborative board in which all the members share their resources.

What a digital treasure this is!

And here's a board you might find useful. It is about Online Moderation (loved the embed code!)

Join me in to share, connect and innovate.

Edit Teaching - Homework

Oh, this is a very touchy aspect of our teaching...

When have we innovated in homework assignments? We generally have the same language structure for homework instructions, "do pages x and z, ex. A, B and C for next class".

In our edit teaching mode, what if we did it differently for a change?

Some ideas:

  • Ask your students how they could practice what they've learned and make a list on the board; decide as a group for two or three options the students can choose from. Give choices!
  • Find exciting ways in which students can practice, but still have fun and create things, not just reproduce! Here's an article I wrote a while ago for the Young Learners and Teens IATEFL SIG that can give you some clues. 
  • Create a google docs with a situation (based on the topic or language structure the students have been studying) and invite students to add their thoughts, sentences, solutions, images. Make it a learning mosaic. 
  • From time to time, include parents and family members as part of the homework carrying out. It must be something simple and enjoyable for the family. Check this article

How about moving from boredom to creation, engagement and a smile in our students' faces?

Any other ideas to shake the homework world and still make it meaningful and effective?

Other ideas for small changes in the classroom:

#editteaching 1: Music Playlist 
#editteaching 2: Box
#editteaching 3: Color
#editteaching 4: Dice
#editteaching 5: Word Harvesting

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Edit Teaching - Cards

Today I observed a sample class and was just reminded about the many uses we can have for a deck of cards. 

Ace of spades
How about using them to add some movement to your class? Just by handing out one single card to each student, you make an eye brow raise. Students are immediately hooked.

What can you do with the cards?

  • Use them for pair work and group work. Group students according to the numbers, color or suits (clubs, diamonds, hearts and spades)
  • You can use the cards throughout the class to regroup the students in different ways
  • You can ask the students to add up the numbers they've got in their cards and make a list of XXX (according to the topic of the unit) that needs to have XXX number of items based on the addition they've got. So, for example, if they got 10 summing up all the card numbers in the group, they will write 10 things in their list.
  • Use the number the students have in their cards to ask them about personal things: tell me XXX places you'd like to travel to; give me XXX names of people who inspire you; list XXX things you don't want to do today; 
Can you think of other ways to use cards in the classroom?

Other ideas for the small changes in your classroom:

#editteaching - Day 1: Music Playlist 
#editteaching - Day 2: Box
#editteaching - Day 3: Color
#editteaching - Day 4: Dice
#editteaching - Day 5: Word Harvesting

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Edit Teaching - Word Harvesting

Did you roll the dice?

Fridge WordsHow about ending your class differently this time? Before it starts, post a lot of random words around the classroom. You can even ask your students to help you. Let curiosity mount! And make it a kinesthetic moment of your teaching hour.

In the last 5/10 minutes of your class, invite students for a WORD HARVESTING. They may pick and choose any word and as many words they want from the classroom walls. Then, give them 1 minute to write their life motto using the words they chose. They hand it in to you.

Hummm. This might work wonders and you can even use it for another class.

Previous #editingteaching ideas:

#editteaching - Day 1: Music Playlist 
#editteaching - Day 2: Box
#editteaching - Day 3: Color
#editteaching - Day 4: Dice

Monday, October 22, 2012

Editing Teaching - Roll the Dice

τα ζάρι : Dice

Who doesn´t like to roll the dice?

Well, we keep the challenge of changing bits of our lesson plan to make our classrooms more engaging, fun, with powerful human touch added to them.

In your next class, try this one!

Give each group or pair of students a die. There are different ways to use it.

  1. Write on the board numbers 1 to 6 and categories (food, color, hobby, TV show, music, etc); Sts roll the die and ask a question to their peers based on the topic they got (numbers on the board).
  2. This is one is playful and serious at the same time, for students need to really pay attention to language structure to be able to do it.
    You start with the beginning of some questions on the board; the students need to choose a question to ask to his/her peers and will need to complete it with as many words as he/she gets on the die (i.e., What type of ....? If he gets n. 4, he/she will have to add four words to the question, "What type of FOOD DO YOU LIKE?"). With numbers 1, 2, 3, it is more challenging, so you could either, tell the students that if they get 1 and 2, they are free to choose how they will end the question, or you can have questions on the board that can take one or two words to complete them. It is up to your imagination!
Any other fun and fast ideas for DICE to give a boost of energy and fun in our classes? I´d love to hear them!

Previous #editingteaching ideas:

#editteaching - Day 1: Music Playlist 
#editteaching - Day 2: Box
#editteaching - Day 3: Color

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Editing Teaching - Color

Though I should be expecting the unexpected coming from students, two teachers have already posted their students' reactions-recordings, and I'm totally in awe! 
Justine and her student recorded this: 
Dani's students recorded this: 

Amazing stuff happening with not so much sweat on our part or big preparation, but with very powerful outcomes. 

Day 2 was about the BOX. 

Day 3 is all about COLORS!

The challenge today is very colorful. 

Ask your students to pick a COLOR. Any that they like. You have also to choose one. 
You can start with very unusual questions for them to talk to each other:

"What's the smell of your COLOR? Why do you relate it to this smell?"
"What's the sound of your COLOR?"
Any unusual question will do.
For the rest of the class, every example and idea you give will be related to this color, be it a grammar point, a story, or new vocabulary you've been exploring. Your students should do the same!

I'd love to know your group's reaction!

Have a great PINK teaching day!

#editteaching - Day 1:
#editteaching - Day 2:

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Editing Teaching - Box

First, we had the playlist idea.

How about using a physical object today?

Red Velvet Box

Find a nice box to take to class. It can be a colorful one, a plain rustic one or even one that has an intriguing detail on its outside. You want to awaken your learners´ minds, spark curiosity, stimulate imagination. 

Tell them that the box is a special one because it has something very dear to you. Ask them to try to guess. Then, put another box beside your box and tell the students that that box is theirs. 
Ask them
"What´s inside your box? It can be an object, a wish, a feeling. Be creative."

Give students some time to think about their boxes and then for peers to try to guess each other´s box content. They can reveal it by the end of 3 minutes. And you can decide when to say what´s in your box - at the end of the class, or online in a specific link. Remember, our teacher´s imagination is the limit for the Editing Teaching challenge.

What else could you do with the box in you class? If you try this idea, I´d love to hear from you.

Have a great teaching day!

Day 1 - Your students' playlist

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

From Inertia to Editing Teaching - A Challenge

Blurred Movement
Many times we are trapped in our own routines, hectic lives and infinite tasks. It is hard sometimes even to breathe. Inertia takes over, and we see our personal and professional lives as if it were part of a film.

I know there are many challenges around for teachers, and I could name a few that you could follow for 30 days to make our lives more bearable and pleasant, but what if we set TWO WEEKS at first not to make revolutionary changes, but just small ones.

Our brains love surprises. The unexpected, unpredictable hooks us up, grabs our attention, so how about very simple changes that won't be radical at first, but could cause some tectonic shifts in the long run in terms of our pleasure in teaching our classes and our students' joy to be in class, connected, absorbed, hyped.

What if you invited your co-workers to join us for TWO WEEKS and take action, move and shake a bit? So, here I am making it public the idea of the EDIT TEACHING movement.

For the next two weeks, I'll blog every single day - which is already part of my own call for action - about a very simple idea that we can do in class to EDIT our TEACHING a bit, to make those changes that in the long run can ignite us to keep in the loop to continuously seek for the new experience, crossing the boundaries of our daily inertia, making us effervescent, upbeat, lighthearted educators.


Start your next class with a very simple question to your students, "What's in your playlist?" Give them five minutes to talk to each other about it, to see what they have in common and something new they learned about a song, singer or band. I'm sure that they will have something to say and you will connect in a more personal level with them!

Our twitter tag will be #editteaching . I'd love to hear from educators if they try this idea out for the next  TWO WEEKS! Ready to edit your teaching routine to smile and connect more often?

Monday, October 1, 2012

Roaming Mode & Productivity Tools for Busy Educators

Educators are are always on the move. In many different ways.

In class, and according to methodology and findings in the neuroscientific field, we should move around to connect to our learners and assess their activity during the tasks.  We ask our students to do the same, moving, standing up, connecting to peers for the sake of keeping them attentive and interactive.

Many English teachers have more than one job, so they need to constantly commute to go from one class to the other, sometimes even going from one part of the city to the other extreme. Even when educators are full-time in an institution, they have to move from one class to the other, one break time to the next. Circulating is part of an educator´s daily job. An itinerant life at its best.

Peseux calibre 320 movement Not to mention our roaming mode trying to juggle the intensity of school work and our personal lives. There´s no need to say that the golden asset for an educator is time. The currency that we always lack and long for more. As there´s no magic trick to extend the number of hours we have in a day, the only viable solution is to find ways to enhance our productivity and efficiency. Educators need to realize they should be managers of their own time, and good ones!

If somebody asked me the toolkit that could optimize an educator´s urgency for better manage his life, I´d start by exploring four! Four seems to be a manageable number for exploration.
An educator´s toolkit should be composed of tools that are cross-platform (working in different devices & operational systems), so here´s where to get started:

EVERNOTE - Your virtual notebook. You create your notes, to-do lists, lesson plans and aggregate them in one single place. Once you download the app to your cellphone, desktop computer, laptop, and you create an account in Evernote, all your notes are automatically synchronized, which means that important moments, documents, ideas, and visuals are kept portable. Wherever you go, you can access them. Evernote is a powerful tool to organize your main resources, be it professional or personal, and easily retrieve them.
Check the Epic Experiment the Nerdy Teacher is doing with his students using Evernote:

DROPBOX - Your virtual flashdrive. Dropbox, just like Evernote, works in the cloud, synchronizing all the files you add to it with all your devices (cellphones, laptops, desktops). When I want to open any file in my iPad, for example, I just add it to my dropbox and open it in my iPad, using the Dropbox app. It stores all my main files and you can share folders and files with whomever you want, including your students and family members! You can share files and folders.
Here´s an example of some questions I used in class with my students:

FLIPBOARD - Your virtual newsstand. My favorite app ever! It works on cellphones and tablets. What makes it a very special tool is that in one single place, you can aggregate all your social media (Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Google Reader...), and you can subscribe to specific news feeds, specialized sites, interesting magazines to follow the latest updates. On top of it, the user experience is simply amazing. Though it can add to your productivity and keep you updated on the latest news, you can lose yourself in so many interesting, serendipitous resources that can be a drain to your lack of time. The good thing is that you can always save an article to read it later or email it to yourself and share it with friends and students.

PINTEREST - Your virtual visually-enhanced bookmark. Organize your boards by topic, start following people, grow your personal networks and let the platform and the people behind it filter relevant information for you. You can "repin" relevant resources to your own boards, you can pin interesting links and digital treasures as you browse the Net.
Here are my Pinterest boards for you to have an idea of how it works:

An educator´s life is always in shifting mode, but with the mobile possibilities we have in our hands, we can better manage our routine on the go and add a more enterprising and enthusiastic feel to the many daily tasks we carry out.

I know, I know... The question is always, "From where do I start?"
First, stop lamenting the time you don´t have! Start by signing up for an account in those platforms, click and touch fearlessly, watch youtube tutorials, ask around or ask me. I´d be more than glad to give you the push you need to be a happier and more productive educator! I´m sure once you dig into your digital exploration, you´ll have a smile on your face to have worked on your own personal and professional survival toolkit.

Cross-posted at

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Thinking and Re-imagining Education

This video is a call. A call for reflection and action.

 I agree with much that it is said, but we need to find a balanced view to education. It is not just moving from a controlled, Prussian model of education to an utopian school. We can achieve student engagement, motivation and passion for learning depending on the way we view your pedagogical role as an educator, but there is no one way, but many possibilities if we think of approaches to our classes that tap into the challenge of giving support to our students to develop their competencies that are essential ones for their lives now and in the near future, like creativity, communication, collaboration, critical thinking. Let us help our students connect, dialogue, question, learn and direct their learning efforts throughout their lives. 

My call is for passion and connection. This video is a shaker in the sense of giving us a broad view of what happens in many schools around the globe. It is worth watching it as a starting point for re-imagining our classes. And, yes, this is how change happens, from the small movement we make within our own classes.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

What Yo Yo Ma Has to Teach Educators

As I write these words, I'm listening to Yo Yo Ma, a well-known cellist, who never ceases to amaze me.  First, I was totally taken by his music, empathy, charisma. I remember I used to teach using a book for advanced students who talked about Yo Yo Ma and his tribute to Sarajevo during the tragic war years in the region. It deeply touched me.

And he still does in so many ways.

I could spend hours listening to him. I always feel like crying as he is such a passionate musician who plays with his heart and soul. I could finish here, for Yo Yo Ma is an accomplished cellist and has given his contribution to the world of music. However, he is much more to teach us.

Just yesterday, I read an article about his visit to MIT ( ) in which Yo Yo Ma talks about
the ability to find that “internal switch,” fueled by passion and engagement, that helps players to transition from feeling like “I have to do it” to “I want to do it.” Great educators need to help students tap into that sense of involvement in the classroom, he said at the opening of a two-day symposium aimed at helping teachers use the arts to inspire passion-driven learning.
That's what I've been talking about for so long, and not only saying about passion-driven teaching and learning, but trying wholeheartedly to put it to practice in every class I teach.  Ma's idea of educators helping students find this switch is exactly what makes a difference in our students' lives and what distinguishes an ordinary teacher from a great one. And, I'm sure that if teachers are there for so long, it is because they all want to become and be great teachers.

I see so many tired, unmotivated, grumpy educators...And when I see those unlighted faces, I just wish they could listen to Yo Yo Ma and find ways to, first, turn on their passion switches that they once had, so that they can repurpose their career paths to become all that they once wanted to be as educators, inspirers of young souls.

But, where to start after so many years dragging our feet to get in the classroom? Yo Yo Ma again can give us some clues. He is one of the most eclectic musicians I've ever seen. He can be playing the Argentinean Piazzola or Brazilian Waldir Azevedo's Brasileirinho, after enchanting the audiences with a classical piece. So, his secret to keep the flow? Challenging himself with a variety of styles, rythms, cultural pieces, all to connect music and people, to communicate, to engage. How about you, educator? How can you give another meaning to you professional life? Which new rythms, flavors, pedagogical practices are you challenged to try out to bring new life to your classes, to illuminate those young-spirited faces around? How are you going to turn on you internal switch to fuel your  passions and engagement?

Start by listening to Yo Yo Ma to feel what I'm talking about...

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Other Side of Pecha Kucha - My Ideal Classroom

Terror, panic, goose bumps, adrenaline rush. Only if you've ever done a Pecha Kucha in your life will you know what I am talking about... The model is simple, 20 slides in 20 seconds each. The presentation is no more than 6:40 min. Easy, no? Well,it is my second PK, and it IS terrifying, mainly when it is in an event like the BrazTESOL Conference in an enormous tent where you have to go on a stage with so many amazing presenters, starting with Valéria Benévolo and Jeremy Harmer, who this time innovated by doing their Pecha Kucha with the participation of the audience. The presenters, sitting in the front row, couldn't hide their feeling of anticipation mixed with anxiety, trepidity and shock. No one could escape, not even the most experienced presenters, including Herbert Puchta, Luke Meddings, Nicky Hockly & Jim Scrivener. Imagine,then, the less experienced in this flash-type of presentation - Cecilia Lemos, Henrick Oprea, Vinicius Nobre and myself! Bewilderment, to say the least.

The wonderful group of Pecha Kucha presenters

Well, in my regular presentations, I don't write things down. As I prepare the PPTs I'll use, I feel safe and ready to deliver my presentation. Now, in the case of a PK, it takes much more effort and hours to get ready. First, you focus on a topic you want to talk about, then you need to carefully choose the sequence and images to convey your idea. Finally, in my case, you write down your story line, practice it a thousand times, then adapt it to the 20-second framework. I am sure that every presenter has a personal touch for this prep time.

On the day of the presentation, I woke up with butterflies in my stomach, in between the sessions and meetings I attended, I kept practicing my lines. I took some time during the day to focus on my words and how I wanted them to be heard by the educators who were going to be there listening to me. I must say that whatever you do beforehand never really prepares you for the moment your name is called and you go on stage... The most terrifying part is when you are listening to the other speakers and the public is there, reacting, laughing, having fun...When I saw Jeremy's and Valéria's presentations, followed by Nicky's, I told Valéria I couldn't do it and I was giving up. You know what she said, "You will do it! Don't worry". And there I went... I have no idea what I said, if it made sense, how I sounded. It is as if you are in trance. The only thing I know is that I didn't say one thousandth of what I had originally planned to. I just remember telling myself to slow down and work on my gesture and body expression to say a few words about my ideal classroom. I also remembered to make fun of myself when the slide transition was not synced with my words or when I forgot twhat I was supposed to say on a specific slide.

Looking back, it was terrifying, yet totally rewarding. Any Pecha Kucha is a unique experience that reminds you that you are alive, that you are not always driven by rationality, but by an emotionally-intense experience that makes your heart pound insanely and your body shake. If you ask me if I'd do it again, I'say I really don't know. Who knows?

Now, what I really wanted to do here is to publish what I had in mind for MY IDEAL CLASSROOM. For the ones who were there, you will see how the ideal PK is in practice and how you can say totally different things when you are out there!

"I could be here talking to you about so many aspects of teaching a foreign language. In fact, after 15 years in the classroom, a lot has changed for me and my teaching and I could certainly share a bit about what I've learned. But today, I don't want to focus on eLearning, assessment, classroom activities, links for cool tools, Ed tech in general or anything like that. Today, I want to focus on my ideal classroom.  
Have you ever asked yourself what your ideal classroom looks like? For the ones who know me, I am sure that if they think about my ideal classroom, they'd picture it as one full of gadgets, right? In it, there would certainly be high tech devices like cellphones, flip cams (though they seem now to be part of the past), laptops, mics, projectors (do you remember the OHP???), cameras, and more recently tablets... Well, all sorts of flashy screens. Well, I must say that maybe you don't know me that well... Really... My ideal classroom is way more than that. Though my class is made of connectedness, it doesn't depend on tech. It is all about human connections and closeness. Some teachers may even think that they can teach without "emotions" on the way. I come, I do my job. When classes are done, my job is over. Pure illusion.  
My ideal classroom is made of joy, of passion-based learning. Can you see those faces? What are they telling you? In a 21st century classroom, engagement, passion,this drive for learning are only possible if we reconsider our roles as teachers. Who is the teacher? Who is the learner here? We are all both! In the networked digital world we live today in which authority and expertise are concepts that are being turned upside down in all fields of knowledge, knowledge itself has been redefined as the product of the network. David Weinberger in his book Too BIg Too Know says that, " The smartest person in the room is not the one standing at the front lecturing us, and isn't the collective wisdom of those in the room. The smartest person in the room is the room itself: the network that joins the people and ideas in the room, and connects to those outside of it." Every student has talents. Every student is an expert, so I am just one of the nodes in this network with a certain skill and aptitude.  
 Here's a little story. I had this hardcore teenage group after coming back from a two-year leave from the school I work for. One of the topics of the lesson was skateboarding. At the time, I knew nothing about skateboarding, except the fact that you needed a skateboard to do it! Well, those teenagers were the ones to teach the lesson. Not me. So, I asked them to bring videos facts, favorite skateboarders, everything they could to help me become knowledgeable on the topic. This quiet, very shy girl came to me the following class with her flash drive because she wanted to show me what she had done over the weekend with a friend of hers who was an ace on the skate. I was thrilled when she got to the front of the room talking about the moves, flips, best spots in town where the tribes gathered. It was an incredible collection of photos they took over the weekend to help an old teacher understand their world. And this is just a tiny example of what I learned in that specific lesson. Now, I can talk like a pro about Bob Burnquist and mega ramps!  
 This story is just an example that EFL books don't suffice in our networked world and my ideal classroom. In fact, they amplify the gap between our classrooms and the learners' world. In their real world, they are accomplished photographers in Instagram, they are Djs in their newest cellphone app, they are movie makers flooding YouTube. So, I want to bridge their digital world and their English classes. I want them to be producers of content to make their statement.Yes, they have loud voices in their world. How come they don't have it in our classes. This might be one of the biggest shifts in my teaching/learning approach. I don't want passive listeners in my class. I want engaged citizens and that's what I plan my classes for.  
 And when you make this big paradigm shift to a networked world and classroom, the walls break down, just like the Berlin wall in the end of the 80's. It is not simply some minor pedagogical changes. For you to build your ideal classroom, there is suffering, uncertainty, trial and error. The turning point for me was understanding that I was born and raised in a world of atoms. I learned very early in Physics that one body couldn't be at the exact some place as another. Then, along the way in my professional life, I had to unlearn and relearn that YES our process of knowledge building and acquisition is at times a bit chaotic, hyperlinked within our brain processes, non- linear. I had to free myself a bit of my sequenced atomic world to give floor to my students' creativity and voices. Oh no. Don't Take me wrong, though. Understanding that learning is a bit more messy than my past life used to be didn't mean I had to abandon all my pedagogical practices. Not at all! In fact, I work in a place where we have schedules, "content to cover", tests, grades. And it needs to be that way so that our students have a sense of progression, of advancement in their English studies. What I had to do then was to repurpose my practices and perspectives to achieve pedagogical excellence.  
 First, I understood that in order to build those bridges with the classroom and the outside world, I had to connect myself to other educators. I was connected to the ones in the teachers' room, to my dear friends, during coffee time. But it was not that... I had this urge to meet the world out there and to see what other educators around the globe were doing. That's when I decided to attend my first international TESOL conference in San Antonio, Texas. That's when I met a group of amazing educators, the WEBHEADS, who were all for networked classrooms in which teachers are lifelong learners together with students and they harness the power of technology to connect, interact, share and collaborate. My teaching world was turned upside down in irreversible ways. Certainly for much better. From connecting myself, my class became a project-based hub and whenever possible we had those projects which I could finally see the true meaning of contextualized and authentic language production. In this image you see, this group discussed issues related to stereotypes, then they produced presentations, videos and blog posts to demystify myths about Brazil and our culture.  
 As I told you before, my ideal classroom is not about geeky stuff as many might think (including my kids!). Sitting on the floor using real scissors, not our digital cut and paste, format layout for the more advanced users, is really part of my ideal classroom. We are the designers of the learning experiences and we need to make those experiences unpredictable, enjoyable,with little nice surprises. We need to have some serious instructional thought on how to promote that. Not something that my husband keeps telling me, "why after 15 years, do you still need to prepare classes? Just do like this: open your books to page 5, practice in pairs." NO! Even the more fluid, messy, project-based classes that seem "unprepared", have lots of planning behind the scenes.  
Yes! In my ideal classroom, there is a lot of space for language emergence and production coming authentically from learners, which doesn't mean it is going to take away my role of planning the learning experience. And now, more than ever, I've felt the need to go a step beyond in my preparation for the ideal classroom. I've felt the urge to supplement what I've learned for those years in the classroom by studying and testing not only successful methodological approaches, but also to immerse myself into the realm of neuroscience, reading, learning from a friend, and even presenting about it, for only when we have a better understanding of how our brain works will we be able to significantly connect to every single student we have in our class and be able to reframe our classes as needed for even more significant learning moments. Do you wanna know one thing that I am even more aware than before? The need for attention hooks around every 10th minute. That's right! Our brains cannot have a focused attention for more than 10 minutes. So, what should we do? Change gears. Ask students to stand up or sit on the floor. Or maybe tell a story. Oh, this is not new, right? Sure. We've read that in methodology books, but now neuroscience is giving us more clues than ever to open different pathways to enhance learning. My advice? Start with the James zull's book, "The Art of Changing the Brain".  
 In my ideal classroom, pencils are of different colors and for different purposes. In fact, my learners' new pencils could be a tablet, a camera, a cellphone. There is no limit to imagination when it comes to student production. And I don't expect everybody to be using the same pencil. One might be writing a sentence, another might be typing it, and the other could even be taking a photo and sending it to his notes in Evernote. Wouldn't our classrooms be more colorful and lively this way. Oh, I know what you might be thinking... Ok, fine. Ideal, but not real. It WOULD be great to work like that, but do you know my students? Those little devilish kids of mine. But my question for you is, have you ever tried to let your students decide how they want to annotate, to practice, or even to write their homework? You might be surprised with the results.  
 In 2005, life changed for me and my students. We opened our closed doors to the world. We spent a whole year collaborating with college students in Arizona. The result? True communication, cultural exchanges,lots of blog posts. Do you know how many computers I had at that time in my class? None! Sometimes we had the chance to go to the computer lab, but most of the times? Well, at that time, I'd print the posts for my students to reply on paper, for I didn't want to lose momentum. That special timing to get a nice reply back and keep the conversations flowing. Here you can see one of the postcards we got in a lovely package that arrived in our class straight from Arizona. You can't imagine my students' faces reading all those paper postcards...priceless. I could then get a feeling of a closer connection between my students' world, our class and the digital sphere.  
 In my ideal classroom it is always time to review concepts and move on. So, I love to try out and embrace new approaches as Bloom's taxonomy revised in which creation has its place. Playing with language and its beauty through all these projects and collaborative endeavors and with new tools, always mean new possibilities. In fact, there are tons of digital tools to help us work on our students' creative veins. Every day, there is a new startup with a wonderful idea that we test for our educational purposes. But there is one that even being around for some years is high on my list and that is.... 
 Voicethread. Yes! I think it has many of the features we look for in a class digital tool. It enables student recording. It is like a conversation. You can add images, videos, docs, slides. You can doodle on it as you speak. In sum, it is an educational tool that i' ve tried to use in many different ways. But I'd like to point to one little project specifically. My students were practicing relative clauses and I told them I had a group of international friends willing to learn some words in Portuguese, so their job was to choose the words they wanted to teach to my friends. They would say those words in Portuguese, but they needed to explain their meaning in English. They wrote their sentences. We checked to see if they were correct. Then, I handed in my flipcamera and in a matter of minutes, the videos were done. We uploaded them all to Voicethread, but they were still a bit skeptical about those friends of mine. Were they real? Where we're they from? Well, I tweeted to my network, inviting my friends to learn some words in Portuguese and practice their pronunciation. The following class when I showed them all the international recordings they got, they were in awe, all exhilarating, trying to understand the reach of what they had done. They asked me about those people and we went on a bit of cultural exploration. Oh, can you imagine why I really love Voicethread?  
 An ideal classroom cannot go without the power of storytelling in all its forms. Can you see those faces? Do you realize that the teacher is reaching students in very peculiar ways? The girl in the teacher's right seem to be interacting with the frog. Can you imagine what goes on her mind? Look how attentive the boy in blue surfer bermudas is. Can you say that there is engagement or boredom taking place there? Right. Storytelling taps into imagination, creativity, transformation. And these are elements we want to have as an integral part of our classes.  
 In my ideal classroom, there is flow. Oh, yeah, flow. That's a word I love. That feeling that is just atemporal, that we immerse ourselves in learning. It is that feeling of enjoyment, fulfillment, like swinging with our feet away from the ground, of just feeling plain good about being in class, interacting with classmates. Why sometimes do we so easily miss that?  
 We know that a teacher's job is never done when classes are over and it has been like that for as long as we've had schools. However, nowadays, our work has been amplified in so many ways because of digital tools that the simple past is simply impossible in a teacher's verb tense conjugation. There can even be some perfect and continuous tenses, like I am teaching a class, but simply "I taught a class, that's not possible."In my ideal teacher's world we find then proper balance of being connected and unplugged and we help our students' develop their sense of community to rely on one another in a way that not all conversations should be moderated by teachers. No! Students connect and talk to each other beyond the classroom walls in a way that the lessons are constantly being reviewed, so then it just doesn't make any sense to say "I taught a lesson".  
 And we can only find this balanced approach to teaching if we rely on each other and if we harness the power of collectivity through collaboration, sharing, and mentoring. We need to connect to alleviate the burden of the lesson planning and teaching routines. My ideal classroom is full of network nodes that help me keep sane in my daily job. And again, for the ones who know me, I feel that more than sharing is giving credit. We really need to acknowledge those who made our jobs easier. Those who generously make their works available under creative commons.  
 I asked my FB friends what their ideal classrooms look like and I got tons of philosophical, poetic, single-worded definitions of their ideal classrooms. They are green, with engaged and motivated students, fluid, flexible, a welcoming place for explorers and designers. And they go beyond by saying the ideal classroom is a place to understand and see the world from a different perspective, a place of mutual trust, where time flies by and people feel energized. Now, think for a moment. What's your ideal classroom? Now, don't get this whole thing wrong. My ideal classroom IS NOT a dream classroom, for most dreams seem out of reach in the present. My ideal classroom is a work in progress, always evolving, but still with flaws. My ideal classroom is what I try to make out of it every single day when I am in class or anywhere, for I learn from my students, from co-workers, from my online friends. My ideal classroom is everywhere, it is within my network, it is this room. Thank you."

Friday, June 8, 2012

Facebook Collaborative Efforts Strike Again with Fridges Around the World

Once again, the power of Facebook connections and the willingness of generous educators to share a bit of themselves became a wonderful resource that is now available for teachers to explore with their students.

I asked a simple question, "What's in your Fridge?" I got 21 fridges from around the world, an unbeatable multicultural gastronomic richness.

Fridges Around the World

View more presentations from Carla Arena

Here are some ideas to work with such a wonderful fridge collection:

- In my case, I asked my students to identify my fridge and to tell me why they thought it was mine.

- I also asked them to identify which fridges were Brazilian (many of my friends contributed to it), but you can also ask about other nationalities and even prepare a quiz with how many fridges are from Europe, North America, South America, etc...

- Joel Josephson created a Facebook group to have people share what is in their fridges today:  . Students could take photos of their fridges and talk what's in them in the group, sharing with a real audience. 

- You can explore the people behind those fridges. What kind of lives they have, how many people there are in the house. Powerful storytelling opportunity.

- Students can compare different fridges, saying how different or similar they are. The teacher can explore with the whole group if there are significant differences in the fridges related to different cultural backgrounds or not.

This is just the starting point, because, in fact, I needed those fridges to practice count and non-count expressions related to food, but the opportunity for critical thinking and going beyond was simply unmissable with all this Facebook collaborative effort.

Any other ideas for such wonderful classroom material?

If you need to know where the fridges come from, let me know. I'd be more than glad to share the information with you. 

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Giving an iTwist to Feedback on Student Writing

Centuries ago (or at least, this is how I feel!), I used to give feedback on students' writing by sending a recorded message to my students to personalize learning and encourage them to take process writing seriously. It worked. Students loved to get a personal, customized note from their teacher.

Nowadays, this writing feedback experience has taken many forms and shapes with so many digital tools around that do the trick.

Writing is My Hobby One nice example of super simple activity that has worked wonders is from my friend Claudio Fleury. He was having a hard time to get his teen students to hand in their paragraphs. First, he worked a bit on paragraph structure with the students. Then, he took the iPads to class and asked students to write their paragraphs using the Notes app. They were on task, focused. The job of receiving every student's paragraph was easily accomplished. Students also realized that they could read each other's paragraphs as the notes were all synchronized (we use the same iTunes account in all iPads) real time. Then, the teacher asked students to email him their paragraphs. The teacher could easily print them and write his feedback on the paragraphs. In the following class, the teacher handed in the notes, students checked the teacher feedback, got the iPads and reviewed their paragraphs based on what the teacher had written. Writing has never been so effective. Getting students to write and review their work, never been so easy!

My second example comes from teacher Deon Scalon. I was reading a blog post on using iPads for kids' writing feedback, and just came across this brilliant Youtube video in which teacher Deon integrated the app Goodreader to write on a document and then used PUPPET PALL app characters to spice up his feedback to students. Very effective and fun!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Love Stories Around the World

Some years ago, I was working on a Unit about Love.

First, my students read about how I met my husband to give the lesson a personal touch.

They listened to a story of how a teacher met her husband.

Then, they wrote about their own love stories.

I realized the lesson plan could be even richer if there were other stories from around the globe.
Once again, I invited my network to collaborate with me so that my students could hear love stories from different parts of the world. Here's this multicultural stories mosaic:

How about inviting your students to tell their own love stories or asking them to interview a member of their family to report to the group about their love stories?

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Stereotypes - Controversial Topic to Raise Cultural Awareness

Much has been said about the dangers of generalization and stereotypying a certain group of people. Now, how do we approach it in the classroom?

Here's a lesson plan I've used it in the past with my groups. The first part is adapted from

  1. Choose two adjectives that you think describe different nationalities.
    • punctual
    • tolerant
    • romantic
    • respectful
    • hard-working
    • emotional
    • aloof
    • mean
    • honest
    • ardent
    • organized

    • outgoing
    • nationalistic
    • well-dressed
    • humorous
    • lazy
    • sophisticated
    • friendly
    • tedious
    • systematic
    • chaotic
    • unpleasant

    • aggressive
    • polite
    • rude
    • arrogant
    • ignorant
    • casual
    • refined
    • reliable
    • careless
    • unstable
    • dull
    • disciplined

    • hospitable
    • talkative
    • sociable
    • serious
    • quiet
    • formal
    • passionate
    • tender
    • uninsterested
    • cold
    • negligent
    • untidy/disorganized
    • messy

A- Warm -up 
  1. I show them photos of people that seem to come from a certain country and ask them to speculate where they are from and why they think they are from that nationality. 
  2. They share their ideas with the group. 
  3. Students group the adjectives above under categories (taste, attitude, feelings, organization, etc) and indicate which are positive or negative traits. Ask them to use the dictionary for unknown words

B - Vocabulary Practice
In groups, students complete the sentences with the adjectives listed above.

The British are regarded as being...
The French are portrayed as being...
The Germans are considered as being...
Italian men have a reputation of being...
The Swiss are said to be...
Brazilians are considered to be...

C - Discuss

1) Students regroup and compare their answers to see if they have come to the same conclusion. Share with the class.
2) Brainstorm common stereotypes that they have heard people use.
3) Questions to students: 
  • Was it easy to complete the sentences? Did your answers come naturally? Why? Why not?
  • Did the completed statements make you feel uncomfortable? Why? Why not?
  • In general, were your responses positive or negative?
  • List the stereotypes under positive, negative or neutral. What does this tell us about stereotypes?
D - Expansion
Fill in the following questionnaire on your own and later discuss it with your teacher and colleagues. You may use :
A= I agree B= I'm not sure C= I disagree
  • National stereotypes are dangerous because they may provoke racial prejudice.
  • Stereotypes contain a certain amount of truth.
  • There is no such thing as national character and therefore the idea of national stereotypes is rubbish.
  • The reason stereotypes exist is because people are afraid of diversity, change, and what is unknown. They prefer to cling to simple classifications, which maintain an old, familiar and established order.
  • Stereotypes are simply harmless sorts of jokes we tell about other nationalities or groups of people.
E - Further Discussion
  • What is, in your opinion, the best way to challenge a stereotype.
  • What you have seen here are national stereotypes. Can you think of other kinds of stereotypes?
  • What are the stereotypes about your own culture, nation, or people? Are they true? How are these stereotypes different from your own reality? What are your impressions about the Brazilians?
F - Global Voices 
Students listen to people discussing about stereotypes about their countries. 

Then, they might join a Voicethread discussion:

Or they can create posts trying to demystify common stereotypes about their countries, ilke this example from my students: 

Finally, tell students the true nationalities of the people portrayed in the photos they guessed in the beginning of the class. 


Check the international project that was the kick off for the original lesson plan, created by Barbara Dieu