Nothing special about teaching profession… Huh?

Bairro da Juventude School

This week I started observing a class of 6-year-old kids that are learning to read and write. The observation is part of my studies in Early Childhood education. The 1st grade teacher will be my research internship supervisor. First, I have to spend days observing and write down a report for my internship mentor who will discuss what I had observed. Then, I have to create the lesson plans focusing on literacy development and teach the kids a number of hours.

The 1st grade teacher is a great professional and passionate about the kids. I’m happy that she accepted this role in my final year. She’s also the one who will observe and assess me when the day come for me to step into her shoes. She’s been working in Bairro da Juventude School for 14 years. Needless to say that we clicked right away and as I am going to see her almost every week, for me that is a great thing. I feel blessed to learn from her as I’m working toward a specialization in literacy through out basic education.

Bairro da Juventude School

Bairro da Juventude is a philantropic institution. It serves the community, but especially for kids in risk, and they offer them full time education. The program is great. They have all kinds of activities, balanced meals, transportation and medical care. The kids are well looked after.

They serve 5,000 meals a day!

I’ve noticed though that some of these kids are agressive and most of them live in poor areas of the city which puts them in contact with things we wouldn’t want kids to be near of – drug dealing, crimes, domestic violence, etc. It’s not like a fairy tale obviously. Teachers and monitors have to be tough on the kids to straighten them up. It must be a chalenge for everyone who works there to do that when they actually want to cuddle those kids. My supervisor told me that for her it is. But she needs to be firm with them. That is the only language they can listen to until they learn there is a different world waiting for them outside their own reality, whatever reality they live in, and they can make the world a much better place for themselves.

What would be of such kids without schools? Without loving and caring teachers? I’m sharing an example in Brazil, but I just remember Panthy Govinda’s work in Nepal who has been reaching out to the world and connecting his kids to other realities. Everywhere there are people who care and work for a better education. We are not alone.

Needs of the past – Educating for the future

A lot of kids in my country need school not just to learn to read but also to be fed. The situation has improved a lot in the last couple of decades. Childhood education improved a lot and we have moved from the assistencialism view to a much broader perspective where kids must have a proper space and be surrounded by things that stimulate their development. We have also got past the idea that Education is transmitting knowledge, although there are people who still resists change, it is wide accepted that that is not the role of school anymore (if it ever was), and there are lots of people trying to change. They just don’t make the news. But they are here around us. Doing their bit everyday and contributing for change. Changing people’s life.

SAV School in NEPAL 2011

An interdisciplinary approach to promote better understanding of the needs

In order to talk about Education we ought to look at it from interdisciplinary perspective. It is not only about methodologies. There is so much that can affect outcomes like social, cultural and historical factors for instance. You cannot compare a school where students come from a place where books, news and other types of medias are available with a school where parents never read and some of them don’t even know how. You can not offer solutions based on internet or methodology. Literacy rate* in my country is really low. Teaching profession is not only special is the very best thing kids can get especially in areas of poverty.

*Not talking about the ability to decode words, but to be competent readers.

In our country there is a document that every school should produce and review often. It is called Projeto Politico Pedagógico. It’s a project because it is a plan for now and the future where we project what we want our school to be and do for our society. It’s political because it involves decisions about the organisation and management. It’s pedagogical because it concerns learning and teaching. PPP will tell what investment should be made on teachers development and infra-structure. Before writing the PPP there is a research that should be carried out by the school leadership team and that has to involve all parts concerned – leadership, teachers, community, people who work in all areas of the school and most importantly the students. Without this document the school exists without knowing what the future might hold,  their purpose and what they can do to achieve it.

The 21st Century

Is internet part of the package for a good 21st century education? Of course it is. Digital literacy is already a concern among educators. And I’ve seen reports from around my country that makes me cry with joy. But some of those innitiatives involve big companies stepping in. Do they try to get their share of profit from it? Oh well. By doing what they do best, competing in the market, do they also contribute to the development in remote areas by bringing technology and internet access? Sure, I just saw an example of it last week.

In the video above the President of the company responsible for bringing internet access to the remote area said “who knows if one day they will become also clients”. There is always in this type of innitiative a second agenda and that’s a fact we can’t deny.

Sugatra Mitra’s Plenary

Apart from not finding anything new or innovative in Mr. Mitra’s work, I find his assertion on the future of learning confusing, minimalist and innacurate as far as education development goes and that is what bugs me. Nothing against promoting ways to engage students with learning and encouraging them to become protagonist because that is most desirable change in education I’d love to see. And I’ve learned about models of this kind in Brazil, so I’m thrilled to know that more and more teachers and schools are promoting it instead of keeping the old teaching model alive.

Because there is so much more to it, I agree with Michelle Sowey’s review of SOLE, especially when she affirms that,

We need to make sure that kids develop thinking and reasoning skills alongside skills in research and information awareness. For this, the support of a competent guide is indispensable, equipping children not only to assess the reliability of different sources but also to evaluate the many arguments they will encounter.

All it takes is a click to finding information in the web. And presenting by copying in a poster or reading it out is not learning anything and much less critically. Although Mr. Mitra states that the type of questions we ask matters and should promote thinking, the big question functions out as catalyst in the process of inquiring. I agree that encouragement is important, but mediating the process is paramont.

Motivation, Purpose and Interests: Learning Projects by Instituto Airton Senna

In Brazil we have Instituto Airton Senna, a foundation that has been working to promote better education in Brazil for the past 20 years. When I found out about their projects around the country and their online PD program years ago, I was amazed. I had never seen the whole school working toward developing learners as protagonists while developing also competencies and skills for the 21st century. I had participated and learned to collaborate with other teachers while doing it through the mediation of great educators (the courses at first used to be called Collaborative Learning Experience). I’m very happy to learn that they had implemented pilot schools  in Rio de Janeiro and they have been able to carry out studies on socioemotional competencies and its importance for the development of learners as whole person. These are the kind of innitiatives that makes me smile and look forward to a brighter future for our kids.

Extra links and videos:

I apologize beforehand that the material shared below is not in English. But the images might give you an idea. aThere are many other videos I could post here, but they are in Portuguese. They are inspiring and I see what people did in the past is reflecting in our present. Thanks to all great thinkers who fought for it. And considering that Brazil is a huge place, it is very positive to see the amount of effort everywhere to make it happen.

2009 – An article in Portuguese about Learning projects.

2010 – Rui Barbosa School learning to work with learning projects. (Projetos de Aprendizagem)

2013 – Chico Anysio School implemented a new high school program in Rio de Janeiro.

Here is the paper that presents the research of using SOLE in the UK.

Party Games: Fun way to practise language


Adding party games to classes is really fun and great for language practice.

Last week we played pictionary in conversation class – Pre-Intermediate upwards. They played in pairs. Each pair would choose a movie, a song or a tv series and draw clues on the board using colorful board markers for the other pair of students to guess the title. When the drawing was not enough, the guessing teams would ask yes/no question to find out more information.

I’ve used Dixit with teens in intermediate level, conversation class of mixed-level learners and upper intermediate so far. And they all love it so much! I think the cards also are great and could be used as prompt to promote creative writing. I haven’t used or adapted for lower levels yet, but I intend to.

Now with Apples to Apples because of the vocabulary (adjectives in the green cards), I decided to prepare learners using Here is the link to the vocabulary list I created for them to practise online before the actual game. I also asked my learners to get 5 green cards and add the words to their notebook and then create a vocabulary log before introducing them to a week later. Some students are still keen to using paper instead of digital tools. Despite my effort to create the list, that will of course be used by other learners, not many of them played with the list.

The drawback of using party games is time. It takes at least an hour to play a round, but students in intermediate level upwards have a great chance to put their English into practice in a relaxing, fun and stimulating situation. If you want to break the routine of the class while promoting language practice, party games would be a great alternative.

So far all authentic games I’ve used has been widely accepted and appreciated by the learners. I’m looking forward to buying more games this year + the expansion cards for Dixit and Apples to Apples.

Not a party game but students also loved it! Royalty. I haven’t used the dices yet.

CAM00110My wish-list for 2014:

20 Questions

Say Anything Family Edition

Game of Thrones Card Game (HBO Edition)

Telestrations 8 Player – The Original

Do you use authentic games in the classroom? Is there any reason why you wouldn’t use them? What would your suggestions be?


Learning to Learn: Using Bilingual Dictionaries and translation

My dear Journal! :)

It is hard to miss the fact that students use L1 when they are trying to learn a new language, in fact everyone without exception will resource to it in the beginning of the journey, and sometimes it becomes a crutch instead of a tool, true. And some will rely on it more than others, also true. But although the degree varies, one thing seems to be the norm: they translate word by word both when trying to comprehend something or produce it. Unfortunately, the words learners are able to store through the decoding stage from paying attention to single word is repeated in the encoding stage by insisting on the process of looking at language from the point of view of units instead of chunks, especially when they are dealing with expressions. Last year for example I tried this simple experiment with most of my learners. I asked them what “Have a good time” in L1 meant and everyone first urge was to translate word by word even intermediate learners did that. Then, I asked them what “Have Fun” meant, and as most of them who had already learned Have Fun, answered it correctly in L1. When a new group of words was introduced to them,  they simply used what was natural to them to try to comprehend the word group. Have a good time was the title of a text in their textbook. So they had also context. After that I just drew their attention to Have fun = Have a good time and added “Have a great time” and “an amazing time” to the list. This was a great opportunity to talk about google translater, the use of bilingual dictionary, translating as a tool and other ways to learn vocabulary.

Learning to keep a vocabulary log and using the dictionary

Learning to keep a vocabulary log and using the dictionary

In the last few years I have been also very curious about the role of memory and the book Memory Activities for language learning, one of a kind, is insightful, inspiring and resourceful. It is one of the books I carry around with me. Although the process of storing and recalling seems to be the core elements of language learning, the way we internalize it counts. What I’ve noticed though is that we might be overly worried about students translating and trying to avoid that at all cost, but is it really the issue? Once I realized that most learners were so busy storing single words and translating from L1 to L2, L2 to L1, I understood that I had to do something about it. They were clearly not benefiting from it. And it was also clear that the way they use translation/bilingual dictionaries was not helping them develop accuracy and fluency.

In the past, I thought that countless exercises and activities in grammar would help. It think it does if you are not concentrating on translating word by word and totally missing the message. Learners should store L2 patterns, collocations, formulaic language and chunks and be able to recall them easily. I realized how important it is to focus on vocabulary learning and learning strategies from the beginning. Because even if they store a lot of words. And some do. They will talk almost like a robot. “I, visit, visited, my grandmother yesterday.” With so many unnecessary pauses as they are simply translating word by word*. And no matter how many times they have heard their teachers telling them not to do that, or going to great lengths to show the students the meaning of a word/words/expressions without translating any of it, they still will keep doing it.

I reckon that one of the things I had to accept as a teacher was using L1 is part of the learning natural process of a second language. Not sure why I resisted given students opportunities to learn how to use bilingual dictionaries, probably it was lack of time. I probably was so concerned with my PPP sequence and I would give them anyway the vocabulary they needed through vocabulary presentation that I think I didn’t see the need or had the time to do that. But today that sounds odd to me as I go back in time and think of my own learning experience. Even when I lived in the country I was learning the language (England and Egypt), I had to resource to L1 and make constant comparisons. I’m sure I did it on a daily basis until I could understand enough to move to L2 only and people’s explanations weren’t daunting anymore.

Writing their own examples from new words they've just seen in the text.

Writing their own examples from new words they’ve just seen in the text after check it up in the bilingual dictionary.

What have I changed in my practice?
  • I talk to them about it. But talking isn’t enough. You need to constantly remind them on how to see it. It is especially hard for higher level students to start the process over again. But not impossible. Few of them have naturally evolved, but most of them need to be trained to see language as chunks and grammar as patterns through practicing.


  • I make sure they see groups of words (chunks) by highlighting it in every opportunity possible.
  • Reflective approach is really helpful. When they open a dictionary it is important that they have time to look up words and pay attention to form, meaning, read examples, think of part of speech, word family, etc.
  • They should use a notebook to keep record of the new chunks and be able to add their own examples. Today I was reading a story with my group and the chunk “speeds by”, “runs by”, “drives by” came up. Even for one of my most pro-active language learner the first one “speeds by” didn’t make any sense. Even after she discovered the meaning of “speed”, it continued not to make much sense. Once, I explained that the idea is “somebody increasing speed while passing by” “… running while passing by” things started following into place and finally making sense. Once she got the meaning of “speeds by”, the rest of the reading ran out much more smoothly. Then she added the three chunks in her vocabulary log that by the way is also a language pattern.
A side note for my future self: a lot of students seems to believe that being fluent in English is being able to speak without pausing. And they measure their development not from the amount of grammar/vocabulary they have but if they are saying things fluently. It seems to me that they sort of stop caring much about grammar and vocabulary once they can carry out a conversation.