I didn’t see that coming! At least not from him.

I’ve been incorporating students ideas into my practice, experimenting and testing their ideas and my own since 2011. Ever since I decided to do so, teaching has been a roller coaster experience. Despite other blogger(s) might think, bloggers like me do not only share success stories. If you take a closer look at each post, you will spot a desire to get it right, attempts, trial and error approach.The only difference is that I don’t do that alone. I take students onboard. The journal is a journey of much of the struggles as they are about things that have worked out as everytime we are experimenting, we are actually trying to solve a problem too. Maybe I don’t feel them as fail because I understand that it’s part of the process of adjusting learners’ needs, interests and wants to my own teaching goals.

Many teachers find working with teens extremely stressful, and it can be if much of we do is to make them conform to our ways of thinking and doing. Although by now I’ve learned my lesson and I’m fortunate enough to work in a place where I have created the space for my own autonomy, I still struggle to get along with some teens. So, in spite of my efforts to work in ways that are motivating for them, they still find it hard to work differently from what they are used to. They are used to the system that is based on rote learning and it’s kind of shocking for them to learn that they are expected to have an active role.

Participating in this class is very different from our normal classes. Don’t come to this class thinking that you will only see the teacher writing on the board and talking about time tenses. In this class, you will participate in games, projects and it will be very dinamic. But don’t worry. At the end of the year, you will see that you have learned much more than if you had spent your year just attending boring classes.

The quote above is from  a student who were engaged from the beginning, he knew how to make the most of our classes. He never struggled and used every opportunity for his own benefit. This is the perfect student that every teacher loves! I’m thankful for his words but still I wasn’t expecting such positive notes which reflect so well what I was trying to achieve all year around.

So since 2011.. every year I collect feedback and at the end of the year I ask students to evaluate what is good to keep in the program for the following year and what I am supposed to let go and we discuss why. Then, in the following year, I tell the new students that the program was shaped by the previous year students. This is usually very motivating as most teens perceive that as their opinion counts. But not everyone buy it from the beginning and it becomes a long journey. This year, I decided to ask students to write direct messages to next year students which will be reproduced for every student at the beginning of next term.

But, I did not see this particular message coming. Although I didn’t have much expectation from this request, I thought it could be a great way to start next year. So, I asked them. And the student I argued with the most during the year, dropped out of the course and came back wrote this:

One thing I can tell you is that you should make the most of your English class in the 9th grade, because we work a lot on vocabulary and in different ways through comic books that have funny stories, and also zombie stories. Well, it’s really cool. It’s also cool because we have the support of memrise and it helps a lot. You can practice with what was worked on in class and it helps reinforce your comprehension!

I can say that when I got here I was a sort of dumb, let’s put that way, and I’m leaving this class knowing a lot thanks to the teacher because she made me see that things weren’t the way I thought it had to be. She changed my way of thinking and helped me understand English better.

We had our fights, but I’m really grateful to her. And my message to you is don’t give up. Believe in yourself because you are capable of doing anything. All you need is to believe and have a will.

Can you imagine what happened as soon as the students left and I had a chance to read his message? Yes, I cried. I cried of joy because despite all the anger, confusion and frustration he showed toward me, at the end WE, me and him, won the fight. WE both changed a bit more. I learn with them, as much as I hope they can learn with me.

Unleash your creativity: Make peace with FUN

I was working on a halloween-themed game in the morning when it occured to me that the problem isn’t so much the word game, as it is the facts that prevent us from enjoying using games with our students. Here are some thoughts:
So many ideas get lost!

Lack of time: So many ideas get lost!

We don’t have enough time to use our creativitity. Creativity emerges when we are relaxed enough to feel, think, experiment, create, etc. Get yourself the space you need. Have a box filled with things that can be used in your projects. Collect things from stationery to broken pieces. Recently I got some amazing plastic witches that could be used as pieces on a board game. Draft your ideas. Run your ideas through someone you feel comfortable discussing them.

Most of the time, the problem isn’t seeing the value of games, it’s actually engineering experiences worth the time and effort. Not knowing how to engineer those experiences reduces the use of game to a place where it doesn’t encourage, foster or enhance learning which is a mistake. Empower yourself by learning about game design. It’s fun and I assure you that the more knowledgeable you become, more creative moments you will experience. You will look at things differently and ideas will flow. In my next post, I’ll share how a simple art craft from a kid website generated a game.
Jeff Kuhn is someone we can learn from. In fact, he uploaded a youtube video recently that will help you get started.
Being afraid of experimenting because of students’ expectations might be another reason. At least it was for me for a long time. While teens are picky but easily enjoy games, adults do not see fun as part of learning. Of course they love having fun and laugh, but when comes to classroom routine, most adults will expect activities to be and look serious, otherwise they won’t see the value of it.
Authentic games can be a great way to show adults that playing games can provide a good space for practicing and learning language too. So why not explore games and see how they encourage using language more productively and meaningfully. Make sure that they are prepared to use the language necessary for the game or support them so everyone has equal chances to win the game. I like playing with my students Dixit, it’s pretty flexible in terms of language use, everyone can play using the language they have (from gesture, sound, name of a song, music, a sentence they heard to a more complex language). We also use L1 to discuss meaning and check comprehension during the game when there are low-level learners playing. Higher-levels just use English when playing alone, but tend to use L1 because of their low-level peers. The greatest thing about games is that you can play (hence practicing language) over and over again. Nothing beats games when the objective is practicing language. They’ll want to play it over and over if the game is well-designed.
I’m still learning and the more I learn, more I understand the issues we face when we are trying to work with teens. So, here is a list of books.
Homo Ludens: a Study of the Play-Element in Culture can be downloaded from here.
A list of websites:
A student of mine around the age of 25 told me last week that his girlfriend just gave him the walking dead game and he is playing only in English for the first time. Although I encourage my students to see the value of playing games to learn English, the need to use language orally in natural conversations around games or not is also important. I’ve noticed and informally interviewed in English and Portuguese people who grew up playing games or played a lot of games and for those who has never taken an English course they can’t really make a conversation in English. They are either not confident to use the language or games alone is not enough to develop speaking competence because when they are playing a game, they practice mostly reading and listening, and often use google translator to interact with other players online. I’ve also heard that those who can communicate in English without ever taking an English course are those (and I’ve only met two so far) who took English to the next level by really doing lots of things not just playing games. One task mentioned by both of them was rehearsing what they heard, not mentally but really moving their lips over and over again.

Call for teachers to join our VEP project

In 2013, Gemma and I carried out a virtual exchange project (VEP). As you will learn in the presentation below I had been looking for ways of making monolingual classes to enjoy using English today and meaninfully. Gemma had a great idea and that was my first experience connecting Brazilian learners of English to speakers of other languages using English to communicate with each other.

In all VEPs I’ve taken part so far, learners showed interest in participating right away and most of them were able to maintain their interest throughout the project without the need of me reminding them of the deadlines. They were indeed self-motivated to participate in the project while a few of them needed to be nudged and encouraged to keep up with the project.

Captura de tela 2015-10-22 12.09.19

Here is a VEP I’d like to invite you to take part with your students. If you want your students to react/respond or post their own questions, please fill the form below. Access to the Padlet will be given to teachers through email. This is a way to make the exchange private and learners more comfortable with the exchange.

This project will be available from October 23th to November 27th! Please join us!

How can you use this project?

You can choose to use it just as input for your classes or for your students to participate actively. It’s up to you. Whatever way you choose to participate, you’ll need to fill the form.