Month: February 2014

On Wearing Two Hats: Teaching & Responding to Writing

On Wearing Two Hats-Teaching &

This morning I had the opportunity of engaging with quite an interesting and energetic group of bright individuals as part of our institute’s training of newly-hired teachers. The goal was to discuss the teaching of writing to our EFL learners, what it is that an effective pre-writing lesson should entail, as well as ways of responding to students’ writings. It was a hands-on session, with some initial discussion and brainstorming of lesson stages with a specific writing prompt in mind, which was then followed by their response to and correction of an authentic writing sample. The idea was to familiarize teachers with the kind of response to writing that we believe to be in keeping with the principle that writing is a recurrent process, non-linear in its creative nature, and the very expression of one’s voice.

Roll up your sleeves and let’s get down to business

Teachers worked in smaller groups and were asked to respond to and provide corrective feedback to a first draft sample of a five-paragraph essay written by an upper-intermediate level learner. Along with the sample, they received a copy of our correction and proofreading symbols, as well as a scoring rubric by means of which they’d grade that first draft. They immediately set out to accomplish the task, industriously reading the piece, red pens in hand, and… Stop. Wait a minute. Do you feel an urge to begin crossing out and underlining spelling mistakes and wrong verb tense use? You do, don’t you?

Step away from the red pen

Before you unleash your full corrective-feedback-giving potential, put on a different hat. Be a reader. Respond to your students’ content and ideas as a real person. Familiarize them with that sense of having an audience. We use language to communicate, be it in spoken or written form. Let them know that you are truly listening to them. Try to find at least a couple of aspects in their writing that are worth a compliment. Relate to their ideas, share a little about your own experience by commenting that maybe you once felt the same way as they did facing a certain situation in your own life, and that you know how wonderful or how difficult it must have been for them to go through it, as well. Empathize. Connect. Engage. 

Respect individual stylistic choices

It’s always a challenge to provide corrective feedback without stifling the writer’s voice. What I mean is, are you (over)correcting to the point of forcing the student to write as you would have if expressing a similar idea in written form? Of course there are instances of L1 interference that must be addressed, such as word order issues to name one, but we teachers walk a fine line between pointing our students in the right direction and simply imposing our own style on them. Keep an awareness of the fact that your students are experimenting with language (a foreign one, as a matter of fact), and that they are, knowingly or not, in their own quests to finding their voice. Cherish. Allow. Enable. 

Sounding curious as opposed to judgemental

Instead of saying something like “this paragraph is too short. Please develop your ideas here.” how about offering something more in the lines of “I wonder if you could tell me more about this experience/situation.” or even “how did you feel?” and “what did you do next?” The point is that by asking a simple question, you may elicit just the response you want from a student, instead of making a direct comment that might come across as judgemental, in that it is an affirmation made by you, the teacher, who is supposedly the knowledge authority on all subjects language-wise. Don’t point fingers. Ask more questions. Provoke. Entice. Foster.

This set of guidelines sprang up from this group’s engagement and reflections during our training session, so that gives you a pretty good idea of how lucky we are to have gathered such a great collection of curious and avid learner-teachers. Thank you all, Casa newbies, for inspiring me to write this piece.

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Welcome aboard, guys!

All You Need is Love

photo 1 (3)It’s always wonderful to reconnect with old friends. This afternoon, I had just that opportunity in going to Stella’s 2nd birthday party. Her mom, Tainá, and I have been friends since our teenage years, and I have always admired her excellent taste in all things, ranging from fashion to design to photography. She chose the Beatles – Yellow Submarine as the theme for her little girl’s birthday party, and everything looked absolutely gorgeous, as things usually do when they have Tainá’s touch.

And so it was, to the tunes of the Beatles, that I met another old friend of mine, Verena, and as incredible as it may sound (you will know what I mean if you have small children), we actually managed to sit down and talk for a little while. She asked me what was it that I had been doing lately, if I had been engaged in any new projects, saying that she had noticed some different type and amount of activity in my Facebook timeline. I explained to her that I’d been very much engaged in professional (and personal) development, and that I’d been connecting with very interesting people and educators from all around the globe via Twitter. She then told me about her professional moment, and the fact that she’d been doing a lot of writing on her professional area – she is a psychologist who’s been working as a Body Talk therapist for some years now. She told me about a feeling she has had lately, being engaged with creating relevant content in her area, as well as translating a lot of content related to the Body Talk system to Portuguese, that it might be time that she started blogging. She said that so much of her reading and learning lately had been happening on the blogosphere. I told her I’d taken to blogging myself, and that I’d been having a wonderful time at it. “If you’re looking to connect, and feel you have something to say, you should definitely go for it,” I said to her. And I sincerely hope she follows through with her blogging intentions, for she is such a brilliant woman, with so much soul and so much to contribute to the world.

I came home invigorated by our talk, happy that we’d had a chance of reconnecting the way we did. I was reminded of the feeling I had just as I was about to embark in the blogging experience, which was to experiment with my thoughts, to connect with others, to learn, and to find my true voice. If you are also contemplating the idea of starting your own blog, I say go for it. It’s such a pleasant challenge. Because, after all, we should never forget one thing:

…and in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.

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 …and a strong PLN (online and offline)!

Books – them selfish creatures #rhizo14

Indian Headdress

Indian Headdress by John Dalkin (C) all rights reserved

Beauty is in the mind and soul of the bereader
Although reading a book might be a different experience every time you read it, it is still an alone experience. The different perceptions and insights we might have when reading the same book at different points in time are conjured up by the reader’s subjectivity, the fact that we are ever-changing creatures – inside and out. It is, nonetheless, an alone process. We could compare the experience to that of listening to a song being played in a very small room, and the sensory experiences that will ensue, and then playing that same song in a very large room, with entirely different acoustics. The sensory experience will certainly be a different one. The same music resonates differently in each scenario. Therefore, it could be said that it is the reader – the human element engaging with the print – that is dynamic, and not the print itself. In that sense, books are indeed limited/ing.
The old becomes the new again
There is a significant connection between ancient oral traditions and internet technology. Both systems operate via networks. There is something about the power of the eloquently spoken word. And its power exponentially increases when individuals experience the spoken word collectively. When a tribe elder gathers the young ones around a fire to tell them stories of their ancestors, I can’t help but wonder whether giving each of them a book containing the same stories would be as rich an experience. You see, it’s not just about the story itself, it’s also about the making of the fire, the way the young ones distribute themselves around the circle, with maybe the older ones sitting right and left of the tribe elder, it’s what they eat or drink during the gathering, it’s what they wear, and maybe, most importantly, it’s the coarse voice of their elder, telling them their own story almost musically, the tempo of the words, one after the other, and the curious questions that the young ones might ask, generating an increased understanding of their tribal identity, of their unity as a group – a network of people.
“As he looks back at archived tribal pictures and sees his young face in the crowd of elders, Pinkham, now 30, understands. ‘I realized it wasn’t something I waited for, it was the development of the mindset that goes along with our people,’ says Pinkham, tribal ethnographer for the Nez Perce Tribe.”    Wyatt Buchanan
Books – them selfish creatures
It may be that the internet – the inter(action) via the net(work) – purports just that connectivity among people, and that can be as powerful as the tribe gathering around the ritualized fire. It might be that once people truly realize how extremely powerful and transformational a tool the internet is in its core, the more digital literacy will become a reality in people’s lives. And that’s where ‘books’ is making us ‘stupid’. If we consider the ability to network, to successfully connect with other individuals and have one’s brain expanded by the learning that results from the engagement, as a critical element of digital literacy, then books might really be doing just that – making us ‘stupid’ in our isolation, alienating us from networking and (re)acquiring all of the necessary skills to thrive in today’s global tribe.
print books = linear  / person <alone>
networks = rhizomatic / people >together<
240px-Chief_Joseph-1877
“…let us put our minds together and see what future we can make for our children…”.
Nez Perce Chief Joseph
Reference nodes:
With much gratitude to photographer John Dalkin, who kindly granted permission for me to use his astonishingly beautiful fractal/photo. Thank you, John!