education

The EdTech Team Brazil Gafe Summit

So.
This is a hindsight post. You might be finding this a bit awkward but trust me, there’s a good reason for that. The EdTech Team Brazil Summit featuring Google for Education (São Paulo, May 16 and 17, 2015) was certainly the most intense learning experience I’ve had this year. We spent two days attending great sessions and networking with other passionate professionals and educators who were eager to share and connect. My group (Carla, Samara, and Sílvia) put together a long Google doc in which we recorded the ideas and insights we got attending the sessions. Going over it now, half a year later, I am reminded of the exhilarating feeling of learning something new all the time. Talk about real flow.

If I were to forget every detail of the summit and be left with a single word or feeling, it would be EMPOWERMENT.

I learned how empowering it can be for a student to have the opportunity of creating a solid digital portfolio that showcases his talents and achievements. A well-cultivated digital portfolio will follow a student for years, even into his academic and professional life. What a wonderful and rich addition to one’s résumé a strong portfolio can be. These ideas were discussed in Holly Clark‘s inspiring session Rethinking Assessment with Digital Portfolios, where she also shared some practical tips on how to help students build their portfolios, as well as how to enhance learning by means of self-assessment. Again, the word that comes to mind is empowerment. If done right, growing a digital portfolio may actually become a sort of map for the student to find his calling. It could be the beginning of one’s life work.

In my a-ha moment in this session, I wrote:

Digital portfolios are all about digital citizenship and building their (students’) personal brand online. The stuff they curate shows who they are. It teaches them about design. (Friends don’t let friends use word art **lol**) Students need to learn to purposefully populate what they have associated with their name online.

I also learned the empowerment that comes from the connections we make, and what we learn from people who share a common passion. Being immersed in this edtech environment has taught me a lot about what I’m going to call the edtech ethos, that is, the characteristics and behaviors of a specific group of professionals. These guys were all about learning by doing, discovering new ways, hacking new paths. And they were also about the pleasure of sharing something they just learned with the person sitting next to them. Feeling that everyone has something to bring to the table is empowering, indeed.

In hindsight, the experience I had in this event inspired me to push forward in my professional projects as an Ed Admin. I basically learned that wonderful things can happen when you bring together a group of people who share a common passion and a purpose: to learn as much from each other as possible so that we can impact the people who make us teachers who we are: our students.

The next stage of our Google Classroom project was major. We went from 12 to 50 teachers using Classroom in our school. That happened a couple of months after the Summit. I can’t help but feel that we’ll be seeing more ripples become waves after this awesome learning experience.

A ripple that has become a wave…

mywhy

#PD by Design

I have written about how I flipped my staff meeting here and would now like to devote another post to the initial stage of that session, which I called the poster & post-its stage. I had come across IDEO’s Design Thinking for Educators the previous year. I’d known very little about Design Thinking, yet just enough to get me curious. So when I found this resource which proposed a design thinking approach to address every-day situations faced by educators, I was eager to learn more about it and maybe find possible applications to my particular context.

The poster & post-its activity was meant to be the entry point to a larger reflection process in which I wanted teachers to engage collaboratively to generate possible solutions for a challenge – to find ways of successfully adaptating a newly adopted coursebook to our context. Therefore, I wanted teachers to approach that challenge by first discovering and interpreting the key elements of our teaching-learning reality by collectively braisntorming answers to the three questions below, whose answers I will now attempt to summarize and interpret in this post.

Who are our students?

wordle1

 

Our Advanced students are mostly teenagers. They are mostly overwhelmed by the amount of schoolwork they already have aside from the work we ask of them as part of our EFL program. It is the belief of many teachers that these teenagers are under a lot of pressure from their parents and society in general to prepare themselves to compete for a spot in the best federal universities of our country. They are, therefore, busy and tired kids. They are, nonetheless, seen as bright and fast learners, who belong to privileged social classes. They have easy access to technology, and most of them have a smart phone and a tablet. These teenagers tend to have a very good level of fluency in English but could still profit a lot from more work on grammatical accuracy and on broadening their lexical repertoire. Most teachers see students as capable and demanding individuals who are also dynamic and restless. They are individuals with diverse needs who are not easily pleased.

What are their needs?

wordle2

 

Most teachers believe our Advanced students need practice, lots of practice. Teachers believe students need to be challenged and inspired so that they can become engaged. They also need teachers’ guidance and attention. Many teachers mentioned that our teenagers need to feel respected and heard, and that their motivation hinges on those two aspects. Many teachers also mentioned that our teenagers need to have fun, to find learning a pleasant activity. This approach would lighten the pressure they bring from school, which overloads them with work in a heavy test-taking, score-oriented culture. Some teachers also mentioned that students still need some limits and positive role models. They need to be taught discipline. There was also mention that teachers need to have students do less ‘talking’ and more ‘making’, in the sense of fostering opportunities for students to use the language meaningfully, to do something with the language they have learned all these years. Most teachers also feel that our teenagers need to achieve better command of the language and a higher level of proficiency.

How might we meet their needs?

wordle3

A majority of teachers mentioned the need to connect with students to find out what really matters to them, bringing the classroom environment closer to their reality. Teachers feel they need to plan lessons that appeal to what our teenagers like. Teachers also believe that they need to engage in meaningful, authentic interactions with their teenage students. Teachers feel they need to challenge students by promoting interaction in the classroom with a myriad of activities on interesting topics. Many teachers mentioned the need to explore the affordances of technology to engage students, saying they need to find ways of getting students to use their smart phones to do meaningful work in the classroom. It is clear that teachers believe that they need to carefully plan lessons and that they need to share those plans and ideas amongst themselves.

I must say that as course supervisor I am quite proud to work with a group of teachers who have such beliefs and whom I know to be capable of understanding what t takes to connect with our teenage students in order to make the most of their learning experiences, together. It is my impression that our group of teachers shares quite a lucid, down-to-earth take on our students’ needs, and that’s what makes us a reference among other binational centers and language institutes around the country. One of the purposes of this post was to provide feedback to our teachers on the richness of content generated by them during this in-service session. It’s always important to know where we stand and what our shared beliefs are in order to strengthen our bonds as well as our committment to realizing our own and our students’ full potentials, and in so doing, consolidating our reputation. Let us now take these reflections and insights and do great things in the classroom, together.

 

Daring and doing: the first decade

Professional development is a big deal for us here at the Casa. So much so that we hold our very own yearly seminars, which are attended not only by our local TEFL community but also by professionals coming from different cities and states in Brazil. It is an amazing opportunity to strengthen our “PD muscle” and connect with amazing professionals and individuals from all over the globe. The 2014 edition of the CTJ TEFL Seminar was no different, and yet, it had a special flavor of accomplishment to it, since this year we celebrated its 10th anniversary.

The day began with ESL professor Rob Jenkins‘ plenary on a topic which never gets old – motivation. Rob reminded us of the importance of successfully developing an atmosphere that fosters student confidence, and that we should always be deeply aware of the difference between teaching and learning. That teaching has to be regarded as a byproduct of learning, and that it is our role as teachers to be deeply aware that what may seem to be great, solid teaching may not necessarily result in learning, especially if we find ourselves teaching lessons in spite of the learners and their individual learning styles, cognitive abilities, and unique personalities.

Later on, I had the pleasure of engaging a group of ten fellow teachers and professionals in my Seminar presentation “On wearing two hats: Teaching and responding to writing”. I began my talk explaining how the idea for that session had come up. That it had actually sprung up from a training session I had delivered earlier this year, and from the connections and the contributions made by this group of pre-service teachers who were absolutely motivated to learn more about teaching effective writing lessons, as well as providing effective corrective feedback on students’ writings. I also mentioned the fact that I’d begun blogging earlier this year, sharing with them the one feature of blogging that I appreciate the most (other than the fact that I simply love writing), which is the possibility of connecting with others. It was a very productive session, thanks to the amazing contributions made by my colleagues throughout. We got to discuss extremely important concepts when it comes to teaching writing. The first one is how fostering a sense of audience in our students is critical in actually motivating them to write. The second, the awareness that our students are in a quest for finding their voice and that we teachers need to nurture that.

After a lovely lunch (some delicious feijoada) by the Paranoá lake with a dear friend, I had the pleasure of attending an ever so useful session called “Mobile devices in the EFL classroom: What’s App 101”, delivered/facilitated by fellow teachers Daniela Lyra, Leonardo Sampaio and Paola Barbieri Hanna. The session began with some very pertinent discussion on the topic of cell phone use in the classroom, and how we deal with excessive student texting during lessons, for example. We also had the chance of clarifying any doubts we had regarding the use and the functions of What’s App, followed by some discussion on sensible social media use policy in schools. Daniela Lyra took us through the SAMR model, explaining each of its stages with some practical classroom examples. The session progressed into a more hands-on stage, with each of the facilitators working separately with smaller groups, sharing some extremely engaging activities in which students use What’s App in so many effective ways for learning and practicing the language.

It was then time for the last plenary of the Seminar, a virtual plenary delivered by RELOBrazil EFL consultant Heather Benucci. The title of the plenary says it all: “Care and feeding required: Sustaining your personal learning network (PLN)”. Heather shared with us some smart strategies for building and sustaining a strong PLN, as well as the countless possibilities of achieving professional development goals with the support of a solid PLN. One particular aspect she discussed called my attention. The fact that, after a while, and after you have managed to build a good PLN, we need to beware of the echo chamber effect. We need to try and diversify our connections by finding professionals and individuals who may not have similar views as our own, and from whom we may actually learn new things and broaden our perspectives, stepping out of the comfort zone. Another highlight of her plenary was an amazing video by Derek Sivers. It reminded me of how I felt before I began blogging and building my beloved PLN.

So, I leave you with this bit:

Maybe what’s obvious to you is amazing to someone else.

Ponder that for a while.