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Reflections from a teacher trainer on education, language teaching, psychoanalysis and other issues of major interest.
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I´m new at SCOOP IT. I’m here thanks to the encouragement of a colleague and friend Giselle Santos, who is a fully-fledged curator around here with literally thousands of followers.


In case you don’t know me, I've been an English teacher and trainer for 30 years now. (How time flies!)


Throughout these years I have seen many trends come and go, have been "forced" to experiment with many difference "methodologies" and have grown a little wiser to know that some things are meant to go, but essential things are here to stay. Basic classroom management skills is one of those things. Discipline is another. I cannot envisage any learning experience in which some (however minimum) amount of discipline is not present. Obviously, I am speaking from a very personal perspective, as I consider myself to be a very disciplined person!


I also believe in curiosity. Curiosity did not kill the cat – it may have taken away one of his lives – but he has 7 – he’s got plenty of lives to spare. I strongly believe both teachers and students need to be curious - that's ultimately what makes learning worth-while.


In my spare time (LOL) I like to read and I go to the cinema. I also work as a body psychotherapist. I have few patients – as many as I manage to fit in after my office hours, but I do my best to help them become “better” people. Seeing a patient is a little like teaching one-to-one, but going deeper into matters!


Currently I work as an Academic Coordinator at CULTURA INGLESA in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. I'm in charge of a number of distance training courses and I'm the editor of the institution’s TEACHERS' PORTAL. Throughout these years, I have written quite a number of editorials, which I intend to share with you here – those which may not have become too dated or may not have lost their relevance.


That's me in a nutshell: eager to learn - willing to share.

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Guilherme Pacheco's insight:

“Something there is that doesn't love a wall” is the opening line of one of my favorite poems by Robert Frost.

Classroom teachers have been constantly reminding their students that the use of the English language should never be restricted to the walls of the classroom. I’ve been constantly reminding teachers that one way of doing this is by showing to students how much of what they’re exposed to outside the classroom is, in fact, part of the English speaking culture. Here's how we could put our technology-rich classroom into good use: with the help of a few websites, the teacher would be bringing into the classroom a taste of whatever he can get hold of that is current and at the same time linked to the culture of an English-speaking country.

Right now, the most obvious example would be the newly released version of The Great Gatsby. The Great Gatsby was one of the first books I read at university. When I read the book, I had probably seen the film version with Mia Farrow and Robert Redford beforehand. I couldn’t possibly remember – this was more than 30 years ago. I never thought F. Scott Fitzgerald's book was a great piece of literature. I was more into wild palms and lights in August. Yet, irrespective of what one might think of the book, it is a classic of American Literature and should be read (or at least students should know about it). Baz Luhrmann’s film version of the book will do just that: give a wider audience the chance to appreciate and learn about Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan and the walls that separated them, the way a wall separates the rich and the poor.

If a teacher were interested in exploiting the connections between the film and the American culture, the easiest way to do that would be to invite students to watch the trailer and then allow students to talk about their reasons to see or maybe not to see the film. That would be the simplest thing to do. But there are, of course, many other approaches to the story. When we enter the landscape of a literary work and we start to analyze characters and their motives and their whys and wherefores, there’s no stopping us – or at least, there’s no stopping me. A book page is like the walls of a labyrinth in the sense that they oppress us and, therefore, instill in us the desire to keep on towards the end. (Good books definitely oppress me.)

In this particular case, I think there’s also the possibility of:

Approaching the book from the perspective of rumors and hearsay and what not.


Discussing The Jazz Age and the influence of music in certain moments of History.

 Discussing The American Dream and the right for one individual to his/her own pursuit of happiness (and its feasibility – then and now).

 Discussing the hollowness of the Upper Class.(Then and now –always then and now.)

Talking about drinking and loosening morals and the decline of the "American Empire".

Being called “great”: discussing which specific things and people have been entitled to the word and why, e.g. the Great Wall of Chine, Alexander - the Great, the Great Lakes, etc. Oops, I almost forgot – Great Britain. Hang on, shouldn’t it be Greater Britain – as in “a city or country and its adjacent area?

Assuming that you liked the idea of using the film to talk about the book, to talk about the culture, whichever way you decide to tackle the story, you will be contributing to your students’ understanding that the language they are learning is embedded in culture and makes infinite more sense when taught hand in hand with it.

Start chipping a wall with pick-axes and that’s what you get: a crack, a hole, a bigger tear, a view, and eventually - if you keep going - a field of possibilities.

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Life on the Fast Lane

Life on the Fast Lane | TEACHING FOR TEACHERS - TEACHING FOR LIFE | Scoop.it

Life on the Fast Lane


Guilherme Pacheco's insight:


Mila Navarro da Silva (Goiânia Sul) got me going on this: in our FABEBOOK group, she called our attention to a report from the Conselho Feederal fe Medicina on the issue of ADHD. Some people LIKED IT but I doubted many teachers would have delved into the text with any amount of interest. It is a very technical document which I imagine would discourage the layman (or woman) in seconds. Having said that, the issue is relevant to all classroom teachers so I promised her I would read it and select facts which would be relevant and basically “tone it down” so as to make it more readable. For what it’s worth, here’s my version of the document which aimed at answering the question: Are children being overdiagnosed and overmedicated for ADHD in Brazil? 

The overall conclusion was NO. 

But before reaching that point, the report defines ADDH: ADHD (short for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) is classified under the DSM-IV (a book used by psychiatrists to describe psychopathology and its treatment) under Disorders First Diagnosed in Infancy, Childhood, or Adolescence. Its cardinal features arehyperactivity, short attention span and impulsivity that is developmentally inappropriate. 

Children with this diagnosis are a caricature of the “active” child. They are physically overactive, distracted, inattentive, impulsive, and hard to manage. In the classroom, these children don’t always pay attention, fidget and fuss, fall off chairs and disrupt conversations. Their grades in tests are usually low. 

ADHD affects 3% to 6% of school age children. This means that in a regular group of 15 students, you may have from O to (maybe) 1 student who is hyperactive. (All otherboisterous students are being naturally active - as they are meant to be: boys and girls will be boys and girls.) 

The report informs us that medication is crucial in handling ADHD. Some children start with medication from the age of 6. Stimulant medications (in Brazil, methylphenidate, better known by its trademarked name of Ritalin) are often prescribed to treat individuals diagnosed with ADHD. 

The term comorbidity is used quite a number of times in the document in order to indicate that the ADHD diagnosis is often associated with other disorders. psychiatric disorders, for example, the so-called conduct disorder, antisocial personality disorder, depression etc. 

In order to reach a final diagnosis, a psychiatrist undergoes a careful differential diagnosis. This is because any average child is fated to have at least some ADHD symptoms (especially high activity or low attention span) in some periods of their lives. Psychiatrists will go through a set of behaviours with a view to deciding: What is normal at each age level? How do we separate the wheat from the chaff? (Tough question that one, even for an experienced doctor!) 

The text provides a fewplausible and a few laughable hints for teachers: a well-structured classroom with very few students (Hello??), fixed routines, a predictable learning environment (Hello??), the possibility of engaging students actively in the learning process (e.g. via TPR) – these things are fundamental. Also, if you have a student with ADHD make sure he (not being sexist here – the little brat is much more likely to be a boy than a girl) sits close to you and away from any window (or similar distractors). 

In a nutshell, that’s what the report is about. As interesting side information: the document calls our attention to the fact that psychotropic drugs used in treating children have been unfairly demonized by religious organizations such as the Church of Scientology, a trend which may have reached Brazil in recent years. (More food for thought - but that's for later.)

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Thanks to Valéria França and Fernando Guarany, I’m in a Dogme state of mind. (Even more so.) The feasibility of TEACHING AN UNPLUGGED LESSON has been with me for a while now. When the Dogme manifesto was first proposed (year 2000), I was already out of the classroom, but my last few years as a classroom teacher included teaching Advanced “conversation” courses in which there wasn’t a coursebook and in which I shared with students the responsibility of co-constructing the lessons. The students submitted videos and articles and we would choose together what we wanted to work with. Along the lines of what today I learnt the teaching unplugged movement knows as a MATERIALS LIGHT LESSON.


The implication is pretty obvious. By making the lesson materials light, you are literally opening the space and time for language to EMERGE. If the language emerges in English, the teacher LISTENS. (Maybe he/she writes a few things down for future reference (RECORDING & RETRIEVING). And then teachers and students INTERACT and the teacher STRIKES A CONVERSATION with students, or the other way around, there’s room for students to strike a conversation with teachers. When necessary, the teacher SCAFFOLDS the learning process. The language that emerges from the teacher-student interaction becomes CORE LANGUAGE and is dealt with in exactly the same way teachers have always dealt with language – the teacher may expand on the grammar aspect behind the sentence, he/she may drill, may highlight a certain language feature, you’re a teacher, you know what I’m talking about.


Teaching unplugged is a little bit like writing this editorial. I may have a starting point (= talk about the training session I attended), but I don’t necessarily know where this is taking me. And to a certain extent, I don’t care. Taken out of context, this would sound horrible (so please don’t). But what’s implicit is I trust that the process of writing would be going in a good-enough direction.


Teaching unplugged is clearly not the direction our institution would want to go, so why would the whole of the Academic Department spend 4 hours talking about it – mind you, this was not a session, it was meant to be a CONVERSATION, just like in a classroom situation. The tone was very DIALOGIC to prove a point: if one can teach unplugged, one can also train unplugged. Paradoxically, I haven’t felt as PLUGGED to a teaching seminar as I felt last Thursday. I confess: Lately, power-point sessions have bored me to a state of nausea – including when I’m the presenter and I have prepared too many slides! (I’m working on that, I promise.) But back to the question: Why? Because we need to understand what teachers and trainers around the world have been trying out in order to TAKE INFORMED DECISIONS – and hopefully run a few risks along the way; as the proverb goes, nothing ventured, nothing gained.


By being asked to contribute to the discussion (= “What you have to say matters.”), I felt energized and focused. As a consequence, I wanted to listen to every single contribution (= ATTENTION). If nothing else, because I wanted to interact and I wanted to share back.

It would be impossible for me to list here all I heard, but I’m going to pick and choose some ideas which I think may be readily applicable in most of our lessons:


1. Learn to PAY ATTENTION and LISTEN to students. If you are doing that already, go down a notch. (Listening is like being a better person, there’s always room for improvement.)


2. Remember to INVOLVE STUDENTS right from the very beginning of your lesson.


3. Create a few “unplugged” moments in your lesson. For instance, use one of your “open lessons” to try out 20 minutes of an interaction in which there’s you and the students, the board where you’ll write things down, and the GAP. Fill the gap with one question and see what happens. (Hold your students hands and take a promenade through the gap.)


4. If you’re planning on using too many resources in one single lesson, leave out one of these resources out and use the time to listen and pay attention to students (and to yourself.)


5. Watch out for LEARNING OPPORTUNITIES that may simply spring up during your lessons. If you hear an interesting expression being used by a student, call other students’ attention to it and thrown them a challenge, for instance, ask: “Do you all know how to use this? Can you try it out in a different context?”


6. Give students some time to work on their own before breaking them into pairs and groups. Give them time to ponder over the question at hand. While students are doing pair and group work, monitor and interfere (as in, FEED them LANGUAGE).


7. Be the language expert you set out to become when you decided to embrace a career in TELF.


8. Be yourself.


Right in the beginning, it was mentioned that some teachers unplug as one last go at making the classroom event more enjoyable. So here’s the ultimate test: take an honest look at what you and your students are doing. If it’s all going fine, if everyone is happy, if the lesson flows, don’t change anything. (Why should you?)


But if it’s not, just think about where the problem may lie: You may be trying to blow the classroom balloon way too hard. And yes, balloons need a lot of gas to go up, and they need the strings. But never forget: Once a balloon in the sky, it’s the calmer winds that will take it in a given direction. (Have a safe flight.)

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I did the RSA Diploma while I was living in London in the early 90’s. The course’s main tutor was Ruth Gairns, the author of Working with Words published by CUP. Needless to say, vocabulary teaching was particularly important to her: With Ruth I learnt how to teach a lesson that went beyond grammar or skills – with her I learnt the tricks of the trade behind teaching a “vocabulary lesson”.


As part of our pedagogical plan this year, we have decided to tackle VOCABULARY, more specifically, the way we record words and expressions onto the VOCABULAY PAGE. We started off by clearing up a few misconceptions, for instance, the idea that teachers can prepare their VOCABULARY PAGE before the lesson. Rule # 1- The vocabulary recorded onto this page is co-constructed during the lesson with the help of the students.


Within this context, the teacher needs to act on his/her feet: he/she selects words and expressions as they crop up in the lesson – either in situations when students lack vocabulary items and ask for them (the usual: “Teacher, how do I say ‘chato’ in English?”) or when the teacher wants to highlight the correct use of a word or expression (for instance, when a student gets two words mixed up.) Here I’d also include a rarer situation - those great occasions in which students themselves come up with interesting vocabulary items – words and expressions which might be worth sharing with the rest of the group. I remember the day I observed a lesson and heard a student saying to a classmate during a role play of a father-daughter conversation:“Hey, don’t push your luck.”. Unfortunately, the teacher that day was too worried with my presence to really listen to the language emerging from the students’ interaction – so the expression lived in my mind only.


But simply recording the word onto the VOCABULARY PAGE is not enough. Words will come alive when we feel a sense of ownership in relation to them. In order for that to happen we need to “toy” with words first. We need to try them out until we feel confident to use them. In other words, we become acquainted with their meaning and form. And little by little this sense of ownership grows until the words in question become second nature to us. Before that happens, we won’t feel “authorized” to use them.


The most obvious teaching implication for what I’ve just described is the fact that it’s not enough for students to be exposed to words. Just like with everything else in teaching, there’s work to be done. We need to put shoulder to wheel. (Check how interesting: (a) I saw this expression being used by Stephan Hughes in one of the EARLY INSET discussions for the first time this week. (b) I liked it. (c) I inferred the meaning from context, but decided to double-check it online, anyway. (d) I checked images related to the expression. (e) I decided to try it out here. (f) The idiom is now mine as well as his.)


Words, words, words. There’s no denying it now, is there? I cherish them dearly. I like to cradle them in my hands, the way we do with a mug when we fear it might fall. Or when it’s cold, and we want the hot drink to warm our hands.


Words. I like to think that I became a language teacher because I couldn’t bear looking at so many words imprisoned within the pages of a dictionary. I wanted to free them - always comforted in the fact that they may decide to go away, but they always come back.

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A lot of my weekend was spent in front of the TV watching the Olympic Games – with a near-lethal
dose of passion – similar to the passion shown by athletes to face their opponents.

In life, for every point, there’s counterpoint: Freud’s pleasure principle informs us that, as a human being I will seek whatever is pleasurable to me. Freud’s reality principle sinks down a notch: I may have to delay immediate pleasure when reality calls for it. Athletes are perfect examples of deferred gratification. Hours and hours of hardship sustained by one fundamental hope: to overcome their limits and (if all goes well) to win. And all their effort put at stake in a matter of minutes or sometimes – when it comes to my favorite sport – swimming, for instance – in a matter of seconds.

Aristotle in his Rhetoric urged us to see passion as something that will alter our senses with two distinctive results – suffering or pleasure. As seen in Life, best teacher in the market: some lessons will be taught – by hook or by crook.

Passion is also my take on Jim Scrivener’s Demand High ELT – an attempt at rescuing the no-pain-no-gain aspect of learning, which may have been absent from the field of language teaching for a while. Jim was in Brazil for both ABCI and BRAZ-TESOL and I dare say his words were heard very eloquently by his audience – a standing ovation at BRAZ-TESOL is clearly an indication that his passion for teaching resonated with many of the teachers present.

In his talk, Jim urges teachers to ask themselves four very simple yet fundamental questions:

Are our learners capable of more, much more? (If they are – then by all means “stretch” them.)

Have the tasks and techniques we use in class become rituals and ends in
themselves?  (If they have – then by all means find a way to “stretch” yourself.)

How can we stop “covering material” and start focusing on the potential for deep learning? (Learn how to “stretch” the interaction between you and your students beyond
pages and machineries.)

What small tweaks and adjustments can we make to shift the whole focus of our teaching towards getting that engine of learning going?  (Small is beautiful. There’s no need to “over-stretch”. There’s no need to break the camel’s back. Start from where you and your students stand. But remember to sink down a notch.)


Apart from the Games, two sensational films taught me great lessons on passion this weekend: The blockbuster Batman and the vibrantly wrenching Japanese film 13 Assassins. Both of them go back to basics – the way of the hero, the way of the samurai, the way of the teacher, the way of the student - they mean the same: while there’s life, there’s reason to fight.

Fighting makes us alert: we pray (when and if we pray) and we watch. We prepare ourselves for frustration. We may fail. (And failing we will. That may be unconsciously what prevents many from taking the plunge.)

When you expect more from yourself and your students, the odds may or may not be in your favor. That’s ultimately immaterial. Redemption is not intended for those who atone for sins. Instead, it comes for those who Try (with a capital T).

Sergio Pizzigatti's comment, August 3, 2012 1:29 PM

I was present at Jim's talk and was absolutely overwhelmed by his passion and statements! As you described , the audience's reaction has shown us that the wake-up call was fully understood!
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I have good news and bad news for you. First, the bad news: Learning is inhibited by threat. Good news: I told you that in PART 1, so, at least in theory, that doesn’t qualify as bad news. It’s
just bad.


Good news (Lesson # 3): In very much the same way that learning can be inhibited by threat, it can also be enhanced by challenge. We need to challenge our brains all the time in order to help them maintain their structure and function. As we discussed last week, there’s a lot of information competing for our attention: what’s not being used constantly is bound to be lost.


Bad news: the brain is a fragile structure. It’s no wonder nature has hidden the brain inside the skull. (Remember to treat it gently and kind.) Good news: the brain is plastic(Lesson # 4). It can re-invent itself. The brain learns from experiences and makes predictions about best actions in response to present and future challenges.


Now put three and four together: By challenging our students and by giving them the chance to make predictions, we are helping them to learn. If we do that consistently, their brains will be
forever thankful. When you give students the chance to predict, you are activating your students’ brain circuits big time. You are probably thinking: “Big deal. I do that already.” According to Dr. Judy Willis, you probably do, but not as often as you should. So, if you want to engage students (a)
challenge them, (b) give them a chance to predict and bet on their own predictions (c) give them immediate feedback.


In order to understand that, we need to briefly talk about the role of the neurotransmitter dopamine, a chemical used for communication between brain cells. Our brain will release a bit of dopamine every time we feel “rewarded”. It’s like the brain saying: “You’ve done a good job. Here’s something to make you feel good about yourself.” Next thing you know it, the brain gets “addicted” to dopamine and it wants more. But it needs to be further challenged. Like Britney, our brains are singing/screaming for more.


You may be asking yourself: What if my students don’t get it right in the first place? That’s where, immediate corrective feedback comes in. (Lesson # 4) Here's some immediate feedback: No, it's not - it's actually Lesson # 5 - just checking that you are paying attention! By correcting students assumption on the spot, you are giving them the chance to see their mistakes, thus, facilitating their improvement in performance when you next challenge them. Errors, as we understand are seen as opportunities to improve rather than an indication of failure.


But remember, when students start to get it right, they need to be further challenged. (Along the lines of what Vygotsky postulated in relation to working within our students ZPD. Or, alternatively, along the lines of what game designers do. Why do you think games can be so addictive? Think about the challenges that players constantly go through, progressively moving from one level of difficulty to another, and you will know exactly why.)


One final piece of bad news: You may have understood everything I said up to now, but whether you’re going to remember everything, well, that’s another kettle of fish altogether.

A kettle of fish is a nice final thought. They say fish can't remember much. A final piece of good news: we’ll be dealing with the role of memory in learning in my next editorial. If your memory is
as bad as a fish's, write it down in your diary. And then, remember to come back for more.

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When I’m hungry my brain gets angry. When I drink too much my brain gets groggy. When I’m not learning anything new, my brain gets restless. Over the last few months I’ve befriended my brain in a way I didn’t think it would be possible. Because of my interest in psychotherapy, I read The Mindful Brain. Because of my urge to look after my own brain, I read Making a Good Brain Great. And now I go full circle and delve into the connections between brain studies and education. I’ve just finished reading Ignite Student Learning by Dr. Judy Willis. I also travelled to beautiful Santa Barbara, CA, and joined teachers and school administrators from different parts of the world for a 4-day seminar on the links between learning and neurology applied to education.


The event, which was co-sponsored by Learning and the Brain, was led by Dr. Judy Willis herself. Judy has the “best of both worlds”, so to speak. She’s a neurologist who took a new turning point in her career, went back to university and got a degree in Teaching. She didn’t stop there. With her teaching license in hands, she got a job as a teacher and became a full-time primary school teacher! (I imagine she talked to her brain and they agreed it was high time they tried out some new synapses!)


I’ve learnt so much in these four days that I decided to share some of what we discussed in Santa Barbara with you. Initially and in preparation for a full-blown seminar, I’ll be writing a few editorials on facts about the brain and their classroom implications. Hopefully by doing so, we’ll be opening ourselves up to an exciting field that has a lot to contribute to education. If, like me, you’ve been trying to reform education and help it create new linchpins, this could be it. (Don’t say I didn’t warn
you.) Also, because, as brain specialists know: Neurons that wire together, fire together. So here's my selfish inner motive: By sharing my views with you via these editorials, I hope to be able to wire my neurons even more together.
(BTW, count that as lesson # 1.)


Lesson # 2

To understand how the brain works, we need to consider where it all starts. If you think you can talk directly to your student’s PFC (short for pre-frontal cortex as if you were saying: OK, time for a PFC-to-PFC talk.) you’ve got another thought coming. It all starts with the RAS filter (short for Reticular Activating System). The RAS is a primitive low brain structure that is programmed to select intake based on survival value for animals in unpredictable environments. Imagine this as being the entry door to your home - the threshold for knowledge. (Imagine you look through the peephole of your door and you don't like what you see. Do you open the door just the same?)


This primitive structure responds to threat by shutting down, or more accurately, activating the fight-flight-freeze response in our body. The interesting point for us, teachers, is it doesn't take too much for this system to be turned on. A student who's being teased by a classmate may feel threatened to the point of temporary unresponsiveness. The facts are simple, but the implications for the classroom are numerous. You can’t pre-determine what your students’ brain will allow in. Just know that information is more likely to be selected if there is no threat and (here goes a new piece of information) when the stimulus is novel.


So what you can effectively do is minimize the chances of your students feeling threatened by lowering the affective filter in the classroom environment. In other words, according to Judy Willis, Stephen Krashen was definitely right.One of our main challenges in the beginning of a lesson is to present information in such a novel way that the RAS will select this input over other competing stimuli. Yes, as a teacher you will be constantly competing for attention!


Time for a sy-napse (A term coined by Dr. Judy Willis: Your brain is beginning to switch off, I can feel it, so let’s give it a break.) Stop for a minute and share what you’ve just read with a fellow teacher if you are in the teachers’ room, or your partner or a friend, if you are outside school, or your neighbor, for that matter. Never mind who
you share it with, just do the sharing.


But before that, here’s a preview of what we’ll be talking about in my next post: How do we stimulate a brain? (Part of the answer lies in deciding why I included this question here.) Ask your brain WHY and sleep on the answer.



Don’t blame me if you get bitten by the brain bugs. ;-)

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One of the things I like most about online training is that you can always go back to materials for further insights. The internet, being a powerful repository of information, will help you store the work for future reference. This week I decided to go back to an unmoderated forum discussion by novice teachers in the institution
(not necessarily inexperienced) about the use of L1 in the language classroom.


Here are a few of the comments which I would like to (deconstruct).


“Convincing students they need to speak as much English in class as they can is like
pulling teeth!” (i.e., teaching is at times a painful and strenuous task.)


“To help Encourage students to use English, I use the "Happy dollars" technique.
Whenever the Ss have a positive behavior I give them a happy dollar bill, which
you can draw using Microsoft Word. It helps.” (i.e., learning is about positive
reinforcement symbolized by the dollar bill = money)


“One of the suggestions is a "Bunny" for those who speak Portuguese when they are
not supposed to. This toy thing means the one with the Bunny at the end of the
class gets extra homework.” (i.e., learning is about negative reinforcement.
And too bad if you’re out of luck today.)


“Each group can receive a golden star, when they use a new expression or try to explain the meaning of a word in English; or a skull, when they speak Portuguese.”
(i.e., learning is about positive (= star) AND negative reinforcement (= skull). (i.e., Speak English and you shine. Speak Portuguese and you’re dead to me.)


“My bribing method is related to watching YouTube videos at the end of the class. The student who speaks the most in English is the one to choose.” (i.e., I bribe students – I need to gain their influence via “illegal” methods. I have no “true” power over them.)


It occurs to me that many teachers are using a reward/punishment strategy to deal with an issue that, in theory, should explain why students come to us. Getting students to speak English is the reason – the “raison d’être” for our existence. (A loan word from French – I’m being facetious here.)


To a certain extent learning is about reward/punishment, but I refuse to think that many students will use English because they are afraid of being punished and that many others will use it simply because they want to become the teacher’s pet. I’d love to think that students will want to speak English because they understand (first and foremost) that knowing English is useful – that knowing English will help “open doors” while setting up the new video-game, while searching for a tool on the net. Or those younger kids who may see how much fun it is to play this “guessing game” of calling things by a different name – the cadeira that becomes a chair, the mesa that becomes a table: “The teacher is weird but funny when he/she does that. But because this is clearly a game, I want to play along.”


Without getting the students to find pleasure in using the target language, they might find it hard to succeed. And where do they first pick that up? They pick it up from you. They read from your limbic system how comfortable you are and how fun it is for you to be able to communicate in the foreign language. There are, of course, the moments when they switch into Portuguese because quite simply they are not ready to speak their minds in English. In other words, our fault for setting a challenge that is too removed from their current level of expertise. Food for thought: How doable are the speaking tasks I’m assigning to students?


Amongst the replies I read in this same forum, one stands out. Here’s someone whose thought I would definitely subscribe to (Vinícius de Oliveira Souza from our Goiânia Bueno branch):


“My strategy has always been to get students to find pleasure and reason to communicate in the target language. And I try to be a role-model for that. I know I won't succeed with everyone, maybe not even with the majority, but then again my job is just to help, to guide, to counsel, and to provide the tools that will facilitate the learning or acquisition of a second language. When students speak Portuguese in my class, I simply respect that as a personal choice and respond to it in English as I always do. I try to join in the conversation, instead of disregarding it as misconduct. Usually, they immediately switch back again to English to talk to me.”


Which reminds me: there’s work to be done in terms of transferring part of the authority where it belongs. At some point it is ultimately the student’s responsibility to ask him/her: Why is it again that I want to speak English?

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I realised it was the full moon while I walked back home from the parking lot last night. When I finally went to bed, I dreamt I was reading a watermelon. I can still picture myself flipping through those watery red pages – and the black seeds. “What juicy story may I have been reading about and not necessarily living?”, I wondered.

There’s nothing black and white about watermelons and dreams.


Teaching is not a clear-cut piece of fruit either. Neither is it a piece of cake. I personally never thought it was. Our list of principles and beliefs include: Learning is a multi-dimensional process, involving social, cognitive-linguistic and affective-motivational aspects. (That’s how complex.)


Every time we try to pigeonhole education into a uniform format we hurt ourselves and we hurt our students. Language teachers, for instance, simplify linguistic concepts to their students for pedagogical reasons – i.e., to make our lessons more digestible – knowing only too well that what we are teaching them is only temporarily true. When it comes to “Real Life, Real English”, we lie blatantly to our students – for a good reason, I suppose.


Bloom had it right: lower order thinking is but a stepping stone to a higher order. In other words, we teach our students to remember, understand, and apply so that they can ultimately analyse, evaluate, and create. That’s also the message behind dream interpretation: unless you can delve into the realms of creation, you won’t be able to decipher dreams. In which case dreams become like sphinges: they have no option but to devour us.


Unfortunately Bloom is a has-been. When I mentioned Boom and his taxonomy to recently hired teachers no-one knew who I was talking about. Maybe some of them knew it and were just afraid I might devour them if they gave me the wrong answer. How little do they know about me.


Bloom urges teachers to go beyond the black (right) and white (wrong). Or black (wrong) and white (right). (I’ve recently been dazzled by Viola Davis‘s performance in The Help, so right now black is right.) I’m a major fan of elicitation exactly because of that: It’s an open invitation for students to speak – that’s what elicitation is. (But I also know that every time I elicit with a hidden agenda in mind, I run the risk of getting myself frustrated.)


When I think of a “dream” lesson, I always envisage a lesson in which I start something off and then I watch my students. And I listen to them. And we take it from there. My lesson plan comes to life when it’s being shared with students.


I like the never-ending mystery that underlies human interaction. It doesn’t come easy: It makes me sweat. It makes me jump. At times it makes me shout and it also makes me want to fight. But every now and then I get it right. When that happens, I blame it on the moon.

Lucas Rigonato's comment, March 19, 2013 9:27 AM
and here I see another reference to sphinges. Interesting!
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As far as I can remember, Márcia Nogueira (Learning Factory Senior Editor) was the first one to talk to me explicitly about multi-modality and the way our students “read” the world as a combination of many different resources. Among these resources, images rule. Time used to be measured in days and hours. Nowadays it’s measured in frames and pixels.


More and more our lessons reflect some of these changes: our materials have brought much visual impact to our lessons. If the new generation is primarily “visual”, then perhaps we could get them to contribute to our lessons but sharing some of their thoughts and ideas about what pictures represent to them. The following activities are simple enough to help us start reflecting on the impact of using DIGITAL CAMERAS in the classroom.



“How was your week-end?” is a common question we ask students on a Monday or Tuesday at the beginning of our lessons. One alternative is to get students to take three or four pictures of their weekend highlights. They may decide to use POWER POINT to make a slide show of these activities or simply share them with their classmates via their mobile phones.



Students who have been with us long enough are likely to have been taught by more than two or three different teachers. Get students to take pictures of some of their favourite ex-teachers and invite them to create a digital handbook to give new students. Get them to write a brief comment for each ex-teacher they may have photographed.Use SMILEBOX to create your handbook.



Encourage students to prepare our new advertising campaign. Help them to select an appropriate slogan as well as to take pictures of the images to go with the campaign.



Choose a metaphor - food for thought / difficult to swallow / to be the sunshine of someone’s life – and challenge students to produce a picture to go with the metaphors. Display students’ production on the walls. Together students select a winning picture.



Get students to photograph examples of how English is being used outside the classroom, for instance, in names of establishments, in magazine pages etc. Collect students ideas (they may decide to send them to you via e-mail) and get them to comment on the overall effectiveness of the language they have come up with.



Students visit a shopping mall and take pictures of windows they may find interesting. In class they upload their pictures onto the interactive whiteboard and explain what they like about the shop windows they photographed. This may be particularly interesting during special holiday seasons, for instance, Easter and Christmas.



As a follow-up to a lesson on colours, divide your students up in small groups and get them to photograph examples of specific colours in their neighbourhood, e.g., red, blue, green etc. Which colours prevail?



Create a simple Student of the Month poster for each class. Every month students vote and elect their candidate. The teacher takes a picture of the winner and creates a flipchart page for him / her.



Get students to take pictures of the doors in restrooms around town. Together students elect the most creative examples of restroom doors.



Students are encouraged to keep a camera for a day and to take as many pictures as they want of what happens during those specific 24 hours. In class they look for similarities and differences in the things they may have done that day. As a group, they focus on the similarities and create their “typical day” slideshow together.


Bottom line: when it comes to images, the sky is the limit.

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Every now and then I come across an Internet tool that is easy to use and has got a real “communicative” purpose in mind. When that happens, I like to share it with fellow teachers in the hope that they may, in turn, try it out with their students. The students – the end users – will, hopefully, enjoy the tool and think of personal ways they can put the tool to good use – in other words, a win-win situation.


When we first started our internet projects with students we chose blogs (and we quickly learnt from our mistake!). We soon realized how the true “communicative” nature of blogs involves intensive writing practice, a skill which students are not particularly fond of. Yet, somehow, they must write.


CheckThis will encourage students to write, but in simple and pre-formatted ways - single pages (if they so wish) as opposed to a group of them. This somehow makes the task more “digestible“ and once the task is done, they will be able to publish their work in no time. Also, depending on the task they choose to do (there are four basic tasks - TELL – SELL – ASK –INVITE), they will be able to interact with the people they share the document with. Say, for instance, they decide to publish an invitation to a party. They will effectively be able to create an RSVP online – simple, but very impressive.


As you´ve heard me saying all the time, I don’t believe in tools that teachers try out with students without them having a go at it first. My usual example is Facebook. I couldn´t possibly encourage my students to do a Facebook project because I don’t have a page myself. But I could do microblogging, instead because I’m a firm believer in Twitter and because I use it on a regular basis. I can, therefore, envisage its relevance for language students. I could do a VOX-O-POP project for similar reasons.'

With this in, mind I decided to create a few pages myself. So on to what matters – on to the hands-on.


Here’s the link to my TELL page - a simple list of 5 things I liked about a film.



Here’s the link to one of my editorials. It took me literally 2 minutes to prepare this page.



Here’s the link to my ASK page. Some teachers I tried it out with had problems seeing this speficic page, so watch out for a possible bug with some browsers.



All in all, CheckThis is simple to use and could be easily adapted to many lessons we teach. For starters, I can think of: TELL people (about a film you saw recently / a campaign you may wish to launch / a photo and a comment about the week-end / about my bedroom) SELL (second-hand books / one of your old digital cameras / 2 pieces of clothes from your wardrobe) ASK your friends’ views on anything that may be bugging you / INVITE your friends to your birthday party / to join you for a drink on Friday / to go to the cinema.


It shouldn’t be difficult to demonstrate to students how to start up a CheckThis page and run with it. The question we need to ask ourselves is: What do I want to share?

Whatever it may be, tell your students and the world about it.

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Contardo Calligaris was the first one to draw my attention to the study of happiness as a source of academic endeavor. The idea is corroborated by a number of social scientists, mainly in the USA. Sissela Bok for instance, a Harvard Professor of Philosophy, endorses the notion that happiness is worth exploiting from an academic perspective. After all, and I quote her: “Is there any pursuit more elemental to our existence?”


The Beatles knew the answer to that question was: “Obviously not.” No wonder so many of their songs revolved around the theme of happiness, my favorite being “Happiness is a Warm Gun”. At least the first that comes to mind, because it was the first one I learnt. This was way back in 1971, when I was a student of English and my teacher at the time decided it was about time we exposed ourselves to REAL English, or REAL happiness for that matter, who will tell when and where rupture will begin?


Because something did pop open that day. From the depth of her wisdom (or ignorance, God bless her) my teacher Teresa chose a song that even today when I look at it, I still can’t figure out exactly what it means!


Apparently Carlos Drummond de Andrade had the same problem when he once tried to translate its lyrics into Portuguese. How on Earth did Teresa get to teach us a song that refers to happiness as being “well-acquainted with the touch of the velvet hand like a lizard on a window pane”.


But she managed, and even today, when I think of the Beatles, that is the first song that comes to mind. And when I think of her, I also remember someone who was over-abundantly happy and who found her teaching career clearly satisfying. In other words, she was having a blast in the classroom and we reciprocated with a similar level of enthusiasm.


She probably knew she was holding a gun in her hands. Any human encounter is potentially a duel, an affair of honor and the classroom being full of humans is no exception. But hers was definitely a "warm" gun. So much so she was prepared to pull the trigger and shoot whenever she needed to burst some of our misconceptions about life. And boy, did we have a few!


Besides, we were kids who used to enjoy playing dead, just to find ourselves back on our feet again.


The beginning of term always gets me reminiscing about my school days and I’m glad to say those memories are mostly happy ones. This has little to do with the fact that I was an A student (extremely modest) and, more often than not, the teacher’s pet! It has a lot more to do with the fact that I was able to perceive the changes brought about by education and the growth these changes promised.


Bullets flying all over the place and there was I trying to get hit by at least some of them. Since then, I’ve become a "greatly injured" believer in education.

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Stuff-se because the cow went to - you know where

Stuff-se because the cow went to - you know where | TEACHING FOR TEACHERS - TEACHING FOR LIFE | Scoop.it
Guilherme Pacheco's insight:

The power of creativity has been in my mind for a while now. Here's one example: I like to go window-shopping simply because the art of window display has been perfected to its highest in order to stop anyone in their tracks these days. Most of the times, I don’t buy anything; but I take pictures of things I like.

 Yesterday, while walking around Moema in São Paulo, a message on a wall drew my attention instantly. I took a snapshot of the poster and it now illustrates this page. It is the slogan of a well-known taylor in the city: Alexandre Won. The reference to the English verb “bespoke” (as in, men’s clothes which are made to individual order) is clear, but what I also liked was the way the word was Brazilianized and changed into a reflexive verb, thus, inviting males to bespoke themselves - the lucky few who cna actually afford it.

From a more unconscious level, I was also drawn by the strength of the words which may have led me to think about the strength of the Brazilian people this week and my own experience of parading with fellow citizens last Thursday along Avenida Presidente Vargas in Rio – but I suppose this doesn’t really make any difference, I could’ve been anywhere in the country. (And of course, this is pure speculation on my side, as I didn’t think anything at the time – I just took the picture and left.)

But one likes to speculate and I’m no exception. In retrospect, I realize I also saw in the poster the word BE (as in, exist) and I saw another meaning of the word BESPEAK, i.e., “to speak to or address”, in much the same way Brazilians forced politicians to address issues which would’ve been more comfortably left under the carpet.

And I so POKE, as in “to make a hole or a pathway”, “to rouse, to awaken – a giant, perhaps – to become active”. I guess that’s what’s implicit in the power of creativity: you start seeing things, and next thing you know, they can’t stop you. And you become a visionary.

I guess that’s what I saw last Thursday – visionaries. I decided to photograph the posters people were carrying during the parade because I realized if I translated them into English and shared them over Facebook, maybe they would help foreigners get a better picture of what we’re going through.

At least in once case, the poster was already in English – The snake will smoke – but I decided to suggest an alternative translation just the same. I wrote: Literal translation of a well-known Brazilian proverb – We’re ready to fight.

PS: If by any chance you’re wondering why on Earth I am not talking about teacher training and stuff, just remember, I’m actually talking about stuff. I do mean business, and this editorial has been, to the best of my ability, tailor-made for you.

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We want you!

Guilherme Pacheco's insight:

Yes, sir. You.) Recently the theme of responsibility has been banging on my door loud and clear – so clear it’s making me nervous. I have set too many things in motion and now I am responsible for seeing them through to completion. (Yes, me. I’ve got myself to blame.)

There is, of course, the end-of-term syndrome – that feeling that the semester has been hard and we are all entitled to a rest. But that’s not new: work in general is tough, teaching is slightly tougher and worldwide it doesn’t look like it’s getting any better. Also, I have a nagging suspicion that the first semester will almost immediately be followed by a second…

The crux of the matter is trying to decide how feasible it is to say YES to the world’s demands. Unfortunately learning to say NO is not easy and most of us who have been in therapy for some time know that this is course 101 in the treatment. (Let’s look at the bright side: I have failed this course many times and that didn’t prevent me from becoming a psychotherapist myself!).
But every day we get to start again, so I want my “daily” chance. As I say this I look at my diary and realize the number of events I have on week days and weekends – I could just about have a heart attack. There’s Luke Meddings’ Teaching Unplugged Seminar (July weekend), there’s LABCI in Peru (weekdays and weekend), there’s my post-graduate course on Transpersonal Psychology (weekend), not to mention the fact that July is the month when I’m supposed to hire and train new teachers in preparation for the second semester. Yes, my personal winter’s tale.

The thing about saying YES to a given task is that you become responsible for its completion – in big and small ways. I said yes to a trip to Vitória next weekend – that’s where my mother lives. (But the weekends are also when I catch up with errands and stuff.) Minimally, this implies I’ll have to work extra hours at night in order to finish my post-graduate paper before Saturday. There’s a part of me that resents that, but like I said – I saw the truck coming my way and refused to step back.

As I write I also think about the myriad of roles a teacher plays and how much of teaching a good lesson depends on our ability to fulfill these roles. For instance, teaching involves planning lessons and planning obviously takes place outside classroom time. That is part and parcel of being a teacher. We all said YES to that when we chose this career. (No one forced us to – therefore, assuming that one can get away without preparation is unreasonable, to say the least.)

It takes courage to accept responsibility for our own acts and not go into blaming the world – to choose what you'll do and what you won't – people will call you selfish (“Can you help me NOW?”/”Sorry, I’m busy.”), anti-social (“Can you stop in for a drink tonight?”/“Sorry, promised my wife to clean up the office at home.”), people will find many names with which to express their frustration.

But deep down you know: It’s YOUR life. Ultimately, where does YOUR responsibility lie if not within yourself – and yourself only?

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Guilherme Pacheco's insight:


To all my colleagues at CULTURA FORTALEZA who inspired me in my writing this piece.


They say when the teacher is ready the student appears. But there’s another line: When the student is ready, the teacher appears. From a dialogic perspective, it doesn’t really matter who appears first, as long as someone makes a move.


Let’s say you want to make the move. Then the key thing is to be able to bear with a period of indecisiveness when you might fear no one might show up – and to trust. It happens with everything in life: the photographer who waits for the picture to happen, the writer who waits for the words, the actor who waits for the right moment to say his/her lines, and the sun which waits for the curtains to draw on the moon as part of a bigger plan which will show when it should go up.


That indecisiveness is often filled with silence. It happens in the beginning of a new semester when the teacher stands still while students slowly trickle in – still not 100% sure they want to be there. Interestingly enough, that indecisiveness is also key to the process we call communication.


One of the basic principles of communication indicates that a gap (= silence) exists in a typical interaction. Let’s imagine I’ve just been introduced to a new person. I can’t really prepare myself for that moment. What will we talk about? I don’t know. I start and then I watch and see where the current takes me – or the road, or the music, or the good or bad luck, whatever the case may be. I basically trust we will have something to say to one another.


The two words I hear most about teaching these days are dialogic and emergent language. Maybe I hear these words because that’s what I want to hear, but that’s a different story. There are hundreds of things implicit within these words. A few classroom implications include:


1. I need to re-establish the art of listening – true listening, if I want the communication to be real.

2. I will take turns with students – but will hopefully hear more than I speak. If necessary, I will teach my students how to listen to one another. I’m start by making sure eye contact is shared by all in my lessons. The eyes are crucial in helping us feel our listener is attentive and interested. 

3. I will ask questions and wait for my students to process the information and answer. 

4. I will remember not to ask a question and then (out of anxiety, perhaps) contribute with an immediate answer.I will process what my students say and feed them with linguistic information which may help them become increasingly more aware of how the English language works.

5. When I perceive the need for help, I will scaffold the learning process. (But I will remember not to spoon-feed them.)


So when you go into the classroom next week, trust that your presence and the wisdom behind the unknown will help you weave this magic. Take your time and get to know your students. And remember to breathe. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for you.


Have a great semester.

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Last Friday I had the pleasure to speak to six members staff who also work as mentors in our educational partnership projects: A rare opportunity to speak to a small group and to really “share”. (Share as in "to participate jointly and in turns.) Not necessarily to act as a “provider” of knowledge. For this presentation,


I decided against using a power-point because I wanted to have the chance to listen to these mentors. The topic revolved around TTT versus STT. I decided to give mentors access to the text I was going to use as a basis for our discussion, which was published onTEACHINGENGLISH. I added notes to the text, which reflected my personal concerns about the issue in question. I gave them time to prepare what they wanted to say/share.


A very learner-centered approach, along the lines of what a communicative lesson should be about - except I was not teaching a lesson - but I was trying to prove a point. The text talks about the need for a communicative teacher to refrain from taking a very dominant role in classroom. It also insists that student involvement is key to successful high STT. (The whole of the communicative perspective is based on this assumption, I think.)


As we talked, the areas for improvement began to emerge naturally:


1. Teachers need to prepare more opportunities for pair and group work.


2. Teachers need to elicit more from students, thus, catering for student involvement.


3. Teachers need to work on their body language and more specifically on where they position themselves in the classroom.


4. Teachers need to learn how to tolerate some silence. (Perhaps to allow students to process information and show they are thinking.)


Our initial reaction: Teachers are still not aware of that? Where’s the mystery? The mystery may lie in the fact that teachers in primary and secondary school are not used to giving students so much power. (But to a certain extent, neither are we!) These teachers may not know enough about the communicative methodology and may be unwilling to re-think some core beliefs about teaching. (We all do that. When we feel threatened, we may say “yes” but unconsciously think “no” – technically that is known as “passive aggressiveness": Yes, we don’t need to shout to demonstrate we’re very angry with something/someone. Make no mistake: we live in a very angry society.)


Also, teachers may be afraid a learner-centered lesson will go in a dubious direction. (And if they do, they will revert to controlling.) Fear also makes some people (many of them, teachers) more talkative. Part of the fear overflows in the form of words.


The mystery lies in the fact that we tend to approach TTT/STT from the perspective of “technicians”- let’s teach teachers a certain technique and the problem will dwindle down to nothing. Mentors know better. Mentors understand that the task of developing teachers is huge and development implies personal awareness on the part of the teachers of where their unconscious mind is somehow preventing them from getting it “right”.


When this is the case, we do what helped define psychoanalysis as the “talking cure”: We listen. We analyze (= we talk.) And we wait. Time may turn out to be the ultimate healer.

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An old Turkish saying teaches us: belief that is not transferred from the dimension of the mind and the heart to the dimension of action is like a fruitless tree. That explains why it’s so hard to discuss dynamism: As an abstract concept, it means nothing. But we know it’s there, when we see it. (If we see it.)


I read Ian McEwan and Bernardo Carvalho and I know it’s there. I listen to Violeta Parra and Mercedes Sosa and I can feel the dynamism of their songs. I watch American TV series and it overflows - like water from a burst pipe.


Our gut feeling tells us that dynamism denotes change; a dynamic person being, therefore, someone who is mentally energetic - full of new and exciting ideas - and able to make others share their enthusiasm. But look around you: there is a limit to how much change the human being is able to cope with at one single time. To a certain extent, change threatens individuals at a very core level and that is possibly why the general pace of life is often less energetic than the picture technology enthusiasts tend to paint of life in the XXI century. (For everything there’s a season: A change needs to ripe.)


So here’s a very important distinction: a frantic and strenuous lifestyle does not necessarily mean a dynamic one. The fact that we are running, does not mean we are not “running around in circles”. As Eastern philosophy reminds us, when we sense and move with the KI (= vital energy) that is manifesting throughout the universe we find that we have a greater ability to live a life that is fulfilling. But we don’t get to tell KI how fast it should go. Instead, we surrender.

Unpredictability is intrinsically related to KI. In spite of the amount of lesson preparation we involve ourselves with, how little do we know about what is going to happen the minute we step into the classroom and we greet students – eyes that stare the teacher with a mixture of anticipation and anxiety, lips that may be smiling with tenderness and understanding, bodies which may be slouching with boredom. How can we deal with the unpredictability of life in the classroom?


Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi may have a few things to teach us about that when he talks about flow. I went back to his book Finding Flow over the weekend. Here's his tip on how to get to a flow state: "Flow tends to occur when a person's skills are fully involved in overcoming a challenge that is just about manageable. Optimal experiences usually involve a fine balance between one's ability to act, and the available opportutities for action."


Our creative inherent power will manifest itself in its most dynamic manner when we break from the herd mentality and challenge ourselves. The Gods endorse this radical idea: they too are convinced we are all virtuosos at heart.”


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In the beginning there is a potentially functioning brain just waiting to be used. And, if all goes well, there’s love. (The word comes much later.) In the beginning there is the stimulus. There are short,
rhythmical tactile, visual and auditory stimuli. There are also induced or voluntary motor activities of a body coming to terms with life. And there is observation – lots of it. In the beginning, there is the urge to learn how to survive.


To do all that, of course, there’s pure and simple repetition and an endless sequence of trials and errors. Pavlov, possibly the first to speculate about the biology of memory from a scientific perspective, was, to a certain extent, right. (However, he did focus too much on reflexes ignoring the crucial role of emotions in the learning process.)


When at first we don’t succeed, we try again. The brain doesn’t mind making a few mistakes, but it wants to learn from them as quickly as possible. In other words, mistakes are part of the learning process, as long as we don’t keep on making them all the time. When faced with a challenge, a smart brain will access its neural memory circuits in order to make the best decision possible and, thus, avoid the consequences of a mistake: a lower dosage of the “pleasure chemical” dopamine. (Remember from my previous post?)


In order to avoid mistakes, one of the things the brain does is to rely on patterning. Simply put, the brain generates patterns which will then be used to predict a correct response to a given stimuli. It organizes and categorizes information and stores them accordingly. The categorized information will, then, be ready for later retrieval. (TO THINK ABOUT: Why would you want an Apple
computer when that brain of yours is the most powerful computer you will ever


One part of the brain is directly responsible for memory: the hippocampus. If a new piece of information is presented to the brain, it first activates prior information of a similar kind and then binds it to the new information. Now you know why, for instance, before getting the students to read a text about – say – bullying, you encourage your students to activate their schemata on this specific subject-matter by asking them: “In a minute, we’ll be reading a text about bullying in British
schools. Tell me: what do you know about bullying in our own schools?”


That’s also why good schools have a multi-disciplinary approach to learning. In your brain, Geography could be sitting right next to Algebra, and English as a Foreign Language may be closer to History than you can imagine. By getting students to activate prior knowledge about one subject, you may be helping them activate/remember another.


Dr. Judy Willis summarizes what I’ve said in a clear and simple way: “Through practice, experience, and mental manipulation, the brain builds intelligence (more accurate predictions) by
extending, correcting, and strengthening neural networks.”


Here are a few noticeable classroom implications of what we have discussed:


1. Multisensory learning: Remember to stimulate your students in as many different ways as possible. The more parts of the brain are being used, the better our chances at recalling the information later.


2. In order to strengthen neural pathways, we rely on repetition. However, rote learning alone is not enough to produce knowledge of a higher order. (Use it with moderation.)


3. Brains get tired, so be careful not to overload your lesson plan with new information. Remember to balance new information with revision work.


4. Last but not least, keep in mind that the brain won’t be able to keep on remembering
everything. Fortunately for human beings, the brain is constantly forgetting. Ultimately, having a good memory equals finding a happy medium between remembering and forgetting and evolution has ensured that the brain keeps an optimal balance between these two.


Take a relationship, for instance. No human being is so fabulous (parents included) that you’ll remember to love them all the time. As we pointed out earlier, in the beginning there is the brain - and love. As you move along in life, there could be a few lawsuits waiting to happen.

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Cíntia ( Twitter ID: @cintiandrade) was the first to break the news to me this morning: Maurice Sendak is dead. She probably remembered seeing his book “Where the Wild Things Are” on my coffee table when she last visited me. She rubbed my shoulders lightly as if trying to console me and left.


Then a tweet called my attention – Ken Wilson (Twitter ID: @kenwilsonlondon) retweeted Judy O’Connell’s comment (Twitter ID: @heujudeonline) in which she said: “Maurice Sendak, author of splendid nightmares, dies at 83.” And then Ken added: "Oh, he gave me the best story-reading times of my life."


I absolutely adored the term “splendid nightmares” because (a) that’s what his books were about (b) it assumes that nightmares can be "splendid". In other words, they don’t have to be avoided at all costs; we don't need to go in denial and pretend our worst nightmares are not happening. Like the big bull in the china store, bad dreams cannot and should not go unnoticed.


Teachers, for instance, are faced with nightmares on a daily basis. A long-standing nightmare which seems to afflict quite a number of the teachers I talk to is their compelling need to force knowledge down their students’ throat. It’s like spoon-feeding taken to its extreme – a big spoon full of language porridge: “Now, gobble it all up. Good boy. Good girl.”


The antidote to this recurrent nightmare is simple:  to go back to the concept of what it is to “own” a language. Here’s a great quote from a book that I love - ALIVE TO LANGUAGE written by Arndt, Harvey & Nuttall for the Cambridge Teacher Training and Development series:


“In order to own a language, one’s knowledge has to be internalized, to come from oneself. From their broader knowledge base, teachers can open up choices for learners, they can indicate possibilities, but they cannot ultimately choose. Only the language user can do that.”


In other words, I can help to scaffold the learning process, but the decision to learn the language is not mine. As a language student, I am obviously thankful to the language teachers I had, but I also know that in myriad ways I have surpassed many of them – including a few native speaker teachers. (And please don’t call me vain when I’m merely stating the truth.)


From this same perspective, I can only hope that some of my students will one day surpass me. That’s how progress is made. And I’m a firm believer is order and progress. (And I’ve always liked flags.)


A psychoanalyst would say: nightmares are here to be dealt with.


Misconceptions about the role of students in the learning process are like nightmares, in the sense that the more you remove yourself from the facts (the reality of things), the more you are likely to hallucinate. To imagine a learning process that is effortless is sheer hallucination.


Thus, render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's; and to God the things that are God's. Granted, God can be just as easily perceived as a hallucination. So, let me make this clear: I hallucinate all the time. (I just don’t like to do it when I’m working.)


In my spare time, I enjoy both the company of angels as well as monsters. They’re great fun to chat with. Angels and monsters are like Mae West’s bad girl friends. With the sole purpose of understanding human being, angels are forced to leave the pearly gates of heaven. And monsters the wilderness.  They go where they need to go. They travel everywhere.

Cristina Borges's comment, May 9, 2012 8:38 AM
Yes, it is true teachers face nightmares all the time. The challenge might not just be in the misconceptions we have about the learning process, but also in the academic system imposed to teachers and students. I am not talking about the lack of infrastructure of a public school, but in the fact students have to show great performances at tests and examinations, just by memorizing things, thus reinforcing your "porridge" concept of teaching. :)
Guilherme Pacheco's comment, May 9, 2012 2:02 PM
Hi Cristina.
Tests are part and parcel of the the educational system and we are all fully aware of the so-called "fashback effect" of tests on lessons. From this perspective, I totally agree with you - we need to re-think the role of tests in education.
Best wishes,
Guilherme Pacheco's comment, May 9, 2012 2:15 PM
Hi Graeme.
Thanks for your generous (and constant) support and your insightful comment. I agree 100% - growth involves effort and risks and the educational process (being about growth/change) needs to cater for both. I love the sentence: "it is investment of effort that makes the object of our attention more desirable". I love the idea of asking "How can I contribute?" FIRST instead of "What can I get from a given situation?".
Take care, mate.
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Time has become a most coveted commodity in today’s world. Not only do we not want to waste it, we keep struggling to make the “top most” of the “little” time we actually have. In order to do that, we often splinter and fragment time in such a way that, in the end, we make head (but not tail) of the moments in front of us. We are often proud of calling that multi-tasking.


Maria Rita Kehl deals with the issue of time beautifully in her book “O Tempo e o Cão”, a book I would definitely recommend for the psychologically-inclined readers. Her book begins with the story of a run-over dog. One day while driving back to her hometown, São Paulo, she runs over a dog. Knowing only too well, she won’t be able to stop the flow of traffic in that particularly busy motorway, she looks into the mirror while the limping animal disappears from her mirror view. How does she overcome her sense of impotence in a situation like this? She writes.


Time has become a coveted commodity in today’s classroom and it seems the basic assumption behind teaching has become: the more we “cram” into a lesson, the more we are using time wisely. There are variations on that theme: The more gadgets we have, the more we cram into a day's work. (Like Polonius, I’d be accused of wasting time, if I were to keep on adding sentences to this list, so enough. When it comes to learning a foreign language, the above-mentioned assumption doesn't hold, I don’t think. Not when it comes to SPEAKING.  Developing SPEAKING requires time. Time to consider what we want to say (content), how we want to say it (register), how well we want to say it (accuracy), how naturally we want to sound (fluency), how much we want to hold the floor, and how this is going to affect our interlocutor. How do we do all that without time?


In our recent seminars on FOSTERING SPEAKING, time is one of the issues we have addressed. We are fully aware of the fact that a dense lesson plan will not necessarily be conducive to a lot of SPEAKING. The teacher, for instance, may be so predetermined to finish the lesson plan that the pressure of doing so may prevent him/her from listening to his/her students. And even when they do listen, they may decide not to respond to his/her students with the level of spontaneity required.


When it comes to language learning, don’t kid yourselves: there’s no such thing as an end. Has your English ever finished? Have you been suggesting to your students that theirs will, when yours hasn’t? When it comes to SPEAKING, the best we can do is to make students aware of where they stand in relation to being reasonably independent language users. That requires time. A lesson in which 5 minutes is devoted to a free speaking activity plus feedback is not feasible. A lesson in which students are asked a broad question (e.g. How do you see marriage in today’s world?) and are then given 5 minutes to discuss in pairs is not feasible. Assuming that a couple of noticing tasks are enough for students to go into controlled and less controlled practice more or less on their own is not feasible. All these examples carry the same risk: School managers/material writers/course designers/teacher trainers/teachers who presuppose that language is being processed a lot faster than it actually is. (Yes, we’re all together in this – no-one is being excused.)


I warned you: it’s about time. It’s about time we started experimenting with SPEAKING understanding the complexity it entails, especially in a non-English-speaking environment. Complex, but worth the try.


If you were to ask me when you should start, I would never dream of saying “yesterday” because that would be like reinforcing a cycle of mad rush. I’d say: “First, focus. Second, breathe and look at your students. Start them off with a question - any question. Then, whip time into shape and be prepared to idle it away - a little. And watch things blossom.

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As I’m beginning to prepare the editorial to be published next week (now this week), it suddenly dawns on me that I’m one year older. One year added to other fifty years I've already had is, to a certain extent, a heavy burden. To a certain extent only: I’m appreciative of the fact that I’m still fully active professionally. I’m grateful to the warmth I get from friends, relatives and colleagues. Picture that: I don’t even have a FACEBOOK page and a most dear friend left a birthday message for me there! What else can one expect from life?


It also occurs to me that none of these Happy Birthday exchanges would've been possible if it were not for the fact that we (at some point in our evolution) have developed this most precious communicative Tool which we call language. And for some of us, language teachers, this has become part and parcel of our bread-winning profession and a most convenient analytical tool. It’s analytical in the sense that we are constantly dividing language up into smaller parts or basic principles in order to make it more digestible to learners.


The difficulty of working with SPEAKING as a skill is partly related to that: we need to teach language ”in bits and pieces” while we expect our students’ final output to be as close to the “whole” as possible. Teachers often get disappointed with the “whole”. The process of carefully monitoring at least one SPEAKING per class and giving students useful feedback on the gap that exists between their inter-language and the language spoken by a native speaker is an issue that concerns us all.


To a certain extent, proficient users of a foreign language are ex-students who, having seen their teachers’ ability to give feedback on their language output, learnt to monitor their own production. Remember: Our ultimate aim as teachers is to help our students become independent learners as quickly as possible. As it all starts with ourselves, an assumption behind what I’ve been saying is that, teachers need to be able to monitor their own SPEAKING efficiently before they can be of assistance to their students. A
simple awareness raising task is to imagine ourselves having a conversation with a native speaker and asking ourselves: How does his/her language differ from mine? How does my choice of vocabulary differ from theirs? Is anything he/she says an idiosyncratic choice?


How do you translate that into a “classroom activity”? Here’s a simple, but hopefully effective example: If I listen to the Following on YouTube talking about the first time they’ve kissed:




I realize that in similar situations, certain language chunks would never be actively
part of our students’ advanced language output, and yet they should. They would include:


“There wasn’t much to it.” (To indicate that something was not terribly interesting.)


“Who was it with? Do you remember?” (Split questions – much closer to “real English”.)


“How would you rate (that) from 01 to 10? 10 being the best.” (This particular use of the gerund.)


“She started wanting to see me more often than I wanted to.” (This particular use of start + the gerund of the verb “want”.)


“Just go for it.” (To encourage someone.)


“It wasn’t a long kiss. It was more of a peck.” (This particular type of comparison.)


These are just some of the language chunks that I would like to see included in my students’ active repertoire - however simple they may seem. Initially, what I would like them to do is to become aware of how their language differs from their American counterparts’. How do I do that? By simply showing them what they don’t do with language.


This type of awareness-raising exercise should be part of our everyday practice, but
unfortunately it rarely happens. My assumption is that until we, teachers, start stretching ourselves, we won’t be ready to help our students – not to speak for real.

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(To all those who are not afraid of water and allow themselves to get wet.)


Like many English language teachers in Brazil, I was first met with the challenge of reading HAMLET during my university years - English Literature III: The Age of Shakespeare course, as I recall it.


Initially the task of reading HAMLET in English and trying  to unravel the language through notes was truly formidable. For the first time in my life I realized my knowledge of literature and of the so-called literary canon was virtually non-existent.


Then it annoyed me that many of the scholarly essays we were asked to read insisted on the issue of procrastination. For starters, I wasn't really sure what that meant. Deep down I also doubted I wanted to read the play at all. To convince myself that I was right, I adhered with resoluteness and tenacity to the assumption that plays were meant to be watched, never read, unless of course you intended to become an actor, which was definitely not my case.


My stubbornness made me procrastinate on my reading even more and I remember having to cram a lot of hours of studies before my HAMLET examination. Luckily I managed to scrape through.


Many years went by before I had the chance to watch a performance of the play, but when it did it came in big style. I was living in London and the newspapers were raving about Kenneth Branagh's use of the full text of the play. It was February 18, 1993 and the play started at 12:30 - I still keep the programme and the stub as a memento. I was mesmerized. "So that is Hamlet", I thought. (University had clearly not prepared me for such a tour de force.


Then came the film version and a certain discomfort to think that the same actor had embodied a somehow different Hamlet on screen. Had he changed his mind about how to portray the character? Had I started to see things from a different perspective? (Something was definitely rotten in the state of Denmark.)


Of course in those days I was still naive enough to think a complex character such as Hamlet is simply a character in the same way a rose is a rose, is a rose. Yes, the world will end in flowers. In 2004 I was invited to teach a Comparative Literature course at CULTURA INGLESA. The course syllabus had been prepared by Ildiko T. de Vasconcellos and I was supposed to meet her to discuss what I had to do. Her idea was to use books and plays which had been changed into films and compare the two versions. "We'll start with HAMLET if you don't mind. I have some six or seven versions of the play on film. By the way, we will want to investigate the play from a different perspective - we'll start with Ophelia!" No buts and ifs would have convinced her of the contrary.


The much-awaited Aderbal Freire-Filho-cum-Wagner Moura production of HAMLET debuted in Rio three weeks ago and I saw it last Saturday. There's a lot of unnecessary noise and big gestures, but I suppose that's a tribute to life in the 21st century. There's a lack of audition in Brazilian productions and some of the actors shouldn't have been there in the first place. That's annoying.


But there's also a lot of determination and stamina. There's a lot of disappointment on the part of youngsters (Ophelias from all walks of life) who seem to be madly in love with Wagner Moura, but realize soon enough that this is no Capitão Nascimento on stage and, alas, they are not watching him on a TV soap either. Ay, there's the rub: they resign to falling asleep in their chairs - to sleep, perchance to dream... Not all of them, of course. I overheard a conversation during the intermission in which a young girl stated quite proudly: "You know what. I'm actually enjoying this much more than The Sound of Music." Remember: HAMLET replaced the Von Trapps in the same theatre venue in Leblon.


I don't quite agree with what she said, but God bless her just the same.

And then - three hours into the play, there's death - lots of it before the curtain falls. Ophelia's death is spellbinding - the way death on stage can be. (I think Ildiko would have approved.)


Not a brilliant production, but life-enhancing just the same, and, for that, it deserves to be seen.


I understand today why I always go back to HAMLET. I do not need to revenge my father's death to realize where I procrastinate and why. I am able to perceive how fear paralizes me and how close that is to a "not to be" state of mind.


Outside the theatre, numbness is too high a price to pay. I left with the (renewed) awareness that I want what's most paradoxical. I want depth: to drown AND to save myself. I want the ultimate Hamletian experience of the son who is finally legitimized.


Picture copyright by Julies Hobby


Sergio Pizzigatti's comment, April 23, 2012 11:14 PM
This Article reminded of my English teacher Eduardo who was an enthusiast of literature in the classroom for teenagers , and definitely one of the most popular authors was Shakespeare. Afer one of his class , he took us to see King Lear with Fagundes and Vera Fiscer
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(This editorial was originally written in 2006 and reflects my love for the cinema. It may be irrelevant for teachers today, but I had lots of fun re-reading it, so I decided to publish it anyway.)


I sneaked out of work a tidbit early last Wednesday as I intended to watch PERFUME at 18:20. I needed some “inspiration” to write this week’s editorial and somehow I felt going to the cinema would count as work. Not the hardest of jobs, I admit, but work just the same.


PERFUME is a rich film and the memories of the book I read in my twenties lay dormant in the back of my mind. Revisiting a story after so long is like looking at pictures in the family album: we have to fill in the blur with the help of the sight of a wiser beholder. (In case you haven’t got a clue who I’m talking about I explain: ourselves today – yes, repeat after me: “I’m wiser than I was yesterday.”


From what I remember, the book was about scents. The film is about survival. The book was about the beauty of language and its limitations when it comes to expressing our innermost feelings. The film is about our obsessions.


The little obsessions we pray for on a daily basis: Give us today, our Father, our perfect students, get us to teach our perfect lessons, perfect our knowledge of this foreign language we’ve committed ourselves to teach. (PerFECT, the verb, PERfect, the adjective.)


Thank God our Father is not a “mother hen” type-father. Like linguists, he believes in the power of mistakes. He gives us interactive whiteboards to make sure things won’t go 100% right. He enjoys a riddle: when we open up a flipchart, why does media player work in branch X, but not in Y? (And don’t tell me it’s a bug, please.)

And then there’s God’s daughters, the three fate sisters of the Greek Mythology. Cloto the youngest, spun the thread of life in which the bright and the dark light were intermingled. Lachesis twisted it and under her fingers it was sometimes strong, sometimes weak. I forget what the third one did, but something tells me she was the meanest of the three.


Who, but them, would dream of forcing a human being to take on a monarchic role in life? After all, being a monarch is about an unnatural state of flawlessness which is hard to conceive: life in the RP lane, I call it. It reminds me of our struggles in the past to speak the so-called Queen’s English? Thank God the ELF movement has changed its minds about the way we look at language itself. But this is obviously not an issue when it comes to THE QUEEN. Helen Mirren and her immaculate performance and her crisp accent are as close as we may ever get to perfection, I suppose. Not that she really cares. Or does she?


For linguists like us, the film carries the added interest of hearing the dialogues and noticing the choice of words in the palaces. One memorable line: before going to sleep, Prince Philip turns to YRH (his wife) and says: “Move over, cabbage.” Where else, but in the most inaccessible quarters of Buckingham Palace would this line make sense? (Context, as we know, is everything.)


IN TIME: Dame Judi Dench (herself always very comfortable in the role of Queens) has once again been nominated by the Academy Awards for the prize of Best Actress. I haven’t seen NOTES ON A SCANDAL yet, but my vote is already hers. In the rare moments when I’m given the chance to "play Queen" (such as now – when I write), being fair is the least of my worries.

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I’ll try and be brief. Some three months ago we conducted a few meetings with teachers and trainers with a view to deciding what could be changed in the existing pre-service course we offered to new teachers. We decided to give more emphasis on monitoring and the quality of feedback we give our students. So now, one of the new sessions involves teachers in learning how (and why) to debrief a language task.


Debriefing, as we see it, is not the same as providing feedback to students. For starters, feedback is generally considered to be a one-way-road, and what we understand by debriefing is a two-dymensional process. In other words, we still give students feedback, but we learn with their opinions as well.


Debriefing is about sharing the responsibility for the success of the teaching-learning process with our students. It humbles the teacher while exalting the process. It gives teachers the chance to discover more about the so-called zone of proximal development by inviting students to reflect about why a certain activity may have been perceived as difficult, easy, or (why not?) boring, and problematic.


The steps are simple: (a) Students are given instructions for a task (e.g. a role-play, or a simulation, or a problem-solving activity) and the teacher makes the aims of the activity crystal-clear. The role of instructions is vital, as students need to know exactly what is expected from them. (b) Students do the activity. (c) When it is over, the teacher conducts (preferably in L2, but this depends on student age and level) a brief discussion with the students, giving his/her opinions of how well the students did the activity and inviting students to do the same.


Here’s what a teacher who is truly listening to his / her students may find out while debriefing a language activity. (The comments in brackets are an attempt to read the teacher’s mind!)


“I knew exactly what I wanted to say, but the words came to me in Portuguese.” (I took for granted that the students knew words in the specific lexical field needed for the activity.)


“I just didn’t know what to say.” (I took for granted that students were updated on this issue.)


”I was so worried about the expressions I was supposed to use that I forgot to communicate my real thoughts.” (Have I over-emphasised the role of the exponents I wrote on the IWB in fulfilling this task?)


”This game was very boring.” (I like this game so much. Maybe I have over-used it. What other language games could I have played with them?)


”You gave us two minutes to read the text. You are mad.” (Opps. I forgot to explain to them that skimming a text is not the same as reading for details. Do they actually know what skimming is?)


Without this honest exchange of information with our students, we may always have that nagging suspicion that something is not going 100% right, but we won't know exactly what it is. Debriefing helps to let the cat out of the bag before it starts scratching us! It helps us become more critical about our lessons - a clear sign of skin-deep professionalism.


As wise men have desperately tried to teach us, only human beings who are not afraid of the answers can openly welcome the questions

graeme.hodgson's comment, April 18, 2012 9:34 AM
Fantastic post, Guilherme.. You have managed to pack so much important reflection and best practices into such a short text. I really liked the 'voice in the head' of the teacher as (s)he listens to what Ss say. Brilliant!
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(Dedicated to the likes of Bernardo Carvalho, who can weave words into worlds.)


This thank-you note is long overdue, but I’d still like to say I had a great time in Porto Alegre three weeks ago. I was in Porto Alegre for the beginning of term when our TEACHERS’ SEMINAR was held for the last time. I did my session on the Intermediate Plateau dutifully twice and then had the chance to watch Cris Corsetti do hers.


Cris started with a warm-up: we all stood in a line in the middle of the room and were asked to listen to words representing contrasting categories, for instance – TEENAGERS (left side of the room) versus ADULTS (right side). We would listen to the words and decide where we wanted to stand. So then, like the Red Sea, we divided up and parted. And we would talk about our reasons to go in one direction, say left, or another. For most of the categories, we would more or less divide ourselves equally. And then Cris shouted. No she didn’t shout. (Chris is not the kind of person who shouts.) She called out the words “SPEAKING versus WRITING”.


I chose WRITING just to find out that, while the SPEAKING crowd crammed in one half of the room, I and two other teachers – the last of the Mohicans – the shamans of a dying tribe – had the other half of the room all to ourselves.


In 14 (or fewer) characters: Writing has been. No time. No patience. No need. No purpose. No, teacher, no, please, teacher, NO. Thanks, teacher. Cool, teacher.

What came first? The chicken or the egg? Students don’t write because they don’t see a purpose in writing or because teachers are not able to convince them that writing can be useful?


There are so many reasons why I may gladly sit and write. For starters, I often feel I sound infinitely more interesting when I write. People who know me from my editorials tend to get disappointed when they meet me in person for the first time: “You are the one who writes for the PORTAL? Really? OK.”


Besides, I can show off my knowledge of words. I can sound pedantic if I so wish: I can say I read a deliciously scary story and some people will be impressed with my ease with words . I can sink deeply into a self-centered literary reverie: Seeds scattered out and about hoping for a moist soil and the chance to grow. Meaningless words, maybe, but they sound so smooth and musical. Yes, my printed discourse is partly my magic.


But remember: To most of our students none of that matters. What teachers sometimes overlook is the fact that the vast majority of writing tasks we assign foreign language students have little to do with creativity and their ability to play with and on words. By getting students to write, we are giving them an invaluable opportunity to consolidate language and, thus, prepare them for SPEAKING. My sense of ownership of words and expressions will increase to the extent that I’m being given the chance to practice and writing gives me what SPEAKING is not able to do: the chance to prepare and organize my thoughts – and why not – the chance to cheat? At times when I write, I also cheat. I write and then I let the dough rest and I let the yeast take over – then I stick it in the oven and I watch it grow. When I speak I can’t do that: WYSIWYG. Now, watch me cheat – WYHIWYG. H, as in hear.


Writing for a living is for a happy few, Bernardo would say. (I think he would.) But for the average mortal, being able to write will help them organize their thoughts coherently and may serve as a confident booster when they have to speak. That fact alone should explain why we cannot treat writing as a lesser skill. Clear & simple.

Simple: I’m over and done with yet another writing task and I’m about to go out for lunch.


How the mind wonders: To think that earlier this morning I had nothing but a blank page in front of me and my nerve-wracking never-ending need to connect.

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