Still Finding My Way to Effective Teaching...

I have been teaching for thirty years, YES 30 years!. I sure could have retired after my twenty-fifth year if I had had the right age to do so, but myself, like many educators either start our careers at a very young age, or the system makes us work longer than we should. I am not complaining, I am just talking about my particular case, so here I am, still thinking what my most effective teaching method is.

The truth is that there is no magic effective method: we, educators, should be capable to handle situations that are much more different or difficult from those we faced before. Why? Because since I started teaching in the late 1980´s, he world has changed for the better or worse, positively or negatively. Now children are exposed to social media, they obviously have absolute access to ubiquitous data and any type of information that differ immensely from the one that those in the previous decades had. What does that mean? We obviously cannot think of teaching the same kind of students we had taught before that is why I am still wondering what I can do to cater for the needs of my students because I care. I always have. Did I need these 30 years to realize that? May be but there was one video I recently watched: The Power Of A Caring Educator which opened my eyes and made me realized, believe it or not after such a long time, that I have been doing the right thing all along my teaching career.

Is it the caring teacher always the one who succeeds, whose teaching reaches every soul in the classroom, touches many lives and makes an impact on more than one student? Yes to all!.
That same caring educator has to be open to changes, be brave enough to take risks and leadership roles, learn from mistakes and be fully supported by the school administrators, among others. That same good, caring educator can always become a great one. One of the secrets is to think like a child and act as an adult by building relationships and making connections. If teachers combine all these strategies together with the pursuit of the many paths they can follow to find the proper teaching methodology, the result can be magnificent. I have found an interesting article on one of my favorite websites, Edutopia, which talks about the habits that lead to effective teaching

There were three posts on social media that inspired and motivated me to write this post. The first one was Lead Like A Pirate by Shelley Burgess and Beth Houf :

The second was a very creative, interesting video by Larry Ferlazzo who recently posted Differentiating Instruction: It’s Not as Hard as You Think. That is what I mostly do. Also as a language teacher, I was extremely motivated with this graphic containing TESOL´s 6 Principles for Exemplary Teaching of Language Learners. Amazing!:

As we know, there are many inspiring educators, passion promoters and gardeners trying to plant the seed of curiosity doing wonderful things in their classes, so we have a mission to find them and make their voices heard. 
Besides, I was once told sport coaches have a special language to talk to their players, very special words of encouragement so I decided to look for some that sums up mostly all my message in this post.



Am I Too Empathetic? Reflections

Students self-motivation should NOT be killed by careless teachers, mediocre educational systems or some negative environment.
Children are born curious, some more adventurous, cautious, fearless or insecure than others. Those are the general characteristics that can apply to any human being.  Why do I feel deep inside my heart that I need to work with those students sitting quietly in my class who are feeling insecure, fearful, discouraged by whatever reason and or circumstance? Isn´t that the natural process of learning and growing? Why should I clear the path to those who really struggle walking the hard stages of the learning process?
The above questions above are just an example of how I feel everyday, not only as a passionate, careful educator but also as a mother. One of my own children has helped me realized that some of the mentioned issues going on in many classes: like teachers who did not allow to drink some water during the eighty-minute-block class, or even using the restroom, were the classroom strict rules. I just wonder if these rules have been implemented by the teacher him-herself or were common to all the classes in the whole building? Also, and this is one of the main reasons why I am questioning and analyzing myself as a senior educator, how much this level of restriction affects the general attitude in the class?.
It is really clear that not only teachers´ grit, commitment and mindset as well students ´ willingness affect the pace of a class. There will always be children who are ready to learn on a daily basis unlike those who seldom have that desired  work in a class. 
It has happened to me that there are moments when some of my students do not understand the goal of a student centered lesson: they believe the teacher is a lecturer who has to read instructions in students´ books, explain every single activity instead of guiding them through them. I may be wrong, but I simply think that any child who takes the teacher/educator/facilitator as a knowledge-feeder will find serious obstacles in his/her trajectory.
Michael Linsin says "Independent practice is critical to learning, and giving too much help is often more problematic than not giving enough."
Here is also his newest post: 21 Things You Should Do To Students.


A Fun Way To Teach Students How Not To Behave by Michael Linsin

This blog post by the one and only Michael Linsin, whom I have been following since 2013, is exactly what I have been looking for to back up my action plan to stop those misbehaved talkers in my EFL class. 
How is it possible that fourteen-fifteen-year-old young ladies get fully distracted in class talking about the dress, make-up and costs of what they are going to wear in their next fifteen-birthday party? It has always been that way! We, women are too much focused on our physical appearance, they way we will get dressed and how we will look: nails done, new hair-do or hair-style, fancy dress...This is US!. That is the way I was at that age but I would have never thought of going so beyond the limits of class behavior!. 
The situation was a very common characteristic in a class where young ladies rule, frequently lead the group, help the teacher in anything they can, and even volunteer to do extra work, but, at the same time, they get out of control and off the limits of side talking disrupting class activities. The consequences must be clear and fair to everyone in the class from day one, which they were but unfortunately forgotten too frequently because they get over-excited. If the teacher models the behavior, it can be taken like sarcastic joke or disrespect, which really was not my intention and Michael Linsin´s article explains why. Why the students feel disrespected when they are told they are not exercising self-control and behave within the classroom rules limits?. 
Is it right to be chatting during a listening comprehension exercise which is really constructive and valuable for the whole class as they have little exposure to the target language on a daily basis?. Well, apparently, the presence of the educator nowadays is not as strong as it should be. Students can complain about  whatever they consider unfair, impolite or discourteous. How about them? Have they ever been asked to reflect on their disrupting behavior? They certainly have!, by me of course, and by some other teachers leading to several talks with the Guidance Department. 
There is no doubt that they learned very little or they have not developed their sense of respect towards their classmates and the benefit of being in an foreign language class where the academic performance is expected to be achieved  at a high level, where the huge goal: to sit international English exams so that they get a certificate together with their secondary school diploma.
How can I qualify this incident? Disappointing? Not appreciative of my dedication and care? I can say both. Why is it so common in our society to make the negative aspects more relevant than the good actions?. I will keep sending congratulation notes home as well as warning ones for not achieving the goals of the class. In the long run, I am sure time will tell the truth and be fair enough with my devotion as it has always had.


EduGoalsMooc: Mission Accomplished!

It has been an amazing experience to co-moderate the EduGoalsMooc, helping Shelly Sanchez Terrell and Kelly Jake Duncan for five intensive weeks.

Every day, every week out of the five of them all, enthusiasm and motivation raised among the participants: they would post and wait anxiously for our comments, thank and keep posting their goals in social media: the Facebook Group, Twitter and in their own blogs.

Shelly Terrell´s final post on the EducaLab website can be read here.


New Year, New Plans Ahead

It´s been a long time since I last blogged, not because there was nothing interesting going on in my edulife, but because I spend too much time sitting and my back started to bother me. 

I have been part of exciting EduAdventures which I suggest you should also give them a try if you are a curious-minded teacher, looking for new things to try in your classes no matter what level or subject, or even school you work at:

First, I was invited by fantastic Teacherpreneur Valerie Lewis to join a superb community of amazing educators and instructional coaches called #passthescopeEdu. The group communicates in Voxer to discuss motivational topics which are broadcasted monthly every third Thursday on Periscope.

Secondly, joining EduMatch invited by its founder, amazing Sarah Jane Thomas, made me compile many of my edu-anecdotes and reflections to add to the new book EduMatch Snapshot in Education (2017) which is available on Amazon Kindle and Paperback versions.

My latest innovation is that I am currently facilitating The Goal Minded Teacher:Challenges to Transform Student Learning (1st edition)   #EduGoalsMOOC created by international speaker, author, author, educator´s trainer, Shelly Sanchez Terrell, for INTEF MOOC, EDUCALAB ESPAÑA (SPAIN).
I really encourage you to take a look at the course, which is free and with very easy to achieve goals to transform your daily teaching. Come on! Join In! Sign Up! You won´t regret it!


mLearning Using Smartphones in the EFL Classroom: It´s Possible!

Even though we live in the "mobile era", some educators are still reluctant to use mobile devices in the classroom. I cannot blame them: (fun) learning can happen without technology but, to be honest, I have never asked myself why I have to integrate some technology in my classes or if I will be competent enough to handle behavior while the students are logged in their devices, as I had already had my own personal experience back in 2001, when I had a Mac desktop computer in the classroom, a notebook provided by the district to exchange teachers, and my students had access to laptops either in the library or in a cart to take to our classroom. How can I not be aware that technology was there to stay, no matter the budget cuts or the change of administrators: language, science and even P.E. teachers used computers to teach back in those days!.

Since I came back to teach in my home country, I was told by my former american colleagues that those computers were left aside and replaced by Ipads, Chromebooks and/or Surface tablets pcs.

By 2009, my days in American classrooms were over so, since I re-started teaching in my home country, it did surprise me that the integration of tech tools in the English as a Foreign Language class was already explained in any Teacher´s Books in any coursebook at any level -CEFR A to C-, even though not many teachers knew how to do so or not doing anything at all. The truth is that they may know how to but Internet was not available in many places, and still is not. 

However, my innovative spirit told me to do something and that was in 2011 when I first asked my students to use their smartphones (mainly Blackberries) to look up for words in websites such as www.dictionary.com or practice any of the four skills in the Learn English British Council site, complete online quizzes for special days like April Fool´s Day or Halloween. It was obviously extra practice because we depended on the availability of the internet connection (3G data) at that time of day. 
Some smartphones´educational apps are not easy to spot unless you get to test them enough to be sure of what you will be doing or get instructed in the correct way. 
After some years of trying to do things right in my classes by taking every single course, attending several webinars, reading from the experts, having full control of my students´ work and behavior and support of my administrators,  I can say I am qualified to give some useful advice and recommend three of the many apps which made a big difference in students´ engagement in my classes. 

There were some students who obviously could not log in so easily, and that turned into one of the best moments. Students started to help each other, giving instructions in English and using the target language beyond the classroom context! Collaboration and willingness to help other was key to that success.

My most successful app for language and grammar practice is Socrative. You can either download easily on your phone or work on your computer. Socrative Teacher and Student are the two options. Once you create your log in user name, with the free version you can upload, create, re-create, build, re-build, copy any type of activity. I used to create them on my laptop and once they are finished under the Socrative Teacher website, you are given a code which you immediately change into a Classroom Name and Activity!. 
I got so used to it that I even added, deleted, reshaped, corrected most exercises on my phone app. 
Students download the Socrative Student app and log in with the Classroom Name and start solving the activity as easy as one, two, three. The great advantage here is that once they log in, you automatically see them in the "room" as well as their score and progress. 
You can even make them race with color rockets, which is an extremely fun activity!.

I am proud to say that these children responded wonderfully! Almost all of them worked hard all year and completed all of the activities in the class...if they could not do so due to high data usage, they would complete at home either with their phones or computers.

My second suggestion is Buncee which is  a fantastic free cloud-based tool to make amazing  presentations, tell and/or create stories or any other use like postcards or even posters with the possibility to add video, voice and many other features like stickers animated and non-animated stickers, labels, banners or whatever you may want or need. The app is only available for Apple phones, but it is still possible to use it on your smartphone if internet is available. Aww, Buncee!! You will love it!

Some of my favorite Buncees:






My third suggestion is Voki for computers or Android/IOS app, which helps shy or introvert students have a voice through an avatar customized by themselves. This is wonderful for language, grammar and fluency practice without talking in front of a camera.



A great way to compile all these wonderful works is my number one savior-tool which has been Padlet for many years now!. 


The app is as simple to use as the computer add on or the online version. I have completed many projects with teachers in the US and Canada using Padlet to upload Voxer messages. Amazing! The Voxer cultural exchange with Mrs Machala from Aurora Canada is all documented on a Padlet and in wonderful Jennifer Casa-Todd´s latest book "Social LEADIA" . 

Jennifer Casa-Todd presenting our Voxer work

The school I work at has its own website with protected username and passwords  for students, families and faculty for security reasons, so teachers are asked to share all online work through it. Teachers upload their work by sending it to the school´s facilitator who places it under the corresponding class and level. So this is my story for now, inspired by many amazing educators around the world.


IATEFL2017: Sarah Mercer' s Plenary Session: Connecting Minds: language learner and teacher psychologies

Thanks to IATEFLOnline I had the pleasure to watch Sarah Mercer's plenary, among other interesting talks and interviews. Sarah Mercer reminded us all that:

Made with Buncee by Fabiana Casella
Sarah Mercer's talk was a perfect compendium and combination of Shelly Terrell´s 30 Goals Challenge For Teachers webpage, book and educator´s radio podcasts, and Angela Maiers' #youmatter Manifesto and TEDxDesMoines´ talk. These two awesome educators, thought-provoking speakers and motivators, have changed my mindset since the moment I first listened to them.

Definitely Sarah, Shelly and Angela  have the same purpose: encourage us, educators, to look after ourselves to be better prepared to start our teaching day, avoid burnout and be physically, emotionally and mentally ready to face everyday challenges.

Made with Buncee by Fabiana Casella

-Sarah Mercer´s showed an extract of late Rita Pierson´s "Every Kid Needs a Champion" passionate and inspiring TedEd talk.

-Sir Ken Robinson´s: How to Escape Education's Death Valley

Made with Buncee by Fabiana Casella