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Thursday, January 28, 2010

Teachers' Essential Qualities

Students' Perspectives

Much has been said about the essential qualities a teacher should have in order to be competent. When this has been a discussion point in my classes, most of my students have considered that a good teacher should be skilful, fair, patient and tolerant. Students are aware of the fact that it's not easy to deal with them and that teachers should put up with adolescents´ typical behaviour patterns.

Essential Qualities

Even when a teacher has personality traits that are significant to foster the ideal teaching-learning environment, experience helps to polish those traits and to be effective in your job. What experience has shown me is that the crucial attributes we should develop as teachers are:

  • Sensitivity to be able to detect our students´needs, strengths and weaknesses;
  • A discerning mind that would enable us to select the material that would meet our students' needs and likes;
  • Creativity that would assist us in our effort to make our classes motivating and encouraging;
  • A good listener to allow students voice their feelings, thoughts and opinions;
  • An open mind to see issues from different perspectives;
  • Empathy to have the capacity to understand students;
  • Resourcefulness to introduce changes as the class unfolds.

The class is an active entity and thus, versatility is a required extra skill we, teachers, should develop as many times it's necessary to make on-the-spot changes to our plans according to the circumstances. It's happened to me that I've had to adapt a task that has worked well with one group on noticing it was not appealing to a certain group. Do you have anecdotes in which you've had to be versatile? Feel free to share, please.


Thursday, January 21, 2010

Stages In My Teaching Life


Tinkerbell and her Talent

I love children's movies and I always take my nieces to the cinema to watch them. These movies conjure in myself memories of my childhood and fill my soul with pleasant images and sensory perceptions. Also, they contain a moral that makes me think about life. One of the latest movies I have watched and relished was Tinkerbell. At the beginning of the movie, Tinkerbell is born and is taken to Pixie Hollow, where she is given a talent at random. Her talent is to be one of the tinkers, the fairies who make and fix things. In brief, Tinkerbell is not satisfied with her talent and tries to learn other skills but in vain. In the end, she learns to find how valuable her talent is.

The Movie and My Teaching Career

The moral of the movie helped me to understand some aspects of my teaching career, such as:

  • I was born with a talent, to teach, which I have been developing and improving;
  • Unlike Tinkerbell, I have always felt it is absolutely rewarding;
  • I would not be able to do a different thing;
  • I have got a mission in life.

Stages in My Teaching Career

While developing my "gift" I have passed through different stages. I started teaching when I was at high school and my "students" were my classmates. In those days, I used to help my peers at home with homework and I offered them after class help for free. Even, I did not mind helping my classmates prepare their exams when they failed the end-of-term tests in all the subjects. I remember receiving my classmates at home and explaining different topics to them and making them do extra exercises. I corrected their exercises and did my best to explain items in the easiest way possible for them to grasp them. I was successful and I managed to make myself understood. My greatest reward was being chosen as the best classmate at the end of high school with the 98% of my classmates' votes. It was really moving.

The second teaching step was when I graduated as a teacher of English as a second language in my early twenties. At the beginning of my teaching career, even though I have always found it delightful, I could not relax in class. I was self-conscious and I tried to control every aspect of the class.
As time has passed and after attending courses and conferences to improve my teaching career, I have become self-confident. And that self-confidence has given me the chance of feeling at ease in group classes. This relaxing attitude helps me to be a better teacher and to meet my students' needs.

Of course, as in all walks of life, teaching requires constant improvement and updating so as to face the challenges of the current times and prepare our students to make practical use of what they learn.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

What Do Students Learn When They Learn a Second Language?

The Ideal Teaching-Learning Environment

After reading Shelly Terrell's latest post (Goal: Reach Out), I thought about how unaware many times we, language teachers, are of the fact that we are not only helping our students develop language skills but also contributing a great deal to their growth as social beings. Many times we have heard the phrase "The classroom is a small community" and as such we should model how to interact as members of that community so as to build an ideal environment for the teaching-learning process to take place smoothly.

Social Skills

Many times students participate in pair work or group work and we should walk around the classroom making sure they use the second language for communication. However, that is not the only point that should be raised. We should also check our students are putting into practice the right social skills required for a cordial interaction. Students should be able to express their thoughts, to listen to others and react accordingly. I have seen students developing monologues in a conversation, in which each of the members make a comment and continue adding details without paying attention to what the others are saying. For that reason, the notion of turn-taking is essential.

Ways of Making Students Aware of Social Skills

We should design tasks intended to make students aware of how they should interact to be competent speakers. At the same time, it is important for them to see the wrong way of doing it. In that way they will understand why it is wrong: communication is unsuccessful. It is not easy as in real life, at least in my country, adolescents are used to speaking all together, in a loud voice to be heard without listening to what others are saying. We should provide them with a clear list of items to respect in pair work and group work tasks.
Another interesting task to do is to organise group tasks in which one of the students is in charge of making comments as to their way of interacting. As students know the items to be respected to interact successfully, they will be able to decide if the ones that are interacting are doing it properly. This position of student-observer can be switched so that all of them have the opportunity of participating in peer correction.

Teachers' Attitude

Our attitude in the classroom teaches a lot to our students. If we smile, look at our students in the eyes, speak and listen with respect, our students will receive those values and learn how to interact in harmony. What they will be learning will be useful for oral exams and for their real lives.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Reflections on Edtech

My Experience

I have always wondered how I could help my students of English become independent learners. I teach one-to-one classes and group classes. In the case of the one-to-one students, it is easy to encourage them to go on practising after class because in general, they are adults who don't have time to learn English in a language school and so decide to take classes alone and do their best to progress through the learning experience. My group classes are adolescents at upper intermediate level who, in general, are sent by their parents to learn English so as to be better prepared for their future careers. These students go to high school and many times they use this fact as an excuse not to do their homework or study. In this case, it is difficult to motivate them go on practising English outside the classroom.

Internet as a Useful Tool

The use of the Internet has been great help for me to be able to make my students expand on what they are learning. Outside the classroom, they are able to:

  • Watch videos of films made on the books we are reading
  • Do interactive grammar exercises to further the practice of a certain grammar point
  • Create mind-maps so as to organise their material
  • Ask teachers questions so as to solve their doubts as to the tasks they are supposed to do at home
  • Use dictionaries
  • Express their messages at any time instead of waiting for the next class
  • Upload their homework for teachers to correct
  • Solve queries they do not feel like asking in class. This has been specially useful for weak students who feel embarrassed to show their difficulties among their peers.

Plans for This Year

For all the advantages I have mentioned above and many others I am planning to make my students have their individual blogs this year. In this way, they will succeed in becoming autonomous as they will select the material they think they need for their learning experience with their teachers supervision. I hope this way, they will feel motivated to see some English outside the classroom.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Teaching a Language: Goals

Reflections

When the language learning year starts I always make my students reflect on the reasons why they are learning English, devise goals and make commitments to fulfill those goals. This year, I'm planning to use Wallwisher to carry out these tasks as I expect the novelty would be highly encouraging for my students.

Students' and Teachers' Goals

Students' goals can be classified into short-term ones such as learning the structures and the vocabulary that are part of their curriculum and into long-term ones like being able to comunĂ­cate fluently or to get a better job.

We, teachers, also set short-term and long-term goals. Among my short terms goals, I can mention to give students the tools to make them develop reading, speaking, listening and writing strategies. Many times, teachers’ long term goals are achieved at the end of the learning year when students have their final exams and are assessed at the language school or by international examination boards. However, our major goal, the ultimate goal, as teachers should be to help our students become independent learners. Learning a language is a never-ending process and once a student reaches a high level, it is necessary for them to continue in contact with the language. Technology is a practical tool to continue practising the language outside the classroom and so I have created a Wiki space which I share with all the students I have at present and also with the students I have had for them to go on with their learning process. My Wiki space is: Linguistic Consultancy .Thanks to Twitter (I’m @Mtranslator) and to my PLN I can upload interesting material into this Wiki space.

Thanks!

I would like to thank all the members of my PLN for sharing insightful links and for their support. A special thanks to Shelly Terrell, who also gave me the opportunity of contributing a post in her Teacher Reboot Camp. In this post I have written about the use of technology in education in my country: To Use Edtech or Not: That is the Question.