Monday, 30 May 2011

Some musings on kids and self-esteem

Over the last few months I had the chance to talk to many teachers working at both public and private schools in Buenos Aires and I heard some recurring complaints: teaching at primary or secondary school is virtually impossible, real life has little to do with the setting we are trained to teach in, episodes of violence at school are commonplace and kids don’t seem to relate to their teachers or mates in any way. It is frequent to meet teachers who find themselves working as counsellors rather than teaching the subject matter of their expertise. This seems to be a widespread reality in Argentina, across the board in different social classes, types of school and regions.

One way of looking at this issue would be to come to terms with the idea that, in the 21st century, we are there to teach much more than subject matter, that –whether we like it or not– what we do with these kids everyday affects their lives enormously. We are not only language teachers; we have to prepare students to pass the tests of life.

This idea is not new. Different approaches to emotional education evolved from the insights developed in Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences (1993) and Daniel Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence (1995). These two books sparked unusual interest when they were written, as they provided a detailed picture of what many teachers started to see and perceive as a shortcome in traditional education systems.

I feel that many times, when dealing with this issue, we fail to ask a crucial question: why? (I’m going to use he here for the sake of practicity, no sexism intended).Why does a kid insult or beat a classmate? Why does he turn into the class bully? Why does he refuse to talk to the teacher? Why does he look withdrawn and absent in class? Why has he lost the will to learn, to investigate, to acquire new knowledge and experience?  

Probably because he doesn’t know or recognize his own emotions, or because he hasn’t been taught to feel empathy and respect for others, or because he hasn’t been taught to take responsability for his own behaviour. Mostly, I think, because he doesn’t have enough self-esteem to feel he deserves something GOOD.

The question of self-esteem in kids is doubly fascinating and challenging for me, because I’m a teacher as well as a mum. How can we help our kids build up their self-esteem? How can we contribute to their developing genuine, lasting self-confidence? These are questions I often ask myself and I must confess I’ve done some reading on the subject. I know this is a major topic and we can’t jump into any simple conclusions, but there are a couple of things that have stuck after my readings. How can we help them?

  • By stimulating their curiosity and encouraging them to try out different things
  • By trusting they will do things right and letting them try by themselves
  • By showing them how to talk about their feelings (by talking about ours!)
  • By having our senses ready to detect and encourage their natural talents
  • By praising them for their achievements
  • By helping them to face their fears
  • By letting them be the independent beings they are meant to be
  • By understanding that nothing good may come out of ill-treatment

I recently came across a very thought-provoking video on how to boost self-esteem in kids, which I’d like to share here. After watching it, I added a new item to my list: “by giving them as many poker chips as we possibly can”. Watch the video and you’ll see how!

See you soon!


Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Collaboration, that good old friend

One key word of the web 2.0 era is collaboration. The term relates to a new way of using the web, with applications that facilitate the sharing of information and building of common spaces by people who work together, are fellow students or haven’t met at all! The social component of web 2.0 is so important that we often refer to it as Internet’s social revolution.

As I was browsing through a couple of blogs and webpages, trying to learn some more about collaboration tools and how to use them in the classroom, I realized that we teachers intuitively know the meaning and acknowledge the value of collaboration in our everyday practice, when we:

  • Encourage participation
  • Create favourable conditions for knowledge and content sharing
  • Propose activities in which interaction is crucial
  • Ask our students to work in pairs or in groups
  • Emphasize the importance of listening and accepting the opinion of others
  • Step back and watch how our students learn from peers in a non-hierarchical structure
  • Offer them tools to negotiate and come to an agreement with their mates
  • Organize projects for them to work together with a common aim

Sooo, good to know this is not new! As with many other things, it’s a matter of applying new tools to our pedagogy (I always favour a pedagogy-first, tool-second approach) and having our eyes and minds open because we might come across some refreshing, challenging  ideas as well!

There’s loads of collaboration tools on the web! I selected a few, which I found interesting and potentially useful to work with in the EFL class (I’ve included others in my Resources section).

Writing, editing, revising

Different people can work on one document simultaneously. Everyone gets their own colour so changes and comments are easy to track.

Several people can work on one document at the same time and the text is synchronized as they type so that everyone sees the same text. You can save revisions and share the document at any stage of the process.

It works as an online multi-user whiteboard that allows audio, chat and file sharing.

It’s a free, open canvas where you can collaborately create presentations and scrapbooks by using videos and other web content. It also allows interactive chat.

Online application centered around the whiteboard. You can draw as you would on a real whiteboard to visualize and share ideas and text.


Create short, beautifully illustrated stories, share and/or print them. 

Intended for children to create, illustrate and publish their own books.

Create stories on a collaborately timeline. You can also add photos and videos.

Web-based tool to easily create and share timelines with pictures and videos.

Use styled templeates to create stories with photos and text.

A digital wall where you can stick and rearrange notes, photos and videos.

Social networking in the classroom

Safe microblogging platform that imitates the way social networking is carried out outside the classroom.

Create and name a chatting room of your own, use live stream to make comments, ask questions and get or provide feedback.

Create a chatting room for you and your students only. Very easy to use.

Class projects

Create a free class website. You can manage different accounts, work on homework and provide feedback online.

Working with words

Your students submit a word and Lexipedia identifies their part of speech, provides definitions and word families.

Web-based tool to create beautifully coloured graphs and Venn diagrams. Once you finish you can save your graph and you are sent a link to see it whenever you like on the site.

Nice tools! Any ideas of specific activities to put them to use?


Thursday, 5 May 2011

Great sites: using videos, movies and the news in the classroom


Tons of activities based on videos (YouTube, TED, etc.), organized by grammar goal, vocabulary area and level of students. Also, keep updated by following Jamie Keddie on Twitter @lessonstream

Movie segments to assess grammar

Movie segments with activities to work on grammar points through a variety of exercises. Includes printable worksheets.

Breaking news English

Lots of activities based on the news, updated every couple of days. Also includes listening and speaking activities. On Twitter: @SeanBanville


Sunday, 1 May 2011

Beware of the P word: plagiarism!

Every year I ask my students at college to write a short paper on a given topic and each time we do this, we need to tackle the question of plagiarism and discuss proper ways of citing sources. This is a problem in Argentina, because we are never taught to do it at school. Students copy and paste information without bothering to cite the source. Sometimes, even teachers distribute handouts and materials without acknowledging the source. So when students get to college and have to write essays, they need to acquire the habit of citing and actually learn when and how to do it. This is a simple guide I’ve written for my students but there’s lots of information on the web (links recommended at the end).

Learning when and how to include references and quotations in your writing is an indispensable skill in academic life. Including references is an important part of your writing, not only because failing to cite the source of your ideas may be considered cheating and penalized as such (remember there are codes of practice that aim at protecting intellectual property), but also because a good command of this skill will help you in two main ways:

(1)  It shows the amount and quality of your research, indicating the reader that you know the     subject matter and that you have chosen relevant and appropriate materials.
(2)  It indicates how you developed your own position by supporting or challenging others.

To cite or not to cite: that is the question

The first important thing you need to learn is when to cite. The general rule is: when you are referring to something that is considered common knowledge in your field, you don’t need to cite. If, on the other hand, you are referring to an analysis developed by someone with specialist knowledge on the topic, you do need to cite. When you are quoting verbatim, you always have to cite. Let’s see some examples:

If you are studying Linguistics and in your paper you refer to Universal Grammar (UG) and you say something like, “we assume a set of principles that are common to all natural languages”, this is common knowledge to anybody with an elementary knowledge of UG (and if you are writing an essay on Linguistics, we can assume your audience will have this kind of elementary acquaintance with the subject matter). Therefore, you don’t need to cite.

However, if you mention the fact that “in Welsh there is no morphosyntactic marker of inherent genitive”, you are definetely referring to a specialized analysis carried out by someone in particular, which is not common knowledge to the majority of your audience, therefore you do have to cite the source.

Finally, if you want to use the exact words used by the original author -either because you need the voice of an accepted authority to reinforce your ideas or because you want to avoid misinterpretation of the original material- you always have to acknowledge the source.

Now, sometimes you may have doubts as to whether the information you are citing is common knowledge or not (where to draw the line is precisely one of the most difficult things to learn). So when in doubt, cite. You won’t be penalized for citing too much, but failing to credit ideas is considered serious misconduct.

How to cite in the running text

There is not only one way of quoting and referencing academic work but several styles, although in general we aim at consistency of style within a given field. I will briefly discuss the APA (American Psychological Association) style, which is commonly used in Linguistics (you will find links to references manuals of other styles at the end of the text).

The APA style is widely used in Psychology and the Social Sciences. It follows the author-date system, i.e. when you cite in the running text, you must include the surname of the author and the year of publication of the cited work. If you are quoting verbatim, you must add the page number where that specific sentence is to be found. All sources cited are found in the References section at the end of the paper, where they are listed alphabetically. In this style, footnotes are used to provide information that is not essential to the text, not to provide references. Some examples:

One or two authors:

White (1986) hypothesized that second language learners initially adopt the L1 parameter value.

Some studies are consistent with the claim that the L1 value is the first value adopted but that it can be reset later (White, 1986).

Dulay and Burt (1974) found a common accuracy order in the production of a set of grammatical morphemes of Chinese and Spanish speaking children.

It was thought that a set of “universal cognitive mechanisms” (Dulay & Burt 1974:52) applies to both native and nonnative language acquisition. Note that 52 is the page number here.

Schachter claimed that “one’s knowledge of the L1 has as much influence on the learning of an unrelated second language as on the learning of a related one” (Schachter, 1975, cited in Schwartz, 1995:17). You haven’t actually read Schachter; you are citing something that Schawrtz cited.

Three, four or five authors:

Further research has drawn attention to the fact that these structures emerge gradually based on input (Clashen, Eisenbeiβ & Vainikka, 1994). First time you mention them.

This author takes a position similar to that of Clashen et al. (1994). Subsiquent citations.

Quotations of more than three lines should be indented as a separate paragraph, with no quotation marks and usually in a smaller font size. An example:

Whilst one may suppose that the first language learner has an unlimited number of hypotheses about the nature of the language he is learning which must be tested (although strong reasons have been put forward for doubting this) we may certainly take it that the task of the second language learner is a simpler one: that the only hypotheses that he needs to test are: ‘Are the systems of the new language the same or different from those of the language I know’ ‘And if different, what is their nature?’ (Corder, 1967:168)

How to build your Reference List

All sources cited in the text must be listed alphabetically in the References section at the end of the paper (if there is more than one reference by the same author, order these chronologically). This list must include books, articles, academic papers (published or unpublished), websites and any other kind of source that you’ve consulted and cited when writing your paper.

What should be included:

- Author’s surname
- Author’s first name or initial (but be consistent!)
- Year of publication
- Title of article or book
- Place
- Publisher

o    If the reference is a book, thesis or dissertation, italicise.

Chomsky, N. (1965) Aspects of the Theory of Syntax. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

o    If the reference is an article in a journal, use plain style for the title of the article and italics for the title of the journal. You must also give the volume number and the page numbers.

Anderson, S. (1982) Where is Morphology? Linguistic Inquiry 13:571-612.

o    If the reference is an article in a book, you must provide the full reference of that book: name of the editor, title of the book (in italics), volume number (if applicable) and page numbers.

Chomsky, N. (1993) A Minimalist Program for Linguistic Theory. In K. Hale and S. J.  Keyser (eds.) The View from Building 20. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press. pp 1-52.

o    If the reference is an unpublished thesis or a manuscript, say so and provide the name of the relevant institution.

Schwartz, B. D. (1987) The Modular Basis of Second Language Acquisition. Unpublished Ph. D. dissertation. University of Southern California.

o    If the reference is an article from an online journal, provide as much information as you can (author, name of the journal, URL and retrieval date).

Jacobsen, J.W. (2001) A history of facilitated communication. American Psychologist, 50(2): 750-752. Retrieved August 25, 2001, from http// jacobsen.html

There are a few online tools that you may find useful when compiling your Reference List. For example, you can build your list, save it and adapt your references to the citation style of your choice. You might want to try one of these:

Find out more

Questions and comments welcome!