Thoughts of a teacher - My last 11 Blog Challenge

This is the 11 blog challenge for which I was tagged by my FB friends and bloggers Georgia Psarra, Yitzha Sawono Priscila Mateini Debora Tebovich  and Fabiana Casella

I'm truly happy to spend some time replying to some of their interesting questions. (Repeated questions will not be answered).  Thank you, my friends!

How it works:

1. I need to acknowledge the  nominating blogger
2. I share 11 random facts about yourself
3. I must answer the 11 questions the blogger who nominated me asked
4. I will list another 11 bloggers a
5. I must post 11 questions for the nominated bloggers I've chosen and let them know they've been tagged. 
6. I should not  nominate bloggers who nominated me.

New 11 facts about me:

1. I  can play the guitar and sing 
2. As I am 50 years old I wish I were a grandma already! 
3. I'd love to live in a huge house in cold weather, in a quiet neighbourhood,  near a very big and urban city. 
4. If I had this house, I'd have at least five dogs , different sizes and breeds 
5. I wish I could knit and embroider. 
6. I can cook very well. 
7. I am extremely demanding  about have in my house and things very organised.
8. Although I have presented in some international conferEnces before, I'll present for the first time at the IATEFL and I am very excited about it. 
9. I consider a lot of my PLN contacts to be close friends and I'd love to meet them ASAP to hug them and have a good time. 
10. I 'm very happy to be preparing my daughter's wedding with her. 
11. For the past 19 months I have discovered  I have some skills (as a professional ) I'd never imagined I had. 

Questions Georgia has asked me: 

1. What did you want to become when you were a child? 
OMG! ! LOL  ! A detective , a policewoman and a lawyer. Perhaps this is why my favourite TV series are CSI, Criminal Minds, Law and Order and similar !

2. Why have you become  a teacher? Because I was born to be a teacher and because my mother used to be a teacher . She inspired me! I loved watching her teaching private students in  our house when I was a child and also I used to study in the same school she taught. I loved seeing how much the students loved her and how many presents she got for the teachers' Day and for Xmas ( LOL) . Then when I entered the university to study Psychology, I started to teach a lot of private classes of English, Portuguese and Literature. After 5 five years being a psychologist and  already doing MA on PSychology, I was very unhappy and then I decided to give up , go back to the University and become a teacher. It's simply a passion!

3. Have you ever regretted  being a teacher? 
No! Never! I regret to have stayed away from the classroom for 6 years when I was the DOS of a language institute. Coming back to teaching is one of the best  decisions I've made in my life.

4. You avoid people who... complain a lot about everything and are not thankful for all the things they have around them, including their own lives!

5. Tell us about your biggest dream:
To see my adult children happy with the families they are about to start ,  to have a lot of grandchildren e be healthy enough to enjoy all this with my husband!

6. What's your favourite colour and why? To tell you the truth I don't have a favourite colour... Blue could be the one I like best because it's the colour of the sky and the sea, two things I'm never tired of  looking at.

7. Which city would you like to visit? OMG! A lot! At the moment I'm dreaming with any city in Greece, the country I'll definitely go for my next holiday abroad! I could start with Athens!

8. What's your favourite piece of clothing?
Dresses! Very girlish dresses!

9. Have you ever cheated on a test? From the bottom of my heart I don't remember cheating. I'm sincerely speaking. My home and school education , not to mention my religious values,  were very rigid.

10. Describe your desk:  Always organised, the computer is always on, there is a print,  a phone-fax,  and not  as much space as I wish to spread books, notebooks and teachers' stuff .

11. Who's your favourite character either in a book or a movie? What a hard question for an avid reader and cinema fan! Well, I still love Maria from the film " The Sound of Music" . She was brave and admirable! As for a book character... There are two women  from the same book:  Teresa and Sabrina from
" The unbearable light of the being". They are completely different but strong and fragile at the same time, each one in her own way.

Questions Priscila  has asked me: 

1. What's your favourite movie? 
It's such  a hard question for a cinema fan, OMG! However, I've elected Cinama Paradiso ,an Italian movie which I'm never tired of watching! 

2. What's / was the most challenging moment in your career?
When I had to run two branches of  an institution at the same time.  as the DOS.

3. Would you like to teach in another country? I'd love to! Perhaps  a country in Asia or Chile, Argentina, Italy , France or my dream, the UK!

4. What was the most memorable  moment in a conference that you had been? When I first met David Crystal in person, hugged him, had a conversation with him , took pictures with him and of him, and had him autographing one of his books for me.

5, What would you do if you had to teach in a public school in the countryside of your country?  
To be very sincere, I  don't  know. I'd have to receive a lot of training  beforehand.

6. What's your favourite band? THE BEATLES , forever!

7. Do you have a favourite song? OMG! I  can't say ! I love so many songs! One of my favourite is
 " João e Maria" sung by Chico Buarque and Nara leão.
8. How many languages do you speak? Just Portuguese and English

9. Did you have  a teacher who inspired you?  A lot of teachers inspired me! I still have many!

10. How many books dis you read in 2013? About 12 non-fiction books, apart from those regarding teaching and learning.

11. What's teaching from your point of view? It's like raising a child: You need a lot of  patience, dedication, time and wisdom , not to mention immense love for it!

Questions Yitzha has asked me:

1, Do you bring music to your classroom? In what ways? Always! To calm down my SS, to warm them up, to have fun, to teach  language and vocabulary and to generate speaking opportunities.

2. Writing or reading? Both!

3. Who could change your mind once you've decided something? My husband,  children or parents . But they'd have to convince me and it would be a very hard task! LOL

4. Music or movie? Definitely both! Preferably movies with very good music!

5. What was the weirdest food you've ever eaten and what was your reaction to it? It was otter meat. It was delicious! 

6. During school year who were you : a jock, a brain, a teacher pet, a rebel, or....  Apart from a jock, I think I was a little of the other ones. LOL!

7.  Do you prefer large or smaller groups? Why? Lager. I love the limit my school sets: 15 students. Its fantastic, it's exciting and SS interact better! 

8. What's your biggest obstacle in teaching? When parents don't help and spoil their children . 

9.  If you could hold a inner party of five . who would they be? But the guests  have to be one of the cartoon character, a world leader, one famous person (actor or singer ) and a member of your family.  Piece of cake! Here you are:  Batman ( I love his mysterious double life), Nelson Mandela ( If he was alive), Paul McCartney (of course! ) and my husband.

10. What's your favourite scent? The rain!

11. Please describe what you think of me in one word: Cheerful!

Questions Fabiana has asked me

1. What are three adjectives that describe you best? People say I'm mostly talkative, organised and cheerful

2. Who's someone you admire the most and why?  My dad because he had a very hard childhood,  he was very poor and was able to overcome all the difficulties in his life and raise a solid happy family and career.

3. Have you ever met a Hollywood Star ? Where? How? Yes, by chance in NY JFK Airport I could see George Clooney , not too close,  but it was him ( some people were kind of frenetic with his presence! )

4. The Beatle or the Rolling Stones? Definitely THE BEATLES!

5. Can you dance Tango? No, I can't! I'd love to be able to!

6. Do you think you are a connected educator? I think so! Do you think I am , Fabiana? LOL!  

7.  If you were offered to teach in a foreign country, which one would you choose? Italy! I love Italy!    

Questions Debbie has asked me:  

1. How often do you feel exposed to dilemmas  in education? How do you work them out?  What  deep questions! I'll answer this one as a blog post!  Can I, Debbie?

2. What plants and flowers do you have at home? Not many as a live in a flat . But I grow rosemary  and some small flowers such as roses and orchids.

3. Have you aver been stuck in an elevator? Yes, twice . It was one of the most terrible sensations I've ever felt in my whole life!

4. What's that lovely childhood memory that comes to you once in a while? OMG! Grandma cooking biscuits and I always around trying " to help"  I can feel the smell and the taste for real!

5. If English is not your mother tongue, do ever need to read subtitles when you watch movies in English? Not always, but sometimes I do.

6. What makes you laugh?  Family reunion , especially when the women cousins get together! It's simply fantastic!

7. If you could spend a year focusing on research, what would you research? Why? God!  Hard question! I think... ... perhaps I'd research on why some teachers are so resistant to PD and mentoring, (because I  believe teachers are forever learners).

8. How do you keep track of your digital files? Dropbox, Diigo, Pinterest and loads of backups on external HDs .

9. When was the last time you danced? Last Sunday (23rd Feb 2014) on a birthday party. SAMBA!

10. Who do you admire and why? A lot of people but I'd highlight my husband. He's the most friendly, patient,  sympathetic , lovely and understanding person I have ever met in my life.

11. Are you good at setting goals? Do you follow a certain process to set you goals? Yes, I am.  I plan, I  write lists, mind maps and follow routines very easily.  

Helping Upper-Intermediate Learners to Recognize Speech Acts and Use Discourse Markers

This is a copy of my article originally published in t ETAS Journal in December 2013, volume 31, issue number 1 , pp 48 - 50. This  article is posted here in my blog with permission of  ETAS  Journal ( English Teachers Association Switzerland ) 

As the ETAS Journal is the original source of this post,  I  am deeply thankful for the amazing opportunity to have this article published in such a respectful periodical with so many respectful colleagues. This indeed led me to improve my writing skills as well as reflect  more deeply on how to make my UI students to speak more naturally. Thank you very much!


                   Learning to speak a foreign language is much more complex than knowing its grammatical and semantic rules. It involves both command of certain skills and several different types of knowledge. Richards (2005, p. 204) states that learners must acquire the knowledge of how native speakers use the language in a context of structured interpersonal exchange, in which many factors interact.
                     Regarding oral communication, I believe learners need as much exposure as possible to the speaking skill to develop confidence. Through my experience I have noticed that it is a difficult area, especially for adult EFL learners. At the upper-intermediate level it is assumed that students have developed enough fluency and accuracy so as to communicate effectively. Usually at this level students are good at grammar, reading, and listening comprehension. In real life, however, it is difficult for them to communicate in L2 using the same natural speech they use in L1 because there are some ‘gaps’ in the teaching of the speaking skills which I intend to analyse later. Finally, of the four skills, speaking seems to be intuitively the most important.
                      According to Ur (2006, p. 120) people who know a language are referred to as ‘speakers’ of that language, as if speaking included all the kinds of knowing; and many, if not most, foreign language learners are primarily interested in learning to speak. This article will examine the factors affecting adult EFL oral communication, as well as components underlying mainly the use of discourse markers and speech acts. Analysis: According to Richards (2005, p. 204), it is difficult for EFL learners, especially adults, to speak the target language fluently and appropriately.
                    In order to provide effective guidance in developing competent English speakers, it is necessary to examine factors affecting adult learners’ oral communication. Owing to minimal exposure to the target language and contact with native speakers, adult EFL learners in general are relatively poor at spoken English, especially regarding fluency, control of idiomatic expressions, and understanding cultural pragmatics such as the use of speech acts, discourse markers and turn-taking, among others. Having said that, I assume EFL learners need explicit instructions in speaking, which, like any language skill, generally has to be learnt and practised. For Bygate (1987, p. 3), when speaking and listening abilities are focused on, we should put emphasis on teaching how to use language rather than knowing about language. He states that, in particular, learners need to develop skills in the management of interaction and also in the negotiation of meaning .
                   The management of interaction involves aspects such as knowing when and how to take the floor, when to introduce a topic or change the subject, how to invite someone else to speak, how to keep a conversation going, when and how to terminate the conversation and so on. In their mother tongue, students use these sub-skills and communicate with others unconsciously, whereas in their second language, they cannot always acquire these skills without practising. There is often a great deal of repetition and overlap between one speaker and another, and speakers frequently use fillers such as ‘well’, ‘oh’ and ‘uhuh’, making spoken language feel less conceptually dense than other types of languages, such as expository prose’. 
                    According to Richards & Plat (1997, p. 343) a speech act is an utterance that serves a function in communication. It might contain just one word, as in "Sorry!" to perform an apology, or several words or sentences: "I’m sorry I forgot your birthday. Speech acts include real-life interactions and require not only knowledge of the language but also appropriate use of that language within a given culture. Here are some examples of speech acts we use or hear every day:

Greeting ( saying, "Hi, John!', for instance )
Apologising ( "sorry for that")
Warning ( "Watch out, the ground floor is slippery!")

                  McCarty (2004: p. 9) defines a discourse marker as a word or phrase that marks a boundary in a discourse, typically as part of a dialogue. They are usually polyfunctional elements and can be understood in two ways: firstly, as elements which serve to unite utterances (in this sense they are equivalent to connectives) and secondly, as elements which serve a variety of conversational purposes. It’s agreed that effective speakers are those who have mastered discourse competence. It means turn-taking in conversations, opening and closing a conversation, keeping a conversation going and repairing trouble spots in conversation. Discourse markers and speech acts are closely related because there is a bond between them. What I mean is that when a speech act is used in a conversation to express agreement, refusal, or any other function, it usually involves discourse markers to reinforce what the speech acts mean, as well as to make the conversation more authentic.

Problems faced by learners
Speech acts are difficult to perform in a second language because learners may not know the idiomatic expressions or cultural norms in the second language or they may transfer their first language rules and conventions into the second language, assuming that such rules are universal. Something that works in English might not transfer in meaning when translated into the second language. For example, the following remark as uttered by a native English speaker could easily be misinterpreted by a native Chinese hearer:
Sarah: "I couldn't agree with you more."
Cheng: "Hmmm…."(Thinking: "She couldn't agree with me? I thought she liked my idea!")
            According to my research some EFL learners may unintentionally come across as abrupt or brusque in social interactions in English because of a lack of expertise with linguistic devices such as discourse markers.
            Being a teacher in monolingual groups of students, I have notices that they have few opportunities to practise sub-skills associated with the spoken language that are not naturally practised in the classroom. Students learn basic or non-authentic vocabulary  at the early stages. Consequently, at the upper intermediate stage they need more contact with how discourse markers are used when speaking and to be shown the importance of using them correctly and, with practice, as authentically as possible. 

Helping learners

Thornbury (2006, p. 41) states that there are things learners can’t easily do because they lack certain skills. On the other hand, there are things learners do not know how to do, such as what to say to signal a change of topic. I decided to use awareness-raising activities, since they allow the possibility of learners’ discovering, not to mention that this kind of activities involve attention, noticing and understanding.

As a lead-in I used a “find someone who” activity  which aims to introduce the topic of making invitations and suggestions, to expand conversation in the target language and raises students’ awareness of the target language while using students’ common sense as background to support it. 

                          Slide developed by Roseli Serra @SerraRoseli 

To raise learners’ awareness of features of spoken language I used an activity adapted from THORNBURY, Scott, How To Teach Speaking (2006, p. 51). It aims to make students able to recognise a number of speech acts, and raise their interest in particular features of the spoken language using the language point.

Asking learners to categorize speech acts is another way of raising awareness as to their meaning and use. In this activity students listen to some dialogues, match them to pictures and categorise a variety of speech acts relating to the macro-function of ‘getting people to do things’. (Adapted from CUNNINGHAN, Sarah, Cutting Edge Advanced (2006, p. 35)

As stated before, it is useful to encourage students to recognise that spoken language can be untidy and include elements like false starts and fillers.  This can be done by looking at transcripts of natural language. I have handed out the transcript of the above dialogues aiming to have students identifying the discourse markers and get them to notice and reflect about the language in use and focus on the spontaneous spoken language leading them to use those features in the next activities.

                          Slide developed by Roseli Serra @SerraRoseli                        

After showing the students a PowerPoint presentation containing some discourse markers from the text ( As in the image above) , and also some speech acts from the previous activities, I used an  activity proposed in CLAIRE, Antonia & WILSON, JJ, Language to Go Upper-Intermediate – students’ Book (2002, p. 87) as a role playing/simulation. It encourages thinking and creativity, lets students develop and practice new language and behavioural skills in a relatively nonthreatening setting, and can create the motivation and involvement necessary for learning to occur. At this stage of the lesson the students will be aware of discourse markers.  So it is time to give them opportunities to produce the target language.

As most spoken language is, by its very nature, spontaneous, some aspects seem very difficult to teach at first sight. On the other hand, some aspects are very teachable. We can demonstrate typical exchanges, such as those used for offers or requests. In doing so we can focus on interactive markers like right, okay, fine and so on.  According to Wills (2005, p. 198), all of these elements have an identifiable value which can, in principle, be made available to students.

I think this work is worthwhile because we can make students aware of the nature and characteristics of the spoken language. Furthermore, we can give them opportunities to analyse and to produce spontaneous language. Most important of all, we need to recognise the dynamic nature of spoken language. “Language is the way it is because of the purpose it fulfils”. (See Wills 2005, p. 198)

I also concluded that one thing is certain: if we are to illustrate grammar of spoken English, we need samples of genuine spoken interaction. However, I would like to say that this too create problems. As we know, spoken language can be untidy, full of false starts and instances of speakers talking over another. This can make it difficult to process.  Spontaneous spoken language is often delivered rapidly, unlike the carefully modulated language we hear in most language courses.  In the real world, the processing of spoken language often depends on shared knowledge and is consequently highly inexplicit.

           Having said that, I am sure it is difficult, but not impossible, to provide students with spontaneous language for classroom use. With teachers’ guidance, it is possible to devise techniques to make students produce spontaneous – authentic – language, even at an elementary level.  

With this in mind, the teacher must then set achievable goals that are applicable and suitable for the communication needs of the student. The student must also become part of the learning process, actively involved in their own learning. With the teacher acting as a 'speech coach', rather than as mere checker of students’ performance, the feedback given to the student can encourage learners to improve their spoken skills.  If these criteria are met, all students, within their learner-unique goals, can be expected to do well in learning how to speak English spontaneously. 

Enjoy your teaching! 

Brown, G., & Yule, G. (1993). Teaching the spoken language: an approach based on the analysis of conversational English. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Bygate, M. (1987). Speaking. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Clare, A., & Wilson, J. J. (2002). Language to go: upper intermediate. Harlow: Longman.
Cunningham, S., & Moor, P. (2003). Cutting edge: advanced,. Harlow: Longman.
McCarthy, M. (1991). Discourse analysis for language teachers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Nunan, D. (1989). Designing tasks for the communicative classroom. Cambridge [England: Cambridge University Press.
Richards, J. C., Platt, J. T., & Weber, H. (1985). Longman dictionary of applied linguistics. Harlow, Essex, England: Longman.
Richards, J. C. (1990). The language teaching matrix. Cambridge [England: Cambridge University Press.
Richards, J. C., & Renandya, W. A. (2002). Methodology in language teaching: an anthology of current practice. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Scarcella, R. C., & Oxford, R. L. (1992). The Tapestry of language learning: the individual in the communicative classroom. Boston, Mass.: Heinle & Heinle.
Scrivener, J. (2011). Learning Teaching (3., neue Aufl. ed.). Ismaning: Hueber Verlag.
Thornbury, S. (2005). How to teach speaking. Harlow, England: Longman.
Ur, P., & Ur, P. (2012). A course in English language teaching (2nd ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Willis, D. (2003). Rules, patterns and words: grammar and lexis in English language teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Reflective Practice - rpc1-mission statement

John Pfordresher has started this whole thing about Reflective Practice (RP) in his blog . Then he challenged some ELT bloggers and educators to participate in what he calls RP challenge.  Having said that and being inspired by some colleagues I accepted the challenge.

What's Reflective Practice?

From my point of view RP is a way of internally reflect and studying your own experiences to improve the way you work. It  has been very useful to me and I guess it is very  useful to all those who want to carry on learning throughout their lives. The act of reflection is a great way to increase confidence and become a more proactive and qualified professional. Engaging reflective practice  has helped  me  improve the quality of my job and shorten ( if not close) the gap between theory and practice. Thinking about my role as mentor. for example, I'd say that , unless this link is made, then simply reading up on the evidence base is of little practical value.

"Evidence-based practice needs to retain a practical focus and to build a reflective practice" 
(Atkins, 1993)

                               Photo taken from ELT Pics "Reflections" by @CliveSir

Usually RP is timing consuming , sometimes painful , it demands from us a lot of critical thinking and an open mind to  develop new perspectives. In addition it might be a journey you'll need to share and ask for help.

I believe and I have experienced that RP demands an internal exam of self and of the situation - it has to do with experience and the awareness of  issues or situations that do not unfold in the way we would expect and it consequently takes us to a critical analysis (thinking in action) which leads both to the examination of feelings and knowledge.

Where I am at the moment:

Being in the market for quite a long time ( almost 28 years ) I have reached a position of a senior teacher, I was a coordinator and a DOS. Now I  see myself as a leaner again. My RP led me to the  conclusion that I need:

  • to study more
  • to be a better time manager  
  • to teach more 
  • to mentor more 
  • to be mentored. 

To study more: As an MA student I am struggling with a lot of theory, exams and assignments which  have surprised  me in the sense that they have been more helpful for my own  professional development (as a more qualified ELT professional ) than to the audience I am teaching at the moment. However, at some point it will be of great help, I hope.

To teach more:  Had been worked as a DOS and school co-ordinator for a long time, it prevented me from teaching. Yes, I was away from the classroom for some time. And I do regret it.  Being involved only with teacher training and some administrative issues, prevented me from developing and enjoying my teaching skills. On the other hand, coming back to the classroom (since September 2012) has made me notice both positive and needs-improvement points in my teaching  practice ( based only on my own RP) :

1. Some positive points:

  • I was born to be a teacher and I do love what I do. 
  • I am patient and  I stablish rapport very easily with my SS
  • I care about my SS and I am not afraid of being assertive with them when necessary 
  • I try  hard to adapt my lessons according to my SS' wants and needs
  • My SS have done well and I could clear notice their satisfaction and sense of achievement. 
  • I negotiate with my students the more I can 

2. Needs- improvement points about my teaching:
  • I need to spend less hours preparing lessons . It's amazing I still haven't learned how to do it after such a long time. Perhaps a very close friend of mine (and mentor) is right when he told me: " It's not a matter of management. It's just too much on a plate for one person..." 
  • I do need to reduce  my level of expectations in the sense that I cannot expect that: All my SS will love my lessons or  that they will be100% successful . Yes, I need to be more realistic. 
  • I do need to reduce my perfectionism. 

To mentor more and to be mentored:

I consider mentoring  to be one of the most rewarding areas. I have posted before about mentoring and I do believe in what I say and do in this area.  Being a mentor makes us not only help others in their careers but also leads us reflect  upon our own role as a teacher, mentor and educator. Mentoring sharpens our listening skills and makes us think more wisely before speaking. The moment I start mentoring , I always feel the need to be mentored as I , many times,  see in the mentee my own strengths and weaknesses. I compare it to the times when I used to work as a therapist (yes, I gave up my psychologist career to become a teacher and I do not regret at all! ) and I needed a supervisor, my therapist and mentor, to help me support my patients to carry their burdens, overcome their difficulties or  deal with them in a healthier way , I mean,  with less pain.

What about my students and my teaching from now on

They are  the central point of my RP and thinking about them  I'll write my RP  missions statement which is:

Check other Reflective Practice Mission Statements:

And let's also listen to the winds of our souls! 

Enjoy your teaching!