Friday, October 22, 2004

Session 5 reading: comments

The term emotional intelligence was first used in 1990 as "the ability to manage feelings and relationships" (p. 91, 2nd parag from bottom). It's made up of what Howard Gardner refers as 'intrapersonal' and 'interpersonal' intelligences. Daniel Goleman (with a book titled Emotional Intelligence) says that it involves 5 skills: self-awareness (being aware of our emotions), managing (those) emotions, self-motivation, empathy and relating well with others (p. 91, bottom).

That emotions have an impact on/affect learning (p. 90, top) is not new to me. I remember two teachers who made a very strong and lasting impression on me due to their competence, way of teaching and the emotion they put in their teaching:

  • a Portuguese Literature teacher (Irene Ferreira de Almeida, my friend) in the 11th grade teacher whose eyes filled with tears and voice faltered as she spoke of several passages in the Portuguese epic poem, Os Lusiadas, by Luis de Camoes. She always seemed to be living those scenes intensely in class. This work, which was usually very boring for most students, was fascinating to me due to that "very special" teacher and all the feelings and emotions that she expressed at all times. I was all ears and eyes in the many classes about it;
  • an American Math teacher (Marcia Perlmutter, another very dear friend!), also "very special", who would generally start classes telling us a joke or a funny story in order to get us in the mood for 'working'. And she did! :-)

That emotions can be managed and controlled (p. 90, middle) seems quite obvious as we go thorugh life and observe people and behavior. However, it's not an easy process. I can speak for myself. On very few occasions in the past it was very difficult to control myself in class, when students were extremely rude or arrogant. It's a direct blow on my nervous system and I do need to breathe very, very deeply before (re)acting!

That our emotional state influences our thinking (p. 90, middle) is a given. I guess that's why we say that we "speak with the heart" (in our hand)! Better yet, when such a situation arises and we don't see things clearly, we are advised to think rationally and coldly.

Yes, emotions do influence learning! In good and bad ways, positively and negatively.

Personally, I have found that at intensely emotional times (a serious illness in the family, for example), work is a great therapy. Having our mind 100% concentrated in class works wonders. But the same situation doesn't generally have the same reaction on the part students, who can easily be distracted away from class. Therefore, the need to pull them back to 'planet classroom' (an expression I often use) whether through a timely a reminder, or a caring word or gesture.

Anxiety about test results and school grades (often the result of a very demanding parent – Susana J.), negative emotional responses (crumbling a test in my face, because he didn't get what he expected, or "I'm not going to do what you're telling me!" in a very challenging tone – Pedro G.), low self-esteem, lack of trust in themselves, need to be worked on constantly in a caring way (p. 91, top). The Pedro I'm talking about (in 5th grade last year) wrote me fabulous apologetic letters on two occasions after having reacted very negatively with me. (BTW, he seems like a natural-born writer! I hope I'm not wrong.)

While reading this chapter I was very happy to see that several things I do in class from pure intuition and deep inner feeling, above all, because I respect and love my students, are considered "good practice":

  • having students voice their feelings, anxieties, learning difficulties, etc - self-awareness (p. 92) - and discussing with others better ways and strategies to cope;
  • talking about/discussing an unpleasant attitude or happening - managing emotions (p. 92) - whether with the class or just with the students involved (at the expense of a lesson, if necessary). I've learned that we not only relieve tensions, but also gain a lot in terms of empathy from just caring, especially at the right moment. It's truly a teachable/learnable moment!
  • being firm and demanding, but helpful at all times, ends up motivating students and arouses the self-motivation (p. 93) needed to generate trust and boost self-esteem. I'm always enthusiastically supportive of low achievers and ask them to demand more of themselves, because they can be better if they want and make the extra effort. I always demand more of each and every student and have high expectations of them and the class. I believe I have gotten to many just by showing enthusiasm/emotion in how I say things and believing in what I'm saying;
  • showing that I care about them when they come up to me after class, listening when I sense a real need or urge to talk, tell me something, respect their ideas and opinions, in short, connecting to them, thus, establishing a two-way connection: that's empathy! (p. 93)
  • modeling good behavior and exemplifying bad behavior or manners, being fair, admitting I'm wrong, hearing both sides of a problem, creating a safe classroom environment where everyone can voice his ideas and opinions openly without fear of being ridiculed, is all part of relating well with others (p. 93).

I will end with my main and very personal idea before and after reading this chapter: as happens with most things in life, first impressions are crucial! They are decisive in grabbing or hooking a class. . . or letting it go! Either there's empathy or not! If there is, it'll be the first step towards a safe and caring environment which, in turn, will generate motivation for learning. If we are able to achieve that, all other problems, whether cognitive or behavioral, will be easier to overcome. This doesn't mean we will have all the students in our hand, but we will certainly have a lot of allies who will help us face any potential enemy!

Thursday, October 14, 2004

What I said in session 4 (8oct04)

These are some of the comments we made during the session in the text chat area, which complemented our voiced comments.

Me: may i ask if you all consider smart and intelligent different? we have two different words in portuguese
Me: it's sort of the brain vs. the mind discussion! ;-)
Sus: I'm also surprised about using the term " smart" for being "clever".
Moderator[Bruce]: we sometime use the phrase "street wise"
Me: and sometimes in a sneaky way!

Me: i don't agree. i've always said that i think there is at least one potential in everybody, and gardner says "we all have potential in all of the intelligences". that's going much further
Me: his contribution is fantastic and it's looking at people in a very positive way, esp. people we usually consider as incapable

doris: everybody is intelligent all they have to do is to try to find outwhat kind of intelligent they are.
doris: they can be several kind of intelligent at the same time
Me: but we, as teachers, need to help them find that out, doris
alexe_s: It's just that some people have a harder time to find in what are they good at
Me: true, alex
doris: yes, that's what we try ito do in our English class by exposing our students to different kind of materials
Me: absolutely, doris

Me: another fascinating idea is that intelligences can develop/be developed over time

Me: maybe we say so bec. we have been rooted in only those two intelligences [linguistic and logical-mathematic]] most of our lives
doris: In venezuela our education system focus on developing reading, writing and mathematics
Me: all this additional knowledge is quite recent
Me: and even the four basic skills we're always talking about are also deeply rooted in the linguistic and logical-mathematical intelligences

Me: use the MI in your classes!!! :-)

Me: i would also like to have some comments to my blog. feels sad to have a monologue :-(
doris: I tried to post but i couldn't
Me: actually, i'm enjoying reflecting and taking note of relevant ideas, but comments are welcome
doris: i didn't know how to
Sus: Tere, I read your blog today but had no time yet to comment
Me: why not? aren't you a member of blogger?
doris: i loved your comments

And this is the chat that Luisa R. Rosa and I had right after the session (included with Luisa's permission):

teresa (22:53:26): the chapter is very interesting
luisa (22:54:20): yes, it makes us think
teresa (22:56:05): yes, it sure does...
luisa (22:56:37): but i agree with Doris
luisa (22:57:03): we worry too much about teaching "the syllabus"
teresa (22:57:55): i worry less and less about teaching everything. and they learn, because they have fun in my classes
luisa (22:58:22): i think you're right
teresa (22:58:29): they're always with their glued on me waiting for the next 'nutty' thing i will do or say
teresa (22:58:57): i've always preferred quality to quantity. and i diversify more and more
luisa (22:59:28): we are going to have internet at my school
luisa (22:59:41): maybe i will update myself
teresa (22:59:51): and the textbooks help a lot because they have many different activities
teresa (23:00:40): i'm also much more interested in communication than in correctness
teresa (23:01:03): i don't worry that much about them having everything correct
luisa (23:01:51): but it's always dangerous to advance without saying something
luisa (23:02:13): sometimes it's hard to balance things
teresa (23:02:59): i tell them about a few mistakes, but i don't insist, because i think it's more important to communicate
teresa (23:03:12): and i also have them do peer correction
luisa (23:04:04): sometimes i don't know if it's really worth correcting, because in spite of the 'mistake battle' we fight, the mistakes are always the same
luisa (23:04:33): they have to correct themselves
teresa (23:05:11): right. and think about this: we hear so many people speaking bad or so,so English, but we understand them. i'm thinking about politicians from all over the world on tv, etc
teresa (23:05:30): i believe communication should prevail

Friday, October 08, 2004

Session 4 reading: comments

This is a close call to the at-a-distance session. The comment about the sentence on p. 81 was written over breakfast this morning on my PDA. I've just synchronized it with my laptop, have downloaded the new files and have copy-pasted that content here. It's a great gadget! I've done a lot of work on it away from home. I got it in San Francisco in March of this year while on a mini vacation with my husband before the TESOL Conference in Long Beach.

My first and main commitment after this reading: I'm definitely going to make a map with the names of students in each class and the eight multiple intelligences, and observe them more carefully in order to try and fill in relevant info and see the final product. I'll also try do do very specific activities in class to try and get a clearer picture. It's going to be fun and, hopefully, elluminating! :-)

The most relevant idea: "MI theory suggests that intelligences can develop and be developed over time" (p. 74, parag. 3) and "intelligence gets stronger when students practice and work at it". The art of teaching is helping people use their already well-developed abilities to build other strengths, so that they can master important learning in a variety of ways" (p. 74, last parag).

Other relevant ideas:

  • "an effective education builds a bridge between the content being taught and the students in the classroom (p. 75, top). Such a simple way of saying such a profound idea!
  • "be careful to avoid the 'pigeon-holing effect' - labeling students... All individuals possess certain combinations of the various intelligences... We all have potential in all of the intelligences" (p. 77, halfway)
  • "The more authentic the tasks, th more intelligences are drawn on" (p. 78, parag. 1)
  • the idea of the "processfolio... to include both finished and unfinished work and to reflect on the many different skills and abilities they used to complete certain products" (p. 78, parag. 2)
  • "teachers can reach each diverse group of students by introducing and presenting rich topics in different ways": points of entry or approaches, analogies or connections or bridges between the known and the unknown material, and multiple representations of the main ideas or thinking of an idea in different ways" (p. 78, ahlfway down)
  • "there is no formula for using a maximum number of intelligences"
  • "there is no point in assuming that every topic can be effectively approached in at least seven ways" (p. 79, bottom).

The idea that "teachers at a school might also collaborate by planning and teaching in teams using their own intelligence strengths for some aspects of the unit and having students rotate from classroom to classroom" (p. 80, parag. 2) is as much fascinating as it is daring in the old-fashioned school system we still have in the 21st century! I'd love to be a part of such a system!

The first thought that came to mind was: Isn't this the way we function within the Webheads in Action community of practice? Isn't it similar to the flow of expertise to the foreground/front, when needed, and then to the background when the task is finished? It's a sort of ebb and flow of the tide of expertise.

Isn't it an intelligent way of tapping into each individual's best potential and taking the best advantage possible of it? Isn't it an intelligent way of rationalizing human resources for the benefit of the students? Above all, isn't it an intelligent way of providing our students with the best possible learning? I believe so.

The Conclusion draws our attention to many core ideas that we should bear in mind, but what really grabbed my attention was that MI theory "urges teachers to extend the boundaries of traditional curriculum, consider the many talents and abilities students bring to a school setting, and put greater emphasis on the variety of skills necessary to succeed in today's world" (p. 80).

I wonder how many teachers go beyond the boundaries of the curriculum! Very few at my school. How many take into consideration the different talents and abilities? And how many put regulate their teaching today thinking of their students' tomorrow? Those of us who are using these new technologies in our classrooms are certainly better preparing our students for their tomorrow. There are other ways in which we are also contriuting to that, but this is already a very significant contribution to their future... today!

On Getting Started (p. 81), we are asked to finis the sentence "I am intelligent because I can...". Well, I don't like the sentence because it sounds boastful, high-profile type, and I appreciate modesty: I'm low profile. I'd rather say that "I try to excel in what I do", because my students are my top piority and deserve my best. So, I give all the care and attention to my work. I am considerate, friendly, demanding and strict. "Facilitism" gets us nowhere. I try to prepare them for the world out there, or should I say the "jungle" we live in? I try to motivate them by showing enthusiasm in everything I do, by acting out a lot in a playful way, and exaggerating things in order to capture/grab/get their attention and have them retain ideas through fun (or is it F.U.N.?). I give attention to one and all. I try to raise trust in their abilities, get them to think positive and say "I am capable of doing...". In fact, yesterday I started talking about this in a class that doesn't know me - I wasn't their teacher last year. However, I've been told that there are several low achievers and I wanted to show them from the beginning that I don't give up on any student!

Enough! It's already a long post.

Monday, October 04, 2004

Daf's bloki

Daf has included her comments to the first three sessions in a bloki. She explains the development of the approaches to language learning and includes 4 great maps that give us a very clear overview of that evolution. It's very interesting to see how things have changed in a not so distant past, better yet, in such a short time!

Saturday, October 02, 2004

Session 3 reading: comments

Just a few ideas I took note of in the margin as I read a third very interesting and useful chapter of The Learning Classroom.

"Education and experience do develop the brain... Learning abilities can be developed by access to an environment that stimulates and uses the brain" (p. 51, bottom). All the more reason to be demanding in our teaching and to keep pushing students that extra mile. By this I mean that we should not embrace "facilitism", as we say in Portuguese. In doing so, we seem to be dealing with students as if they were "mentally disabled". Unfortunately, that is a common practice and maybe that is why I'm not understood by many, and also why I cannot conform to the status quo and generally need to do things my way, though as well grounded as my knowledge and experience allows me.

"One of the most commonly cited studies on the effect of the environment on brain development... suggests that brain development is "experience-dependent..." (p. 52, top). This causal effect of the environment on learning could generate hundreds of words. For now, let me just comment: No wonder kids from socially deprived or (ver) low backgrounds have so many learning problems. And I often also wonder why they aren't worse human beings than they reveal to be in school. O feel really sorry for them, though generally impotent in dealing with their problems due to lack of specific training. The only way I can deal with them is to treat them as human beings with feelings (though thay may be hidden) and try to lead them in the right track by talking to them as "a friend", not as their teacher (as I often tell them).

The signs or indicators of disabilities (p. 54, top) are a very relevant piece of information.

"For learning to occur, facts, concepts, and ideas must be stored; connected to other facts, concepts, and ideas; and built upon" (p. 54, parag. 2). The image that came to my mind was as endless skyscraper!

And where would we be if it weren't for the working memory and the long-term memory?! Especially now, in this information age, that we have access to so much more? These two memories are like a defense mechanism.

I liked the part about enhancing memory (parag. 4): overlearning, which I saw as "practice, practice, practice!"; learning with understanding or applying/transferring knowledge in/to a new situation; and building on an existing organized knowledge base (p. 55, middle). This last item certainly relates to how I want to start the new school with my 6th graders: new material (the simple past) will build on earlier learning (the simple present) or "prerequisite knowledge base to pave the way for new information".

The idea that 'meaning' is fundamental to learning has stood out so far. I always try to have this in mind when planning, sometimes even more so when improvising. I have found that acting out or mimicking in an exaggerated manner works wonders with the younger ones. They love it and learn!

Other topics that stand out:
  • way of presenting new information is paramount to paving the way for making new connections (p. 56);
  • schemas or ways to organize/map out info (again the stress on one's background/environment influencing what is learned and recalled) (p. 56-57);
  • mental models or explaining how we understand something (p. 58).

That structered overview of what a teacher can do to support these three aspects is extremely helpful (p. 59).

The differences between experts and novices is also interesting (p. 59-61). But aren't we all experts and novices at different stages of our careers? Don't we all have to learn and gain from one another? We have seen this constantly in the Webheads in Action CoP. While we may be experts (strong word, isn't it?) in some things, we are novices in others, so we "come into the limelight or go into the background" in a very natural way. And that's part of what enriches our personal and professional lives by being members of such a community. So... teachers only have to gain by collaborating with one another f2f and/or online.

That's quite enough for today! :-)

Session 3 comments

Just to say that we had "a stimulating session" yesterday, using Sus' expression. (I'll add the link to the session file as soon as I have it.) There were only about 8 participants, but we exchanged interesting ideas. And I really enjoyed the lively participation on the Venezuelan side. It's great to laugh, girls! It's one of the ways to "keep on shining!" in the midst of all the chaos in today's society.

In response to Karen's question of a brain vs. a mind (?), I enjoyed Bruce's analogy to the computer world: the brain is our hardware and the mind is our software. Please correct me if I interpreted it wrong, Bruce. Though Sus thought it was a very simplistic way of analyzing the question, I don't believe any of us wanted to analyze it in depth. We just wanted to make a few brief points, on the spur of the moment, and I thought this specific one was interesting. I had trouble explaining how I feel about the idea of two distinct things: brain and mind.

Thinking out loud to myself at this moment about Bruce's idea, though not having given the topic special added thought, I think we can say the brain is the hardware - the mechanism that allows us to accept/receive input, filter it, process it, organize it and store it in different parts/recesses (as in a hard drive) - and the mind is the software - the program that helps us generate our output, our ideas, our knowledge... after the brain has done its share of the work.

Analyzing what I'm doing at this moment, I'm using hardware (the computer, or my brain) and software (this Blogger program, which will reveal my mind to the extent I want it to). Both complement each other and make it possible for me to express my mind, that is, my ideas, experiences, interests, etc. Does this make any sense??!! Didn't I say I had trouble explaining myself? I'd better stop and not make a fool of myself!

Thursday, September 30, 2004

Session 2 reading: comments

I wouldn't want September to slip away without making a couple of comments on last week's readings.

Developmental Pathways (p. 32) gives us a very clear and simple overview of 7 different ways to develop, the variations within, how they influence each other, and how they are influenced by social and cultural contexts. Wow! Just think of all the things a teacher must reflect on and think into account in class concerning 20 some students. It's time to ask: How does a teacher find time to teach what she "has to" teach?

No wonder a teacher currently faces a much bigger task! We are everything: psychologists, social workers, judges, doctors, friends, "parents"... and finally, teachers! Doesn't this make teaching much more challenging and fascinating? Though often at the risk of not really knowing how to re/act due to lack of preparation? I feel this quite often. I've had to teach a class of students with a mild degree of learning disabilities together with smart kids but up to their heads in behavioral problems. Most of the school year, my colleagues and I just felt like banging our heads on the wall for not knowing "how to" cope, because we had never been prepared for these sort of contexts!

These developmental stages and pathways, closely related to our multiple intelligences, demand much more of both the teacher and the student, because both parties are faced with a much bigger load. On the one hand, the teacher has to deal with an evergrowing variety of strategies, and then choose the most appropriate one/s for each teaching situation. On the other hand, the student has to quickly grasp the strategy and adapt as best as she can to it, even if it doesn't match her predominant intelligence.

If you don't agree regarding the teacher, go back and read the first paragraph under Developmentally Appropriate Teaching (p. 34). We must be superpeople!!!

Someone in a message mentioned liking Vygotsky's theory (p. 34-35) of social learning and zone of proximal development (ZPD): "the diference between what a child can do on his own and what he can do with some assistance". Or socially-mediated learning! I love it and more so since joining the Webheads in Action, because that's where I have "really" felt the truth of his theory, as well as proof that it is so. What so many of us achieved in a short time. Daf was teaching a course online in 3-4 months. Doris is another great example of ZPD: what she's achieved with a "lending hand"/assistance from BaW in a matter of months!

"Teachers can assist students in advancing within the ZPD by setting tasks that build on and go slightly beyond what they know..." (p. 35, par. 2). I do this all the time and believe that we all should. Many students appreciate it and take advantage of it. They like to be pushed that extra bit (or mile!) and not be treated as "mentally disabled" (an expression I use when trying to convince colleagues to go beyond what is in the books).

I also liked the references to the importance of the environment surrounding students. I firmly believe that most of the behavioral problems we've had at school for quite some time have their roots in the family. Kids are more and more on their own for most of the day with little or no support from the family. When hearing about some of their backgrounds and family history, I often wonder why they aren't even worse! And I don't know what would happen to many of them if it weren't for the often fabulous support they get at school.

The week 2 reading tied in with what I said in my previous post: As knowledge evolves, teaching is becoming an evermore demanding and challenging job.

I'll stop here. BTW, I still haven't watched the video! Shame on me! :-(

Saturday, September 18, 2004

What I said in session 1

Trying to reconstruct what I said yesterday evening. (Message sent to the English Workshop list.)

Hi, everyone!

Towards the end of session 1, I read part of the last paragraph on p. 15 of the readings, because I feel it gives a great overview of how I see teaching today.

"Today teachers utilize a variety of practices that are based on all of these ideas about learning... experience and reflection... reinforcemnet and practice... cognitive intent, effort, and reasoning... developmental stages... social interaction and the structuring of experiences... culture and other influences on experience... content... In large part because of differences in underlying views of the purposes of education, debates continue about "best" teaching practices. Effective teachers understand that different strategies are useful for different kinds of learning. It is most productive to think of these issues in terms of what kind of learning is sought in what contexts and then deliberate about what strategies may be most appropriate for those goals."

I didn't read the last two sentences to avoid boring you, but I think they are an important part of my view of things.

We all know from experience that there are no recipes in teaching. We need to observe the students all the time, see how they react and make timely adjustments to the plan, if necessary. We need to be flexible! We often also need to improvise: put a plan aside and deal instead with a problem that is upsetting that group of human beings we have in front of us, who have feelings that have to be respected and worries that should be dealt with (sooner rather than later). Those human beings - our students - also have different ways of learning and reacting to things, which have to be taken into consideration and catered to as best as possible.

That's why I feel I'm very lucky to be teaching at a time when I can and must "utilize a variety of practices" that are available and which, hopefully, will make my teaching more motivating and effective for my students. These practices also include using this fabulous online world with all the different communication and information tools, many of which we have all been using on a daily basis for some time now.

In my opinion, this abundant mixture of practices and strategies is part of what makes teaching so much more challenging today than it was almost 30 years ago when I started out (a time when structuralism was the "in" or "buzz" word!!!). In turn, those practices lead us to constant choices, which make teaching so much more demanding.

This is certainly a fascinating and motivating time to be a teacher and a student! Especially a student who has teachers such as us, who are enthusiasts of these new means and tools, learn how to use them (at their own will and in their own free time) and put them to the best use they know for their students!

I think this was more or less what I said (a little expanded here and there) yesterday evening (my time). Now it's your turn to carry on, if you so wish. :-)

Have a nice Sunday!


Session 1 comments

Here's my reply to Karen's message on yesterday's opening session of The Learning Classroom course. It reflects part of my thoughts. More later!

Hi, Karen and all other English Workshoppers! ;-)

I enjoyed yesterday's session and all the food for thought that came out of it. Writing suggestions on the whiteboard was a fun and dynamic activity, as were the comments in the chat area mixed with the voice comments (or vice-versa! Reminds of the theory-practice discussion yesterday and the chicken-egg comparison). Too bad the voice comments were lost. I strongly suggest that we try and have these sessions recorded. I hope that Jonathan F., or whoever decides that, allows it.

I also think that there are a few details to sort out about session management, but I'm sure Doris will take care of that. I think we'll miss out on a lot if we don't get the chance to interact with our Venezuelan friends. If LT doesn't work for everyone, let's try YM. However, I believe that being/staying in the same environment simplififes things, especially in terms of recording the session. And the whiteboard at LT is a fabulous tool. My two euro cents!!! ;-)

BTW, I think that I more or less remember what I said towards the end of the session, though it was spontaneous. The only thing I looked for at a certain point in the conversation was the paragraph I wanted to refer to from the readings, because it really caught my attention.

I'll try and write about that later today or early tomorrow, so that we can continue the interaction. Thanks for all the interest you showed in what I said!

At the moment, I'm at odds with a presentation for Sep. 27 and need to finish it a.s.a.p. so that I can get on with other things. Priorities!

Congrats, Doris! Way to go! Will we have feedback of what you all discussed f2f? Hope so.

See you all later!