Una comparación de España: Ayer y Hoy de El País

El País put together a very interesting comparison about how Spain was "yesterday" and what it's like today. This could be interesting to explore with your Spanish class. The language isn't too advanced, therefore could be used for an intermediate class. As an extension of the reading comprehension, you could have the class attempt create the same types of comparisons for as many as the categories as possible for the country you live in.

You took the words right out of my mouth

This is a blog post written by a teacher in Virginia about PD (Professional Development) sessions on his blog Stop Trying to Inspire Me. Such simple points, but really, totally valid. 
I'm sorry to say, it is rare to have a valuable PD Day. With all the money spent on these days, you'd think we'd be asked what we'd like to focus on so that we could actually LEARN something and take it back to the classroom and apply it, but no.
The way it works is, usually information is dumped on us, we play a stupid game involving sticky notes or a Venn Diagram and then one person in each group has to present to the rest of the audience. I'd really rather be teaching a really badly behaved bunch of kids than doing that. I've presented at a couple of conferences, and not to say that I am a good presenter, but when planning my spiel, I always try to think if what I am saying is useful and applicable. Anyway, I could go on and go, but I will save it for another time. For now, read Tom's post below and share your comments on PD sessions.

Some advice to those professional development "experts"

Oh, hi.  So you've been asked to be the speaker at our next district-mandated professional-development day?  Greetings and salutations.

Now, I have to say that I feel for you a little bit.  After all, I wouldn't want to be in your shoes, walking into an auditorium full of a few hundred people, most of whom heard that you were coming to speak to us and immediately groaned, complained that your speaking fee is probably as much as they make in one year, and may have even emailed an administrator to voice their concerns about thousands of dollars spent on guest speakers when the building doesn't have a working photocopier or heat.  You're in front of a crowd that is either going to be completely passive or openly hostile; considering we're all professionals and our bosses are in the room, probably the former.

So your job is hard.  Oh sure, there's going to be someone who sits front and center, nods with great interest at all of your points, laughs at all of your attempts at jokes, and strikes up a lengthy conversation with you at intermission (one you will undoubtedly mention after intermission).  But you and I both know that he or she isn't the person you are trying to "reach" during this session.  The person you're trying to "reach" during this session is sitting all the way in the back, hoping he can spend the next few hours grading papers, and thinks that person in the front and center is a total kissass who needs to die in a fire.

As that person in the back, I thought I would take the time to help you out here.  Oh yes, I can hear you now.  I'm not willing to change or accept new ways of thinking or be innovative or whatever you want to call it.  I'm a luddite.  I'm part of the problem.  My attitude is disrespectful.  You hope I die in a fire.  I've heard all of that.  But I do think that a few words of advice might do you some good because I'm not the only person who walks around with a grumpy attitude toward professional development.  Bad speaker after bad speaker and worthless session after worthless session has completely tainted my view of who you are, which I know isn't open-minded or even nice, but come on, it's human nature.

Anyway, here's some pointers:

1. Your credentials are nice, but please stop talking about them.  I'm glad you got your bachelor's from The School of Hard Knocks, a Master's from Real World College, and a Ph.D. from Whatsamatta U, and I do respect that; however, if my principal or superintendent mentioned that when introducing you, I don't think I need to hear about it again.  And again.  And again.  You know what those degrees are?  They're a nice set of tits, and if you want a relationship you're going to have to get me to see past them.

2. I don't need your life story.  Oh, background is great, especially when you are using your own experience to inform the topic at hand ... but please don't spend 90 minutes of a two-hour session giving me your life story.  Furthermore, I really don't care how many years you taught and how many years you worked with teachers.  Yes, it's great that it all adds up to 40 years of experience, but there are some people in your audience who have that experience or more.  If I simply wanted the advice of a veteran educator, I'd talk to htem.  Or I'd call my father, who taught for 35 years.  None of them will cost me your speaking fee.

3. Please don't assume I suck.  You know how you start trotting out examples of the bad teachers you've encountered in your travels and tell stories of all their bad methods and how you're going to help us correct those problems?  I, and many of the people in your audience, are thinking the following: "But I don't do that.  But I don't do that.  But I don't do that.  But I don't do that."  And that's how we think it, as if it's a broken record playing until you stop.  Please, when you are hired to come speak, do some research that goes beyond knowing the school's name or asking the superintendent for a copy of our test scores.  Contact some teachers.  Sure, you might get the aforementioned kissasses, but we can see a canned presentation coming from a mile away.

Furthermore, do your research to find out what we DO so that I also don't see all of your examples and think: "I already do that. I already do that.  I already do that."

4. I know you taught in 1968, but I wasn't even born then, so stop talking about it.  No, really.  Do you have any examples of bad teaching from before Watergate?  If so, please use them.  My younger colleagues and I are feeling like this is a waste of our time.

5. If you are using PowerPoint, please make sure we can read your slides.  Black 20-point Times New Roman on a screen that has a lot of glare is giving me a headache and I, along with half the people in here, are now thinking that we could make a more readable presentation in the time it takes to change classes.

6. Oh, and don't just get up in front of us and read your PowerPoint.  

7. Identify real problems and please work with us to figure out real solutions.  You know, how about asking us to break out into groups to tackle a problem we see and then use your much-talked-about expertise to think up a different approach to a solution?  It's much better than you standing up in front of us and giving us a one-size-fits-all solution (especially considering that you have K-12 educators in the room and what works in K won't work in 12).

8. Let us have breakout sessions that last for longer than a few minutes.  Let me tell you something I've noticed in my classroom: whenever we do group work, I notice that the first few minutes of said group work is spent gossiping, socializing, and sometimes fooling around.  Always.  I've developed this approach:  instead of telling people to get on task, I let this happen and give a little more time than I intended.  Why?  Because eventually, most people will turn their attention to the task at hand.  Sure, there are individuals who won't and will do nothing but disrupt the situation, but I can deal with them individually instead of getting frustrated with a whole class.

Now, when you break us into groups, you have to account for the fact that at least the first five minutes of that breakout is going to be a bitch session.  It always happens.  We love to complain.  Let that happen.  Let it happen and give us more time than you think we need because I have found that if we have enough time, we WILL get to the task at hand and it's when our time is limited that we pay lip service to whatever you're trying to get us to do.  Yes, it might take up more time and you won't be able to talk as much, but it'll get us engaged, right?

9. Start a discussion in the session.  No, really.  If there are 200 people in the room, set up a couple of mics in the aisles and start a town hall.  There are things we want to say to you but you're too busy blabbering on and as a result we're too busy tuning out.  Get a back and forth going.  It makes the classes I teach more enjoyable when we've got a good conversation going, why wouldn't it make for a good in-service?

10. Ask for feedback.  I cannot tell you how many times I have left an in-service and never saw a comment card or a link to a survey or anything that would suggest that you care about how I felt about your presentation.  Am I not your student?  Should you not care about my opinion?  Would it not make me stop writing blog posts like this?

So yeah, it's just a few words of advice.  See you next in-service day.

The History of Technology in Education by SMART


Nine Language-Teaching Myths

Found at TPRS Making Japan Fluent, 9 myths about language teaching. What do you think, agree or disagree with them? There is some merit to some of the points, but I don't fully agree or disagree with any of them. Let me know what you think.

Are your language students silent? Do they never seem to improve? Do they learn words one day and forget them the next? If your answer to any of these is yes, then you may have unwittingly subscribed to one of the nine language-teaching myths. A lot of these myths are counter-intuitive, and some seem so obvious that teachers can believe in them for years without ever suspecting they are false. Yet every day, in small and subtle ways, teachers who believe in these myths are damaging their students' chances of success. This article is dedicated to teachers young and old who have managed to fall under the spell. Without further ado, I present to you the nine most common myths in language teaching.

Myth Number One: If students don't know grammar, they won't be able to speak.

Many teachers who are frustrated with their students' inability to speak fluently point the finger at too much memorizing of grammar rules -- and rightly so. But still, there are still a great many teachers who make grammar study the main part of their language programmes. The reason why teachers insist on grammar is the title of this myth: teachers think if their students don't learn grammar rules, then they won't have learned the language. There is a big problem with this viewpoint, and this goes to the core of the real nature of language learning.

Conscious versus subconscious learning

Real speech is subconscious. There's no getting around it. When you are chatting to your friends over a beer, apologising to your boss after missing the deadline, or whispering sweet nothings to your lover, you are not thinking about which particular adverb to use or about which verb ending matches the tense of your subject. And think about it; you were speaking perfectly fluently and correctly in your native language by the age of five, and how many grammar rules had you learned then? Do you even know all the grammar rules of your native language now? To be sure, second languages are not exactly the same as first languages. But there is a growing body of research that shows that the grammar patterns that show up in a persons speech are immune to the effects of direct instruction.

Immune to the effects of direct instruction.

That means that no matter how much time you spend teaching your students grammar, they won't actually learn it so that they can use it in speech. Sure, they can learn the rules, and they might be able to remember them if they have enough time to think, and are relaxed enough that they can remember the rule. (This situation could arise in, for example, a grammar exam.) But this does not mean that they have actually learned it in the true sense of the word.

You may think that if they just practise one grammar rule until it has been internalized, then practise the next until it has been internalized, and so on, and so on, then at the end you will have a fluent speaker. Unfortunately, language is simply too complicated for this. For a start, no-one even knows all the grammar rules in English, or any other language, for that matter. We know a lot of them, sure, but linguists will be the first to admit that we don't know everything. Just look at the grammar rule for the word "the". In any decent grammar book the explanation will take up several pages. Are learners even able to learn this one rule well enough that they can use it in speech? If they are learning it from a teacher or a textbook, I have my doubts.

Another thing is that there is more that language learners need to worry about than simply grammar. Someone who is truly fluent needs to master not only grammar but also pronunciation, rhythm, intonation, stress, semantics, situational context, how to judge the other speaker's mood, the culture of the people being spoken to, and more. Even if our students were all super-intelligent and never stopped studying, there is simply no way they could master all these things. That is, there would be no way if they tried to do it consciously. If they stop trying to learn grammar consciously, and teachers stopped basing the whole of their lessons on it, then students would progress in the language much faster.

There is some place for conscious learning in the study of language, true. But it should be kept to a minimum. Studies done with high school students in the USA show that the ratio should be 5% conscious learning to 95% subconscious learning.

Myth Number Two: Correcting students' errors improves their language skills.

It seems so obvious. If a student makes a mistake, how will they know about it unless we correct them? Actually, there's more to it than this. We've already learned that we don't think about grammar while we speak. Guess what correcting students' errors encourages them to think about? You guessed it, it makes them think about grammar! So what happens when you manage to get someone to think about grammar while they speak? They stop being able to speak, that's what. Or at least, they stop being able to speak fluently. Here's an example. If you don't believe that, then try giving someone a new "grammar" rule. Ask a native English speaker to tell you what they did yesterday, with one catch - they aren't allowed to use words containing the letter 'e'. You'll find that their fluency just vanishes.

If you keep correcting students grammar when they talk, or when they write, you will find they will get more and more concerned about grammar, and will be able to speak less and less fluently. This is not to mention the fact that having your speaking corrected just feels horrible. As students realise they aren't getting fluent in their new language, their motivation decreases, until you have a class where the only students who care about learning the language are the straight A kids -- and they only care because they don't want your class to be the only one where they get a B. The rest of the students spend their time talking, daydreaming, sleeping... anything to keep their mind off the fact that they can't speak the language you're trying to teach them. Does this sound like a familiar situation to some people? The solution, or rather part of it, is to stop correcting your students' errors.

By this point you may not be surprised to know that there is extensive research out there that shows that correcting student errors does not help them improve. Students improve just as fast, or faster, without any error correction at all. It turns out that just as the learning of language structures is immune to direct grammar instruction, it is also immune to error correction. There is another process at work here that explains how people get better at language. That doesn't mean to say that error correction is absolutely useless. I recommend that you correct students if the meaning of what they say is wrong, or if a native speaker wouldn't understand. Just do it gently. Do it indirectly, model the correct structure, do it with a smile, and make sure the student feels good about herself.

Myth Number Three: Students improve by speaking the language.

This is perhaps the biggest mistake that language teachers make, and probably the most counter-intuitive thing about language teaching. I can see the legions of teachers out there, urging students to Speak, Speak, SPEAK! Actually, speaking the language only helps students to improve indirectly. To see why, let us consider these facts:

Speaking is the number one cause of anxiety for students learning a new language.
Infants go through a period of silence before they start to speak, and when they do speak they only speak single words. This is the same for children under the age of ten or so who move to a country where they don't speak the language. Both of these groups invariably gain native-like fluency.
There are multiple cases of children who have never been able to speak due to brain damage or illness, but have developed perfect listening, reading, and writing abilities in their language.
The vast majority of students studying foreign languages using speech-focused methods drop out or graduate without actually becoming able to speak.
If speaking made students better at language, then those students wouldn't have dropped out, and those kids that couldn't speak would never have developed their other language abilities. And yet we see this is not the case. So what is the common thread running through these points? The answer is input.


Infants and migrant children both receive vast amounts of language input, first from listening and later through reading. Children with no speech still receive input, even though they can't respond to it. On the other hand, most students learning foreign languages in school often don't get a great deal of listening and reading in their classes - the focus is usually on grammar and speaking. If the focus was shifted to input, then the students would progress more and would be less anxious about learning.

This all comes back to the idea that language learning is subconscious. If we eliminate all conscious forms of learning language -- learning grammar, having errors corrected, and practising rote speech -- then we are left with understanding messages, or in other words, input. This is the real key to fluency. If students are in an environment where they are able to understand written and spoken messages in their new language every day, then they will naturally learn the language without ever being taught. If the conscious attention of the students is on the meaning of what is being said, then the subconscious mind is free to connect sound and meaning, and to build a map of the grammar of the new language. This is the kind of grammar learning that can be used in speech.

Myth Number Four: If students don't study hard, they won't learn the language.
With the answers to the first three myths, I'm sure you can begin to see that studying hard isn't everything in language learning. To be sure, studying hard can be very useful, but the most important thing is how you study. You can study all the grammar rules you like, but you'll never be able to speak fluently. You can practice rote speaking until the cows come home, but you'll be at a loss when the time comes for real communication. On the other hand, if you concentrate very hard on getting lots and lots of comprehensible input, listening to interesting things in the language, and reading books you like and can understand, then you will fly ahead.

Driving this point home is the concept of the "affective filter". This is the idea that negative emotions can interfere with learning languages, while positive emotions create the best learning environment. If you're bored, anxious, or frustrated, as frequently happens when doing conscious study of hard subjects such as grammar, then it is harder for you to learn language structures subconsciously. If, however, you are happy, excited, amused, curious, or enthralled, as frequently happens when reading or listening to interesting content, then it is much easier to learn language structures subconsciously. So really the best advice for language learners looking for best results shouldn't be to study hard, it should be to play hard.

Myth Number Five: Writing new words many times is the best way to remember new vocabulary.

It's a scene common to language classes across the world. Students study a list of words, then write them down many times so that they won't forget. Unfortunately, they do forget. With this kind of learning, the words are separated from their context. The more context you have, the easier it is to remember the words. If you can tie the words to an emotion, to a movement, to an image, or to a story, then it will be much easier to recognise it the next time it comes round. If you hear the word spoken and then see it again written down, then you have another thing for your memory to latch on to. If you hear it and read it enough times while concentrating on meaning, then you'll find your subconscious just knows when to use it and where it should go.

Myth Number Six: Students need a lot of time to practise writing before they can form correct sentences.

This is true only if you are teaching using explicit grammar rules and forcing your students to write. In this case, then certainly students will need a lot of time to practice before they can write. They will also have to think about every sentence, so the writing itself will also take a long time. In fact, it can be agonizing to watch.

Real writing ability, on the other hand, is subconscious, just like speech is. There is more time when writing than when speaking, true, but the best authors don't think about grammar, they think about content. Can you imagine Shakespeare struggling over whether to use "the" or "a" on every page while penning Macbeth; or Dan Brown trying desperately to remember whether his nouns are countable or non-countable as he writes the scene where Robert Langdon escapes his pursuers and finally cracks the Da Vinci Code? I think not.

Of course, we can't expect our students to write masterpieces straight away. So how can they learn to write subconsciously if they don't practice writing? We have already learned the answer. They have to get input, and this time it has to be reading input - and lots of it. The research on reading is very strong. In controlled studies students who only read consistently do better than students who have language lessons. They get better vocabulary, better grammar, and especially, better writing ability. If you want your students to write well, forget writing practice. Get them to read.

Myth Number Seven: The best way to teach reading is to do it in class.

First off, I want to congratulate you if you are teaching reading in class. You are already a cut above the rest. Students who learn to read in class will perform much, much, better than students who don't. Reading in class should be a core part of any language programme. However, if that's all you're doing to teach reading then you're missing out on the very best way. The best way is one that catches teachers out. Again, this has been proven time and time again by the research. The one method that trumps all others, that produces the best gains in vocabulary, grammar, spelling, and writing, is one that doesn't need to be done in a classroom at all. It's the best method of teaching languages on the planet, and it doesn't even need a teacher. I'm talking about free voluntary reading.

Think about it. All you need to do to get that all-important subconscious learning is to read messages and understand them. All you need to do this is read a book. That's it. Any teaching, any comprehension checks, any summaries, and any other of the many things teachers like to do just get in the way. If you're free to just read, and you're free to choose something you like, then the whole of your time will be spent understanding messages. There is no method that is more efficient. And it doesn't even have to be done in the classroom. As long as you can get students interested in reading, and give them interesting books to read, then they will teach themselves. If you don't have a free voluntary reading programme in your school, you are doing your students and yourself a disfavour.

Myth Number Eight: Teachers should save difficult grammar rules until students have mastered the easier ones.

This is another one that is found in a great many language classrooms. It sounds great - no-one likes to learn difficult things before they've learned the easy ones, right? Unfortunately, this doesn't apply when learning foreign languages. You will recall that grammar patterns that people use in spontaneous speech are immune from the effect of direct grammar instruction. You will also recall that with lots and lots of comprehensible input people will learn grammar rules subconsciously and without any instruction. These are not the only things; it also turns out that everybody learns these subconscious grammar rules in roughly the same order. No matter what grammar rules are taught, no matter what the learner's native language is, and no matter what input the learner gets, this order will not change.

This order is based in large part on how much that particular grammar feature affects the meaning of what is said. For example, in English the "-ing" form is learned fairly early, whereas the 3rd person "-s" on the end of verbs is learned a lot later. They both seem simple, but the "-ing" form affects the meaning of what is being said much more. So actually, a lot of the "easy" grammar structures that are taught in the first year of language courses, are in reality anything but.

So how can you know what is the right input to help your students progress? The answer is, you can't. But as long as you give the students a wide range of comprehensible input, using all tenses, all cases, and both "easy" and "hard" grammatical features, then the right input will be included somewhere in it. Learning each grammatical feature is a complex process, and second-guessing by the teacher will not help. So what will happen if you deny the students a chance at hearing more "advanced" grammar? When the time they should have learned it actually comes, they will get stuck, that's what. Rather than helping them acquire the "easy" grammar, this will stop the learning process altogether. What's more, the strange input they have been receiving might lead to fossilization, meaning the students will develop permanent errors in their subconscious map of the language.

So please, when you give students input, keep it natural, use all the tenses, and limit the vocabulary you use. That way, you have the best of both worlds: language that is natural, rich, and that is easy to understand. You will find you have created an ideal environment for learning grammar subconsciously.

Myth Number Nine: Total immersion in the language is the fastest way to become fluent.

Many teachers see that their students aren't fluent, and they see that children who go to other countries become fluent with no lessons, and they think that total immersion is the only way anyone could possibly learn a language. It is true that total immersion can be very good for learners, but for beginners it is almost never the best way. This is because the best input is that which is comprehensible. With total immersion, you are avoiding learning grammar rules and you are getting a great deal of input, but much of this input is incomprehensible. Incomprehensible input cannot become subconscious learning, and to make things worse it is the second biggest cause of language anxiety after speaking. So any time you hear incomprehensible input, you might actually be damaging your chances of success. What's more, there are plenty of situations in total immersion where you might be forced to speak. We have seen the effects of speaking on language anxiety before; when coupled with lots of incomprehensible input, the effects can be severe.

This may go a good way to explaining why children often succeed in immersion environments and adults often do not. Children are not often pressured to speak, and the input they receive is usually quite simple and focused on the here and now. Adults, on the other hand, are often pressured to speak, and they often receive complex input which is separated in time and space from their situation. So for older children and adults in particular, it is important to get them beyond the beginner stage before letting them loose in an immersion setting. The language classroom can be an excellent place to do this if the right methods are used.


Quote of the day

Wayne Gretzky's father once told him to "Skate where the puck's going, not where it's been." This same analogy can be used in education. "Educators need to move to where learning is going and not stay where it's been."I read this on Twitter (@tomwhitby) and thought it was worth mentioning. 

Many of us really need to focus on the future and how to make our teaching more attainable and not be stuck in what may or may not have worked up until now. Innovation, creativity and flexibility are very important characteristics in this field.

An Infographic for English Teachers


Infographics- have you ever seen one?

Visually, I find infographics fascinating. There are so many out there on every topic you can imagine. Now it's time to explore the possibility of using them in my classroom. Off the top of my head, I'm thinking that the project my kids do on a Spanish speaking country can be done via infographic...I will have to look into it.
Here's one for you (from Voxy, but found on this site) on what the most difficult language to learn is for native English speakers.
Romance languages are deemed to be “easy,” since there are so many similarities to English, amongst the "hard" category are Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean and on the "medium" list is Russian. Now, I took a Russian course for one semester at the London School of Economics, I speak English, French, Spanish and Romanian fluently, I studied German for 7 years, albeit from Grade 5 until the end of Grade 13, and Russian was most definitely hard for me. The grammar structures brought back memories of German class. Bottom line is, Russian class was hard. I don't think anyone would classify it as a "medium".