Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Six ways to motivate students to learn - an article by Annie Murphy

Scientific research has provided us with a number of ways to get the learning juices flowing, none of which involve paying money for good grades. And most smart teachers know this, even without scientific proof.
1.   Fine-tune the challenge. We’re most motivated to learn when the task before us is matched to our level of skill: not so easy as to be boring, and not so hard as to be frustrating. Deliberately fashion the learning exercise so that students are working at the very edge of your abilities, and keep upping the difficulty as they improve.
2.  Start with the question, not the answer. Memorizing information is boring. Discovering the solution to a puzzle is invigorating. Present material to be learned not as a fait accompli, but as a live question begging to be explored.
3.   Encourage students to beat their personal best. Some learning tasks, like memorizing the multiplication table or a list of names or facts, are simply not interesting in themselves. Generate motivation by encouraging students to compete against themselves: run through the material once to establish a baseline, then keep track of how much they improve (in speed, in accuracy) each time.
4.   Connect abstract learning to concrete situations. Adopt the case-study method that has proven so effective for business, medical and law school students: apply abstract theories and concepts to a real-world scenario, using these formulations to analyze and make sense of situations involving real people and real stakes.
5.   Make it social. Put together a learning group, or have students find learning partners with whom they can share their moments of discovery and points of confusion. Divide the learning task into parts, and take turns being teacher and pupil. The simple act of explaining what they’re learning out loud will help them understand and remember it better.
6.   Go deep. Almost any subject is interesting once you get inside it. Assign the task of becoming the world’s expert on one small aspect of the material they have to learn—then extend their new expertise outward by exploring how the piece they know so well connects to all the other pieces they need to know about.

Walt Whitman ~ O Captain My Captain - poem

O CAPTAIN! my Captain! our fearful trip is done;
The ship has weather'd every rack, the prize we sought is won;
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring:
But O heart! heart! heart!
O the bleeding drops of red,
Where on the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.

O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;
Rise up--for you the flag is flung--for you the bugle trills; 10
For you bouquets and ribbon'd wreaths--for you the shores a-crowding;
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;
Here Captain! dear father!
This arm beneath your head;
It is some dream that on the deck,
You've fallen cold and dead.

My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still;
My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will;
The ship is anchor'd safe and sound, its voyage closed and done;
From fearful trip, the victor ship, comes in with object won; 20
Exult, O shores, and ring, O bells!
But I, with mournful tread,
Walk the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead. 

I'd like to wish you all a Merry Christmas and a great New Year!

Before the ice - Emily Dickinson

Before the ice is in the pools, 
Before the skaters go, 
Or any cheek at nightfall 
Is tarnished by the snow, 
Before the fields have finished, 
Before the Christmas tree, 
Wonder upon wonder 
Will arrive to me

Friday, 12 December 2014

Claudia Rankine: Poets Writing Prose

Claudia Rankine -- excerpt from "Citizen"

Ken Robinson: How to escape education's death valley

This Will Revolutionize Education

Claudia Rankine

Born in Kingston, Jamaica, poet Claudia Rankine earned a BA at Williams College and an MFA at Columbia University.

 Rankine has published several collections of poetry, including Citizen: An American Lyric (2014), a finalist for the National Book Award; Don’t Let Me Be Lonely: An American Lyric (2004); and Nothing in Nature is Private (1994), which won the Cleveland State Poetry Prize. Her work often crosses genres as it tracks wild and precise movements of mind. Noting that “hers is an art neither of epiphany nor story,” critic Calvin Bedient observed that “Rankine’s style is the sanity, but just barely, of the insanity, the grace, but just barely, of the grotesqueness.” Discussing the borrowed and fragmentary sources for her work in an interview with Paul Legault for the Academy of American Poets, Rankine stated, “I don't feel any commitment to any external idea of the truth. I feel like the making of the thing is the truth, will make its own truth.”

 Rankine has coedited American Women Poets in the 21st Century: Where Lyric Meets Language (2002), American Poets in the 21st Century: The New Poetics (2007), and The Racial Imaginary: Writers on Race in the Life of the Mind (2014). Her poems have been included in the anthologies Great American Prose Poems: From Poe to the Present (2003), Best American Poetry (2001), and The Garden Thrives: Twentieth Century African-American Poetry (1996). Her play Detour/South Bronx premiered in 2009 at New York’s Foundry Theater.

from Citizen: “Some years there exists a wanting to escape...”

Some years there exists a wanting to escape—
you, floating above your certain ache—  
still the ache coexists.

Call that the immanent you—
You are you even before you
grow into understanding you
are not anyone, worthless,
not worth you.

Even as your own weight insists
you are here, fighting off
the weight of nonexistence.
And still this life parts your lids, you see
you seeing your extending hand
as a falling wave—

I they he she we you turn
only to discover
the encounter
to be alien to this place.

The patience is in the living. Time opens out to you.
The opening, between you and you, occupied,
zoned for an encounter,
given the histories of you and you—
And always, who is this you?
The start of you, each day,
a presence already—
Hey you—
Slipping down burying the you buried within. You are
everywhere and you are nowhere in the day.
The outside comes in—
Then you, hey you—
Overheard in the moonlight.
Overcome in the moonlight.
Soon you are sitting around, publicly listening, when you
hear this—what happens to you doesn't belong to you,
only half concerns you He is speaking of the legionnaires
in Claire Denis's film Beau Travail and you are pulled back
into the body of you receiving the nothing gaze—

The world out there insisting on this only half concerns
you. What happens to you doesn't belong to you, only half
concerns you. It's not yours. Not yours only.
And still a world begins its furious erasure—
Who do you think you are, saying I to me?
You nothing.
You nobody.
A body in the world drowns in it—
Hey you—
All our fevered history won't instill insight,
won't turn a body conscious,
won't make that look
in the eyes say yes, though there is nothing
to solve
even as each moment is an answer.
Don't say I if it means so little,
holds the little forming no one.
You are not sick, you are injured—
you ache for the rest of life.
How to care for the injured body,
the kind of body that can't hold
the content it is living?
And where is the safest place when that place
must be someplace other than in the body?
Even now your voice entangles this mouth
whose words are here as pulse, strumming
shut out, shut in, shut up—
You cannot say—
A body translates its you—
you there, hey you
even as it loses the location of its mouth.
When you lay your body in the body
entered as if skin and bone were public places,
when you lay your body in the body
entered as if you're the ground you walk on,
you know no memory should live
in these memories
becoming the body of you.
You slow all existence down with your call
detectable only as sky. The night's yawn
absorbs you as you lie down at the wrong angle
to the sun ready already to let go of your hand.
Wait with me
though the waiting, wait up,
might take until nothing whatsoever was done.
To be left, not alone, the only wish—
to call you out, to call out you.
Who shouted, you? You
shouted you, you the murmur in the air, you sometimes
sounding like you, you sometimes saying you,
go nowhere,
be no one but you first—
Nobody notices, only you've known,
you're not sick, not crazy,
not angry, not sad—

It's just this, you're injured.
Everything shaded everything darkened everything
is the stripped is the struck—
is the trace
is the aftertaste.
I they he she we you were too concluded yesterday to
know whatever was done could also be done, was also
done, was never done—
The worst injury is feeling you don't belong so much
to you—
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Claudia Rankine, “Some years there exists a wanting to escape... (pp. 139-146)” from Citizen. Copyright © 2014 by Claudia Rankine.  Reprinted by permission of Graywolf Press.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

The ten best America short stories you may have missed

I found this list interesting. Having read none of the stories cited here, I can’t possibly agree or disagree but I promise to read them and post a comment. In the meantime, dear follower, if you have read any of them, I’d appreciate your opinion.

Tastes differ, of course, and it can be confusing to spot the small boat of a great story on the wide sea of fiction. What any reader can offer you in terms of guidance is actually the same thing that any good writer can offer you with the story itself: a way of saying, This is what moved me and made me feel strange and alive in some way; here, why don’t you give it a try?
In that spirit and in no particular order, here are ten short stories you might’ve missed that ambushed me with their odd wonder:

1. “The Zero Meter Diving Team” by Jim Shepard (BOMB Magazine)
This curious, masterful story is about a set of brothers who work as managing engineers overseeing the Chernobyl power station on April 26, 1986, but, as with most of Shepard’s work, it’s also about the invisible planets of loss that our personal lives orbit. It is both an education and an elegy. Shepard’s forthcoming novel of the Warsaw Ghetto, Aaron Only Thinks of Himself, promises more of the same.

2. “A Tiny Feast” by Chris Adrian (The New Yorker)
Titania and Oberon, the immortal Queen and King of the Fairies, live under a hill in a modern city park. To save their marriage, they adopt a mortal toddler and begin to raise him, only to discover he has developed terminal leukemia. What follows, set in a fairy den and an oncology ward, is one of the best (and, somehow, realest) short stories ever written, a haunting exploration of love and death that has followed this reader, at least, into marriage, parenthood, and nearly every subsequent day spent on this earth.

3. “Lorry Raja” by Madhuri Vijay (Narrative Magazine)
One of the newest voices on this list, Vijay tells the story of Indian children mining the ore used to construct Olympic stadiums in China with remarkable poise and vision. While the inherently political nature of the story is certainly important and the writing is ruthless in its detail, to approach “Lorry Raja” in only that way is to miss the quiet power of Vijay’s prose, as well as its ability to look honestly into the subtleties of family and the scales of desire without denying beauty where it lurks.

4. “Bluebell Meadow” by Benedict Kiely (The New Yorker)
Published in 1975 at the peak of The Troubles in Ireland, Kiely’s unlikely story of a small country park and the two young people who spend a few afternoons together in it is sly, funny, and tremendously affecting. A lesson simultaneously in understatement and heart, this story is really about the near misses of the lives we almost live, as well as what time does to the things that could’ve been. Long forgotten by most, author Colum McCann miraculously resurrected it for The New Yorker‘s fiction podcast, and it is best experienced in his wonderful voice.

5. “Some Other, Better Otto” by Deborah Eisenberg (The Yale Review)
It’s difficult to say exactly why this story–the reflections of intelligent, grumpy Otto about his aging partner William, his own aging, his uneasy relationship with his family, the sanity of his troubled sister, loneliness, and the new baby of his upstairs renter–is as wonderful as it very much is. The story is, in the end, a testament to the power of a whole person–caustic, funny, articulate, alone, lost and found, cruel and loving–given life on the page. Originally published in The Yale Review, eager readers can find it in The Best American Short Stories 2004 anthology.

6. “City Lovers” by Nadine Gordimer (The New Yorker)
Also published in 1975, sixteen years before she would be awarded the Nobel Prize, this is Gordimer’s story of the relationship between Austrian geologist Dr. Franz-Josef Von Leinsdorf and a mixed-race Johannesburg shop girl, an affair that is illegal in apartheid-era South Africa. One of the most overlooked pieces of Gordimer’s writing, this is also one of the quietest, and most effective. The uneasy dynamics of race, class, and power (especially when it comes to love and sex) are nimbly explored here, and build to a devastating end. It was similarly saved from obscurity, this time by author Tessa Hadley, for The New Yorker‘s fiction podcast.

7. “Spring in Fialta” by Vladimir Nabokov
“Spring in Fialta is cloudy and dull,” begins this amusing and heartbreaking story, perhaps the most underappreciated narrative Nabokov ever wrote. Waiting behind Nabokov’s admittedly long and wry sentences is the plainly moving story of a love affair pursued through the years. Every detail works together here to render Nabokov’s testament to the illusiveness of love and memory, and a reader’s patience is richly rewarded. Those interested can find it online, or in the excellent anthology of love stories, My Mistress’ Sparrow Is Dead.

8. “Especially Heinous: 272 Views of Law & Order SVU” by Carmen Maria Machado (The American Reader)
By turns funny, disturbing, canny, and inventive, this novella takes the form of fictional episode summaries of the famous show (but if the show, as one reader puts it, were directed by David Lynch). Machado, another new voice in American fiction, manages to create an engaging, strange, and wholly original story that draws into conversation sexual violence, popular culture, and our own weird-feeling relationships therein.

9. “Inventing Wampanoag, 1672″ by Ben Shattuck (FiveChapters)
While this very short, very tricky story purports to be about the birth of the tribal language used to print the first Bible in the Americas, it is really about the death of it, and the way history itself is a colonizing narrative. Shattuck’s facility with prose makes this a funny, winning story, even as it is a bitter and sad one: a clever and unique creation that will stay with you long after you’re done reading.

10. “Painted Ocean, Painted Ship” by Rebecca Makkai (Ploughshares)
This humorous, deceptive story, loosely descended from Coleridge’s most famous poem, follows an unreliable English professor as a single compound error (mistaking a bird, then a student) births another and another, eventually threatening her potential marriage, job, and fate. The best part, however, is the turn at the very end, which reveals the entire story to perhaps have been something different all along, a sneakily stunning mediation on the limits of self-awareness, guilt, and penance. Originally published in Ploughshares, curious readers can find it in the pages of the Best American Short Stories 2010 anthology.

Fuente: New Yorker y Huffignton Post USA

Sunday, 23 November 2014

TESOL-FRANCE 2014 Plenary speakers

Stephen Krashen, one of the leading experts in Second Language Aquisition (SLA), was the main plenary speaker at the Colloquium. 

I must admit I was thrilled having read his work for so many years. He is a really nice man, with a fantastic sense of humour and a passion for Star Trek! His sessions were extremely interesting, delivered in a dynamic way (you can't miss a word he says!) and WITHOUT POWER POINT! Amazing!

Here is the summary of the three plenary session he gave. 

Developing Academic Language: Not just the easy way but the only way

This presentation presented a simple hypothesis: We develop academic language by reading. Nearly all of the conventions of academic language, its special vocabulary, grammar and discourse style are subconsciously absorbed, or acquired, from reading texts written in the academic style that are relevant to us.

Extensive self-selected reading alone will not develop full academic language competence, but develops the background knowledge and language competence that makes academic reading comprehensible. Self-selected reading is the bridge between conversational and academic language competence.

Animals and Aliens: How Far Can We Push the Comprehension Hypothesis
Professor Krashen discussed the possibility that the Comprehension Hypothesis provides a plausible explanation for non-human language. This inlcudes communication systems that animals develop in interaction with others of their own species (but not always their own subspecies), cases of animals acquiring human language, what we might expect from aliens from other planets and what science fiction has predicted. 


Professor Krashen discussed four topics: 
1. What about writing? He claimed that doing more writing will not improve writing style, but can help solve problems and make the writer smarter.
2. Is all grammar teaching bad? Professor Krashen argued that grammar teaching is not bad, but that learning and applying consciously learned rules of grammar is very limited. 
3. Non-targeted comprehensible input: given enough comprehensible input, all the rules we are ready to acquire (+1) are present in the input. 
4. Accent: the perfect accent is inside us, but a powerful 'output filter' prevents us from using it. 

The other plenary speaker was Carol Read, current President of IATEFL and well-known author and trainer. 

Here is a summary of Carol's plenary. 

Reflections on how to be a highly effective teacher

In her session she took for granted that teachers need to be confident in their subject knowledge and skilled in the craft of teaching in order to achieve desired curriculum outcomes. She explored the more intangible personal capacities, attitudes and beliefs that make for highly effective teachers who have a profound influence and make a long-lasting difference to the lives of their learners. She considered the role of the teacher as educator in fast-changing social and technological times and discussed a notion of professionalism that supports learners in leading fulfilled and productive lives as citizens in both a local and global context. Among the areas that she also discussed during the session were self- awareness, personal development, emotional intelligence and engaging with other people. 

TESOL France 33rd Annual Colloquium - Paris, November 14, 15 and 16, 2014

The 33rd TESOL-FRANCE Annual Colloquium was held in Paris, France at Télécom ParisTech on November 14, 15 and 16, 2014. As always, it was a perfect excuse for visiting Paris and meeting friends and colleagues. 

As usual, all the Exec committee of TESOL-FRANCE, led by extra energetic Debbie West, worked very hard to make theis convention yet another success. 

The closing ceremony

I went with my friends Silvia Benítez and María Antonia Castro representing TESOL-SPAIN. 

The publishers exhibition in the main hall. 


This year, for the first time, TESOL-FRANCE  organised a conference dinner at a lovely restaurant. 

TESOL France Colloquium dinner with Stephen Krashen, Carol Read Debbie West Beatrix Price, Christina Rebuffet-Broadus, Marta Bujakowska, Gillian Evans, Ros Wright, Jane Ryder, Graciela Alchini and many others last weekend. 

Speed, rolling ... Action! Using films in the English class - Part 3

Using trailers and clips

The trailer works effectively to market a film because the audience experiences it actually in the cinema auditorium. In this way, we can get the full impact of the moving images and sound, which is far more effective than any still picture could be, and the connection in our minds has been made between the cinema environment and the film.

I've used films to enhance learning in many ways from isolated listening comprehension exercises to - at the other end of the spectrum - integral parts of a theme based curriculum. However I use them, though, I like to use a Pre-viewing, Viewing and Post-viewing sequence. Following are some general ideas for film activities based on this concept.

Activate the students' background knowledge before showing the film:
Some suggestions:
Have a group discussion of the theme. Ask what they know already. Ask what they'd like to know. Ask them to predict from the title what they think the film will be about. Will it be a comedy? A drama? A documentary? Ask them to predict the story line.
Introduce students to the general vocabulary: one way of doing this is to assign a reading activity based on the same theme as the film.
Show a scene without the sound. Have students write or discuss possible dialogue.
Whether you show clips or the entire film (either straight through or in parts), try giving the students a specific task while watching the film.
Assign individuals or groups to follow the actions of a particular character.
Give students a set of questions about the content: characters, plot, specific bits of dialogue. Go over the questions before viewing so students understand what they're looking for. 
Depending on the language level of the students, you might want to show longer films in logically separated segments. Review the completed segments before going on to the next ones. Also try having students revise and expand their predictions as they gain more information.

Relate the film to the students' own lives or the world in general.
Some suggestions:
Review the film. Give dtudents reviews of other movies that have appeared in newspapers and magazines. Choose a character and compare that character's life/actions/ideals with your own.
What happens after the movie is over?
How would the movie have been different if certain characters had taken different actions?
Debate the pros and cons of a controversial theme in the movie.
How do cultural norms influence the action? Would the plot be plausible in another culture? Why or why not?
What happens after the movie is over?

My movie: project work 
Divide the class into groups and tell them that they are going to direct and produce a film. 
Give the groups some questions to consider and tell them to use this information to build their project:
  • What type of film will X be?
  • Write the plot. 
  • Find the cast. 
  • Choose the soundtrack. 
  • What might be the greatest attraction of this film?
  • Who do you think the marketing campaign is aimed at?
  • What extra information would you expect the poster to give us if it were part of the main campaign?
  • Choose a poster from the main campaign of a film you know well. Design a poster for your film, being careful to whet the public’s appetite to see the film but not giving away too much information. 
  • Present your film to the class. 

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Speed, rolling ... Action! Using films in the English class - Part 2

Approaches to film presentations 

There are roughly two approaches adapted to classroom work: a short-sequence approach that involves teaching scene-by-scene or one segment at a time, or using only one scene or segment from the entire film or choosing only a few scenes from different parts of the film, and a whole film

Short Sequence Approach

Many advocates of short sequences suggest that a two-hour feature film has the disadvantage of overload and length for less advanced learners. Essentially, the teacher has to decide which approach is the most appropriate. In the case of a choice of scenes, there are a number of options. All of them are feasible depending on the teaching objectives and target groups.

What we need to ask ourselves is: Is this sequence used to generate a theme-based discussion, to practice listening strategies, to illustrate a grammar or pronunciation point, or to present cultural background? What activities will benefit them the most?

For mature and advanced learners, films should be chosen not simply for their entertainment value; they should be timely and deliver a clear message to enhance classroom discussion. The short sequence approach can then be used for theme-based discussion, dealing with thought-provoking films.  

A theme-based discussion allows students to explore relevant issues raised from a variety of perspectives, develop critical thinking skills, elicit responses, converse freely on all aspects of the film they watch and release them from inhibiting grammatical rule-binding and detailed-oriented learning habits. Usually these theme-based films are inappropriate for complete viewing due to length and overall language difficulty.

Whole Film Approach 

The whole film approach takes one or two hours rather than the typical video-teaching techniques. It can be argued that using whole movies is a theoretically and empirically sound way of teaching English. A short-segment approach may be useful with most types of videos, e.g., TV commercials, or news to supplement content materials. However, "if communication is to be emphasized, the complete communicative process of a movie is in order as the vehicle for study. Using a comprehensive approach would be less time-consuming and more logical, coherent, and motivating for students (Chung, 1995).
Showing complete film enhances student motivation to such an extent that students are visibly impressed with how much English they can figure out. In addition, the limited amount of listening input has been a disadvantage for EFL learners to learn realistic and current usage of English. Whole film approach with abundant exposure to authentic listening not only facilitates learners' listening strategy training, but also achieves awareness of pragmatics which is an essential component of communicative competence.

Talking about films  

Films are a topic of conversation just like the weather or football so, let's going to have a look at some simple tasks that can be done as straight classroom activities. No actual films are required and they can be used with elementary as well as advanced students to stimulate group or pair work, conversation, vocabulary building and writing. They can also be used to activate background knowledge, encourage students to think about different aspects of the film industry and focus on the content of the film and the language used for discussing it. 

Best film survey (elementary and above) 30-45 minutes
Students walk around the class and interview 5 students, asking questions to find out what they think is the best film they have seen and why. With low level classes, model the questions beforehand.
When they have finished, ask for volunteers to read the most interesting answers.
They can also make the survey about the worst film they have seen. You may also wish to display the surveys for students to read and to keep as your reference of student preferences.
With more advanced classes, this is a good lead-in to writing film reviews.

Famous film lines (elementary and above) 20-30 minutes
Prepare a worksheet with lines of recent or very famous films. 
Divide the class into groups of 3 or 4 students and give a copy of the worksheet to each group. They should work together and match the lines to the name of the actor or actress who said it and the film it comes from. When they have finished, groups take turns to report back to the class.

Variation: students can make their own worksheets and quiz each other by exchanging worksheets. They may also include the names of the characters and the year the film was shown. 

Here are some examples:
Famous film lines

1.     ‘Play it, Sam’
2.     ‘May the force be with you’
3.     ‘I see dead people’
4.     ‘Hasta la vista, Baby’
5.     ‘I’m the king of the world’
6.     ‘As God is my witness, I’ll never be hungry again’
7.     ‘We’ll make him an offer he can’t refuse’
8.     My Mama always said, 'Life was like a box of chocolates; you never know what you're gonna get.'"
9.     "You talkin' to me? You talkin' to me?
10.    "Mrs. Robinson, you're trying to seduce me."
11.    "When I first saw you, I thought you were handsome. Then, of course, you spoke."
12.    "Carpe diem. Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary."
13.    "A martini. Shaken, not stirred."
14. "Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming."

a.     Sean Connery, Goldfinger
b.    Leonardo di Caprio, Titanic
c.      Vivien Leigh, Gone with the Wind
d.    Tom Hanks, Forrest Gump
e.      Ingrid Bergman, Casablanca
f.      Arnold Schwarzenegger, Terminator 2
g.     Harrison Ford, Star Wars
h.    Helen Hunt, As Good as it Gets
i.       Marlon Brando, The Godfather
j.       Robert De Niro, Taxi Driver
k.    Haley Joe Osment, The Sixth Sense
l.       Robin Williams, Dead Poets’ Society
m.  Doris, Finding Nemo
n. Dustin Hoffman, The Graduate

Film posters (elementary and above) 
You need an illustration of a film poster or the actual poster.
Pre-teach or revise the following vocabulary: title, stars, director, strap line. 
Divide the class into groups and elicit from the students the kind of information they would expect to find on a film poster. 
Display the poster or give each group a copy of the illustration. Tell them to find the title, stars, director, strap line and describe the picture. 
Ask them to:
-         predict what the film is about
-         where it will be set
-         who the main characters are and what will happen to them

As a follow up, they may pretend they are film directors and they have to design their own poster for their film. Ask them to:
-         choose actors for the film
-         decide where it will be shot
-         imagine the story
-         write a strap line
-         present their project to the class