Friday, October 10, 2014

Why fragments?

     According to the Cambridge dictionary, a fragment (
/ˈfræɡ·mənt) is a countable noun that means a small piece or part, especially one that is broken off of something. 

    According to Folse (2009), a fragment is an incomplete sentence. It is usually a phrase or a dependent clause not connected with the main one. 
      According to this blog and to the right of tweaking the language to my advantage, I will consider a fragment to be a point of view, a piece of an idea and thoughts on topics related to English teaching and learning. The essays found here are pieces of my bigger and more general understanding of what is and should be teaching English as a second language.

       I hope my fragments do not simply become a part that has broken off of something, as well as I hope they are not an incomplete parts of speech. What I truly hope is that my fragments are like building blocks. Although they should stand on themselves, the fun starts when you start connecting the pieces. What do I expect to build? I expect to provoke constructions and deconstructions based on reflections upon my (and many others') trade: teaching English as a second language.

Retrieved from:

This blog is the final project of the Writing module in a Teacher Development Course at 
Casa Thomas Jefferson.


Cambridge Online Dictionary:

Folse, K. (2009). Keys to Teaching Grammar to English Language Learners: A Practical Handbook. University of Michigan Press

What are the advantages of being bilingual in today's society?

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            Western society has always walked a path towards globalization. From the urge to colonize other lands to the need of finding new markets, men and women have always adapted in order to prevail in such big world. The landmarks are clear: the Great navigations and the Industrial Revolution were times in history in which modern society shifted the paradigms. Lately we have been experiencing another shift: the Information revolution. And how are we supposed to adapt now? By learning a second language. What second language is more adaptative? English, for it has become a Lingua Franca. Simply put, to adapt to an ever changing world, learning English as a second language provides many advantages, both personally and professionally, to individuals.

            To begin with, one must acknowledge that contemporary culture is based in English, and (almost) everyone would like to access the cultural products of their time. There is an enormous amount of movies, series, books, articles, songs, etc bombarding us each and every day, and we  are bound to consume them. Apart from entertaining objectives, individuals also want to know about what is going on in the world. With the click of a button, one might access different information regarding politics, economics, religion, culture, among other topics. Reaching information is easy, but being able to access it will depend on how well you can understand what is being explained. Even though translations are fairly common nowadays, it is not the same to read or watch something in a language other than its original one. A lot gets lost in translation, and learning English will grant you full access to a lot of the information you wish to access, both in your spare time and work time.

            Learning English may also provide you with another advantage in terms of what you do in your leisure time: knowing English will make traveling much easier. Most people enjoy getting to know other cultures and places in the world, but it is quite difficult to learn the language of each country we wish to visit. Because English has become a língua franca, in most sights you travel to, you can communicate using it. So, once again, English integrates you to the world around you; it keeps you from being alienated.

            One last advantage to consider is related to professional goals: being bilingual might give you a jump start in your career. Unfortunately, in a capitalist society, not being alienated depends on how much information you can afford to have. In order to travel, to have internet connection, to have a TV, a smart phone, books, tablets, etc, one must work, earn money, and buy all of these gadgets and commodities. Therefore, we are constantly looking for better job positions and offers, which mean, basically, better payment. To succed in this race, people must show why they are better professionals, and one way to do that is by mastering another language. For that reason, English has become almost a requirement, not only an advantage anymore.

            To sum up, if you wish to insert yourself in todays society, being able to access all that it is offering us, you should learn a second language. Start with English, for it is the most spoken language in the world, it is a Lingua Franca and it is your front row ticket to watch the Information Revolution evolve. After all, Western Society has never walked back in the path it has created; we are always improving and enlarging our means of communication around the world.

Literacy and ESL young learners: how to plan activities?

    Teaching a second language to young learners may be scary to some new (even to some experienced) teachers, especially when your task is teaching those children how to read and write. Many parents have been enrolling their children in English courses before they can even read and write in their own native language. That means that they will learn how to read and write in English right after they have been introduced to the alphabetized world, which means we will be faced with many specific characteristics when teaching them. Being aware of these characteristics is very important in order to succeed. Therefore, this essay aims at giving tips on how to plan effective activities for young learners that are being introduced to reading and writing in English as a Second Language.

    When teaching kids, the first thing one must have in mind is on which of their motor and social development they are. Kids aged seven or eight are still in the concrete sensory stage of their development. That means that abstract ideas, explanations and thoughts are not accessible to your students. For example, if you are presenting them with new vocabulary, you can use realia, flashcards and pictures to activate their previous knowledge, while developing new knowledge in English. Moreover, when explaining activities to them, try not to do it only orally, but also find a way to model what you expect them to do. Besides giving concrete input to them, you should also be prepared to explain more than once.

   The reason why repetition is needed is another aspect of children's development that is important: their attention span is limited. Not only must we repeat explanations, directions, vocabulary and grammar chunks, but we must also plan accordingly. The activities in each class should be varied and short, for they cannot endure long activities. If you must do an activity that is longer, break it down into smaller pieces: give one direction, set a time limit, finish it, only then move on to the next step. Basically, be thorough when planning your classes, so you can scaffold your directions carefully and effectively.

    A third characteristic to keep in mind is: kids are not as mature as teens or adults when learning a new language; they will not start producing the language fluently as quickly as desired. The grammar taught must not be complex, instead, teach them in chunks. They will not understand exactly why the grammar is as it is, but they will grasp how and when to use it.  Since chunks are being taught, controlled exercises are the way to go, with many examples, images and previous knowledge being elicited. Repetition is too very important, but don't rely only on drilling, try teaching the same point in many different ways. In summary, be realistic when setting expectations, and surely you will meet them.

   Finally, the last and most important, in my opinion, aspect to be attentive to is that, although kids learn fast and almost effortlessly, they can be very self-conscious and anxious when it comes to learning a new language. We might not remember, but being in an environment where you don't understand most of what your teacher says is quite nerve-wracking, thus,  be patient. Not only plan and teach accordingly, but always provide a safe environment where your students feel like they can make mistakes, have doubts, and not understand. If their timing and limits are respected, they will able to learn and produce.

    The tips that this essay refers to are just some simple guidelines to be remembered when planning activities to ESL young learners starting to read and write in English. These guidelines may seem a lot to think about, but once you are teaching your students and you start perceiving how fast they develop and learn, it also feels effortless. Hopefully, this essay can make teachers more eager to and less scared of trying to teach ESL young learners. I do believe anyone is able to teach them and, like me, love doing it.

Technology: An ally in EFL classrooms

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    What is technology? According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, it is the use of science to invent useful things or to solve problems. It seems to be a pretty obvious definition, but people do not usually think about how far we have come technologically-wise. A long time ago, books were the newest technology invented by humankind, a means to perpetuate knowledge. We may have far more complex technology nowadays, but the objective is still the same: create, develop and, finally, pass long knowledge. Very similarly, Education has also had these same objectives.  Undoubtedly, education and technology have historically walked alongside aiming evolution, and educators cannot help but accept that technology is much needed in classrooms throughout the world in order to conform Education to what students’ needs. For the educators teaching English as a second language, technology comes as an ally in the task of shifting the paradigm of Education from content-based and grammatical to developing skills beyond language acquirement.

            Using technology in classrooms will make English language learning meaningful. As known, language is better acquired when it has real use, when it is more than just adding value to a curriculum. Isabella Villas-Boas (2014), when talking about complexity theory, points out that language acquirement and development are two different objectives. Nowadays, we do not want our students to simply acquire language that will only be replicated inside the controlled environment of a classroom. We want our students to be able to develop language, which means that students should develop real language abilities in real time (Villas-Boas, 2014). And what does technology have to do with that? Simply put, the world individuals live in is a technological world. We do not only have access to technology, we depend on it; whether it is a computer, a smart phone, a kindle, or even the GPS in a car, we just cannot live without gadgets anymore. Most people are really well adapted to at least computers and smartphones, and it is hard to imagine life without them. Education is bound to embrace this new world we are living in. In order to reach out to our students, to develop language, we must use the (technological) world around us.

We do not want our students to just consume all the world has given them, we want them to be a part of it, transforming it. As Carla Arena (2014) points out, it is important that us teachers empower our students with agency, and technology can be of great use to this endeavor. Once again, we are not teaching language so that our students may just replicate the knowledge absorbed in classroom. We need our students to be able to make real use of what we are teaching them. We want them to be able to access information, to look for what they need, to use the necessary tools to develop and improve language. Moreover, we want them to produce not only language, but knowledge. Hopefully, they will be a part of the change in this world.

Some might say that bringing technology into a classroom is a difficult task, for not every teacher is a tech-literate. Although that might seem a big obstacle, one should remember the difference between language acquirement and development once again. In a language development paradigm, teaching language is not a one-directional path, but a bi-directional one (Villas-Boas, 2014). In this context, apart from us pouring knowledge into our students' head, or maybe even learning from them, knowledge will be produced alongside by both teachers and students. Of course some planning is required, but most importantly we must be open to technology and all that it has to teach us. After all, if we aim at empowering our students with agency, we must be agents ourselves. Recognizing our limits and stretching our boundaries is not such a hard task once you see the results. It may take some work, but learning new technological skills will improve your classes in many ways.

            Education and, therefore, English teaching have come a long way since traditional methods that only aim at teaching students how to pronounce, write and understand this language, for now it is understood that educating is about empowerment, agency and development of numerous skills and abilities. It is really important that teachers evolve their understanding of education, that we empower our students to participate in this globalized world revolutionized by information and technology. The word development is a key to this new era of language learning. As educators, we are mediators, and we must mediate students' agency and language learning in a meaningful way. It is clear that meaningfulness will not be reached if technology is not a part of our daily work. Moreover, creating an appropriate environment in the classroom, as suggested in this essay, will provide growth for both teachers and students together. We may be able to put a price in technology and its gadgets, but the possibilities created by them is priceless to education.

Arena, C (2014). O digital para uma pedagogia do empoderamento e ação.

Villas-Boas, I (2014). On language development and affordances.