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Hi again!

I promised I wouldn’t disappear again, and here I am ūüôā this time I want to share a teaching experience I had a couple of weeks ago, along with a question for you, if you teach English as well.

I was the substitute teacher of a group of five teenagers between the ages of 12 and 16 – the horror!! -, on a Saturday intensive course that lasted four hours. I already knew they wouldn’t listen to me for all that time, and they didn’t, in fact they only paid attention to me the first and third hour. They spent the other half of the class mostly playing on a tablet and with their cellphones (no surprise here). Frankly I didn’t care about that. This is not what I will talk about. What left me thinking and still kind of worries me up to this moment is one particular student.

This student was the youngest, at 12 years old, and I noticed he was so radically different from his classmates from the moment he entered the small classroom.¬†Before anything else, I’d like to say he is smart and reads very well, and he was one of the only two among the five who fully understood what I was telling them in English, even though he asked and answered in Spanish when I asked him to participate. Also, he told me he likes to draw and one day he would like to be a writer. But the rest of the time… well… he wasn’t part of the group, only in the same room as his classmates; they talked to each other but they didn’t include him, or perhaps it would be more appropriate to say, he didn’t include himself. He was in his own little world. I don’t mean he was crazy, more like he was… hyper-hyperactive (yes, you know hyperactive? he was worse than that) and his special needs weren’t being fulfilled by his regular teacher(s).

Now, I’m no expert to say this, but I read a lot, about many subjects, and goodness, I had to be stupid to be wrong with this poor boy.¬†He wouldn’t sit still for a second. In fact, he wouldn’t sit on the chair at all. He sat either on the floor beside the chair, or behind the chair, or would slide under the chair, or would lay on his stomach on top of the chair, like he was a doll. Sometimes he placed his argyle cap on his face and leaned against the wall. Sometimes he hoisted himself up to sit on the chair, only to flop down to the floor and lay on his back the next moment. Also, at one point he curled up beside his bag, with his head between his arms. His classmates seemed to be used to this; they either didn’t pay attention to him, or laughed when he performed one of these strange actions all of a sudden (especially the flopping down from chair to floor). He didn’t say anything to them when they laughed; it was as if they didn’t exist. In the last twenty minutes or so before the end of the class, he simply walked out of the room, and since the others weren’t paying attention anyways, I didn’t call him back.

Like I said, I only was a substitute teacher for one day, but I was too taken aback by this case, and I’m still worried about what I would do with him if I were to have him as a student for a longer while. I wonder what his previous teacher(s) have done. I know what I would do with his classmates – I’d take their cellphones and that tablet from them, and problem solved. But this young one… To be honest, I have no idea what kind of activities would help him focus on the class… and I don’t want to keep the doubt.

This time I come to you not with advice, but asking for yours.

If you had this student, what would you do for him?

Perhaps I can tell some useful things to his teacher, who I’m sure is at a loss to help him just as I was… (I work at the same place I went to that day, but on weekdays, I can do that without a problem)

…and perhaps this can help me the next time I have someone like this in my classroom.

Thank you in advance.

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Hello everyone! ūüėÄ

First of all, thank you so much for your lingering interest in this kind-of-oh-wait-very-dead blog, and for the compliments on my writing style. I’m so happy to see you have found my little entry with the CAE tips useful. That is the one I have received the most comments for! I hope you all have passed the exam as well ūüôā it feels so good, after so much studying!

Now, I deeply, deeply apologize for not replying to anyone in such a long time – my goodness, over a year already! – The thing is, I had forgotten my password. See, I had no time to write more entries after “The UN and me” until late December of that same year, aaaand when I tried to get back in, for some reason my ‘word wouldn’t get sent to my email when I requested it. I honestly have no idea why because my blog account is still under the same email address I registered with. I only remembered it by myself just today, after some time of intense brainwork. Whew! I’m glad that piece of information was in the depths of my memory, even if very well hidden.

Now I have resorted to writing it down and this way I shall not forget it again. Expect more from me this new year!

Happy 2014 ūüėČ

The UN and ME

I was almost at the 67th Session of the General Assembly of the United Nations in New York. This past month of absence was due to that.

Here is the summary of what happened if you don’t feel like reading the papyrus scroll below: There was a contest held by several Mexican government organizations, mainly the UN Administration of our¬†Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to select two young Mexican citizens to join the Mexican delegation and participate in the aforementioned Session. I participated in the contest and I wasn’t selected to go there, but I did go on to the second stage, an interview with very important people – and just so you know, only 19 people out of ~700 went to this stage, so this was no small business! I’m proud I was there nonetheless.

This was the official announcement for the contest¬†– it’s in Spanish only, I’m afraid. I had to submit some documents and write an essay about one out of nine given topics. I chose a complex and -to me- a very interesting topic: The importance of the development of the space sciences in Mexico given the creation of the Mexican Space Agency (Agencia Espacial Mexicana, AEM in Spanish).¬†I found out about it only around a week before the deadline to submit my documents and essay, so I had to work hard to have everything on time.¬†In fact, the very day when I last posted was the deadline. ¬†The previous days I was very busy doing research for the essay and getting all the other documents ready, the following days I was busy feeling extremely nervous about the results, and the last few days I was dying a little on the inside as I waited for the day of the interview.

I was informed through email that I (thanks to my essay) was one of the finalists on September 7; in fact, I had less than six hours to respond and confirm my participation! I got the email at 1:00 pm and I was lucky enough to read it less than an hour after that time, because I had to read, sign, scan and send them a commitment letter which was attached to the email before 6:00 pm! I sent it at 4:00 pm. The next day I received a phone call from the lady who emailed me, to tell me personally the day and time of my interview. She was very kind and nice. The interview was arranged for September 20 at 1:00 pm on the main office of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in Mexico City.

I was torn between great excitement and utter terror. I always dread speaking in front of a public, and this time I had to speak in front of none other than the people who organized the contest… that means, they were very important people. Before the day of the interview I didn’t know many things: how many people would listen to me? A dozen or a hundred? Would I be sitting or standing? Would it be in a small room or an auditorium? For how long would I have to talk? How many questions would they ask? And most importantly, what questions would they ask me? Not knowing the latter was especially stressful. I did know I didn’t want to make a fool of myself in front of these people, so I would do my best to prepare myself.

I knew about the Toastmasters organization for years yet I never bothered to visit any club before. I knew I needed it but I didn’t dare to go. This time I had to, whether I wanted to or not. I really needed help. Luckily, I found out there is a club only five minutes away from my home (by car), and one of my aunts is close friends with the president of that club, so it was easy to get involved and she even arranged for me to have a couple of personal sessions with the president. There wasn’t much time – I couldn’t become an expert in giving speeches in only two weeks – but I did learn some useful things.

My mom came along with me. I could use her moral support. We went there since the day before, so I didn’t have to wake up very very early and arrive there tired and even more stressed than I already was (I can’t sleep well in the bus). It did work. We arrived there in the evening, went to have dinner with some friends of her who live there, walked a bit around in downtown so I could relax a bit before the big day, then we stayed for the night in a hotel that was ten minutes away by foot from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The next day, I woke up feeling fine, but when I was already walking towards the place with my mom, I started feeling something horrible. I had never felt like that. I couldn’t eat more than a cookie and half a glass of milk. We arrived there almost an hour early. I asked a girl who was sitting right outside the room, she was there for the same thing, and found out they were half an hour late. Surprisingly enough, I relaxed shortly after that. I thought, okay, I still don’t know what will happen, but I do know it’s not the end of the world, I won’t die because of it. The worst that can happen is that I won’t get chosen and that’s it. I kept that in mind as I waited alone in one of the chairs outside the room. My mom was in the waiting room. I had to be alone by then because I was going to do it alone. Another candidate, a boy, arrived and we chatted a bit while we waited. I learned he was from Chihuahua and he arrived there by plane because it took almost a whole day by bus, and by plane it was only two hours.¬†We both were equally nervous, so we didn’t talk much.

When it was my turn, I still didn’t feel like I was going to die. I kept thinking about what I told myself before. I’m already here, I’ll do my best, and if I’m not chosen, well, it won’t have been a waste of time. I was one of 19 people out of 700. Not bad at all. The important people who interviewed me were all very nice to me. I honestly can’t remember everything they asked me and I think it’s not relevant to make a list of the questions I do remember. They were eight or nine people. They asked me one question in English, since one of the requirements was to speak English and have a certificate to prove it. I felt fine, although I think I didn’t do my best. I do admit my mistakes and I know by now why I wasn’t chosen. I was vague when answering a couple of questions because they were difficult and I didn’t quite know how to answer them, ¬†so¬†I wasn’t very clear; I spoke more loudly than I usually do, which was a good thing, but I didn’t modulate my voice and that was a big point against me. Also, I wasn’t fully aware of it, but I’m pretty sure I rolled around a bit in my swivel chair -I was sitting all the time- ¬†when I was answering the difficult questions because I felt nervous. Oops.

After the interview ended, they gave me a nice glossy diploma for having been in the second stage of the contest and then they kindly dismissed me. I was so dazed that I even forgot my mom was waiting for me and I went downstairs in the elevator before I remembered she was there. I had to call her to tell her I was already in the reception and waited for her to join me. Then we went out to eat with her friends, who were extremely kind to us and drove us around, from and to the bus terminal, so we didn’t have to spend any money in taxis. We spent the rest of the day with them, talked a lot about my interview (I honestly didn’t want to talk about it because I felt like I had ruined it, but I had no choice), and we took the bus early in the night to arrive home by midnight. Now I’m here at 1:00 am of September 26, almost done.

Although I wasn’t one of the two selected candidates, I¬†consider myself satisfied and, above all, I learned a lot.¬†Yes, I’m sad, of course, who wouldn’t be sad after being so close? I’m sure this was a fair decision, however. I know I didn’t do my utmost and I didn’t deserve to win. I’m happy for the two fellow finalists who will go to New York. I wish them good luck and I thank the important government people for giving me a chance! One day, I will be there, at the UN. One day.

*pops in* Oh wow… There’s nothing I can say to justify almost two whole months of absence from this place. My excuse is that I had forgotten my password, yay, and I hadn’t had the time to work on retrieving it. Now I have it again, I promise not to forget it again.

So I took the CAE test in mid-July. The waiting before “the day” was a most stressful experience, but in the end I found out I was more scared of the exam than I should have. This was not, however, the product of a miracle. I would like to share with you the way in which I studied for the CAE, hoping it helps you feel less nervous than me.

By the way, the CAE is the Certificate of Advanced English Examination, awarded by the Cambridge ESOL. Its level is Advanced, as its name clearly points out. It gives you a certification on the C1 level of English, the next to last level in which you can officially test yourself. The highest level available is the C2 with the CPE or Certificate of Proficiency in English. It is considerably more difficult than the B2 level test.

Now that you know this, time for my lucky SEVEN tips!

  • Don’t panic. This is very, very important. Taking the CAE is not equivalent to the zombie apocalypse. Trust me, when you are taking this test for the first time, it might seem quite intimidating, like a prowling peril. Ask me, I feel terribly nervous everytime I know I’m going to take a test, no matter what type. It’s not healthy, but I guess I need to feel like that in order to succeed…
  • Studying only the day before is a bad idea. If you want to feel like the CAE was a piece of cake, you need to start studying around three weeks. But if you don’t feel like being that responsible, two weeks (or only one) would work, too. It all depends on your studying speed (and dedication!).
  • Get your hands on preparation materials to know the test.¬†You might want to jump blindly into the unknown and take the test without any help, and you might succeed! But it’s always a good idea to familiarize yourself with the format of the questions on the test. I knew I needed that help because I’m a very visual learner. Online practice tests were a great tool (the Flo-Joe is an amazing site for this purpose); if you can buy or borrow the official CAE preparation textbook, do get it!
  • Start with the online practice tests and discover your weak spot(s). I started with a whole online test including all five papers. I would practice a bit more on my weak spots than on the rest. I had no major problems with reading and writing, but I found out I had to practice a LOT on the Key word transformations part of Paper 3 (Use of English). I had most of them wrong on that first test. I would also have to do many Gapped sentences exercises (Paper 3 as well). All of the previous is because I’m not familiar with several expressions, some of them very British. As I have said several times before, I always have problems with listening, and this time it was no exception. I suggest you to practice speaking (Paper 5) with someone else who speaks English, because you can’t do that part online. In my case, I practiced with my mom.
  • Work on your weak spots but don’t neglect your strong points. Now that you know in what areas you need to work harder, practice. Do online exercises; half an hour per day per weak spot was good enough for me. I also listened to the BBC Radio everyday to get used to the British accent and to try to understand as much as possible. This doesn’t mean you have to leave aside the papers in which you got good results. Keep familiarizing yourself with the format, and also with the topics used for the several texts that will be included in the test. There can be newspaper articles, book reviews, extracts from novels, articles about music, sports, celebrities, nature… you name it. You should have a wide vocabulary to be prepared to easily read and understand all those texts.
  • If you have the textbook, take all five practice tests a week before the exam. This helped me A LOT. I borrowed the CAE preparation book and took one whole test per day. I forgot to say, another advantage of taking the practice tests is that you can know how long you take to complete each paper. If you take longer than the set time, oops – read faster and don’t take too long thinking of an answer for hard questions! Do the easy ones first, then leave the difficult ones for the very end. If you take less or the exact time, you’ll be alright. I took almost the exact time (1hr 15min) for reading, even though it was very easy for me, because the Gapped text part turned out to be pretty hard sometimes. The same happened with the Multiple matching, but much less frequently. I was fine with the time for Writing and Use of English.
  • Get a good night’s sleep the day before. It might seem like a silly tip, but oh, I know that from experience. Trust me, if you don’t sleep your good 7-8 hours the day before an exam, you will have a hard time concentrating. Don’t stay awake until very late studying. Bad idea. You won’t remember much of what you tried to study, your brain will be tired and it needs to rest well because it has to work hard the next day. If you were a nice responsible person and started studying a week or two or even better, three weeks earlier, you should have a very good idea of how you will cope with the real thing. There’s no need to deprive your brain and body from that needed rest.

That would be all. I did all of the previous (except maybe for the ‘don’t panic’ part, but as I said, it seems like I need it) and it worked well. The Reading paper wasn’t too hard, but I took almost the exact time to finish it, as usual; the Use of English part was surprisingly easy, I finished it in half an hour. I wish all the practice tests had been like that. I think I did well with Writing, I felt relaxed. Listening was also easy, oh my, seriously; two weeks of listening to the BBC Radio were worth it. I didn’t do very well in Speaking, but that’s because I have a weird speaking style. I still don’t get my results *sob* but I hope my results were as good as I felt when taking the test. I wish you a very good luck with your CAE!

 

EDIT: I got 77/100 and I don’t like it, I felt better than that, but I passed.

Goals for the Future

 

The TKT course officially ends next Saturday. After the Module 3 exam, that is. But what’s next? It’s surely not wise to just forget about it and move on. What was the point of being there if that’s going to be the only plan? My classmates and I surely didn’t take the course just to have something to do on Saturdays. We have to apply what we learned, put it into practice, show the students that we aren’t the typical boring teachers who want all the power. No, we have to be something different, don’t you think?

I admit I still haven’t had the opportunity to formally teach in a classroom, but I’m getting closer. I don’t know if it’s going to be hard for me to do what I said on the first paragraph, though. After all, I was taught by the typical teachers during all my life, except for Ellen and a couple more. What’s going to stop me from being similar to them? I think I know. First, I am aware that traditional teaching isn’t the only option. There are many more methods that are way more appealing, both for the students AND the teacher. There are countless options for resources, materials, online tools, teaching aids, to make teaching English (or any other subject) FUN and interesting, for all levels and ages!

The main goal I must set for myself is to work on my fear of public speaking. I tend to get tongue-tied, or worse, to forget what I was going to say, when I’m in front of an audience, no matter if it’s composed of two people or two dozen people, if it’s children or adults. Even if I’m not in front of them, the very fact of having people watching me closely and listening to every word I say makes me feel nervous… and I’m a very insecure person.

Then I have to work on my tendency to overexplain things. In the case of teaching, I am sure I will overteach the poor students if I don’t do something about it. I also know I won’t be the best at teaching children or teenagers; I think I would feel more comfortable with adults. But if my students must be children or teenagers, I will get my hands on many teacher magazines, websites and books to help me. If there are people who don’t know a thing about teaching properly and they are teaching, why shouldn’t I be able to do it, with training and practice and constant learning?

Lastly, I will not forget and move on. I will find my teaching style and develop it. I didn’t study to be an English teacher, but a translator, however teaching is inevitable for translators. So I will be there.

I only remember one time when I witnessed a backtalking session in the classroom – and I only remember fragmented bits. I guess my brain decided to forget most details because they weren’t essential for my life… or perhaps because it wanted to protect my fragile mind! Just a warning… it might sound familiar to a person reading this.

Back when I was starting my bachelor’s degree studies, I had an English class in the last level they taught at school. The teacher, and therefore the lessons, were really good in my opinion, and I still think the same, but my few classmates (they were only three) disagreed with me. There was no need for them to say it aloud – it was evident for me, and I guess for the teacher as well, in the way they acted and looked at each other. I consider myself quite bad at detecting attitudes like this one, but in that particular case it was just too evident, even for me.

One student in particular couldn’t stand the teacher at all. I didn’t know or understand why, I still don’t. Perhaps they weren’t used to the teacher’s style. On that particular day of the event in question, we were in class since seven in the morning, like every day. I repeat I don’t remember all the details – we were either starting to work on something, or already working, or commenting on our work, but the thing is, that student started snapping their answers at the teacher, for some reason I forgot. Things grew nastier until the student eventually, to use the colloquial term, blew a fuse. They stormed out of the room, the teacher still trying to make them see reason, and all the student said at that point – wait, no, all they yelled from outside the classroom, already far from the scene, was “Shut up! SHUT-UP!” As for me and my classmates, we just sat and silently witnessed everything.¬†I remember the teacher told us something about the situation. I think they told us that student was banned from the class. They were, for a while, then they were allowed to return in less rude terms.

How can a similar situation be avoided? I think the teacher should talk to the student if they suspect there’s some personal dislike for them or their way of teaching or whatever it is that bothers said student, and work a way towards an agreement or a solution for such problem, if any. If the student refuses to talk about it… well… it’s their choice, they can’t be forced to do it, but if they choose to be rude most of the time, some sort of disciplinary measure could be necessary. It’s kind of valid not to adore the teacher, but a student should at least respect him/her because they are only trying to help them, to guide them so they learn. Of course, the teacher might not be good or helpful… but that’s a different story.

This week’s assignment is to think of a task or activity and reword it using the revised Bloom’s Taxonomy (I was about to use the old one until I remembered this detail), involving all six levels. I’m not sure if we have to actually do the activity, but as I understood we only have to present it as an example of how we’d use it, that’s what I’m going to show you.

I ruled out the option of using a story or article from a coursebook, since I assumed that’s what most of my classmates were going to do. I want to present real information from the Web. After thinking for about half an hour about a topic and just as I was starting to feel upset at my lack of creativity, I realized I could use one of my favorites ¬†– animals!

Two Endangered Mexican Species

 (Level: Advanced)

Mexican Axolotl (Ambystoma mexicanum)

The Mexican axolotl salamander has the rare trait of retaining its larval features throughout its adult life. This condition, called neoteny, means it keeps its tadpole-like dorsal fin, which runs almost the length of its body, and its feathery external gills, which protrude from the back of its wide head. Also, because they have the ability to regenerate lost body parts, axolotls are probably one of the most scientifically studied salamanders in the world.

Found exclusively in the lake complex of Xochimilco near Mexico City, axolotls differ from most other salamanders in that they live permanently in water. In extremely rare cases, an axolotl will progress to maturity and emerge from the water, but they are mostly content to stay on the bottom of Xochimilco’s lakes and canals.

Close relatives of the tiger salamander, axolotls can be quite large, reaching up to a foot (30 centimeters) in length, although the average size is closer to half that. They are typically black or mottled brown, but albino and white varieties are somewhat common, particularly among captive specimens.

Axolotls are long-lived, surviving up to 15 years on a diet of mollusks, worms, insect larvae, crustaceans, and some fish. Accustomed to being a top predator in its habitat, this species has begun to suffer from the introduction of large fish into its lake habitat. Natural threats include predatory birds such as herons.

Populations are in decline as the demands of nearby Mexico City have led to the draining and contamination of much of the waters of the Xochimilco Lake complex. They are also popular in the aquarium trade, and roasted axolotl is considered a delicacy in Mexico, further shrinking their numbers. They are considered a critically endangered species.

Adapted from:  Nat Geo Wild Animals

———————————————————————————————————————————-

Mexican Gray Wolf (Canis lupus baileyi)

Missing from the landscape for more than 30 years, the howl of the Mexican gray wolf can once again be heard in the mountains of the southwestern United States. The Mexican wolf, like many species protected by the Endangered Species Act, is getting a second chance to play its role in nature through an ambitious recovery program led by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The Mexican gray wolf is the smallest, southern-most occurring, rarest, and most genetically distinct subspecies of gray wolf in North America. The Mexican wolf once roamed throughout vast portions of Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and Mexico. But, as human settlement intensified across the Southwest in the early 1900s, wolves increasingly came into conflict with livestock operations and other human activities.

By the mid-1900s, Mexican wolves had been effectively eliminated from the United States, and populations in Mexico were severely reduced. Following the passage of the Endangered Species Act in 1973, Mexican wolves were listed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as an endangered species in 1976, thereby prompting recovery efforts to save the species from extinction.

The United States and Mexico agreed to establish a bi-national captive breeding program with several wolves trapped in Mexico between 1977 and 1980. The purpose of the breeding program was to save the species from absolute extinction and to provide animals for future reintroduction to the wild. The Service approved the Mexican Gray Wolf Recovery Plan in 1982.

As the Mexican wolf captive program grew and demonstrated increasing success through the 1980s, attention turned to identification of appropriate areas for reintroduction of the Mexican wolf to its historic habitat. On March 29, 1998, captive-reared Mexican wolves were released to the wild for the first time in the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area. Here, 11 vanguards of the rarest and most unique subspecies of gray wolf in the United States began an historic journey – the journey of recovery.

Adapted from: The Mexican Gray Wolf Recovery Program

ACTIVITY

Remembering/Recalling Level

  • Name THREE other endangered animals around the world.
  • Where is the only place in the world you can find a wild axolotl?
  • How many years passed between the approval of the¬†Mexican Gray Wolf Recovery Plan and the release of the first wolves thanks to this program?

Understanding Level

  • Summarize the steps followed to save the Mexican gray wolf, found in the second article.
  • In what way is the axolotl important to science?

Applying Level

  • How can an animal species become endangered? Identify and write the reasons found in both articles.
  • Recreate the wolf recovery program, but using the axolotl instead. Do you think a similar plan could work for them? Why or why not?

Analyzing Level

  • After a comparative reading of each article, answer: How does the author of the Mexican wolf article present the situation of the species? How does the situation of the axolotl look compared to it?
  • Look at the list of reasons you found that can make a species disappear. What do they all have in common?
  • Analyze the list of reasons – Some can affect the axolotl, but never the wolf. Some can affect only the wolf, but not the axolotl. Some can affect both. Classify them according to these categories.

Evaluating Level

  • Why do you think it’s the United States, and not Mexico, the country leading the Mexican wolf recovery program?
  • Would you say it’s possible to save at least one of these species? If yes, present your arguments. If not, what is needed to achieve the goal?

Creating Level

  • Since species become endangered because of humans, What do you think should be done in the future if we wanted this to stop happening? Is it even possible?
  • You already know a strategy to protect the Mexican wolf. Construct your own proposal to save the axolotl from extinction, presenting its feasibility.