Teacher development

Discussion: Dogme

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In 2000, Scott Thornbury wrote an article for the IATEFL magazine on how he thought there was an over-reliance on course books in ELT – and materials in general – and how we had somehow lost touch with what students really expected from us and needed to learn in English courses, and how we therefore should strip ELT back to basics, to “restore teaching to its pre-method “state of grace” – when all there was was a room with a few chairs, a blackboard, a teacher and some students, and where learning was jointly constructed out of the talk that evolved in that simplest, and most prototypical of situations.” You can read Thornbury’s original article on Dogme here.

What I wrote then below was having this original article by Scott Thornbury in mind. There will be (a lot) more on Dogme in the future.

I take issue with many of the ideas in Thornbury’s original article about Dogme:

– “…we are copiously resourced. (…) there is an embarrassment of complementary riches in the form of videos, CD-ROMs, photocopiable resource packs…” – This article was, if I’m not mistaken, written in 2000. 13 years later I believe it’s safe to say the ’embarrassment’ would be even more overwhelming, and if we consider the Internet alone the amount of materials – both made for ELT and especially what is not – is extravagant, so much so that I believe Scott must cringe every time he goes online. (lol). Well, I can’t agree in any way that any of this is an ’embarrassment’ at all! Having an almost limitless array of materials to choose from is something to be thankful for, and I think it actually makes for classes which are (or potentially can be) richer, more varied, more interesting and more successful. The issue here, in my opinion, is that of teacher development. Teachers (and therefore teacher educators) have to understand, I think, that it is not only because something is available that it should be used, but that the opposite is no more true. Instead of banning photocopies (which is ludicrous), limiting deductive grammar explanation to 5 minutes (arbitrary) and having teachers make do with “the resources that teachers and students bring to the classroom” and so on, I believe what we have to worry about as teachers (and as teacher educators make clear for trainee teachers) is (among others) making sure we understand our objective should be to help learners achieve whatever aims they have with language learning, respecting their learning preferences and trying to – as much as possible – help them become more autonomous; if (when!) a video, Twitter discussion, Jing recording, Facebook group discussion, PowerPoint presentation, OHP, realia, song and the like will help, then we should obviously use them!

– “No recorded listening material should be introduced into the classroom: the source of all ‘listening’ activities should be the students and teacher themselves…” – David Crystal says here that “if the aim of ELT is to produce students who are able to encounter the English-speaking world with confidence, then you can’t avoid bringing global English into the classroom”. I agree with Crystal. According to Dogme, however, students should only be exposed in the classroom to the teacher’s accent and those of his peers. How about – as it’s sometimes the case in Brazil and I’m sure in many other places – students whose only contact with English is with the very inaccurate interlanguage of his non-native teacher? But even when the teacher in question is a highly-educated, Diploma-certified, experienced New Zealander native speaker, how about doing a listening activity where teenaged students have to answer questions while watching an interview with the band One Direction? Is that to be avoided? Won’t students enjoy that? Isn’t enjoying tasks important? How about music? Can anyone say music does not (have the potential to) promote learning and acquisition? Should the teacher, God forbid in my case, sing?

– “The point is to restore teaching to its pre-method ‘state of grace’, when all there was was a room with a few chairs, a blackboard, a teacher and some students…” – Honestly? Why? What does this ‘state of grace’ even mean? Pre grammar-translation? What was there? Is Dogme chatting only? Or is it basically rehashing Community Language Learning?

Despite all that, I like some things about Dogme a lot. I think it has helped teachers in general understand that there’s more to teaching than blindly following course books, and that doing a gap-fill activity with a song every class might not actually be accomplishing much, if anything. It has steered ELT’s focus – partly at least – towards what makes language programs work, and towards learners and their needs, from, I think, an excessive focus on flashy course books and materials (not that there’s anything wrong with ‘flashy’), methods and recipes. While doing all that, however, I believe Dogme has not only thrown the baby out with the bathwater, but went on to drown the poor baby afterwards. Scott says in the video that Dogme had a minor importance in the history of cinema, and I think it won’t be very different in the world of ELT.

Finally, I have used many of the activities suggested in ‘Teaching Unplugged’ in class, some very successfully. Most proved useful and memorable, effective and motivating. But so is using music and videos, PowerPoint and (though I don’t care for them much myself) interactive whiteboards. In the same way I would never teach a course by using only drilling, or only PPP, or by teaching only what’s in the course book, I would never teach a course based 100% on Dogme, and I think, for example, courses such as a CPE preparation are simply impossible with Dogme.

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts and impressions!


Discussion: Agency – Jeremy Harmer

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This post kicks off a new feature on the blog called ‘Discussion’, in which I’ll put forth the opinion of an author/fellow teacher – and sometimes my own opinion – on something related to ELT and hope to discuss it with anyone who’s interested.

Reading chapter 5 (Describing Learners) of Jeremy Harmer’s The Practice of English Language Teaching this week for the Trinity DipTESOL, I came across the term agency, which I admit I’d never heard of in relation to teaching before. What is being discussed in this specific part of the text is extrinsic motivation, which Harmer divides in five stages: affect, achievement, attitude, activities and agency.

Harmer explains it’s a term borrowed from social sciences (…) appropriated to mean something similar to the agent of a passive sentence. He later says that a lot of the time, in some classes, students have things done to them and, as a result, risk being passive recipients of whatever is being handed down. We should be equally interested, however, in things done by the students.

There’s apparently nothing new there, it would seem. Getting students to be more hands-on in class is, it seems to me, something we are forever pursuing (trying to get them to talk more, to participate more actively in pair and group activities and the like). Some of the ideas suggested by him later in the text, however, sounded a bit more daunting:

> we might allow students to tell us when and if they want to be corrected in a fluency activity (Rinvolucri 1998) rather than always deciding ourselves when correction is appropriate and when it is not.

I’m doing one of my projects in the DipTESOL precisely on error correction during speaking activities, and that is certainly something I’d never considered. Has anybody ever tried that? I have had cases – maybe even many – of students who asked me to ‘correct me all the time!’, but I’ll admit I’ve never actually taken that into careful consideration, always preferring to approach correction the way I found most appropriate.

> JJ Wilson (author or, among others, How to Teach Listening and the Total English series) suggests that wherever possible students should be allowed to make decisions. He wants to give students ownership of class materials, letting them write on the board or control the CD player, for example (Wilson 2005).

While it’s not exactly new to think of students writing on the board, I’ve never actually thought of having students control the CD player, and I honestly don’t see the point. Is that so that they can maybe pause, rewind and fast-forward whenever they see fit? Has anyone ever tried or considered that?

> For Leslie Painter, it was allowing students to choose what homework they wanted and needed to do that was the key to motivating her students to do the tasks that were set (Painter 1999).

Again, honestly something that’s never crossed my mind. The first thing that did cross my mind upon reading this was that some students would just choose to do nothing, or very little, or the easiest stuff, or whatever looks more fun. But shouldn’t there be an objective in the homework students do? Shouldn’t it be extra practice of whatever was done in class, with a view to fostering acquisition, or at least better retention?

Harmer then wraps up by saying no one is suggesting that students should have complete control of what happens in lessons. But the more we empower them and give them agency, the more likely the are to stay motivated over a long period.

I’d love to read your comments.


Harmer, J. The Practice of English Language Teaching – Pearson, 2007.

David Crystal on which variety of English to teach

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While preparing a class for tomorrow, I came across this very interesting short video in which David Crystal discusses which variety of English we should teach. Simple yet thought-provoking.

However, at a certain point in the video he seems to make a grammar mistake. Can you try to spot it? When you find it, can you please leave a comment with your opinion as to whether it is indeed a mistake or, if you don’t think so, why?

I’ll edit this post later this week with the answer and my opinion about it.

Hi again!
My opinion – which is nothing but that, an opinion! – is I agree with Emma and Marina. David Crystal is simply pointing out that what happened happened recently, but there still is a clear effect on the present (hence Present Perfect). I don’t think the specific, finished time in the past in this example makes the use of Present Perfect incorrect. And we’re talking about David Crystal after all! =) (Emma, he’s DAVID CRYSTAL, not just a regular educated native speaker. LOL)

Michael Lewis says that when a grammatical rule has exceptions we should discard the rule, not the exceptions. I believe Mr Lewis exaggerates when he says this, but he undeniably has a point there!

Starting over, part 3 – Using Songs in the Language Classroom

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Here is the third installment in my Starting Over series, this personal quest of mine to make my classes more varied, more fun and more interesting, with the commendable objective of motivating my students and, perhaps a tad less commendably, in turn motivating myself again after so many years in the area. (It’s been working so far!) – You can read the other articles here on this blog (have a look at the articles published in April and May 2012) or by visiting my own blog, www.higorcavalcante.com.

This month I want to talk about one of the most obvious topics in the business when it comes to adding variety to a teacher’s class: music. Nevertheless, it’s funny how sometimes the obvious can be the thing we have most difficulty to see clearly, and in the particular case of music in the classroom, it’s truly remarkable how poorly we commonly use such an incredibly powerful tool – there’s much more to music in the class than gap filling!


Why music in the classroom?


There are several reasons why using music in our classes is an incredible tool, perhaps the most important of which being the fact that students – everyone, really! – love music! Therefore, as Jeremy Harmer says, music works as a “connection between the world of leisure and the world of learning”.  There are many other reasons, though:

–       It exposes students to authentic English and assorted accents;

–       It raises awareness of several pronunciation features, such as connected speech, intonation and rhythm;

–       Music is memorable. Songs ‘stick’ in the head, as “they work on our short and long-term memory” (Tim Murphey). I personally still remember learning the form of the second conditional in English in a song class listening to Eric Clapton’s Tears in Heaven!

–       Music is highly motivating! It is therefore fun and can change (for the better!) the atmosphere in the class.


How often to use songs in the classroom


I really don’t believe in a magic number, as it were. I would s ay, however, that twice a month, thinking of a regular semester-long, two-classes-a-week, thirty-to-forty-classes-per-term course, sounds like often enough.

Using music too much, however, can be just as harmful as not using it enough or at all. The overuse of any of the tools available to us will invariably result in boredom, not to mention the fact that students – especially adults – might confuse the overuse of music with lack of planning or of focus on our part.


How to use music in the classroom


As I said before, there is much more to song activities than gap filling. There is, of course, nothing wrong with gap-filling as such, but since the goal here is variety, it is perhaps a good idea to try different forms of exploring music in the classroom as well.

–       Gap filling: If you really must work with gap filling, you can gap all examples of a certain part of speech, e.g. all the verbs or nouns or –ing adjectives etc., and maybe even give students a few minutes to predict the words for each gap (and/or their parts of speech) before listening to the song.

–       Lyrics in jumbled order: Cut up the lyrics of a song into slips of paper and, before listening to the song, give students a chance to try and put it in order. Listen to the song to check

–       Find and replace the incorrect words: ‘Make mistakes’ in the lyrics of a song and tell students they have to find them as they listen to the song, and substitute the incorrect words for those actually sung.

–       Create alternative chorus / lyrics / add verses: We can ask students to write an alternative chorus for a song and then sing it to the original melody! They can simply think of one or two verses which can be added to the original song as well (E.g. In the song Ironic, by Alanis Morissette, they can try and think of two more ironic ideas which could be added to the song – so their new ideas should rhyme and fit the original melody as well.)

–       Warm-up activities:

  • Words on the board: Write several words (maybe all the content words) from a song’s lyrics all over the board. Divide students into two groups and have them choose a group ‘secretary’. Give them one minute to look at the words on the board and try to memorize them. Tell them that as they listen to the song, the group secretaries must circle the words as they’re sung (others in the group can help by pointing the words). Pause the song every minute or so for a change of  ‘secretaries’. The winner is the group which has circled most words by the end of the song. (It’s important the song is not very repetitive for you to make the most of this activity. I suggest, for example, Garth Brooks’s Standing Outside the Fire or Jason Mraz’s Lucky. For more basic levels, also Louis Armstrong’s or Ramones’ What a Wonderful World)
  • Hello, Goodbye: To this day, still my favorite warm-up activity ever. Divide students into group 1 and 2. Students in group 1 should stand up or sit down every time they hear the words yes, stop, goodbye, high and why; group 2 should do the same when they hear the words no, go, hello, low and I don’t know. Play The Beatles’ Hello, Goodbye and have fun!

–       Bingo: Board 15 to 20 words from a song on the board and give students bingo charts. Have them choose 9 (or 6) words and fill their charts with them. Play the song and the winner is the student who first crosses out all words from his/her chart and shouts bingo!

–       Words stuck on the wall: Similarly to words on the board above, get all the content words from a song and write them on slips of paper. Stick these slips on the four walls of the classroom. As students listen to the song, they must run around the class collecting as many words as they can, the winner being the student with most words by the end of the song.

–       Karaoke: Honestly, this is the only activity here I haven’t tried in my classes, but being a fan of karaoke myself – and having several friends who won’t pass up a chance of making complete fools of themselves by singing Eternal Flame at the top of their lungs in karaoke bars – I’m sure end-of-semester and Secret Santa festivities would be positively affected by a karaoke competition!

That’s it for now then! Next month I’ll write about using video activities in the classroom, so stay tuned!

Please send me a few ideas of music activities you have used in your classes successfully and I’ll share them all on my blog for teachers all over to use them. Please send along with the activities your name and email address so that people can get in touch with you. Finally, I’ll also be posting some of the song activities I’ve devised over the years on my blog in the next few weeks, so feel free to download those as well.

Enjoy the remaining days of your vacation and have a brilliant second semester! Cheers!

This post was published on http://www.blogdadisal.blogspot.com on July 20, 2012.

Why I know Open English is not worth it

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The facts

I had never heard of Open English. Never. Having been in the business for over 13 years, worked for various schools and given training courses to and studied with teachers from an even wider variety of institutions, I believe that that in itself probably says a lot about this company (I won’t call it a school).

It must’ve been about two weeks ago when I finally heard of them, and if you’re a teacher with an Internet connection in Brazil you certainly know why. Their repulsive TV commercial which, in a nutshell, derided non-native speaking teachers as being somewhat inferior, plain stupid and downright ridiculous was so stark, absurd and offensive that at first I believed it to be a joke. Coupled with the fact I’d never heard of them, the allegations that teachers who’d “learned English in Buenos Aires” just couldn’t be taken seriously made me doubt the video could really be real. But it was real.

What Open English doesn’t know

– English is the first language in history to have ever been more spoken as a second (third, fourth, fifth…) language than as a first language (to the tune of 1:2 or even 1:3). Publicizing your “school” by trumpeting the fact that you clearly don’t know that goes a long way to showing how clueless you are about the status of the language you claim to teach. This is, of course, understandable when a student says s/he wants or prefers to have classes with a “native teacher”. They’re not experts, and we can all certainly see where a layperson would think a native speaker of a language would probably be better suited to teach it. Students are not expected to have read Jeremy Harmer (and many others) when he says, “…the value of a teacher depends not just on their ability to use a language, but also on their knowledge about that language and their understanding of how to facilitate both that ability and that knowledge in the minds of their students”. But a so-called school?

– English is the true lingua franca of the 21st century, the language of business, of commerce, of tourism, of entertainment. You’re more likely to need to speak English nowadays with Italian, Chinese, French and Brazilian speakers of English than you are with Americans, Australians and Brits. For Open English, however, all you need is, as their website suggests, “unlimited live-sessions anytime of the day with our American teachers”. Not with our teachers, but with our American teachers. At a time when we (serious teachers of English, native-speaking or not) have been discussing topics such as teaching English as a Lingua Franca (ELF), world Englishes, international English, what standard to adopt as a model for teaching pronunciation, for instance, and the like, it is unnerving at best to see a pseudo-school advertise a preference for American English and American teachers, although perhaps understandable from a marketing perspective. What is absolutely unacceptable, however, is to have quacks mock non-native speaking teachers the way Open English did. It’s unethical, disrespectful and not to be tolerated.


The outcry the abusive TV commercial provoked among ELT practitioners in Brazil – be they Brazilians, Americans, Australians or else – was, the way I see it, evidence that Open English is alone in their belief that there is an obvious inferiority in, as far as teaching English is concerned, having been born in a country where English is not the first language (or in the United States specifically, as was the case). That was a big relief.

I personally don’t agree, at least not yet, with Jennifer Jenkins when she says there is nowadays “the need to abandon the native speaker as the yardstick”. I personally try to, as much as possible, use English based on a model that is undeniably a “native” one, albeit not necessarily American or British or Australian. I teach International English, meaning I don’t teach either American or British English concerning accent or lexis, for example; nevertheless, I still do my best to use – and have my students use – /ɒ/ and /ɑ:/, /i:/ and /ɪ/, third person singular when appropriate, past regular endings “correctly” and the like. I believe idioms and phrasal verbs make English the incredibly sensuous language that it is, and I own up to cringing when I think of not teaching idioms and phrasal verbs anymore, or of not correcting my students, as ELF suggests, when they say “she like” or “I go to the cinema tomorrow”. Obviously, thus, I have nothing against native speakers! I would never mock them! I just don’t think they’re inherently better (or worse) than non-native speakers at teaching solely based on where they’re from.

And you know what? Even though it is a fact, as I said above, that I try to use and teach a variety which is undoubtedly “native”, the funny thing is that I learned it all from Brazilian teachers! As a student of English in Brazil, from A1 to CPE preparation, all my teachers were Brazilians, and the vast majority of them had themselves only studied in Brazil, having Brazilians for teachers. That doesn’t mean at all, of course, that we Brazilians (Argentinians, Kenyans, Koreans) are better than native speakers when it comes to teaching, it just means that your nationality in itself doesn’t make any difference whatsoever. What matters is how much you know about the language, how committed you are to studying it and becoming better at it, the investments you make in your career by doing courses such as the the TKT, CELTA and the DELTA, your interpersonal skills and ability to build rapport with your students, and much more. It’s very difficult to define what makes a good teacher, as it certainly involves a very wide array of abilities and traits, but it’s much easier to define what it’s not, at least not necessarily: A good English teacher does not have to be a native speaker, and he certainly does not need to be American.

I’d appreciate your comments on the topic(s) here discussed, and take the opportunity to suggest the reading of chapter one from Jeremy Harmer’s The Practice of English Language Teaching (The Changing World of English) and Scott Thornbury’s post on native-speakerism by clicking here. I also recommend you forget the name Open English once and for all.

Thanks for reading!

PS: I have not added a link to the Open English TV commercial here because they have taken it off the air, or so it seems. You might still be able to find it by googling it, though.

Blog da Disal, May 2012 – Starting Over, part 2: Lesson Planning

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Last month I wrote a rather… different post here. It talked basically about how I’d been a bit demotivated with the whole teaching thing, and how important it was for me to turn things around and find that spark again, that curiosity again, that fun again.

I asked you people to help out, to send in ideas and share with me – and everyone else really – what it is that you do to make sure that your classes are always fresh, always motivating for your students and, maybe even more importantly, for you. I’m very thankful to all of you who did, and the amount of emails and replies (both here and on my blog) I received was really humbling, and I’m amazed at the difference this new project of mine has made for me already, and it has only been a month. I hope that from now on, as I begin the sharing here, that these ideas will make a difference for you as well.

This month, I’ll begin by talking about arguably where the whole process of teaching a motivating class, for your and your students, starts: lesson planning.

Lesson Planning

It goes without saying that if we’re not motivated ourselves, there isn’t much chance we’ll be able to motivate our students that much. So, as obvious as these ideas might sound, I’ve been dedicating a lot of time to thinking of ways of doing that, and it just so happens that most of this thinking usually happens while I’m preparing my lessons.

If you’ve done a pre-service teachers’ course, I’d be willing to bet good money you’ve heard about how important it is to prepare your lessons thoroughly a million times. You’ve probably preached this yourself, so that there’s every likelihood that you‘re now thinking, “duh!”

But really?

Do you really prepare your lessons thoroughly? Do you really prepare your lessons in a way that ensures they’ll hang together, achieve your aims (assuming, of course, you have them), feel fresh and varied, take individual students into consideration, all in a way that pretty much guarantees time will fly by? If you always do that, kudos for you. I didn’t. Not always, anyway.

There are several different types of lesson plan, of course. What I’m advocating here is not that you write detailed, CELTA-like lesson plans for every single class you teach. You wouldn’t be able to do much else with your life. What I’m saying is we really, really have got to go well beyond ‘do activity 1; now 2; now 3…” in our plans if you want our lessons to succeed. We have to do more than just check the answer keys for the activities we’ll do in class and the – usually feeble – ideas the teachers’ guides bring. Planning a class, as we all know it, should involve a lot more than that.

  • Have something extra every class: it can be a song, it can be a pronunciation activity (looking at minimal pairs, for example), a video activity, a reading lesson you devised yourself using real materials (instead of a boring, meaningless text from your course book). Make it very clear for your students that you actually devoted time to them during the week apart from the time you spend together in class.
  • Understand your course book was not written for your students: this is actually not that obvious for many teachers. In a brilliant article written over a decade ago, Michael Swan mentions teachers who, when asked why they teach grammar so much say, “because it’s there”, meaning it’s there in the course book. Course books are written to make them as international as possible, as general as possible, with a view to making as much money as possible. Think of that! Using course books is, in my opinion, a great idea. It gives the course a sense of purpose, of continuity, of progress. However, there are more than a few useless activities there as well, of silly texts and ridiculously artificial listening passages, to name but a few. Adapt. Skip. Substitute. Use your course book as a tool, because that’s all it is. Your course book is not your course.
  • End classes on a high note: I’ve been very lucky as a teacher trainer to observe a very wide array of classes all over the country, and a very high percentage of these classes start with a fun – if sometimes a bit predictable and repetitive – warm-up activity.  But how about a wrap-up activity? How about having a song at the end of class? A hot potato? A hangman? A video? Ending classes on a high note will make your students actually want to come back next class, it’ll keep them on their toes, it’ll keep predictability at bay. Don’t end every class discussing homework!
  • Get out of the classroom with your students from time to time: Stephen Greene (from the brilliant www.tmenglish.org) suggested that in a comment on my blog. This may not be exactly new, and as I replied to him there I might’ve even suggested it in training courses myself. But again: Do we do it? I hadn’t left the classroom with my students in such a long time I can’t even say when I’d done it last. Stephen calls it “Walk and Talk”, where he simply goes for a walk with his students and chats, sometimes with a specific destination in mind, sometimes not really. I loved the idea and have had breakfast with one of my students, visited Museu do Futebol with another group and have been thinking of other ways of putting that into practice. It makes a big difference.

That’s it this month. I will now continue this discussion on lesson planning on my blog (www.higorcavalcante.com). Twice a week, on Wednesdays and Thursdays, for the next month, I’ll be posting more on the topic of lesson planning and ideas to make our plans more interesting and varied. I hope you’ll visit and keep on contributing your ideas.

See you in June!

This article was published on Blog da Disal (www.blogdadisal.blogspot.com) on May 21, 2012

Starting Over (Blog da Disal – April column)

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This will be a slightly odd post, so bear with me.

First of all, it’s great to be back. I’ve always been a big fan of Disal’s and writing for the blog has always been an honor. I’m back, and back to stay!

That being said, this first post of mine in this new phase – as a columnist and as a teacher – will be a confession of sorts, as I’m going to own up to my…shortcomings as a teacher lately. Hopefully it will strike a chord with a few of you out there, and, if I can be so bold, perhaps shock you into action with me. Perhaps a few of us can get out of this rut together.

I believe I realized I’d been suffering from what Jeremy Harmer calls teacher burnout – when teachers get depressed or overtired and lose interest in (or have no enthusiasm for) teaching – at some point last year, much as I tried to pretend I wasn’t, for myself mostly. I’d been working for schools for upwards of 12 years and was in dire need of a change. I just couldn’t deal with the predictability of it all anymore. I just couldn’t. So I left, and began my newfound career as a freelance teacher/teacher educator. It helped a lot, but somehow it wasn’t enough.

A month ago (to the day), I arrived in Glasgow for my second IATEFL conference, first time as a presenter. I got off the train after a glorious week of gluttony in Italy and, on seeing the gray weather in Scotland, suffering – and failing – to make out a word or two from the taxi driver’s impenetrable accent, I admit I was more than a little unimpressed. There was nothing I could do, though, as I’d left Brazil precisely because of the conference, and I had my own presentation a couple of days down the road. However, I was not at all excited to be there, and that scared me.

Now, I love Adrian Underhill. I honestly do, and so should you. His Sound Foundations was nothing short of professionally life-altering for me, as it was only after reading it that I started to believe in my ability to teach pronunciation with anything resembling confidence. His opening plenary, however, was… well, not what I expected. I couldn’t even tell you what it was about, to be honest, and that was a major blow. Underhill was the reason I’d spent 7 hours on an awful train all night long, as I wouldn’t have made it in time if I’d caught an early flight. It was definitely not an auspicious beginning.

Nevertheless, the beginning of a new beginning was to come on the very same day, in the form of the great Jim Scrivener. His presentation, Demand-High Teaching, was so powerful, so rich and enriching, so practical, that I just knew, there and then, that things were going to change for me. I just felt it was OK to feel the way I felt, because even one of the greatest writers, teachers and teacher trainers in the world of ELT felt somehow disenchanted with our status quo.

No, Scrivener is not suffering from teacher burnout – he is Scrivener, after all. What he feels is we’re just too comfortable in ELT at the moment, that after a few decades of Communicative Language Teaching we’ve reached what he insightfully calls a peaceful dead-end. We’ve lost our curiosity. We don’t question ourselves anymore (or don’t do it enough). We’re more concerned with steps (be them PPP, ESA, TBL, AAA, whatever), getting above standards and merits in our CELTAs, DELTAs or what have you, than in gauging the actual learning taking place in our classrooms. We’re…in a rut. (my words, not his).

I left Scrivener’s talk lighter, with the proverbial weight of the world off my shoulders. One of my favorite quotes in ELT had and has always been Harmer’s the constant repetition of lesson routines, the revisiting of texts and activities with student reactions that become increasingly predictable, can – if we do not take steps to prevent it – dent even the most ardent initial enthusiasm.”, and I’d used it countless times in training sessions over the years. I had merely, as it were, forgotten to listen to myself, but I certainly heard Scrivener. I heard him loud and clear.

This is, thus, what this post is all about. It is about how I attended a 45-minute talk by one of the big ones and left it transformed. This is about how Jim Scrivener (not for the first time, mind you), helped me see, or at least remember – even if that was not exactly what he was talking about (but then again, students don’t always learn necessarily what we’re teaching them, right?) –, that we should always be curious, and that we should always try and do things differently, and that we should never just do things a certain way simply because they seem to have worked well before. It is not only students who need to enjoy our lessons. We need it, too. We need it bad! Arguably, they won’t enjoy them it if we don’t; they won’t learn much if they don’t enjoy them.

In practical terms, here’s what I propose. In your next class, surprise your students somehow. Tell them a joke. Use music. Do a video activity. Don’t use the coursebook. Take them for a walk. Bring food to class. Have them work out the rules of a grammatical point from a text or a dialog, if you don’t normally do it, instead of explaining it to them. Play Hangman, or something else if you always play Hangman. Do something different, something completely different. Surprise your students next class, so that the results of that class will in turn surprise you. I believe the solution for our teacher burnout (mine, at least) lies in it.

My next columns on this blog will be entirely dedicated to this new project of mine then, and that I hope will become yours too. How can we surprise our students? How can we do things differently? How do eliminate – or alleviate – boredom from our classes and thus from our jobs? How do we keep ourselves interested, and therefore our students? How can we help our students achieve better results? How do we never stop caring? How indeed? I don’t know, honestly. Or maybe I have a few ideas, and I’m willing to try them out.

I am, however, going to start this quest to answer those questions by asking for your help. Share your ideas with us by commenting here on the blog, or via email by writing to cavalcante.higor@uol.com.br. Any ideas! I don’t know exactly what I’m looking for here, but I know I’ll recognize it when I find it. I know that I want now, 13 years later, to be as excited about this thing I love so much as I was when I started out, and I hope these over 1000 words I’ve just written about it here will interest you in helping me out.

A few suggestions to start us off:

–          Three incredible books which have helped me a lot recently by piquing my curiosity and giving me some much-needed fresh ideas:

  • “Essential Teacher Knowledge”, Jeremy Harmer. Pearson, 2012.
  • “Classroom Management Techniques”, Jim Scrivener. Cambridge, 2012.
  • “Atividades de Vídeo para o Ensino de Inglês”, Louise Emma Potter & Ligia Lederman. Disal, 2012. (the book I wish I’d written!)

–          Two great blogs you absolutely have to read every week, plus a great summary/review of Scrivener’s presentation in this year’s IATEFL:

Good luck for us all! =)

Higor Cavalcante is a teacher and teacher educator based in São Paulo, Brazil. He has worked for various schools in Brazil as a teacher, teacher educator, pedagogical consultant and director or studies, and is primarily interested at the moment in teacher education (his included), exams preparation and the impact of reading in the learning of English. He is also a blogger, and you can read his posts on www.higorcavalcante.com, as well as find out how to have him for talks and courses in your school.

*This post was published on April 20, 2012 on http://www.blogdadisal.blogspot.com.