April 25, 2008

Animoto: education program

Reading Larry Ferlazzo's blog, I learned about Paul Hamilton's post, where he also mentions three other bloggers who all talked about this great opportunity animoto has just given educators.

I have already blogged about animoto because it is a great website that puts together photos and a song in a very modern flash-like presentation. The thing is that the free version only lets you create 30-second videos, and in order to have an all-access account, with which you can create longer videos, you have to pay.

Well, the good news is that animoto has just announced the animoto education program, which gives all-access codes to educators and their students, as long as they promise to keep animoto updated on the innovative ways students use this tool.

Here is an example of an animoto video I have created with the pictures of our school's (Casa Thomas Jefferson) Teachers' Day celebration (Oct. 15, 2007). Turn up the volume!

April 23, 2008

Some more google discoveries

I'm a big fan of Google. I love gmail, orkut, blogger, google general search, google image search, google maps, google docs, google reader, google page creator, picasa and youtube. And every now and then they add something new in the even more button, and, as a result, I have recently added two interesting features to this blog.

The first one, I found navigating the even more page: it's a customized search engine within my blog. With custom search, you can easily create a google-like search box that will search within a specified domain, in my case, my I hope it works blog. After you create the search engine, you can embed it to any page using the html code given, and the result is something like this:

The second one is something so simple, but that I had never noticed until I read about it in Sue Waters' blog, more specifically in her post "I've gone widget crazy and need help to control widget addiction". I have always wanted to have a blogroll of the blogs I read in my I hope it works blog, but I had never seen this option in blogger and felt I could not keep it updated if I just created a list of links. Then Sue Waters shows her readers that Google Reader offers this option (you know when you feel like, "why didn't I think of this before"?). All you have to do is click "manage subscriptions", then select the tab "tags", click the RSS symbol of the folder from which you want to create a blogroll in order to make it public (the RSS symbol turns red), then click the link "add a blogroll to your site" - voila, you just copy and paste the html code and you'll have an always-updated blogroll (like the one on the right of my blog), because every time you add a new subscription to that folder, the new blog will appear in the blogroll.

April 10, 2008

TESOL 2008 - NYC

I now teach at the very school where I learned English: Casa Thomas Jefferson, in Brasília, Brazil. I have never lived abroad and I use to tell my students that all my English is Casa Thomas Jefferson English, which they find surprising. You see, students (and many teachers!) in EFL contexts have this (sad) belief that you can only master a language if you learn it in the country where it is spoken, and I have always been proud to be a living testimony of the contrary. I like to talk about strategies with my students (especially advanced, and pre-Michigan and pre-TOEFL ones), and every time I start talking about it, I like to say that it is totally possible to be fully competent in a language even learning it in Brazil, as long as you put the right amount of effort into it.

Nevertheless, I know that, even though living abroad is not the only way to acquire a foreign language, having experiences abroad can only add to a teacher's knowledge, maturity and expertise. Well, I still haven't lived abroad (not yet!), but Casa Thomas Jefferson (CTJ) has helped me have an 8-day experience in New York City by providing me with a grant to attend the 42nd TESOL Convention.
The trip had two big positive points for me:

1. Interacting with people in New York City has made me learn a few new words, taste a few new dishes, listen to different accents and reflect upon some of our practices. The first reflection that took my mind was the concept of competence. I have already read a lot about this concept (Noam Chomsky, Dell Hymes, Michael Canale, Michael Canale and Merill Swain, Lyle Bachman, Almeida Filho, Allan Davis - to mention a few), but walking in the streets of New York a couple of days before the convention, and talking to an Egyptian taxi driver, buying hot dogs from a Pakistani guy, having a Russian waitress wait our table, or checking in at the hostel with a Puerto Rican man (not to mention the other nationalities staying in the hostel...) has made me reflect again about what communicative competence really means. Let's take pronunciation as an example: I love pronunciation, I am writing my master's dissertation about pronunciation teaching, and I believe I have good pronunciation, at least better than that of all those people I mentioned before. However, they all communicate perfectly! With their accents, or sometimes even wrong pronunciation, they can all live and work in the United States and have far more interactions with native speakers (thus getting a lot of input and consequently learning more words and expressions) than I do. Even in the convention this question sprang to my mind again, when I listened to Dr Suresh Canagarajah give this amazing talk but saying things like deve'lopment, which we so frequently correct in our Brazilian students' oral production. Of course I'm not insane (or naive) enough as to say that because of all this we shouldn't worry about pronunciation. I'm just glad that I could experience firsthand what I have read in so many papers: that communicative competence has many aspects, and what makes a speaker competent is a comprehensive, balanced and principled use of all features of communicative competence.

Another reflection that came to my mind is how close we, EFL teachers, are to teaching what is actually used in real life situations. Having an informal conversation with my friend Carla Arena,
we both agreed that there are some things that text books present and that are not the most common or most frequent linguistic sample used in real life. She has been living in Key West for almost two years and told me that she noticed that people used much more phrases like "take care", "have a good day", "see ya" or "have a good one" (which I have never seen in text books) when she was leaving a place than "good-bye" or "bye", which are so abundant in our classes.

Among the many amazing experiences, I just have to write about this incredible one: on Tuesday, April 1, I was in a hurry, a bit late to meet some friends for dinner, but in the middle of my running I just had to stop to listen to this excellent vocal trio singing in the Grand Central Station:

2- The convention was amazing. I was able to attend lots of interesting, insightful and resourceful presentations that will help me both in my CALL function at CTJ and in the writing of my master's dissertation. Listening to some people whose work I have been reading (like Elaine Tarone and Suresh Canagarajah) was very encouraging; meeting some of the Webheads in Action f2f for the first time was a blast; and simply walking in those hallways and knowing that there were close to 10,000 language teachers in that place willing to enhance their teaching was absolutely thrilling. I also had the chance to present a project my colleague (and coordinator of CTJ) Isabela and I carried out last year about "blogging the writing process" in the Electronic Village Fair.

These are just a few words to exemplify what I have gained from enjoying every single minute of my first experience abroad. The truth is that I could write about growing as a language teacher from the simple things I did, as analyzing the subway map to choose my routes, to the excellent opportunities I had, as listening to renowned scholars in my area.

Check out my New York Albuns:

NYC + CTJ and Webheads

NYC - Sightseeing

NYC - Museums