Recently, I attended the 15th BrazTesol conference in Brasilia. It was a fantastic opportunity to learn more about our profession and exchange teaching experiences with people from all over Brazil and other countries.
I gave a workshop entitled “Oops! I dropped the lemon tart!”, which refers to a story told by Chef Massimo Bottura, who says that mistakes are human and in a certain way beautiful. Massimo recalls a day when they were ready to serve desserts in his restaurant. Taka (a Japanese chef) had prepared two lemon tarts for the service. When the tarts were ready, he dropped one of them. Taka, like a good Japanese man, was ready to kill himself! Massimo said: “Taka, no! It is so beautiful! Don´t you see? This is just perfect!”. They created a new dessert, which looked like the one below, and it became an overnight success.
If you would like to watch the programme about this story, please go to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1pY6IvkQm2Q.
Relating this experience to teaching, in the workshop the participants discussed how to help students who have low self-esteem issues and those who are afraid of making mistakes. I would like to share with you what these professionals from all around Brazil discussed and suggested.
Below are the questions I asked them in bold and then their suggestions follow:
What techniques/activities can we use to make students feel we really understand them?
- Get to know each student individually by sending an email to them asking about their studies/work/family/hobbies.
- Address students directly every lesson by asking them personal questions for the sake of getting to really know what they are feeling, how their day/weekend was.
- Respect the students´ silences or objective short answers when they are not in the mood to get into a conversation.
- Maintain eye contact.
- Call students by their names.
- Listen, but really listen.
- Share our own experiences with our students.
- Tell them we also make mistakes, we also have limitations and the more you practice the better you get.
- Be sympathetic to students´ feelings.
- Resist laughter if it is offensive to a student in a class.
- Take care of the words we use and also our body language.
Have you ever had a very anxious or very shy student in your class? What did you do to help them feel at ease?
- A shy person: got to know the person better after class.
- Made them feel comfortable.
- Tried to build up trust and good rapport.
- Talked to the student individually to show him that I was there for him.
- Tried not to overexpose the student in class.
- Gave constructive feedback.
- Praised the student at the right time.
- Paired the student up with someone who could help.
- Talked to the student´s parents.
- Focused on what the student does well. I talked to him privately after class to show him his strengths i.e. what he couldn´t see by himself.
- Got to know the student and personalized the lesson so that she felt more comfortable.
How can we help students feel less inhibited and self-conscious when speaking in the classroom?
- Not correcting every mistake students make.
- Modeling sentences first to raise awareness.
- Doing group activities, as well as individual activities.
- Understanding students and creating situations that can help them open up.
- Using “scaffolding”, which is a process through which a teacher or a more competent peer helps the student as necessary and tapers off this aid as it becomes unnecessary, much as a scaffold is removed from a building after construction is completed.
- Working in small groups to avoid exposure.
What kind of things can we do as teachers to make students feel comfortable and confident in the classroom?
- Give students time to think and reply. Silences can be positive.
- Listen to them.
- Give meaningful feedback.
- Get them engaged in group discussions.
- Demonstrate empathy.
- Be less judgmental.
In the workshop, we also talked about what kind of activities teachers could do to stimulate learners to be creative rather than looking for the correct answer. This was based on an article written by Marion Williams. You can access it at: http://www.oise.com/blog/life-is-not-about-correct-answers.
The participants suggested some ideas below:
What kind of activities could you do in the classroom to stimulate learners´ creativity rather than looking for the correct answer?
- Ask your students to come up with 20 different uses for a paper clip (activity suggested by Marion Williams).
- Give students the beginning of a story and each student continues the story.
- Use collaborative online platforms.
- Raise children´s critical thinking awareness using what-if questions (more philosophical questions).
- Improvise role plays.
- Students invent a machine and explain what the machine can do.
I would like to thank all the participants for their wonderful ideas. Below is a photo of them.