In a rut? Maybe it’s time to follow Sarah’s Script!

But I don’t want to follow the script! I hate scripts.”, I commented emphatically to a colleague while discussing a professional experience I had had a few years ago.

“Me neither”, agreed my colleague Sarah, “Whenever I try a new recipe, I can’t just follow the instructions, I have to add my own personal twist to it.”

“And why color in the lines when there is so much beautiful white space around it?”, I asked.

 “Yes, because the lines are what someone else did. The shape is someone else’s creation.”, she added.  

“And we can’t do anything original if we just draw within the lines. Hey, a new expression: when you change things up, it’s a case of Sarah’s script!”,  I laughed.

Indeed, why do things as they have always been done? After all, if you don’t change the script, you can’t expect a different ending.

So, what’s this got to do with your language learning class? Three things: mindset, motivation and mastery.

  1. Mindset. Carol Dweck wrote an amazing book about the mind of the learner (Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. How we can learn to fulfill our potential, Ballantine Books, 2006). She explained that when you are in a learning situation (which in my opinion, is pretty well all the time!), and you keep in mind that you will take risks, stick your neck out, make mistakes, and remember that that is okay, then you’ll make progress in whatever it is you are learning. That is what the growth mindset is all about: making mistakes and continuing to lean in and grow. If, however, you get stuck, and choose to stay stuck, and stop wanting to learn, then you’ve fallen prey to a fixed mindset. Maybe it’s time for Sarah’s Script! Change up the ingredients a bit. As Dweck encourages: “Next time you’re in one of those situations, think about learning and improvement, not judgment – and hook it back up.”

 

  1. Motivation. Daniel Pink eloquently explained how personal purpose drives humans to outperform themselves in his book entitled Drive: The Surprising Truth Abut What Motivates Us, Riverhead Books, 2009). If you’re having a hard time learning how to use real conditional sentence structures, you’ll find a way to learn them because you want to be able to negotiate with that supplier in Colorado quicker, and be able to get home in time to coach your son’s hockey team. Take it from Pink: “The science shows the secret to high performance isn’t our biological drive or our reward-and-punishment drive, but our third drive – our deep-seated desire to direct our own lives, to extend and expand our abilities, and to make a contribution.”

 

  1. Mastery. I have studied eight languages. And I always emphasize the verb ‘studied’ because I am not fluent in those eight languages. I don’t study them or practice them near enough. And as long as that is the case, then I will continue to say that I have studied eight languages! However, I can say that I have mastered two: English and French (btw, I do get by in Spanish, but I don’t master it). Mastery is the reward of consistent study and practice. And that calls for Sarah’s Script on a regular basis. You have to change things up to keep motivated to study and practice. Robert Greene gave a list of different ways to keep yourself on the path to mastery in his book called Mastery (Penguin Books, 2012). He recommends: “keep expanding your horizons, revert to a feeling of inferiority, trust the process, move toward resistance and pain, apprentice yourself in failure and advance through trial and error”.

 

The next time you’re stalling in that steep learning curve, try Sarah’s Script and change up the ingredients so you can lock in your growth mindset, stay motivated and climb towards mastery.

Lights, camera, action!

– Claire :O)

 

[Photo: Martin Lopez/Pexels]

5 Ways To Boost Your Child’s ESL Learning (and it’s not as hard as you may think!)

The question my student voiced was valid: How can I help my kids with their English homework? They just don’t seem to retain the words I teach them.

This father was echoing the very same concern I heard over and over again when I taught at a local elementary and high school.

If you are a parent, I’m sure you know exactly what I’m talking about. You know how important it is; you use English at work, as soon as you do a search on the Internet or when meeting clients from the US or elsewhere in Canada. You know that these days, you can’t get by without it.

And to bring things home, Secondary 5 students in Québec can’t get their high school diploma without demonstrating mastery in English oral and written skills.

So, how can you help your child? Neuroscience tells us that to develop the pathways (learning), it takes repetition and constantly having to retrieve the information at varying times and in varying contexts.

Here are my 5 top tips to keep your kids on their toes.

  1. Surprise them – Sing to the songs the radio station plays in English on the way to school or dance lessons. Switch up the program on Saturday morning, and choose an English show instead. Use an English-language family event calendar on the fridge.
  2. Play with them – Challenge them to play online games and apps in English for a set time before being allowed to game with friends in French. Even bath-time can be an opportunity to identify objects, colors, shapes, textures functions of basic, everyday objects. Why not? Get on the floor and play Lego’s in English.
  3. Model for them – Once a week, speak in English at dinner time, or while having a snack. When I was doing a practicum in teaching in a grade 5 class, we had Star Time, in which the students could only speak English. They would earn stars for their efforts. If they spoke in French, they didn’t get their star. A chart on the fridge could keep track (just an idea!) The idea is to show that English is used outside the classroom walls, and that the words they are learning in class are useful at home, too!
  4. Read to them – Reading a book to your child before going to sleep is an excellent way to feed vocabulary into your child’s brain so that it processes during the night. Once a week isn’t a chore, and your child will come to associate English with a quality time with Mom or Dad. Emotions are key to learning, and snuggling up for a read is sure to give an endorphin boost that will lower the day’s stress levels, and help you both sleep better!
  5. Be a fan – One last thing, that I just have to mention here. Keep the tone positive when talking about or to your child’s English teacher. Teaching thirty-some children, all at different language levels, with different learning styles and needs, once or twice (maximum!) a week, to speak a foreign language is no easy feat. You are your child’s hero, and if you think your kid’s teacher is awesome, then chances are they’ll think so, too. Personally, I remember the students whose parents had a super-positive attitude towards me and the work I was doing with their child. The child always made more effort to do the homework and made greater progress when the teacher-speak at home was positive.

You know, when you make the effort to speak English, even if you make mistakes, your child is impressed (even if they laugh at first!) They see that making mistakes is no big deal, not the end of the world, but the beginning of an adventure. What’s more, they’ll be much more likely to take the risk of raising their hand to answer in class because they understand that taking risks can mean making mistakes, but more importantly, it means learning.

And that’s when your child will start retaining and speaking in English. You, as parent, are the one that can give them that essential boost. What are you waiting for?

Have fun! – Claire :o)

[Photo: Shutterstock/Dmytro Zinkevych)

 

JDI! (Just do it!)

Every page answers a question“, a student explained as he proudly me his PowerPoint presentation. We tweaked a few structural errors here and there, and corrected some forgotten capitalizations.

“Wow!”, I thought, “intentional”. The whole content was intentional.
I suddenly heard the voice of an editor I once I had.

“What’s the intention? There has to be a pedagogical intention. Why are the students doing this activity?”, she would ask, and rightly so! Back to the drawing board. Invariably, I had to redesign the activity and rewrite it too.

But what a valuable lesson, and a timely reminder: intention. You need to know why you’re doing what you’re doing for your work – or life, for that matter! –  to be meaningful and effective.

 State your intentions

Here are five verbs you can use to express intention. They are always followed with the infinitive form of the verb (to + verb).

Want              Joe wants to open up a new branch in the coming year.

Need              We need to order new parts for the customer.

Intend           HR intends to hire twenty interns this summer.

Plan                The technician plans to leave for Italy on Friday.

Aim                 I aim to help you express intentions in English with this post.

 

Setting goals to map out the work flow serve as rungs on the ladder of productivity.

 

Be smart about it

Whether you’re a teacher, student, customer service rep, accounting clerk or project manager, your intentions need to be clear every step of the way for the results to be satisfying. Setting goals to map out the work flow serve as rungs on the ladder of productivity. The best goals are SMART – specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and timely.

 

Action is the 3D printer of achievement; intentions and goals are the raw materials required to feed that printer.

 

Here’s the deal

As the saying goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Figuring out intentions and setting goal are great, but without any action, they’re pretty useless. Action is the 3D printer of achievement; intentions and goals are the raw materials required to feed that printer.  So, JDI (just do it!)  

What are your intentions for today?

 

[Photo: Shutterstock/FabrikaSimf]

 

What’s behind your name tag?

I couldn’t find my name tag. You know, those corporate name tags that open all the doors, just like magic –  to get into the building, to your desk, to and from the coffee machine in the common area?

I had checked in my computer bag, on the floor, at front desk, in the washroom – no where to be seen!

¨Excuse me…¨, I began, after knocking on my co-teacher’s door. I peered in. There it was, on the table, ¨Ah-ha! You’ve got both!¨

We all laughed — two teachers and the student who was having her one-on-one class with my colleague.

¨Hey, I heard you adopted two children.¨, I began,as I saw who the student was.

My co-teacher graciously invited me to come in and have a seat. She saw the conversation was just getting started.

Three mothers. Three situations. A heart-to-heart exchange.

  • an adoptive mother with an elementary-age girl and boy.
  • a biological mother with two preschool-age sons.
  • an adopted other with two adult-age sons.

Abandonment vs adoption.

Nature vs nurture.

Adoption vs biological.

Crisis and triumph.

Laughter and tears.

United around a same purpose: encouraging and empowering each other to be better women and mothers to create a better life for our children.

¨What a remarkable encounter!,¨I mused, as I got in my car to leave that day.

Adopted or biological, parent or child, each person has their genetic background and accumulation of experiences growing up.

Individual perceptions and interpretative thought processes vary, as widely as do the personalities and termperaments. But what do we do with those life ingredients is entirely up to us as humans with a free will. The final product represented by our name tag is up to our own personal discretion.

As an adoptee, my ‘name tag’ was changed at birth. For a long time, I often labeled myself as ‘adopted’. However, I have a name: Claire Maria Ford. And our conversation as three women together let me realize a happy conclusion: I am leaving behind the label and assuming my name; after all, the ‘product’ behind the name tag is up to me to develop and define.

I am more than adopted. And amazingly enough, each individual is more than the label they may carry: divorced, gay, single, bullied, adhd. Each individual has a name, and a reality to develop and define.

You are not a label, you have a name. So, what does your name tag stand for? Assume it and enjoy it!

 

(Photo: Shutterstock/Syda Productions)

The Power of a Pause

My eight o’clock one-on-one class was over. My nine o’clock hadn’t arrived yet. Friday morning. I was on pause; I waited. And fiddled on the computer, wondering what I could read to make the best of the time.

I clicked on the double-arrow symbol at the top of my Internet browser screen. I thought I’d check out my saved links.

«Never know, maybe something interesting there.», I thought.

There was. As I scrolled down the list, I saw the word Happify: Science-based Activities and Games and clicked on it. I couldn’t remember what it was about.

Good choice.

The first title I saw was a TED Talk about learning languages. I started watching.

«No, not what I need this morning. I’m already a polyglot, and don’t need any motivation to learn morn languages – at least not this morning!»

Then my eye caught another TedTalk title to the right. It was on gratitude. I almost ignored it. Something stopped me. And boy, am I glad I checked it out!

I was mesmerized. The words, photos and music were absolutely spellbinding. I literally felt all my muscles and nerves relax as I settled into my chair, captivated.

When the talk was finished, and the last images and music faded away, I was transfixed. I didn’t want it to end.

The power of a pause. That’s what it was all about. What can happen when you really open your eyes and ears, take the time to really touch, feel and taste?

Startling insights, transcendence from the mundane and stressful, thankfulness for what is, powerfulness to act, and a deep sense of joy, the kind that can only come from fully being in the present moment.

It’s a shame the only time we ever really feel the present moment is when we are waiting: at the bus stop, the light, the doctor’s office or the garage. Yet those are the most interesting and enriching moments, arent’ they?

The next time I’m waiting, I’ll recall the words of the elderly man that spoke in the video.

Being by opening your eyes […] and be thankful you have eyes to see […] open your eyes […] and notice […]

I leave you with the link to the TedTalk video so you, too, can share in the wonder. As you watch, breathe and reflect: What are you thankful for?

Have a great day! – Claire :O)

Wishes, hopes and regrets (or: where’s the magic?)

This week, we were up to the unit on conditionals, and I noticed the caption Wish and Hope in the class activity book.

My imagination went wild immediately; although, be honest:  isn’t the topic of wishes and hopes enough to make any introverted, creative individual diverge into an ecstatic reverie?

Wishes… hopes… palm trees swaying in the breeze… idyllic moments in the hammock… refreshing breezes blowing off a turquoise Caribbean Sea…

Oops! Back to Quebec City, minus 20 degrees and icy snow blowing outside. Reality check!

“Oh well, we’ll have an interesting discussion together anyhow!”, I mused, and diverted my attention back to the class about to begin.

The Conversation Muse was favourable, and the students immediately got into the mood and started answering the questions that were written on the whiteboard: What do you wish? What do you hope?

But what’s the difference?”, one asked, stumped, after misusing the word wish.

Wish and Hope: Non-Identical Twins

We began brainstorming on the subtle difference between the two.

Wish – a desire or ‘blessing’, generally less likely to be fulfilled (e.g. I wish you a Merry Christmas! I wish I were a millionaire.)

Hope – a desire for the future, more likely, feasible. (e.g. I hope we get a lot of snow this winter. I hope to travel the world one day.)

This led us to talk about past events, in which wish can also express a regret.

Regrets, the shattered shards of shiny wishes and hopes that somehow weren’t fulfilled.

Ah regrets! Now there was an interesting topic to get into with a group of adults!

I wish I hadn’t had the accident.”, contributed a student who had experienced a collision that Monday.

Another student refused to admit what she wished. It was just too personal nature to share. We all laughed, totally understanding her reticence.

Who doesn’t have regrets?”, we commiserated together.

Regrets, the shattered shards of shiny wishes and hopes that somehow weren’t fulfilled.

The promise of When you wish upon a star, makes no difference who you are. When you wish upon a star, your dreams come true, broken.

Life is not like in Disney!”, a student concluded with a guffaw, albeit, a sad guffaw.

So, where’s the magic? 

The magic was operating. As each class member shared a regret, the sympathetic listeners began asking questions and encouraging comments, as though to somehow restore the sharer’s hope.

Why didn’t you do it? Why didn’t it work out? Is it really too late?

And ain’t that the truth?!

It has been said: As long as there is life, there is hope.

And there is. There is always today. Makes me wonder:

  • What do you wish?
  • What do you hope?
  • What are your regrets?

I like the following quote by Michael J. Fox:

Image result for there's always failure. There's always loss.

So, that leaves one last question to ponder:

  • What can you do today to start moving towards the fulfillment of a wish or hope?

Drop me a line in the Comments section! I’d love to hear from you.

– Claire :o)

Here’s to 2019!

In one word, how would you describe your Christmas vacation?

I gave each of my adult business English students a pale blue hashtag-imprinted post-it. The students kind of gave me a funny look, then took out their pens and began to write.

When they were done, I asked them to stick them on the conference room whiteboard.

“What should I write?”, I asked, thinking aloud.  

“Wonderful!”, someone quipped.

“Not so sure…”, I responded, then thought for a moment. “Sure, it was wonderful”. I repeated the word as wonder – full for extra emphasis.

“Teaching moment!”, I realized. I can teach them about the many meanings of the word ‘wonder’. I laughed. It was wonder-full. Full of wonder. Wonder can mean awe, surprise, to be stunned, to be amazed, to be impressed by something bigger than self.

I then asked the group to choose one of the papers and interview the person who wrote it.

Once we had reviewed open and closed question formation with past tense verbs, we began.

My turn. “So, why was your Christmas vacation wonderful?”, the student asked.

I explained. It had been a wonder-full period.

My brother-in-law passed away suddenly on December 31 from cancer. Shock. Disbelief. Anger at apparent medical error. Pleasure and pride to hear of how his colleagues had honoured him at work by wearing bowties, in his own signature style.

“How is that wonder-full?”, you may ask. Three ways. Three words: life, language, learning.  

Life. It’s precious, out of our control. You never know how long you have.

Language. The Saturday before passing away, Ben, my brother-in-law was looking through the photos of the trip to Switzerland he and my sister had taken last summer. My sister later shared some of the comments he had made about the trip. Those words became extra meaningful, and valuable, personal memories. Words are powerful.

Learning. I spent the first week of 2019 at my sister’s place. I realized firsthand how important it is to have records up-to-date, in order and accessible to get the legal and financial paperwork underway. I saw the cards and flowers and meals caring neighbours and friends dropped off, sent and had delivered. I witnessed my sister’s reaction to sympathetic calls and texts. I was floored. It was a sobering, yet essential, learning experience.

Throughout the year to come, we’ll all have our share of life, language and learning To what extent we make 2019 wonder-full, will be up to us.

To varying degrees, our language class ended with us all reflecting on the following three questions:

  • What can we do here and now to make the best of the life I have?
  • What can I say today to those around me to encourage and help them?
  • What can I learn today from what I am experiencing?

Whatever the following months hold, have a wonder-full 2019!

Any comments or ideas? Just drop a note below. I’d love to hear from you! – Claire