“Imagine tourist destination”: applying semi project-based activity in a business English class

After the success of using text message as homework in one of my ESP classes, I was tempted to try on a new project in a business English class that I taught last month. The business English class was set in a tour and travel company in Denpasar, Bali. It was a short course that lasted for only a month focusing on business (email) writing, communication and presentation skills. At first I planned to have the participants – who are mostly accounting staff – to present a tourist destination in Bali. However, after thinking that this might be too easy for them (as their level of English is somewhat above elementary to pre-intermediate), I changed my mind.

Just like the previous post, in this blogpost I will share about the activity – how I did it and what I achieved – and hopefully it will be useful for all of us.

The aims of the activity:

  1. To meet the objectives of the short course.
  2. To increase students’ engagement and participation.
  3. To promote creativity and active learning.

What activities were there:

There were 4 main sub-activities involved in this ‘Imagine tourist destination’ activity. They were:

  1. Students made their own original promotional brochures of an imaginary tourist destination of their choice.
  2. Students presented their imaginary tourist destinations in front of the class (their ‘audience’ – including me).
  3. Students wrote an inquiry and/ or reservation email playing a role to be an interested tourist to a selected presenter (or ‘the tourist destination’s management or reservation agent’).
  4. Students – acting as the company management – replied to an email from the interested tourist for a follow-up.

Skills practiced through the activity:

  1. Business (brochure and email) writing,
  2. Communication and presentation.

For how long it was done:

It took me at least a total of 5 meetings to complete the whole activity (note: a meeting lasted for an hour/ 60 minutes). 1 meeting for introductory activities and introduction to the activity, 2 meetings for presentations (there were a total of 10 students in the class), and 2 meetings for discussing email writing and giving feedback.

What the results were:

Promotional brochures

Some of the promotional brochures the students made

Some of the promotional brochures the students made

Most of the students came up with what I thought amazing ideas on imaginary tourist destinations. Here are some of them:

  1. The Moon Holiday by Spectacular Planets Attract Cosmic Explorer (SPACE)
  2. Magic Mountain Home Stay (on the foot of Mount Everest)
  3. East Bali National Park – Best Safari Journey Experience by Putra East Bali Safari Tour and Travel
  4. The Resto Plane (a dining experience on a plane around Bali)
  5. Waterfall Restaurant – Best Balinese Restaurant (a dining experience at the bottom of a waterfall in Bali)

All brochures were made and prepared well with shapes, images, and information that are enticing. Since the tourist destinations are imaginary, most of the titles successfully raised curiosity.


A student presenting while the audience read the information from the brochure

A student presenting while the audience read the information from the brochure

I enjoyed the presentations mostly because both presenters and audience seemed to enjoy their roles. Although there were times code-switching happened, for example when a presenter suddenly switched to Indonesian when she could not think the English for some Indonesian words, the flow was smooth and communication was done right on target. Both presenters and audience were active, adding to the Q & A sessions’ dynamic. Some answers could be funny too. In short, it was fun and engaging.

Email writing

An email written by a 'travel agent' (of 'Food and Flower Centre')

An email written by a ‘reservation agent’ (of ‘Fruit and Flower Centre’)

Each student had to write 2 emails: one they wrote as a tourist and one as a reservation agent, replying to a tourist’s inquiry and/ or reservation. This is where the challenge lay. As accounting staff, their company might not ask them to make brochures. However, email writing is pretty much their everyday task. As the example above shows, minor mistakes in grammar were seen in most of the emails they wrote. I had only 2 meetings to discuss these mistakes when in fact I think the explanation and practice on email writing needs more time than that. It will be discussed in my conclusion below.

What I learned from this activity:

What made it work

  1. The activity promoted creativity, active learning, and critical thinking.
  2. It increased students’ engagement and participation.
  3. Students learned English using topics that are familiar to them and their work. This is important, especially in adult English classes.
  4. It helped build students’ confidence and fluency especially in communicating and presenting.

Why it did not work

These are the things I should fix if I wish to use this activity for future classes.

  1. Students needed more time to have grammar lesson, application, and practice. The best option would be discussing only grammar points that are specifically related to (their) email writing or exploring only parts where the mistakes were found the most. I did give introduction to email writing for 1-2 meetings before starting the activity, but it was not enough.
  2. A student felt (through the class questionnaire) that the activity did not have a ‘clear goal’. This was probably because she did not feel like ‘learning’. I need to check on my method in delivering the aims of the activity.
Some students posing with their works after the first presentation session

Some students posing with their works after the first presentation session

As usual, I am open to any input or suggestion. Or if you want to try applying something like this in your class (or something that is even better!), let me know. Until then, see you in another post. ūüôā


Doehla, Don. (2011, April 21). Using Project-Based Learning to Teach World Languages. Retrieved from http://www.edutopia.org/blog/world-language-project-based-learning-education-curriculum-don-doehla

The day I met iTDi

The faces of¬†iTDi Indonesia, posing at the iTDi Day. From left to right: Ami, Marlene, Indrie, Ika, Nina, Icha, Grace, Neno (that’s me), Desti. Bottom: Chuck, Tujuh, Eric, Arief, Try.

So, here’s the story how I ended up attending¬†iTDi Day¬†in Jakarta on May 18, 2013:

So one night, around 2 weeks before May 18, 2013,¬†Chuck Sandy¬†(yes, that Chuck Sandy), approved my friend request on Facebook and sent me a message, inviting me to come to iTDi Day. I knew about¬†iTDi¬†some time before from a post about their event in a Facebook group for English teachers. Thinking it was just a random message, I simply replied to him, “But it’s in Jakarta, Chuck. Perhaps next time if you have it in Denpasar I’ll go.” Then he mentioned about giving scholarships for the event to some people, including me if I’m interested. The next day I gave my answer to him and I never regretted my decision ever since…

The last time I went to Jakarta was when I had a Jakarta-Bandung trip with a former¬†colleague¬†in 2010. To be honest I’m definitely not a fan of the city – or province, should I say (was born in Jakarta, but raised and have been living in Bali all my life, I see a city like Jakarta is pretty much unbearable), but yeah, one has to know what one’s capital city is like. So I booked the tickets and voila! There I was… iTDi team members who came from out of the city stayed in a nice apartment not far from Soekarno Hatta airport (‘not far’ = as in Jakarta definition). I stayed in Jakarta for 3 days, met some old friends (and new!) and relatives too.

Back to iTDi, at the iTDi Day I learned a lot more about what iTDi is. It stands for¬†International Teacher Development Institute. It’s a global community for English teachers who are keen to improve both their language and teaching skills. How does it work? One of the biggest dreams of iTDi is ‘providing professional development for all teachers that is meaningful, accessible, and affordable’. Hence:¬†itdi.pro. On the website, iTDi provides regular courses (and yes, you get certificates from taking these courses), forums (where you can discuss anything related to English teaching and connect to English teachers all around the world), global webinars, and special courses (again, you’ll get certificates from enrolling).

Like the motto ‘for teachers by teachers‘ suggests, if you’re an English teacher (wherever you are, not just in Indonesia) and you wish to improve your language and teaching skills as well as connect and collaborate with English teachers around the world, then this is the right place for you. Attending iTDi Day gave me the opportunity to meet some of the most passionate English teachers in Indonesia, and not to mention¬†Chuck Sandy¬†and¬†Eric Kane¬†of iTDi. At the iTDi Day I also had the chance to meet bu¬†Itje Chodidjah,¬†whose brilliant and provocative thoughts on education I have always followed online, in person. Surprisingly, not until I met her (after watching some of her videos on YouTube) I realized that she’s from Malang, the home city of my university, Brawijaya University. How strange we are all connected.

I took a few lessons on¬†itdi.pro¬†and I can say they use simple and easy-to-understand language as instructions, and also useful and practical lessons that we teachers can relate to. Last night I attended the iTDi Global Webinar for the first time, ‘Breaking Rules’ with¬†John F. Fanselow. In just 2 hours (and we didn’t realize it was 2 hours already!) I learned a lot about how to break the habits in teaching. One thing I remember was when John said, “Language is a skill.” Many countries (including Indonesia) have mistaken English for a content subject in which the students are asked to memorize vocabulary rather than use it. This is true and I can truly relate to that. Along with the webinar, iTDi also provides courses on ‘Breaking Rules’. To learn more about the webinar and courses, visit¬†iTDi Breaking Rules.

So that’s the story how I met iTDi. Rest assured, my teaching journey will never be the same again.

You can also read about iTDi Day on Icha’s blog:¬†iTDi day Indonesia 2013.

Photo credit: iTDi Indonesia

Menjelaskan pendidikan Indonesia dengan Bloom’s Taxonomy

Para pendidik atau yang pernah kuliah di jurusan pendidikan sudah pasti tidak asing lagi dengan¬†Bloom’s Taxonomy. Di tahun 1956,¬†Dr Benjamin Bloom, seorang psikolog pendidikan, memimpin sekelompok pendidik dalam mengembangkan teori klasifikasi tujuan pembelajaran (classification of learning objectives) yang dikenal dengan Bloom’s Taxonomy. Bloom’s Taxonomy sangat populer digunakan di kelas-kelas hingga saat ini kiranya karena mudah diterapkan. Ini dia penampakan Bloom’s Taxonomy untuk wilayah kognitif yang tersohor itu (versi baru yang direvisi oleh¬†Lorin Anderson):

Bloom’s Taxonomy Versi Baru, direvisi oleh Lorin Anderson

Tujuan Bloom’s Taxonomy sungguh sederhana. Ia membantu pendidik menjawab pertanyaan-pertanyaan ini: Apa tujuan pendidikan? Apa tujuan belajar dan mengajar? Apakah hanya sekadar menghapalkan fakta dan rumus yang ada di buku pelajaran? Atau menciptakan anak-anak didik yang nantinya akan dapat menemukan solusi dari permasalahan yang ada di masyarakatnya, sesuai dengan perkembangan jaman? Bloom’s Taxonomy membantu pendidik untuk merancang kurikulum,¬†lesson plan¬†(RPP), dan ujian sesuai dengan tujuan pembelajaran yang ingin dicapai.

Karena saya seorang guru bahasa Inggris, maka saya akan mencontohkan penerapan Bloom’s Taxonomy dalam pembuatan pertanyaan-pertanyaan ujian (grammar) yang kiranya akan saya gunakan di kelas saya sebagai berikut (contoh di bawah ini tidak baku dan dapat diubah sesuai dengan mata pelajaran dan bahan yang diujikan):

  1. Remembering (mengingat): Hapalkan rumus Simple Past dan Present Perfect Tense.
  2. Understanding (memahami): Jelaskan dengan bahasamu sendiri apa itu Simple Past danPresent Perfect Tense.
  3. Applying (menerapkan): Buatlah contoh kalimat menggunakan Simple Past dan Present Perfect Tense.
  4. Analyzing (menganalisa): Bandingkan Simple Past dan Present Perfect Tense dan penggunaannya, serta cari perbedaannya.
  5. Evaluating (mengevaluasi): Siswa diberikan contoh teks menggunakan Simple Past dan Present Perfect Tense dan diminta untuk memberikan pendapat tentang penggunaan kedua tenses dalam teks tersebut.
  6. Creating (menciptakan): Siswa dihadapkan pada sebuah cerita (dalam L1/ first language/ bahasa ibu) dan diminta untuk membuat teks menggunakan Simple Past dan Present Perfect Tense tentang cerita tersebut, serta menjelaskan alasan mengapa kedua tenses tersebut harus atau tidak harus digunakan.

Jika kita lihat dari nomor 1 hingga 6, begitu juga pada piramida di atas, terdapat hirarki, di mana ‘remember’ (mengingat) mengisi posisi paling bawah dan memiliki bobot pertanyaan paling mudah, dan ‘creating’ (menciptakan) mengisi kedudukan paling atas dan memiliki bobot pertanyaan paling sulit. Tanda panah menunjukkan ‘increasing difficulty’ (meningkatnya kesulitan) dari ranah paling bawah ke paling atas. Dari sini kita bisa menyimpulkan adanya ‘Higher Order Thinking Skills’ di mana siswa diharapkan tidak hanya ‘mengetahui’, tapi juga dapat ‘menciptakan’ sesuatu dari ilmu yang didapatnya.

Higher Order Thinking Skills vs. Lower Order Thinking Skills

Kembali ke pendidikan Indonesia, di tahap manakah dari Bloom’s Taxonomy ini kita sudah banyak bermain? Saya kira semua akan setuju jika saya mengatakan tujuan belajar dan pendidikan adalah agar anak didik dapat menerapkan ilmu yang dia dapat di sekolah (atau di mana pun itu) ke dalam masyarakat (di luar tempat ia mendapatkan pendidikan itu tadi), di mana di situlah fungsi pendidikan yang sebenarnya akan diuji bermanfaat atau tidaknya. Jadi, sudahkah pendidikan Indonesia¬†‘hijrah’ dari ‘Lower Oder Thinking Skills’ ke ‘Higher Order Thinking Skills’?

Saya memang belum pernah mengajar di sekolah, namun pengalaman 12 tahun di SD, SMP, SMA, 5 tahun di perguruan tinggi, pengalaman mengajar murid-murid saya yang masih sekolah, serta fakta masih adanya Ujian Nasional (UN) yang jawabannya berupa pilihan ganda, membuat saya ‘curiga’ jangan-jangan kita memang masih belum beranjak dari ranah ‘remembering’ dan ‘Lower Order ¬†Thinking Skills’ ke tingkatan yang lebih tinggi. Saya masih ingat ketika sekolah dulu pekerjaan saya hampir tiap hari adalah menghapalkan teori dan rumus. Menghapalkan = ‘remembering’. Jangankan mengaplikasikan, memahami saja saya belum tentu bisa. Dan sayangnya, apa yang diingat, itu pula yan diujikan.

Saya tidak tahu apakah tulisan ini akan serta merta mengubah wajah pendidikan di Indonesia, tapi sebagai pembelajar dan pendidik, biarlah ini menjadi refleksi saya akan pendidikan di Indonesia. Kalaupun kita ingin perubahan itu segera datang, mungkin para pendidik yang membaca ini dapat segera mengaplikasikan Bloom’s Taxonomy di kelas masing-masing, sesuai dengan mata pelajaran yang diajarkan. Baca salah satu contoh penerapannya di sini:¬†Applying Bloom’s Taxonomy in Your Classroom.¬†At last,¬†Selamat Hari Pendidikan Nasional. Selamat berkarya, wahai para pendidik.

Update: menurut Index of cognitive skills and education attainment (indeks ketrampilan kognitif dan pencapaian pendidikan) oleh Pearson, dari setidaknya 39 negara di dunia, Indonesia berada di urutan terbawah.

Sumber gambar 1: lionden.com.

Sumber gambar 2: angelamaiers.com.

Apa itu PLN? PLN = Personal/Professional Learning Network

Tulisan ini sengaja ditulis dalam bahasa Indonesia dengan harapan agar dibaca oleh sebanyak-banyaknya guru di Indonesia.

Apa itu PLN? Pertama kali saya mendengar dan membaca kata ini saya pun bertanya-tanya. Mungkin yang belum mengenal betul juga begitu. Bagaimana tidak. Karena di Indonesia ‘PLN’ lebih dikenal sebagai singkatan dari ‘Perusahaan Listrik Negara’. Nah, PLN yang ini tidak ada sangkut-pautnya dengan perusahaan listrik yang satu itu ya. Dalam dunia pendidikan PLN adalah kependekan dari ‘Personal Learning Network‘ atau ‘Professional Learning Network‘.

Mungkin para guru yang membaca tulisan ini sudah melakukannya tapi belum sadar bahwa itu adalah bagian dari PLN (seperti saya beberapa bulan yang lalu). Jadi, inti dari PLN adalah bagaimana guru memanfaatkan teknologi, internet, dan media sosial untuk mengikuti perkembangan dunia pendidikan terkini di dunia dan mendapat pengetahuan dan ketrampilan untuk meningkatkan profesionalisme (professional growth).    

Ada banyak hal yang bisa kita lakukan dengan teknologi, internet, dan media sosial. Pernah tidak suatu waktu kita merasa ada kesulitan dalam mengajar sementara tidak ada seorang pun yang bisa kita tanyakan pendapatnya? Berdasarkan pengalaman saya sendiri, biasanya saya akan browse internet dan mencari solusi akan masalah saya tadi. Hasilnya? Ternyata ada banyak sekali bahan di luar sana dan saya merasa sangat terbantu! Itu lah PLN.

Bagaimana cara membangun PLN? Jika kita sudah terbiasa browsing internet, sudah aktif menggunakan media sosial seperti Facebook, Twitter, dan LinkedIn, maka membangun PLN tidaklah sulit. Silakan tentukan langkah Anda sendiri atau buka tautan ini untuk tips-tips hebat cara memulainya: 50 Great Ways to Grow Your Personal Learning Network. Kalau untuk saya sendiri, ini yang selama ini saya lakukan dengan PLN saya:

  1. Facebook: saya menggunakan akun Facebook untuk berhubungan dengan guru bahasa Inggris, guru, dan pendidik di wilayah saya dan Indonesia. Seperti halnya di Facebook group dan Twitter, di sini saya suka membagi tautan, gambar, dan video yang berhubungan dengan English Language Teaching (ELT).
  2. Facebook Group: September 2012 saya memulai grup Facebook¬†Indonesian English Teachers’ Club, di mana anggotanya adalah guru bahasa Inggris dari seluruh Indonesia. Di grup ini kami biasa mendiskusikan tentang belajar mengajar,¬†event, atau hal-hal lain yang berhubungan dengan bahasa Inggris.
  3. Twitter: saya menggunakan Twitter kebanyakan untuk mem-follow¬†para ahli atau akun Twitter yang memfokuskan pada¬†ELT dan bidang lain yang saya minati seperti¬†educational technology¬†(edtech). Dari sini saya banyak mendapatkan informasi tentang tren dunia pendidikan dunia, terutama yang berhubungan dengan ELT. Saya juga dapat secara aktif berinteraksi dengan para guru bahasa Inggris lain, di dalam dan luar negeri. Salah satu ‘forum’ diskusi di Twitter yang paling populer adalah¬†#ELTChat¬†yang diadakan tiap Rabu yang diorganisasikan oleh¬†eltchat.org. Guru bahasa Inggris dari seluruh dunia bisa berpartisipasi di sini.
  4. Blog: dibuatnya blog¬†Ms Neno’s Blog¬†ini awalnya adalah untuk media saya merefleksikan kegiatan belajar mengajar yang saya lakukan. Tetapi mulai bulan April ini, saya berusaha untuk terus aktif¬†ngeblog, terutama setelah memahami lebih dalam apa itu PLN dan bagaimana ia bisa membantu meningkatkan profesionalisme saya. Fokus saya adalah membuat refleksi, berbagi pengalaman, teknik dan metode mengajar, serta hal-hal lain.
  5. LinkedIn: akun LinkedIn saya saya dedikasikan untuk membuat network dengan para profesional di bidang pendidikan, pengajaran bahasa Inggris, maupun di luar kedua itu. Walaupun bukan pengguna aktif, saya juga bergabung dengan beberapa grup yang berhubungan dengan ELT dan ada banyak diskusi menarik dan penting yang terjadi di sana.
  6. Paper.li: saya lupa kapan saya membuat akun Paper.li tapi terbukti ‘harian’¬†English Teaching and Learning Daily¬†yang saya buat telah membantu guru maupun murid yang juga¬†follower¬†saya karena seringkali mendapatkan¬†retweet¬†dan¬†favorite. Paper.li adalah salah satu cara terbaik untuk mengkurasi (curating) konten yang berhubungan dengan belajar mengajar bahasa Inggris. Konten bisa kita atur sesuai dengan pembaca yang ingin kita tuju – untuk harian saya, saya membuatnya untuk guru dan murid bahasa Inggris.
  7. Google Chrome¬†Bookmark. Kenapa saya pakai Google Chrome untuk mem-bookmark¬†laman-laman yang saya baca? Seharusnya saya tidak menggunakannya karena dengan begitu saya tidak bisa membaginya dengan orang lain. Saat ini saya masih dalam tahap belajar menggunakan¬†Diigo. Di Diigo, laman-laman yang kita bookmark bisa dilihat oleh orang lain, dalam hal ini sesama guru yang mungkin mendalami bidang yang sama dengan kita.¬†So…¬†Wish me luck¬†untuk yang satu ini…

Selain di atas, pembaca bisa menentukan mau menggunakan website atau media sosial pilihan Anda sendiri lo… Gambar di bawah ini cukup menjelaskan bagaimana media sosial digunakan dalam PLN:

Gambaran cara memanfaatkan media sosial sebagai PLN

Atau… Bisa juga nih tonton video keren yang satu ini, tentang bagaimana PLN itu penting bagi para pendidik, sehubungan dengan bagaimana di jaman informasi dan teknologi saat ini penguasaan teknologi telah menjadi syarat wajib dan utama menjadi seorang guru yang baik:¬†You can’t be my teacher. Kutipan paling mengena ada di akhir video:

“Do you really think it is possible to be an educator in the information age and not understand and use the internet? Continue to pretend, maybe the internet is just a fad.”(Apakah Anda benar-benar berpikir adalah mungkin menjadi seorang pendidik di era informasi dan tidak memahami dan menggunakan internet? Terus saja berpura-pura, mungkin internet hanya sekadar demam sementara saja.)

Bagaimana? Mudah kan membuat PLN? Mulai dari sekarang yuk! Untuk membaca lebih banyak tentang PLN, kunjungi laman ini:¬†Teacher’s Guide on Creating Personal Learning Networks.

Tulisan ini juga bisa dibaca di Guraru.org dan Kompasiana.com.

Image credit: educatorstechnology.com.

Using text message (sms) as homework assignment in an ESP class

Maximizing potential with minimum resource.

Around two months ago I had my first meeting for an English for Specific Purpose (ESP) class that was specifically made for cashiers and shop attendants at a supermarket in Kuta, Badung. This surely wasn’t my first ESP class. That’s why I was partly worried that I would make the same mistake I did before with my other classes. I’ve been teaching English for the past five years and ESP has been one of the most frequent types of class I teach. Before deciding in using text message as homework assignment, I’d like to share my initial thoughts on previous mistakes I made:

My ESP students are of course mostly adults with very little (if not zero) exposure to English. Part of the problem why employers send them to an English class is because of this lack of¬†exposure, but at the same time being enrolled in the class does not solve the problem. Why? Because they are engaged with English ONLY when they are in the classroom, in which only three times a week, 90 minutes for each meeting ‚Äď that, if they‚Äôre lucky. Most of the time they prefer working than being in my English class thus making it to the 90 minutes a week can be considered an achievement.

Since I’m a believer (not Belieber, mind you) in the notion that language is acquired, not learned, then if I continued this practice (to have students only learn while they are in the classroom) I would contradict my own belief. I thought I had to find a way where students can at least be aware that unless they take control over their own learning and be actively involved in it, they can achieve the expected outcome. Thus: homework, something that reminds them of the English class they are taking, at home. However, the problem with traditional homework is that oftentimes it is boring and time consuming.

My original plan was: to ‚Äėmove‚Äô the class to social media such as Facebook and Twitter. Apparently, after a very short survey, I found out that none of them were active users of both (only one is familiar with Facebook, but not an active user). It was my failure to realize that students‚Äô social and economic background also plays an important role to this condition. Having this fact, I quickly figured out an alternative:¬†text message, since all of them have mobile phones (these days no doubt it is more like a necessity than luxury).

So here’s how I did my text message homework assignment, the good, the bad, and the ugly:

Skills practiced through the assignment:

  1. Writing,
  2. Spelling and grammar/ accuracy,
  3. Vocabulary,
  4. Familiarity with common English expressions.

When it was done:

The homework was given on the second meeting (on Friday), coinciding with the beginning of the end of the week. I thought this would be a good reminder of the English class, at home, during the weekend. Students were free to choose to send the text message either on Saturday or Sunday. The task was checked and discussed in the next meeting, at the beginning of the next week (on Monday).

What the students were asked to do:

They were asked to send a simple text message to me (their teacher), saying ‚Äúselamat berakhir pekan‚ÄĚ (weekend greetings). I did not elicit how to say it in English nor what should they say. I only wrote the Indonesian phrase above on the board. My purpose was to let them initiate their own thoughts. They were free, tho, to ask their friends, relatives, or anyone, or find help in books or on the internet.

What the results were:

Out of total 11 students, 10 did their homework: 7 sent it to me on Saturday, 3 on Sunday. Here are the texts (with no editing):

  1. ‚Äúhappy lastweek mrs mino‚Ķ. from ngurah‚ÄĚ
  2. ‚ÄúGood Afternoon, Miss NENO. Happy last weekend for today. From KADEK SRI PURNAMA‚ÄĚ
  3. ‚Äúgood afternoon ms. neno,,, it‚Äôs my homework, happy weekend ms. neno. thank‚Äôs before. from: sriwasih‚ÄĚ
  4. ‚ÄúHappy weekend‚ÄĚ [Mrs. Budani]
  5. ‚ÄúHai,, good evening mrs neno, happy weekend,have a nice holiday for tomorrow.. thanks for teach me, you^re awesome, thanks so much, yulia purnamasari‚ÄĚ
  6. ‚ÄúHave a nice weekend,to mrs neno,from suli.See you‚ÄĚ
  7. ¬†‚ÄĚShe you weken ms.Neno‚ÄĚ [Tri]
  8. ‚Äúhappy weekend miss neno.‚ÄĚ [Erna]
  9. ‚ÄúMorning miss neno. . . Happy niCe weekend. . .‚ÄĚ [Selvi]
  10. ‚Äúgood morning Ms NENO,this nengah adi,have a nice weekend‚ÄĚ

What I did in the next meeting:

The text message assignment was a good instrument to introduce them to these topics:

  1. Greetings,
  2. Titles and how to address people,
  3. How to actually say ‚Äúselamat berakhir pekan‚ÄĚ in English and other related expressions,
  4. Farewell,
  5. The correct spelling and pronunciation of all the above.

These five were the main topics, but I also touched a little on capitalization and punctuation (but didn’t over-emphasize them, since I realized their focus was more on the communicative function of the language). All the above points are useful for their everyday speaking practice at work, with both customers and coworkers. Teaching materials they can relate to is important in an ESP and/ or adult class. Please note that during the discussion of their homework, I wasn’t being judgmental in any way in order to show them they were allowed to make mistakes and obliged to learn from them.

What I learned from this activity:

This is definitely one of my favorite activities that I will continue using and modifying for my future classes. Like any other class activity, it has some advantages and disadvantages. I will start with the disadvantages.

The shortfalls:

  1. Skills practiced were limited to only writing and grammar,
  2. Text message character limit (up to only 160 characters) limited students to do longer task,
  3. Teachers should have lots of ideas for topic (repetition can lead to boredom).

The positive sides:

  1. It was a good tool to measure students’ basic knowledge,
  2. The task could fill the gap between the class and their everyday life ‚Äď that learning does not take place only in the classroom,
  3. It was a good way to introduce topics that were presented in the next meeting,
  4. The task was time efficient, considerably cheap, and fun.

I could say that this assignment was a part of my experiment in making my class more engaging and effective. I would be very happy to receive any comment or input on any aspect of this experiment from you. Thank you and I hope you can find it useful.

Photo credit: mobighar.com.

Teachers, learn from your mistakes

Leaders lead by example, and so do teachers. We teach by example. How many times do we tell our students not to be afraid of making mistakes? Then we should do that too to ourselves. During my first year of teaching my aim was simple: to gain as much teaching experience as I can, and I did. Second year it only got better. Third year I was much more confident to the point that I was so sure my techniques and methodes were the best and most efficient that I turned a blind eye to my own shortfall.

Fourth year, as class size and program design might no more be an issue, I felt something was missing. My teaching practices had grown¬†monotonous¬†as I started to overlook quality over quantity (thinking number of students was what mattered the most). Students became less motivated and English classes were considered to be nothing more than a mere obligation from their company (I teach mostly ESP). By that time, I thought, “I have to do something. I need to change.”

Learning from mistakes means we can identify which practice works the least and which works the best – for us and our students. One practice can be successful in one class, but fail in the other. It is only by more experience and teaching hours that we can raise our self-awareness in this area. Learning from mistakes also helps us with our professional development and makes us a better teacher. These 3 are what I learned the most about my mistakes in the past:

1) Beware of becoming an accuracy freak.

A teacher should be aware as when to become a control freak grammar Nazi and an English teacher. If you are asked to edit an English textbook, you might have to be strict with grammar rules as they are important. However, if you are teaching a class of elementary leveled students, I don’t think that’s the case. I used to be strict with grammar, but as I went on, I came to realize that¬†fear of making mistakes¬†is one of the main reasons that hinders students’ progress.

Mistakes are part of learning. Mistakes should be considered a sign of breakthrough instead of setback. In the past 2 months I have been applying the ‘no correction, no judgement on students’ mistakes’ policy in an ESP class I’m teaching. The outcome is tremendous. Students’ participation, confidence, and self-correction increases. No more shyness and passivity. Changing how I give corrections that keeps them comfortable also builds trust. Students no longer feel patronized.

Mistakes should be considered as a sign of breakthrough, not setback.

2) Always adjust to your students’ speed.

One day I was drilling my 12 year old private tutoring student with exam questions (as the summative test was near), when she whined that she didn’t want to do that, but other things instead. Pulling out game cards I brought with me, she refused doing any game as well. Thinking that my way was the only way, I was frustrated and talked to her mother, expressing my concern. I even mistakenly considered her as¬†in-compliant, but a few meetings afterwards opened my eyes. I was wrong.

It was me as a teacher who failed to understand that as a student she has her own learning speed and preference that she feels comfortable with, and has the right to comply to them. I found that she prefers one-on-one discussion in English to being forced to answer test questions, and apparently this is the best way she learns English. Now she gains much more confidence and is better to¬†cooperate¬†with since I follow her way instead of me imposing mine. And yes, she’s a very chatty 12-year-old!

3) Learning pace is not always linear.

As a first or second year teacher, have you ever been in a situation when you get to a new class then panic on what to teach them and how? Then you turn to ‘holy’ textbooks that you think will save you from all the fuss and worry? I used textbooks all the time (I even worshipped them at some point!), but here’s the thing about them: if you go through the chapters, sub-chapters, and pages one by one according to their original order, the class will lose its dynamics. It becomes dull.

Learning pace does not have to be linear. We can modify and adjust it based on our needs, as long as it makes up the syllabus. Using a textbook is commendable, but how we use it makes all the difference. I usually go from one topic to another, jump from one page to another, as long as I make good connection and flow. Instead of following a strict order, I pace the materials based on class situation. I also choose to use mixed materials than a single book. Keeping the class dynamic is the key.

One reason why I enjoy being a teacher is because I am also an avid learner. This means that inevitably,¬†I am (and will always be) in the process of learning to become a better teacher. What I do today might not be as¬†efficient¬†in the future. I believe as long as we have the willingness to learn, we will continue to grow. Isn’t this the exact same thing we expect from our students? How about you? What have you learned so far from your own mistakes? Share them with me! ūüôā

NELTAL 2013: Workshop on Authentic Materials

Exploiting Authentic Materials as Alternatives to Textbooks

By F. Johansyah

Since the theme of this year‚Äôs NELTAL was ‚ÄėMaterials and Media in English Language Teaching‚Äô, the use of ICT in classrooms and authentic materials were probably the two most popular topics to be delivered in presentations. During the 10.35 ‚Äď 11.35 session (the parallel workshop session) I attended pak Johan‚Äôs workshop on ‚ÄėExploiting Authentic Materials as Alternatives to Textbooks‚Äô. It was really useful and interesting. The basic concept is actually simple and that is why I believe the knowledge and skill given in the workshop can be applied by all English teachers despite their teaching concentration, students‚Äô ages, and needs. The only thing I regretted was the time limit. I did not think an hour was enough for such a stimulating workshop.

Even 311 know better. If teachers were entertainers, they had got to come original.

The idea of the workshop as written in pak Johan‚Äôs abstract was to ‚Äúgive ideas for teachers to use some authentic materials to suit students‚Äô need and to design really engaging and communicative activities for students to practice their language skills in real situations.‚ÄĚ One aspect that he pointed out was how textbooks sometimes fail to provide materials that match students‚Äô needs and class situations. As he put it, (the lessons then can become) ‚Äúhighly superficial‚ÄĚ. This is due to the generic nature of textbooks, in which the writer made the books based on only one basic assumption or point of view (of his or hers) of what is important and interesting. This is true and I agree with the notion. During my early years of teaching I used textbooks most of the time, but as I gained experience I see how they can be irrelevant and outdated.

The focus of this workshop was the use of photograph as the source for authentic materials. Although I believe we can use many kinds of media, such as text, recording, video, etc. to do so (again, the time constraint…). In deciding what to do with the media we need to decide the activity that we are going to do. In presenting a model activity, pak Johan showed us a sample photo (slide 5) and began scaffolding the floating ideas with these questions (slide 6):

  1. What photo is it?
  2. Where/ when was it?
  3. Are you in the photo?
  4. If not, where were you?

Voila! An activity was finally created. Participants (or ‚Äėstudents‚Äô) were then asked to ask these questions to a partner (someone sitting next to them). This simple speaking practice was then followed by another speaking activity with different instruction (slide 7). In creating your own activity using a photograph (an emphasis was on the originality of the photo ‚Äď you can even use your own, or ask students to bring theirs), according to pak Johan, one must follow these criteria:

  1. General interest of the topic
  2. Grammar and vocabulary practiced
  3. Skills practiced
  4. Potential for task

Let me show you how it is done… My team (consisting of a lecturer from State University of Malang (UM), an English teacher from an agricultural vocational school in Jember, and myself) had to create an activity using the photograph below (slide 21):

Authentic photograph.

After some discussions, we finally came up with these findings:

1 General interest of the topic 1. Transaction at the plant market2. Describing plants/ flowers3. Instructions on how to take care of plants/ flowers
2 Grammar and vocabulary practiced 1. Vocabulary related to transaction2. Questions and answers3. Money, numbers, currency4. Types of plant/ flower5. Adjectives describing plants/ flowers’ physical characteristics

6. Prepositions

7. Comparative

8. Verbs/ imperatives for instructions

3 Skills practiced 1. Speaking2. Listening
4 Potential for task 1. Students are asked to create stories about what might have happened at the moment before the photograph and what might happen after (speaking/ listening)2. Students are asked to bring plants to be described/ presented in front of the class in the next meeting (speaking/ listening)3. Students are asked to write a composition about the photo and swap the writing with other students to be reviewed/ commented (writing/ reading)

It seems that there are an endless possibility in answering the 4 criteria above. I believe by the time you are reading this, you must have come up with your own ideas on what to do with the photograph above (I believe all teachers are creative!).

What I learned from this workshop is that how simple it is to actually use authentic materials in classrooms. I used to rely on photos, cards, recordings, and videos that I got from other sources, say for an example downloaded from the internet. Meanwhile authentic means you can use your own collection of photos, videos, etc. In the era where people collect memories wherever they go (with camera, smartphone, etc.) it is more likely that more teachers will use more authentic materials in their teaching practices.

Besides easy to find, authentic materials can also help teachers increase students’ retention. Imagine you give students a photo that does not connect to them in any way. I am sure they will find difficulties in remembering what being given. Then compare it to when you give a photograph of their friend, school, town, or maybe teacher. Same thing happened with the sample photo pak Johan showed us (slide 5). It was taken at the lobby of the hall the conference was held during the morning coffee break. The workshop’s participants were quite familiar with the photo and found it amusing.

Authentic materials help increase students’ retention, especially in adult learners.¬†

Since I mostly teach English for Specific Purposes (ESP), now I have better understanding on how to prepare my classes. No more confusion on finding the right materials. Use authentic materials! ūüėÄ

Here is the full presentation of pak Johan.

By Retno Sofyaniek (Neno)

Ms Neno has been an English teacher for 5 years and is currently teaching in Denpasar, Bali, for an English in-house training and tutoring provider she founded two years ago. She mostly teaches adults Hospitality English and English for Specific Purposes (ESP). Her love of sharing knowledge made her found¬†@EnglishTips4U, a Twitter based English learning portal that is popular among young Indonesians. In seeing the need for English teachers to connect and collaborate, she founded¬†Indonesian English Teachers‚Äô Club¬†on Facebook last year. She can be contacted at¬†retnosofyaniek@yahoo.com. Visit her blog:¬†Ms Neno’s Blog.

Photo credits:

1. SoundStageDirect.com.

2. Pak Johan’s collection.

3. Ms Neno’s collection.

Kitty, the comics

Kitty, by Ivani, 10 years old.

Ah, saya suka banget komik, buku komik, dan semua yang berhubungan dengan komik! Jadi siapa yang tak bahagia jika suatu saat dibuatkan komik oleh seseorang? Seperti komik tentang kucing bernama Kitty yang satu ini, dan dua di bawah. Siapa Kitty, dan siapa Ivani, Vicko, dan Adinda?

Ivani, Vicko, dan Adinda adalah tiga bersaudara yang juga murid-murid saya. Saat ini mereka bersekolah di sebuah SD swasta di Denpasar. Tiga kata untuk mendeskripsikan mereka: lucu, cerdas, kreatif. Suatu hari saya punya¬†mood¬†untuk membacakan mereka cerita, maka ketika ke rumah mereka saya membawa buku cerita bilingual bergambar “Eating with A Friend” karya I Made Dompo dan Maggie Dunkle, yang isinya tentang kisah seekor anjing dan temannya. Mungkin di tulisan yang lain saya akan memberikan informasi lebih lanjut mengenai buku ini.

Setelah selesai bercerita, karena mereka suka sekali menggambar, tidak sulit untuk meminta mereka membuat cerita versi mereka sendiri tentang hewan dalam bentuk komik, tentu dengan bahasa Inggris, karena mereka ada di kelas¬†tutoring¬†bahasa Inggris. Kebetulan mereka punya seekor kucing yang mereka namai Kitty. Akhirnya menggambar dan mengarang lah mereka selama 30 -45 menit. Tak saya kira komik-komik mereka hasilnya bagus, lucu, dan orisinil. Semoga pembaca juga suka seperti saya menikmatinya. Selamat membaca! ūüôā

Kitty, by Vicko, 8 years old.
Kitty, by Adinda, 7 years old.


Mengapa mengajar itu menyenangkan

I love teaching!! (Neno, October 2012)

Seumur hidup, saya tidak pernah punya aspirasi menjadi guru. Sewaktu saya kecil (dan mungkin sepanjang waktu saya dibesarkan hingga sebelum kuliah), menurut saya, kata ‘guru’ selalu identik dengan Pegawai Negeri Sipil (PNS) dan guru sekolah yang sering saya temui waktu itu. Saya memang termasuk jenis orang yang unggul secara akademis, tapi saya tidak pernah bisa ‘bersahabat baik’ dengan institusi yang namanya sekolah. Saya menganggap sekolah itu membosankan, penuh dengan kegiatan belajar mengajar yang itu-itu saja. Well, mungkin itu yang akhirnya membuat saya ‘terdampar’ di tempat saya sekarang, penyedia pelatihan dan bimbingan bahasa Inggris yang saya kelola sendiri.¬†

Sewaktu kuliah saya beraspirasi menjadi jurnalis. Salah satu profesi yang waktu itu saya anggap heroik. Sejak duduk di bangku Sekolah Menengah Pertama (SMP), saya mengikuti kegiatan ekstrakulikuler jurnalistik, hingga kuliah. Sekarang, setelah berpikir ulang, saya menyadari ternyata ada satu kualitas yang harusnya ada dalam diri seorang jurnalis (menurut saya lo ya,¬†this is my personal opinion) yang tidak saya miliki: saya tidak bisa hidup dengan intrik dan pola pikir yang terlalu ‘berat’, yang menurut saya adalah makanan sehari-hari seorang jurnalis. Maka ketika saya pertama kali mengajar, saya merasa, “Wah, tak disangka pekerjaan ini asyik ya.” Saya bisa melakukan hal-hal yang saya sukai (saya suka sekali belajar), berbagi ilmu (yang juga saya suka) kepada orang yang membutuhkan.

Dengan pengalaman empat tahun mengajar (saya tahu ini belum seberapa jika dibandingkan dengan guru-guru senior lainnya), inilah beberapa alasan mengapa saya suka sekali mengajar dan akan terus melanjutkan profesi ini.

1) Mengajar itu wajib untuk orang yang suka belajar. Saya suka sekali belajar dan menemukan pengetahuan baru. Saya juga tidak mudah puas dengan apa yang saya tahu atau ketika saya ingin mengetahui tentang suatu hal. Saya juga lebih suka memperdalam satu ilmu secara spesifik ketimbang mengetahui banyak hal tapi hanya sedikit saja. Tentu jika saya ‘memiliki’ ilmu, tidak mungkin saya menyimpannya sendiri.

2) Bagi saya mengajar itu mudah. Tentu ini karena saya memiliki bekal ilmu tadi (dan pengalaman). Banyak guru baru yang mungkin baru terjun mengajar tidak memiliki kepercayaan diri yang cukup karena bisa saja ilmu atau pengalamannya kurang. Pada awal saya mulai mengajar, saya pun kurang dalam hal pengalaman. Tapi seiring dengan waktu, mengajar menjadi lebih mudah.

3) Saya adalah tipe orang yang lebih suka bekerja secara dinamis. Maksudnya, saya tidak bisa bekerja selama, misal, 8 jam sehari di depan komputer saja tanpa adanya interaksi dengan orang lain. Mengajar memungkinkan saya untuk bertemu orang yang berbeda, dan situasi dalam kelas pun dijamin tidak akan sama di tiap pertemuannya.

4) Mengajar memungkinkan saya untuk berbagi. Untuk urusan ilmu, saya bukan tipe orang yang pelit (untuk apa juga ya? Hehe…). Saya suka membagikan hal-hal yang saya ketahui kepada orang lain yang memerlukannya. Ini juga yang sedikit banyak melatarbelakangi saya untuk membuat akun¬†@EnglishTips4U¬†di Twitter.

5) Dengan mengajar saya bisa banyak belajar dari orang lain. Tentang pengalaman, pekerjaan, dan terutama sekali kehidupan mereka. Saya suka sekali mendengarkan cerita orang lain, terutama dari yang berlatar belakang berbeda dengan saya. Mengenal murid-murid saya berarti mengenal individu-individu baru beserta keunikan mereka masing-masing.

6) Mengajar membuat saya selalu berpikir positif. Saya yakin menjadi guru adalah salah satu profesi di dunia yang membutuhkan banyak kesabaran, pikiran positif, dan semangat. Dengan mengajar saya jadi tidak mudah curiga atau menghakimi orang lain. Kenapa? Karena saya butuh murid-murid saya untuk berpikir positif kalau mereka bisa mencapai apa yang mereka inginkan. Jika saya tidak bisa demikian, bagaimana saya bisa mengajak mereka untuk begitu?

7) Mengajar itu menstimulasi ide-ide kreatif. Seperti yang sudah saya tulis, saya bukan penggemar metode mengajar yang kuno dan monoton. Saya suka membuat sendiri cara dan kegiatan belajar mengajar yang menurut saya fun dan disukai murid-murid. Mungkin caranya tidak biasa, tapi tujuannya sama. Kreativitas dan improvisasi yang membuat seorang guru survive selama pelajaran.

8 ) Satu hal yang tak kalah pentingnya yang membuat saya enjoy mengajar adalah pola pikir bahwa menjadi guru tidak harus di sekolah (atau menjadi PNS). Mengajar privat, di lembaga kursus, atau tempat-tempat lainnya tidak akan mengurangi hikmah dan makna kita sebagai seorang guru.

9) Last but not least, mengajar bisa membawa saya ke dunia yang sama sekali baru. Ketika saya mengajar, saya tidak pernah menganggap kegiatan ini sebagai pekerjaan (aneh ya?). Saya selalu menganggap mengajar is a fun thing to do. You can even sometimes put your best mask and be that perfect teacher you want to be. Adakah di antara pembaca yang juga guru merasakan hal yang sama?

Well, mungkin tidak semua guru menikmati profesinya dengan alasan yang sama dengan saya. Bagaimana dengan Anda?