Meeting Students’ Needs through Small Changes

Marisa PavanMeeting Students’ Needs through Small Changes

by Marisa Pavan.


The theme for this blog issue, “Small Changes, Big Results,” based on John Fanselow’s new book, has made me reflect on my teaching practice this year starting in March and the small changes I’ve made so far.

Mr Fanselow states in his book, As you and your students explore distinctive activities, you will realize that as helpful as what others tell us is, we each have to discover new ways and worlds on our own.” In order to boost my teenage students’ skills, I’ve included some adjustments suited to their needs.

There are opinions for and against the use of textbooks and in my case there is no choice but use them. I do my best to adapt the tasks presented in the textbooks we have for my students to really benefit from them.

One of the little changes I’ve introduced is intended for my students to improve reading skills. After reading and analysing a text from the book and making sure my students understand all the new vocabulary, I assign the paragraphs forming parts of it to each pair of students for them to read silently for some minutes; then they close their books and share what they remember with the whole class. When I introduced the task, my students seemed to enjoy it and felt confident because they were supposed to say anything they were able to remember and do so in pairs. In this way, the introverted ones did not feel exposed.

Another task I’ve been using to help my students practise vocabulary is dictogloss, with a small change. First I select a short text that includes recently studied vocabulary, just ten or twelve sentences. I explain the task to my students for them to know what it is they are supposed to do: while I read the text with my natural speed, in a loud voice for the whole group to hear, they should take down notes of the most important words. I explain to them that it is not a dictation and suggest writing mainly nouns and verbs, one next to the other. I tell my students they should not try to write whole sentences because they would run the risk of missing some information. Then I read the text for a second time and tell my students to include missing words in their notes. Finally, they are supposed to write their version of the short text I read using their notes and anything that would be missing. The small change I’ve introduced is the opportunity for my students to re-write the text in pairs (instead of doing so individually), which gives them confidence to write the text and at the same time provides a great opportunity to foster interaction and negotiation skills. To correct the text, sometimes I ask them to read it in a loud voice or I tell them to exchange their versions among pairs and a different pair should make comments on their peers’ text.

Usually, textbooks include articles with reading comprehension questions to check that students understand it. The small change I’ve introduced at this stage involves students underlining the answers to those questions in the text and sharing the replies orally. Apart from integrating reading and speaking skills, students need to rephrase those answers, which contributes to developing their fluency in a natural way.

Comparing teenagers in the past and those I’m teaching at present, I’ve found that some years ago, when my students received corrected vocabulary and grammar tasks, they immediately checked the mistakes they had made and investigated the lexical items or the grammar topics in a book and dictionary so as to improve themselves. On the other hand, my teenager students now receive the corrected tasks, have a quick look at the mistakes, and put the sheet in their folders without further consideration. Given this situation, I decided to introduce a small change when returning my students corrected assignments. Apart from pinpointing the error, I assign each student a task based on their mistakes. They are supposed to find out a certain grammar topic or to look up a certain word in the dictionary, analyse it, and then hand in examples containing their findings. In this way, I help them do the self-correction they need in order to improve themselves.

All in all, I’m convinced that a teacher needs common sense to discover their students’ needs and meet them in a way that contributes to their learning process.

An inspirational PLNer

Marisa Pavanby Marisa Pavan

When I joined Twitter in 2009 I was lucky enough to come across Shelly Sanchez Terrell and to find out about her blog “Teacher Reboot Camp.” As I read her posts about motivating students through the use of technology in the classroom, I remember feeling excited about the possibility of introducing these innovations into my own teaching practice. Almost as soon as we started interacting through Twitter and through comments I made in her posts, Shelly encouraged me to develop my Personal Learning Network (PLN) online so as to grow professionally and improve my teaching practice. Twitter was my first social network, and meeting educators there was like opening a window on the world. I was part of an endless exchange of teaching experiences and opportunities all which could help me update my teaching practice. But it was the initial interactions with Shelly that gave me the confidence I needed to reach out and interact with other educators.

Probably the first thing I really learned from Shelly was the importance of leaving my comfort zone. I remember when Shelly invited me to write a guest post on her blog. It was shortly after we started interacting through Twitter. I felt really excited and honoured to have received the invitation. Shelly gave me the freedom to write anything I wanted to about edtech and my experiences. She also offered me all the help I needed to write my post. I did not have much experience at the time but I felt confident enough to give it a try. After about four hours, I finally finished my first post To Use Edtech or Not: That is the Question In the post, I describe how technology was rarely used at the time in classrooms in my country and how interacting with my PLNers helped me learn how to bring tech tools into my classroom. As I received lots of really positive comments on this post, I felt inspired to start my own blog: Linguistic Consultancy. I thought it would allow me to share my experiences and reflect on ways to improve myself as a teacher. From my first post on helping my students devise language learning goals, to posts on the skills and attitudes we need to help students develop through the learning-teaching process, I’ve come to see how I can use the lessons of personal growth that Shelly shared with me to also help my students grow as independent learners.

And it was from positive feedback from Shelly and my growing PLN that eventually led me to using Facebook as a tool for professional development, a tool which has proved even more helpful to widen my PLN and increase my level of interaction with a global network of educators. I’ve been in touch with educators from Switzerland, Japan, Brazil, Greece, Italy, the UK, and Turkey among others. I still remember when Cecilia Lemos from Brazil first introduced me to the use of word clouds, a tool I still use in my classes. The fact that she encouraged the readers of her blog post on the topic to not only read about word clouds, but to actually join in a blog challenge and use the tool themselves, helped me see how blog posts could be interactive and about creating a sense of conversation and community.

One of the most surprising things has been how reaching out to teachers in other parts of the world eventually brought me closer to the teachers at my own school. I started to share what I learned through my PLN with my colleagues and they have also brought technology into their classrooms. The first tool I shared with them was PBworks. I created a wiki for the school staff, which the other teachers and the director of the school have found helpful to share material and to communicate. And even though we are in the same building, we’ve begun, after some initial reluctance, to use Facebook as another means of communicating with each other. I’ve worked at the same school for 26 years, but once we started communicating online as well as offline we’ve been having a more fluent exchange of ideas. My colleagues and I can ask each other questions anytime, regardless of our class schedule, and I’m always ready to offer my help on anything they might need.

But even with my expanded PLN, and the growing sense of community at my school,

I still look to Shelly for inspiration and a leading hand. In March of 2014 I attended Shelly’s iTDi course and I learnt how to further my use of technology in my teaching practice. I walked away from the course with the ability to share videos, reading passages, and dictionary links in my classroom. The more I grow, the more I realise that for me, Shelly Sanchez embodies the very spirit of mentoring and support. She has amazing leadership skills and I feel blessed have her at centre of my PLN. I have never met Shelly in person, but I’d love to be able to meet her one day. Until I do, I will try to do my best to foster the same kind of support and ability to grow and change that Shelly helped provide for me.

I am iTDi

The Crux of the Process

Marisa Pavanby Marisa Pavan

If you ask me what the crux of the teaching-learning process is, I’d reply it is listening to your students. What can you learn from doing so? Well, you can get to know about your students’ favourite books, films, sports, music and profit from the information you gather. The advantage would be that if the data appear in the tasks used to help students develop the necessary strategies to learn the language, it can be highly motivating and students feel encouraged to participate. In addition, if students feel at ease and respected—and provided they believe they can trust you as a reliable adult—they will express their views in different ways. They will clearly voice their opinion when analyzing a story, an article, or a song, among other discussion stimuli.

On this occasion, to learn about my students’ opinions and expectations about teachers, I shared a survey with the different groups I teach. A total of 34 students, whose ages range from 13 to 17 years old, belonging to three intermediate to upper intermediate classes, were invited to participate in the survey.

This survey was divided into three parts:

  1. In the first part, I asked students what they expect from a teacher and I offered a list of options such as ‘motivation to study the subject,’ ‘challenging content and assignments’, ‘attention to students’ needs’, ‘belief that students can succeed’, ‘letting students ask the questions’, and ‘asking questions about students’ ’
  2. In the second part, I asked students to express what advice they have for people currently teaching.
  3. In the third part, I asked students to choose qualities that they felt were essential for being a good teacher.

On analyzing the results obtained in the first part of the survey, I found that 75% of the students expect teachers to help provide ‘motivation to study the subject.’ Keeping this in mind as I plan for lessons encourages me to look for material and tasks that I know will suit my students’ interests and tastes. I am convinced that in this way, students feel like they are an integral part of the learning process. And I find proof of this is their willingness to participate in certain tasks. For example, most of the students in one of the groups I teach are fond of films. I recently came across a video in which celebrities shared the first film that made them cry. I uploaded that video into the Google+ Community I share with my students, and wrote a post about the first film that I remembered having made me cry. I also encouraged the students to share as well. Before they had even stepped into a classroom, my students had been motivated to work on their: listening skills through watching a video; reading skills by reading my post; and writing skills by sharing with the rest of the class. One student also felt comfortable enough to share the sad part of a cartoon that had made him cry. And because these interactions all took place in the world of SNS, outside of the confines of the classroom, my students were encouraged to become independent learners. It is probably no surprise that in addition to wanting help getting motivated to learn, many of my students also expect teachers to ‘offer challenging content and assignments.” Without enough of a challenge, motivation can often disappear in a pool of boredom. I try, and will continue to try, to provide my students with interesting content and challenging assignments.

When it came time for my students to offer advice for teachers, they asked us to be, ‘understanding if a student couldn’t do the homework.’ It is a reminded that our students lead busy lives. Up until now, I have tried to keep this in mind by being willing to negotiate deadlines to hand in homework as well as scheduling test dates with my students. I don’t want them to fail just because they feel overly pressured due to lack of time to prepare.

When it came to my students opinions about what ‘makes a good teacher,’ they most often sited the characteristic of ‘coming to class each day in a good mood, and feeling excited and enthusiastic about doing their job.’ I think that teaching is often times like acting. Teachers sometimes need to play a role in the classroom in the same way as actors/actresses do on stage. We have to forget about our private lives, find a way to ignore our personal problems and issues while doing our jobs. Perhaps this ties in with the fact that my students also believe that ‘being inspirational’ is another key trait of good teachers. And this is not only of benefit to our students, but to our own satisfaction as well. Inspiring our students to learn, to dream, to follow their passions is one of the highest rewards of teaching.

As a final option, students were given space to add any other ideas or thoughts they had on what makes a good teacher. One student wrote, ‘EVOLVING.’ I take this to mean that teachers need to be flexible, to change and update their teaching, to always strive to continue to develop. I feel that is exactly right. When I take the time to listen to my students, I am reminded of why I became a teacher in the first place. I chose teaching because it is a profession in which, while looking for tools to help my students to grow, I can also find room to grow as well as I take part in the process.

Choices and Challenges in ELT – Marisa

Challenges and Solutions 
Marisa Pavan

Marisa Pavan
“Action is the response to challenge, and the response is from the background of culture, social influences and tradition, so it is always old. Challenge is always new, otherwise you wouldn’t call it challenge. Unless response is adequate to challenge there must be conflict  –  Jiddu Krishnamurti

I find that definition is insightful, since in ESL classes there are always new issues to be faced, which are as unique as each student forming part of that class is, and as teachers we should make use of our expertise to address those issues so that our students feel motivated to learn and develop their skills.

One of those challenges has to do with the language that students use in class. In my case, as Spanish is my students’ native language, they resort to it whenever they have trouble expressing themselves. A helpful linguistic resource I make my students practise is paraphrasing. Students should be given cues such as ‘It’s a sort of/kind of/an object used for … etc.’ Pair work competition is highly motivating for students and one of the tasks I make students do in order to make an effort to use different words to refer to the same idea is provide student A and student B with a different list of words for them to challenge their partners to paraphrase it.

Another challenge has to do with ‘clashes’ between what I plan for a certain class and the concerns with which students arrive at the classroom. Not paying attention to those concerns is not a good idea, since students won’t be able to focus on an activity if their mind is not free from other thoughts. I think a good idea is to profit from that situation and devise an on-the-spot task connected to your students’ concern. It can be watching a video of a song related to the issue. While listening to the song we can discuss the story behind the video or the connection between the video and the song lyrics. Another option is to make students listen to a song and choose a phrase from the lyrics that describes the way they feel at present.

Encouraging students to do extra activities at home for practice can also be challenging. I create communities from Google+ to share material with my students. I organise this material into sections: Vocabulary, Games, Grammar, Listening Skills, Reading Skills, Writing Skills, Songs, Dictionaries, Questions, etc. As not all my students visit the Google+ community when being notified, in class I show them what I have posted and do my best to motivate them so they visit the community at home. Whenever a student makes a comment or share something, I show them I have read it and make a suitable comment.

From my viewpoint, one effective way to be able to overcome these issues is to listen to your students thoroughly. That will offer clues to find out what kind of topics and tasks are interesting to your students or are suited to their needs. Being able to detect that is a great asset for teachers and will be helpful to develop an excellent rapport with your students.

To strengthen this teacher-student rapport, negotiation is essential. As teachers, we should take the role as facilitators and students should be given the opportunity to grow as independent learners. We should be flexible enough so students don’t feel under pressure and all decisions that have to do with the teaching-learning process should be agreed.


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Challenges in Teaching – Marisa

Motivating teenagers, ready to meet the challenge? Marisa Paven

Nobody can deny that teaching is a highly challenging job and that is what makes it really interesting. As to one of the challenges teachers should meet – how to motivate students — I have decided to focus on teens because most of my students are in that age group. Besides, I also teach adults but I don’t find motivating adult students is as challenging. Adults need to develop confidence but they are naturally motivated. They come to the class because they have made the decision to study a foreign language for whatever reason it may be, and are ready to make efforts to learn the language. On the other hand, teenagers are not willing to make efforts and most of them study English because their parents think it is important or necessary, and they are forced to study the foreign language.

Throughout my teaching practice, I’ve noticed that motivating teenagers requires teachers to develop a special sensitivity to their interests – in addition to loads of patience.

As to the current generation of teens, it is essential to motivate them in order to encourage them keep in contact with the English language outside the classroom. This demands a lot of creativity from teachers. One of the keys is the use of technology as a way of keeping in touch with students and of sharing online tasks that will contribute to the development of their skills.

Some years ago, thanks to the members of my Personal Learning Network (PLN) I came across wikis for educational purposes. Ever since, I have created a new wiki for every class I have had and I use it to upload interactive online activities for my students to practise during and after lessons. The challenge here is to make students remember to visit the wiki regularly. They are informed about updates via e-mail but my students are not using their e-mail accounts at present and they are only interested in using Facebook.


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As teachers, we should be ready to deal with any obstacles that may appear and that would block the students’ skill development. My students have an endless number of excuses not to practise after lessons and I should always be ready to offer a solution. The following chart shows some excuses my students have given me and my suggestions to overcome these issues.

I didn’t remember to visit the wiki. Remind students to visit the wiki every class.


I didn’t know about the update because I never use my e-mail account. Choose a representative student of the class and send a message via Facebook to that student reminding them to tell their classmates about the updates. Or


Create a group in Facebook with a specific class so as to inform them about the updates.



I couldn’t print the exercise because the printer didn’t work. Tell students they can send the exercises for correction via e-mail.
My computer is out of order. Students can be invited to come to the language school at any time it is open to use a computer.

As in our lives, challenges appear as a kind of test of our willingness to be flexible, to adjust ourselves to different situations and to grow in the process. That forms part of the adventure of teaching and … of living.