Category Archives: Teaching

Coming Soon to Petrolina: TOEFL

It is with great joy I report that today I received the equipment necessary to administer the TOEFL (many thanks to the help of Michael Capelli and the folks at Educational Testing Services)!

I began the process of registering the IF-Sertão, Campus Petrolina as a TOEFL site upon return to Brazil in February.  Due to the unbelievable abundance of study-abroad scholarships such as Science Without Borders made possible by the Brazilian Federal Government, demand for the Test of English as a Foreign Language has sky rocketed.  The test, accepted by higher learning institutions in over 180 countries, measures students’ English-language abilities and is often the make-it-or-break-it factor in winning the aforementioned scholarships.  Unfortunately, earning a high score is far from the only barrier to taking the test and getting the grants.

If you look at the map, you will notice that Petrolina (the red dot in the sea of blue) is quite far from the coast, where nearly all of the major capital cities in the North East region of the country are.  This means that until now, not only did students have to pay the already prohibitive cost of  ~450 R (150-250 USD) just to register for the test, but they also had to pay for transportation to, and room and board in, expensive capital cities, the closest being 10 hours away (by bus).

Thus, one of my main goals for this year, in a two-pronged approach of 1-teaching English to students who don’t know English while 2-finding and facilitating the scholarship opportunities for those students who already have the language skills, was getting the TOEFL here to Petrolina, the hub of the NE interior.  Every barrier eliminated is one step closer to making our students’ dreams of becoming world citizens come true.

With the arrival of headsets, microphones and web-cams, we are only a short time away from holding our first test, which I hope to set for mid-December.  

Be on the lookout for upcoming posts for specifics about when to register!

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Second Semester Classes at UPE

I’m back from an eventful vacation: a trip with my parents to Rio de Janeiro, Florianopolis, and the Parque Nacional de Aparados da Serra, a move from a one-room studio apartment to a three-bedroom, two-bath house in the center of Petrolina, and a whirlwind of course planning for my UPE classes and new TOEFL class at UNIVASF.

This semester, I’m changing my class offerings a bit. In addition to my TOEFL class and a for-credit course, “Literature & Cinema,” I’ll be teaching a number of extra classes: a class of English games, an hour-long discussion seminar, a professor conversation class, and Arts in the Americas workshops (theater, dance, sports) about once or twice a month. Movie nights for my Lit & Cinema class will be open to whomever is interested, too. The English Chorus will continue from last semester. You can read all about the updates here, on the UPE English Course blog.

Here’s the calendar! All classes will occur at UPE in the English classrooms, with the exception of the movie nights, which are at our house here in the Centro. Email me at seawaite@gmail.com for the address!

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IF on Strike, Classes on Pause

“Workers of the Rural Campus ON STRIKE”

The space was packed. Monday, July 23, 2012 the Instituto Federal, Campus Petrolina was full of boisterous cheering, loud clapping, passionate outbursts. Sporting event? Evangelical retreat? No and no. But the experience was equally as thrilling–I was taking part in my first worker’s strike. After all 38 IF campuses in Brasil entered on strike or greve, mine finally voted unanimously (all those who were present) to join.  We were the last campus to enter.

One of the things I respect most about Latin America its affinity to strike- individuals sacrificing for the greater good.  All of my experiences in South America have been shaped by unions of workers or students in protest.  Even having been historically ruled by brutal and violent dictatorships, people here rebel against their government, and not by bitching about it but by getting together and actually doing something about it. It is exhilarating to see the country stopped by Professors and administrators, supported by their students, fighting for a salary that matches the dignity of their profession (among other demands). We in the USA could learn a lot about the art of protest and unity from our Southern neighbors’ strikes.

Join the Conversation… the conversation course, that is!
Every Monday and Wednesday from 10-11 or 13-14.
Basic knowledge of English recommended. The more the merrier!

Although my and Chelsea’s TOEFL courses will continue as normal though the UNIVASF, ALL COURSES AT THE IF, CAMPUS PETROLINA AND ZONA RURAL WILL BE SUSPENDED UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE. Please stay tuned for updates on when classes will restart. I look forward to seeing the smiling faces of my dear students when we return!

Students from Basic English Conversation Course I

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Cara’s Calender of Courses

I know what you’re thinking – what amazing alliteration.  You know, sometimes you have to say something, and it all happens to start with the same letter and that’s just how the cookie crumbles.

And with that, here is the calender of courses (and other activities) for this semester.  I will be updating it as situations arise (cancellations, adjustments, etc.).  So subscribe to the calendar or to this blog to stay informed.

Please note that Intermediate English (formerly Advanced English) will begin this Monday, July 16 at 16:00 at the IF-Sertão, Petrolina Campus.

Also note that Chelsea and I will begin the first phase of our TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) course on July 21st.  Students interested should register with UNIVASF and begin studying for the entrance exam, which will be a simulated TOEFL test.

This week is the second week of English Conversation.  Week one was FANTASTIC (thanks to all who are coming to participate).  Also many thanks to Grande Rio TV for interviewing me live to talk about the course!  I’m trying to get a hold of the footage to post… stay tuned.  To those of you who have not yet come– COME!  Class is either from 11:00-12:00 or 13:00-14:00 on Mondays and Wednesdays at the IF-Sertão, Petrolina Campus.  We have fun, play games, chat and so much more all in an hours time.  The class is open to all, and the more the merrier!

As always, feel free to write with any questions or comments.

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Tying it all together: English Week at UPE

Since our students are busy with other classes, and in many cases jobs and families, it’s often hard for Cara and I to find enough time with them to do all the activities we dream up. But when we’re given that time in the school schedule, it’s a great opportunity—like Cara’s English Week in Salgueiro, or in this case, my Encontro de Língua Inglesa at UPE. (The event happen at UPE, but also included students from the IF and FACAPE, and interested community members.)

Rafaela teaching her workshop, Common Pronunciation Mistakes for Brazilian Speakers of English

One of the things I was happiest about that week was the breadth of activities: we had everything from academic lectures and pedagogical lessons to dancing, singing, poetry, films and baseball games (check out the whole program!). Language learning is so dynamic because virtually any kind of activity can be relevant and valuable by incorporating the language or its culture.

For example, Cara’s hip hop dancing workshop breaks out of the “language classroom” model but accomplishes many of the same goals: the students practiced listening comprehension (her directions were all in English), they learned some important vocabulary (left and right, body parts, movements, etc.), and they got a direct cultural experience with a specific kind of American music. Cara even incorporated some sports culture into the dance choreography—baseball and basketball moves! I think that as English Teaching Assistants, this out-of-the-classroom kind of language instruction is often our forté. For the most part, I leave the grammar lessons to the experts—the trained professors—and augment those lessons with baseball games, dance classes, an English chorus, and any other kind of activity I can imagine to bring the language to life.

Leandro visiting the White House on the Tour of DC

Which brings me to the part of the week that I concocted completely from scratch: the Tour of Washington, DC. The activity was organized like a huge scavenger hunt for the whole group: after an introductional lecture about the District, I split them into five teams (with US state names) and directed them to visit each of five “attractions”: the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, the White House, the Capitol Building, and the Newseum. Each of these attractions had a room of its own, with a projection of the silhouette of the building and at least three activities, plus a discussion question, posted on the walls. Examples of activities included: filling out the blanks in the lyrics of “I’m Just a Bill” from Schoolhouse Rock, completing a George Washington wordsearch, finding world headlines on the Newseum website, and writing three questions to ask President Obama if you had the lucky chance of running into him at his favorite burger joint, Ray’s Hell Burger. Upon completing at least two activities per room (taking into account that some activities would require too high a language level for some students), everyone had to return to the auditorium to complete an entry in the DC Guest Book.

I still love the entire concept of this activity, and now that I’ve prepared all the materials, its replicability is extremely attractive. However, I also learned some really valuable lessons that will improve the Tour in the future. You can see those thoughts below (click “continue reading” at the end of the post). I also hope anyone who participated will send their reactions and feedback to me.

Marcelo about to hit a home run in our baseball game!

Before this post gets too long, I’ll mention one more wonderful aspect of the English Week programming: we were lucky to have a great diversity of guest professors. My students already know Cara but are always happy to see her again, and they also got the chance to meet Laraine (our English Language Fellow in Petrolina) and Rafaela (the wonderful English professor at the Instituto Federal). In addition, we coordinated the final English Festival to coincide with the visit of five English teachers from Texas A&M University, who had been traveling in Pernambuco giving workshops to English teachers in the public schools and universities. If anything, I know my students learned one new word in English Week: “howdy!”

We’re about to go on winter break here in Petrolina, and I’m heading to meet my parents in Rio, but UPE’s English Week was a wonderful way to finish the semester: having planned an entire week of activities for over 100 students, I have some real successes and lessons learned to file away for next semester’s adventures.

See my pictures from the week here!

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Rugby and Dancing and History, Oh My!

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Two Rubgy workshops (with 80 students each), one hip-hop dance class,  ten meet-and greets, one stereotypes activity, a dozen sessions of one fantastic English class featuring Shakira (thanks to the lesson planning of the incredible Laura Mizuha, English fellow in Salgueiro, PE) and a history lecture by Chelsea– our week at the Salgueiro Campus of the IF-Sertão Pernambucano was a busy one.   Check out my FB album for pictures of the week (click here for pics from the classroom and click here for Rugby shots) and tag yourselves a vontade (as you please).

The post was delayed while waiting for student feedback, but here it is at last-in English and Portuguese.  Read over the student and staff responses, and you can see what a big difference one week can make!

If I had to invent a perfect work week, this would be it.  I adored every second.

How does a week like this happen?  Start with a visionary research coordinator (Clovis Ramos, Professor of Irrigation) (note – this could be YOU), add two very dedicated English teachers (Roberta Godoy and Josenildo Forte) to organize the schedule and help facilitate the classes, a wonderfully dynamic PE teacher (Marcio Gondim) and a campus full of students and staff eager to help and to learn.   So, I know you’re all wondering – where will the next week be?

…You tell me!

This is an open invitation for all interested parties to please contact me at cara.snyder@ifsertao-pe.edu.br if you,  too, would like a fun-filled, tailored, English inspiring day or week at your school!  I would LOVE to hear from you. 

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Stereotypes Continued at English Week in Salgueiro, PE

As a follow-up to Chelsea’s great post on stereotypes, I would like to continue and expand on the theme by sharing an activity about stereotypes during English Week (May 21-25) in Salguiero.  Inspired by her first American Club’s meeting about stereotypes, I decided to also touch on the theme, this time focusing on stereotypes we hold regarding the USA and Brasil.  The dialogue was lively and the results were fantastic.

I began the lecture with printouts of 4 provocative pictures.  In groups of 3 students and staff worked together to write opinions, descriptions and questions on the back of the photo.  When I said switch, they were to exchange pictures with a group who had a picture different from theirs and repeat the process.  After the third switch someone from each group was called to stand up and read the comments on the back of the picture (comments written by groups other than their own).  After each group spoke I revealed who the people in the picture were (see the included power point presentation… but before reading the answers, try yourself!): 1 an American boy scout; 2 Japanese-Brazilians in São Paulo (the largest city in Brazil in the state of São Paulo); 3 Brazilians in Rio Grande do Sul (another Brazilian state); 4 Mexican-Americans celebrating 5 de mayo.

Groups talked amongst themselves about stereotypes – definitions, when they are helpful vs hurtful, etc. and then we watched the first 4 minutes of a clip from an episode where the Simpsons go to Brazil, which you can watch by clicking here or by clicking on the slide in the power point presentation.  They wrote down the stereotypes made evident in the clip, we talked about it as I wrote their comments on the white board (shown in the image below).  Then all together we named some of the stereotypes people have of Americans including fast food, capitalist, warmonger, etc.

But my favorite part was the discussion that followed when I provoked “ok, so we all know what we don’t want people to associate with Brazil, but what do you want people to think about when they think about Brasil”?  I started them off with some of the things I associate with Brazil such as a thriving democracy, warmth and hospitality, athleticism, diversity and openness.  They added many more including nature, gastronomy and lots of music and dancing from the North East .

Student Feedback: on the left, some of the existing stereotypes and on the right, are some alternative visions as expressed by the participants!!

The group present in the classroom represents mostly people from the interior of the North East region of the country.  Yet Brazil is physically massive with extreme regional, cultural, environmental and even linguistic diversity.   With the World Cup (2014) and the Olympics (2016) coming up, Brazil will be spending millions on selling  its (whole) self, and I for one and thrilled to see what they will come up with!

So, readers, what do you all think about Brazil?  How about the USA?  I’d love to hear from our multi-cultural readership–have Chelsea and I made you think twice about any stereotypes formerly held?

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Poor, Ugly, Uneducated?

Last month I took about a week to travel to Curitiba, in the southern Brazilian state of Paraná, and then to Foz do Iguaçu, in the same state on the border with Argentina and Paraguay. Accompanied by three other lovely ladies from the Fulbright ETA program, I relished the chance to see a bit of southern Brazil and reflect on my time thus far in the Northeast.

(One of my travel companions, Christina, has a blog about her experiences in São José do Rio Preto. She posted a fantastic three-part summary of our trip: Londrina and Curitiba, Puerto Iguazú, and Foz do Iguaçu.)

It was a week full of new sights, laughter, more rain than I’ve seen in three months, and a new stamp in my passport (hello, Argentina!), but for now what I want to talk about is the very real divide that exists between the north and south in Brazil. I was surprised, even at times shocked, by the strength of the stereotypes that exist between the regions.

To give you a quick idea, here is one of the first interactions I had with Curitibano (person from Curitiba).

Me: “I’m living in Petrolina.”

Him: “Where?”

Me: “Pernambuco.”

Him: “Oh, I’m sorry.”

In the course of just two days in Curitiba, I heard a number of variations on the following topics: Petrolina is an ugly city; Northeasterners are ugly and lazy and illiterate; the Northeast is sucking up all the money that the southern states generate.

Shocked by these first interactions, Cynthia (the ETA in Curitiba) and I decided to bring up the topic with her students in a more structured setting. In her conversation class, we asked the students about regional stereotypes in Brazil. To my relief, their opinions were nuanced, sophisticated, and intelligent: they recognized the stereotypes, explored why they existed, and recognized that in spite of the stereotypes, they didn’t actually know very much about the Northeast.

Encouraged by the success of this conversation class in Curitiba, I returned to Petrolina wanting to ask my students some of the same questions. Using a presentation that Cynthia had made about US stereotypes, I talked briefly about the preconceptions that Americans have about each other—for example, fast-talking New Yorkers, pot-smoking Californians and the concept of the “flyover states” in the middle of the country. Then I turned the question around to the students: what about Brazilian regional stereotypes?

Our conversation followed a similar vein as the class in Curitiba. My students recognized stereotypes that they had about other states in Brazil: people from the South are unfriendly and rich (and white—the issue of race deserves a whole new blog post); people from Rio are beautiful and spend their time partying and on the beach. (And what about the North and Center-West? Talk about “flyover states.”) They admitted that these stereotypes are unfair and often inaccurate generalizations. Yet even though some of the stereotypes about the southern regions are negative, the fact remains that the Southern and Southeastern lifestyles tend to be more admired—as just one example of many, virtually all news anchors on TV are light-skinned and have Rio or São Paulo accents.

Perhaps most interestingly, my students are also very aware of the stereotypes that exist about them, “nordestinos,” and expressed a kind of quiet frustration that they could be so prejudged when the experience of life here is so positive compared to the devastating image that the stereotypes paint.

I think I will inevitably keep having—and should keep bringing up—these kinds of conversations. Brazil is a huge country, and naturally regional rivalries and preconceptions exist just as they do in the United States. Now that I have some direct experience with this regionalism, I see it more clearly in the country’s politics: for example, the recent debate over a bill that would relax standards of forest protection in the Amazon, which President Dilma recently partially vetoed (the New York Times has been giving this topic significant coverage: start here and here). It’s fascinating to learn these ground-level politics by living them—particularly in a region that bears some of the worst stereotypes in the country.

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Schedule for English Week in Salgueiro

Cara and I are so excited to be assisting and teaching English classes this week at the IF Campus in Salgueiro! Cara is already on campus working with the students, and I’ll be heading there tomorrow morning. See the schedule below:

 

 

Monday

Tuesday

Wednesday

Thursday

Friday

Manhã

  07:30 – Participação de Cara na aula de Inglês Instrumental do curso de Tec. em Alimentos.

 

09:oo  – 10:30

RUGBY

 

 

 

09:00 Participação de Cara na Turma do MI Agro 2º ano

WAKA WAKA

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

09:00 Participação de Cara na Turma do MI Info e MI Edif.  2º ano

WAKA WAKA

Tarde  

 

 

 

 

14:00 – Chegada de Cara ao Campus.

 

15:00 – Apresentação de Cara para todos os Servidores (aproveitar aqui para falarem em inglês)

 

16:15 – Apresentação de Cara às turmas

 

 

 

13:30 – Participação de Cara no FIC da turma de Campinhos

WAKA WAKA

12:00 – Almoço no Chamas Grill

 

 

 

 

 

14:00

HIP HOP

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

16:15 – “Talking” com Cara (os profs de inglês) com todos os servidores que queiram participar

STEREOTYPES

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

15:00 –

RUGBY

 

 

 

 

 

16:15 – Colóquio com a Americana Chelsea sobre a História do Brasil.

 

 

13:00 Participação de Cara na Turma do MI Info e MI Edif.  2º ano

WAKA WAKA

Noite  

 

19: 30 –

Apresentação de Cara às turmas

 

19:00 – Participação no FIC de Inglês para Professores

WAKA WAKA

   

 

 

20:00 – Pizza no Ponto de Encontro, coma a presença de Cara e Chelsea.

 

 

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Poets’ Corner at UPE

A few weeks ago, the wonderful UPE English professor Zaira Cavalcanti asked me to bring some short poems to her evening class on Reading and Composition. Inspired, I spent a few hours searching through some of my favorite poems, like “This Is Just To Say” by William Carlos Williams.

Students editing their poems in class.

I had a vague idea that I wanted this project to culminate in student-produced poetry, but at that point I had no conception of how brilliant the results would be. After reading and analyzing the poems I brought to class, I explained to the students a few different possible forms for their own poems: haiku, acrostic, found poem, etc. I told them that if they wanted to use their own form, they should feel free—having no major expectations for this option.

Alessandro posted the first poem on the poster I made for class.

The day that the students read their poems sticks out in my mind as one of the most inspiring I have yet experienced here. Looking back, I realize that I was silly to forget how powerful a tool poetry is for students who are learning to express themselves in a language. The malleability of a poem is such that students can lose their preoccupations about grammar and correct structure: the most important thing is simply to communicate a message in whatever way works. I was blown away by the depth and creativity of the poems that the students created; even those who struggle with English in other forms (like speaking) came to class with beautifully and creatively written pieces.

Below are two examples. I hope to use the 20 poems that the students created in a publication of English writing by students from the whole department, to be finished before the end of the year.

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