Two days of learning and connecting with fantastic people. That’s what the Special Interest Group (SIG) Symposium is all about. At the beautiful Instituto Singularidades venue, in the vibrant neighborhood Pinheiros, this event has brought together great names of the ELT world to share their knowledge within each of the 10 Braz-Tesol SIGs. So, this entry is my modest attempt to capture this precious moment by sharing some of the takeaways from the sessions I attended.
The opening plenary was given by Rita Ladeia and Selma Moura in the bilingualism SIG. They talked about the curriculum in bilingual education and a quote that stuck with me was:
Curriculum is not just what’s written in the book, but everything that happens in the class
They also mentioned that there are 75 sovereign territories where English is an official language and that we, English teachers, are teaching an instrument of power. I learned the terms Metalinguistic Awareness (a child’s incredible capability of mixing two or more languages to communicate), and Garcia’s Translanguaging (the influence L1 and L2 have on each other, increasing literacy in both). When they talked about cognition and how the linguistic codes are not isolated in different areas in our brains, I remembered all of the studies I’ve been reading about neuroscience.
They wrapped up with policies for bilingual schools and the sentence:
Considering language a TOOL, not a GOAL
Next, I went to Sylvia de Moraes’ session on how children benefit from early learning. Her talk involved a lot of concepts of neuroscience and some studies showing that early exposure increases mental development, reasoning and memorization skills, self-esteem, as well as mathematical and logical skills. She mentioned that 10-12 years of age is a period known as critical age, as it becomes more difficult for children to learn after that window once they are entering puberty. The most interesting fact to me was to see a brain scan of a child and another of an adult learner. The child’s brain showed a larger and intertwined area when stimulated to speak two different languages. The adult’s brain had more defined and separated areas.
The second session of the morning for me was Paulo Torres’ take on bilingual education. He answered a lot of questions I had about the subject and even tapped into the field I love so much: neuroscience! He talked about the importance Donna Fields (EduCluster Finland) places on emotion how it is key to learning effectively. The best part was when he showed us a new list of essential 21st-century skills with not 4, but 13 items! Want to know more about it? Click here.
After lunch, we attended the inspiring plenary given by Ana Maria Menezes in the EduTech SIG. She showed us how to use technology to foster collaboration and encourage students to take chances in writing. I was moved by the samples she brought of her students’ letters and how they were able to work together using a concept map-making app called Popplet in such an innovative way. The feedback she got from her students highlighted words such as empowerment, opportunity, collaboration. Not only were they able to accomplish more, but they were also introduced to a new tool that is now being used in seminars by the very same students. She ended the session with the great quote:
I can be more of a teacher by being less of teacher
The next session was Jacques Freitas’ and it was about international programs. Jacques represents Education First (EF) and he talked about opportunities for educators. He stressed the fact that Brazil is not doing well in the English department, having less than 1.8% of its population speaking English at an intermediate or high-intermediate level. He also explained how they assess students going on international programs. My takeaway was that having any international experience and being proactive are the two aspects that matter the most. You can find more information about EF here.
Then, the most expected moment arrived for me. I finally met the wonderful Mirela Ramacciotti whose work on the brand new Mind, Brain & Education (MBE) science promises to revolutionize education. Mirela delivered a fun and mindblowing talk on how neuroscience, psychology, and education have been brought together to form what is known as neuroeducation. She debunked some neuromyths and left participants longing for more. It was a special session because it was also the launch of the new MBE SIG in which I take part. We met the team and started sharing ideas. Brace yourselves! Great things are coming! If you want to check out some of the entries I have about this topic, click here, here, and here.
Last but not least, the incredibly funny and inspiring John Corbett delivered the last plenary of the day about the Intercultural Language Education (ILE) SIG. He talked about cultural differences in the classroom and the topics we were (are?) often told to avoid: politics, religion, and sex. His brilliant session showed how things can be completely different from one country to another and, to illustrate, he showed the political campaign of Covas and Maluf in the 90’s. It was enlightening! It emphasized the fact that we can definitely use materials in L1 to develop critical thinking in L2. The way he interpreted the billboards was quite impressive because he used the photos, the colors, the appearance, and, of course, the text to analyze the message they meant to send. Truly inspiring!
And, obviously, look who came with me below. My travel buddy is always around!
To sum up I will only say that being here in this event with these wonderful speakers who took the time to study, prepare and present the results of their efforts is a unique opportunity that has opened my eyes and given me more motivation to keep pursuing my mission of sharing, inspiring and changing the context of education in this country. I truly believe that TOGETHER we are STRONGER.
If you are attending the symposium, you are welcome to share your takeaways here!