Which novels do you wish you had written yourself?


When you are at the stage of brainstorming for a nonfiction blog post or a piece of creative writing, it’s inevitable to remember a couple of articles, books and novels related to the topic you read at some point and enjoyed. They will be a source of inspiration and influence in your writing, making you somehow even slightly jealous, wishing you had thought of that first. But, of course, you would also have needed the right language to encapsulate it. After all, more important than the plot itself is how you say things.

Take the book Life of Pi by Yann Martel, for example, whose original idea some people claim was stolen from our Brazilian writer Moacyr Scliar. Well, plagiarism is hard to establish, there are a lot of gray areas, but one thing I’m sure of: Martel did not write the same story nor, most definitely, used the same language as Scliar. Jorge Luis Borges, in his marvelous piece Pierre Menard, Autor del Quixote, from the book Ficciones takes this idea even further, asserting that a book written with the exact same words by a different author at a different time would be read in a new way, due to the dissimilar historic contexts, and therefore would not be the same book at all. I agree.

After reading a comment on Facebook by a friend saying that she is full of ideas for blog posts but do not find the time to write them (yes, we all know how teachers are busy!), I made a joke saying that all my good ideas had already been stolen by the likes of Shakespeare, Tolstoy or Philip Roth.

Then I though for a moment, and decided to give serious consideration as to which novels I really wished I had written and why. This is my humble list:

Books I wish I had written

Books I wish I had written

1.The Human Stain, by Philp Roth: it’s hard to discuss this book without giving a bit too much away, so apologies for the spoilers. The story of a light-skinned black boy who grabs the opportunity to pass for a Jew in 1950’s America and later becomes a Classics Professor at a small college is a complex account of the choices you make in life and the responsibilities and consequences that come with them. The need to make concessions and compromise basic values to achieve a bigger goal is the central theme of the book. The deep moral dilemma you face when you take such a radical decision, including the necessity to abandon and cut relations with your family and community to start a new life somewhere else as a completely different person, is evaluated by the author from unusual and unexpected angles in this impressive book. As irony is the hallmark of Roth, the book starts with the most paradoxal of incidents: the professor, noticing that two of the students enlisted in his class never seem to be present, asks the class the question which brings about his doom: “do they exist or are they spooks?” The latter being an old loaded word, a racist epithet for blacks. It turns out that the Professor, never having seen those students before, meant spooks in the most common sense of the word, that is, ghosts, and, after all the pressure and hassle he goes through, without support from any of his colleagues and students – for a number of political reasons – he decides to resign and end his career. I would love to have written this story for its universality: any minority can identify with what Coleman, the Jewish/Black professor, goes through, and can easily put themselves in his shoes. Given the opportunity would you do the same? Would you change your race, color, nationality, sexual orientation or gender? Or would you just give up all of your chances of fully growth and spend the rest of your life as a second class citizen in a society that will only offer you the fulfillment of your whole potential if you are the right color?

The Human Stain

The Human Stain

2. Dom Casmurro, by Machado de Assis: this must be the book I reread most often in my entire life. I know it almost by heart. What attracts me is the way the characters are so well-rounded and fully developed, leaping out of the page as if you could go for a walk and talk to them. This does not mean, however, that you will know them any better. This is the whole point of the story. The dissimulation, the fact that we never know anyone completely. The impossibility of dealing with only one version of the reality. I can’t get enough of the artistry of the author, who, narrating the story in the first person, never lets the reader be sure about what really happened: was the main character’s wife an adulterer? Is the boy she gives birth to his son or his best friend’s? The doubt will corrupt his marriage and ultimately destroy all the love in his life. He becomes empty and isolated, having chosen the version of reality which will cause him the most pain and damage. Don’t we all choose the latter?

Dom Casmurro

Dom Casmurro

3. We need to talk about Kevin, by Lionel Shriver: a professional woman is in love with her work and her husband. She writes and publishes travel guides, having the chance to go places, tour interesting and remote regions, avoiding getting stuck in a housewife’s rut, being independent most of the time. Yet, she can count on a loving husband to comfort and look after her when she comes back home after a long trip: this is a dream life. She has the best of both worlds. Then, what else is it that society claims will make every woman even happier and more complete: to have a baby. From the birth of Kevin, her firstborn, to the dantesque crime scene at the end of the book, We need to talk about Kevin reads like a nightmare. You can’t put it down. A thriller in every sense of the word. But one that goes way beyond the limitations of the genre. Shriver’s ambitions are a lot more encompassing. She discusses the nature of evil. Is it caused by nurture or nature? How is it created? Has Kevin always been the monster she feared he was or was his low self-esteem caused by his mother’s lack of love and care that turned him into a criminal? Was the mother’s resentment for having to give up all the pleasure and independence of her former life, her pre-baby life, toxic enough to corrupt and undo the little creature? The sense of guilt of a mother for not conforming to the patterns of a society that takes motherly love for granted only contributes to the character’s anguish and mental confusion. Of course, the book will show different perspectives of the scenarios we painted, but the conclusion will be up to the reader.

We need to talk about Kevin

We need to talk about Kevin

These are all great themes and I don’t need to tell you how masterfully these concepts and ideas are exploited by those wonderful writers. The angles they illuminate, the perspectives they reveal would hardly have occurred to the average reader. That’s why they are geniuses and we are blog writers. But we can always try to get closer to their art in our writing. According to Malcolm Gladwell, another writer whose books I wish I could have written (although they are nonfictional), all it takes is a dedication of 10,000 hours of work to become a world class master at your craft.

Which books would you like to have written yourself? Let us know.

Au revoir

Jorge Sette.

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Five Most Common Misconceptions About Writing


Writing is today more fashionable than it has been in a long time. Perhaps it’s at the peak of its importance ever, with all the blogs, messages, emails and tweets swamping our computer, tablet and smart phone screens every second of the day. Of course, most of the time it’s bad or unclear writing. But everyone is doing it one way or another, and job opportunities are opening up for those who do it well.

Content is the key word in the workplace today. Especially if you are in sales & marketing. The buyer has all the power today and they control when, how and where they will make their next purchase. In this context, writing can be a great asset in educating and persuading prospects, making them see you as the expert, or thought leader in your field. Writing great content and making it available will help you develop a relationship with your potential customers, who will definitely lean towards your offer when the time is right.

Saint Jerome Writing (detail) by Caravaggio

Saint Jerome Writing (detail) by Caravaggio

As a consequence of its importance, the Internet is full of advice about effective writing, how to put blogs together, the dos and don’ts and best practices of publishing anything. By all means, read all you can, as there is a lot of useful information online. Beware, however, of some of the most common misconceptions about writing: in general most of them were acquired or developed at school and academic settings rather than on the Internet. Here are five of the most common:

1. Writing is about inspiration and waiting for the muse to come down and sit on your keyboard. Well, I’m afraid there’s not enough room for the muse to relax and spread out on such a small space. Also, deadlines have a weird way of not accommodating the muse’s busy schedule, so do not wait to get started. Writing is not necessarily what Hemingway warned us against in his famous quote: “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” Make it more active: brainstorm ideas, do some research, check out what is trending online, use automatic topic generators on the Internet, and do not delay. Start the process as soon as you can,

 2. Writing comes out as the masterpiece you usually read in the printed copy of good magazines, newspapers and books. Well, the final draft is not easy to get to. That’s what you see published. But anyone can get the process started and refine it until you achieve a satisfactory result. The saying writing is rewriting, or writing is more about transpiration than inspiration are indeed true. Once you spill out your first ideas and get them more or less outlined on the page, you will start the process of polishing them. And that is the hard part. This will take time, effort and immense patience.

3You cannot self-edit. If we are not talking about your PhD thesis or your fiction masterpiece, do not believe you need a team of copyeditors, researchers and proofreaders ready to work for you. They are expensive and hardly available in enough numbers even for big publishing companies nowadays. So, unless you can count on close friends to help you out with it (remember you can always return the favor), you must learn tactics for self-editing. Do not hesitate to count on every piece of technology available to help you with the task: spell checkers, grammar checkers, dropdown thesaurus, online dictionaries, you name it. There are a lot of very useful tools out there. Read your drafts as many times as you can and carry on refining them. There will be a moment when you’ll get so fed up with reading your piece you will want to throw up. That’s when you take a serious break. I’m not talking about the proverbial coffee time (you have probably been drinking coffee nonstop throughout the whole process anyway). Just abandon your text for a couple of days (I hope you can afford to do that. Factor in those necessary breaks when you plan your timetable to meet the deadline). Next time you get back to the text, you will see it with fresh eyes, and give it the final touches as a Steven Pinker would.

4. Sophisticated writing is good writing. Write as you speak. Content that will help you sell is content that’s simple enough for the majority of readers to understand. So drop the long words and complex sentences. The golden rule of elegance is less is more. Apply this to your writing: precision and simplicity of vocabulary, clarity of ideas, avoidance of overuse of the passive voice, and keeping to what is essential are the tactics that will make you win the reader over. As you read and reread your text, try to leave out everything that is superfluous or redundant. Cut, cut, cut.

5. Not everyone can write. You are write (sorry: right) to think so, if you are using Oscar Wilde or Hemingway as your standard. Artistic and creative writing are not for everyone. It does not need to be for you. But most people can learn to develop and communicate clear, authoritative and persuasive ideas in writing. It takes practice, though. All the content marketing gurus agree on this single point: you need to write everyday if you are in the business. The blog post you will write as soon as you finish reading this text will sound a hundred times better than the one you wrote around the same time last year. They will be both there on the Internet: just read and compare them. You will have improved. So keep working at it and surprise yourself month after month at how much better you are becoming. Good luck!

Would you like to share with us any advice on writing? Please do not hesitate to do so on the comments section of this blog. You might as well rate us so we can improve.

Au revoir

Jorge Sette

How to Train Adults Effectively


You may have heard the term ANDRAGOGY. No, it’s not something you need to treat and there’s no need to be scary if you find out your husband is into it. It’s simply the word we use for “pedagogy” when the learners are not children.

Although there are many overlaps between the processes of teaching adults and children – they both love learning through playing, for example – there are some differences too. And those differences must be taken into consideration, if you are designing a course or training session for your employees, or other adult participants.

Some of the differences, established by Malcolm Knowles, an American Adult Educator of the XX century, are, for example, adults need to know why they are learning; adults wish to take responsibility for their learning, so they should contribute and take active part in the process; they have already a wealth of experience to build on and the new items to be learned (knowledge, skills, or attitude) will add to their baggage; the purpose of learning must be objective and perceived as relevant, which is, to help them with their lives or give them pleasure; they are more willing to learn things that meet a specific need or desire; they are more likely to be moved by intrinsic motivation (self-steem, for example) than extrinsic (rise in salary, promotion, relocation, etc).

Having established these basic differences, we must also add that both kids and adults have, individually, different learning styles (visual, auditory, kinesthetic), and some are more likely to use either the more analytical (left) or the more creative (right) side of the brain. These individual differences must also be taken into account when you design and develop a training course. I know, you must be thinking by now that, unless you are a teaching on a one-to-one basis, you can’t possibly cater for all these needs and idiosyncrasies. The good news is yes, you can. Let’s list here the basic steps you should take in putting together an effective training course for a group of adults. I will be using examples from a very successful course I created while I ran a consultancy service called Tutor in the mid-nineties, The course Pronunciation for Brazilian Teachers of English attracted hundreds of teachers every time it was offered at different venues and times all over the country. Sometimes these were open events, for which any teacher could sign up. Other times, these were tailor-made or adapted modules for specific schools as a service for their teachers.

Training adults effectively

Training adults effectively

Obviously, it’s not possible to cover all the details of a well-designed and implemented training course in the space of a blog post. This is not my intention. But I promise to come back to the topic periodically as you ask questions and comments on this overview of the mains steps I give you below:

1. Needs analysis: being a Brazilian teacher myself, I identified very early on that most teachers in the country had a huge gap in the knowledge and practice of pronunciation. They spoke English – some better than others – but very few had actually learned or knew explicitly about the different phonemes of the language or the mechanics of pronunciation. Many were not familiar with concepts such as stress and intonation either. Therefore, most of them, in their classes, tended to skip teaching the coursebook sections that dealt with these areas of the language. The famous English phonemic chart you can find on a number of websites, DVDs, or apps today was not so easy to access back then. So this was a big opportunity for me to start a business and help the teachers. On the other hand, when I gave tailor-made courses at specific schools, I had to unearth the real needs of the teachers and how much they already knew about the subject, so I could adapt the off-the-shelf course I’d already put together. In these cases, you do your research through oral interviews with prospective participants and supervisors, through written questionnaires, through focus groups or by watching some of the teachers at work.

2. Design: now that you know the participants’ needs, you must define how the course is going to be delivered: is it going to be presential, done via a webinar or blended? In addition to that, you need to determine and write down the learning objectives of the course. What is expected from the participants in terms of performance as they finish the training session? What is going to change?  Of course, the clearer you state these objectives, the more effectively you will create and apply the materials you are planning for the course. A typical objective would be, for example, by the time the teachers finish this first module of the course they should be able to recognize and reproduce (orally and in writing) all the individual symbols that represent the phonemes of the English language and use them in clear contexts (as in specific words). You will notice that the objective follows the popular formula S.M.A.R.T (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound).

3.  Development: this is the hands-on phase of the process, when you are going to create all the different materials that will compose the course and help you impart the content of the sessions (deductive approach: lectures), or lead the students to discover parts of it by themselves (inductive approach, discovery), and finally practice and discuss the learning points. Remember you are creating a course for a number of individuals with different types of learning styles, tastes and ways to use the brain. So variety is the key. Always start with a relevant icebreaker or energizer to create an atmosphere conducive to learning and give the participants a chance to get to know each other from the beginning. Believe me: these warm-ups will make your job a lot easier later on. Especially if they are thematically linked to the topic of the course. Keep the pace fast (that’s the rhythm most participants are used to in today’s hectic world and keep alternating and using diversified activities: short lectures with the help of visuals such as slides (note: even during these lectures, make the process learner-centered by getting them to participate actively, through questions, for example, or comments); games;  guided note-taking (students fill in the gaps of sentences previously written in the handouts;  physical activities (involving movement), pair work, group work, debates, etc. I know, it can sound a bit overwhelming. But it’s doable. Remember: the longer the course the more variety it requires and you will have more time to apply different activities to suit as many different learning styles as possible. If the course is short, or broken down into modules, you will have to prioritize.

4. Implementation: this is the great moment you and your trainees have been expecting. You are putting all your preparation in practice. if you have the chance to run a small pilot with a group of volunteers before that, fine, but most trainers cannot afford the time to do that. Try and include during the ice-breaker, or before that,  a moment when the participants will be able to express their expectations regarding the training. Of course if you did the needs analysis well, there will be no surprises here. But maybe you’ll have to make small adjustments to fit their unexpected hopes. Flexibility is an important characteristic of good trainers. Try to exercise it. As the session progresses and you get more comfortable with he group, allow for more participation,  become more of a facilitator to the process, call them by their names (name tags or desk tents with their names written on them are a must), and carry on making adjustments whenever needed, especially regarding the time each activity lasts. You may have to shorten an upcoming task if the current one drags for too long. Create a detailed schedule for yourself so you can keep track of how much time each activity should take. In long courses, things may get out of hand if you don’t stick to this timetable. Do not forget to have breaks throughout the course. Most people are fueled by caffeine these days or they need to stretch their legs  and walk around after long hours sitting down.

5.  Closing: at the end, allow time for feedback and final questions. You can devise interesting activities for that too. Ask questions about what they think should be done as a follow-up to the session. Or explain the follow-up plan you have already designed: job aids, individual couching, accompanied visits to clients, lesson-monitoring for feedback, etc.

You will not have to start from scratch every time you design a course. I used some of the materials and activities I created for my initial course for years, with small adaptations now and then, to suit different contexts or to update them. But it’s good to understand and go through the whole creation process a few times to make it fresh.

Training is a field that is growing and more professionals will be needed. If you are interested in it, start educating yourself: read as much as you can on the topic, follow blogs, enroll in training sessions as a learner, and participate in conferences. It’s a very hard and demanding job, yet very exciting and varied. Good luck.

Au revoir

Jorge Sette.

Six Tips on How to Give Outstanding Presentations


I have spent most of my professional life involved in giving presentations one way or another. They were of many different types: lessons – as I was a teacher for many years; product presentations – as a marketing manager for publishing houses; training sessions – for teachers and salespeople; motivation talks – for publishers as a freelance speaker. Therefore, I believe I have enough experience and expertise to impart some tips to beginners in this fascinating field of presentations, although I believe that even those with a bit more experience will also profit from the tips below, as one can always learn.

Honing your presentation skills

Honing your presentation skills

1. PowerPoint or Keynote: if you have these very similar softwares, don’t waste a lot of time brooding over which one to use. It does not really matter, they basically have the same functionality and they will only serve as a visual support for your presentation. Therefore, use the one you are more familiar with. Don’t forget there’s always the option of using neither. PowerPoint has been overused for almost two decades now, and some people cannot stand it any longer. Especially because many people use it as a teleprompter, rather than as a tool to show visuals that may highlight your point or make it clearer to your audience. Never – let me repeat this – never use PowerPoint as a teleprompter.  Now and then, write down your speech or presentation and just memorize it or deliver it with the help of some cue cards. Take a look at some TED talks to know what I mean. Your presentation will come across as much more energetic and interesting if you do this.

2. Start your presentation with a bang: this could be either a joke, an interesting quote or an activity that will involve your audience as a kind of warm-up. If you make them do something right at the beginning, it will take the pressure off of you before you start your brilliant delivery, and will also infuse them with energy and get their minds focused.

3. Prepare, prepare, prepare: there’s no good spontaneous talk. You need to know what you are talking about, and rehearse how your message will be delivered. Don’t try to wing it. I had a boss once who would spring presentation assignments at me at very short notices. I had a hard time persuading her this would not reflect well on our team. It would make us look unprofessional. Yes, sometimes you need to enlighten people who are above you on the corporate food chain, otherwise the damage can be catastrophic. Take Steve Jobs for example: he would prepare relentlessly and worry about every minute detail of his presentations for maximum impact. He was right.  Also, remember there’s usually a question and answer slot a the end of most presentations, so make sure you know a lot more about the subject than the fraction of it you presented. A presentation should only reflect the tip of the iceberg of the speaker’s knowledge and understanding of the topic. Learn all you can about it before putting yourself in the position of an expert and speak from the podium.

4. Use slides frugally: if you choose to use PowerPoint or Keynote, do not use too many slides, or write too many words on each of them.  You can aways give the audience a handout with the summary of your presentation at the end. Slides are for occasional pictures, short phrases or inspiring quotes. Filling a slide with one hundred bullet points with a small font and read them out loud to your audience will not increase your popularity as a good speaker.

5. Tell stories: love of storytelling is universal. People from all cultures and all ages enjoy a good story. So make sure you tell them during your presentation. They can be personal anecdotes  (which are very effective, and lend your whole talk a more personal and intimate tone) or they could be stories you either made up or read in books, the Internet or newspapers. If you structure your presentation using the backbone of a story, you will be surprised at how much more effective it will be.

6. Involve your audience: nowadays most people have the attention span of a goldfish and will not sit quietly through a long and boring presentation. If they stay, you will notice most of them will be checking their smartphone screens for the latest Facebook update. On the other hand, there is no need to be a stand-up comedian to keep their attention. A simple trick is to involve them and make them participate actively throughout the session: ask questions, get them to give you their opinions, set up an electronic voting system.

I guess that is all for today. There are hundreds of books and posts on the Internet that can help you hone your presentation skills. I would strongly recommend you watch TED talks regularly – they are not only informative and fun, but they can also teach you techniques on how to speak in public well. If you were to choose ONE book on presentations to study, I would recommend Presentation Zen: Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery by Garr Reynolds. It is surely one of the best books on presentations I have ever read.

Would you like to share with us any additional tips on how to present well? Please leave your comments on the blog as you leave. Don’t forget to rate this post.

Au revoir

Jorge Sette

Let’s corrupt the youth!


They were right after all. We are seeing a comeback (were they ever really gone anywhere?) of some of the old theories about learning and how teachers should conduct their lessons. Edtech is making possible the practical application of the Socratic method, of Paulo Freire’s pedagogy, of Vygostky’s studies and experiments. All the other pedagogues who have advocated more direct involvement and participation from the students in their own learning are being vindicated and having their theories confirmed and validated.

Some of the methodologies we see in use today are becoming possible because of the realization of individualized learning. It boils down to a student facing her app alone in her bedroom to start with. And from there we can exploit the use of questions (Socrates) to lead that student further and further on the path to the right answer, or, even better, to her own answer in the case of a more abstract problem (such as moral, ethical or political issues); we can personalize teaching to make the context more relevant for each of the students, and therefore resonate with them (Paulo Freire); and we can flip our lessons, having students reconvene in class afterwards to cooperate in solving problems (Vygotsky), after having spent time alone in their homes doing research, reading, watching TEDs or other relevant videos on YouTube.

The Death of Socrates. Rosa, Salvator.

The Death of Socrates. Rosa, Salvator.

We have always known that personalization, cooperation and inductive approaches worked fine.  They have the power of grabbing the students’ interest and attention, keeping the findings longer in their memory. We’re clever teachers after all, we do our homework as well, we went to college and were fascinated by Plato and his dialogues, we felt invigorated by the potential and possibilities of the pedagogy of Freire; and we could easily see that pairing off weaker students with strong ones who would pull them along zones of proximal development made total sense.

But we lacked the means to make it happen. How to apply these exciting methods to classes of more than 30 students (or even more sometimes)? How can a single teacher dedicate enough time to the needs of individual students in these conditions? How much time is there outside the class for teachers to mark essays and homework, to create interesting lessons, to prepare the long  – and possibly very boring (for the students) – lecture to present on the following day?

The good news is things are changing. More and more, the new technology being created will allow us to go back to the masters and make the most of their wise insights and theories. Few teachers doubt that learning is up to the student. It’s their direct responsibility. Teachers are important channels and organizers of the different methods students will have to use actively themselves on their way to discoveries.

Let’s not be afraid of using apps, audience response systems, flipped classrooms and LMSs  in our schools to recreate the necessary conditions to hand learning back to where it belongs: the students! Socrates was sentenced to death for doing exactly that. They called it “corrupting the youth” back then. Well, “Toto, I’ve a feeling we are not in Kansas any more”. Let’s corrupt them!

NOTE: You might want to check out our eBooks available  from AMAZON.COM: 

TEACHING ENGLISH WITH ART: MATISSE.    Click here for more info: http://wp.me/p4gEKJ-1kP

TEACHING ENGLISH WITH ART: PICASSO.    Click here for more info: http://wp.me/p4gEKJ-1lA

Au revoir,

Jorge Sette.

What are your questions about the future of education?


This is going to be an unusual post. We won’t be giving you any solutions, only problems and issues to consider. All of us who work in the field of education, either as teachers, school owners, publishers or booksellers are worried about the future of our business, or should I say, our mission. From the get-go, I would like to state my position regarding education, so it’s clear and can inform the vocabulary I might use throughout this post. I think of education as a business. Not just like any other business, but a very special and interesting one, as it is the source of human development and betterment. However, in a capitalist society, education is regulated by the same principles of supply and demand of all other businesses.

My objective in this post is simply to raise five of the questions I’m sure most of you share with me. I propose we start searching possible answers, reading up on the topics, and begin a debate on each of these issues. You are more than welcome to use this space (my blog LINGUAGEM) to share your views and ideas on the points listed below. My questions concern these following points:

The School of Athens (detail) by Raphael, 1509

The School of Athens (detail) by Raphael, 1509

1. Teachers. My first question is, of course, will we have a job in the future? As teachers, and other professionals of the education business – publishers, school owners and booksellers – I anticipate the answer will be yes (fortunately), but our jobs will change a lot. More and more the ball will be on our clients’ court (students and parents) and, as a consequence, we will have to adapt and try to reach them directly and on their own terms if we want to survive as professionals. They will have a strong say on everything regarding education: the kind of teacher they prefer, the methodology, the learning materials they will use, and how they wish to purchase them.

2. Methodology. What will be the most popular and preferred way of learning? We have always known learners have different leaning styles and are stronger and weaker at different forms of intelligence. One solution fits all will not do. Therefore, I suspect, we will see a lot of blended learning, with great variation on the percentage of online learning versus classroom lessons. Also, how much of this online learning will be self-learning or involve a tutor or teacher helping them out outside the classroom? In what situations will inductive/deductive approaches work best? The importance of learning pace is also another point to be considered: will these students require more individual lessons or profit more from a group learning environment? How much of the class will need to be flipped, when students deal with the theoretical points at home on their own and then come to class to solve practical problems, discuss doubts or simply apply what they learned in a more controlled environment.

 3. Learning Materials. I’m pretty sure print materials are on the way out, as ebooks can offer all the advantages of print ones, and a lot more. If we already prefer to read novels on the Kindle, what to say of the possibilities inbuilt in a multimedia biology or history educational kit, which will allow them to watch a living cell divide itself or a dramatized episode taken place during the Renaissance played out as a video clip at the click of a mouse. Gaming, in addition, will make learning a lot more active and interesting, stimulating parts of the brain a lecture could never achieve to do. However, there is plenty of room for variation within online learning. We need to consider, for example, the best length of video clips to make retention more effective; should each 5-min footage be stopped and followed by a short quiz? What works best: animations or reals actors? Could a simple replication online of an old-fashioned blackboard with a teacher writing on it and explaining the teaching point work? The latter is exactly what Khan Academy does: except that the teacher is exceptionally good and the classes work like magic! Have you ever had trouble with algebra or trig? Try the modules on Khan and you will enjoy the beauty and magic of concepts that seemed arid and boring when you were in high school.

4. Schools/Colleges. What kind of changes will brick-and-mortar schools have to go through to compete with online learning? Blending is the first thing that comes to mind. But if teachers won’t be lecturing and classes are really going to be flipped, what other kinds of special services could schools and colleges provide to attract and retain clients? It’s really exciting to think about this. The moment we understand better how our brains absorb and/or create knowledge, we may need to hire psychologists, speech therapists and neurologists as part of our regular staff to help our learners out and differentiate our schools from the competition.

5. Metrics. Adaptive learning. How are we going to measure and adapt our teaching to the specific needs of students? What international scales, tests and certifications can be created to align consistently the different approaches across different institutions and regions?

These are all very big questions and require a lot of studying and research before we can come up with the right answers. Besides, the process is really dynamic and won’t stop. It will continue evolving and throwing new lights on education and the learning process. These are really exciting times we live in if we are in the field of education.

My recommendation is start reading up and updating yourself as much as you can on what is going on in the field and start experimenting with new forms of teaching, writing, reading, producing and selling learning materials right now. We don’t want you to have to struggle to catch up.The future of education has already started.

I guess this is all for today. Don’t forget to share your views and make your comments about those topics as you leave this page. We’ll be delighted to read them.

Note: you might want to check out our new book TEACHING ENGLISH WITH ART: MATISSE   available  from AMAZON.COM as an ebook.  Click here for more info: 

http://wp.me/p4gEKJ-1kP

Au revoir

Jorge Sette.

 

 

Life, Disappointments and Brazilian Football


I’ve just finished reading a very interesting book which tries to investigate all the emotional investment Brazilians put in football and how the game seems to shape our culture and concept of nation (Futebol Nation: A Footballing History of Brazil, by David Goldblatt). The writer chose to leave Futebol written in Portuguese for obvious reasons.

It’s very well written and helps us understand not only how the game affects Brazilians but also discusses the history of the country in the light of the popular game during the more than 100 years since football was brought to São Paulo by Charles Miller at the end of the 19th century.

Futebol Nation: A Footballing History of Brazil, by David Goldblatt

Futebol Nation: A Footballing History of Brazil, by David Goldblatt

 

Although the English writer could have used a little more sympathy in his analysis of my country and its people, we can’t deny the writing is crisp and precise, despite the lack of warmth. He is visibly not a lover or even an admirer of Brazil, unlike other foreign writers (such as Joseph A. Page, who wrote the fantastic The Brazilians), who, despite reporting on our culture and customs from a distant and objective perspective, showed a lot of understanding and warmth towards our people.

I finished reading the book right before the historic loss of the Brazilian team against Germany last Tuesday, with an astounding result of 7-1, in the semi-finals of the World Cup of 2014, which embarrassed even the polite German players, who sounded uncomfortable explaining their devastating victory in front of the TV cameras.

Despite the catastrophic result, it felt to me nothing like the 3 goals the iconic Italian player Paolo Rossi struck against us in 1982. At that time, I was so desolate I could hardly concentrate on studying for my final exams, which would take place a few days afterwards. This was my lowest point in terms of how I felt about being beaten in football, or even in life for that matter. Just like me, the whole country mourned so deeply you would suspect someone in their families had died. It made me stronger.

What strikes me as weird is the total irrationality of these feelings of loss and even despair most of us still share whenever the Brazilian National Team lose an important match in a World Cup. We, torcedores, have no responsibility whatsoever for the outcome. We did not take part in any decisions; we did not practice or train; most of us never had any personal contact with the players in the field. All we did was invest all the intensity of our emotion and good will in the event, rooting for the team as if they were our sons, brothers or fathers. We did our part, and very well too. And all for free. Worse: some of us even spent little fortunes on all the munitions of war – such as game tickets, horns, T-shirts, confetti, hats and paper streams to celebrate. What else is expected from us? Why do we feel such emptiness, humiliation and guilt?

In the aftermath of every one of these disasters, some of us feel like it’s not possible to carry on living the way we did before. Some young people – obviously the more emotionally unstable ones – even try to hurt or kill themselves.

To make matters worse, it’s not always common to hear comforting words from the players and coach – the only ones responsible for the loss after all. They usually respond defensively and smugly to these mistakes. Yesterday, however, I was pleasantly surprised and moved to hear the player David Luiz express in tears that all he wanted from the Cup was to make his people happy. That sounded really generous and very genuine. Thanks!

Brazilians need to learn not to get so invested and involved in something they have no direct responsibility for. The outcomes of a football match are totally out of the hands of the audience, so why care so much? We need to learn to watch it more like a show. A very exciting one, I should concede, but nothing more than that.

I also felt deeply embarrassed when Britney Spears showed up overweight and disoriented, singing an dancing in the MTV awards ceremony of 2007, during a bad spell in her career. Similarly, James Franco, an actor who I deeply admire for his performances, talent and strong political positions, did not escape from making a fool of himself in front of an audience of millions as one of the hosts in the ACADEMY AWARDS a couple of years ago. Brazilians need to learn to watch football matches with the same kind of detachment and coldness, appreciating the game for its art and deployment of physical skills.

Brazil should not be a synonym for football. We are not Felipão, Julio César, Fred or even the sympathetic David Luiz. They do not represent us. They are artists and athletes who should be putting on better and more professional performances out of respect for their public, given the astronomic salaries they receive to entertain us.

Forget about the World Cup, get on with your life and, if possible, turn the spotlight onto you. Shine on.

Au revoir

Jorge Sette.

 

 

5 Intriguing Business Lessons from Amazon’s Jeff Bezos


If you haven’t had the chance to read Brad Stone’s THE EVERYTHING STORE: JEFF BEZOS AND THE AGE OF AMAZON, reach out for your Kindle and download it right now. It’s an exciting account of the creation and development of Amazon into one of the most unique companies in history and the life of his peculiar founder Jeff Bezos.

IJeff Bezos and the Everything Store

Jeff Bezos and the Everything Store

Amazon.com started as an online book retailer and grew to become a company where you can purchase virtually anything, from apparel, to art to web services. It originated the concept of cloud computing service and was the first company, through the Kindle,  to turn online reading into a reality for thousand of hundreds of people on the planet. In addition, it claims it will be launching rockets into outer space soon.

If Amazon puts the client first – and, as customers,  you and I can certainly attest to that – working for Bezos looks like it’s not a lot of fun. Amazon is supposed to have all the depressing and Orwellian political atmosphere and red tape of huge corporations combined with the lack of resources of a startup. Many of his ex-employees are said to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, and the ones who remain there live under constant pressure and fear of getting fired before the end of the day. Bezo’s explosive personality is not very different from that of another difficult boss – Steve Jobs. It is kind of sad to think Nature tends to offset their kind of genius and creativity with a terrifying temperament and underdeveloped interpersonal skills.

Despite these drawbacks, you may find below a number of interesting lessons and facts about Jeff Bezos and his company. They are all based on info I got from the book. You may either try to apply them in your own business or, at least,  enjoy these points as mere trivia:

1. Monitor your clients more than your competition. Of course Amazon has always kept a close eye on Walmart, Apple, Barnes and Noble,  and Google – their main competitors. But he has always been much more likely to create or optimize processes that, rather than simply emulate these companies breakthroughs in terms of profitability, would actually benefit the client. For him, the client experience has always come first. Short term profit has always been an afterthought.

2. Frugality. Bezos is obsessed with simplicity and adept of an ascetic life style (in this he was not very different from Jobs either, by the way). He has always kept his staff on a very tight budget, cutting all kinds of extra costs with the aim of investing in the clients’ experience. His mantra was low prices everyday (just like Walmart’s), and he would go out of his way to make this happen, keeping his margins to a minimum or even giving them up altogether, such was his confidence in a business model that, if trusted by the client, would payoff in the future. Bezos would carefully  consider the need of every extra expense or cost and try to connect it directly to a benefit to the client. Lack of resources, according to him, would spur creativity and imagination from his staff.

3. You may learn more from fiction than non-fictional books. His favorite novel is Kazuo Ishiguro’s  The Remains of the Day. I was very happy to hear about this, as I love reading novels and this is certainly one of my all-time favorites. However, I don’t really think you can learn the hard facts about being an entrepreneur from the likes of Philip Roth or Machado de Assis. Fiction in my opinion will help you deal with the human side of business, and will probably keep you from having to resort to antidepressants when you struggle to work under bosses like Bezos, get sabotaged by coworkers or even fired.  But,  in my humble opinion, only the actual experience and the study of technical reading material will help you grow in your career. The most interesting thing about this aspect of Bezos’s personality  is  that his love for books boosted the launch of the Kindle, whereas Steve Job’s passion for music  – especially Bob Dylan’s and the Beatles’s – was a strong inspiration in his creation of iTunes. Do what you love and you are more likely to succeed.

4. Think very long term. Entrepreneurs need to persist in seeding. The payoff never comes immediately. Especially now, in this fast-paced, ever-changing technological landscape. Appreciate the little victories you achieve every day and fight on. Celebrate every little step towards a moving target you don’t even know if you will ever reach.

5. Be ruthless in the negotiation with your competition. For Jeff Bezos “win-win” was an unamazon way of thinking. You need to score an advantage over your opponents. Think football during these times of World Cup.  A draw is not acceptable. Do not even be afraid of disrupting your own business model in your pursuit to win. Do everything to destroy it and create something new instead. If you don’t do it, others will. Cannibalization is OK.

You may not agree with every tip Bezos has to offer, but remember where he got to by using them. Of course, you should always take successful entrepreneurs’s  and  gurus’ advice with a grain of salt, for, as Malcolm Gladwell explains in his brilliant book OUTLIERS, there is always a lot more to success than meets the eye. A set of special conditions not available to all is always present in the these Cinderella’s stories of ash to riches, so look out for them.

What is your formula for success? Please share it with us (if we are not competing with you).

NOTE: If you are interested in TEACHING ENGLISH WITH ART, you might want to check out our successful series of eBooks available from AMAZON.COM (KINDLE STORE). Just click here: http://wp.me/p4gEKJ-1lS

Teaching English with art

Teaching English with art

Au revoir

Jorge Sette

Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon: a must-read novel


I’m planning to eat a moqueca today, a typical Brazilian dish consisting of salt water fish stew in coconut milk, onions, garlic, tomatoes, coriander and dendê oil from Bahia. This will be my way of celebrating having finished the delicious novel Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon by Brazilian writer Jorge Amado.

Despite the fact that our literature is not very well known outside the borders of Brazil, chances are the reader will have heard of Amado and his homeland, Bahia. He is one of our most popular writers of the XX century, and his books have been translated into more than 40 languages throughout the world.

Many of his works have been turned into famous Brazilian soap operas, miniseries and movies, but, of course, the experience of watching Amado either on the big or small screen does not compare to the much deeper pleasure of embarking on the deliciously funny, poetic and encompassing canvas of his writing.

Sônia Braga, as Gabriela

Sônia Braga, as Gabriela

Jorge Amado treats the reader with a wealth of unforgettable characters from the lowest to the highest echelons of the provincial cities of the northeast of Brazil, who intermingle in a network of politics, friendships, romance and violence.

Gabriela, the novel, is a dream of humor, poetry and cultural information. As a Brazilian, it felt great to be transported to the Ilhéus (a town on the coast of Bahia) of the first decades of last century, when the booming of the cacao exportation was making changes in the town and its customs at a pace never seen before. Progress was threatening the lifestyle and status quo of the families of the first farmers who got hold of huge expanses of land by force, with the help of their armed jagunços, never hesitating to use violence and murder in constant ambushes against their opponents. But now times were changing, with the arrival of technology and progressist businessmen, who came to those backward towns attracted  by the riches generated by the cacao.

Jorge Amado delivers his prose in a light, funny and detached tone, packed with irony, yet showing great warmth and understanding towards his characters. He depicts prostitutes, rich farmers (the so-called “colonels”), their minions (“jagunços”), churchgoing  and gossipy splinters, lonely concubines, small time businessmen and pathetic pseudo-intellectuals, against the backdrop of the geography and culture of the small provincial cities of the early decades of the 20th century. His prose will stay with you for a long time after you close the book (or switch off your Kindle), such is its power and universality.

Moreover, “Gabriela” is a very sensual text, filled with the colors, smells and tastes of Bahia. It’s a book that celebrates life and the liberation of minds, especially women’s, from the colonial chains and obsolete traditions of a male-dominated society. It’s a radical hymn against machismo, opening up doors to the possibility of freedom.

Gabriela, the protagonist, represents the essence of Brazilianness, in her beauty, simplicity, lightheartedness and pleasure for life. Of course, both the main characters of “Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon” and “Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands”, another famous Amado novel, are deeply associated in our minds with the image of Brazilian actress Sônia Braga, who portrayed them both in famous movies and soap operas during the seventies. Of course, I was too young at the time to fully enjoy them – this, however, does not stop me from putting the face of Ms Braga to the wild Gabriela of the pages of the novel. After all, Sonia Braga was an icon of Brazilian sexuality and beauty in her day.

Jorge Amado is a pleasure to read. His stories will certainly make a profound mark in your life and deepen the awareness you may have of Brazilian culture. I strongly recommend you have a go at it.

Au revoir,

Jorge Sette.