An Energy Dip: approaching high demand teaching (Part One)

imageAfter all the excitement of Iatefl last week, I hit reality back in the classroom this week, and what with all the to do about Sugata Mitra’s ideas and the need to make up a whole series of lessons I suddenly found myself in a very dark professional place. I am teaching a group of learners, or rather, trying to help them, prepare for the Cambridge Advanced Exam in June this year. However, do we have an academic year to prepare for this? No, we have 7 lessons, and now, due to Easter and various national holidays we are about to have a three week break. This, as is understandable, has caused a certain amount of panic both for the students and for me. Far from following high demand teaching, something I truly believe in, we have been focusing on exam strategies and they have been doing practice tests at home, independently.

Learning or Devouring exercises?

Focusing on exam strategies! Good idea, I hear someone say. Well, yes, that is what I thought too, until I realised that what they are doing is trying to do as many tests as possible, swallowing entire volumes of tests, emptying the library and then coming back for more. They are definitely motivated, but my energy dip and depression came from the realisation that this is all very shallow, and that I really have no idea if they are actually learning anything at all. I had just finished gong painstakingly through two exercises designed to make them aware of the need not just to focus on single words but to focus on words and the other words they collocate with. It was an exercise where they had to look at sentences, which were examples of candidate errors in the Use of English exam, and decide where the preposition errors were. I went over the activity and they got the answers right with very little trouble.

I knew I was in trouble, though, when I saw someone checking “something” could it have been a train timetable? on her phone. This activity was so far away from engaging these learners that they may as well have been on the Moon.

Time to stop and Reflect

So, what did I do? Well, I said, “OK”… and they were already focusing on the next exercise, when I said “No, let’s think about this.” The smartphone was put aside for a minute. I said. “Yes, you can identify the prepositions very well but can you use these expressions? Will you remember any of them five minutes after you have walked out of this door?” This was said humorously and so greeted by  nervous laughter but I then took pity on them, smiled, and said “So how can you remember new language?” This was familiar territory and someone, with a rsigned expression said “write sentences” and I replied that yes, they could do that, but today we were going to do something different.

Mechanical study or “Meaningful” study?

Stage 1: Cognitive Study

I then asked them in two groups to take one exercise each and paraphrase the phrasal verbs and expressions( these were things like I congratulated him on getting a new job. Absolutely not memorable for these students or anyone else for that matter) I asked them to think about the context the expressions were being used in, and monitored. It soon became clear that there were several problem areas. What could you set up, for instance? Could you only set up a business or could you set up a committee as well? This led us naturally into dictionary work, and they found out how to use these expressions in a lot more depth. They then mixed the two groups and shared their findings, and by this time the questions were coming thick and fast. The smartphone was being used for the dictionary app and the train timetable was a thing of the past.

Stage Two: personalisation and experimentation: making the language your own

Then I asked them to choose five of the expressions and to make them into questions to interview someone in the other group. This was where the meaningful action came as they asked “real questions” and created content that neither I nor the traditional exercises could have predicted. “to congratulate someone on something” was transformed into “Has anyone ever congratulated you on passing your exams? Much more meaningful for these students as was the reply: “Yes, my parents have… when I deserved it.”

Before long we were involved in a discussion about Starbucks and why the concept probably wouldn’t work in Italy. This was communication and, I think, it was definitely demand high teaching.

Reflection again

At the end I asked them why we had spent 30 minutes of our precious lesson on two exercises. They answered that it had helped them to really understand this language. At that point I felt that the energy dip had passed and I was back on track. I agreed with them and warned against mechanical exam practice without going into the language in depth and sent them of with a series of things to do over the three week holiday including the idea that they should “Make the exercises they do really work for them”.

I’m quite excited to see what they bring back with them :-)

 

 

 

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So, what do you think?

merry go round

All the fun of the fair

Hi everyone,

I decided today that rather than give the highlight of the sessions I went to I’d talk to people at the conference to find out their thoughts about the conference. I aksed the people I spoke to just one questions:

“What has this conference made you think about?”

So, it’s only fair if I start the ball rolling myself and tell you what I think.

A Fantastic Roundabout of ideas and meetings

I’m actually exhausted at the moment, but in a positive way, and I’m fully intending to get my second wind and go to the Pecha Kucha soon. What I have to say though is that this conference has been packed with inspiration for me. last year was not so good as I hobbled around on two broken ankles (Yes, I know you’re tired of hearing about it but it feeds my martyr complex :-) ) so it was all a bit of a haze. This year has been one of the best conferences I’ve attended for ages, and I’m sure that when I get back these incredible ideas will begin to fall into place, so watch this space for more blog posts. But the social aspect was also really important and I’ve caught up with so many people here this year and connected with others who I only really knew through distancelearning or ELTChat.

So, I went to the Pecha Kucha, which was fantastic and caught up with more friends along the way, rounding the evening off with Yorkshire Sausages in Betty’s. (If you haven’t been there yet, make time to go before you leave, if only for a cup of their lovely tea.) Anyway, here are a few of the things people said to me, which are anonhymous, but I’ve specified the place these people are working in. I’d love to hear from you as well, so please add your answers to the question in the comments space below if you’d like to. :-)

 

The Social Side of things

This of course got some positive comments despite the hangovers that were walking around this morning after the CUP party last night:

The world is a very small place. (Jersey)

It’s about seeing people and catching up. (London)

The organisation

I admire the organisers and I’m enthusiastic about the whole project which is Iatefl: it’s quite unique. (Germany)

Inspiring! Everyone is always so supportive and the mentoring system works really well. Everyone’s friendly and the audiences are supportive. (Germany)

Thoughts about language, teaching and teacher training

ELT teachers are not following the Edtech trends easily which is not the case with secondary teachers, who are applying the technology. (Dubai)

It made me think how far the DELTA is behind the current thinking and what people are saying here. It also made me think about levels after David Graddol’s plenary when I was talking to people in India at a call centre for help with my mobile phone, and was passed along a chain of people with different levels until I reached somoeone with high levels who had enough language to be able to reassure me.  (Leeds)

The principle behind lexical priming is so beautifully simple. (Dublin)

There is a long way to go to bridge the gap between what is being discussed here and what happens in the classroom. (Russia)

I realise that there are many different routes open to me and that it’s easy to branch out. Culture can be an asset in the classroom and I got lots of practical classroom activities too. (France)

Organising your time at the Conference

Collaboration, communication and development. Sharing and networking (Rumania)

It’s really important to know how to choose what to go to and what not to go to. My conference has been a bit more hit than miss this year, and it was better last year when I had very specific aims about what I wanted to see. (Germany)

So there you are: a quick taste of what different people are taking away with them. :-)

 

 

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The Demand keeps growing higher, and higher…

Confusion

Am I just feeling stressed?

Quality teaching means helping the learners to learn without feeling stressed.

The theme of High Demand has stayed at the back of my mind all day today, beginning with Katherine Graves’ plenary this morning, when she spoke very eloquently about the way that what is often perceived as an inefficient use of classroom time in ‘bureaucrat speak’, where the key is efficient, cost effective outcomes, actually means quality teaching; to my mind this is an application of Adrian Underhill and Jim Scrivener’s “demand high teaching” meme that I was talking about on Tuesday. What it means is that classroom feedback does not stop at merely eliciting an answer and moving on, regardless of whether the learner has really understood all that it might imply. Katherine Graves’ example came from a mathematics class where learners needed to know the technical term “perimeter” but said something like “goes all the way round” and the teacher accepted this, as the concept had been communicated, but did nothing to help the learner come to terms with the word “perimeter”, which they would need to know for their school work. In the same way in a language class, it is not enough to go round the class merely eliciting answers and replying “Good” even when the answer is not particularly good, which does not help the learner. What helps the learner is to respect the fact that he or she is having trouble with something, finding out what that is and helping them to work through the process of understanding and producing the language, or understanding the problem, without feeling threatened or belittled along the way.

Words or Phrases?

My other main focus today was lexis, and Michael McCarthy’s presentation was as memorable as ever, as he discussed some of the data from the Cambridge Learner Corpus that shows learners have trouble with delexicalised verb + noun phrase collocations. He gave a series of examples which occurred across the board ranging from B1 to C2. What was interesting was that the same problems occurred, just that the word choice tended to become more complex as the level increased. With the example of “make” and “do” being mixed up, for instance, at B1 learners might say “make sports” at B2 “make work” at C1 the instances of confusion were fewer but they were still there with example like “make business” and at C2 “make wonders”. Some items occurred from B2 to C2 like “make research”. His point was that, as he said, when quoting Sinclair, that collocation is not fringe and although he did not really go into the teaching side of all this the implications are once again that it makes no sense to teach single words. Learners need to be focusing on collocations, phrases, and chinks as single units, right from the start.

What is lexical grammar?

What is lexical grammar?

The Lexical Approach or the Lexical Dimension

At the moment, grammar is still probably king with lexis coming second and being fitted into the lesson around the grammar. Michael Hoey will probably tell us tomorrow, in fact, that this is the opposite of the way we use language where it is the grammar that seems to be generated as a result of lexical choice. Michael Lewis also wrote about chunks, collocations and precisely the problems that were mentioned today but the problem of his “Lexical Approach”, which generations of teachers have tried to apply, is that it is not systematic enough for educators to build a curriculum around. Materials and teaching approaches need to be developed along systemic lines and based on sound principles, and whilst the principles here are sound, in my opinion, the system is lacking. This is why Ivor Timmis article in 2008 in the Modern English teacher was such a breath of fresh air to so many of us, because he put down in words what we were all feeling but couldn’t find the words to express. He said that what we need is not to radically change the syllabus we are teaching but to add a lexical dimension to it. This again brings me back to the demand high teaching theme, because what it means is that is not enough for learners to look at single words, which is still so often the case in the materials that are commonly available, but to look, as McCarthy said at “the company they keep“, to look at the collocations and the chunks and to work with them.

Collocation, of course, varies from one language to another, but, to come back to Katherine Grave’s point of respecting the learner and their language, this could actually be used as a resource rather than a problem, working on contrastive analysis in class, and playing with this phenomenon.

It’s quite late and I fear I may be rambling now, so I’m going to have a cup of tea and leave you until tomorrow, when the day starts with Michael Hoey’s plenary. I want a good night’s sleep so that I’ll be bright eyed and bushy tailed for that. (there are a couple of lovely collocations to sleep on :-) )

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Highlights from My Day One at Harrogate Iatefl 2014

Making the most of texts: each one a world to discover

Making the most of texts: each one a world to discover

So the first day has finished and it seems to have gone by in a whirl or ideas, discussions, meetings with old friends and encounters with new ones. I said in a previous post that a theme tends to emerge during the conference and this year my these is materials, tasks and getting the most out of them, both as a materials designer and teacher.

Demand High Teaching

My first session this morning was with Adrian Underhill who focused on “Demand High Teaching” the meme (they don’t like to think of it as an approach, but rather a cultural notion that is on the tip of everyone’s tongue.) Basically, the idea behind this is that many of our classroom routines have become mechanical, and a matter of following the coursebook instructions without really “teaching”. This, as Adrian Underhill and Jim Scrivener rightly say, leads to lost learning opportunities, and half baked routines that do not benefit learners. The focus today was pronunciation but this may be true for many areas of teaching, and what it means, in a nutshell, is to bring back the skill of teaching, exploiting coursebook tasks or any others to get as much out of them as possible, with the learner and his or her problems and needs right at the centre of the process. By focusing on individuals and helping them to do the very best they can, we bring back teaching in a vocational sense.  To see more, visit the Demand High Learning blog.

What do Teachers want from their Coursebooks?

My day moved on seamlessly to a discussion of what teachers want from their coursebooks, where Heather Buchanan from Leeds Metropolitan University and Julie Norton from the University of Leicester presented the results of their questionnaire, which had been circulated among teachers to find out what they want from their coursebooks. As might be expected there were many different answers but one illuminating comment that struck me came from a teacher who had more than 20 years’ teaching experience, and who wanted a coursebook that would be a sort of “store” of various different activities, approaches, images and texts, that could all be accessed and combined in different ways. In fact, this already exists in sites like Onestopenglish and on the English360 platform, to mention only two examples. So what I wondered was whether the problem was lack of information, and marketing of these resources. The question is how to reach teachers to let them know what is out there in a digital world which is often overwhelming including so much information that the pearls are often buried in the mass of data.

Do Materials Writers have Principles?

Jill Hadfield looked at a whole series of theoretical principles and asked whether materials writers have similar principles or not. her conclusion was that there are similarities but that the materials writers’ underlying principles, even when implicit rather than explicit, tend to be more practical but also more complicated, combining a wealth of underlying principles that reflect the learning process and the practical needs of classrooms in a way that is perhaps more difficult for theorists to do. She also talked about what she refers to as “core energies” which are not the writers’ principles but rather the “passions” that drive them and that come through as being their own personal styles or voices. A core energy is what tells us that a material has been written by Raymond Murphy or by Mario Rinvolucri, for instance, even if both are working from the same principle that materials should foster communicative language competence.

Networking and sharing

As I said in a previous post, though, the conference is not only about the presentations. It is also about talking to people and networking, and my focus on materials writing has brought me into contact with a whole group of materials writers yesterday and today. Writing can be a very lonely process, as we all sit behind our computers working away. Nowadays writers can work together across great geographical distances and sometimes never meet their co-writers when everything is filtered through their editors. This was really useful as I found about a whole range of sites for writers including a great Facebook page : eltT2W (Elt teachers to writers) where materials writers can share ideas, and problems with each other, making the whole process just a little more social. :-)

Final Thoughts

My final thoughts today are that so much is a matter of communication and keeping channels open. Information is a key word of our times but we need to know how to access and share it so that we can create knowledge together and go on to get the very best out of ourselves as teachers, writers and students. Learning is a lifelong process both for students and teachers, and I forget who said this but it seems to be quite appropriate:

“A great teacher is someone who aims for improvement rather than perfection”

Being open to new ideas and to new opportunities can enrichen your professional experience. Someone told me the other day, that there’s not much call for data driven teaching approaches, and that can be interpreted two ways: either you give up thinking that nobody wants it or you see it as a whole new market who, in the words of Benjamin Zander, see it as “a glorious opportunity” as those people “don’t know yet” how much they can learn from this approach.

So that’s it for today, let’s see what tomorrow will bring. :-)

 

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Plenary, plenary, plenary

Why do we have Plenaries?

Plenaries are a recognisable feature of most conferences, but what makes us go to them and what do we get out of them? I think I can say that over the years I have learned so much from Iatef plenaries that it-s hard to know where to start, but I’ll give it a try.

1) Theatre

First of all there is the theatrical aspect. Sitting in a dimly lit auditorium full of people with the spotlight on a central stage is possible not a very popular image these days when it comes to education. There is, however, definitely, in my experience, an element of magic coupled with a sense of expectation, when a hush falls over the audience and the presenter appears on stage. Plenary presenters are the gurus, those who are at the top of the profession, and for many they are “names” that we only know from their books, or from references we have heard, but in a professional sense they are household names, at least in our ELT world.

2) Telling Stories

These are not presentations where there is a limited amount of time to put across one or two central ideas, there are moments where individuals tell their stories. They have a wealth of experience and knowledge, developed over years of practice and reflection, which they communicate to us. I have learned so much from inspiring speakers at Iatefl, that stays with me over the years. Some, inevitable strike a chord with me more than others, and others will strike a chord with you for different reasons. Iatefl often invites a speaker to close the conference who is “a bit different” connected to “English” but not directly related to teaching. This year it is the turn of Jackie Kay, who writes for various media including stage and television, she will, in her own words “be reopening the border country of the imagination.” Unfortunately I’ll miss this event as I have to leave on Saturday morning but it will be a lovely way to look back on the conference, watching the video once I get home. So don’t despair if you can’t go to everything. Iatefl Online is there to help you.

3) Themes

The plenary sessions tend to “set themes” for the conferences and these speakers ask important questions that help us to look at the “big picture” in ELT. David Graddol will be asking whether the message that “learners need to learn English for economic reasons” is really true, and whether or not that English is a good investment. Sugata Mitra will be telling the story of his “hole in the wall” experiments with children organising their own learning in public and open spaces.  Kathrine Graves will be looking at learning, teaching and curriculum design ans asks whether “inefficient” approaches to learning, that focus on the learners and their needs rather than getting through the curriculum as quickly as possible, are really as inefficient as they might appear. Finally, Michael Hoey, who is one of my personal icons will look at Lewis and Krashen, both of whom have been criticised, to see how corpus-linguistic research backs up much of what they say, and what the implications of this are for teaching.

5) A personal reflection

When I saw that Michael Hoey was going to give a plenary I went to my bookshelves and got out “Lexical Priming” (Hoey 2005) which I had read with excitement when it was first published and then not focused on too much in the intervening years, I admit. What I found when I was sitting on the airplane suspended somewhere between Venice and Amsterdam, and I reread the introduction, was that even though, consciously, I had not looked back at this book, subconsciously the ideas were there, in the background, colouring the way I think about and, therefore, teach language.

Priming is, in a nutshell, what happens in an individual’s mind when we hear or see a word or piece of language. We are “primed” by the word itself, by our own history and background, and by the context we are in, to expect a specific piece of language that will be combined either collocationaly or colligationally (grammatically) with that language. As I was sitting on the plane, mulling this over a (Dutch, I think as I was on a KLM flight) came past and asked me:

“Would you like a sweet snack or a salty snack?”

I answered without a second’s hesitation that I’d like a “salty snack” please, and it was only after she had moved on that it occurred to me that something “felt wrong” about that. Then it came to me that what I would normally expect was a “savoury snack” (In fact that it what it said on the box on the trolley, I later noticed). I understood this exchange, however, with not trouble at all, as the “sweet snack” primed me to expect an alternative. The intonation helped too, and I accommodated by automatically using the same expression. This is a process that I find fascinating and I’ll be reflecting on it length later but right now, I’m afraid I have to go to get ready for the first plenary.

Hope to see you there…

 

 

 

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Gearing up for Iatefl 2014 in Harrogate…

Blogger-harrogate-300x300-bannerGetting the Most out of a Great Conference

Whether you are teaching in the UK or in New Zealand, or even a village in Umbria, you have almost certainly heard of the annual IATEFL conference, where thousands of ELT professionals gather in the UK to share their ideas, to network, browse publications, to attend the great “EFL related” evening entertainment:  ranging from cabaret acts and storytelling to music, general knowledge quizzes, Pecha Kucha ev and several parties and, of course we all go there to learn and develop professionally.

An Uplifting Moment in the Year

I’ve been attending this conference for quite a few years now and I must say that it is one of the most uplifting moments in my professional year. I always come home feeling recharged (if exhausted) with new ideas and insights to explore and put into practice. When you’ve been teaching for a while, you need this sort of event to recharge your batteries and to help you keep up your enthusiasm. The conference, as I said, is enormous though, so it is important to have some kind of game plan before you even start, otherwise the wealth of parallel sessions, not to mention the evening events will overwhelm you. So here are a few tips for a great conference. (I’m writing them for myself, by the way, but I thought I’d share them with you too.

merry go round

All the fun of the fair

Tips for a Getting the most out of the Conference

1) First of all, if you can’t come physically, don’t despair. Iatefl, together with the British Coucil, stream many of the sessions and others are videod so you can watch them at your leisure. Go to Iatefl Harrogate 2014 Online

2) Also the fact that so many sessions are videod means that you don’t need to panic if you can’t see everything. You can catch up later. So check which sessions are being filmed and if it clashes with something else, or, which sometimes happens, the room is full, don’t worry. You can see it later.

3) Use the programme well. It is an enormous publication with a wealth of information. I generally don’t carry it around with me as it’s heavy but I pull the coloured pages out from the back for each day and that is my working programme. It also helps you to see events you might otherwise miss. I noticed the “Open Spaces” event for this year, which I think looks very interesting.

4) Don’t try to do everything. I generally have several criteria I apply to the sessions I attend. (Yours may well be different but the point is you need to have some :-)

a) I look to see who is presenting to go to talks by people I’m interested in because I’ve read their books, know their blogs etc. and I try to see new people each year;

b) I restrict my sessions to fields I’m particularly interested in, such as materials development, e-learning and technology, learner autonomy. However, I don’t reject other things that may look interesting, and every conference seems to organically create a sort of intuitive “narrative thread” for me when I get there. I remember my thread in Harrogate 2010 was “Storytelling” and I seemed to see references to this all round me. In fact, I wrote a conference review that year, and it was based on Agatha Christie’s disappearance in Harrogate… It all went on from there.

c) Remember to take time out to relax, to have coffee and chat with people and to sleep, or just to walk around the city and have fun. One of my favourite places in Harrogate is Betty’s tearooms, where their aptly named  “fat rascals” scones are wonderful as is their tea. Just don’t go at popular times otherwise you’ll be standing in a queue for hours!

IMG_0894

Brimham Rocks: a magical place

Another venue I love in Harrogate is the Turkish Baths which have a real Victorian, Art Nouveau feel to them. Around the city there is also the wonderful countryside of the Yorkshire Dales and one of my all time favourite places to visit is Brimham Rocks, but you need transport to get there. This time out is essential as it also gives your brain time to rest and process all the input you’re getting, and you often come back with ideas you hadn’t even realised you were developing.

d) Finally I think it is in the spirit of the conference to share what strikes you with others, with your colleagues who could not attend, with others via Social Networks and with learners, who often get left out, but who, let’s face it, are pretty central to the whole process.

So, I hope you have a great conference. I’m off to pack now :-)

 

 

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Announcing New Embed Support for Getty Images

hartle:

Seems too good to be true, but is it a first step towards new attitudes towards copyright?

Originally posted on WordPress.com News:

Earlier today, Getty Images announced a new embed feature that will allow people to access and share photos from its extensive library of images for non-commercial purposes. We have been working with Getty Images over the past few weeks and are excited to bring this feature to WordPress.com!

Embedding images at the speed of a shutter

Imagery is a powerful way to communicate your ideas. Whether you want to profile a famous personality or share your passion for soccer, you can now do so with Getty Images’ photography. With this new embed feature, WordPress.com users can access one of the world’s largest digital archives in a simple and — just as important — legal way.

To embed an image, you can grab the embed code directly from the Getty Images website. Just hover over the image, and click on the embed icon “</>”:

Getty Embed SS

Next, copy the embed code into…

View original 174 more words

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So what’s next? Web 3.0?.. Second Life? Or human beings communicating with each other?

See on Scoop.itInspiration for tired EFL Teachers

So what’s next? Web 3.0? .. Second Life? Or human beings communicating with each other? Most people have some idea these days what we generally mean by Web 2.0 even though Tim Berners-Lee, who inve…

Sharon Hartle‘s insight:

Here are my latest thoughts on technology after looking at learners’ work on Wikispaces Classroom

See on hartlelearning.wordpress.com

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So what’s next? Web 3.0?.. Second Life? Or human beings communicating with each other?

001

So what’s next? Web 3.0? .. Second Life? Or human beings communicating with each other?

Most people have some idea these days what we generally mean by Web 2.0 even though Tim Berners-Lee, who invented the World Wide Web in 1989 actually says that there is no such thing. What I understand by Web 2.0 is the transition from the top down communication that I grew up with where audiences received information from mass media, to a collaborative medium where content is, or may be, created by everyone. This has its pros and cons, that I’m not going to go into here in any great depth, but it is fair to say that whilst Neil Postman, in the eighties, told us that we had “no say” and could “do nothing” about the big questions, this was probably true, as most of the information was coming from the television to the viewers, or from newspapers to readers, so top down, from those in authority, to us, the masses, who did not even have the means to really know if what we were being fed was true or not.

Relationships and Communication, or Reaching Out.

This is no longer true, in the sense that now we can all interact with just about anyone, and videos that are making statements go viral everyday, as flash mobs are organised. Michael Wesch, in the video I include below, describes the way that the remix of an advert caused multinationals to renegotiate in order to protect the environment, and for whatever, reason they may have decided to do this, it has to be a good thing, and that was brought about by activity that was moving bottom-up, from us to them. The very fact that I am sitting here blogging means that I am not just scribbling my thoughts in a private journal as I used to do, but I am reaching out to you, and at least one or two people will read this and then add their own thoughts to the mix. This is, in my opinion, social construction of knowledge, and this, I think is what we mean by Web 2.0.

file0001662874096Is Knowledge an Object?

This is an image we all tend to associate with knowledge, and our education systems still buy into this idea. Knowledge is an object or a construct. Teachers can “provide it” for their learners, and learners can “acquire it” by studying, thinking and building up ever growing stocks of information. If we are very lucky some of our teachers will encourage us to think critically about this information and draw our own conclusions, but it is still knowledge as an object. Learning languages involves learning skills, and even these become objectified (I’m not sure if that’s even a word, but you know what I mean :-). In the language learning world we really should know better. Our learners all want to “communicate” which means “doing things with language” it does not mean memorizing volumes of metadata about iffy grammar rules, but even now, in the 21st Century, there are still classrooms whereoral exams mean speaking in the L1 about the systems of the L2, rather than actually using the L2 to do something meaningful. This is not, however, the norm, any more, fortunately, I have to add, and most classrooms nowadays reflect the shift that I mentioned at the beginning when thinking about the difference between the era of the television and our Web 2.0.

Knowledgeable or Knowledge-able?

Michael Wesch’s TED talk is entitled “From Knowledgeable to Knowledge-able” and, I think, this says it all in a nutshell. What our learners (and not only the learners but all of us, in fact) need to learn is how to use knowledge, what to do with it, how to communicate and how to find the reliable information they need to carry out the business of living. Gavin Dudeney in this presentation on Digital Literacies, said very similar things and one of the most memorable points he makes, I think, is that digital citizens envision technology as processes wuch as chatting, studying, blogging, skyping etc. whereas the technophobes are much more likely to think of technology as a collection of objects that are very likely to break down and cause them yet another headache. We’ve all been there, of course, and there is nothing worse than your computer crashing, unless it’s your car , with you in it, perhaps… Anyway, nothing is perfect but focusing on what we can do with technology rather than the devices themselves, seems to be a recipe for a more successful use. From this point of view, then, of course, what we need to do is to organise those processes, learn how to multitask, and in language learning, use the technology to increase our skills of communication in all languages.

Where next? Past, Present, Future or all three together?

Where next? Past, Present, Future or all three together?

Task Based Learning and Collaboration

So, whether your task is to get from A to B or whether it is to design your future, collaborating with others and learning from each other is, in my experience, one of the best ways to do things well. I know that I can study alone and probably do a good job, but when I work in a small team, the results are invariably better, as none of us is perfect and we can all teach each other something. I am thinking in particular about the process of writing exams, where, with the best will in the world, the items you write will not all be perfect, and sharing doubts etc. with a well-meaning colleague is a great help. This is why I am a great believer in task-based learning, particularly at B2+ levels, as it also has to be said, that learners who cannot use the language at at least an intermediate level tend to struggle when it comes to tasks, or they become so engrossed in the task that they fall back into the L1, as the task has become more important than the language they are using.

From a B2 level onwards, however, learners benefit much more from using the language to do meaningful activities and to actually create meaning with new language rather than artificial practice activities, but in order to do this those tasks may have to be scaffolded. It is rather daunting for learners to listen to native speakers doing a task, which simply provides a model that they will not be able to emulate. It would seem to be better to break the final task up into sub tasks in order to finally build the skills required to do the final one, so that writing an article about travel destinations to publish on a site like Tripadvisor, for instance, may start with work on the vocabulary learners may need, or some language work on the type of construction they may need when writing. Knowing how to do something is not the same as simply acquiring knowledge. Learning about how relative clauses work, because you are going to use them in a real life task like writing a Tripadvisor review, for instance, is a far cry from simply looking at relative clauses because they are the next item on the syllabus. There, are, of course, still issues, with task-based learning and one of these is how to build a meaningful syllabus based on tasks. I’m still looking for an answer to this. Any ideas?

Working together with Normalised technology

It seems to me that the real question is not whther we are in the era of Web 2.0 or Web 3.0, whatever that may ultimately prove to be, but whther the technology we are using is simply a “normal” part of the way we relate to each other on a daily basis. y learners are already using technology to work together on English tasks  this quite well, and having just seen some of the great texts they are producing on our class wiki space, I felt quite euphoric and had to write this. Without even thinking too much about it, they are just sitting there and creating something together. The technology has become, in the words of Stephen Bax, normalised, so that it is not what is important, what is important is the process they are carrying out and the ideas they are exchanging. The technology is improving all the time, of course, so that nowadays comments can be made directly into a collaborative text and this can be stored digitally so that everyone can work on it together. This, to my mind, is what the next stage is, and we are already embarking on the process. It has more to do with human relationships and what we choose to do than the technology we use to do it, although, as I said a the beginning, we are in the middle of a shift where a bottom up approach to communication is proving dramatic. How we use these systems depends on us, and Michael Wesch tells the Aztec story of the little bird who tried to put out an inferno of the burning world with a few little drops of water from his beak. He was doing the best that he could. If we all join him, then think how powerful that might be.

Here is the video:

“From Knowledgeable to Knowledge-able”

 

 

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My thoughts on Digital Literacy

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I’ve recently been thinking quite a lot about digital literacy and not only because we are studying the concept at the moment on my MA course but what it means to my learners too. So I thought I’d share my conclusions with you. This is a bit more academic than usual but I hope you’ll bear with me.

 

What digital literacy means to me

I was initially very impressed with Bax’s notions of normalisation, when I heard them in 2010 at the Iatefl conference in Harrogate, and I think this tied in with what Scott Thornbury was saying at the same event where he concentrated on ‘the need to ensure that the technological tail does not wag the pedagogical dog’. What this means to me is that digital literacy is: being able to use online spaces and digital tools to communicate, work, learn and create in a ‘normal’ way so that the tools and competences required are part of everyday life. This, of course, includes all the various key elements of digital literacy that are mentioned in the literature, such as knowing how to use technology to create content which is appropriate for the target online (or otherwise) context, with an awareness of copyright and plagiarism notions and knowing how to publish or share that content safely. It means knowing how to search for and find information, involving filtering skills and critical thinking, and knowing when to switch off and go for a walk instead. Finally, it also means network literacy, including cultural understanding of what sort of environment you are in and what is appropriate behaviour, as well as the implications of what you publish and the digital imprint you are creating for yourself. This is a broad summary of some of the ideas explored in (Hockly, H.( 2012), Dudeney, G. (2012), Poore, M (2013), Payton, S. & Hague, C. (2010)

 

Implications for Teachers and The Learning Process

Student Facebook page(Click on the image to access the Facebook Page)

 

To come back to the idea of normalisation and Thornbury’s metaphorical technology dog, it is inevitable to some extent that the ‘wow factor’ has a negative impact when teachers (or learners) use technology simply because it is a novelty but without sound pedagogical principles behind that use, and although this does happen, it is also true that there are many teachers who integrate technological tools systemically into their teaching.

Introducing social media, for example, in a principled way is one highly effective way of doing certain things such as using the class Facebook Page to extend a discussion, which was started in class, but there was not enough time to take any further, or to work on language, to encourage learners to read and watch videos by providing sites and tasks and to provide them with an informal space to post their own content and share ideas.

Here is one example of a discussion which university students began in class on the subject of what success means to them. This was then continued outside class on their Facebook page

The initial post:

This morning we discussed “success” in the C1 lesson. What does it mean to you? Money and fame, or…?

The Comments

M C I think the happyness of having a job that you like…with a small part played by money…Unlike · Reply · 3 · 13 January at 18:09

G D After a strong involvement in a job or in a research. Unlike · Reply · 1 · 13 January at 22:30

C A I think it is about achieving your goals, being loved and appreciated for who you are and being happy  Unlike · Reply · 1 · 13 January at 20:51 · Edited

G D I consider the “success” a gratification after a strong involve Like · Reply · 13 January at 22:29

The Statistics

202 people saw this post

The fact that there were only four comments is, in my opinion, not particularly significant, as what is much more important here is the fact that 202 people saw the post and thoughts about it. Lurking, in fact, is a choice, and the fact that someone does not comments does not necessarily mean that they are not learning something from the page. The discussion has effectively been extended beyond the classroom to become a part of our ‘normal’ digital world on Facebook.

 

There are, however, various issues that my learners need to come to terms with which go beyond the issues of functional digital literacy (using blogs, social media to create content among other things). (Poore 2013). They need to become more aware of what it means to be part of a network and what they are actually publishing. Many learners are not aware of issues of safety and privacy. They do not know what it means to publish their photos on social media, and what rights they are giving the owners of the space by doing so. On the other hand we are living in what is increasingly becoming a ‘remix’ world, where the boundaries between what is real and what is a spoof, are getting more and more blurred every day, so learners need to know what is real and what isn’t. This however, may go beyond the remit of the ELT class. What is essential in my context of the university world, however, is the notion of plagiarism and copyright, which learners are not often aware of particularly when it comes to publishing photos they have found online. All these are areas that need to be explored.

 

Burning the candle at both ends

The Wow Factor

Bax recently wrote, in 2011, however, an article revisiting his view of normalisation, which he defined in 2003 as ‘the stage at which a technology is used in language education without our being consciously aware of its role as a technology, as an effective element in the language learning process (Bax, 2003)’ and in the 2011 article he examines some of the fears and expensive mistakes that are made when institutions, for instance, introduce technology because of the ‘wow’ factor, interactive whiteboards, being a blatant example of this if not support and training is also provided or only occasional access to the tool is allowed. He argues for a constructivist approach to the implementation of technology, and I would agree with this although I can remember a few years ago trying to motivate learners to use Skype to organise “spoken practice” session with a partner who lived in another town. The idea was that they should do a set task together using Skype. This was very unsuccessful, and with hindsight, it was another example of encroachment perhaps, of them not really using Skype for education, but rather for chatting to their friends. Recently, however, a group of my learners were preparing collaborative presentations using Prezi, and when I asked them to give feedback on how they had set about this, they said that they had skyped. To skype, then has become a verb, and is a normalised means of communication for these students who simply used it as the most convenient way to communicate with each other in order to  do the task they needed to. The difference is that the technology is not a novelty to them, any more than a pen would be. It is simply a means to an end, and what is perceived as important is the task they are involved in.

 Final Thoughts: the magical experience

As a final comment on digital literacy, however, I would like to add that I think true ‘digital citizens’ are in fact fascinated by technology and are curious about exploring the potential various tools can provide, precisely because they are amazed, not by the technology or the devices themselves, but by what they can enable us to do. Too much normalisation can lead to us losing the sense of wonder or the miraculous that is what makes people react to the novelty or the ‘wow factor’ of the tools in the first place. The use of the car, for instance, has been completely normalised in my socioeconomic context of Northern Italy, but sometimes to simply sit in your car and realise how powerful it is and what a wonderful thing it is to be able to travel such distances so easily, or to realise what it means to press a button and find a whole orchestra inside a little box we call a stereo, is a salutary experience. I remember the delight I first felt when I shared a photo of my day out to the seaside on Facebook, and people immediately responded to it. These tools are wonderful things precisely because they extend communication in new ways, and they are part of the miracle of life.

 

References

Bax, S. (2003) CALL – past, present and future. System 31 (1) March pp. 13-28

Bax, S. (2011)  Normalisation Revisited: The Effective Use of Technology in Language Education.  International Journal of Computer-Assisted Language Learning and Teaching 1 (2), April-June.  pp. 1-15.

Dudeney, G. (2012) Plenary at ThaiTESOL conference, slides available at http://www.dudeney.com/DigitalLiteracies.pdf

Hague, C. & Payton, S. (2010) Digital Literacy across the curriculum: a Futurelab Handbook, available at: http://www2.futurelab.org.uk/resources/documents/handbooks/digital_literacy.pdf

Hockly, N. (2012) New Technologies: Digital Literacies, ELT Journal Volume 6 (1) January, p.108-112;

Poore, M (2013) Using social media in the classroom – a best practice guide, SAGE

 

Summary of Harrogate 2010 Iatefl  PreConference Event  Accessed on 15th February 2014.

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