Category: resources

EFL Advent Calendar Activity 2014

Hi everyone,

A couple of years ago I made a Powerpoint Advent Calendar for my students, which would work just as well this year. You can also use the Powerpoint as a template to make your own if you’d like to. :-)

Last year though I tried something new, although it may be rather complicated, using Smilebox (see below) and this could also be used this year, so take your pick: Powerpoint or Smilebox?

First play the smilebox, after it has loaded, which takes a couple of minutes, and you will see a classic advent calendar with windows and little animations behind each one: excellent for all those teaching young learners. It could be used as a prompt for Christmas vocabulary or a game: guess what is behind the window etc.

But there is even more….

If you click on window 24 and wait you will come to a series of 24 photos (yes, you’ve guessed: one for each day in December). Each photo has a question that can be used for multicultural discussion or even as a warmer at this time of year: so here is it the singing and dancing Advent Calendar 2012 with all its bells and whistles :-)

Click to play this Smilebox greeting
Create your own greeting - Powered by Smilebox
A free digital ecard by Smilebox

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. :-)

 

My thoughts on Digital Literacy

20131002-221141.jpg

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.

Using Video, Screencasts, Blogs and Wikis

Hi everyone, I’m afraid the magic carpet took off and then had technical trouble in October over West Yorkshire, where I was grounded for some time due to family problems. However… The MA is going on and I’m getting back into it now so I thought I’d share my thoughts on videos, screencasts, blogs and wikis:

Using video, screencasts, blogs and videos

Number One: Using Jing

First of all, here is an example of a Jing screencast I made a few years ago to help students navigate a photocopied worksheet on phrasal verbs which we were using in class. The link will take you to the relevant wiki page. Scroll down until you come to Week Six: Can you use phrasal verbs? and you will see how the screencast comes in between other worksheets that B2 students were using (and still are). The value here, of the video is that those who missed the class, can see it later, as can those who would like to review their work or go at a different pace from the one set in class.

I don’t actually like Jing very much though, as it is quite intrusive on my desktop and limits what you can do to short screencasts, so I tend to use other software such as Camtasia . Follow this link to see a series of screencasts I did with this software to familiarize learners with dictionary skills. This is a different page of the same wiki. Scroll down until you come to Using Dictionaries.

I also use screencasts a lot for my own professional development when I have to give a presentation. I record the presentation so that I can watch it and improve “my performance”. Follow this linkg to see a presentation I was giving at Iatefl Harrogate 2010. (It is actually iin various parts as you could only upload short videos to Youtube at the time. This is Part One of “Breathing Life into E-Learning” . I also teach my university students how to do this so that they can practise for their C2 Oral exam which involves giving a Powerpoint or a Prezi presentation of the main points from a mini research project that they do. So far, the results have been very favourable and the students are generally enthusiastic.

Number Two: Dvolver

This is another site that I played with a few years ago when I was also trying out work with Comic strips and other animations such as Goanimate or Writecomics among others. In the end I decided that this type of activity was more approapriate for High School Students so I abandoned it but follow this link to a page on the wiki with a Dvolver video that was developed for my middle aged adult conversation course :-). The video was used to introduce the idea of the “Awards” ceremony, in which students gave each other awards for things such as “always being a leader” “Knowing how to say the right thing” etc. If you follow this link you can see the photos from the actual ceremony when the “Rabbit Awards” (Lindt rabbits at Easter time rather than Oscars” were presented. This type of activity, as well as working on language and fluency, goes a long way towards the social community forming type of motivation activity that works well with this group. (I mentioned this in one of the posts on learner strategies.)

Blogs and Wikis

1. Student Blog

I’ve always been a fan of blogs and wikis although the way I use them is probably quite personal. My student blog, for instance,  is not really a personal “diary” type blog but more of a “diary ” of my courses. If you look at the bar at the top of the page you can select the area you are interested in,

so the Universtiy of Verona students wil do the Verona University, and then they can find their page (and I generally leave the page from the previous year too, for those who want to access it). On their page they find an overview of the weeks lessons, plus work they can do to prepare for the next week and useful documents, worksheets etc. that they can download. On the hoepage of the blog there are notices and in the menu on the right there are useful links in categories such as Exam Practice or Study Skills. If you hover over these links with your mouse, you will see my comments on the resources, such as what is good about a particular dictionary etc.

Student Blog

2. Teacher Blog and Wiki

This is a more traditional idea of a blog in that I post my thoughts, insights, resources etc. and I have not been using it much recently becuase, as they say, “Life is getting in the way” with family problems etc. However, I use it a lot to post things that catch my attention or thoughts I have. It has links to other blogs that I like and often use.

Teacher Blog

I also set up a wiki on Wikispaces years ago for my colleagues, and it has taken us about 8 years for everyone to learn how to use it and to use it regularly, but now they do and we use it for exam admin etc. I can’t show it to you because it is private but I can show you how I used screencasts on this one: here is an introduction to Teacher Autonomy when it comes to standardization for oral exams:

3. Student Wiki

I have several of these and I used them before I started the blog. This one has a range of activities that I use for different groups and nowadays I generally provide links from the blog to the relevant activity on the wiki. I use Wikispaces, because I have always found it to be very user friendly, and I had been using the university e-learning site, but it didn’t let me do a lot of the activities I wanted to. (It is very similar to Moodle, just to give you an idea).

One of the nice things about Wikispaces is that each page also has a discussion space so students can join in on discussion threads. In the past we used forums, but this is one way of integrating them better. I have also used the Edublogs wikis which are part and parcel of my student blog, to set up simple wikis for students, and we have experimented with students setting up their own English blogs on Blogger too.

Student Wiki

Here is a Screencast video I made to show some ways in which the wiki space can become a mutual space which starts with me as the teacher but gradually begins to bring in the learners and their contect too: encouraging peer learning:

4. Social Media Space
Despite all my efforts though I have always found it quite difficult to get students to actually work on Wikispaces. I think there are issues of encroachment because they actually do see this space as “mine” as I created it and I use it a lot in class too. That is why a couple of years ago I decided to overcome my reluctance to use Facebook in class and created a “sister page” for our student blog, which has the same name: EnglishLab Discussions. This has been a great success when used as an integral part of the blended learning approach. Learners can upload, presentations, photos or just interesting things that they read etc. and I send them things such as “the word of the week” or “good things from the written exams” or “irritating errors” or simply fun activities. This is definitely not simply my space and the students are using it more and more, Incidentally, they tend to use it to contact me as well, much more so than the university email, which is much more formal.

All this may look as though it takes a lot of work, and it does take constant monitoring, the Facebook Page in particular, but I find that if I go there once or twce a day for five minutes, I can comment on posts and things, and this constant feedback from me, even if it is something quite small encourages students to take the plunge and not to simply lurk in the background.

Facebook Page

How important is it to “Achieve your Aims”?

I was just wondering how much we as teachers notice when we are in the classroom, whether we can achieve our aims at all, and whether this actually matters.

There has been a lot of discussion recently about dogme or getting back to focusing on our learners and their needs rather than bring tied by materials and lesson plans etc. This is a direct development, it would seem from learner centred thinking, which is fairly generally accepted as a good thing. At the same time the idea that teaching should be “demand high” has also been talked about a lot for the past two years and the idea that we should make our materials really work for us, not just skipping mechanically through feedback procedures, for instance, but taking the time to really go into things in a memorable way for our learners.

Both these schools of thought are complimentary to some extent in that they reflect a respect for the learner and the learner’s needs rather than the “planned lesson” with its aims, materials and procedures, where the learners themselves are almost like actors reading their lines.

So I was wondering, in the light of all this, what is actually happening in classrooms. Whilst I am sure that sensitive, experienced teachers all over the world listen to their learners’ needs and plan for them, there is also, largely as a result of official training courses such which need to “measure” teaching competence in various criteria linked ways, the obsession of “achieving our aims” but our aims may not always be the aims or even needs of our learners.

Yesterday, for example, I was watching a trainee teacher doing what she thought was a reading lesson in an elementary class. She was doing this because she, as a teacher needed to practise teaching this skill. In the lesson she set a gist question which very few of the learners actually heard or understood. They read the text, because she had told them too, but when she came to check the answer to the question it was clear that nobody even remembered her having asked it. It was a question, in fact that they could answer without even reading the text: what type of food is good and what is bad? An experienced teacher, of curse, would have made sure the learners had understood the task and knew that they were supposed to ask it based on their reading of the text. This teacher is a trainee and is not experienced enough yet to know how to do this, but what was interesting was that after the lesson she said, “They all seemed to want to talk so I let them!” Tis is true, in fact, they re Italian learners on a Monday afternoon, who were very interested in talking about food, and what was good or not. Ketchup came in for a lot of criticism, in fact. So the learners got a lot of space to increase their oral production in a freer context and enjoyed this. What they did nit do, however, was really develop their reading subskills, and since this was the trainee’s aim in her lesson planning, it did not really bode too well for her. She was given credit for being communicative, listening to her learners and thinking on her feet, but not for her lesson planning.

As far as the learners were concerned it was a nice, enjoyable lesson, and an experienced teacher would have been able to plan for the discussion and to draw in the emergent language that arose, but being able to adjust your aims during a lesson is, in any case, a valuable skill in learner centred teaching so how important is it to be able to achieve your planned aims?

The most important lesson that arose from this teaching practice session, in my view was that teachers need to know what a certain task will give rise to. If you think or know your learners need to develop their reading skills, because they need to study, or for professional purposes, for instance, you need to be able to set tasks that will help them to work on these areas, so you, as a teacher, need a fundamental understanding of what’s happening when students are working in the classroom. In the same lesson another trainee who was working on developing listening skills asked the students a gist question that could be answered in the first few seconds of the text, which meant that a) the lewrners had forgotten e answer by the end if the text, (I certainly had) or b) had not understood the instruction at the beginning so were just listening or c) since they had been given the exercise for the next part of the lesson as well, they went straight into the “listening for specific information” stage of the task.

What this seems to suggest is that learners, on the whole, do what teachers tell them to, when, and if they hear and understand the instructions. If they are given a worksheet, many people automatically start to read it and to do the exercises they see there, so this means that the onus really does fall on the teacher to be skilled enough to give clear instructions in class and to set tasks that will help the learners do what they really need to if we are going to respect learner needs. If university students, for instance, need to develop e subskills of reading to help them with their studies then the teacher should be able to select materials and set appropriate tasks that will lead to these outcomes. This is why, in my opinion, it is essential for teachers to learn how to define and achieve their own aims. In this world we are surrounded by an ever – increasing wealth of materials, which as those who propose a dogme view of teaching quite rightly balk at. For those beginning their teaching careers today, the world of resources is a rich but confusing tapestry, and it needs patience, skill, time and understanding to be able to see the interwoven patterns between materials and tasks, but it is precisely this skill which helps a teacher to go beyond the surface and to provide e type of demand high teaching that will help make learning and language both fun and also relevant and memorable.

So, did you achieve your aims today?

Playing with Fotobabble

As we have all been saying, we need to evolve constantly and not only. What is really important is to

Dreaming
Dreaming

be able to integrate new ideas and tools into our own systematic approach to teaching so here’s my latest foray through the Technology Looking Glass.

Fotobabble

I had been thinking about using this site for a while, and I finally got round to it. The idea is that you choose a photo and record your comment, sotry, questions, whatever… Simple but effective. So h

ere’s my first idea.
I chose a photo that I took in Liverpool and linked it  the theme of “waiting” as it seems to me that a lot of the “objects” are doing just that and then I posted this on my student Facebook page and asked them to comment on what was waiting, who or what for etc. This would then lead in to work in class on a poem entitled, yes, you’ve guessed it… “Waiting” which would then go on to a writing exercise. I’ll tell you more later:
http://www.fotobabble.com/m/OUI4aXk2L3Babnc9

Happy New Year

If you feel like doing a special New Year lesson but are tired of doing New Year’s Resolutions why not do a review of the year lesson. I made a smilebox review of key moments in my 2012, then asked students to make a list of:

3 key moments in their 2012

3 rituals

3 places they had visited

3 events that they were involved in

3 hopes or pieces of advice for 2013

Of course they could also make their own smileboxes as homework, which was an optional extra to then post on our Facebook Page

Here are two versions:

Let me know what happens if you do this with your students :-)

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