The Dark Matter, or themes at the Iatefl Conference

 

Post Method EFL: a theme for this year’s conference

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As the sessions pass by and I go through the day at Iatefl I notice certain themes tend to emerge  within the conference, or perhaps what people say  simply reflects ideas I have somewhere in my own mind that are brought to the surface. Whatever the case it is a strange process that I notice happening every year, as one speaker takes ideas from another and weaves them into the fabric of his or her own presentation. As each day progresses I feel ideas and thoughts taking root and blossoming in the back of my mind behind any really conscious thought process. Anyway, this is starting to sound rather too esoteric so let’s get our feet back on the ground.

Going Beyond Limitations

On Friday, as I mentioned in a previous blog post, we rounded off the PCE session with a reflection on questions that may not be new but were related to our teaching practice as new technologies emerge. Diane Slaouti, whose focus was Theorising our Practice, cited Kumaravadivelu and his ideas about post method teaching and I would like to quote one idea from his 2003 publication Beyond Methods which is one of his goals to:

‘urge them [teachers] to go beyond the limited, and limiting, concept of method and consider the challenges and opportunities of an emerging postmethod era in language teaching.’ (p. 1.)

This is the idea I felt kept recurring today: the idea of going beyond limitations and exploiting opportunites. It began this morning with Donald Freeman’s plenary where he discussed the myths we believe  as teachers , and that may freeze our thinking. Our methods and beliefs, our instituational contraints our own fears, hopes and habits can all lead us to limit ourselves and the learning that might take place in our classrooms. He asked who takes responsibility for learning? Does the teacher take sole responsibility for learning? We were all thinking “Oh, no. My classes are learner centred” But how true is this? Who decides what is to be taught or focused on, when and how? How often do we think things to ourselves along the lines of: “Oh, I can’t do this. It won’t work with that class” which is a decision we are making as teachers rather than giving learning a chance to “happen”. So much of learning, which also came up several times on Friday, is informal or incidental, so it it worth asking where learning is happening and how we can leave space for it to happen in our own contexts.

Learners looking for information autonomously
What sort of question is a real question?

What Questions  do we ask?

 

This idea was taken up by Anrew Walkley who examined the questions we routinely ask in class, and who questioned the effectiveness of classic CCQs, in particular, both for grammar and lexis. Whilst I expressed my reservations about debunking these completely as these mechanisms grew out of a need to have feedback rather than simply asking “Do you understand?” before moving on as students smiled and nodded, even though some of them had not understood a thing! It is undeniable that when done badly CCQs or comprehention questions, as they were known initially, are worse than useless, and that they can only be used to check comprehension of a context for language use rather than focusing on the specific target language being clarified. Andrew illustrated this point very clearly with the use of nonsense language that he attempted to clarify to us. Here is my own invented example:

“Iatefl nisl Harrogate bret laa year.

CCQs

Is this the past?

Is this the present?

Is this the future?

Obviously you can only answer the question if you know the negative future form. The answer, for all those who want to know is “the future” as “nisl” is a negative auxiliary and “bret” is an infinitive so the translation is ” Iatefl won’t be in Harrogate next year. If you have already studied those forms, however, these questions may form a useful, quick check of comprehension. Andrew’s man point was that by asking and focusing on naturally ocurring questions in chat situations, and expanding learners’ repertoire of such questions, chat situations, which often pass under the radar in classes as teachers greet their classes with questions such as “What did you do at the weekend?” learners can focus on “real” referential questions (rather than questions designed simply for them to display their knowledge) and can develop the language they need to talk about topics that they choose, and that are relevant to them. Once again we come back to the idea of where learning is happening. Is it the teacher who decides the content or is it the learners?

Improvisation is not only in theatre and jazz

Looking at old things in new ways
Looking at old things in new ways

Limitations also appear when we adhere too closely  to our own, safe, familiar methodology, and our lesson plan can become a straightjacket that limits both teachers and learners rather than acting as a springboard for teaching, providing learning opportunites. Adrian Underhill also talked about an aspect of this with his session on the ‘dark matter’ of teaching, of the energy that appears when teachers depart from their lesson plans and improvise, identifying the best point to leave the lesson plan and to go somewhere else, to listen to what our learners are saying or what they need and to follow their lead. Lesson plans, in this way, might be considered to be the map which points the way whilst the lesson itself is the actual journey with all its delays, smells, dialugues and unexpected events. Lessons are social events with human beings and all their interactions which is what makes them messy but what also makes them wonderful and unique as , people open up their own thoughts and worlds to each other, and invite each other in. This is the point at which, as one person, who was sitting next to me said, “the magic happens”.

 

 

 

 

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TESOL Rome 2014: a moment of sharing and meeting.

TESOL ITALY 39TH ANNUAL CONFERENCE

imageThe annual TESOL Italy Conference has been going on this weekend, in Rome against a backdrop of blue skies and political agitation in an Italy characterised as ever by contrasts. Even being able to attend a conference like this is a privelege in theses times of economic crisis, and this is, I think, to some extent reflected in the quality of the content being presented and discussed here. This is a conference with a very friendly atmosphere where people felt happy to exchange their views with each other and by the end of the two days everyone seemed to know everyone else 🙂

The Advantages of Physically Attending a Conference

Online conferences and webinars are a wonderful opportunity for people to share knowledge and learn in ways that were simply not possible in the past but if I can, I still prefer to attend a conference physically, so why is this? Well, here are a few reasons:

1. firstly, you get the chance to “take time out” from your daily routine which means that you probably focus that much more on what is going on at the conference;

2. You get to see a wonderful new place like Rome and breathe in a different atmosphere;

3. You can physically see the body language of people, communicate directly both during sessions and outside by smiles, eye contact and a whole range of signals that are difficult to achieve online, although there other advantages to the online spaces, but more about that later;

4. Most of all the whole event is an adventure and this one began when I was sitting on a high speed train being whisked through a whole range of autumn colours and landscapes. I could already feel myself relaxing and I leafed through the programme reading abstracts and deciding which sessions I wanted to go to. There were some names I knew already but there were a lot of sessions being held by people I didn’t know. They were simply names on a timetable, but then I arrived and went to the sessions and over a coffee or a Prosecco I got to know some of the people behind the names, their worlds, experiences, hopes and fears and they got to know me. Our worlds for these two days began to coalesce, and now that I’m back in Verona I have this warm feeling of having made a whole new group of friends and colleagues as well as catching up with some old friends too.

However conferences are mainly a great opportunity to learn and to share knowledge so here are some of the main threads that ran through this rich tapestry.

Key Themes

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One of the key themes in this conference was inclusion which extends beyond the idea of special needs to encompass all learners with their various differences, seeing each person as someone unique with something to contribute to the group. Another key theme was CLIL which actually seemed to spark a rather stormy reaction from some of the audience, perhaps, as a reaction to some of the ministery’s less popular decisions and treatment of the topic in recent times. On the other hand, there were some high school students at the conference presenting their CLIL projects in an extremely professional way related to art and design with a project that took some teenagers to Aarhus in Denmark to investigate the architecture of living spaces and to participate in a design project themselves creating a bench. Another group tackled the complex topic of thermodynamic laws and the way in which household appliances create heat, which they did in a lively. entertaining presentation that was well choreographed and performed. I, for one, will never look at my fridge in the same way!

Lifelong learning and  Professional Learning Communities were two more threads. Nowadays PLCs  inevitably include the aspect of online professional development which I mentioned above but in her plenary, Deena Boraie also warned against those who seek to “stick a plaster” over a gaping need for development by creating portals with online content but no real support in using or learning from such resources. I, as eveyone knows, am very much in favour of technology and what it can add to teaching and learning but it doesn’t mean that I am blind to the abuse of resources. Like anything else, though, I don’t believe this is necessarily connected to technology itself but to the use people make of it.

Scott Thornbury made the point that the promises made by commercial technology are nothing new and that they are often mirages designed to sell.  There is no reason to use technology just because of the “wow factor” if something else will do the job just as well. He cited Marcos Benevides’ “nightmare” experience with ebooks, when he tried to use them in class with students constantly losing their passwords or having technology problems, which makes me think of the “The dog ate my homework” syndrome to some extent and Made me smile.  Marcos himself has created incredibly high quality ereaders and is one of their advocates, so coming from him these warnings are all the more poignant. and I agree wholeheartedly with all this, having attemptd to encourage my own students to download the ebook version of their coursebook, which was extremely complicated and we wasted a lot of precious classroom time trying to sort it out. There are also aspects to ebooks that may not be abvious and things that learners, or anyone else, need to know.  When they buy an ebook, for instance, and not the paper book, they are paying for the license and not the content, which means that they will probably only be able to access that content for a certain number of years, so although just buying the ebook is cheaper it is actually probably better to get the paper book and then download the ebook as well.

These commercial concerns are real, and like anything else, a great deal of care needs to be taken with the tools we use.Technological resources are the same as any other resources, and it is always how we use them that makes the difference.

if you would like to see my Prezi on the subject follow this link

Leo Selivan and Anthony Ash also gave a great presentation of online platforms and they themselves are the embodiment of the good things about the online spaces. They had not actually met “in the flesh” until shortly before their presentation, although they knew each other well online. Despite this they gave a wonderful performance presenting their content in the form of a type of informal conversation where one seemed to be chatting to the other and asking each other questions in a seamless flow. One of the pros of online webinars which I love (never being one to hold back when it comes to commenting and asking questions, myself) is the chat stream in webinars where you can ask questions during the session itself instead of having to wait until the end when you may well have forgotten your question.

Creativity and Mindfulness

imageThese were also threads running through this conference and John Angelori’s session on the mindful classroom was a small oasis of calm in the middle of the day. Elizabeth Evans also drew on some central tenets of mindfulness such as the need for moments of stillness, which I really liked. One of the pearls of wisdom she gave us was:

“Be still until the sunlight pours through and dispels the mists. Then act with courage.” ( Ponca Chief White Eagle)

I adapted this to apply to the principled use of technology in learning and my version goes like this:

“be still until relevance dispels the wow factor mists of technological tools and then act conscientiously with insight and courage.”

Making Assessment Relevant to the Learners

Sarah Ellis kicked off on Friday morning with her interesting talk on LOA (Learner orientated assessment) which is seeking to focus on the fact that formative assessment is an ongoing ingredient in the recipe which is teaching and learning and that summative assessment has to be the dish that we eat at the end of it.

I have to add here that food was another very important thread in the conference, being mentioned by more than one presenter and being sampled by everyone, in particular at the music and wine tasting on Friday, so it definitely wasn’t all work and no play.

imageCreativity and Assessment: combining the seemingly disconnected and making exam preparation more relevant for learners

Luc Prodromou took creativity up again on Saturday morning by reminding us that exams preparation needs to be relevant and memorable to our learners and that creavity can be described as connecting the disconnected, like the surprising combination of Alberto Sordi on the wall of a building in the amazing Garbatella area where the conference was held.

Luc gave us a whole range of creative activies including old Pligrims favourites and some new ideas too. Looking at exams preparation, for instance, might mean hiding song lyrics in emails that are written as exams practice. These emails can then be used in class as learners search for the Hidden songs”.

The last session on Saturday was well worth waiting for too, as Michela Romoli stunned us with her Introduction to Prezi and the prezi she had made itself, which is an excellent example of how effective this presentation tool can be.  To see it follow this link 🙂

 

imageFinal thoughts

All in all, the atmosphere at the conference was very friendly and inclusive and I certainly learned a lot as well as having the chance to catch up with lots of friends and make new ones. I also discovered an area of Rome: Garbatella (see the photo above) which is very interesting and as is the name itself which comes from a young lady who ran a hostelry in this area and was both “garbata” polite and “bella” beautiful: hence: Garbatella. There are some incredible buildings in this area which I find fascinating. So thank you Tesol Italy, for a lovely two days 🙂 Hope to see you all again next year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Monday Morning Blog Challenge: which model?

file0001662874096June Blog Challenge

Since it’s the first Monday in June I thought I’d kick off the week with a Blog Challenge about models of English, which is something I’ve been thinking about quite a lot. Obviously, we all use English in different ways, depending on our needs, but is the model we are providing, and, above all, assessing the right one for our learners?

Which Model is right for Italian students?

I teach, as you know, in Italy, and our model tends to be Standard British English. The coursebooks used in state and private schools, and to some extent universities, are mass market globally produced books that come from the UK, on the whole. Even though there are some locally produed books, particularly for the eaching of literature, most of the books are not local, so how relevant are they to our context? Our learners, unless they are language students with a deep rooted interest in language, are motivated to study because they will use English, not to become part of a community where English is the L1 but to communicate in multilingual contexts. This begs the question of what we should teach them. If individuals with different cultural and linguistic backgrounds wish to communicate, of course they will need a model which enables them to understand each other, so, for instance, a local model which includes code switching between English and Italian or “Italian forms in English” will only work among Italian speakers, which rather defeats the purpose!

My take on this has always been to teach the standard British model, as we are in Europe, so it is arguably the closest one to us, and then to encourage creative use, such as adding local sayings, idioms and metaphors (in English) which enrich the language. So far so good. Students learn the basic model to the best of their abilities and then go off into the sunset using it as well as they can. The next problem is assessment.

What is lexical grammar?
What is lexical grammar?

Assessment

When it comes to assessment I think we need to be using a different model. In recent years, with the implementation of the CEFR the move has been to recognise what individuals “can do” when they are communicating, with an emphasis on skills rather than the lexico-grammatical system, although of course the two are closely interconnected. This, however, is where beliefs and traditions die hard, and some find it very difficult to be able to change their perspective towards seeing these learners as people who are using the language to commnicate, and recognising what they can do, rather than simply focusing on the errors.

I have a lot of sympathy for examiners. It’s a complex job which involves judgments that combine the application of criteria (if that is the type of examining being done) with beliefs and traditional habits. For teachers, in classrooms, and this, in my experience is true both of NESTs and NNESTs, what we notice first tends to be error. It hits you between the eyes, if you like, and is seen as something “broken” and many see the job of the teacher as “helping learners to avoid error”. Is it realistic, however, to expect learners to achieve high, almost native speaker like, levels of competence and do they need to do this? I believe that assessment means looking at successful expression and teaching means facilitating learners so that they can develop their own voice and expression tools, to the level that is required by the use they will ultimately make of the language.

So, what about the challenge? Here it is: a few questions for you to consider about your context.

  1. What context do you teach in?
  2. What is the dominant model of English taught?
  3. What is the dominant model of English assessed?
  4. Does this meet your learners’ needs?

I’d be really interested to hear people’s thoughts 🙂

 

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 🙂

 

 

 

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.

Correction or Feedback?

New Year's Eve 2009 030Correction or Feedback?

Last week I wrote a few thoughts on correction and how both oral and written language can be corrected meaningfully, in a separate stage from “within the task itself”. One advantage of doing this work as a separate stage, which is more of a feedback stage perhaps than a correction slot, is to get away from the emotionally penalizing message of direct correction, although, to be honest, I think there is actually a place for this as well, when done sensitively and helpfully. As long as the feedback from the teacher is not only correcting errors but is also truly communicative discussing the content of what the learners are saying and not simply the form all the time is something that most learners appreciate and respond well to.

On the whole, however, I am in favour of separating correction from the task itself and using learner errors as the basis of a new cognitive feedback task where learners can analyse why errors happen, discuss possible corrections and then experiment with these forms at some length, so that, in this way there is greater elaboration and processing of language beyond a merely superficial level of looking at what is right or wrong and then moving on. Following a survey I carried out with my own students I discovered, which came as no surprise at all to me, the fact that although nobody feels good when they have made a mistake, they all still want to know about their mistakes so that they can learn from them.

Demand High Teaching

I would like to go further this week to say that using this separate stage as a focus space in the learning process for our students to elaborate the language processes comes under the heading of Demand High Teaching, which was first introduced by Jim Scrivener and Adrian Underhill at the Glasgow Iatefl Conference and was a hot topic at the Liverpool Iatelf Conference, this year too. This “meme” was introduced to question ritual teaching practices, where teachers apply the tenets of communicative teaching,  follow the coursebooks etc. , play fun games, and generally create “happy classrooms” but where the demand for learning is actually quite low, and the tasks themselves, or the materials end up being more important than the learners or the learning process and, I would add, teaching process.

Going Beyond the Surface
Going Beyond the Surface by http://www.morguefile.com/creative/jade

Going beyond the Surface

There are undoubtably many classrooms around the world where the teachers are already applying meaningful techniques to materials in order to help their learners get the most out of them but there are also many teachers who are under pressure from their institutions to “finish 10 units of the book” or to “cover the syllabus for the exam” etc.  Scrivener points out the negative use of the word “cover” in this sense and how what it actually means is going over an exercise, for example, and checking the answers and as soon as one person in the class gives the correct answer, moving on to the next thing without stopping to question whether most of the class had really understood, what else they might be able to learn from this particular point or whether they had just got the right answer by chance. We all tend to be very aware of the time restraints in our lives, but sometimes, sadly, by trying to “cover” too much we are actually wasting time, as nothing is really explored in depth. The links I supplied above will take you to excellent videos explaining the thinking behind Demand High Teaching, which they explain, is not an approach, but a tweaking of what teachers are already doing to up the ante and enable their learners to get more out of the process.

Dogme

These ideas, in my view, fit in very well with the Dogme ideas of the unplugged classroom, which was also, if you like, a reaction against the glut of glossy materials that are available, and that are often overwhelming for teachers, particularly those who are new to the profession, simply because there are so many of them. Although Dogme may focus more on the learner, whereas High Demand teaching is more concerned with the learning the two, I think, can work very closely together particularly when it comes to the question of emergent language: the “learner language” that comes up spontaneously in a lesson. A teacher may, for instance, notice in the course of a discussion, that one class has particular problems with weak sounds such as the schwa in “was” and “were” and decide to work on that. There are many ways to do this but here is one suggestion.

Error Correction or Feedback?

FOCUS ON LANGUAGE ITEMS

The language point above would come up as an example of oral production, of course, and notes can easily be taken of two or three errors, (or if learners are comfortable with this a recording could be made ). If this is going to be explored in some depth it is probably better to limit the items to two or three.

ANALYSIS AND “SELF CORRECTION”

In the next session these errors could be analysed as the first step. (learners look at the phonetic transcript of the error or listen to the recording, or choose from minimal pairs offered by the teacher etc. and correct them together).

DISCUSSION

This would be followed by a feedback stage where real discussion takes place. This means that the teacher doesn’t immediately say “good” when he/she hears the correct answer, or what he/she wants to hear, but listens to what people say, throws questions to the whole class, and sometimes even goes off at a tangent if he/she sees that particular learners have focused on something unexpected (i.e. not in the orginal plan). For a discussion to be meaningful the teacher must be prepared to flollow the ideas of the learners rather than simply imposing his/her own, although at times the learners may also need to be directed back to the main discussion too. This is all part and parcel of the classroom management skills which are inherent to good teaching.

DEVELOPMENT

The next stage grows out of the discussion stage, and may involve more work on the original pronunciation items that the teacher has chosen or may be focused on something else that has emerged from the discussion. Jim Scrivener provided a very useful handout at his talk in Liverpool which can be downloaded at this link which has a whole range of techniques that could be applied here, such as “asking learners to imagine the facial expression they would wear when saying the target language, or asking learners to listen to the pronunciation and then “replay it in their heads” rather than simply listen and repeat, which often does not give them enough time to elaborate it.

EXPERIMENTATION

Further eperimentation is, in my view, not an extra but essential as it is only when you get to “make the language your own” that you learn how to use it effectively. If the original item analysed was something like “I was just sitting at home reading, when the rain started and then I saw that it was a tornado.” (This happened yesterday in an area quite close to me where some of my students come from) Learners might be asked, for instance to think of what they were doing at that point in time, and to tell each other. There is a wealth of activities that teachers already use that can be applied here. The key is simply to apply them meaningfully, allowing the learners the time and space they need to elaborate the language.

PARTING SHOT

This may have come a long way from correction but it is, I think the natural progression of correction into feedback, which is a must if we want our learners to have the time to really process language. Going as quickly as possible to “cover the coursebook or the syllabus” means doing our learners a disservice in the long run as they will not have the time to internalize or to elaborate everything, literally of course, covering something means hiding it, instead of revealing the mechanics of the language. Listening to our learners, on the other hand, and helping to assist their learning process is one of the most difficult but possibly most rewarding aspects of being in a classroom.

 

 

Lessons from My Office Hours

What is the point of Failure and what can it teach us?

From Microsoft Clipart

 

I know this title sounds pretty bleak but it is partly the result of an episode that happened this week during my office hours, and that I thought I’d like to share with you. Before I do so, though I need to outline our C1 exam so that you will understand how both the student and I felt:

The University of Verona Language Centre C1 Test

Our C1 exam consists of three parts, and students need to pass all three to be given the credits they need. The first part is a computer based test which focuses on Use of Language in Context, Reading and Listening. This is followed by a Written test, which at this level involves producing a text of approx. 200 – 250 words in either a narrative, descriptive or discursive style on various subjects. The final test is an oral test of about 10-15 minutes which is usually in a paired format and students have to show that they can communicate in effective English about familiar and more abstract topics. In order to pass all this they need to get a minimum of 60% over the three parts of the test, and they are allowed to score from 55% to 60% on one of the parts if this is then compensated for on one of the other parts.

What this means, then, is that a student can pass the whole test if he or she scores only 55% on the computer test but this is then compensated for if he or she goes on to score 65% on the written and then 60% on the oral test, giving a total of 60% overall.

Failing your exams … or, even worse, Almost Passing

So, to come back to the episode last week, this is what happened: a student came to my university office hours last week, clutching an enormous exercise book and communicating in an English that was perfectly comprehensible. She told me that she had tried to do our C1 written paper various times and was having trouble. She had passed the computer test but couldn’t pass the composition paper. This girl had been in my course and had religiously printed out all the work she and others had done on writing during the course. (This is available for all students on my wiki, with the questions, the students’ answers and my comments and correction code. See this example page.) She had also gone on to develop this by focusing on specific areas such as phrasal verbs etc. all lovingly colour coded in her exercise book. She had come with a few intelligent questions such as what did I mean by “effective language”. (I explained that I meant language that “did its job” of communicating the message you wanted it to, clearly and well.) All this told me that she was a student who had studied hard and thought about what she was reading. This is what we want in our students, isn’t it?

Well, then she showed me a practice essay she had written in a narrative style, using an old exam question as a model. She was convinced that this was “perfect” and yet as soon as I read the first sentence I knew that we were up against quite a few problems and I could feel a sinking feeling come over me.

What was the Problem?

The first sentence was already problematic:

“I can’t descend.” Emma said.

I asked her whether the story was informal or formal and she said that that was another thing she had not really understood. What did informal language or formal language mean. I explained and gave her examples in Italian, so that she realised that the use of “descend” here wasn’t natural. You wouldn’t say that to a friend. She said that she had been avoiding simple words like “get down” because she thought they were too easy, aren’t they more of a B1 level??? was the question. It took quite some explaining to show here that words as such can have many different levels and what is important is to know how to use them.

Coffee and mug
Coffe pot and mug the perfect collocation

Collocation, colligation and Word Choice

We all know how important collocations are in natural language use, and we spend quite a lot of time talking about this in class. Despite this, however, my student had quite a few unnatural collocations such as “It was snowing abundant” (as well as the fact that she was using aan adjective instead of an adverb). She knew what collcations were but didn’t know how to find them, check them or notice them. She said, the problem was that she did not know when something was not possible. The same was true of colligation or “grammatical collocation” as you might think of this. She had looked up the word “discesa” which in Italian means a slope but can also be used as an adjective or adverb meaning downhill. She had found the word “downhill” and was using it to mean “slope” so she produced a sentence like this: “They skied along the downhill with ease.” We have a problem here of incorrect word choice followed by inappropriate colligation as a result of this.

You can see where all this is going and I’m not going to go through the whole composition but, as I explained to her, this language was not “effective” because it did not communicate what she wanted to, because of the words she was choosing, how she was using them and also because of the register. These are all things that, at a C1 level, you need to be able to do.

Two Major Problems

By this time the poor student was nearly in tears and I was feeling very depressed too, because there were two major problems here:

1) she did not have a good monolingual dictionary, despite the fact that I had recommended several. As soon as we started looking at her “problem language” in the Longman Contemporary Dictionary of English (the online version, in fact) all these problems were clear and she began to see what I was talking about. She needed to learn how to use a dictionary well, and yet, this is something we do all the time in class, so for me, as a teacher, this means there is no guarantee that students sitting in my lessons will actually benefit from what I’m teaching them to do;

2) She chose words, which were often false friends etc. and she was convinced that they were correct. One example of this was the word “structure” which can be used in italian to mean the company or firm etc. In her case it referred to a ski resort, and she wrote “The director of the structure” which does not really work in English. When I showed her that this was unnatural and we looked at structure in the dictionary she said: “But I had no idea! How do I know when something has the right meaning or not?”

This is the crux of the matter and it is very difficult to answer. My answer is that enough exposure to a language teaches you what is appropriate and what isn’t, but I’m not sure that this is always true. This student told me that she read widely in English but she read for the ideas and didn’t really notice the language, so I suggested reading first and then taking a page or so every now and then and analysing the language. Part of me, however, wonders whether there are simply some people who are interested in the way language words and others who are not. I was watching an Austrian detective series, for example, the same day and something in my mind noticed that they used the verb “recherchieren” and without even realising it, I was thinking, “Would that be used in Germany or South Tyrol?” It comes naturally to me to question these things, but does it come naturally to everyone? If it doesn’t come naturally to you, then you simply have to train yourself to do it, but I think that many of my students who have been through a traditional style of school system do not believe in the value of these things. They think they need to do a lot of grammar exercises and practice tests and then they’ll be alright, which is rather sad in university language students.

An hour later my student was thoroughly depressed at the thought that this composition would not have passsed the test either and when I asked her what she had learned she said that she had learned not to discount simple words, and to get a better dictionary.

I felt extremely drained after this and felt the need to write about it because I feel as though I have failed her in some way. This was someone who was willing to study, who told me that she uses English every day in emails at work, but I had not been able to help her prepare for her exam. One of the most difficult things for a teacher to do is to chip away at student beliefs such as the sacrosanct nature of the grammar exercise, and all you can do is keep on going in the hope that some will understand the message.

So, what can failure and suffering teach us?

We all know the value of passing a test, but failure can teach us something too. In this case the student has failed her exam but she has learned some important lessons about how she approaches another language. In my case I failed to communicate my message to her in class, but I helped here in my office hours, and the whole episode has led me on to think about the process, so that I can use it in an exemplary way to others.

Failure inevitably leads to suffering but suffering in itself has lessons to teach us as well. ON a personal level, if I never suffer then I don’t appreciate so many of those little pieces that go together to form the amazing mosaic that is every simple moment of the day. If I never have to live without “hot water” for instance, I don’t appreciate how wonderful it is to have hot water readily available when I have a shower.

On another level suffering helps us to understand what other people are going through, and if we have never suffered ourselves then we cannot develop any real empathy. I know what it means to fail a test, so I can understand what my student is going through. Empathy is essential in a teacher, and not only, because it is by understanding what somene is going through that we can start to help them to come out of it.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, as they say, but everything begins somewhere. I don’t know if my student has really understood what she needs to do for her exam, or whether I have been able to help her, but both her and my failure have taught us something as has the suffering.

Sorry to go on at length about this but I felt the need to write it down and share it to work it through in my own mind. I’d be really interested to hear other people’s take on it too.

 

Backache, large classes and HootCourse in the classroom

Burning the candle at both ends

I was reading just this morning in Brabara Hoskins Sakamoto’s lovely Teaching Village blog about how tired we teachers are all feeling at the moment, and how important it is not to burn the candle at both ends but to stay healthy and motivated.

This came at a highly appropriate moment in time, because a few weeks ago I was suffering from a pulled muscle in my back (carrying too many books around, I suspect) which was quite depressing because it meant that I had trouble getting around and doing simple things like getting dressed, or going downstairs. The idea of sitting in our classroom chairs and working at the computer or going round the classroom monitoring my students was unthinkable. Monitoring involves bending over the learners as they sit working and unfortunately that is not a movement which is designed for bad backs. Added to that I sometimes work with large classes (50-70 students is the norm for many of these) and that means that monitoring is limited to those sitting on the edges of the rows, or involves creativity… or a little help from my guardian angel. (Well OK, then, my guardian owl… who helps me to hoot away with him on Twitter via Hootsuite.

Captain Twitter by Christian Guthier net_efect on Flickr
Captain Twitter by Christian Guthier net_efect on Flickr

Introducing HootCourse

The Hootsuite team have developed HootCourse, which is a way of bringing Twitter into the classroom or the classroom onto Twitter (and to a lesser extent Facebook).

It works like a hashtag discussion on Twitter, and students can join a specific course you set up for them, and then tweet inside the HootCourse or directly from Twitter.

To explain how this works and why you might want to do it, I’ll tell you the story of my students in Verona. I set up a course for them on HootCourse. (If you want to see our space, follow this link) I then went into class and explained that I was having difficulty monitoring because of my back but wanted to see what they were doing anyway so would they mind using Twitter.

Twitter? Why shoudl I use Twitter?

This was the first hurdle, because I discovered that whilst most of my learners use Facebook all the time, very few of them actually used Twitter, in fact there were only about 4 or 5 out of 50 that said they used Twitter, and they tended to use it to follow celebrities. They were about to be launched into the Twittosphere in no uncertain terms. To help them along I prepared a document with detailed instructions which I posted in advance on the class blog. Then, in class, I grouped them into 4s and 5s where one person in each group was a representative and used a smartphone (I supplied a laptop and an ipod touch as well to groups that didn’t have mobile devices, as not so manynof my students actually have mobile devices. This will soon change, I’m sure in technophile Italy.) and they set up Twitter accounts and joined HootCourse. This particular course was an EAP course and they were doing an exercise on using academic vocabulary so I asked them to do the exercise and to tweet questions or doubts as they went.

They did this and I projected the HootCourse page on the screen. HootCourse has a useful “classroom mode” which enables you to project the tweet stream in a larger format. As their tweets were coming in I replied to them, so what was happening was actually a chat within the classroom. Rather artificial? I hear someone say. Well, maybe but they were learning how to use the tool, and there were people in the middle of this large group who normally never get the chance to ask questions etc. and they were quite happy to tweet whereas speaking out in front of the class is really much more daunting.

We then went on to use the tweet stream in different ways: the groups made their own gapped sentences, for instance with the academic vocabulary they had just been studying and the other groups had to tweet feasible answers. This was a lot of fun and worked well. The tweet stream was there for everyone to access after the lesson too, and I published the transcript with comments on the class blog page: scroll down to week seven in the second term to see this.

Visitors participated too

An unexpected efffect of this was that we had visitors from my PLN as well. Whenever you tweet something to HootCourse, in fact, your tweet can be sent to your normal Twitter timeline too (or not if you don’t want it to), and my tweets were appearing on Twitter as well as in the HootCourse. This meant that other people in my PLN were commenting on what we were saying in class, so my students had the benefit of other people’s points of view or answers to their questions as well! They were really impressed.

Taking the course out of the classroom

Once everyone had got used to the idea of tweeting in the classroom I invited them to take part in an hour long chat I was doing and asked them to prepare questions to ask about English. I wasn’t sure if anyone would take part in this, as it was in the evening, but in fact a few people did, and we had an informal chat about various English related or exam related things, and it was a fun experience for all of us.

Aren’t the tweets a bit limiting?

It is true that tweets are limiting, but in fact this has advantages. In fact, in one lesson I asked learners to write the main point of paragraphs in tweets, and condensing their thoughts to a tweet was quite an interesting exercise. The HootCourse, however, also has an essay feature which hooks up to blogs so that students can set up a blog on Blogger, for instance, and then link it to the HootCourse. Some of my students have done this and they can now write much more than they could in a tweet. These posts are then available on the course straight away both for the teacher to see and the other members of the class, which has a lot of potential when it comes to integrating learner work into the classroom. The HootCourse stream itself also has a tab for questions, where you only see the questions that have been asked, and another tab for links, where you see the links people have shared. So far, I have to say, we have found the whole platform highly motivating.

Drawbacks?

Well, yes, one or two. If you post a tweet (or a hoot, as one of my students started to call them) then you have to refresh your page before you see it. This is a bit awkward as you have to keep remembering to refresh the page, and things are slowed down a bit as a result of this. Working directly on Twitter tends to go more quickly. However, the students like the idea that they are “in a social classroom” and the course is embedded onto our blog page too so it is very easy for them to access it, so all in all refreshing the page isn’t too much of a problem.

Image retrieved from http://www.morguefile.com on 04/03/2012

It’s still quite a novelty for me and for my students, and it did feel artificial at times as I wrote the answers to questions etc. instead of just talking to people who were sitting right in front of me, but it did help my back and it opened up a whole new way of communicating for us, in fact it is very easy for us to keep in touch outside class as well, as we are only a hoot away from each other.

 

 

#ELTCHAT Summary for November 30th 2011 How to Improve Speaking Skills using Critical Thinking (CT) without Spoon feeding.

Confusion
Am I just feeling stressed?

#ELTCHAT Summary for November 30th 2011

How to Improve Speaking Skills using Critical Thinking (CT) without Spoon feeding.

Hi everyone,
I’ve been trying to keep up with the fast flying tweets on #eltchat recently, despite rather too much work. This is the group that meets on Twitter on Wednesdays to discuss the topics we vote to discuss (all related to teaching). Each discussion is followed by a summary like this one, which are stored at the above #eltchat site, so that there is a veritable Aladdin’s Cave of ideas, insights and resources there for any elt teacher. If you would like to take part just download a programme like Tweetdeck and do a search for #eltchat on Wednesday at 12.00 noon or 9.00pm (UK times) and join in the fun :-).

Do you communicate or do you parrot?

WHAT IS CT: HOW DO WE DEFINE IT?

This week’s discussion of critical thinking kicked off with a request for a definition of CT (critical thinking). There then followed quite a few references to parrots (Largely my fault as I was in a rebellious mood, I’m afraid :-() but underlying this is actually something quite serious: Critical thinking leads to logical thought and communication of well thought out ideas that are not simply “parrotting” someone elses’s words and ideas. The wikipedia definition was a good one:

Critical thinking is the process or method of thinking that questions assumptions shared by @cerirhianon

Some noteworthy ideas were:

@Shaunwilden Critical thinking – the ability to interact with a subject, & question & debate its foundations with considered ideas. I guess questioning assumptions/norms /givens – not being spoonfed are key factors.

@shaznosel: CT – maybe to encourage SS to elaborate, be flexible, original,creative and to think for themselves..diff between us and parrots??

@hartle reading between the lines and then discussion everyone’s different destinations

@sandymillin: CT – encouraging students to explore and play around with ideas, rather than accepting them without question

So, basically we are asking students to think for themselves, question things and become more independent (less spoonfeeding)

We also discussed the difference between CT and Creative thinking. I personally said that I think you need a certain amount of creativity to be able to think outside the box, and therefore to be able to think critically:

@Marisa_C Very diferent to creative thinking -perhaps we shld draw distinction here? Critical thinking may be more logical & analytical (but then in reply to my ideas she added)
Agreed, critical thinking is related to analysis, creative thinking to ideas.

@cerirhianon RT @hartle: #eltchat treat stds like other adults. Listen to them and really talk to them… > works for kids too 🙂

HOW DO WE INTEGRATE CT INTO OUR TEACHING AND HOW DOES THIS DIFFER FROM “NORMAL” SPEAKING?

Critical thought can take us in unexpected directions

We then moved on to consider ways in which we encourae CT in our classrooms and whether this is a good thing or not. Most of us thought that is was a good thing as getting students to think for themselves and communicate intelligent will produce fairly natural language use as a type of by-product, but there were a few reservations. People were worried that learners might ask why they were doing “this” and not concentrating on “new language” etc. These are legitimate concerns and were discussed quite thoroughly.

Some noteworthy ideas were:

@shaznosel I think it begins by having high expectations of our Ss. Ask the questions that they haven’t been asked before.

@hartle say opposite opinions to encourge them to prove their point of view

Some people were asking how using CT skills differs from “normal” speaking activities, and the general opinion was that the skills of speaking are the same ones but the thought befind what people say differs so that there is more brainstorminsg, debate, preparation before activities, rather than just “diving straight in to the speaking activity”

@e_d_driscoll certainly some Ss feel this sort of thing is a waste of time- how is it diff from any other free speaking practice?

@MrChrisjWilson I think interest in topic makes a difference. If you don’t care then why bother to think critically?

@cerirhiannon: might be helpful to share some specific activities and evaluate them for CT ?

@EnglishOutThere  #ELTChat true..maybe let them research at home a topic and then bring ideas to class??
@hartle Speaking skills improve as natural by product of engaged discussion, + LA and feedback

@ElindaGjondedaj RT @Marisa_C: @e_d_driscoll Another good question – should ELT Ts act as educators or just as language dispensers?

This discussion continued but in the end there was a general concensus that encouraging students to think critically would lead to better communication skills.

The mask you choose is the identity you adopt

18 DIFFERENT POSTS ON ACTIVITIES THAT WE USE TO STIMULATE CT AND SPEAKING

At this stage of the evening the ideas really started to flow in thick and fast, and it was hard to keep up with everything: so much creativity :-). So, here is a list of the types of activity that we use:

  1. @Marisa_C Simulations and Case studies…alibi games, problem solving, improvise from pics, build on each others ideas
  2. @cerirhianon ask high school ss to  think (but really think) about the relevance of their education system as prep for real world @sanymillin @cerirhiannon great example Ceri. So this perhaps requires collection of data from other countries, analysis of diff views
  3. @aggaridodiez Strategies such as talk to partners allow students to have opportunities to develop such critical thinking, even at survival levels
  4. @eflresource Ethical dilemmas can be a good way in, too – esp.  removed from religious points of view and esp. if they have comic overtones
  5. @Marisa_C Decision making activities which involve evaluation – e,g. candidates for a specific job brief Ss must choose. There used to be an excellent section in Management Magazine callse Dilemma & Decision – i have tons of great lessons from those
  6. @shaznosel critical thinking with lots of speculation..show a pic which is unusual and speculate why/how /what etc @hartle replied: Ads gd for this too.
  7. @annabooklover I have a game which wasn’t meant for ELT use, called SCRUPLES. Canadian people may know it. Great fun for older students @Marisa_C replied to this: Great game – an ELT version of it in T’s Guide In HEadway Advanced OUP
  8. @cerirhianon read texts about students’ culture written by outsiders – ss as experts criticise and correct the misrepresentations @Marisa_C replied: ss as experts criticise7correct the misrepresentations @eflresource added: Yes, and also science/tech developments – life elsewhere; aliens view of us; etc
  9. @theteacherjames Use fiction/movies/tv as a way of promoting the disc. of opinions. Lots of useful lang can come from this eg disagreeing politely.
  10. @ElindaGjondedaj using breaking news (see link to the website I added below for more on this.
  11. @Marisa_C Games from the Philosopher’s Magazine (See link below, which I have added. I hope it’s the right publication, but even if it isn’t it looks interesting and could well be used in class.)
  12. @Marisa_C: Read news items and rewrtite them from own country’s local viewpoint . Engage with literary text – always a great springboard for critical discussions.
  13. @NikkiFortova @Shaunwilden information gap activities, debates, dictogloss , for example, can be good collaborative tasks And from @Nikkifortova: … our Ss are intelligent, thinking human beings – challenge them with tasks that require higher level thinking
  14. @theteacherjames Compare two opinion pieces from newspapers of opposite views Which is right?
  15. @antoniaclare dictation sentences, but sts need to change the content to be true for themselves, then compare, include controversial opinion. Or…Watch documentary, then Imagine you’re making documentary about this topic, what view will you represent, why etc?
  16. @hartle doing opposites activity.  Dictate something like  “Poverty leads to crime” & ask for opposite. Discuss in grps
  17. @cerirhianon ask ss to debate subjects from the opposite position to their own ( e.g. boys argue that girls are stronger)
  18. @Wiktor Good 4 low levels:”alien interview” -pretend U R an alien, ask ss to explain / define things clearly – annoying & effective as hell….Also: an alien comes to earth, does (insert bad things) but they’re normal in his culture. Shld we punish him?

There was a little aside about questions with “no right answer” which was interesting. Some said their students were frustrated by this type of question, but others felt that they help students to be more engaged. In any case the ideas (as you can see) flew fast and furious and hopefully will be very usfeul to all of us. #eltchat has done it once again, going from strength to strength!

References and links:

Definitions of CT:

http://www.criticalthinking.org/pages/defining-critical-thinking/766 by @cerirhianon and @EnglishOutThere

http://www.slideshare.net/MarisaConstantinides/language-development-for-teachers-ldt slideshow shared by @Marisa_C

Ideas and Lesson Plans

https://cerij.wordpress.com/2011/04/13/plan-b/ good lesson plan by @cerirhianon

http://shartle.edublogs.org/2011/11/23/the-future-of-communication/ pre discussion work designed to foster crticial thinking prior to discussion posted by @hartle

http://www.informationisbeautiful.net/ “Information is beautiful” to simulate thought and discussion, posted by @cerirhianon

http://languagesoutthere.podomatic.com/entry/2011-10-20T08_12_14-07_00 podcast showing “small successes” of some students after working on FB and Skype activities, posted by @EnglishOutThere

http://www.flickr.com/photos/eltpics/sets/72157626599491389/ Every Picture Tells a Story on #eltpics (Look for user of this name on Flickr) posted as a prompt for discussion activities by @sandymillin

http://www.folj.com/lateral/ Lateral thinking puzzles posted by @Wiktor_K

http://www.breakingnewsenglish.com/ The Breaking News website with great lesson plans posted by @hartle

http://www.thephilosophersmagazine.com/TPM/ The Philosopher’s Magazine posted by @hartle

http://p4c.com/p4c-library/stories-storytelling Useful stories to make students think, posted by @eflresource

http://www.thunks.co.uk/Default.aspx A great site with deceptively simple questions that lead to discussion, posted by @Shaunwilden

Symbaloo your Digital Life

Confusion
Am I just feeling stressed?

Hi Everyone!

Not long ago we were discussing organising our digital lives on #eltchat and there were lots of interesting ideas which you can read about as usual in the #eltchat summaries.

Later on I came across the most amazing site that I’d never seen before called Symbaloo. Now please bear with me, because I can almost hear the groans… “Not another new site!” “I can’t cope” But this is really something special, I promise, on a par with Scoop.it, which IMHO is one of the greatest inventions out. On Symbaloo you have a type of desktop that looks like a speed dial desk, and you can set it as your homepage. Then you can have all your favourite links as buttons that you speed dial. You can have one for different areas of your life, so I have made shopping, work, fun, reading etc. and then it is actually rather like bookmarking but much faster. Have a look at this:

My university page

SHARING  IT ALL

What is even better is that you can share your page (each page is called a webmix) so that others can use the resources you have collected, so, for instance I made my university webmix public so that everyone can use the resources I use:
http://www.symbaloo.com/embed/clahartleenglishwebmix
Top left hand: my blog, wiki, sites I use a lot like linoit, Prezi etc.

Top right hand: Reading and lesson material resources

Bottom left hand: Video and audio resources for students and good links

Bottom right hand: Good English learning sites

Then you can share these with others and you can search the site to find other webmixes that people have already made. I found a lovely one, for instance, called WritingPilot, with a whole range of videos etc. for academic writing skills, and I have already been using it and recommending it to my students. So, what are you waiting for? Sign up and join in the fun 🙂