Technologically and linguistically adventurous EFL teacher, trainer, writer and manager

Archive for February, 2011

Easy Technology for the EFL Classroom

I did a special seminar for teachers at IH Brno today, based on easy-to-learn, easy-to-use technology that they could incorporate into their teaching. Here is the presentation, complete with clickable links:

All of the links and a lot of the ideas came from Twitter, which I would highly recommend joining if you’re not on there yet (see this post for more information)

Please let me know what you think, as well as if you have any extra ideas you can add to the mix.

Planning Evolution

I read Cecilia Coelho’s most recent post with interest, wondering what prompted her to begin her adventure as a blog challenger, having been a sucker for any challenge that came her way. Being just as much of a sucker myself , here is my response to What’s your plan?

Having only started full-time teaching three years ago, I actually have copies of lesson plans on my computer from virtually every lesson I’ve taught at IH Brno. I had done some summer school teaching and a year of pre-CELTA, where my planning largely consisted of opening the book for 10-15 minutes and trying to work out if I knew the grammar (my poor students!) already, but when it got serious, I decided my plans should too.

The first format that I came up with was based on the CELTA plans I’d done, as I think many fresh teachers’ plans are. This is the plan for the first ever lesson I taught in Brno:

1st plan

If you look closely you’ll see I still had an aims column on there. By the end of October, I stopped writing the aims, and a couple of weeks lately I deleted the column from the lesson plan. One thing you can see on the plan is where I’ve edited it after the lesson – this shows any changes I made, things we didn’t get through, ideas on how to improve the lesson if I teach something similar again and more.

It just so happens that this 1-2-1 student is the only one who I have taught for the entire time I’ve been in Brno, so here is a plan for the first lesson I taught with him in my second year in Brno:

2nd plan

Again, you can see where I’ve edited the plan after the lesson – this is a great way of reflecting on the lesson for me. I used highlighting in my plans when there is something I really didn’t want to forget, although this is gradually disappearing now as I settle in to my teaching and planning. Another feature is a list of notes at the bottom of the plan; these are things which have come up in discussion and could be potential themes for future lessons. I copy and paste them from plan to plan, adding and taking away from them as things are covered.

The plan from my first lesson from my third year in Brno, is essentially the same:

3rd plan

What you’ll probably notice though, is that the plans are getting shorter and shorter. This is because there are fewer and fewer reminders which I need during a lesson. The main one here is for before the lesson: something I need to remember to copy is in red.

This year I’ve made one more change to my plans: originally I would print them to take into class, but since the end of October 2010 or so, I’ve started taking my computer everywhere with me, so it seemed a bit of a waste to print plans as well. This means that I can edit lesson plans as they are happening – it’s easy enough to move lines up or down as I decide to change something. It also means that anything unfinished can be copied to the following week. (Of course, I only do this when the students are busy and don’t need my help – the rapport is good enough that they know they can call on me whenever they need me).

This is my latest plan, from  last Monday’s lesson:

4th plan

The biggest thing here is the amount of empty space – I’ve become more and more comfortable with the lesson taking the course required by the student, rather than imposing my own will on it. This is especially true in this class, where I’ve got to know the learner very well.

The one thing that has remained constant throughout all of my planning is the materials column. This is the most important part of any plan for me – I can check it just before the lesson and make sure I have everything I need quickly and easily. I also copy and paste file names of specific worksheets I’ve made in there, so that I can just search for something on my computer and all of the lesson plans featuring that sheet / activity appear so I can see how I’ve used it in the past. This works in reverse too: for example, if I think “I had a great activity for second conditional, but I don’t know what I called it”, I can search for “second conditional” on my computer, and see which lesson plans come up. I was very careful right from the start to give every file as clear a name as possible, and thus far it seems to be working!

Many of my colleagues would ask me if I was being observed when they first saw me planning like this, but they have gradually become used to it. I type much faster than I write (although I still write often), so plans don’t take long to produce. I have a database of all of the lessons I’ve ever taught, ready at hand on my computer whenever I need / want to consult it, and as soon as I see a plan, I can almost always remember exactly what happened in the lesson when I taught it. Best of all, I don’t have reams of paper all over the place.

So, these are my plans. Thank you to Cecilia for prompting me to write this post!

Enjoy!

A Whole New World of ELT (IH Brno Conference 2011)

[Since doing this presentation, I have created a much clearer introduction to Twitter, and done a 10-minute introduction to ten of my favourite blogs.]

On Saturday February 19th 2011, I presented this session on online professional development, with a focus on blogs and Twitter.

If you have any questions, comments or feedback, feel free to comment on this post or contact me on Twitter @sandymillin. I look forward to seeing you again in my PLN!

cartoon from www.weblogcartoons.com

Don’t end up like this!

Cartoon by Dave Walker. Find more cartoons you can freely re-use on your blog at We Blog Cartoons.

I have also included some more links related to Twitter and blogs to help you out.

Twitter

Blogs

Other posts on my blog which you might be interested in

Final thoughts

Updates

These links have been added since the conference:

Twitter

Blogs

PLNs and Continuing Professional Development

Invite them in (30goals)

This is my contribution for this week’s 30 goals challenge, set by Shell Terrell.

Goal 6: Invite them in

The first challenge of the week was to invite colleagues and those around us in to see what we do in our classrooms. I always have the door open at school, or the blinds open on the meeting room windows at company classes. I’ve always enjoyed having other teachers come into the room, and peeking into my colleagues’ rooms when their doors are open too.

But what I’ve not been doing is sharing my students’ work outside the room – it’s always been for myself and them only. So for the last couple of weeks I’ve been trying to encourage students to (allow me to) share what they’ve been doing. The result is a new blog with work from as many of my students as possible. This has been positive for them, allowing them to see that there is a wider audience for their work, and for myself too, allowing me to get feedback from both teachers and students on what we’ve been doing.

Write on!

This  week has been all about writing for myself and my students. On Wednesday, I took part in the #eltchat on Writing and Marking (transcript here, summary here) and on Friday we had a CAM (IH Certificate in Advanced Methodology) session on Writing. In the course of both I was thinking about the writing my students have done recently, and realised that we’ve done many different things. Here is a selection of them in no particular order.

Email Workshop

  • SS sent me examples of real emails written in English.
  • I printed them, along with a couple of real emails I have sent to other native speakers, and cut them up to take into class.
  • SS sorted them on a scale (roughly) from formal to informal.
  • SS read the emails in more detail, attaching post-it notes to them with examples of good language from them. There was also a bit of scrap paper next to each where they could write any questions.
  • We took the emails one by one and went through the post-it notes and scrap paper, adding extra notes as they came up.

An example of an email we had looked at

  • At home, I scanned the emails with the post-it notes still stuck on them and emailed them to the SS.
  • For homework, SS added to a GoogleDoc to serve as a final reference which they can access at any time after the class. This is the original template, which you’re welcome to use (please ask me if you need access).

With five students and nine emails, this has already taken one 90-minute class, and could easily take another. The students are really enthusiastic about it and told me it was very useful at the end of the session.

Email conversations

One of the first things I did in my classes at the beginning of the year was to gather the SS’ email addresses. We are constantly in contact with each other, mainly about homework but with other emails related to holidays and issues the students have.

Short summaries

After a discussion in class, I encouraged SS to write a very short summary (3-4 sentences) of what they learnt. I then collected it, marked it quickly while they were doing some listening, and returned it asking them to email it to me for homework. This could have been done without marking, but as these students are training to take the CAE exam and are generally reluctant to write, every little helps!

Discussion questions and answers

The same group did some speaking in class based on a wordle of money questions from New English File Advanced. I gave them the original teacher’s book page for homework, then asked them to choose two questions. For one, they had to record an answer through audioboo or on their mobile phones; for the other, they needed to send me short paragraph by email. I posted the results on my student blog here. Half of the class did their homework, which is a pretty good hit rate for them!

Essay writing

In the CAE exam class, I introduced the group to essay writing. We followed a task-based approach, with the students writing essays in pairs, followed by an examination of linking phrases they could use to improve cohesion. They then had a chance to redraft their essay using the language and tips from the coursebook. I gave them online feedback for the first time (example) using Jing for the recording, along with OmniDazzle to do the mark-up. One student has already replied:

Thank you very much for this feedback. I think it very useful and I really like it. I believe that it will help all of us.

Thanks to all those on #eltchat who suggested feedback like this – it’s a great tool to add my toolbox.

EnglishRaven’s materials

Jason Renshaw is one of my favourite bloggers to follow. He constantly inspires me with all of the materials he posts on his excellent blog. This week I finally got to experiment with two of them – the Wizard English Grid (WEG) for emergent language, based on this post, and the reading and questions template from this post. The former is still a work in progress with the various groups I’ve introduced it into, but the latter was very successful. Having covered advanced family vocabulary with one group last week, I wanted to revise while pushing the students further. I found an article about demographics in the Czech Republic to paste into the empty space in Jason’s template, then gave the students time to create their own questions. We only had half an hour in class, but the way the discussion was going we could easily have continued for an hour. And where was the writing, I hear you cry? Well, the questions the discussion was based on were all written by the students themselves – something which they don’t often practise.

Transcripts

With two 1-2-1 students I recorded speaking, which they then typed a transcript of for us to work on the language. Neither of them noticed that they were writing, and they commented afterwards that they had never of thought of doing this before.

YLs and Teens

Even my younger learners didn’t escape! In the YL class of pre-intermediate nine- to ten-year-olds we’ve been watching a few minutes of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban at the end of each lesson as a reward for all of their hard work. This week, there was a space in the syllabus which was the perfect time to teach them some of the vocabulary they’d been struggling with. As a follow-up they wrote a couple of sentences about the film and draw a picture on this sheet:

The intermediate-level teens started writing a script for a presentation we’re going to make next week on their technology use.

The End

I think that pretty much covers it, and I hope it’s useful to someone! When I started thinking about it, I was very surprised at just how much writing there was in one week’s worth of lessons. What I’m concentrating on at the moment is trying to make all writing I do relevant and to give the students as much of a sense of purpose as possible. I know I was definitely guilty of ‘the next page is writing, so we’ll do it on Monday’ and ‘do the writing for homework’ before, and I hope the things featured in this post are the first steps to changing this!

How to train students to use technology appropriately (an #eltchat summary)

This is a summary of the 12pm GMT #eltchat on Twitter from Wednesday 9th February 2011. Find the complete transcript here.

Why bother?

  • It empowers students.
  • It allows them to learn beyond the classroom – blogs, wikis, skype, global projects…find out more
  • SS bring their own technology to class anyway. For example “Students arrive first day with a very expensive electronic dictionary. We have integrated a class on use into the curriculum”
  • Older kids learn by using tools and making mistakes.
  • Tech can make language learning more exciting, even if SS can’t access it at home. It can also absorb SS in using the language so much that they forget they are studying.
  • “Resource, communication, and automated feedback (might include motivation as well)”
  • Language learning is a tool to learn other things, including technology.
  • It fits in with many SS lifestyles, adding purpose, engagement and usefulness to the lesson.
  • “When did Ss have access to so much natural lang in the past 24/7? – A self access at their fingertips”
  • By showing SS how to deal with tech by themselves, you’re fostering learner autonomy.
  • Your SS can be immersed in L2 culture. It’s an accessible way to meet and interact with L2 natives.
  • It’s a great motivator.
  • Online practice between lessons makes up for a possible lack of face-to-face time – SS progress faster.
  • SS who are shy in class can be much more willing to participate online.
  • Tech can do things you can’t, like “a student-created book students can access at home and share”

How to do it

  • Train learners by demonstration. e.g. with YLs use Triptico word magnets for grammar structures. They want to try it too!
  • Offer old computers for young learners to play on. With very young learners, show them how to use the mouse and keys to make things happen on screen.
  • Assign computer-related homework, e.g. making a short powerpoint. SS then talk about it in class.
  • Use an iPad for audio and video content. Also has a good dictionary app.
  • Encourage SS to set their phone / PC to English – they know the functions and can learn a lot of language.
  • Use your iPod / mp3 player for listening in class. Great way for SS to see podcasts in use.
  • Ask SS to bring in something funny, e.g. a YouTube video, and share it at the end of class.
  • Encourage SS to use smartphones to look up words / images.
  • Ask SS to use bluetooth to send short recordings.
  • Connect to your SS on facebook and ask them to comment on your statuses in English.
  • On the first day of class, ask all of your SS to get their phones out and send you a text. Make a class list.
  • Teach Pecha Kucha with young adults – prepare a “half” PK with 10 slides only. / Offline, try it with a series of A3 cards.
  • Ask SS to record themselves inside and outside class – on computers or mobiles. Example
  • SS can email you in English.
  • Use articles, infographics, video listening activities etc to teach learners about tech.
  • With YLs, ask parents to play online games in English, e.g. Playhouse Disney
  • Ask SS to take photos of the board with their mobiles.
  • Encourage SS to listen to podcasts when commuting. Don’t forget to teach SS what podcasts are, as many of them don’t know! Do a listening lesson in class, then send them home with a list of links.
  • “A great Design For Change project in Taiwan: YLs teach senior citizens to use mobiles & PCs to message & game in English.”
  • Use class time for training, so that SS can continue their learning at home e.g. how to record voice messages.
  • Ask SS to take pictures of things they want to learn the words for on their phones, then bring them to class.
  • Let SS have a go at using something before you train them how to. Get everyone to try a task – the first one to work it out shows all the others.
  • Let them train each other. Encourage peer discussion.
  • Show them tutorials and let them play with tech themselves (especially for younger / more tech-savvy SS)
  • Ask the SS to read a text aloud and record it, then send it to you in class via bluetooth.
  • Talk about tech with your SS – they’re often very enthusiastic.
  • Train your SS on how to appropriately convey Internet research through oral presentations.
  • Teaching tech is like giving instructions – the simpler, the better.
  • Remove unnecessary obstacles – e.g. create a class sign-in.
  • Choose the one application needed and explore it together. / Choose a handful of tools and use them regularly and purposefully.
  • “My best tech moments are when SS create stuff/tell their stories/become stars/cooperate with each other.”
  • Teach each student something different, and they can pass it on. (Jigsaw reading approach)
  • With young learners, use tech adapted to them: big buttons, pictures, and no ‘dangerous’ links if they click around randomly
  • Get more advanced SS to create tutorials for earlier levels.
  • PaperTwitter: hand out a paper with a space for username and message to each student. They then have a short time to write a message and pass it to whoever they want. It gets silly and fun.
  • Ask SS to find stimulating texts online and bring them to class.
  • Show SS how to use Twitter for English self-study, through hashtags such as #twinglish, #eltstudentchat (latter has not yet started) – read about it here
  • Use Twitter to work on concise writing – the 140 character limit really helps them!
  • Use Twitter to make school / class announcements.
  • Even if there is space for every SS to have a computer, consider small groups for collaboration.
  • Use webquests for homework. / Do collaborative webquests with a time limit – groups present what they have found after this time.
  • Ask SS to interview each other using mobiles / cameras.

Challenges and suggested solutions

  • Classes with mixed technology skill levels
    Ascertain their  tech capabilities as soon as you can, for example by doing a survey of what they know and if they have any expertise. Include a section on tech skills in your needs analysis. Don’t forget you can probably learn a lot from them too.
  • Availability of technology / resources
    Think about what tech you DO have access to.
    Your own laptop (if you have one) can go a long way – even one computer offers many opportunities. You can also ask SS to bring in their laptops. Even if you have no net access in the classroom, you can often download things to your computer. Help SS to find alternative places to access technology outside class, such as the local library, friends, family.
    Mobile phones are all-pervading – most students have them, and there is lot you can do with them – text, recording, video, photos…
    You can also teach technology without it: use ‘paper models’ of things like chat, forums/commenting, even twitter in class before going online.
  • Training yourself and your colleagues.
    If you don’t feel confident, it is difficult to train your students. Play with tools before you use them in class. Share knowledge you have with your colleagues. Encourage them to come to your classroom to see it in action. Blog about your tech use and share. Thread technology suggestions into observation feedback.
  • SS resist using technology in class.
    Teach SS language through Edtech. Go to the tech SS are already using, including local language sites. Start simple – once they see the usefulness, they may not resist as much. Use the knowledge SS have, for example with their mobile phones. Give them links to online dictionaries and exercises to take home. You may be teaching them how not to be afraid of it!
  • Parents / SS expect printed handouts and coursebooks, not computer-related assignments.
    Teach SS language through Edtech. Show them how much more writing they do when it’s online “My parents are thrilled when they see how much WRITING in English their kids do when it’s online.”
  • SS don’t have email addresses.
    Don’t forget that not every student has email! Help them to see the use for it, and try to find ways around it.
  • Complicated language (slang, abbreviations) on social networking sites.

Don’t forget!

  • Think about how technology fits in with your overall goals / content. No tech for tech’s sake.
  • Think about how to insert it into your practice, rather than teaching it as a completely separate skill. Introduce it in small doses so it doesn’t overwhelm language learning. Make it feel like a natural extension of an already existing task.
  • Are you teaching technology or using it as a tool?
  • Speak to your SS – they might not be interested in “hyper-connected language learning”, especially if they’re using tech all day outside class. Allow them to choose to avoid alienation.
  • “Don’t try to use tech to ‘fix’ things that aren’t broke!”
  • Have  a back-up plan just in case!
  • Be ruthless – don’t drown yourself in technology!

Links shared

I’ll leave you with a quote from the chat:

My strongest English students are often techies.

Sharing student work

I’ve been wanting to share my students’ work for a while now, but due to a lack of technology access in school, the fact that we’re halfway through the year, and the fact that I have a coursebook-bound syllabus, the opportunities to incorporate blogs / wikis etc into class are very limited, especially because I’m still trying to work them out myself!

I have, however, been able to encourage my students to record themselves at home. In order to share this work with the world (with their permission of course!) I have set up a second blog. Each week I will post a collection of links to my students’ work, along with a request for comments. I will also post the page on Twitter using the hashtag #comments4efl. If you have a few minutes, I (and my students) would be very grateful if you could post your thoughts on their work. I will share all links with them, and we can hopefully get a dialogue going.

Head on over and take a look.

Enjoy!

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