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

Posts tagged ‘technology’

Why I don’t have a smartphone (paragraph blogging)

This is my phone. It is frequently the butt of jokes, especially when people know about my online presence. And I don’t really care: I do not want or need a smartphone. I know that having one would actually cause me more problems than not having one in my life as it is at the momtent. My Nokia does everything I need it to: make calls, send texts, cost me a minimal amount of money (about 50 Polish zloty every three or four months or so, depending on how much I use it – that’s around £10/€12), only need recharging for a couple of hours once a week or so, fall apart when I drop it (about once a week!) and be easy to put together…and all for only £10 three and a half years ago. At one point, I did have a secondhand iPhone for a year, and it was undoubtedly useful. It got me started with recording my steps using a pedometer app, it got me into reading ebooks when I had to commute on the Tube during London 2012, and it can be useful to quickly check something when I’m out. But…I generally spend 5-7 hours a day at work on a computer, plus another 1-3 hours at home. Most weekends I probably spend a minimum of 6 hours each day in front of screen, and often more. I have an iPad (2, hence the photo quality above), a pedometer, a camera, an iPod shuffle, and a Macbook. I do not have any notifications switched on, and I try very hard to switch my computer off by 9:30pm in the evening if I’m not using it to watch a film on my projector. I look at social media when I want to, not when my phone dictates and my hormones respond by telling me I need a fix – and I still spend too much time scrolling. I do not need more screen time. On nights when I have switched off the computer in good time and had a couple of hours with no screen  before bed, I sleep better. Sometimes I get text messages like Google map links when people assume I have a smartphone, and sometimes I think maybe I should invest, but then I think I can’t be bothered with the mental effort of having to control my impulse to look at it all the time. Like not having chocolate at home, it’s easier just not to buy it in the first place! 

Inspired by Matt Noble

If you’re interested in breaking up with your phone, there’s an interesting interview with the author of a book of the same name on a recent Science Focus podcast (from 16:07 onwards) with tips on how to go about it.

IATEFL Birmingham 2016: Corpora

corpus (pl. corpora)
a collection of written or spoken material stored on a computer and used to find out how language is used
From the Cambridge English Dictionary online

I’ve been interested in corpora for a while now, but never seem to have time to go beyond my very basic understanding of how the Brigham Young University corpus interface works. I’ve always used it for the BNC (British National Corpus), which covers 1980-1993, but discovered a few seconds ago (!) that COCA (Corpus of Contemporary American English) is constantly updated, so I think I’ll be switching to that from now on!

All I knew before was how to do a basic search for a term and how to look for collocates, possible with a verb or noun near the key word if I was feeling very adventurous. Thanks to three talks I attended on different versions of corpora during the conference, I now feel like I know much more! 🙂

COCA

Jennie Wright did a very practical session introducing us to the basic functions of COCA, with three activities you can take straight into the classroom. Mura Nava, the master of corpora, helpfully collected my tweets from the session (and added notes to make it clearer – thanks!) which show all three activities, and Jennie has shared the list of corpora resources on her blog. She particularly recommended COCA Bites, a series of very short YouTube videos designed to introduce you to the corpus.

One thing I particularly like about COCA is the fact that parts of speech are highlighted in different colours. Here’s an example of a KWIC search for ‘conference’, giving concordance lines with the key word in a single column (a function Jennie taught me!)

COCA 'conference' search

SKELL

James Thomas taught us how to answer language questions from corpora, focussing on the SKELL (Sketch Engine for Language Learning) concordancer (thanks for correcting that James!). I didn’t realise that SKELL was created by the people at Masaryk University, in (one of) my second home(s) Brno 🙂 Again, Mura collected the tweets, this time by me, Leo Selivan (another corpus master) and Dan Ruelle.

What makes SKELL different to many corpora is that it uses algorithms to select 40 sentences from however many the search finds, getting rid of as many as possible with obscure words or which are overly long to make it easier for learners to use. This works well for common words, but not always for slightly more obscure words, like ‘mansplain‘ (possibly the word of the conference, thanks to David Crystal’s opening plenary!) You can also use the ‘word sketch’ function on the corpus to show you lots of collocates, a function I think I will now use instead of a collocations dictionary! Michael Houston Brown has a very clear introduction to SKELL on Mura’s eflnotes blog.

One slight problem, as with all corpora, is that it cannot distinguish between different senses of the same word, which may confuse learners. In this example, conference is listed both in the sense of the IATEFL conference, and as a sporting league. This could also be seen in the COCA image above, but I think it is easier to spot here.

SKELL 'conference' search

If you’d like to find out more, James has recently written an article for the Humanising Language Teaching magazine.

Making your own corpus

Chad Langford and Joshua Albair are clearly die-hard corpus fans. They trawled through over one million words from over 8,000 TripAdvisor restaurant reviews to create their own corpus of review language. The findings were very interesting and showed up some clear features of the genre, but I’m not sure how practical it would be for most teachers to do this kind of project as anything other than a hobby. They’re based at Lille University, but they didn’t say how much of their time was dedicated to this project versus teaching, or how many groups they used it with, so it was difficult to work out the return on their investment of time. Nevertheless, it was very interesting to see how you go about building a corpus. Again, thanks to Mura for collating my tweets with more information in them.

Extras

Mura also collated tweets for one more corpus-related talk at IATEFL, based on the English Grammar Profile. Cambridge have recorded all of their talks from the conference, including this one, so you can watch it at your leisure. He has a free ebook with examples of the BYU-COCA corpus interface.

There are interviews with some of the presenters of corpus talks at this year’s IATEFL, including James, Chad and Josh, on Mura’s blog. This list of talks shows everything connected to corpora from this year’s conference.

Why diigo could be your new best friend (IH Journal)

The latest IH Journal is now available, featuring a beginner’s guide to diigo written by me. Diigo is a service which I started using about five years ago, and which completely changed my approach to using the internet! Head over to the article to find out how, and learn to use it yourself.

The journal features articles by contributors from around the world. This issue has a materials writing focus, but also features columns on teacher training, teaching young learners, using technology, management and working with exam classes, among many others. The contents list is available in the right-hand bar on the main IHJ page, and the whole journal is here. You can also read past issues of the journal.

IH Journal issue 39 cover

Learn Moodle – my first MOOC

A few years ago I took the IH Certificate in Online Tutoring, part of which involved learning how to use Moodle. Unfortunately, I haven’t had chance to play with it again, so when Vedrana Vojkovic recommended the Learn Moodle MOOC (Massive Open Online Course), I thought it would be a good chance to refresh my knowledge and try out my first MOOC.

The Learn Moodle MOOC is a four-week course which I believe takes place on a fairly regular basis. You can find out the date of the next one at the top of the MOOC homepage. (I believe it will be July 2015)

Each week, there is a live tutorial accompanied by a series of tasks. The tasks contain clear instructions and links to very easy-to-follow YouTube videos explaining how to use the different parts of Moodle. I think you’re meant to spend about 1-2 hours per week on there.

When I signed up, I had no plans for the rest of January. I completed the week one tasks at a leisurely pace. Then life took over, and I had very little time to do the rest of the course. I ended up doing most of the rest of it in a couple of hours on the first day of week four. Frustratingly, I had just one task left at the end of this, but couldn’t finish it as it depends on other participants, meaning I had to return the next day to do it. The final task only took a few minutes though, so it wasn’t too bad.

As a reward, I got this:

Learn Moodle complete badge

Despite the rush, I think I got what I wanted out of it – a reminder of the main functions of Moodle, and an introduction to some of the bits that were less developed when I did the COLT course. If I ever think I’ll have the time to do it, and if I found one that interested me, I’d definitely do another MOOC.

Thanks for recommending it Vedrana!

Integrating technology into CELTA

At the IH Director of Studies conference last week Gavin Dudeney did a session about managing technology. In it, he expressed the hope that technology in the classroom will eventually become normalised. As he said, nobody talks about ‘pen-assisted language learning’, so why CALL? He also wants it to become an integral part of teacher training courses, rather than something special or tacked on. He mentioned me as someone who does this and, of course, immediately after the session someone approached me and asked me how, to which I had no ready answer, probably because for me it already is an integral part of my teaching and training!

I started thinking about it, and in conversation with Anthony Gaughan, we decided that we use technology when it’s necessary to solve problems. So here are some of the ways that tech is used when I’m working as a CELTA trainer:

  • For the occasional PowerPoint-based input session (thought I’d better get that out of the way!)
  • To show longer videos for observations and shorter clips as part of input sessions.
  • To help trainees find out about language by demonstrating how a corpus works (I normally use BYU BNC).
  • Getting trainees to take photos of each others’ whiteboards during TP (teaching practice).
  • Trainees also sometimes video/audio record themselves/each other, although we have to get the students’ permission first.
  • To send out relevant extra links to the trainees, particularly to my diigo bookmarks.
  • (On one course) To provide after-hours support via email – this got a bit much for me, so I only did it in emergencies on later courses.
  • (On one course) Experimenting with Edmodo as a way of giving handouts – this got a bit overwhelming for the trainees, although they still have access to it after the course. Hoping to ask them in the future whether they ever look at it.
  • Trainees show images using their own tablets or a projector, rather than printing off endless pictures.
  • Where available, trainees can use the overhead projector (old-school tech!) to display answers/texts etc.
Projector at Beamish Museum

Not quite as old-school as this one though…

  • Teaching trainees how to put images into PowerPoint, instead of spending hours formatting them in Word (not that this frustrates me at all…) – amazed at how many people, especially under 25s, are still petrified of PowerPoint and/or have never opened it in their lives!
  • I also have a 75-minute technology input session which I’m happy to pass on to anybody who needs inspiration – just message me below or on Twitter. A key part of this session is demonstrating how to use Quizlet and another is introducing online professional development, if it hasn’t already been done in another input.

I don’t feel like any of this is particularly revolutionary, but maybe that’s because tech has always been normalised for me. Is there anything else you do?

Update

I’ve just rediscovered this very comprehensive post by Marisa Constantinides showing how she integrates technology into the teacher development courses at CELT Athens – lots of ideas I plan to steal! She’s also written about whether it’s worth integrating technology into CELTA.

You might also be interested in Kateryna Protsenko’s IH Journal article CELTA Gone Techy.

Rethinking the visual: week eight

This is part of a series of blogposts about my lessons with M, a very enthusiastic nine-year-old girl. She is a pleasure to speak to, and knows a lot of English. She’s also almost completely blind. Each lesson is one hour, one-to-one, at her house.

Monday and Tuesday

We had an extra lesson on Monday this week because I’ll be very busy next week (more on that later!)

About two years ago I bought a cheap external keyboard to use with my laptop, and I brought it to Sevastopol with me, but have only used it two or three times. I decided that since I never use it, I would give it to M, and we could put braille letters on it as she suggested last week.

Putting braille letters on the keyboard

We spent most of both lessons doing this, as the first time M wrote the numbers they were backwards – she was writing from left to right on her slate and I didn’t notice until I cut up the paper. When you write braille you do it from right to left as you’re writing on the back of the paper, meaning that you can read it from left to right when you turn it over. This meant we had to do the letters twice. We also listened to chapter 8 of Alice in Wonderland.

As I left on Monday, M walked me through their garden to the gate, as always. As we went, she told me about a little song she sings for her sister, which ends with tickling. This reminded me of ‘Round and round the garden’, an English nursery rhyme. I taught her the words and the actions, and sent her a recording of it:

She repeated it to me various times through the week, and did it with her mum, dad and grandma in varying mixes of Russian and English while I was there. I think she likes it 🙂

Thursday

When I arrived M’s mum showed me that they had worked together to put plastic braille letters onto the keyboard, as the original paper ones we’d tried were moving and were not very easy to read because the dots kept being flattened. It looks much clearer and easier to use now!

M playing with the plastic braille letters on her keyboard

M and her mum tried to tell me about a story they’d been watching that day, but M didn’t know how to translate ‘калабок’, but we eventually worked out between us that it’s the Russian equivalent of the story of the Gingerbread Man. I’ve just watched a lovely 12-minute version of the story, with pretty simple Russian which I managed to understand most of 🙂 I tried to explain what gingerbread was, but without an internet connection to show M’s mum a picture or get a translation it was very difficult. M’s mum drew a picture of калабок for me, which was very useful for finding out about it after the lesson.

After her mum had left, M asked if we could finish listening to Alice in Wonderland, so that’s what we did. In the final two chapters, there was the trial scene, where the king is judging whether the Knave of Hearts was guilty of stealing tarts. M asked why there were twelve creatures in a box, and I thought I would have to explain the concept of ‘court’, ‘judge’ and ‘jury’. It turned out that M already knew all of those words, yet again amazing me with the breadth of her knowledge. The only thing she was unfamiliar with was ‘trial’. As I played the story, she said some of the lines in Russian and/or English as she remembered bits of the story and predicted what was about to happen.

To finish the lesson, M asked if we could do some typing. We connected the keyboard to my Mac, I opened TextEdit, switched on VoiceOver, M started typing, and the computer didn’t say anything! No idea why, but thankfully unplugging the keyboard and plugging it in again worked. As you can see, although I tried to encourage her to produce some words, M was mostly just playing with the sounds and exploring the keyboard:

x                            dfhfhfhasd as           sssdffdjkldfjkldfkljdfkjl;dfkj;djkldjkl;dfs;jkdfs;jkfdjs;kfdjs;kfdjsk; fdalskdjfl;a M_______ jjssss sad b,,,,,,……………………… ……..d..d……….c       assd jasfasfssssffffff fbvbbbbmmm  sadafssadasdddfvvbbbnnnghhhh jffvvv ffrfvrfvc     fcvrtgffff     dceedxced djw djdjdjdjidij dijd ditch lllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllll   vvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvv jt65555 ;

zxccvbnm

iikkiki k ki

s sans an hjinskl  sandyffjkl  sa sandybm,.x zmx qwertyuiop[ qqwertyuiopasdfghjklzxcvbnm,.zzz

At this point, I noticed a couple of problems with putting braille on the keys. Braille is read using the index fingers on both hands simultaneously. If you’ve never seen this done, this video shows children who are using braille at an American primary school. It shows them reading at various points, for example at 1:20. This means that M uses her index fingers to find the keys. I can see that she may rely on this rather than attempting to remember where the keys are to ultimately use her muscle memory for touch-typing. It’s exactly the same as a sighted person ‘hunting and pecking‘. I’m not entirely sure how to combat this without someone standing over her and making her use the correct fingers for each key until she can remember them. I only have a couple more lessons with her though, so I can’t be that person. At the same time, having braille on the keyboard will give her more independence as she starts to use the computer. She’d done some typing between our lessons on Tuesday and Thursday, and listed all the words she’d typed: sad, busy, bee, M______ (her name)… It’s clearly something she enjoys being able to do.

It was also hard to get M’s attention at times as she was completely focussed on the voice from the computer, especially when it was reading the parts where she’d written the same letter repeatedly. At one point, I unplugged the keyboard and asked her to stop typing for a minute to listen to me so I could teach her how to use enter/return to get a new line.

Friday

M told me ‘Round and round the garden’ again, and then ‘I very like it’, so we revised the chant ‘I like it a lot’ from week five. She remembered it without any trouble, but it was a good opportunity to go back to some of the chants and see what she could remember. The related grammar is all in her passive memory, but she needs more exposure to natural English and explicit correction to get them into her active memory.

We spent the rest of the lesson playing with the first conditional because it’s one of her ‘favourite’ mistakes. I explained the rule for its construction (very badly), using an example from Alice in Wonderland: “If I eat from this side, I’ll be bigger. If I eat from this side, I’ll be smaller.” I told her it’s different to Russian, where you use the future in both parts of the sentence. I thought it was best to provide lots of practice and memorise some correct sentences, rather than dwell on the rule for too long, so I taught her a song.

Singing Grammar [affiliate link] is a Cambridge University Press book by Mark Hancock which aims to teach children English grammar through songs. The first conditional song, ‘If you’re feeling lonely’, is meant for teenagers, but I thought it would be OK for M, and it turned out there were only three concepts I needed to explain: ‘desert’ (v), ‘by your side’ and ‘my door will be open wide’. I played the whole song, then we worked through it line by line and verse by verse with M repeating the lines and me correcting her and clarifying any language as necessary. Here’s a short clip of the process. No copyright infringement is intended with the clips of the song you hear. Hopefully you can just about her M singing along in the background.

As you can hear, M is a big fan of ‘Smoke on the Water’ by Deep Purple. She’s mentioned it a few times in the lessons, and I’m going to try to prepare some activities with it for our final lesson together in a couple of weeks. This clip demonstrates a fairly typical exchange between us, and shows how excited she gets by some things 🙂

After the song, I used the ‘superstitions’ activity from page 74 of the original edition of 700 Classroom Activities[affiliate link to the second edition]. I explained the concept of superstitions by using the example of ‘If you break a mirror, you’ll have seven years bad luck’. We exchanged a few English and Russian superstitions using the prompts from the book. M told me that if you are sick and you hug a black cat, it takes your bad energy away from you and will die. If you hug a white cat, it will give you positive energy. (At least, that’s what I understood!) This superstition doesn’t appear on this fairly comprehensive list of cat-related superstitions though – has anyone else heard of it? It was interesting to hear about different superstitions in our two cultures, and a very good way to finish the week.

Side note

While trying to find an example of braille reading, I came across ‘How blind people write braille‘, part of an excellent series of YouTube videos by a man called Tommy Edison, who has been blind since birth. I particularly like ‘Best things about being blind‘ (especially around the 1:00 point), ‘Intangible concepts to a blind person‘ and ‘Questions for sighted people‘. He’s also known as the Blind Film Critic and I’ve just subscribed to both of his channels 🙂

Online Professional Development

Today I have done an updated version of my Twitter for Professional Development seminar. I have now decided to focus on:

  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Webinars

…as the Twitter site has improved a lot, although it can still be difficult to follow chats on it, and I now find that I get a lot out of facebook and webinars in terms of professional development.

You can still find my complete introduction to using Twitter for Professional Development, although the information about Google Reader is now outdated as it no longer exists. I have started using feed.ly instead.

Here is a complete recorded version of the presentation:

If you do decide to start using online professional development, I’d be interested to hear from you. I am also happy to answer any questions about it which I can.

Good luck!

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