Thursday, 10 June 2010

Week 10

Here we are, almost finished with our wonderful course… I guess no good-byes should be expected since this is not the end but the beginning of our journey as better teachers!

Who do we have to thank for this? Deborah absolutely, for her wonderful guidance and all the others who, together with her, worked to make this a course to remember! And of course the US Department of State for this wonderful initiative and the American embassies through which we were nominated! But don`t forget our group! We are also to thank to each other for the ideas, the help, and the suggestions!

I found a very nice quotation from John W. Gardner which I would like to share here “Much education today is monumentally ineffective. All too often we are giving young people cut flowers when we should be teaching them to grow their own plants.”

When I read this and think about our course I can see why it has been such a success: we have really been taught how to grow our own plants, here! And furthermore, we have also been given the tools to do so with our students!!

I guess we are all aware that “Many children struggle in schools… because the way they are being taught is incompatible with the way they learn.” (Peter Senge), so it is up to us to bridge this divide by changing our way of teaching but also by taking what we have been learning here to our colleagues and fellow workers in our schools so they can profit from it as well!
Ours has been such a rich course that it will be impossible to pass all its content on all at once to other teachers, but I guess that little by little it will happen. Even in our daily practice we won`t do everything at the same time… but the future is ours to explore all this, and much more that is continuously being created.

Something I think we should do is, keep in touch and continue developing our course wiki with resources links and suggestions! Since we can`t create new topics on Nicenet, we should use our Google page to leave our comments and keep track of each other! We could even think of doing some projects together, especially those who have the same age level students, some kind of e- twinning!

I`ve really learned a lot with this course, what have I learned? All my participations on Nicenet show that a little, and all the time I spent reading the materials and everybody`s opinions show that as well, my project and everybody`s wonderful projects are the living proof of it!

As for an advice…, I guess that some advice to give would be: don`t stay alone at home desperate because you don`t know what to do in a certain situation, talk, write, collaborate, exchange your ideas, I think I can say we will all be here to listen and help each other!

I have grown a lot as a person and as a teacher thanks to my participation here. Just one thing comes to my mind right now: thank you for all my Learning, Unlearning and Relearning!

Friday, 4 June 2010

Week 9

The tools we came into contact this week almost sum up the entire course and I find them all to be of great use for our teaching activities since they can motivate our students and teach them to be responsible for their own learning and independent as well. I learned a lot while trying them out, except those I already knew how to: Blogs, Google sites and hot potatoes, of course, which I’ve already been using in class.

We in this course are the living proof that Nicenet, can promote students independence and autonomy by participating in forums and interacting with other students at our own pace and rhythm, learning by ourselves and at the same time cooperatively with our peers, while interacting. Just like our students will, if we use this tool in our classes!

Blogs and websites are two other tools that I know from experience can promote independence and autonomy: While participating students feel more important and feel like the others are also learning with what they are saying or writing, so they commit themselves more to these types of tasks. If co-authorship is given to them, then students will get even more involved and make a bigger effort to improve their language skills and to be careful with what they write or publish!

Of course there are constraints that can make it difficult to use these tools, we always need Internet access, and this may not be available at all times or the students may not have access to it a t home. To overcome these constrains I would try to use these tools inside the classroom, at school, to give everybody the same chance to access to them, this in case any of my students don`t have access to the Internet outside school! We must always try to bridge the digital divide, we know still exists! Giving extra credit or extra activities for this type of online work to those who have the possibility of using these tools at home is also a good possibility. Together with these three tools come those websites mentioned that make exercises online to use online, in this case the constraints will be the same, but I still find them very valuable, for example to, insert in our websites or blogs.

From my point of view the ideal would be to use tools like Hotpotatoes or Xword generator that allow you to use the exercises you create online and offline and even print them, this way we can hand them out to our students, install them on a intranet or insert them on our blog or webpage to use! Each of these possibilities promote the students` autonomy, of course the first possibility, handing the exercises out, would be the less interactive, but still effective because students, specially young learners, love games and puzzles, no matter the form. Using these on the computer would make students independent, let them learn at their own pace, repeat as much as they want, in many cases receive immediate feedback, and correct their own mistakes!

In fact, I think that we, English teachers, should also act out as technology teachers, since many of our students may not have the necessary knowledge to be able to use the tools we give them! It is therefore necessary for us not to be detained by our students` lack of technological knowledge, we should teach them the basics so they can be able to use the tools we want them too. Is this so bad? Being a technology teacher as well? I guess for us English teachers it shouldn`t be because we are lucky to be teaching the most common language on the Internet! English! And even when our students are learning how to work with these tools they are learning English! So we`re doubly teaching them and preparing them for life!

As for how I will continue to learn about technology after the course is over, well I guess I’ll continue to do as I have been doing up until now, participate in seminars and congresses about it, read articles and books, search the internet for new information and new tools, try them out and pass on the information to my fellow teachers when I’m giving my teacher courses, and at my school to the colleagues who work with me. I also expect to continue to talk to our group of teachers here from the course with whom I have learned so much!

Friday, 28 May 2010

Week 8

Project draft already! Uau, time has gone by so quickly…! I guess it`s good when you don`t feel time pass by! I`ve already sent mine to Khang and have received his, now I’ll have to find some time to check it out and help him with some suggestions (I confess I’ve already taken a peek at it and it seems really complete and accurate!).

This week the readings on learner autonomy made me realize that it`s not just in Portugal that there is a real pressure to complete the English syllabus which corresponds with the textbooks! As a matter of fact most teachers I know tend just to do the tasks in the textbook because they think that is the only way they will achieve the objectives of learning English in the national curriculum made by the Ministry of Education! What a mistake! There are many ways to achieve those objectives, many of which comprise the use of new technologies and new strategies beyond the textbook. Of course students bought the book, so they should use it, but together with it the teacher can vary and innovate to try to promote students` autonomy, even if it is in a one computer classroom!

But the fact is that the teacher needs to have his own degree of autonomy to be able to use strategies and resources to try to promote students` autonomy!

A good way for me to promote student`s autonomy is through collaborative activities and by asking our students to do extra work, not related to class subjects, but about something they choose, which will make them grow as a person who takes decisions, reaches consensus (if it is a collaborative work), and produces something autonomously.

Strategies like setting up a class blog or website, creating a student journal, letting students choose the materials the teacher uses in class or the topics they want to write or talk about in class are other valuable strategies to promote the learners autonomy.

These strategies don`t need to be all related to technologies, and they shouldn`t be, since many of us and our students still have limited access to technology, and here enters the one-computer classroom!

In my school I don`t have a computer lab all to myself, as a matter of fact there are two rooms with 14 computers each that I can say are a “sort of” a computer lab, because they normally are taken by the computer science classes… so most of the time it`s as if I don`t have any at all! I guess I’m lucky to have one day a week when I can take my 10th graders there because one of the rooms, from 10 o`clock to 11.30, is free, but the rest of the time and days when I have my other classes it`s always full! (By the way this week in the project, my students are preparing their PPT presentations and have inserted their mind maps on the site, on the page each pair of students created for their final project!)

So I guess for me, most of the time it`s a one-computer class!

The possibilities to use one computer in the classroom are immense but I tend to value those which promote interactivity and student participation and autonomy! This week I really found some cool activities or possible strategies and activities when I went to the suggested site “101 activities for the one-computer classroom”, since I’m working with the webpage with my students the area about WebPages really caught my attention with some very good materials and websites. Go check it out!

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Week 7

This week was great fun working with PPT presentations. This is not new to me, since I’ve used interactive PPT presentations for quite some time, but I still learned a lot with the materials available for consultation.

I think PPT presentations can be a powerful tool for us teachers to use with all sorts of classes and for all types of subjects/topics, unfortunately most teachers still tend to use it just like they used the overhead projector some years ago: to present what they are saying and to ask students to write down what they have written on the slides. Essential it would be to make it interactive and insert videos, songs, hyperlinks, games, pictures so we can make our classes more interesting and motivate the students while involving them in the presentation as participants as well.

Of everything great I read this week I found the article by Garr Reynolds “Top Ten Slide Tips” most useful since it sums up all the important aspects to take into consideration when preparing a PPT presentation, besides we could also use it to give our students some information on how to build a good presentation, since most of them today are already making their own PPT presentations to present schoolwork. I guess I`m going to use it to give this information to my 10th graders to help them in their final project presentation!

(By the way, in the project, this week my students have already started building their individual pages with an initial presentation in the website I created, they are really enjoying the possibility of commenting on each other pages… this means more production, great! Meanwhile I’m correcting the written papers.)

This week I also prepared an interactive PPT which I shared with the group, to revise the Present Continuous with my 7th grade students, I inserted a song a video, sounds, animated gifs, an hyperlink to a website where I have some English exercises for further practice, and created a multiple choice exercise in it. I`ve already used it in class and I can say the students enjoyed it a lot and even asked me to work with it on their own!

As for technology aids in large classes, I must start by saying that I have no experience with large classes, but it`s been quite interesting reading and learning about this. My classes normally have no more than 30 students, but for me no language class should have more than 10 students, so, I can say I have never had my ideal class… Even though the size of the class is important I guess the most important will be the strategies and techniques used to teach English effectively.

For that purpose I discovered some new strategies in the article about interactive lectures,(summary of 36 formats), I enjoyed that idea of a bingo game by identifying answers on the cards, while the teacher gives the lecture, I think it can work with large classes and be quite motivating for the students.

Then an article really caught my attention “Teaching Naked: Why Removing Technology from Your Classroom Will Improve Student Learning” by Rick Reis, It was most interesting reading it since it alerts us to the fact that we should use more technology outside of the classroom to promote students’ learning before and after the lessons so we can interact more during lessons! Maybe this way we can have more time to play language games and to do some role-playing or some podcast recording or video creation with our students during class time. The idea of “teaching naked” is really interesting and I agree that giving students the means and incentives to learn the materials in advance, can improve students’ learning, and in fact that`s what we should aim at: improve our students’ learning!

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Week 6

This week I’ve learned a lot about a topic which hadn’t really caught my attention, so far, learning styles. I have never tested my students’ learning styles, I think that is wrong and I’m just about to change this situation! Now that I’ve read more about it I understand this necessity and I am conscious that this can help my students learn English better. I guess that I’ve always tried to vary the activities used in and outside class in order to please more students and I`ve always been careful enough to ask them about their interests and needs, but learning styles are different, more specific and therefore more productive in terms of learning and improving English. After all that I’ve read it is now clearer to me what I can do to try to address as much learning styles as possible in one class. Using different types of strategies or exercises for the same topic related activity, according to the students’ characteristics, would be a nice start…!

As for alternative assessment, It has been real useful for me to analyze these technological tools as ways to assess our teaching and learning process, instead of just thinking of them as activities to improve our students’ language skills, I guess we tend to overlook this aspect of technology use, because they are in fact excellent assessment helpers!

In relation to rubrics, I truly think RubiStar is a wonderful site, not only does it allow me to build a rubric the way I prefer, but also lets me use already made rubrics with the possibility of customizing them! Truly marvelous! Besides this, thanks to this website I really learned a lot about different types of rubrics and different possibilities of topics to be assessed.

Week 6 – Project

In my project right now, in pairs, the students are doing their written work, maximum 4 pages, on the topic they chose, which I will then correct so they can prepare a PPT presentation based on what they did to present orally to class.

As for myself at the moment I’m preparing the Google site to insert my students’ works, I intend to invite them as collaborators so they can not only see everything I put there but as well upload their work and help build “our” site. As they are Secondary students and quite responsible already, I am sure I will be able to create a sort of “English community” in which they will be the main participants with the intention of motivating them and promoting their independence.

They have been working well and some of them have already finished their written task and are already preparing their PPT presentation. On Monday we`ll be editing the website together in the classroom in order to create an individual page for each of them where they will start off by introducing themselves.

It`s been really cool preparing all this and students are anxious to work with the site!

Friday, 7 May 2010

Week 5

Week five already!… Uau!

Who would have said we were going to get here so fast!

Now things are getting really hectic! I`m preparing my project but I don`t know if my students are going to finish it till the end of our course, I’m getting a bit worried about this… I`m trying to implement a medium or long term project based on their final project for English 10, so things aren`t going to be so immediate, even though we`ve already started the activities that will lead to the final product! Let`s see next week how things are…

This week there was something really new to me: building a WebQuest! Even though I had already read about it and even seen some examples I had never built one myself! It`s been a great experience and right now I’m trying to complete it little by little, to see if I can try it out with my students.

This type of web resource is, from my point of view, invaluable for students since it promotes their independence and responsibility and at the same time it represents a challenge to be overcome, which normally pleases students, motivating them as well. For me they are "projects in action", and have a great advantage: their structure - the division in parts allows teachers and students to define, organize and guide their work, whether it is on-line or on paper.

As for Project Based Learning, I, like many others from our course, have already worked with projects, especially short term mini-projects, like writing about a famous person, talking about traditions and so on. I also have access to a lot of project suggestions in the course books here in Portugal, normally at the end of each unit! I had already read about this topic but the material presented to us here at the course (theoretical and practical) has completed my knowledge about it, since I consider it of great quality.For me there is no doubt that project-based learning, together with WebQuests, as they are learner-based, are priceless because they make our students more autonomous and promote learning by doing. In this type of work the teacher guides the students and acts as a facilitator, and counselor. When they do the projects, the students feel more motivated and are aware that they have a large degree of autonomy within the work they are supposed to present.

This has really been a great week! I`ve enjoyed a lot reading my colleagues` comments and projects and visiting their WebQuests! They are all doing a great job!!

Learning, Unlearning and Relearning! That`s the spirit!


Sunday, 2 May 2010

Week 4

Did I say I had had too much to do last week? Well… I guess this week I`m running out of time to complete all of our tasks! But at least there is a good reason for that! This weekend (Friday through Sunday) is the 24th APPI (English teachers Portuguese association) Congress under the topic - "Highlighting key skills in language learning", in Guimarães, a city 50km from where I live! Here is the link to the blog!!This means travelling a lot during these 3 days! Being there all day long and having little time left…
I have been lucky to hear Key-note speaker Prof. David Crystal, yesterday! It was an amazing lecture, as well a great plenary session by Rod Bolitho!

Afterwards, it was very rewarding for me to meet Abigail Dressel, the representative of the Department of State from the American Embassy here in Lisbon, together with Gergo Santha who made a presentation about the American English teaching arena, where I discovered all the potential of practices and products the American Department of State has available for teachers and even students through their embassies and Regional English language offices throughout the world. I advise you to check on your American embassy`s website!
Besides this I was also able to speak a little about my experience up until now here with you this Spring in Oregon, and of course I had to tell them the time I was spending there at the conference was preventing me from being able to finish this week`s tasks in time! I guess it is for a good cause, and I think I’m still going to finish everything!

As for today at the conference I was present at the excellent communication entitled “,Challenges, trends, and aspirations for the TESOL Profession” presented by the president of TESOL, Brock Brady, with whom I had the opportunity of talking for quite some time about our e-course and the work we are doing here this Spring together with Deborah! Then, later on I once again had the pleasure und luck to listen to Professor David Chrystal, a true speaker, fantastic! At the end of the day it was time to hear Scott Thornbury and his “Six things beginning with R”, very good, indeed!

Now comes the part about my week here in the course…

The articles on writing and reading were very interesting and the lesson plans very useful, I got some very good ideas with Decoder (making small flash movies) and Quandary, a free software to build on-line challenging quests or mazes (from the same author as Hotpotatoes), these were the ones that appealed to me the most and I’ll probably use them with my classes. The lesson plans the colleagues have been presenting on Nicenet have given me lots of ideas for my classes and now I’m thinking about what I’m going to do with my students in the project!!

I must go now and have some rest… tomorrow will be the last conference day, and I still have to travel there!


Friday, 23 April 2010

Week 3

This week I really felt we had a lot to do… and so much content to review and read…! But I guess I’m managing it, it`s already Friday and I guess I’m just missing one post on Nicenet, I`m going to wait for some more comments and then I`ll do the second one. Together with my schoolwork and the teacher training course I’m teaching, these have been (and I guess will continue to be!) quite hectic weeks! But it`s totally worth it!

As for Delicious, I had already come into contact with it, but hadn`t explored it properly yet. It`s a wonderful tool, especially when we have to work with different computers, I guess now I’m really developing my own database of truly important sites that can help me in my work. The more specific we are when we write the tags the more effective it will be, because, if we are not careful with the tags, and are too general it will end up being very complicated to select the bookmarks we need or are looking for, when we go there in search of something specific!
The articles about CALL for listening, speaking, or pronunciation skills, and the lesson plans were very rich and interesting and managed to highlight the importance of technology in my classes and how it could be helpful in improving my students' aural/oral skills. In fact I’ve been studying this carefully and I guess that, together with Randal`s lab and Real English, they all have given me pretty good ideas of how to promote listening and speaking. As I mentioned in my posts I`ve selected some activities from these two sites to use in my lessons, and I think they will be perfect for my students.

I`m already a fan of podcasting, and I’ve used podcasts from the books we`ve adopted in my school, I’ve also created my own podcasts and have helped my students do the same. Even though the texts they record aren`t perfect, far away from that, the students commit themselves to the recording and thus train and take extra care with their pronunciation! They even cooperate more often with their colleagues, especially to ask for the help of those who are better or speak English better! It is really worth it! I normally do this after I’ve corrected the written comments the students leave on the blog, and then I publish the recordings on the blog as well. The video casts are another of my, and I guess the students`, favorite ways of learning English, and the closer to real life they tend to be, the better, and don`t forget the use of films (the one`s we watch on TV or at the cinema), these can be even more motivating for the students and we can easily prepare some exercises based on them. In Portugal most English course books suggest films according to the topics we are studying and there are already those books which include activities and exercises based on parts of the films they suggest!

Now I guess I’ll continue to read some more of your opinions and experiences!

Let`s keep on learning, unlearning and relearning!


Thursday, 15 April 2010

Week 2

Week two came and I`m really enjoying it! I must say I was a bit suspicious about analyzing and exploring search engines and portals… I guess I’m a Google fan (specially the scholar part!), but now I see what I’ve been missing…! Noodletools really exceeded my expectations and Twurdy was a wonderful surprise, since one of the problems our students have when they search the web is not understanding what they find and therefore many times, simply copying without reading, so the leveling of the sites according to their proficiency is essential!

I focused on “Askkids” and I really found it to be an excellent website for my students, young learners, to find what they need in a simpler and more objective way.
Another thing I’ve valued a lot are Deborah`s Tech tips related to web searching, I am in fact going to pass them on to my students, since they lack this type of knowledge when they are online.

At the moment I`ve been talking about the technological world we live in and the Internet with my 10th grade students, so the research I’ve made with the search engines and the objective I prepared for our task were directed to this class. Probably next week I will expect my students to perform the activity for which I prepared the objective I shared with you, the mind map about the Internet and global communication. Then I’ll tell you how it went! I will probably also suggest them to try out “Twurdy”, which will be good, since I have different levels of proficiency in this class, and some of my students are easily discouraged, when they don`t understand everything they read.

As for the ABCD model, I think it is truly useful and objective and it really helps us to put our activities into practice, I confess I didn`t know this model and I think I’m going to continue using I in my lesson plans, even in Portuguese. Something else that really got my attention this week was the expansion of Bloom`s taxonomy to the digital area, essential for us as well, since it is no longer possible for a teacher nowadays not to include the digital world in his or her teaching practice.

Truly a rich week! I`m really learning, unlearning and relearning!


Sunday, 11 April 2010

Blog Assisted Language Learning

Here is the article a bout BALL I mentioned in my post, since it is no loger available on the web I leave it here for those who want to read it!

Friday, 9 April 2010

Week 1

Blogging… well, this is not new to me, but still it is the first time I’ve fully built a blog using blogger because up until now I have always worked with wordpress and It`s been quite challenging since the two are very different.

So, this week I’ve learned how to work with blogger but I think I’ll have to spend some more time exploring all its potential so I can create something a little bit more different… As for the readings I found some new interesting articles to add to my list of bibliography related to blogging, and I think the discussions about blogging are developing well and all the participants are enjoying very much discovering all the potential of blogs.

When I specifically think of our classes and the advantages working with a blog can bring, I immediately point out the fact that students get a real audience, since their work is published for the others to read, (classmates, friends and family and the rest of the blogosphere as well) This promotes responsibility on the part of the students who will, normally, be more careful with what they do in terms of the content and the structure they use, this way improving their English proficiency.
I`ve worked with 8th grade students using a blog with podcasts in class (if you like you can check it out here), because many didn`t have access to the Internet and some did not even have a computer. This was a b-learning system which had very good results since in the end I concluded that students not only improved their writing and reading skills but their listening and speaking abilities as well thanks to the production of podcasts based on the comments they had written on the blog, and in fact they had better final results.

Let`s continue learning, unlearning and relearning!