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!