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Fostering collaboration in and outside the classroom

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What is collaboration?

 The word ‘collaborate’ is derived from the Latin collaborare which means to labour together. It involves a group of people working together to solve a problem, complete a task, or create something meaningful. 

Collaboration is a vital ingredient for learning. According to Vygotsky (1978), learning is a social process occurring in the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD), that is the distance between a student’s ability to perform a task under adult or peer support, and their ability to solve the problem independently. Vygotsky’s Social Development theory refers to learning contexts in which teachers are not the only providers of knowledge but where students play an active role in learning with and from their peers.

Is collaboration the new competition?

It most certainly is. In the past, much work was accomplished by individuals working alone, but today the scenery has changed.  Due to globalisation and the advent of technology, all significant work is accomplished in teams, and in many cases, global teams. Wikipedia, social media, and web 2.0 technologies highlight how interconnected our world has become and demonstrate how people working together can share knowledge and produce valuable resources.•

Collaboration in and outside the classroom 

Getting students to collaborate in the classroom is great but extending collaboration outside of it is even greater. It helps you to best maximize the scarcest classroom learning resource – time – and it also gives students more time to think, reflect, and process ideas. The ability to collaborate in digital environments is likely to be an important real world digital literacy so by setting up online collaborative projects you are actually preparing them for what they are likely to encounter in real life

Here are some very simple ways you can do this:

1. Group projects and assignments – Students work in groups of four to complete an assignment or project. After brainstorming, they break the work into four parts and each member undertakes to research part. They then group together to synthesise it into a collaborative product. Google Docs and Wikis are old-time classic tools for this kind of work. Encourage students to try and make it a cohesive text rather than just stick the four parts together. 

2. Peer editing of individual assignments – Students read each other’s drafts and provide feedback before the paper is handed in. Student A shares their paper with student B who leaves comments with their feedback. The reviewer’s comments are included when the paper is handed in for grading and the teacher evaluates both student A for their quality of work and student B for quality of feedback. Apart from helping them with their writing skills, it will push students to accept that writing is a process that needs revisions and redrafting.

3. Blogging – Blogging is a great way to encourage collaboration among students. They can write blog posts together, comment on one another’s contributions, and participate in blog challenges. A class blog is a collaborative effort per se and students can take up important roles to make sure it’s up and running e.g. blog master, administrator, comment moderator, editor etc

4. Students scaffolding the learning of others – Stronger students usually get bored in a mainstream class because they find tasks too easy for them. Challenge them by asking them to scaffold the learning of others and give them credit for this. Let’s not forget that the best way to consolidate something is to teach it, so both students will benefit from the process. Make sure though that stronger students do not do all the work but rather, guide and facilitate weaker students’  learning.

5. Discussing post-reading/listening questions – Often, class time runs out before students can fully participate in the post-reading/listening discussion. Extending (or moving altogether) the discussion outside the classroom would provide students with an excellent opportunity for consolidation and reflection. Students can do this

synchronously using Google Hangout in groups of four, or

asynchronously in a Virtual Learning Environment. Post the discussion question on Edmodo, a Facebook closed group or your class blog and ask students to leave comments. Another great tool is Lino.it, a sticky note digital board where students can leave post-it notes with their answers. Their responses are likely to be more thoughtful than they might have been in the frequently hurried class atmosphere and shy students may feel more comfortable to express themselves.
 

Setting up collaborative learning

Let’s face it. Beneficial collaborative learning is not easy to set up and just arranging students in groups does not necessarily constitute meaningful collaboration. Also, conflicts within the group might prevent learning. It is therefore essential that students are equipped both with language skills and teamwork skills to actively participate in discussions, deal with conflict, exchange ideas and be productive. Teach them how to debate, negotiate and disagree politely. Cultivate an inclusive culture where no one mocks or laughs at other people’s ideas or mistakes. Collaboration is a celebration of diversity and students should learn to value and respect different opinions.

Encouraging collaboration with other classes

After establishing collaborative learning in your classroom, the next step would be to get students to collaborate with other classes, preferably from around the world. Not only will this enhance learning and provide them with a real purpose to use English; it will also give them a perspective of what being a global citizen means.

In a future article, we will look into the best practices and tools  for global collaborative projects.  

Conclusion

Establishing a culture of collaboration does not take hours of preparation or professional development. But it does need a shift in perspective and authority. In collaborative classrooms, students are invited to make decisions, provide options for activities and assignments, and reflect on what they learn. As Plutarch suggested, the mind is not an empty vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled.  So, if you want your students to collaborate, you do need an open mind and the willingness to trust them with their learning. You need to value students’ strengths and believe that they can learn from each other.  If you don’t, then no one will.

References

Vygotsky, L.S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge: MA: Harvard University Press.

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Can conferences change the way you feel about your work?

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This is a re-post of an article I wrote for the WizIQ Blog on April 2, 2015 (published by Sylvia Guinan). As many of us will be heading to IATEFL Birmingham next week – and those unable to make it, will be attending sessions & interviews online – I thought you may find it interesting. So here it goes 🙂

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Image credit: ELTpics by Dace Praulins

Attending conferences can be a rewarding professional experience in so many ways; networking, professional development, travelling and fun. But can it really change the way we feel about our work, and to what extent?

As a regular conference-goer, presenter and, more recently, organiser, my answer is YES.

Here are my top five reasons:

1) Self-efficacy

Self‐efficacy refers to a person’s belief that he or she is able to accomplish a specific task. According to Psychologist Albert Bandura (1977), it is the mind’s self-regulatory function that tells us when to try and when to stop. If someone doesn’t believe something is possible, they are more likely to give up early or not attempt the task at all. When used in the context of teaching, it refers to teachers’ belief that they are able to affect students’ learning positively.
However, do you agree that this is not a belief all educators hold?

Teachers with low self-efficacy usually cite students’ family problems, lack of resources, adolescence or cultural differences as the reasons why they can only have a marginal effect.

Whether you think you can, or that you can’t, you are usually right – Henry Ford

Believe it or not – and with no intention to generalise here- I have rarely seen this type of teachers at conferences.

Why?

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Image Credit: TESOL Greece Annual Convention, March 2016

Maybe because people who invest in their professional development have realised that in order to have a positive effect on students’ learning, they first need to improve their own skills and knowledge; maybe because the sessions they have attended or the people they have met, have given them a boost to keep trying.

Let’s face it: our pre‐service education may have been sufficient to get us into the profession, but not for the reality of educating a diverse group of students. And even years of experience may not be enough to address challenges shaped by the rapid changes in cultural norms, technology, economic security and family structures.

 Conferences are essentially knowledge communities where people pool knowledge and inspiration towards a common purpose. They allow teachers to get a good sense of what’s going on in their field and, in my opinion, provide a powerful tool for strengthening their self-efficacy.

2) Networking

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Image credit: Newfrontiers

This is one of the most popular reasons people cite for attending a conference. Social media can offer tremendous opportunities for networking but I don’t think they can substitute in-person communication.  There’s power beyond learning in meeting peers, managers and presenters in person and an incredible amount of sharing can happen. Conferences can also be great for socialising and even making friends. Some of my best friends are people I once met at a conference. Having said that, not all the people we network with can be our friends so a distinction between networking and friendship/ personal and professional, is an important one to make.

3) Opportunities

 Whether you are job-hunting, looking for a collaborator for a class project, publishing a book, or wishing to get involved in a committee, opportunities abound at conferences, especially if you network. Almost every conference-goer I have spoken with has something to share about the great opportunities that arose or the deals that were struck in a conference lounge over a cup of coffee or a glass of wine.

 Of course, I’m not suggesting that conferences can create opportunities. It takes a lot of hard work, time and commitment for this to happen. But people like doing business with people they know personally and conferences can get the right people, in the right place, at the right time. This means that you may be there when the opportunity arises.

4) Creating Content

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Image credit: Doug Belshaw

Tweeting snippets of sessions, posting photos and most importantly blogging, are great ways to create content. You also help other educators who can’t make it to the event, to follow along.

 A few years ago, people went to conferences, learned lots of things but all the learning was restricted to those attending. With the advent of social media this has changed. Just look around a conference room and you will note people tweeting or ‘facebooking’ using conference hashtags.

 How can this change the way we feel about our work?

 My answer is that it is the reflection and the active involvement that can have a positive impact,  with the added effect of using social media to inspire others. By creating a permanent record of  your conference reflections, you become an active part of the event, you get your name out there and you contribute to the learning of others.

And this is leadership :-)

 If you are not convinced, at least make sure you bring something back to share with your colleagues at work. This may involve putting your notes together in a handout, organising a short seminar on activities you found useful etc. Directors of Studies should also encourage and promote this. Schools can’t afford to send all their teachers to a conference so why not ask those attending to share what they learned? Plus, having the extra responsibility to bring something back will encourage your team to be more engaged and present at the event.

5) And what about presenting?

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#ETZ15 Istanbul

 I would need a whole blog post to cover this so I am not going to go into much detail here other than to say that presenting can also have tremendous impact on the way you feel about your work. You don’t need to be a professional presenter or a teacher trainer to give it a try. I know you may be reluctant and that various questions may cross your mind: Do I have anything worthy to be presented? Do I have the skills to present in front of an audience? What if people don’t like what I say? What if no one comes?

 These doubts are absolutely normal, and we all went through these, but it is my firm belief that practitioners’ ideas are worth sharing. They don’t need to be groundbreaking, innovative or impressive to make an impact. If you have learned something through trial and error, if an activity or method has worked for you, go ahead and submit a proposal. It can be a very rewarding experience and may also affect your students’ perceptions with regard to your work.

Just bear in mind that presenting just for the sake of it can have the opposite effect. Don’t just do it to get yourself out there :-)

And some tips:

Image credit: Digital ELT Ireland 2014

As a regular conference-goer, here’s my top five. What would you add to the list?

  • Post-conference parties are great places to network, socialise and have fun after a long day at the conference but you need to realise that you are not really “off duty”. Potential employers, clients, trainees, or collaborators might observe your behaviour. Be aware of that.
  • Use the conference handbook to pick sessions and plan your day ahead of time. This will ensure that you don’t miss out on interesting presentations. Do not only go to your friends’ or acquaintances’ sessions. While there is nothing wrong with that, are you making the most of your conference experience? Challenge yourself by attending at least one session that you disagree or are a skeptic about the topic. Pick topics that are relevant to your current or future projects. For example, at this year’s IATEFL I’ve decided to focus on emerging research in EdTech and on practical EAP sessions (English for Academic Purposes). Last year, it was leadership that drew my attention. Make your own decisions and plan ahead.
  • No matter how well you plan ahead, there’s no way to take advantage of everything a conference offers. That’s what social media and recorded sessions are for. If you are having a great conversation, don’t cut it short to go to the next session. If you feel you’ve had too much input from the previous session, just take a break and reflect on it. If you want to get a glimpse of the city, take some hours off. You can’t do it all and that’s OK.
  • Take advantage of the exhibition area. You can find out a lot about new course books, methodology books and other materials, often at very good prices. What’s more, most exhibitors are former EFL teachers so they really look forward to networking with you.
  • Conferences can be really expensive and time-consuming so, unless they are part of your job, there is no way you can attend all of them. Be selective. You may decide that you can only afford one out-of-town event a year or every two years. That’s fine. It is not the quantity but the quality that matters and there are always fantastic local opportunities to benefit from.

What are your views on this? Do you think attending conferences can change the way we feel about our job? What are your tips for making the most of the conference experience?  Sylvia and I look forward to your comments.

References:

Bandura, A (1977). “Self-efficacy: Toward a Unifying Theory of Behavioral Change”. Psychological Review 84 (2): 191–215

 

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Digital Citizenship through past and upcoming presentations

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Digital Citizenship has been the main focus of my work over the past few years. I explored it through my MA research thesis and have given talks at various conferences around Europe.  My last talk (“Digital Citizenship & ELT: A match made in heaven” ) took place at Digital ELT 2014, in Dublin; an annual event, organised by IATEFL LTSIG and MEI, and supported by ELT Ireland.

The following interview was originally published on Sylvia Guinan‘s blog after Digital ELT 2014. Sylvia, inspired by the event, revisits collective visions on digital learning and takes a look at predictions and trends on the future of education. Here is the original article featuring Gavin Dudeney, Caroline Moore, John Whipple, John Whipple, Nellie Muller Deutsch, Peter Lahiff, Christine Mullaney and myself. A must read!

And below are my replies to her questions:

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Photo taken by Sylvia Guinan at Digital ELT 2014

What did you talk about at the Digital ELT Ireland conference and how can it influence where learning is going?                        

I talked about Digital Citizenship and suggested ways it can be integrated into an ELT curriculum. Digital Citizenship is an educational approach that involves literacies, skills and competences for effective digital participation. It aims at educating people to make informed decisions about the content they consume, create or share and critically reflect on the impact this may have, both on themselves and others. In my presentation, I suggested that technology integration should not be a tool-oriented approach and I challenged the existing paradigms in technology education that merely invest in technology equipment but take its responsible use for granted. Our students might be particularly confident users of technology but this doesn’t mean that they can use it effectively. If we want them to develop these skills, then, it stands to reason that the best way is to simply teach them.

Can you describe one major highlight from 2014 that makes a difference to you as an educator and/or has wider significance for ELT in general?

I think that the way we connect as educators is evolving. I’ve always been a proponent of Personal Learning Networks (PLNs), and on a personal level my own network has been a source of inspiration, support and learning for me. However, at times, I felt that ELT PLNs were becoming ‘mutual admiration societies’ where no criticism or debate could be encouraged or tolerated. Also, lack of netiquette or filter by some, self-promotion or cliques by others, made me wonder whether the whole idea was soon going to decline. Networks are ecosystems; to be sustainable all the elements should be healthy. I am happy to see we are gradually taking PLNs to the next level and becoming more conscious and mature about the way we connect and share.

What are your professional plans for 2015 and are there any important trends in digital learning that we should watch out for in 2015?

I plan to write a book on Digital Citizenship drawing on my thesis and ongoing research. Hopefully, this will start in 2015. As for important trends, I think there will be less focus on ‘cool tools’ and more focus on pedagogically-sound, well-researched ways these can be used. Learning (and teaching) is not about mastering 100 tools, it’s not about bells and whistles; it is about making informed and wise choices. It’s high time we moved beyond the hype and invest in what really matters.

A big thanks to Sylvia for the interview and for giving me permission to re-post it here.

 

logoThis weekend (14/03/2015) I I am giving a keynote at the 2nd Educational Technology Summit in Istanbul. The summit will bring together educators, technology companies, entrepreneurs, managers and other stakeholders who will raise new questions and share best practices “in an age shaped by the widespread use of new technologies in education” (ETZ 2015). My speech – “Digital Citizenship: A Burning Issue in EdTech” – will stress the importance of integrating digital literacies and competences into the curriculum and suggest ways educators can be involved. Big congrats to Işıl Boy, the executive committee, and everyone else involved on organising #ETZ15. We need more events like this one.

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Student Engagement – with or without technology

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On the 30th of August I participated in a panel discussion at the 5th Foreign Language Forum in Athens, Greece. The main theme was “Present, Motivate, Engage”; Lilika Couri talked about Presentation, Luke Prodromou about Motivation and myself about Engagement. In this blog I will go through what was in my presentation both for those who attended and did not have the time to make notes and for those who couldn’t make it but are interested in the topic.

What is Student Engagement?

involved students“To teach is to engage students in learning” (Christensen, 1991).

I think the above quote captures the essence of Student Engagement in learning and suggests that the role of the teacher is not to provide knowledge but to design and facilitate learning opportunities.

However, while there is general agreement that Student Engagement is vital to learning, the definition of the term itself is fairly ambiguous (Parsons & Taylor, 2011). For some, it means compliance and academic achievement while for others, active involvement in and enthusiasm about the learning experience. Below are two definitions that clearly suggest that various factors are at play when students fully engage in learning.

‘Student Engagement has been used to depict students’ willingness to participate in routine school activities such as attending classes, submitting required work, and following teachers’ directions in class’  (Nystrand & Gamoran, 1991).

‘Students who are engaged show sustained behavioural involvement in learning activities accompanied by a positive emotional tone. They select tasks at the border of their competences, initiate action when given the opportunity and exert intense effort and concentration in the implementation of learning tasks’ (Skinner & Belmont, 1993).

Which one do you agree with? Do you think they complement each other (as the audience of the 5th FL Forum suggested) or that they are quite distinct?

How can we increase student engagement in the language classroom?

Below are some steps that I have found effective. The list is by no means exhaustive and you are more than welcome to contribute your own ideas and experiences:

Use technology (but not for the sake of it)

Learning with iPadsStudents today are quickly bored with texts and lectures because of their immersion in technology and the exciting multimedia tools they use everyday to communicate, learn and entertain themselves. The truth is that technology offers amazing opportunities to engage students in learning; we can create content and share it with the world, we can find information at the click of a button, we can interact with people beyond classroom walls. So, technology is engaging but to contribute to learning we need to make pedagogically sound use of it. Technology is not a magic bullet so don’t use it just because it’s available or cool. If you want to read more about this take a look herePhoto Credit: Michael Coghlan via Compfight

Encourage interaction and collaboration

It’s been said that collaboration is the new competition and I totally agree. Apart from being engaging, teamwork is a 21st century skill that we should help students to develop. So get students to collaborate with other classes, preferably from another country. In this way they will have a real purpose to communicate in English. Blogging is a great way to extend communication beyond the boundaries of the classroom because it’s highly interactive; students can write blogs for an extended audience but they also read and comment on other students’ blogs.

Just bear in mind that they will need language and teamwork skills to interact effectively; teach them how to negotiate and debate how to disagree politely. They should welcome diversity and appreciate other people’s opinions no matter how different they are from theirs.

Create an emotionally safe environment

To be engaged in learning, students need to take risks but they are not going to iif they feel emotionally unsafe. To help students,

  • create a class environment  that tolerates mistakes
  • teach students to support each other
  • give the thumbs down to people who laugh at others
  • wait for slower students and don’t just call on the first ones that raise their hand
  • Help them to build their self-efficacy by beginning every lesson with a task that all students can do without your help; then gradually follow up with more challenging ones until you give all students the opportunity to be involved.

Scaffold challenging tasks

façade zebréeSuppose you ask your students to find information about a person (historical, celebrity etc) and then write an imaginary interview with him/her. Although this is a very creative task, your students might be challenged by a number of things that can slow production. To engage them, create intermediate steps by:

  • asking them to brainstorm with a peer who they are going to interview
  • teaching them how to search online for relevant vocabulary
  • devising quality questions
  • role-playing the interview with a peer
  • how to cite their sources and attribute the information they use to the writer.Creative Commons License Photo Credit: Olivier Jeannin via Compfight

Encourage Reflection

Reflection is key ingredient to learning and engagement. According to Dewey (1933) reflective learners control their learning “by assessing what they know, what they need to know, and how they bridge that gap”.

If we want students to get in the habit of reflection, we should regularly invite them to analyse and make judgments about what they have learned.

Start using the “3-2-1” reflection activity at the end of every lesson by asking students to record three things they learned,  two things they found interesting and a question about what was taught (Hurst, 2013). If this sounds  time-consuming, you can ask them to record their reflections on a learning platform such as a class blog or Edmodo which will allow you and your students to interact with each other beyond lessons.

Support exploration and develop digital literacyEye of the Beholder

Creative Commons License Photo Credit: hjl via Compfight

Learning is all about exploration but your students will need to have research skills to engage in it. The Internet can provide access to outstanding sources of knowledge at the click of a button. The problem nowadays, however, is that while young people are particularly confident users of technology, they often lack the skills to make effective and responsible use of it. So, teach them how to:

  • find information by using keywords effectively
  • evaluate and challenge online content; not everything they read online is accurate or trustworthy 😉
  • synthesise information into their own original argument and avoid plagiarism.

Incorporate movement into your lessons

Movement is a vital part of our daily lives and can revitalize both young learners and adults. To influence your students mood make sure you use one (or more) of the following in every lesson:

  • ask students to write on the board
  • ask them to take a stretch break, that is stand and stretch between parts of the lesson
  • use mingling activities. You might think that students will get overly excited but this is because they are not used to the procedures. If mingling is a regular part of your lesson students then students will perceive it as such.
  • ask students to move to a different part of them room to find a partner and compare notes or answers. Don’t just ask them to work with the person sitting next to them.
  • If students have to answer various task questions, divide the questions in 4 groups and ask students to walk to a different corner to discuss them.

Foster creativity

When we ask student to create something, we help them to develop ownership over their learning and feel that their ideas and originality matter. Foster creativity by

  • using art in the classroom
  • asking them to create videos or podcasts. There are some great tools available.
  • integrating digital storytelling tools to create stories with them.
  • asking them to share what they create with others (preferably online) and get feedback. This is when creativity becomes meaningful.

Use humour

Did I Say Something Funny?A good laugh eases tension and helps students to feel more comfortable and open to learning. Even if you are not a naturally funny person, you can still lighten things up with the following:

  • Spice up tests and assignments with humorous items
  • Have a Joke Friday – ask students to bring in jokes to share with classmates
  • Keep a cartoon file – Have an area where students can display a cartoon every day on a rota basis – If you have a class blog ask them to post it there
  • Ask students to try and build humour into writing assignments. This is a valuable writing skill that will also add fun to your classes  (Elias, 2014).   Creative Commons License Photo Credit: Matt via Compfight

Incorporate alternative ways of assessment

According to Armstrong (2006) ‘standardised testing often leads teachers to teach to the test instead of students’ needs, interests, and abilities’. This may be true. While curriculum-teaching requires teachers to evaluate specific content knowledge through testing, tests should not be the only means students are evaluated. Incorporate alternative ways of assessment such as:

  • student (electronic) portfolios that depict their progress over time
  • student presentations, blog posts or project work. If they work in groups, don’t forget to evaluate their teamwork skills.

Exam classes may be a bit different but you can always use alternative ways from time to time.

Provide a good modelIMG_1859

‘Energised teaching fosters energised learning, monotonous teaching sabotages attention’  (Intrator, 2004). So, be an engaged teacher. Be authentic, share personal stories, convey your passion, express emotion and don’t be afraid to make mistakes. You don’t need to dominate the class to show involvement. As Roppo (2014) suggests “great leaders guide, direct and inspire with an easy strength, but they never dominate.”

Can you add some more ideas to the list? Have you found other ways to engage your students in learning?

References                                                                                                                                                                                

Armstrong, T. (2006). The Best Schools: How human development research should inform educational practice. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD).

Christensen, C. (1991). Education for judgment: The artistry of discussion leadership. Boston, Mass.: Harvard Business School Press.

Dewey, J. (1933). How we think: A restatement of the relation of reflective thinking to the educative process. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Elias, M. (2014). Using Humor in the Classroom.

Hurst, S. (2013). Seven Ways to Increase Student Engagement in the Classroom.

Intrator, S. (2004). The engaged Classroom. Educational Leadership, 1 (62), 20-25

Nystrand, M., & Gamoran, A. (1991). Instructional discourse, student engagement, and literature achievement. Research in the Teaching of English, 25(3), 261-290.

Skinner, E. A, & Belmont, M. J. (1993). Motivation in the classroom: Reciprocal effects of teacher behavior and student engagement across the school year. Journal of Educational Psychology, 85(4), 571-581.

Parsons, J. & Taylor, L. (2011). Student Engagement: What do we know and what should we do? University of Alberta: University Partners.

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We need pedagogy, not just cool tools

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Rubik Apps
Creative Commons License Photo Credit: César Poyatos via Compfight

Whether we have fully integrated technology or not, few of us can deny that learning technologies can revolutionise language learning and teaching; we can find information at the click of a button, create content and share it with the world, communicate and collaborate beyond the boundaries of our classrooms, have a Personal Learning Network and be inspired to become lifelong learners.

There are plenty of options available; various blogging platforms, voice recording tools, LMS software (Learning Management System), social media, you name it; and there is also a lot of information about them. Colleagues who have tried a tool might write a blog post; educational technologists might give reviews on new tools. All this is valuable and I have personally learned a lot out of it. However, what happens when this information comes out in the form of lists such as “100 must-have digital tools for teachers” or “50 tools every teacher should master this summer”? What about blogs whose only purpose is to present “cool tools” day after day? Isn’t all this a bit overwhelming?

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Through discussions with colleagues and trainees, I can only say that such information can hardly help teachers decide what to choose and what to reject. Some of their comments include the following:

  • “There are too many tools but too little time”.

  • “I’m not trained, I can’t decide”.

  • “They all look the same to me”.

  • “New technologies seem to appear everyday. I just can’t keep up”.

Does this ring any bells?

I don’t think that what those teachers need is a reminder that they should soon master 50 or more tools. Education has never been a matter of quantity. I guess what they really need is training and clear criteria against which to evaluate and choose technologies; they need to be able to make informed decisions about whether or not to integrate them into their classrooms. They also need to be reassured that if their goal for students is language learning then technology is just a means to an end, not an end in itself.

I feel that just presenting tool after tool is a rather narrow perspective about the potential of Educational Technology.

The hype to use the latest and greatest digital tools – rather than the meaningful use of technology – is like driving a cool car without any vision for where we want to go.

Let’s take the focus off the tool; Instead, let’s focus on:

  • the pedagogy behind the tool and use it because it addresses our students’ cognitive needs, not because it is available or exciting.

  • developing critical thinkers with the ability to find, reflect on, curate and synthesise information.

  • developing lifelong learners who will be able to create and use their Personal Learning Networks to self-educate and grow.

  • educating digital citizens, that is, responsible members of an increasingly global and interconnected world who know their rights and responsibilities; people who can make informed decisions about the content they create or share and its impact on themselves and on the other members of a digital community.

Cool tools might still be welcome to our classrooms but this won’t make them more appropriate for learning.

If you are interested in the topic and you are around Thessaloniki, Greece, on the 15th of December, come along and join us at the TESOL Macedonia – Thrace Christmas event where I will be talking about “Evaluating and Choosing Educational Digital Tools and Apps ”.

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#ELTchat Summary: From Teacher to Teacher Trainer

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Valentina Morgana by @vmorgana via eltpics

A couple of weeks ago, the seemingly popular topic of moving from Teacher (T) to Teacher Trainer (TT) was hotly discussed by the #ELTchatters. Entering into a New Year means reflecting on our future dreams or ambitions. This topic was proposed by Sharon Noseley (@shaznosel) as she felt she needed to reach out to her fellow chatters for their advice as on-line information offers courses and training but no real ‘concrete’ guidance.

Am I ready to be a TT ? What do I need in order to be a trainer?How can I judge if I’m ready?

So what did the experienced TTs have to offer the teachers who lurked and took in valuable advice that Wednesday night??

Qualifications & experience required

Most chatters referred to Marisa Constantinides very informative blog  ‘Oh, To be a Teacher Trainer‘! This blog mentions a quote from H.G Widdowson (1984):

“teachers need to be trained in practical techniques, but also must be educated to see those techniques as exemplars of certain theoretical principles…”

These words changed Marisa’s focus on teacher education and added a new perception of what training and educating classroom teachers meant. Similar reflections were added by the #ELTchatters.

There was a mix of opinion regarding formal qualifications; some believed an MA was essential to give the TT in depth knowledge in order to take the step from teaching learners EFL to training teachers of those learners.  Marisa_C & @SophiaMav said that there are universities that offer MAs with a Teacher Education focus e.g. The University of Warwick & The University of Manchester. @Marisa_C also added that one of the best courses for teacher development is Marjon’s in Plymouth, although this is not an MA. @Frances Eales shared the point that IH and BELL have courses for people with a wide variety of backgrounds and offer core skills and project work. Also, @evingiddens suggested World Learning/SIT Graduate Institute @SIT_TESOL_Cert offers a Teacher Trainer License.

MAs seemed a popular choice and @shaznosel informed the group that at the university she works for in the UK, she was told in order to get involved in TT at universities, a MA not just DELTA is required. @Marisa_C added that she prefers TTs with MAs because of the reading and the research this involves. So if you are considering this path, do remember that quite a few MA courses will also give you credit if you already hold the DELTA (@Shaunwilden).

@Shaunwilden said that there are so many different types of teacher training that there is not a one course fits all. It was clearly established by @elawassell  that DELTA is a minimum for Cambridge if u want to be a CELTA trainer – but they also ask for TT experience., which should include some indication that you had done workshops, observed etc. @dalecoulter asked what do they consider as ‘concrete’ training experience? Which was confirmed by @Marisa_C as documented because too many teachers add the title “teacher trainer” next to their name without any real experience. There are also those who started TT a few years back (no offence intended!) that had not done any formal teacher training. @MarjorieRosenbe, for example, has been doing teacher training for the last 25 years but didn’t do formal training.

So how can teachers actually gain experience to apply for a TT position?

@Marisa_C suggested that doing a workshop at a conference does not make you a teacher trainer; however, presenting  is a very good beginning  and she advised us to get started!! @MarjorieRosenbe advised teachers to stay in the classroom as it helps in teacher training. @dalecoulter suggested that working as a director of studies at summer camps was a good way for him to gain experience, as they include seminars, observations and feedback (w/criteria).

It seems a course and experience go hand in hand as @OztrkOzge pointed out she started her  MA after 2-year-teaching experience but courses made her wish that she had had more experience as the experienced teachers were much more successful.

@cuppa_coffee always thought that teacher ‘training’ was about techniques, methods and that “education” was about issues, context and evaluation. It was agreed that every situation is different and @seburnt summed it up by stating experience and qualifications are viewed differently in different contexts.

In the classroom by @SueAnnan via eltpics

Skills required and reflections of experienced TTs

The chat naturally progressed to the WHAT and HOW teachers develop the skills needed to train. The ‘what’ consists of the content to be shared and the importance of keeping up to date with new methods or approaches, technology etc. The ‘ how’  is an ever-changing process, knowing what works and what to ignore and finding effective ways to process  tasks and successfully deliver the core ideas to Ts . A number of issues were debated: How to plan teacher training courses? Observe lessons? Give feedback ? Resources? Locality? Culture? Time? Personality? Psychology?

@Shaunwilden asked the million dollar question: Can any teacher become a teacher trainer?

The ultimate response was NO!!

@Marisa_C made the point that TTs should have a wide and varied teaching experience plus the ability to develop trainee’s ideas, not their own, to which @eltknowledge added that in the beginning, it’s easier for a trainer to suggest their own ideas, but the skill is in helping trainees to develop their own.

@MarjorieRosenbe felt that qualities like understanding but setting limits would be a starting point for her; she also added that flexibility and openness are also at the top of the list. @dale coulter mentioned organisational abilities especially regarding the administration load and @DanielaArghir added that good organisational skills will help/let you concentrate on the actual training. @shaznosel believes you should be open to other Ts ideas and opinions and be able to “listen” to them. For @toulasklavou good TT should really love their job, learn from it and care about the trainees and for @Shaunwilden similar teacher skills are required for TT such as empathy, listening, understanding.

@kevingiddens added that mentoring and learning skills related to TT (positive regard/emotional intelligence) must be part of the process and @FrancesEales stated the need to to be able to deal with people tactfully but firmly. @Marisa_C also mentioned counselling skills, ability to analyse and support in a developmental rather than prescriptive way.

@Shaunwilden argued that lots of psychology is involved in TT, especially in the feedback stage and added that he found this a challenge when dealing with CELTA trainees for the first time. @shaznosel agreed that it must be difficult to tell someone their weaknesses and @FrancesEales added that you need to be emotionally and physically quite resilient to cope with people’s emotional stress. @Marisa_C totally agreed and added that she had trained a good number of drama queens !

Inspiration plays a role too…@Marisa_C mentioned the importance of being able to inspire one’s trainees and to have  outstanding class teaching presentation skills. @shaznosel added to this point that an inspiring TT means inspired teachers which means inspired ss!

@Marisa_C and @cuppa_coffee  discussed an interesting concept- the need to apply  Knowle’s model of Andragogy. Here’s a link to help understand this theory http://www.lifecircles-inc.com/Learningtheories/knowls.html

@FrancesEales thought observation is the most challenging skill/art and is still learning how to do it better and ask for feedback from ‘trainees’. @Marisa_C added the importance of handling feedback that builds on trainee’s reflection and ability to improve rather than destroy. This led to a very important point, the teacher as a reflective practitioner

@cuppa_coffee argued that a good TT is a reflective practitioner, critical thinker, and coach and @DanielaArghir mentioned reflective Ts make good TTs to which @Marisa_C agreed; she added, however, that although more recent courses are good at producing reflecting teachers, this is not always the case. @rapple18 suggested that there’s a strong case for building on reflection as it seems to be more upfront in TT than class teaching. To which @Shaunwilden added “you’re right there is a helluva lot of reflection in TT”. @shaznosel finally said that if we were not reflective, nobody would be chatting on ELTchat, thus Ts who are motivated and passionate about teaching may want to move onto TT!

Advice and best practices

Road crossing signs by @sandymillin via eltpics

It seems obvious from the above comments that as a T considers Teacher Trainingas a career move, the T sets themselves apart from their fellow colleaguesand learners. This move depends on the culture and context of where the T works. so , back to the original question:

Are you ready to become a TT? How can you judge if you’re ready? Are you enjoying teaching? Are colleagues turning to you for advice ? Are you reading this summary? May be it is time to move on!

Some advice…

  • Staying in the classroom helps in teacher training. Plus,it is important as well, to try out methods in the classroom before training teachers to do them. Also  it is vital to establish rapport with participants in teacher training (@MarjorieRosenbe).
  • Teacher trainers should not impose their ideas on trainees but help them develop their own (@Marisa_C & @elttknowledge).
  • TTs need to be committed to continuous self-development, appreciate critical feedback and be able to act on it (@kevingiddens)
  • Learn about the laws in certain countries, there are things forbidden in certain institutions (@natibrandi).
  • Remember that you’re not dealing only with the language. Your trainees are not (only?) learners of language (@elawassell).
  • Videotaping can be as a great tool for feedback and reflection (@natibrandi, Marisa_C, @seburnt, @shaznosel, @eltknowledge). However, according to @eltknowledge it might be difficult to get trainees to agree to be videoed. @Marisa_C also added that it can be time-consuming to watch on the spot and shared that she nowadays tends to videotape snippets which can be emailed or upload for trainees to watch.

Opportunities

After almost an hour of frantic tweeting  and debate , some sound advice was begged for!

How can teachers get into teacher training? (@ shaznosel)

So you have all these qualities and qualifications, which doors do you knock and who’s willing to hear? (@Toulasklavou)

@Dalecoulter suggested that getting in contact with local teaching organisations and offering to do workshops can definitely help; for @Shaunwilden, getting involved in local events and being prepared to do some voluntary work would be a starting point to get experience. Finally @Marisa added that doing TT work for publishers can also be a great step to start a career in TT.

Teacher training is becoming a big industry with CELTA centres around the world training 12,000 candidates annually. But how can someone become a CELTA trainer?

@Marisa_C said that you can apply to be trained up as a CELTA trainer at any centre that accepts tutors in training but you need to pay for this; @Shaunwilder added that you also need to be a DELTA holder to become a CELTA trainer.

Clearly from our chat, TT is not to be taken lightly but can be rewarding and motivating..so if this chat sparked an interest in you as a teacher then follow the advice and go for it. As @Noreen said “You can set your heart on whatever you want, as long as you work hard”.

Links

As usual, some great links were offered. At last! Especially for those of us who have searched mindlessly on the net!! Some links proved to be direct and invaluable in terms of guidance and others proved humorous and allowed the T to think about such a big decision in their career..

Oh, to be a Teacher Trainer
How to move from being a teacher to becoming a teacher trainer
The roles of a TEFL teacher http://t.co/17u8m6X8
Become an SIT trainer
World Learning SIT TESOL

Note: This summary was produced in collaboration with the amazing Sharon Noseley and was my first  #ELTchat summary ever. Dear Shaz, thank you for being so supportive and involved. I really loved working with you 🙂

About Sharon: Sharon has been teaching EFL to all levels and ages for the past seventeen years. She works in a Foreign Language School in Greece and starts her day with Pre-Juniors and ends it with the C2 or business classes.She teaches EAP at the De Montfort University in Leicester in the summer. She also enjoys  working as an oral examiner for the Cambridge and ESB examination boards. Sharon has completed her Module 2 and 3 of DELTA and is currently working on Module 1…this has taken her four years!! Which proves you can study whilst working and bringing up a family but you may need more time! Teaching is her passion and she would love to move into TT in the future, to share that passion!!

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4 Key Challenges and Solutions to Class Blogging

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In my last posts I talked about the benefits of class blogging and shared my personal class blogging experience. Today I’ll be focusing on the next step: the challenges you need to take into consideration and the steps I recommend taking.

Choosing a Blogging platform

I would first recommend setting the criteria against which to evaluate a blog service. Among excellent blogging options available,blogger was considered ideal to my teaching situation for the following reasons:

  • It is free of charge and easy to set up.
  • It is not blocked by my school filtering software.
  • There are security options available e.g. comments pending approval from the administrator to ensure that only appropriate comments are posted on the blog.
  • Videos and pictures can be easily embedded.
  • Students don’t need to have email accounts to leave comments.

Although I’ve been very satisfied with the service, I noticed a serious disadvantage; it may be blocked by parental control filters making it difficult for some students to work from home. So, I took the decision to move our class blog to edublogs, a platform which is never blocked by protective filters as it is especially designed for education. The only drawback is that in order to embed videos and use a number of widgets you need to upgrade to a paid edublogs subscription, but the price is fairly low. Other options include kidblog, WordPress and Posterous. They all offer a plethora of features and come with both free and paid plans. So, my advice would be: set the criteria first, devote some time researching and finally choose the platform that best suits your needs 🙂

Ensuring students’ security online

Issues such as Internet safety, cyber-bullying and lack of netiquette lead institutions to block social networks depriving students of the positive aspects achieved when collaborating as part of a global community. Therefore, raising awareness of online safety and of the digital footprint students leave behind is of paramount importance (Ward, 2004:7).

While there is not a consensus decision on what should be shared online (pictures, names, private versus public blogs), it is suggested that educators have clear guidelines so that students and parents are aware of what is appropriate (Burt, 2010). Actively involving students in creating these guidelines would be even more effective and would encourage greater ownership and motivation.

A student is adding his group contributions to our blog guidelines

While students should be given freedom over their posts and the ideas they express, they should also be aware that you are the administrator of the blog and thus posts and comments should be first approved by you. This is to ensure that only appropriate content is posted on the blog and that nobody’s feelings are hurt. And as your blog will be probably public (an informed decision you also need to make), you should know that practically anyone on the web can visit and leave a comment. Would you like your students to read comments made by mean or impolite people? To my experience, this rarely happens (we have never received such comments) but I strongly believe moderation is of vital importance to protect your students from the potential risk.

Tagging

Our list

Blog posting can become confusing as a blog expands making it difficult for readers to find their way to earlier contributions. Training learners to organize their work under relevant tags is therefore essential. Tags let writers classify their posts according to keywords by producing a link under each post. Clicking any of those takes visitors to an archive page containing only posts categorized under this label. To make scanning even easier, a list of all the blog tags can be displayed in the sidebar of your blog, sorted alphabetically or by frequency of use.

Commenting

Promoting and teaching commenting skills is necessary if we are to transform our blog from a static space to an interactive community and help learners develop their literacy skills. According to Morris (2011) quality comments are:

  • proofread for correct spelling, grammar and punctuation.
  • relevant to the post.
  • complementing the writer, asking a question or adding further information to the post.
  • do not reveal any personal information.

Devote one or two sessions to teach quality comments and as a follow-up, ask students to comment on each other’s posts. You can also ask students to create guidelines for quality comments and then post them on a blog page for reference.

The list can go on but I’d really love to hear from you first. Have you heard of or experienced any additional challenges regarding class blogging? Can you add other solutions to the challenges above? I would appreciate your thoughts 🙂

References
Ward, J. (2004). Blog assisted language learning (BALL): Push button publishing for the pupils. TEFL Web Journal, 3(1): 1-15

 

 

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Class blogging

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This post is aimed at teachers who consider starting a class blog.  It is based on my personal research on class blogging combined with my experience over the last two years.

What is a class blog?

A Blog or weblog is a virtual space for people to post their work to Web pages displayed in reverse chronological order with an option for readers to leave comments regarding these posts (Eastment, 2005: 358; Davis & McGrail, 2009:74). Among a number of types of blogs that fit pedagogical purposes, the class blog is the result of a joint effort of an entire class and is considered to foster a feeling of class community by optimizing teacher-student communication and peer interaction (McDowell, 2004; Miceli et al, 2010: 323).

Why should we set up a class blog?

  • Because it encourages learner-centredness

Consistent with learner-centred principles, class blogs require students to actively construct meaning, organize their thoughts and become more active inside and outside the classroom by reviewing material and seeking external knowledge resources (Du & Wagner, 2005:4,10).

By inviting students to post their personal work and share their views and beliefs we give them a voice; Students feel personally significant and sense that they matter to their teacher and their classmates ; this encourages them to become more actively engaged and invest a higher level of mental energy in the task.

Publication not only makes materials accessible for subsequent reflection but also offers the opportunity for feedback, which, in turn, scaffolds learners’ knowledge construction. Finally, if collaboratively implemented, blog projects can also encourage increased verbal exchanges, negotiation, peer interaction and social integration, all of which are so valuable to learning.

Of course it would be naïve to imply that by simply setting up a class blog we encourage learner-centred learning. If we continue to be in total control, don’t encourage collaboration and reflection and don’t involve them in the decision making, we simply dominate the whole thing and do not place learners in the centre of the learning experience. It’s a personal decision of course and you know better than anyone else what is good or not for your classes. I just believe that if you want to give more space to your students, class blogging can definitely help you with this.

  • Because it is user friendly

Unlike standard websites, blogs allow users with little or no technical background experience to create, design and maintain the blog ( Du & Wagner 2005:2). This makes classroom integration more natural, without the need of teaching hard technical skills (McDowell, 2004; Godwin-Jones, 2003); it is also consistent with learner-centered principles which require technologies and educational practices to be appropriate for learners’ cognitive abilities (Vincent, 2010).

When I started, my knowledge of setting up and running a blog was extremely limited. I remember not knowing basic vocabulary such as tagging, blogroll and widgets. It goes without saying I couldn’t embed a video or change the blog layout. There are plenty of tutorials available on YouTube like this one. I’m going to share more on a forthcoming post but I’m sure you can find them on your own if you just type key words such as “how to set up a blog” “embed a video” etc on Google. So, even if it seems hard to you right now, you will end up agreeing that blogs are very user friendly.

  • Because it fosters a sense of interactive audience

By posting their work on the Internet, the students have the opportunity to extend their audience beyond classmates (Ward, 2004:2-3). This awareness encourages a sense of ownership and responsibility on the part of the students who may be more motivated and thoughtful in both content and structure (Kitzmann, 2003:1).

Take my students as an example: by knowing that what they write is going to appear on the web they automatically become more conscious and more responsible writers, proofread their posts and seek guidance and advice from me or their classmates without being told to. Isn’t that great?

They have a reason and an extended audience for writing and this is why they want to present something that they will feel proud of 🙂

Commenting to each other’s posts or receiving comments from a wider audience can also be very powerful. Not only does it promote interactivity and reflection but also fosters a learning community in and outside the classroom. This two way communication through posts and comments enables students to become both the author and the audience and therefore benefit from the advantages of both forms (Wrede, 2003).

What are the basic steps in setting up and maintaining a successful blog?

Well, researching and getting informed would be one of the first tips I would give…but I just noticed this post is getting too long. More practical tips on a forthcoming post. If you want to dig more into the topic you’ll find a lot of resources in the references below 🙂

References

Davis, A. P. & McGrail, E. (2009). The joy of blogging.  Educational Leadership,66(6): 74-77.

Du, H.S., and Wagner, C. (2007). Learning with Weblogs: Enhancing cognitive and social knowledge construction. IEEE Transactions on Professional Communications, 50(1). Last accessed 16/04/2011

Eastment, D. (2005). Blogging. ELT Journal, 59(4): 358-361

Jonassen, D.H. (1993). Thinking technology. Educational Technology, 34(4): 34-37

Kitzmann, A.  (2003). That different place: Documenting the self within online environments.  Biography, 26(1): 48-65.

McDowell, D. (2004). Blogging in the K12 classroom. In  B. Hoffman (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Educational Technology.

Miceli, T. , Murray, S. V. and Kennedy, C. (2010). Using an L2 blog to enhance learners’ participation and sense of community. Computer Assisted Language Learning, 23 (4): 321-341

Godwin-Jones, B. (2003). Blogs and Wikis: Environments for On-line Collaboration. Language Learning & Technology. 7(2): 12-16. Last accessed 26/04/2011 http://llt.msu.edu/vol7num2/emerging/default.html

Vincent, D. (2010). Learner-centered learning and blogging. Edutech Wiki. Last accessed 15/04/2011  http://edutechwiki.unige.ch/en/Learner-centered_learning_and_blogging

Ward, J. (2004). Blog assisted language learning (BALL): Push button publishing for the pupils. TEFL Web Journal, 3(1): 1-15

Wrede, O.  (2003). Weblogs and discourse: Weblogs as transformational technology for higher education and academic research. Blogtalk conference paper, Vienna, May 23rd-24th 2003. http://wrede.interfacedesign.org/articles/weblogs-and-discourse