Archives for the month of: April, 2013

Some ideas related to the encouragement of autonomous learning in an ESL student-centered classroom involve students in the design of a class content, variable degrees of responsability for their own learning experiences, the use of a number of learning strategies, reflections about their classroom performance, self-evaluation, peer-evaluation and evaluation of their instructors. Students give feedback to their tutors from a very young age, reinforcing their thinking skills, and making them aware of their likes, preferences, and talents. Young generations of teachers might forget about the more traditional ESL classrooms where they took full responsability for the class content and results.

While there are several on-line feedback tools other than the all-known on-line surveys and polls, AnswerGarden seems to stand apart because of its minimalistic design, user friendliness, and versatility. The garden administrator, which might be the teacher or a student, can create an answer garden in a few minutes. Firstly, it is necessary to post a topic or question, such as “What would you like to discuss in our next session?” The garden can be embedded in the class discussion forum, weblog, or facebook group, and the students can provide their answers to this topic anonymously. While each garden allows a maximum number of twenty-five different answers, using twenty characters at most, it is important to mention that as users give the same answer to a question, this answer will grow bigger on the screen.

Its minimalistic design allows this application to be used not only to provide feedback, but as a brainstorming tool, to describe story chapters and characters, and so forth. Larry Ferlazzo believes that the fact that gardens can be answered anonymously might  be problematic in many school settings, though it can be useful with mature students, and the tool provides editing privileges to the garden administrator.

I would personally use this application in my classrooom on a daily or weekly basis to get my students’ feedback about a variety of topics to enhance my lesson preparation, and assure that I respond to my students’ interests and preferences. The twenty-character limit makes this tool optimal to obtain a global panorama about a given issue of concern, and it can be used routinarily to promote exchanges. It would make a great tool to test the waters in my classroom environment, and adapt my class activities as needed. This would be an informal, day-to-day, friendly feedback tool, which would add to more standarized, institutional evaluation means.

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The creative process which I encountered when meeting the challenge of uploading a  WebQuest to the internet was quite interesting at the very least. I have to admit that at the beginning, I kind of panicked with the idea of failing in being able to design a fairly good looking website with a luring task. My previous ideas about web design date from the times of ascci code and computer programmers. Of course I do not deny the current relevance of their work in professional web conception, but I do thank the lord for the whole web 2.0 new wave, which allows the average Joe who does not absolutely need to run a superb site, to still be able to collaborate with ideas on the internet.

I chose to write a bit about this topic in this post, because even when it does not appear to be the most original one, I intend to keep this blog active for my own personal follow-up, and I believe it is important to make a reflection about the evolution of my perception of the integration of applications and emerging technologies in the ESL classroom.

It is funny how the topic of travelling comes to my mind right away when I hear the word task. I believe that not only travelling broadens our minds as they say, but it also wakes up our senses. Problem-solving is critical as we travel and we face unknown situations in a foreign environment, where we are away from our routines and our comfort zones. We come across people who see life with a different pair of glasses, and we need to adapt our expectations and tolerate a certain degree of uncertainty. I can go on talking about the excitements of making a trip, but I believe the choice of my theme is fairly justified by now. If I wanted to keep my task manageable both for myself and my imaginary students, my first plan which consisted of making a full one-week itinerary in New York City from scratch, had to be adapted to a shorter one-day final set of activities. Even when the choice between Central Park, Times Square and The MoMA may seem non-sense if you consider that this is the type of places which an average tourist might visit on the first day in New York rather than the last one, the travelling background of these students is not necessarily specified and we may believe that this is not their first time in New York, or that they did a bunch of other things during  their previous days in the city. Once my general set up had been decided, I chose Weebly and started the research part. This is where it got fun, as while creating a worksheet and writing the process, I spent a considerable amount of time discovering New York myself, browsing through the attractions, learning about abstract artists, watching a number of trailers of independent films, reading travellers’ reviews, considering to include the Museum of Natural History, checking pictures, writing a few words to my facebook (and actually real) friend who lives in Brooklyn, remembering the times when I used to ride a bycicle in a big city, listening to Led Zeppelin (!), making my own restaurant itinerary, thinking about Polish immigrants, and so forth. This could be understood as procrastinating, but it could also be argued that I started making hyperlinks due to my level of involvement in the task. This is exactly the type of emotions which I would like to awaken in my students: an involving assignment which might evoke real feelings, real thoughts, memories, real desire to actually travel abroad and visit such a famous museum, hang around in Central Park, and have fun in Times Square. An activity which may provide them with knowledge not only to develop argumentative competencies in an English classroom environment, but which they can actually use in their lives.

The WebQuest organization related to Bernie Dodge provided me with inspiration in the design process, and it is amazing to realize how there are many teachers using them all over successfully, and how there are even metawebquests around. In general their use is very flexible and it can be adapted to different learning needs easily. In the end, I am not happy because of the quality of my quest, which I expect to improve with further practice and experience. I am happy because I did not know this, nor another bunch of applications existed, that I could manipulate them, and that they seem to work just fine.

I do not know if this would be a spooky in-class activity. Maybe the title does seem bizarre, and it should read “Facebook for historical characters” instead. Here is the story: I was a bit shocked not long ago as I was scrolling down my facebook newsfeed and I noticed that there had been a recent status update by a former colleague who had passed away a few years back. I was curious and I went to visit his profile page just to realize that it had been created by his brother as a way to remember him, and to share old pictures and memories with his closest friends. Regardless of my opinion about this approach to remembering a dear one, I could not avoid thinking about all this when I happened to find this facebook template for historical figures. Richard Byrne believes it may be useful to have students find connections between historical characters. I personally think that besides the research which students need to make in order to come up with their dead people profiles, this is an excellent way to promote a fun classroom speaking activity which students can use to practice simple past. Though it may have a number of variations, the way the information is structured allows easily a pairwork activity in which students keep at hand their dead character’s facebook profile and ask each other the following questions: Where did you spend most of your life? What was your marital status? When were you born? What was your hometown? Where did you travel during your life? Who were your closest friends? Did you join any groups or associations? What schools did you attend? Who did you work for? These questions can of course be used for a team interview activity, for a guess who game, and so forth. Students may afterwards practice reported speech forms by sharing their findings about their partners with the class. It is important to realize that the questions proposed are indeed realistic as they might be used in real-life conversational exchanges. As a follow-up activity, students may form a facebook group with their historical characters and come up with this kind of written interactions by commenting on each others’ status updates.  Facebook in the classroom seems to be such a hot topic nowadays, that I believe it is just natural to try to find luring, communicative tasks to use this popular social network tool creatively.

On a recent post I shared a few ideas on the use of e-readers in students’ cell phones. Steven Krashen has discussed the advantages of SSR (Sustained Silent Reading) in the improvement of students’ literacy. When students read whatever book they wish at their own pace, during a few minutes everyday over a period of several weeks or months, they seem to benefit more compared to students who read mandatory standarized texts provided by teachers. I do believe that choosing your own reading materials can at least be more pleasant than simply reading for the sake of a passing grade. It can encourage students to become readers for life, and it can be an unvaluable source of general knowledge and vocabulary. On the other hand, I think it is important to practice production skills through fun involving writing processes.

Epub Bud is a free website which allows users to create new e-books, upload any sort of document and convert it into an e-book, and even sell their own texts through Amazon, Apple, and Barnes & Noble.  It contains a beautiful section of free books for children (and some for adults as well), many of them created of course by the website users.

I think that conceiving and publishing a book provides students with a set of writing activities which are real and meaningful. There is an excellent example of collaborative writing and epublishing among middle school students who decided to make their book available through itunes. Over the huge number of writing activities at hand, this one stands out because of the feeling of belonging and peer support which it may enhance on students. It is purposeful and students may feel proud of being able to share their creations through the web. As mentioned by Kelly Tenkely, this tool can prove useful to have students share their books with other students, parents, and different schools thus it is highly motivating.

There is this nice idea of using Google Docs to have students collaborate on a story and then convert their work to an e-book using this tool. Personally, I would like to use this tool to have students work in teams in a communicative writing task such as “A Guide to Improve Speaking Skills in a Foreing Language”, publish it online, share it with their peers, and exchange ideas on the subject as a set of follow-up speaking class activities.

In a nutshell, Google Docs is an information storage (which currently runs through the Google Drive platform) and sharing application which all internet users can benefit from, particularly gmail users. It can easily be accessed from any standard gmail account, and it allows the user to create, upload, download, share (even through facebook and twitter) and collaborate with other users in the editing process of a text, spread sheet, power point-like presentation, draw or survey. What I consider a huge advantage over more traditional storage devices such as usb memory sticks, is its potential access through any computer anywhere in the world at all times. It includes private or public visibility to documents at users’ discretion and the application saves a document automatically while it is being created, which is a big plus in backing up important information. Though there are a few skills that teachers should acquire to be able to use this application in class successfully, I believe it is fairly easy to use.

The first idea that crosses my mind on how to use this application in a collaborative classroom, is simply related to team-based project information and time management. Telecommuting can be set to practice among students who need to meet to be able to work on a project together. Google Drive would give them access to their files and students could work from home on the same document  at the same time. This type of meeting could always be complemented with the use of Skype if discussion among participants is needed.

This application could also be an important part of collaborative writing exercises inside the classroom or outside of it. This video shows a teacher using the application in his classroom to have his students work on a writing exercise together. Before the lesson, he creates a class worksheet which all of his students can access from their computers. Students are responsible for working on this task individually before coming to the lesson. As a class activity, the teacher shares his own document on the smartboard or the overhead projector and he has students work on the text and correct or add on each other’s previous individual work. At the end, the whole class has gained valuable feedback, benefited from every other classmate’s knowledge, and left the classroom with a feeling of accomplishment and sense of achievement.

Another idea that I particularly like, is the one of creating student notebooks. These notebooks are documents that may resemble writing journals, which students can read and edit at home as part of a long-term class project. The teacher might be able to edit these documents as well, in order to give students feedback, corrections, and promote discussion. Though the idea might appear similar to the creation of a blog, these comments and corrections from the teacher or even other students, may represent an interactive advantage.

As discussed in this Google Hangout on “Using Google Docs for Peer Collaboration”, I think that students would enjoy interactive tasks linked to reading activities using this application. It would allow them to form a “reading circle” where they may discuss a text, share their ideas and analysis, and gain insight from each other’s different understanding of a book or article.

I am certainly going to explore some of these ideas for my own personal development.