28 October 2011

Delta Module 2

A very long 2 months after finishing the Intensive Delta Module 2 at IH in London, I finally received my results - a Pass - whooooo!!! I did, however, have to specifically ask for the results by email - as they'd been sent in the post! After a summer of hell, two months wait and the prospect of waiting another two weeks, and knowing that if I lived in the UK I would have already received them, it was just too much to bear. Anyway, thanks IH for sending me an electronic copy, but maybe a shift to 21st Century communication might be in order?

21 October 2011

Wallwisher

Good use of Wallwisher with my Intermediate teenage group this week. I used it as a warmer vocabulary review - Describing a Person. I posted a couple of images on Wallwisher with prompt questions and as they came into the room they had to write a sentence to describe the pictures using vocabulary from the previous lesson. It took longer than I hoped it would, mainly because of the mini keyboard I have in my classroom, but is a great warmer to get students reviewing vocabulary, writing sentence level and prepare for the class. See here.

Kids and Blogging

After the success of my 12 year old class on Kidblog, I decided to take the plunge and set up a blog with my 11 year old class. The main reason I want to use blogs with my younger students is to get them writing in English. There's always a groan when I ask them to get their notebooks out, partly, I suspect because they feel nervous about writing in another language, and partly because it's very hard for them. Unless there is a gapfill, they are reluctant to write anything at all.

These problems are especially noticable with my 11 year old class of 9 boys and one girl. Their writing is illegible at times and some of them have real difficulties copying from the board. It is difficult to keep their attention for more than 5 minutes and the result is usually quite poor.

I started a Kidblog with them this week and I'm thrilled with the reaction from the students. Sharing a netbook, one student was the "teacher" reading the instructions, while the other student typed a short paragraph about themselves. I gave them a couple of prompts but they asked if they could write other things too. Of course I was happy to accommodate! They were engaged and motivated to write. Some of them writing much more than I asked them to. Most of them asked basic grammar, punctuation and vocabulary questions - they were really trying to get it right! Others were slightly more nervous. The girl, M, was very reluctant at first, but when I realised her partner was still waiting to write his post when everybody else was almost finished, I couldn't get the computer off her.

Homework is to write three sentences using Past Simple about what they did at the weekend - I've asked them to write it on Sunday night. M, very enthusiastic now, has already written hers using "going to". Other students in the class have commented that she's "cheating" because it's still the week. And other students are leaving comments for me and their classmates, asking me questions and rewriting their original messages in multicolour - all without prompting from me.

It's early days, and they're very excited about having a blog, but if this continues they are going to be writing an awful lot of English - and hopefully enjoying it. Of course, I will still need to do pen and paper writing, but there will be less of it and hopefully they will lose some of their negative attitude to writing tasks.

I'd like to use the blog mainly as an online learning diary, but also do a couple of projects during the year. Maybe later in the year I can involve parents - but as it's an English only blog, they can only write in English!

16 October 2011

Kidblog

I would never have guessed that my pre-teens would take to their blogs so enthusiastically. The two most disruptive students who "hate" English (so they tell me) are quite happy to send each other messages, send me messages and do their writing homework on the blog. One is even arguing that my translation of a word is wrong because he looked it up on Google translate - this is great!

Now I'm wondering whether I should introduce Twiducate as a messaging platform (like Twitter) to further encourage communication (writing) in English....but I don't want to overload them with too much.....

08 October 2011

Audioboo with FCE Exam Class



Class Profile
Age: 16 - 66
No. of students: 12
Exam: First Certificate in June 2012

This is a very mixed age and ability class, some students have been coming to the academy for years, whereas others are new.


Background
I would like to get my students talking between classes and I think having students record themselves between classes is a great way to practise English outside of class. Unfortunately, some students have a very strong reaction to recording their voice, apparently.

The other day, I decided to spend 10 minutes in class showing my students Audioboo and explaining the benefits. I intended to:

  • play a "homework question" in Audioboo that I had prepared earlier
  • Demonstrate how easy it is to use Audioboo
  • Invite one or two students up to record something short.
  • Tell students that this part of their homework was purely optional, but had great benefits, etc.
That was the plan. Unfortunately, it didn't quite go like that. Although I had tested Audioboo earlier in the day on my classroom computer, when I went to the website to play my recording, it didn't work. I went on to record something again to show students how to do it, but "somebody" had removed the microphone from my classroom. All of this only took a couple of minutes but I when I looked around I saw a sea of confused faces. Finally, one of the adult students said "I don't understand what we have to do". I perfectly understood her of course - having some mad teacher standing in front you clicking buttons and nothing happening doesn't look good. Fortunately, another student piped up that he had downloaded the recording onto his iPhone earlier in the day. He played it to the class. My helpful and enthusiastic student went on to say that if you have iPhone or Android, etc. you can download Audioboo and use it on your phone. To which half the class looked at him blankly. Suddenly, the previously mentioned confused adult said - "I'm not recording anything. I haven't got a microphone!"! I looked at her and could see she was visibly frustrated and confused and there were a few nods of agreement, so I decided to leave the subject of Audioboo for another day. I briefly mentioned that this homework was optional, and that we would return to the subject another day.

The moral of this story? Just a gentle reminder that, in exam classes especially, some people don't find learning English easy or enjoyable. They are learning because of outside pressures, such as work or parents, and just need to get that piece of paper at the end of the exam. Mixing in a bit of something else they're not very comfortable with, such as technology that isn't working properly, is enough to turn them right off!

Reflections - Introducing Kidblog to After Elementary Pre-Teens

Age: 12 years old
No. of Students: 7
Blogging Platform: Kidblog
Other websites: ABCYa Wordle
Time: 60 minutes

BackgroundAfter some thought of whether to use PBWorks or Kidblog I settled on using Kidblog with this class. The reason being that our computer equipment is netbooks and to use a wiki for collaborative projects works best when all of the students are logged on. I am, however, considering using PBWorks for some project work with this group. All of the students have netbooks and use them at school therefore are quite familiar with using computers on a daily basis - although they generally do quizzes and browse websites, rather than create their own work online.

Lesson Outline
In this lesson, the students will prepare a short text about themselves, create a Wordle of the text, embed it in the blog and in the process learn how to log in, and navigate the blog. I had already created a model and logins for all of the students.

1. The students prepared 6 sentences about themselves on paper and it was corrected.
2. I showed the students the blog and the model, then demonstrated how to log in to the blog.
3. We went through the first part of the handout for vocabulary, and I told the students that they were to login in as themselves and type their sentences as a paragraph.
4. We went through the second part of the handout (ABCYa Wordle Instructions) and I demonstrated. The students copied and pasted their sentences into a Wordle and saved the Wordle to the netbook
5. We read the last part of the handout (embedding image in Kidblog) and I demonstrated. The students embedded their images.

Reflections
The class was a complete success. The students were able to read the instructions, and follow the demonstrations with very few problems. One of the boys (yes I said "boy") even noticed a typing mistake in his paragraph and insisted on repeating the whole process all over again to get it right! If I was to do this class again, I would probably do it exactly as I did it.

I think one of the reasons this class was so successful is that the students are used to using computers. Kidblog, although not perfect and it has its limitations, is ideal for kids. I had already set up the accounts so there were no logging in problems. ABCYa is also intuitive, and as the kids are already used to using computers generally, there weren't the usual basic computer problems such as where to save images, and finding them afterwards. Demonstrating the stages supported difficult vocabulary in the handout.

The writing task was easy and something they have done in the past and the tasks chosen to familiarise them with blogging were ideal - challenging enough to engage them but not so challenging that they had lots of technical problems that can be demotivating.

I should add that this is was a small class. Whether the class will be so successful with 10+ students remains to be seen, and something that I will be trying with another class in the next couple of weeks.

Reflections - Introducing Class Blog to Intermediate Teens

At last! Success!! I managed to get two classes using their blogs this week - with mostly success.



Teenage Intermediates
Age: 13 to 17
No of students: 8
Blogging Platform: Blogger
Equipment: Netbooks x 4 (1 netbook between 2 students)
Classroom layout: Smallish classroom consisting of chairs with table flaps - students need to be careful not to drop the netbooks.
Time: 90 mins



Background
All of the students had previously told me they already have email addresses and as they are 13+ I decided to stick with Blogger for them. On the day, one student said she didn't have an email address. Most students have very basic computer skills with only two of the eight who had a "feel" for how to fix something that went wrong. All say they don't use computers at school.



Lesson Overview
1. We went through an overview of basic computer vocabulary such as screen, scroll, arrow, mouse, keyboard, type, etc.
2. I had prepared a model of what they were to do. I showed them the model, and demonstrated how to do it.
3. The students who had gmail addresses created a Google account and I gave them permission to join the blog. The students who did not have gmail addresses created a Google account then I gave them permission to join the blog. One student had a problem with this and was unable to join the blog. He said he would do it at home when he had more time.
4. The students took turns finding a favourite song (with strict instructions that there should be no nudity or bad language) and wrote five sentences. Then the second student did their video.
5. Homework is to comment on their classmates songs.



Reflections
I am very happy with the students as most of them managed to complete the task without too much trouble. They do not have experience of blogging, generally got on with the job and enjoyed the task of contributing to the blog.

The bad side is that yet again, using Blogger with students creates problems. Last year and the year before, I also had one or two students who had problems with Google accounts, even though I had already set them up. Sometimes Google decides to do a security check, other times the anti spam code is too difficult to read and it takes forever to create the account because of this.

Another problem is that using one netbook between students causes it's own problems in that students need to check who is logged on, etc. For less computer savvy students, this can be confusing.

This year, partly due to this class being smaller, partly because it is my third year using Blogger with students and feeling confident in managing the class and partly because of time, I decided not to give students a handout with instructions or set up the students' permissions before the class (even though I've experienced the same problems in previous years!). On reflection I think instructions would have given the students more security and allowed them to at least try to complete the task and overcome problems themselves.

To Consider for next time
  • Use a different blogging platform - Google is too unreliable - maybe edublogs
  • Prepare a basic handout - at least students can try to follow instructions and it also encourages reading and autonomy.
  • Make sure all students have already been invited or been set up before doing a task.
I have learned a valuable lesson here, although I know Blogger well, have used it with classes for some time and can easily fix most problems, I need to be available to all students throughout the class to help students with little hiccups. It is not feasible spending time trying to set up an individual email account as it can end up taking a lot longer than anticipated.

For all the problems, the students did a great job, and enjoyed the class. I am pleased to note that some of them had already done their homework three or four days early! Click here to see their work.

01 October 2011

Introducing my students to ICT

After spending most of my free time this week checking and testing netbooks because our IT man was busy with more important things (totally understandable at the beginning of a new academic year), setting up a netbook logging system for teachers, setting up blogs and preparing lessons plans to get started, the lessons were cancelled. I am sure this is not something new. In fact it happens to me every beginning of the year, and at various times during the year. Basically, our internet connection is faulty. After three years of connected classrooms, it is still hit and miss whether you can use a Youtube video with your classes that day or not.

This is both good and bad. The good is that teachers are trying to make their classes more interesting and relevant to their younger and teenage students by using technology to engage them, something which the academy has encouraged from the beginning and which is also sold as part of "the package". The bad thing is that teachers do sometimes have to spend a lot of time preparing, only to have to abandon the lesson because of some problem with the Internet. Some teachers have given up using more interesting websites, etc. with their classes all together, sticking with the IWB and Powerpoint, or nothing at all. Others are just frustrated - including me.

Perhaps this is one reason why ICT has not taken off very much in language academies. After all, it is only an (expensive) tool that is not a requirement to learn a language, although I believe it can be especially motivating for younger and teenage learners. So, I will persevere, continue to spend lots of my free time preparing for ICT lessons as well as a backup plan, lobby the powers that be that we need a better more reliable connection, and equipment, and continue using ICT with my students - as far as is possible.