About the Reading task 1 in the EVO2022: Delivering best practices for distance and online and blended courses

I was to choose and read an article and write one paragraph. The one I chose was about the design process of blended learning which turned out to have some sub-articles. They were so interesting that I kept parts of them that resonated with me and wrote a touch more than one paragraph, so I decided to document it here.

I read this article about strategies for teaching blended learning courses

Found this definition here:

Blended learning, which combines face-to-face and online learning activities into a single course.

Blended learning strategies have a lot in common with the Flipped learning approach. At the planning stage, we too think about learning outcomes for students and ask big questions about what it’s in it for the student to learn and then work backwards from how the student will prove they have learnt it. I think the biggest obstacle is having a variety of modalities when it comes to designing your lessons and one of my hurdles is remembering all of these cool apps and website tools I have used over the years to reuse them when it is suitable.

I agree with the fact that you have to decide beforehand if your blended course is an online one with some face2face interaction or if it is a f2f course with some online interaction. I have a class where some students will not be attending face2face classes at all and have some students that will only be attending face2face classes. Here the design of their active learning always need to be well thought out and the choice of deliverables should vary where the use of digital deliverables or digital tools is mandatory.

What resonated with me from this article was the useful list of advice to make careful modality decisions. My biggest hurdle is considering beforehand how much work will be required of me to create each learning activity in comparison to the benefits to the learners. Sometimes I create a learning activity that takes too long to prepare versus the benefits the learners will take from that.

I agree with this: 

“In terms of integration, communication is the key, and I think if we can allow our students to communicate in meaningful ways—both online and face to face—that will help bridge the gap. … If students can understand that the professor is very interested in communication and the social interaction that necessarily has to occur for us to learn, then I think that the students will buy into the fact that they need to be active face to face and online,” Wegmann says.

And this:

“Just because a communication tool or technique is available does not mean that you have to use it, Thompson says. “When you’ve got a solution in search of a problem, that’s probably a bad thing. For example, if instructor X for whatever reason thought that she or he had to ‘have an online discussion’ in a blended course but didn’t really have a sense of why … if there’s no discernible connection between that activity and the learning outcomes, and if it’s not designed particularly well … it will be perceived as meaningless busywork.”

I have incorporated a bulletin board discussion forum in each class and when I started using it as a reflection tool, not all students bought into the idea. Eventually, when they realised it was important to me and not just busywork, they ended up collaborating and sharing their reflections and eventually began to enjoy it.

“Reinforce one modality in the other. Be explicit in making the connections between the two modalities by acknowledging and extending the interaction in each.” 

This is something I do anyway but hadn’t realised that it is so important. It took me time in getting students to do some things online because they feel it’s just busywork. When they understand that firstly, it is important to me and then that I feel it’s important for their own learning to do they get into the habit of doing some online activities more often.

“If you do not carefully think about and implement measures to integrate these two learning modes, students may perceive them as separate contexts that have very little to do with each other or they may consider parts of the course irrelevant or busywork.”

Even though I have been using a digital school platform for the past two years, it has just resonated with me that I do offer blended learning courses at my school. My courses are offered in conjunction with an online school platform which is an integration of an E-Class platform and an LMS. I have seen students (and some parents) consider that the online part of the course was not connected to the face2face part of the course and try to pull out of being part of it. Once they understood that it was part of the course and not just busywork, they eventually came round and made it part of their routine.

I think proper communication is key to its success. I will try to communicate this with my teachers, my students and parents more.

“When the online and face-to-face components complement each other as integrated activities in each setting, there is a clear purpose and students understand the relevance of both modes.”

Yes, a clear purpose makes both modes relevant.

In this reading, Veronica Diaz the associate director of the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative gives us some useful pointers on mistakes to avoid:

  • Don’t try to convert your course to an online course too because it will turn out to be a “course-and-a-half”.
  • Make sure there is a connection between what you teach in your f2f and what you put for them online.
  • Don’t convert your entire lecture into an online one. No one wants to sit and watch a lecture. these days there are too many distractions.

This article talks about the ADDIE Instructional design process 

(ADDIE which stands for Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation and Evaluation.)

I have been slowly moving from curriculum design to Instructional design of all my courses and classes. It is important for administrators and teachers to design in regards to what’s in it for the students than from what I need to teach in this lesson, by this week, by that month. 

Moving towards designing my blended courses will have to be my next step, so this really hit me and decided to document it to further take it in.

In short, ADDIE consists of these below steps:

Analysis:

  • Review prior course evaluations for guidance on where students struggle.
  • Identify the most difficult concepts for students and focus on those.

Design:

  • Create detailed learning objectives. Use strong action verbs and avoid terms like “know,” “understand,” and “learn.”
  • Divide course into F2F and online components.
  • Match learning objectives with technology.

Development

  • Start early – at least a semester, preferably a year, in advance.
  • Create an ideal course then start with the most important elements in the next step.
  • Create a shell with the intention of refining and improving over several semesters.

Implementation

  • Start with a smaller course if possible (summer is a good time).
  • Launch the entire course once completely designed rather than piecemeal.

Evaluation

  • Assessment is critical for course improvement and accreditation.
  • Leverage technology to collect data (think about this in the design stage).
  • Utilize evaluation data to ‘close the loop’ to improve the course for next time.

“Shibley explained how to divide your course content in a way that creates opportunities for learning before class, during class and after class; how to assess student learning; and how to use technology to support learning”

These bullets sum up the design of blended learning:

  • Establish clear learning goals for the topic.
  • Design activities to help students meet the learning goals.
  • Sort the activities into two categories: online and face-to-face.

Found these steps worth highlighting:

 In considering each step, the following questions might help:

  • What do I really want students to learn?
  • How can I ensure that students read the book prior to class?
  • What lower-level activities can student complete online prior to class?
  • What higher-level activities can be accomplished during class?
  • What higher-level activities can students complete after a topic has been discussed face-to-face?
  • Which activities require a grade and which activities will students do because they can immediately see the link to other graded activities?

When talking to administrators, point out that blended learning…

  • impacts the entire institution.
  • offers a learner-centered pedagogy.
  • may integrate with the strategic plan.
  • improves classroom utilization.
  • can help match delivery to academic need.
  • can help fill under-enrolled courses and programs.

When talking to faculty, point out that blended learning….

  • gives them access to new resources.
  • introduces them to online learning.
  • is an opportunity for faculty development and lets them experiment with new pedagogies and techniques.
  • helps meet student expectations and build student skills.
  • allows for more flexible scheduling.
  • retains the face-to-face aspect faculty may cherish.

When talking to students, point out blended learning…

  • meets their expectations for utilizing technology.
  • develops independent learning skills.
  • offers increased flexibility and convenience.
  • provides better access to those with job, family, or distance barriers.
  • helps reduce educational costs.

“Offering blended learning requires more than just setting up an LMS and telling the faculty to integrate it into their curriculum.”

  • “Interactive” looks different. I have found the Google suite to be extremely helpful for interactive work in my HyFlex classroom. I use Google docs, slides, and Jamboard daily to discuss readings and do group activities. I’ve taken to setting up a Google Doc ahead of class with a table of questions for discussion (rows are pre-labeled with student names). I can see exactly who is participating in real time. (Side note: I set up a shared Google Drive for our class. This makes it possible to make new Google Docs or Slides on the fly during class if necessary and have them immediately accessible to all students in the class).
  • Community looks different. I make a conscious effort to speak directly to students attending virtually as well as those in the room. As I see them sign into Zoom, I greet individuals and chat with them. One of my in-person students mentioned how surprising it was to hear me apparently talking to no one before she realized I was speaking to a student on Zoom. She appreciated that the class is not split into “participators” in the classroom and “observers” on Zoom.
  • Group work looks different. I like to use Zoom breakout rooms, but the in-class component adds complexity. I’ve kept my pre-assigned breakout rooms, but I added a fifth breakout room just for in-class students. I manually re-assign this group each day based on who is in class. Those in the classroom can talk directly to each other, making the most of the in-class context.
  • My role with groups looks different. In the classroom, I like to move around and interact with each group. With HyFlex, this is more difficult. I’ve had to give up some control over the groups (I can’t “see” them in the breakout rooms), but I’ve found that the Google collaboration helps me keep tabs on the work they are doing. If I assign each group a Google Slide in a shared slide deck. I can have the slides open on my laptop and can see at a glance which slides the students are looking at and what they are writing. I’ve also built-in more time for each group to report out, and I use that time for the kinds of probing questions I would normally ask during the group work. The whole class benefits from our interactions in ways they probably missed during previous in-person semesters.
  • Connecting with students looks different. After my disappointing first week, I arranged to meet with each of my 25 students individually in 10-minute time slots on Zoom. It made a world of difference in my own attitude. Those short, one-on-one conversations helped restore some of what I was missing in my HyFlex classroom–the opportunity to get to know students and connect with them. I realize not everyone can do this, but perhaps even in larger classes faculty could meet with students in groups of five or six. For me, it was an important way to preserve one part of teaching I find most satisfying.

These readings were really valuable, and I explicitly the kept parts I feel have helped me come to understand the ideas behind blended learning. hopefully, over time these principles and guidance will become ingrained in my work more.

Using #inclassflip in a hybrid teaching situation

So I was just thinking about this morning’s routine in which on a typical Monday morning I usually finish planning for my afternoon lessons; what I was truly thinking when I first sat down was, ‘is it really a typical Monday?’

This is the first week back after our Christmas break. For us in Greece, we are heading towards the peak of the Covid 19 variant Omicron and most people are concerned for the safety of their children and their own. State schools have opened today for students who are either vaccinated or have been self-tested and all wearing masks. For my school, we too ask for all students to have with them their self-test certificate or the vaccination certificate and of course, the compulsory use of masks. So I was wondering, with all this uneasiness going on for the next two weeks at least, can I really assume that I will not have an issue with colocation? What this means is that can I assume that I will have all my students in class at the same time or will I have some online on our school platform and a few face2face students too, in other words, a hybrid situation? And if so, how can I best plan for these types of situations?

For me, teaching is about having students who are actively involved in constructing their own knowledge. I assume that students come to class with their own knowledge of things and can learn to collaborate with others to make new connections on various topics. I also believe that a growth mindset plays a major role in successfully carrying out these types of teaching sessions and that students can learn to self-regulate and self-teach themselves and others. Also, I am a passionate supporter of Flipped Learning and when I can avoid direct instruction in class because I know that in this day and age, all students won’t be ready to take in what I want to teach them at that given moment.

Flipped learning presumes that direct instruction is done in the individual space or for homework before class and group space or class space is best used to actively apply and extend this new knowledge. Well, for Christmas, I don’t really give homework, because as I needed rest, I wanted my students to rest and take in quality family time. So, the best solution I thought of was the use of #Inclassflip approach which was first introduced to me by Martha Ramirez and Carolina Buitrago.

The Inclassflip approach is where direct instruction is incorporated into class time in different forms and then practice time is actively carried out in class. There are a number of ways you can try Inclass flip whether you use Station work with a sequence, loop, half-n-half stations or the choice of mixed stations or Non-station work as a Solo, Duo or Group ordering. However, you still need to think of the Essential questions or the big ideas you want students to know, understand and be able to do and how you would like them to prove what they have understood.

Given that I wanted to start a new module from the course book which has to do with students understanding environmental problems, environmental jobs and qualities and endangered species, I assume that students have been looking at this topic from a very young age and do know quite a lot about this topic already. So, I wanted them to brush up on their knowledge of environmental problems. Learn about types of jobs connected to the protection of the environment and learn about general vocabulary around work life.

To implement this, I chose the non-station layout of the Inclass flip in the form of solo, duo and group work which basically means instead of students moving around stations the stations will move around to them and they will work in pairs – duo, by themselves -duo or as small groups – group. I do keep a time limit for each task to help students stay focused on the task at hand. I have digitised access to the video from the coursebook and will use it as the flipped station work. The practice stations will include work from the coursebook, and it will also have group work in which each group will need to create some sort of product presenting an environmental problem they investigated. I do have an independent station on hand for early finishers which will include the use of the Quizziz app and vocabulary building skills work.

I designed a total of 7 tasks in solo, duo and group format which I will write and reflect about how it went in the my following post.

#EVOMC2021 Day 1 – The beginning!

This is my first day on EVO Minecraft Mooc 2021. I have tried to follow this group of educators before so I did have a Minecraft account and a discord account. This made my first day much easier. I have to say that connecting the to EVOMC21 Minecraft server was a lot easier this time and I was pleasantly suprised by a mc world when I got into the server.

This was my first pic of the new world that I have entered into. It is a bit daunting at the beginning and really I don’t know what to do. I will go back to http://missions4evomc.pbworks.com/w/page/141007341/2021_Week1#MissionsforWeek2Declare and watch a few howto videos, to begin with.

Minecraft basics.

Good video to start with. Gave me the information that I needed to find my way around but still need more information like how do I talk with the rest of the participants on discord and even send msgs on MC to other participants.

Surviving your first 20 minutes on MC – Vance Stevens

This video helps a lot. I got the gist of the game and started to wonder around my world.

One question that came to mind on the EVO MC server is that if I have to do those things myself becuase the world was already built for me…

Connecting with the EVO team in game really helped!

It’s good to connect with the EVOMC team in game. Got a few insider tips.

  1. T is to talk to others on the server (and this is ghosted on the discord server too!)
  2. /sethome home is to set the place where you are as your home.

This was really interesting. I’m sure I can get some more tips from my students tomorrow! I’ve got quite a few of them that are really into MC!

Here are a few pics of me with other EVO MC Members!

Me at my first bbq!
Me getting tips for TeacherVance and Olvetree about how to bbq fish!
Family potrait of TeacherVance and Bobbibear!

Overall, it was a overwhelming experience. I felt a bit lost, but the chat helped a lot. The team there quickly got me into the gist of things and helped me understand what I should be doing.

As was informed, the server is in survival mode so tomorrow I am thinking about exploring the world and see if I can find a spot of my own!

Back again! Happy New year everyone!

Has been a while since my last post. I suppose so much has happened during the pandemic, don’t know where to start, really. Well, firstly, I want to wish everyone (or anyone!) reading this a happy new year full of health, laughter and happiness.

I suppose what got me coming back here is me signing up as a participant, for an Electronic Village Online session (more here EVO2021) after a long time since I am also a moderator in the Flipped Learning in language teaching session too (more info here ). Personally, I have a thirst for knwoledge for anything that has to do with making learning fun and more interesting, including gamification. Therfore I have wanted to advance my knowledge in Minecraftand and this free EVO session from well-known global educators is my chance. Here’s a link (here) if you are also interested!

Luckily, I have done some prior research so I do have a Mojang Minecraft account and a discord account. So not much to do before we start on Sunday, I believe. The only concern I have is if the live sessions are going to clash with our Flipped sessions, but not to worry because recordings are cool too…

Categories CPD

Teaching With Songs: Jigsaw Viewing with Sia’s adorable Snowman!

Always enjoy using SAF activities with my learners mostly as a warmer or filler activity. I suggest going through and trying one in your next online (or f2f) class.

Song Activity Factory

WELCOME to the SONG ACTIVITY FACTORY!

There are numerous websites for teachers out there, but here is

the place to be if you believe in the power of using songs to teach English!.

If you’re a BELIEVER, here you’ll find Creativity, Inspiration,Teaching Ideas and Resources to bring Musicalinnovation to your English Language Teaching Practice!

Whether you teach English online or not, using songs to teach has a wider scope than you think, and it is not restricted to listening exercises with songs or gap-fill. Check my older posts and don’t be afraid to try something new!

This week, SAF features SIA and her marvelous music video for: SNOWMAN!

I hope YOU and your students have a BLAST with it!

Description:

This song-based STEP-BY-STEP LESSON PLAN  for ENGLISH language TEACHING features the lyrics and music video for “SNOWMAN” by SIA

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Song-based materials from TEFL-ers around the world!

Love using song-based lessons in my EFL classrooms! Check these out.

The TEFL Zone

The end of the school year is almost here! I don’t know about you but I’m really looking forward to it! This year has been quite challenging for both students and teachers!

Are you looking for interesting, no-prep activities for your last week of classes?

Why not use song-based lesson plans for a fun school year end? 🙂

1. These are the ones I created this semester, based on top trending songs. They include both language and skills practice.

2. Márcia Mars Bonfim has created 18 brilliant song-based lesson plans for B2 exam practice! You can find them all here:

https://songactivityfactory.com/2020/06/14/how-to-use-songs-to-teach-english-18-song-based-lesson-plans-for-cambridge-english-first-fce/

3. Cristina Cabal has also shared lots of song worksheets on her blog:

Blog de Cristina

4. Cool English, which is an amazing site, has created song clips you can use…

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Proctoring your online writing classes

So where do I start? Now that I’ve got your attention with a flashy title let’s just start off defining the word “proctoring”. According to the Cambridge online dictionary,  the word “to proctor” means “to watch people taking an exam in order to check that they do not cheat”. I suppose if I leave this in the context of emergency remote online teaching this is easier said than done. Moreover, I’m not sure if this is where I want to take my thinking at all. The first thing that pop’s up in my head is a meme I saw on social media with a child in front of a screen and a mum holding a dictionary under the table helping her son pass the writing test. Personally, I believe that we as teachers are not responsible for just supervising a writing test. This is something that examination bodies should think about now that current trends are moving towards online solutions for examinations.

We as teachers should be thinking in another direction with our writing classes. We should be moving towards the ultimate goal of creating autonomous learners and trying to instil the love of writing in our students so they can feel that writing is a form of expression, a way to express feelings and to portray imagination and creativity. Easier said than done, right? Well, there could be a way to do just that.

Let’s begin. The first thing I want to talk about is writing classes. Due to the coronavirus crisis, we were all forced to teach online. Surely, most of you found ways to go around the hurdle of getting students to write online. Most of you used methods like getting them to write a piece of writing on paper and then sending it as a photo to some sort of communication medium, whether it be an email or a platform like Google Classroom or Edmodo. Some of you got your students to type their writing piece and send it to you for corrections. These methods are perfectly fine, but what was the result? My guess was that most students wrote exactly the same as the would have done in class. Some students excelled, some did ok and others were not to a high standard. What I had in mind for my students though was different.

If we look into the real world, you would all agree with me that most writing takes place in front of a computer screen. Nothing like what is expected of students when in exam classes. So how can we take writing for English lessons out of just writing for the teacher/examiner and make it more meaningful for our students? For one thing, we keep our methodology of teaching writing intact, i.e pre-teach vocabulary, rubric analysis, model essay analysis and the like and but change the way we approach it. Think of ways of putting the burden on the to preparing guided self-paced lessons which could be used in class both off and online. Something that I feel is inevitable too and is my quick and easy take on this matter is to get them to write their composition on paper; in class? at home? Whichever way suits your style of teaching and then just tweaking the correction stages to coaching them to becoming autonomous writers.

So how do we push the scale of creating versions and correction of own mistakes towards our students? Easy, offer them the chance to use a few quick and easy tools to correct their own mistakes and improve their writing. Take advantage of free online writing tools that even professional writers use. Let’s have a look at this idea in more detail:

For one thing, make use of digital material to flip your teaching. Even if you are returning to face-to-face classes, take advantage of the fact that most learners now have access to their own devices getting them to bring it to class. The idea of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) to class is already among us and is used in some schools around the world already. I suggest creating a digital activity sheet around ready-made and widely available free resources such as youtube videos and self answering quiz, having your students show you when they achieve each task. It could be a grammar point you want them to know before writing or even a vocabulary-building skill. Have a look at the below google doc from a fellow moderator from the Flipped Learning in Langauge teaching EVO 2020 TESOL sessions, Diana K. Salazar is an English teacher in Colombia at the Rochester bilingual school, teaching Writing for 4th grade. She used the in-class approach and wrapped the activity in the form of a google doc (see image below) in an online class as a game board but it could have easily been used for a face to face class too. In-class flip 

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is image.png
Diana K. Salazar’s in-class flip writing board game.

Just as she mentions in her title, “This study guide aims to prepare you in an interactive, fun and catchy way for the final exam of English Writing”. Let me repeat that, fun and catchy way to prepare for an exam. See, make it meaningful and “wham” they’re engaged. Another reason I really loved this piece and decided to show it as-is is the way this doc was created in a very short time, taking advantage of all those unlimited videos, quiz, and articles without the need of recreating endless pages of own work. My biggest problem before this was if I gave a quiz, exercises or reading pages how could I check that they had completed them. I would have gotten them to create accounts for web apps, like Kahoot, edpuzzle, wordwall, quizalise, quizziz and the list would be endless, and then log in to the each and every dashboard to see if they did them.  Using the in-class flip way, the proof of completion is not in the exercise but in understanding what you have completed. Read these articles and create a graphic organiser to show your understanding. By all means, this isn’t new, it’s just another way to look at what a coursebook would have in the form of columns of information and exercises. Sure beats a coursebook, but also takes advantage of a coursebook too. If you look at the first, bottom left box in Diana’s board game she actually quotes page 68 of her coursebook and gives it to them in digital format to save time.

So break your lesson down into interesting chunks, put the burden on students to prove that they have understood and completed their blocks and get that final composition handed in. Then what? Correct it and give it back to them? I was thinking more of reading over with them, why not getting them to read it to you to check on fluency and pronunciation and then for homework get them to type it up in google docs and use a spellchecker like Grammarly (chrome extension) to self-correct their work. This way, they can spot their own errors and if those errors are fossilized, it might even help them to see those errors in the future. For a final stage get them to share their google doc with you so you can go over their draft and suggest changes or improvements more like an editor rather than a teacher.

One thing I get them to do once they have their final draft ready is to get them to publish it on the internet as an article. We have a school blog which we get our students to use so they can feel that their article is available for all to read. Have a look at our school blog here.

Overall, now that we are returning to our face-to-face classes don’t stop taking advantage of the digital tools we have readily available. Even if you don’t have access to them in class you could still get your students using them out of class. Something very important to me is, always plan your activity to be as meaningful and relevant to your student as possible and try to make it fun too!

Thanking ELTnews and flforum.gr for the invite.

About setting goals

I always try to start out my lessons by talking to my students about the importance of goals and steps on how to achieve them. This is part of my way of creating a needs analysis of my students. I ask them what they think of how people learn a foreign language and get them to talk about how they see themselves as language learners. I follow through by getting them to set personal goals about their learning path and how they will achieve this. This helps them get the feel of what to expect from my lessons and what is expected of them.

Stating the above though, I can say that the results and the feedback I get from this activity aren’t that idealistic as you would at first think. Even though I have tried quite a few different techniques to help students set goals in class like getting them to set SMART goals or other types of goals, the reflective feedback I usually get from my students is that they find this activity not so relevant to learning English and thus they don’t actually say it but, I can sense it that they feel that it wasn’t a very helpful learning activity for them. I know this is set in their beliefs of how they should be learning a language and just want to get straight into the bits of language that might help them supposedly learn. It’s not all doom and gloom though because I know that their way of learning is not always the best way of learning and that this has not been so successful for them in the past.

Having to prepare for my next new class, I thought it would be a good idea to design and plan something more solid and more useful for all my lessons and for my school. So, I did a routine I always do when I am trying to learn something new, I indulge in immersive online research and reading. This usually takes me a couple of hours or so, and to tell you the truth it racks my brain and I mostly end up overloaded. You could say that I end up with an information-overload feeling. So, this morning I thought I would straight up reflect on what I have been researching and maybe this way would help me shape what I want to do next.

I decided I wanted to create a new needs analysis form which I would fill in with my students online. I chose a generic form from ISL Collective that I found will be just right. Have a look at it here.

Next up I did some Internet research on setting goals. By doing some keyword research for goals and setting them, I touched on the idea of setting smart goals. One thing that I was interested in by the use of smart goals was how to set them and what questions should I have in mind when facilitating this activity. Here are a few interesting bits’ n bobs I found.

Goal setting guidelines:

  1. Your goal must be conceivable
  2. make your goal believable
  3. Your goal must be achievable
  4. Make your goal measurable
  5. Be sure to set one purpose only

Setting SMART goals:

S-Specific. Don’t confuse wishes with specific goals. Don’t over broaden your goals. I often hear goals like, “I want the Proficiency”. Why? “to have the qualities I need to get into Greek public service”. And then I usually tell them, “What if I could help you learn the language in such a way that it would be interesting and meaningful to you and as a consequence help you ace the C2 level exam too?”, most of them usually like that idea.

M-Measurable. I usually tell them to measure what is success to them. I try and convince them that an honest return on Investment after taking part in language learning would be to attain the desired outcome and have learnt a way to sustain and improve language learning. So here I would say things like, “What about watching a movie without subtitles and understanding most of it?”

A-Achievable. So how do you define achievable. I suppose the example I use in my classes be the most relevant unachievable goal for myself a bit too extreme. I tell them that I want to go to the moon as an astronaut, but given my age, not that I’m old or anything, it would be a very difficult task to achieve (my philosophy in life is, nothing is unachievable- but that’s wishful thinking!). So, I prefer them saying things like, I want to be able to speak fluently with as little as errors possible than the typical, ” I want to sound like and American native speaker”.

R-Realistic. This one is a difficult issue. Most of my learners come to me and wanting to achieve a fluent “Received pronunciation” like British accent, without the thinking about what fluency really means to the world now. So, here is where I get into the ideas of “Who is a true Brit and what is their accent like?”, “Globalization and keeping your local identity”, “English as a lingua-franca and the ideas of correct pronunciation over native like accents.

T-Time bound. There should be a start date and an end date.

Like this presentation from SlideShare here.

And found some questions to facilitate this activity here. Examples shown below.

  • What is it you want to accomplish?
  • Who wants to accomplish the goal?
  • Why do you want to achieve this goal?
  • How are you going to make it happen?

Finishing, I also like talking to my students about motivation and ways to stay committed. In the past, one area of interest in which I have looked into is Zoltan Dornyei’s L2 Motivational self-system. This system lies on the belief of a student’s motivational language learning behavior, that is their efforts, choice and persistence will be largely affected by three variables: their ideal L2 self, to what extent can students imagine themselves and highly proficient language learners, their Ought-to L2 self, which is what outside pressures students acknowledge throughout the learning process, and finally their language learning experience, which influences attitudes their classroom processes (Dornyei).

So, questions I want to ask my students are:

  • How do you vision your ideal L2 self?
  • How is your life affected by getting a certification and by knowing the language?
  • What is your ideal classroom experience?

There’s more… so to be continued…but until I do, what do you do to set goals with your students?

 

Teaching to a black screen.

Teaching online has its days. Yesterday, in one of my classes, no matter what I tried and believe me it was a well-prepared lesson about ‘famous’ people and most of the class was about how we could charm a somewhat famous person attend a small session with us in our ‘zoomroom’, nothing worked and it was mostly a class of the black screen for me.

I want to talk about black screens today because I believe it is strongly connected to student activation and engagement. Engagement in second language acquisition (SLA) is twofold and not only is it coined as being something your learners should have it they are motivated to learn also it’s about having the will of giving you their full attention and focus. It is often said that this is the new-age type of students. They say that millennials are multitaskers, they can watch tv and listen to music and maybe be active on social media at the same time. This for me however surely means that they share their attention and that basically, they don’t want to give you their full attention. Also, this to me says, “Your not boring, I’m in your class, I got out of my way to attend and I’ll do my share of work, but I don’t want to give you my full focus; I’ve got other stuff more interesting to me than you.”

Most students close cameras on the pretence of being embarrassed, or having a bad hair day or not liking their learning environment or having their little brother with them. Some scholars say that during remote emergency learning we should not pressure our students to open their cameras because they might indeed not be feeling comfortable with their personal learning environment. The truth of the matter is I agree with not pushing too hard for students to open their cameras, but lately, I have been noticing that this state is contagious and that all students are slowly using it as an excuse for not opening their camera.

In a class, yesterday, all my students were reluctant to open their cameras for me.  I did try to convince my students to open, but in a short while they switched off and even though I tried, they won in the end because I was losing time and seeing my objective going out the window. So I did spend time talking things out but ended up going back to the lesson as not to lose their attention completely.  And what struck me, yesterday is at the start of class when I was alone with one student, I got him to open his camera to say hello which he did, and as soon as another student entered the class, he immediately switched off his camera. Another case was after having a conversation on internet bandwidths and speeds of connection, one of my students who always uses his speed of connection as a problem to switch off his camera boasted about how fast a connection he has to all of us. This was actually mentioned to me by another student told him, who said to him, “why do you say that you never have enough bandwidth to open your camera since you have 100Mbps download and 10Mbps upload”, that’s a really fast connection for home internet!

So the truth of the matter is, even though we have our students motivated enough to come to our online class because they could have just say, “online doesn’t work” and that “my parents shouldn’t be paying for these types of lessons”, the fact that they attend without turning on their video is saying that they are just not engaged enough to do so. If your not actively involving them in an activity which needs for them to be seen, then they prefer to do your activities without their video turned on.

This preference is what needs to be discussed. Should we allow this to happen should this be talked out with all students separately and discussed as a prerequisite?  What do you do with the students who genuinely do have problems?

The more you allow this to happen in your classes the more disengaged learners you will eventually end up with. I believe that this notion should be actively talked about amongst older students and we should reach an agreement towards everyone being actively involved and having their cameras switched on.

For me, in my next lesson, it’s time to redo classroom rules, maybe work upon these rules through a google doc or a collaborative Canva drawing activity. Get them to collaboratively write the rules and to create an infographic of “our ‘zoomroom’ rules”

A good way to create ‘zoomroom’ dynamics and restart my class with a new outlook.

Photo by z yu on Unsplash

Disaster recipe: Collaborative writing online and young teens

They say the older students get the more attention span they acquire. I don’t really know if this is a true fact. Especially now with all my lessons having being moved online, I get to witness even the good students not wanting to focus in on me presenting something to them for even four minutes. This I found out yesterday when I had a group of four EFL students at a B1 level for a two-hour writing session. I had planned to do a writing session with them and planned to make it as interesting as possible, and mind you, even though I should get others to vouch for me, I myself was impressed with my own lesson plan which was quite impressive to say the least.

This lesson plan incorporated a nice warm-up activity to engage my learners on the topic of Mobile phones and young children. We watched a video about the use of mobile phones by young children where brainstormed ideas about the pros and cons of students using mobile phones were written on a padlet wall. Thereafter we reviewed a rubric from a model answer before we started reading and analysing a model answer. Sounds good so far? Well, after getting them engaged in the topic, getting them to collaborate on the padlet and all together read the model essay, which I found went well, all  I had to do after getting their attention was to show them a few key points in the main body paragraphs, giving emphasis to cohesive devices used by the author to link ideas together. (see image below) After at the most four minutes of presenting and underlining I started asking CCQs, that’s when it hit me that one of my students hadn’t been following me. He found my presentation time to switch off and let his mind wander which meant he didn’t pick up enough about how to structure a for and against discursive essay.

At the time, I was pretty disturbed. I found his behaviour upsetting and disrespectful, I put so much effort into this lesson plan and he just switched off. Then I thought, wouldn’t you switch off if you had something more interesting to think about? Especially, being in your own home, in your bedroom with your PJs on? Being honest, I probably would.

So this is where I had to differentiate. What I did for the following write up stage of my lesson is I uploaded the topic to a Google Doc and got them to write a paragraph each. They didn’t know that this could be done so they found it quite captivating. Below is an image which shows my students working on a google doc together. What I did was allocate a paragraph to each student depending on what I thought would benefit each of them. I got the weaker students to concentrate on the main body paragraphs and got the stronger ones to be more creative when writing the introduction and conclusion.

collaborative writing

I put a copy of the rubric in the Doc and wrote the titles of the main parts of the essay of I wanted them to write. After I shared the doc, they opened it on their pc and one of them directly on their mobile phone.

It took them about twenty minutes to complete the task and in the meantime, I had time to scaffold the structure of the main body paragraph to the student that had listened to me in the presentation stage.

The overall outcome was reasonable, and they were actually quite happy to get to write another essay in their own time. towards the end

Finally, I took their essay and plugged it into analyzmywriting.com which measured lexical density and got an average scale of around 50% which I explained that this was reasonable at the B1 Level. They like the idea of analysing their text using tools so I found this a chance to explain some more details about this analysis and promised them that we will do more with this tool in the near future.

lexical density writing

Overall, the practical part of the lesson was really interesting for them, but sometimes if a student wants to switch off while you present something, even though you think it’s very important for them and try to make it as interesting as possible for them, they will. Quickly, when this happened to me yesterday, I had thought, I should’ve flipped the presentation stage of this lesson plan and gave it to them to complete in their individual learning space and at their own pace. That way we would’ve got even more done in the group learning space. So flip it, is what I’m going to do with this for my next class.

Lesson plan: On the Bright Side of Quarantine

What really amazes me with our ELT field is that it is based on an idea that sharing your creations like materials and lesson plans not only to help other teachers be inspired and adapt tested activities, but also help the sharer reflect thus evolve as a professional educator. One such professional educator that I truly admire and that always shares his awesome work is Miguel Míguez.

Here’s a lesson plan based on the current covid19 lockdown situation and what really got my attention from this lesson idea is how he found a Lithuania photographer, Adas Vasiliauskas,  who happened to do a project on coronavirus lockdown and turn it into an inspiring idea to have meaningful conversations with my student which just might motivate them to end up expressing themselves in writing. Will definitely use this plan in my advanced class today. Very current topic with an interesting way of using this material in our class.

Amazing images for nonstop online class participation.

Quick not on how I will modify Miquel’s lesson plan. Basically, I will use his suggested activities as they are but since Miguel offered a word document for students as a file,  I adapted it as a google doc for my online classes. I will end up sharing the link to this google doc, get my students to make a copy for themselves and share their link back to me. So while we are in the lesson, when they are writing, I will be able to view their documents at the same time and individually comment on anything that might help. As a quick communication tool, I use Padlet.com for sharing links, docs, and getting feedback from students.

Thanks again, Miquel!

On the same page

Lithuanian photographer Adas Vasiliauskas has been using a drone to capture pictures of people in their homes since the country went under quarantine on 16th March, 2020. Each portrait is an imaginative exercise in creativity by the dwellers, too. “I started this project to give people a chance to brighten their day in this negative corona information environment,” says Adas. “I believe that these funny photos remind everyone that sitting quarantined at home can be fun too. And, of course, to remind everybody that you need to keep your social distance during these times.”

I contacted Adas about the possibility of using some of his photographs for a lesson and he readily agreed to it. His work provides such an inspiring and vibrant context that it will be difficult for students not to come up with unique, memorable personal responses to it — and we all know how important…

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What role does pedagogy have on this current digital stage?

*This article is to be featured in an online magazine.

In the days of COVID19 in which governments around the world have required us to work at home to save our lives and the lives around us, we have seen an unprecedented number of schools and teachers transfer their classrooms online. This has brought about tremendous stress on both students and teachers. On a larger scale in Greece, two main factions have arisen, the one says that online schooling should not be done without proper pedagogical insight and the later have started online teaching already. The question that arises amongst those who have opted for online teaching is do they have the proper training to support such an endeavour?

When we look at online schooling, it is not about knowing how to use digital tools that are needed to conduct such lessons. It is a whole lot more and is mostly about how you as a teacher can keep the teaching style that you have in your physical classroom before the coronavirus outbreak and instil them in your digital classroom. 

How do you support your teaching style in an online environment? 

This is where your knowledge of what can be done online and what not is most valuable. This expertise can be attained by either your personal learning network (PLN) that you already have or through a plethora of online sites giving you such information. Sure, one solution is to gather your students online and do your lessons. Saying that you could also do your lessons online without trying to use any of the available features of these such tools like breakout sessions and the use of the digital whiteboard. Sure it is ok not to find other digital tools to create engaging activities for your students as the core of your lesson plan or even as warmers or fillers, but how engaging and effective will that be for your students? Will your students’ motivational levels be high enough to keep them engaged in your lesson? Will you tap into their higher-order thinking skills by following the coursebook page by page (This applies to both online and off). How will they feel when you are at the centre of the classroom all the time and not them? If that is what you do anyway in your physical classes, then that is what will happen to your digital classes, but if you want to have that same magical effect you have when you are in your physical classes and keep your teaching style the same both online and off, then you have to be a lot more prepared when you get online. 

What methods of delivery do we have for online teaching?

Pedagogy is the science of teaching and is the method or approach we as teachers adopt for the delivery of our instruction. In practice, there are a variety of strategies to deliver instruction, whether online or offline; here a few strategies that teachers look at in the service of digital and blended learning environments. 

For one thing, teachers use flexible grouping strategies in their classrooms and commonly decide on who will sit with whom before class. In general, ‘flexible grouping’ is used to differentiate instruction to cater to all levels of students by grouping them into small groups, pairs or using the whole class instruction model. This strategy gives us the chance to focus on certain issues some students might have in the use of certain skills by differentiating instruction. Thus, keeping this strategy for your online classes is very important too. 

Typically, online you can achieve flexible grouping by using breakout sessions. Most serious online synchronous meeting tools do have this option. One example where you could apply flexible grouping is the think, pair, share routine in which you pose a question to your students, get them to think about it for a few minutes, having them take notes, and pairing them into breakout rooms to discuss and document results for about 7-8 minutes. Upon their return, they will be asked to share their discussion with the rest of the class. Indeed, you can not view all your breakout sessions at the same time. Yet, because this routine is known (or at least easy to teach) and you have planned your staging, your students will not let you down. Not to mention that you could always call on the option of popping in on them or adding an element of competitiveness to your task by getting them to police each other while in pair mode.

Also, taking advantage of collaboration strategies in your classes will work towards maximising your class time and eliminating the ‘one hand at a time’ discussion. This is even more prominent in online lessons where ‘one hand at a time’ becomes even more tiresome which adding to poor quality of internet connection could involve ample time loss. To plan collaborative tasks you might have to take advantage of a digital collaborative tool for a class discussion which could maximise class participation even to 100 per cent. This would even allow students who are not comfortable engaging in physical class discussion the opportunity to be heard.

Thereafter, there are other strategies that one could use to apply to online learning but these also apply to physical classes. There are options like Project-based learning (PBL) or Inquiry-based learning to choose from, but again choosing these methods boils down to the teaching-style you have in physical classes. One choice that is more of an approach than a structured method is the use of Flipped learning strategies for language teaching. This approach relies on the notion of saving valuable class time by taking out the teacher ‘chalk n’ talk’ time from the group learning space putting into the individual learning space or in other words the students own time; taking advantage of the group learning space to make use of more collaborative and communicative tasks. This by nature will get students using the language for extended periods of class time resulting in the reduction of students passively listening to the teacher.

No matter which pedagogy you apply or which strategy you embrace for your online classes, the most important thing you should keep in mind is that you could get away with not adequately planning your lesson in your physical classes and improvising your way through, due to experience. In online classes, there is a big chance that you might not only lose a noticeable amount of time due to technical issues but because of a lack of preparation, this time might multiply and lead to your students becoming disengaged resulting to loss of focus and connection.

Photo by Vincent Ghilione on Unsplash