Freedom for students to choose their own materials Part 3

Continuing with the theme of freedom for students to choose their own materials, here is another insight into one of my students.

I asked an advanced general English teacher that is a web designer and coder what he would like to learn. Much to my delight, like me, he is keen on technology and science fiction. So, in addition to the deep conversations and debates we have had about AI and ethics and the possibility of sustaining life on Mars we have shared YouTube clips, films and series that we both find fascinating.

This student is keen to widen his lexical range and to know if his colleagues are speaking correctly when they converse in English (because he works in a Danish company in Barcelona, so the “lingua franca” is English). To help him broaden his lexicon, I have suggested that once a week when he is reading journals and literature for work, that he focuses on the language, and pays special attention to the lexical items he understands from context, but that he wouldn’t be able to define in English or in Spanish. I steered him towards a free Spanish English dictionary app that stores the words looked up in “recientes” an option at the bottom of the screen. This is a great way to revise lexis which has been consulted in the dictionary and can be used to review and retrieve to ensure lexical items become a part of personal lexicon. The student has started to do this and is so far sticking to it! Bearing in mind that lexical items need to be used no less than twelve times it will take time to see drastic changes however gradually he will be able to build up his working vocabulary.

Another useful tool that we discussed doing was writing notes on his smartphone while talking to his colleagues (it is now considered professional etiquette here in Spain to use your phone while engaging in conversation with somebody) to help him remember what his colleagues have said. The idea is that he will then have more time to reflect after the conversation to ensure what was said was correct. This may seem an odd strategy, but the student is worried that his English is being “dumbed down” by less proficient colleagues. Recording progress on this is understandably more difficult.

Freedom for students to choose their own materials Part 2: Mindfulness

Freedom for students to choose their own materials

Part 2: Mindfulness

I had mentioned mindfulness with a business class before the summer. They have returned to their office after the holidays with several organisational changes that they are not particularly enamoured with, so they asked if they could learn about mindfulness at work. After the class the students said it was all good and well what we had learnt about mindfulness during the lesson, but asked for suggestions about how to continue practising and incorporating what we had learnt in the lesson in their day to day. I therefore suggested two apps which I use which find help me engage in mindfulness.

 

Headspace: Guided Meditation and Mindfulness

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This was perhaps one of the first free websites and apps that came on the market and introduced the general public to the benefits of meditation and mindfulness. It is a good way for students to be exposed to authentic listening material and in addition they are reaping the rewards of a calmer state of mind. In class the students agreed they are going to listen to and engage with the app once a week at home. They are going to discuss which meditation they listened to, if they enjoyed it, and how it made them felt, the following week in class. So by doing this we will be bringing mindfulness into the classroom every week.

 

Mindful quotes

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This app sends daily mindfulness quotes for inspiration. It is a good way for learners to read something authentic in English every day, despite being short. The students have agreed that if there are any quotes which they especially like, or if there is any language they are unfamiliar with or want to discuss, we will also dedicate class time to that once a week.

Freedom for students to choose their own materials Part 1

Freedom for students to choose their own materials

Part 1: New year, fresh start

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With the new academic year in sight I decided it was time to finally dust the bookshelves, recycle any unwanted papers I had held onto “just in case”, and make space for new books and journals. The autumn clean also involved rearranging and tidying the bookshelves, which lead to the idea for this post and others to come in the near future. Amongst all the books and papers was a pile of dog-eared notebooks that I have accumulated from conferences, talks, and workshops.

So, with no further ado, I have decided to spend some time going through the notes and scribbles that I made with gust and vigour at the time, but that have stayed safely squirrelled away and not seen the light of day since they were originally written down!

So I’ve decided to embark on a long journey of teacher development as I try, test and experiment with the ideas that others in the field have kindly taken the time to share.

In the first notebook I randomly opened I found “Freedom for students to choose their own materials & why chosen”. Obviously giving learners the freedom to choose their learning material is not appropriate for every context but it is certainly an idea that I feel will give them more learner autonomy and make them more mindful and aware of what they are learning and why. I intend to try this with my classes during the next few days, and share their ideas and findings here!

 

Listen ear! Ted Talk listening & speaking activity and Presentation & Cambridge Exams practice

Recently I’ve been prompting learners to use the dictaphone function of their smartphones to help them develop their listening and pronunciation. Here are a range of activities that I have found to be particularly effective.

Listen ear! Ted Talk listening & speaking activity

  • Choose any Ted talk from the category 1-6 minutes and watch twice. Take notes of the key points while you are watching.
  • Present the main ideas of your talk to your partner, they must take notes.
  • Your partner will now give a 60 second presentation of the key points from your presentation and record this using their phones.
  • You do the same with their talk.
  • You both listen to the voice recordings/video, and the original Ted Talks.

This activity can help learners develop listening skills in any context. I have used it in Cambridge exam preparation classes and EAP classes.

Presentation & Cambridge Exams (speaking paper) practice

  • Using the dictaphone of their smartphones learners can record part or all of their presentations or part 2 and/or 3 of the Cambridge Exams speaking paper.
  • During playback learners make a list of 2-3 features they liked and disliked about their recording. This could include: pronunciation; intonation; stress; pausing; signposting; voice projection; articulation, hesitation.
  • Students re-record themselves working on the features they identified they wanted to improve. Playback can be individual or in pairs for peer feedback.
  • If a class IM group has been set up, students can send the recording to the teacher for on the spot feedback and pronunciation support.

Pronunciation is one of the aspects of speaking students from both my EAP and Cambridge Exam classes. My students have found this quick turn around and instant feedback strategy extremely beneficial. Here is some feedback:

  • We learn to express our ideas clearly
  • Each recording is easier
  • The recordings make me feel more confident to speak in front of others
  • I realise giving presentations is difficult
  • How to control your time and speed of speaking to a time limit

 

Bax on “normalisation” at UCLAN

“As we seek to learn in this brave new digital world…how can we blend technology with human intervention in the most productive way?”

At a recent conference at the University of Central Lancaster (UCLAN), Professor Steven Bax opened his talk with this question. He went on to discuss the “normalisation” of technology once we as humans go beyond the ‘wow’ factor (Murray & Barnes 1988).

Bax argues that normalisation is achieved once technology becomes invisible and integrated into our teaching and learning practices without it being noticed. Obviously we as educators, and our learners are aware that technology is being used, but normalisation suggests that it is imbedded in such a way that it becomes unnoticed and a part of part of normalised practice, thereby supporting learning invisibly without a conscious thought.

In this way, it can be argued that more teaching and learning is achieved because the real pedagogical value of activities is considered, and the learning becomes the priority, rather than the servant, in a paradigm where technology is considered the master. Therefore, learning is maximised and the technology provides an optimum contribution to achieve this.

As individuals, Bax notes seven stages of normalisation and characteristics of users of technology:

  1. Early adopters
  2. Ignorance/scepticism
  3. Try once (find no real advantage)
  4. Try again
  5. Fear/awe/excessive dependence
  6. Normalising
  7. Normalisation

Normalisation of technology seems to be more prominent in society today due to the rise of electronic devices. However, as I reach for my glasses to step away from my screen to go make a coffee, I depend on another technology that has long become normalised in my life. I’m sure when they were first invented, glasses also had a wow factor too!

Enhancing Emotional Facial Expressiveness on NAO: Pluggable Eyebrows

Apparently we say a lot with our eyes. I have woken this morning to see a short video which you can watch here of Nao, one of my favourite robots, who now has the option of unpluggable eybrows. It is believed that enhancing facial expressiveness can enhance emotional expression so Nao is now able to express anger, sadness and delight more effectively. Nao was the first humanoid robot created by Softbank Robotics in 2006 and has been continuously evolving since its release onto the market. It stands at only 58cm tall and was designed as an interactive companion robot. While the new unpluggable eyebrow option may not appear a revelation to many, it is yet another step towards giving humanoid robots a more human-like guise by providing them with the option of expressing emotion.

 

 

The first robot

I recently found out that the first robot was not in fact invented by the Japanese as I presumed, but by Leonardo da Vinci in 1515! Here is clip of a modern day replica of the robot. I find it fascinating to think that robotics dates back this far in fact da Vinci sketched plans for a humanoid robot as early as 1495.

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Da Vinci’s mechanical lion was presented as the star gift in a pageant in honour of the new king of France in 1515. He also designed a mechanical knight, able to bend its legs, move its arms and hands, turn its head and open its mouth. It also had ‘talking’ capabilities created by using an internal automatic drum roll and is often claimed to be the first ‘programmable’ computer.

Reflections of giving a plenary at Innovate ELT

As a teacher I don’t give standing in front of a class a second thought, it’s what I do. The students “want” to learn English or study skills so I do what I can to help them. Giving a talk at a conference is slightly different, while the people that attend your talk want to listen to what you have to say, they have based their decision on a very short description of what you will say which is often only 60 words long. The attendees are a mixture of professionals in the filed; teachers, materials writers, ELT consultants, editors, academic directors and the list goes on. You deliver your talk, hope your message has reached some of the people in the room and they will take something away, you check the conference programme for the next talk you’d like to attend, and off you go!

On Friday 6th May I was given the opportunity to give my first plenary at the Innovate ELT conference in Barcelona. Needless to say, the difference between talking to a smaller group of people that have chosen to listen to your talk, and the entire crowd of conference attendees is quite different.

The chance to put my neck on the line in front of the entire conference was made possible due to its format which allowed speakers the opportunity to apply to give a plenary, quite unusual for a conference but a prospect I jumped at, so I applied, and I got accepted.

Despite being very nervous prior to standing on the edge of a 2-metre wall in front of a sea of people, I chose to put myself in this position because I believe it’s good to put ourselves out of our comfort zone every now and again, and challenge ourselves. I attended some great talks at Innovate ELT that gave me plenty of new ideas to consider, but along with making new friends and catching up with others, giving a plenary was probably the highlight for me on a personal level because it was exciting and pushed me to do something I had never done before. My only regret is not having a recording so I can look back, reflect and learn from my experience. Next time!

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IATEFL 2016 Birmingham – Instant messaging with learners – Talk summary

Here is a summary of the talk I gave at IATEFL 2016 in Birmingham; Instant messaging with learners: chilled out chatroom or creepy treehouse?

The talk was based on research I carried out while teaching a 10-week pre-sessional course to a group of 16 of multilingual post-graduate students. I set out 4 learning objectives that I wanted to achieve during the course, but I needed to find a strategy to meet them.

The 4 learning objectives were:

  1. Boost student motivation for academic writing.
  2. Increase student collaboration.
  3. Establish a sense of community in the classroom.
  4. Improve academic writing skills.

I chose to harness the affordances of student smartphones as a learning tool and using a cross-platform mobile instant messaging app, I set up a class group on WeChat. I specifically chose this app, because students could sign up using their Facebook accounts and therefore there was no exchange of telephone numbers or infringement on privacy.

I wanted to make a correlation between the constant Tweeting, social media updates and instant messages my students were writing all day long, and academic writing, while also trying to bring a motivational and fun element to the learning.

The students were guided through a range of activities both inside and outside the classroom and were required to share their ideas and collaborate with peers as they interacted using WeChat.

Synonym race

Using a selection of high frequency words in academic English, I sent words one by one to the group. Each time I sent a word, the first group of students to reply with a synonym got a point. This motivated students to think quickly, and added a fun element to the activity. It also helped widen their lexical range and they were able to refer back to the messages during the course to find and use lexis they needed.

Lecture summary

This was a collaborative writing task where students shared their notes from the weekly lecture and wrote a summary together in no more than 100 words. The four groups wrote their summaries on WeChat and sent them to the group. Each group read the summaries of the other groups and made a note of any inaccuracies, points they wanted to question, and things they liked. Each group read their summary aloud open class and as they did this any student could shout stop at something they wanted to question, and it was discussed openly. Because the writing had been carried out collaboratively, no student felt pinpointed or undermined.

TED talk summary of main ideas

For homework I gave the students a TED talk to watch in their own time over the weekend. I asked them to post a summary of the main points of interest for them personally supporting them with evidence and reasons why (one of the tenets of academic writing). They sent their summaries to the WeChat group and I moderated them. This was not time consuming for me, and gave the students a sense of ownership over their learning because they were free to do it at any time during the weekend that was convenient for them. This worked well, so I continued to do this throughout the course to help the students develop their listening, summarising and having to explain why.

Feedback

I asked the students to carry out an anonymous questionnaire, to gain an insight into the usefulness of the class instant messaging group from the learners’ perspective.

Here is a summary of the most common responses the students gave:

  • The activities were fun and interesting and transformed a task we dreaded into something we enjoyed.
  • I communicate more with my classmates and learnt from them.
  • I compared my work with our classmates and adopted a competitive approach to impress them (This was reflected in the quality of the writing the students produced).
  • I feel the gap between the teacher and me has narrowed, because she is a part of the chat group.
  • I feel more confident to write now, so I am more motivated also.

 The benefits of having a class chat are:

  1. It is student-centred, interactive and communicative.
  2. It creates dialogue amongst students and nurtures a social atmosphere
  3. It increases motivation and shifts the motivation from extrinsic to intrinsic.
  4. It encourages sharing and extends learning.
  5. It creates a personalised learning platform that students can refer to both inside and outside the classroom.

If you decide to try out any of the activities mentioned, please let me know how it went!

 

 

 

IATEFL Birmingham 2016 – Instant messaging with learners: chilled out chatroom or creepy treehouse?

The post conference buzz is still racing around in my head after seeing so many talks, new ideas, old ideas, different takes on current ideas, and trying frantically to catch fleeting moments to talk with friends and make new ones in between a very packed IATEFL programme in Birmingham.

All in all a great conference, and for those of you who didn’t manage to see my talk; “Instant messaging with learners: chilled out chatroom or creepy treehouse?”, the British Council have kindly sent me a recording which you can watch here.

I look forward to the next IATEFL as I’m sure we all do!

“Many educators have embraced the use of mobile technologies and instant messaging with learners. But inviting learners to connect with their teacher on social media can provoke horror; what some have called the creepy treehouse syndrome. In this talk, I present contexts where I used IM and the outcome. Cautious of creating a creepy treehouse syndrome, I trod extremely carefully.”