Category Archives: ELT

Reflections on a Course: Post 9 (Week 10) – Winding up?

Well, it looks like we are at the end of the road, aren’t we? After ten weeks of sharing and reflecting, it seems it’s time to pack up and collect everything we have picked up on the way!

I’m not ready for that! Webskills course has helped me gain speed and run in a very specific direction: Innovation for excellence, not for fireworks… that could be a good motto, wouldn’t it? And I want to make the best of that. It’s not the applications I have seen, or those that I have shown, it’s the visions I have shared with my colleagues that have made me richer. It’s those weekly discussions, and the reading of those posts from my friends that have made me think about what we teachers do. And that has helped me see there are quite a few things to be done in order to improve and reach that “excellence”. My final project will try to put another grain of sand there, and I hope it won’t be washed away before other grains join it and make a vast beach.

It’s not a good-bye… as I work everyday in Barcelona, Luisa’s, Natasa’s, Yuliya’s, Robert’s and everyone’s thoughts will be present in my professional performance. Thank you all!

Ricard Garcia
http://about.me/ricardgarcia

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Reflections on a Course: Post 8 (Week 9) – On different ways of learning

We have always been honest teachers, or at least so we say. We have struggled to learn about new techniques to improve our teaching skills, new methods to achieve our goals, new tools to make our lessons more engaging… but we always forgot something, something that has always been there and we did not have eyes to see.

We all knew there were students who had less talent for languages, or those who were really “gifted”. We tried to keep the balance by asking those more skilled to help the others in their learning process (or was it help “us”?), and that made us feel good. We gave more assistance to those who needed it, some more extra worksheets, some more explanations at the end of the class… but something was not right… what was it? Why ordinary children did not succeed at all in their learning English… or were we so bad that we cold not succeed in our job?

It seems that things are getting clear… we must definitely assume that not every child learns in the same way… their intelligences differ. Of course, some will be more talented that others, but that does not account for complete failure. The important breakthrough that meant discovering and assuming different ways of learning has also meant that teachers must change the way to treat “diversity”. This so called “diversity” should be now based on seeing and understanding how our students learn, have a clear picture of their learning profiles, and adapt our teaching as much as possible… and that sounds extremely difficult… insurmountable?

Not really, indeed. If we stick to old methodologies, to children in rows listening to a master class where teachers teach how to build passive forms and then ask students to fill in the gaps and transform sentences, then it will be really insurmountable. But if we look around and see the scores of possibilities we have to cover the different needs of our students, there’s light at the end of the tunnel!

PBL and technologies create a blend of tools, resources and techniques that can turn our lessons into pools of knowledge research, acquisition, analysis and transfer. It’s about time we turn to Bloom’s taxonomy and get a clear picture of the kind of tasks and projects our students are doing. This way it will be easier to detect what we can offer to every single learner. Distributing different tasks, using different tools and resources and assigning different roles will possibly create a scenario where many more students will find a proper learning path, probably a path full of challenging goals and attainable objectives… suitable for everyone.

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Reflections on a Course: Post 7 (Week 8): Working online

As we get close to our final weeks in this course, as we are having our projects ready, one issue has risen this week: Online activities for the ELT classroom. This raises some questions to be answered.

Does online learning provide with the necessary coverage of all aspects of the students’ learning process?

If we analyse what kind of learning is being offered to students, we will see that there are two main types of methodologies. Both could be analysed as self-access resources or as “guided” resources as both contain activities that can be carried out in class with the teacher or at home .

The first type contains those resources that consist on drills related to skills (reading, listening, writing), to grammar and vocabulary. Sites that offer interactive activities to reinforce a certain aspect of the language. These sites can be used as support resources in the classroom, or they can be referenced as self-access tools for students. It would be foolish to mention any of them… there are hundreds of websites offering this, and many have an excellent quality both in aspect and in content. These sites contain activities that could also be linked to a second type of online services for learners: Virtual Learning Environments (VLE’s)

This second type called VLE is based on the idea of transferring the course-based concept of teaching from a physical classroom to the net. VLE’s contain materials connected together in order to shape up a whole course for students. All materials contained in a course hosted within a VLE usually comply with the requirements for a standard course. It is directly related to the type of resources described as first type as these can be embedded within a VLE as part of the course. VLE’s are usually teacher guided, of course, but quite often those tasks and activities can be followed by students in a self access approach. That implies the loss of assessment that teachers provide in the guided VLE, which can contain grading and feedback. Many of the resources we link to VLE courses contain self evaluation, so students can also check their own progress on a personal basis.

Do we have to rely solely on a VLE-based course?

A good course in a VLE can provide with different types of activities, practises and drills that can shape up a really engaging course. Nevertheless, if we know the course will be our basic structure to be used both at home and in the classroom. We could, or rather should, include classroom activities that do not depend on the use of computers. Communicative drills as well as some writing and aural skills that we have traditionally used in our classroom should be preserved and fostered within a VLE used in a classroom. Some of them have their counterpart online, but students need changes of rhythm and that is easily provided when the format of the activity varies.

Online? Offline? VLE? Interactive exercises? A perfect blend will probably create the right combination for a perfect educational cocktail!

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Reflections on a Course: Post 6 (Week 7): On Learners’ Autonomy

When we reflect on our job, we always do it putting all the weight on the teachers’ side: What we must do to motivate students, how we must organise our lessons in order to get the best of them, how to teach certain skills, how to use ICT… but we usually neglect the learners’ side.

We must be really aware of our own process as teachers, of course: We must prepare ourselves to become better teachers in order to help our students, and we must learn new approaches and tools that will make our performance more efficient.

But we must also look carefully at the students’ side. Students have their learning process, which goes forth as it gathers knowledge and method on the way. Learners improve their learning skills as they grow. We teachers help them look at their weaknesses and strengths, at their needs. We help them analyse their goals as learners: What they want or need to achieve, and what they need to reach those goals…

Do we really guide them in their own learning process? As mentioned above, we do help them as we go hand in hand, and we show them the tools they need… but most of the times, we solve their problems, we make them practise… but what is also extremely relevant is to teach them how to walk the path of their learning process on their own. They need a sherpa to climb that hill, but when they are on their own, they also need a pair of good
hiking boots.

We must teach them to see those weaknesses by themselves, and to find solutions by themselves… what is that? They should be able to find their own way in order to improve their skills… writing, reading, listening, speaking… and how? Students must learn how to access resources where drills and activities can be used in their learning. They must find those resources which also help them see whether they are achieving the stated goals of the practice successfully or not… accessible rubrics for different tools, activities and students’ autonomous production would definitely prove really helpful when it comes to seeing how you are progressing on your own.

Tough job, challenging goal, but really rewarding… teaching students to lead their own learning path… alone again, naturally.

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Reflections on a Course: Post 5 (Week 6)-On Engagement and Innovation

This week’s post has a slightly different approach: I wanted to talk about engagement, as it derives from the tasks we’ve being taking up this week, but due to the news that are constantly pouring out about the world situation and the scope things are taking, I am morally forced to give this post a layer of criticism embedded into a wrapping of sadness.

I was planning to talk about the importance of engagement in the dynamics of a class. New resources, new approaches and new methodologies are extremely relevant for a better teaching performance. But the real element that drives our students’ commitment and engagement is seeing the person in front of them truly believing in what he or she is doing. As I have mentioned in a comment in one of my posts, one of my best remembered teachers was an old literature teacher who would have us stuck into our chairs as he talked about the Spanish authors and their works. Just word and chalk!

If we really believe in what we do, in those projects we want to enrol our students, in those interchanges with schools across the world, in those plays and those sketches… our students will perceive our enthusiasm and they will get quickly engaged.

Moreover, we are the lucky ones to have this huge array of elements that help us “decorate” that passion we feel for our job (thanks, Luisa!). They will bridge the gap between us and those students eagerly looking for engagement in interesting things to fill their life most of the time so full of stimuli but so void of commitment.

In the end, I talked about what I was planning to talk, but I can’t escape a very worrying fact that is teasing me these days.

This week I got to watch the video you can watch below:

YouTube Preview Image

As I was watching it, I realised that all this innovation might come to nothing very easily if things don’t change dramatically. We have spent the last years talking about innovation and the incorporation of cutting edge technology in education. Nowadays, budgets are being dramatically reduced, and families are quickly losing their purchasing power. Who will be able to support them if we want to introduce the use of elements such as mobile devices or powerful hardware in education. Will the state subsidise… the states are broke! Will families be able to take in extra expenses for hardware… I’m pretty sure most will not. I’m afraid that innovation might turn into a grand experience for a dwindling minority, and that makes me sad.

But I still feel passionate for what I do!!

Reflections on a Course: Post 4 (Week 5)

We are moving forward and our goal seems to clarify. It’s hard to cope with online courses, regular work and a busy family… but the course is proving extremely useful in terms of fruitful reflection about ELT and the future of teaching.

This week we have worked on assessment. For many years the question about the true sense of assessing/evaluating students has been a controversial issue. Many professionals declared it was necessary to mark our students’ progress in order to help them see how far they had got in their learning progress… we all agreed that it was necessary for students to know if they had reached that established “passing line”. The problem arises when we consider what is the best way to use that indicator, and how it is presented to the student. A simple bulletin with letters A to D or a 1-10 scale for every subject? That only shows ho far the student scored… but does that help him in his/her learning process?
The answer is “Not much”. A simple mark is useless in the long run. What a student needs is a clarifying proof of his/her progress: Weaknesses and strengths, what students need in order to acquire knowledge/information/contents/skills/abilities… what they have done that has helped in their positive progress.

Rubrics stem out the concept of alternative assessment. Each rubric created fits the profile of the specific activity, drill, project or issue it describes.
“Descriptors” help students see the level of attainment/achievement of the specific performance, production or aspect described. It is therefore much easier than in traditional assessment to see the weakness or strength in that aspect. That highly depends on the accuracy of those “descriptors”. Teachers must be very specific when creating these explanatory items that show what the learner must attain and the possible degrees of achievement.

Even though many rubrics can be found in the Net for every aspect we can think of (for listening activities, for grammar,for projects…) It is much better if we create our own rubric for the specific project or activity we have planned. It will depict our students’ profile and their needs more accurately and it will therefore fit their possible outcomes and progress more proficiently. Rubrics can be created online at no cost in sites such as Rubistar.

Photo: Gabriel Pollard

Reflections on a Course: Post 3 (Week 4)

This long week has been really fruitful. Our colleagues and I have been dealing with potential issues that might raise difficulties in our lessons.

One the most recurring issues is the difficulties learners have when they must speak in public, or, in other words, when they must speak in English.

Spoken English is the big issue, we could say. Historically, most teaching approaches were based on the written language, bot reading skills and grammar acquisition were paramount if learners were supposed to “succeed” in a language course. Of course, that did not account for succeeding with the use of the language they learnt when they had to use it in real-life situations. There are many adults who have undergone years of English lessons and who are not able to ask for help in English if they get lost in the middle of Seattle. This approach given in ELT classrooms has proved to be a reason why this happens.

With time, new generations of teachers have come to the classrooms, and many of them have given a different approach to lessons: learning through songs, TPR, role-play activities… Listening skills have been enhanced widely without neglecting reading and writing skills. But speaking is still down there… why?

Most of the times we try to encourage our students to speak by asking questions in class, or asking them to work in pairs and role-play. If they are not confident, progress will be scarce.

We might want to step further into more compelling drills that place students in a situation where they must use spoken English: Sketches to be played in front of the class, with dialogues created either by teacher or students; short talks given by students on topics assigned by the teacher; short sketches recorded with a videocamera, either depicting a story or simulating a news broadcast, giving a weather forecast or even explaining a cooking recipe!

Accuracy is important, style is also desirable, but the ability to communicate meaningfully is the real target!!

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Reflections on a Course: Post 2 (Week 3)

It’s been a busy week in the course. We’ve talked about social bookmarking, listening skills and CALL. Thats’s a lot of food for thought!

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Nowadays, knowledge in the Internet is being spread and disseminated via different channels (blogs, professional websites, forums…), but probably the most effective way to share this knowledge is through social bookmarking, which has become a paramount element in this big world of Internet. Users can build their own framework of sources of information out of different types of platform. Pure social bookmarking platforms like delicio.us or diigo let you create lists of favourite sites and store these lists in a referring library. The big issue is called tagging. Bookmark libraries can become massive lists really hard to manage. Tagging resources with relevant terms related help us search for the sites we need according to our needs (Secondary education, listening, ICT, interactives, edugames…). We only need to type the tags and the site will display those links that contain the tags we requested.

Other ways to share knowledge are sites such as Symbaloo (site where favourites are organised in visual libraries -webmixes- containing links of the same field or topic; Scoop.it is a service where users can build a page with brief posts where they mention a website or a resource, with an image, the link and a description. In most cases Scoop.it provides with a possible descriptive text that can  be edited. Tagging is also paramount when we want to find our “scoops” within the page.

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This week we have also analysed the approach given to listening and speaking skills through CALL. The issue has moved between the use of speech analysis software, more focused on prosody, phonetics a more scientific approach of the learners pronunciation, and the use of websites whose main goal is to help students improve their listening skills through the comprehension of real English and “lab” recordings. Many websites offer scores of recordings covering different subjects and levels. Improving our listening skills through songs is also extremely relevant, and our old ways with the cassette or CD player have been replaced by websites where we can read the transcript as we watch/listen to the song and even do fill-in-the-gap exercises (Lyrics trainingBatlyrics).

We could conclude that all these different approaches make up for the feeling that ICT in language learning is here to stay!

Reflections on a Course: Post 1 (Week 2)

When teachers start to think on their next school year, there are a couple of things that quickly come to their minds: What to do and how to do it.

There are many ways to find how. Nowadays, we can find resources and ideas in a massive list of sources: Doing searches in search engines (google and many other), following tweets related to ELT, or ELT blogs. We can also follow curated sites ELT-related (Through Scoop.it, for example, or delicio.us referitories.

Workshops give us ideas on methodology and innovative approaches… experienced teacher trainers and colleagues provide with lots of fresh ideas on how to achieve our goals and how to do it in a motivating way…

But all these ideas, suggestions, tools and experiences would probably be worthless if we did not know why, where, and when to use them. That cannot be achieved if we don’t know what we want to achieve, what we want our students to learn.

Those so called didactic goals have dramatically evolved along the years. Time ago we had many professionals whose main goal was to ensure that students can take in as much grammar as possible… I suffered that in my childhood French lessons. later on, we moved into reading… we wanted our students to be able to read English texts… big deal! When it came to speaking, many of those students were not able to ask how to get to the nearest tube station in London.

Fortunately, things evolved and teachers began to realise that the only way to say that students succeed in learning a language is when they are able to use it in a communicative way. Most (I repeat… “most”, not “all”) teachers try to elicit our students speaking and listening abilities… and that has become a key element in the goals of today’s ELT.

In order to establish clear outlines about the previously mentioned “WHAT”, once we assume this communicative approach is paramount, we must be able to establish those goals, those objectives that will allow us to set the pace for a proficient achievement in our students’ learning process.

The ABCD model has turned out to be a good example of how to set those objectives as we prepare our schedule for our groups. The guidelines and information we find in Penn State Learning Design Community Hub page give us a clear overview of this approach on the Audience, Behaviour, Condition and Degree elements that make up for the ABCD Objective definition methodology.

We must also consider the adoption of the “Competential” approach used by many other colleagues. It is really valid when it comes to establishing communicative goals, as it sets the objectives that define the skills and abilities a student must achieve when he/she becomes competent in the use of a foreign language. The competential approach could be very well related to the establishment of degrees of linguistic skills by language users as seen in CEFR in Europe or ILR in the U.S.

What, how… interrogative elements for a single answer… our students’ success.

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