January 27, 2012

Gamifying class management

I love webinars – learning and meeting colleagues from the comfort of my study, at odd hours sometimes, but with everyone in a good mood, is one of my favourite forms of professional development.

I attended one earlier this evening. Kyle Mawer, one of the authors of “Digital Play“, the book I'd recommend to every EFL teacher, talked about digital games in the classroom. I have already bookmarked some sites to check over the weekend and find those that work for my students.

During the speech K. Mawer once mentioned Class Dojo describing it as “gamifying class management“. That can't be wrong, I thought.

I registered as a teacher on Class Dojo and started a class. The teacher adds students and their names come with avatar icons, there is no need for real pictures. The second step is deciding on what to reward in the students' behavior. Participation, creativity, helping others are some icons for positive behaviour, and you can add more. Negative behaviour is being late, interrupting, disrespect, no homework, or whatever else the teacher adds.
If you display the in-class view, you can see all class in one screen. You should display the page on a whiteboard, projector or laptop and give or take points to students during the lesson. The teacher's smartphone, tablet or iPod touch can be used as remote control to award points from anywhere.
The page also shows report cards and all behaviour reports can be emailed to parents or printed.

Cool, isn't it?

January 26, 2012

Playing in the virtual sandbox

When we create a blog or a wiki for students, our aim is to help them learn outside the classroom and become more independent in learning: we add useful links to practice grammar, consult a dictionary, improve skills. Students do the assignments and then they look for some online fun.

I think it is a good idea to offer some fun activities that in students' eyes don't look like lessons, but being in English and appropriate for their age and level, help them improve their English without noticing it.

These are some fun activities I offered on a class wiki:

Free Rice – you play a vocabulary game and for every answer you get right, ten grains of rice are donated to help end hunger. It is easy to add their banner to spread the word about the programme and allow the students an easy access.

Draw a Stickman! – you draw a character who interacts with you to help you tell his story.

Build Your Wild Self – Animal lovers can add some animal parts to their human portrait and learn about the animals in the process.
I mentioned the fun page to the students. Now I listen carefully to their comments and add a new activity from time to time.

January 22, 2012

Sharing with other teachers

Teachers who care find various ways to share. One of them is Blogathon, others are social networks, conferences, real life and online events. I have recently found out about TeachMeet sessions.

There are no real-life TeachMeet events in Croatia or in the region, so I didn't know much about that way of professional development until December, when a group of teachers started online editions of TeachMeet Int'l, in English, and TeachMeet Regional, in Croatian.

TeachMeet is an informal professional development event during which teachers tell other teachers about their projects, ideas that worked or web 2.0 tools they use in their teaching. They do it in the form of three-minute presentations. Moderators invite presenters one by one. Presenters turn on their web camera and microphone, control the previously uploaded slides and present in voice. The teachers who haven't signed up to present just join to listen, like you join any other webinar, following the link.

I listened to the first international edition held on December 17 and was fascinated. There were 22 speakers from 15 countries. All presentations were very interesting. You can read about it on http://teachmeetinternational.wikispaces.com/

The second edition is scheduled for March 3. I have signed up to present this time and I'm looking forward to it. “There is no delight in owning anything unshared“, I read in a message advertising a TeachMeet event in the UK and I can't agree more with the anonymous author.

January 21, 2012

The Technology Integration Matrix

I have been browsing The Technology Integration Matrix http://fcit.usf.edu/matrix/matrix.php).

I came across the matrix during “Digital Tools in the Classroom“ TESOL EVO professional development course, where my task was to reflect upon where I am and where I would like to be according to my educational context.

The matrix, originally created to help support the integration of technology in schools in Florida, associates the characteristics of meaningful learning environments with the levels of technology integration.

I think my use of digital tools in the classroom is on Adoption and Adaptation levels, although I would like to find myself more in Infusion and Adaptation cells in the future. My students are actively engaged and collaborate, but I'd like to help them with more constructive learning, doing authentic tasks and integrating school assignments into their lives outside school.

I believe the times we live in and teaching “digital natives“ are good reasons for teaching with the help of technology, but reflecting, discussing and learning with and from peers, help us make the most of it.

So, where do you see yourself in the matrix?

January 19, 2012

Creative Writing Tools - Scholastic Story Starter

I've explored Scholastic Story Starter

This tool seems like an interesting tool to try with my 11-14 year-old girls and boys learning English as a foreign language, to practice writing in a creative and fun way.

The task comes in four levels: K-1st, 2nd, 3rd or 4-6th. You choose a level and start the adventure: you find yourself in front of a strange looking machine with four wheels you can spin with a click of one of four buttons or you can decide to click a big button which causes all parts of the machine to spin at the same time It looks quite amusing and game-like.

Every time you click you choose one part of your writing task:

  • Form ( Write a postcard/ letter/ invitation/ to-do list,… Describe.., Write a funny/horror/.. story …)

  • An adjective describing the main character (brainy, nerdy, young, old, stubborn, …)

  • The main character of your story (movie star, rock star, dentist, weasel, gorilla, …)

  • A part of the plot – a dependent clause (…. who writes murals, … who ages 20 years in one day, …)

I had a lot of fun spinning the wheel over and over and these are some tasks I got for level 4.6:

  • Write a to-do list for a know-it-all president who explores a newly discovered planet

  • Write a horror story about a greedy president who discovers she has superpowers

  • Write a postcard from an unpopular vampire bat who ignores orchestras
    Write a brief biography of an old rock star who hitchhikes cross-country

What I liked about the tool:

  1. a lot of creative ideas for writing

  2. visually attractive for students

  3. activity can be done in the computer lab but also printed or with one computer and a projector

  4. activity can be done in different ways, the tool gives only the idea and the template for writing and allows the teacher a lot of space for turning it into a lesson

  5. if written on the given templates, stories can be printed and look very nice because students can use drawing tools, too

  6. the tool is free.

Possible problem I've noticed:
- stories can't be linked to or embedded, only printed.

January 17, 2012

Let Me Introduce Myself - Ms Blogathon Newbie

My first post in British Council's Blogathon 2012:

The first thing to do in a new company is to introduce oneself. That's what we do in the classroom, introductions are the topic we use at the beginning of every new course with new students. We are also asked to introduce ourselves during various professional development courses we attend or groups of teachers we join.

I have decided to share with you two of my introductions in TESOL professional development courses, which, in my opinion, could be successfully used with students. Both involve the use of learning technologies, images and a bit of writing and I enjoyed not only creating them, but also reading other people's introductions, too. Also, I got a lot of comments, which gives me the idea that the introductions like these can be used as a starting point for other activities in the classroom, too.

BigHugeLabs and My origins : http://flic.kr/p/7xLNTg

I am a big fan of photography and I use Flickr (http://www.flickr.com/) a lot. Playing with your own photographs is great fun, too. To make My Origins photo I used Mosaic Maker option (http://bighugelabs.com/mosaic.php ). To complete my introduction and illustrate the photo, in “Images4Education“ group last year, I added a little poem :

I'm from the blue sky
and the blue sea:
the line between them is me.
I'm from the white stone
of the mountains and streets.
I wear a perfume of
the lemon blossom and roses
from my mum's garden.
When I add to it
some basil, or thyme or rosemary,
I just smile
and call my mother.

My 3,2,1 Animoto Introduction: http://animoto.com/play/UOvL8HSAOmxfl6RDVTtlXg

This year I am participating in TESOL EVO again and I created a 3,2,1 Introduction for “Digital Storytelling4Kids“ group. It is an Animoto video. Animoto (http://animoto.com/ ) is a free tool which combines photos, text and music. The tool is free for creating 30-second videos, but there is an Edu option, which gives educators full-length video creation for free. I've already tried it with my students and they loved it, too.

I hope you have learnt more about me through this post and perhaps got an idea how to use one of the tools I suggested to create an introduction or to ask your students to introduce themselves in a different way.

January 9, 2012

Taking part in the TeachingEnglish Blogathon 2012

I've just registered for my first blogathon, the blogging marathon that will take place on the TeachingEnglish site.

I got the information about it from British Council Croatia and read about how to take part on their site. I got interested for two reasons:

  1. the winner gets an all expenses paid trip to Glasgow to attend the IATEFL teachers' conference in March

  2. even if I don't win, it helps a lot with my New Year's resolution to blog more regularly.

My task is to write posts from 16 January until 12 February, about the topics like

  • dealing with disruptive students,

  • keeping teacher talking time down, so students speak more than we do,

  • networking with colleagues nationally or internationally,

  • some other topics related to teaching. Of course, my posts should be interesting to other teachers.

I've read carefully the tips for writing, which advise:

  • original content,

  • friendly and informal style,

  • posts which are quite short, not longer than 250 words,

  • tagging posts so other participants could find them, read and comment ,

  • attractive titles,

  • referencing any external sources,

  • bullets and paragraphs to make posts readable,

  • checking out blogs of other participants to comment on their posts.

I quite like the idea of writing for a period of time with a group colleagues as readers in mind, who will check out my blog from time to time (at least I hope so!).

I guess I'm ready for this blogging adventure.

January 4, 2012

Talking widgets

A tweet by a teacher and teacher trainer from Greece I respect very much, Marisa Constantinides, made me want to check the web page she mentioned as a good place to use to practice listening, http://www.acapela-group.com/index.html. I clicked on “Demos and More“ to see what kind of help in teaching listening they offer.

There is a number of possibilities for the use of this site. There is no price list but I didn't get the impression the services are expensive. If I created a lot of material, I'm sure I would send them an email explaining my needs, because what they offer sounds very interesting: help for visually impaired users, easy vocalization of newspapers and other materials, talking stories, “word wizard“, games... I'm sure even teachers who create a lot of materials for listening practice can use this service well, but I'm not one of them: I use a lot of listening exercises that come with the course books and also a lot of free listening materials from the Internet, so I haven't paid for creating my listening materials so far.

What I found useful was a talking widget. When I needed voice for my online communication with students, I have so far used only Voki and liked it a lot. While checking this site, I noticed a possibility of creating a talking widget and I decided to try it.

Creating a talking widget is very easy: there is a space for your text and I typed the text I wanted my students to hear. Then I chose the language and voice with one click of my mouse – English, Lucy, UK. All I had to do next was to choose the colours and the size for my widget and get the embed code.

My talking widget

talking widget by Acapela Group

I quite liked the widget: it took me only a few minutes to embed it, the sound is good, it looks nice on the page, and it is a lot more attractive way to post a message to students than a written note.

When I compare it to Voki, it is much simpler because there is no creation of the avatar, which can be good and bad, depending on how much time you have and how attractive you need your widget to be. Voki also gives you the opportunity to record your own voice, which is a nice feature and makes the widget more personal, not to speak about endless possibilities of its use as a speaking exercise, when students record their messages.

My Voki

An example of a Voki a student created

To sum up, I liked the simplicity and quality of this talking widget, but I immediately remembered the amount of language, computer skills and fun involved in the creation of Voki. I missed it here. In the part where these two can be used to achieve the same goal, they remain very different and both with a lot of possibilities for creative use in language learning.