Thursday, 13 March 2014

Week 10 - Final week!!

I can't believe it's already done! These ten weeks went by really fast! I'm happy we finished, but at the same time I feel something is going to be missing for the following weeks. I guess all of us got a habit of reading and then posting every week. It felt a bit heavy at times, but it was just because the course was carried out at the same time as other activities, but it was really rewarding, interesting and encouraging!

Sometimes this is true...
I really enjoyed exploring the technology options we have to enhance and improve our teaching practice. As I have mentioned before, I had heard of some of these tools, but to be honest, I had not really grasped the potential these tools have for our teaching practice. The WebQuest in particular turned out to be motivating and important for my students, and I feel veryproud and happy they worked hard for it. Even though it was for a short time, they were really engaged and made all the decisions by themselves, with only some guidance from yours truly. This course has also helped me "stay" in the role of a student, as I have been an online advisor for almost four years. It's always refreshing and useful to be on this side of the course in order not to forget what a student feels when they have to upload assignments, read texts, prepare files, work on final projects, etc. Besides, Sean is a great example of an excellent advisor: He's punctual, friendly, open to questions and comments, respectful, and he always shows interest in what his students are doing. That is simply priceless. I feel thankful for this course and I really hope to someday become a great advisor, and Sean is my role model at that.  In spite of my own shortcomings, he was always supportive and understanding, and I really think that's what makes a big difference: someone who is not really "there" but who helps you no matter what. 
During the course, I sometimes felt a bit overwhelmed, as I thought I would not have enough time to finish reading or to post something meaningful on Nicenet and this blog. I really wanted to contribute with something valuable and not fill spaces with irrelevant lines, and I assure you I did my best to avoid "shallow" comments or responses. I also was a little distracted due to other things I had to do, but whenever I had to come back to the Webskills course, the fact that my classmates and Sean were working so hard pushed me to offer something good. At least I tried. 
During the course, I came to appreciate Google Docs more; I learned what a WebQuest is and how it can be applied with our students. I saw how to create online and offline activities for my students. I got to know Padlet, which is so flexible and attractive that I hope to use it in the future, too. I also came to understand the purpose of blogs a bit better. It's not really easy to keep up with everything, but as long as we keep practicing and clicking on everything (as in "hands-on" learning), we'll find something that can be used with certain students. 
In my opinion, the most important topics were Learner Autonomy and Learning Styles. I believe that as long as we consider what our students do to learn, how they go about doing a task and how much they want to do by themselves, not only will we be giving them the chance to explore their own talents; we will also be accepting them as they are, warts and all, and (as I have said several times, for which I apologize) they will end up having a sense of achievement, of accomplishment for doing things which are meaningful for them. 

Finally, I want to thank Sean and all my coursemates for this wonderful experience. I look forward to applying for more courses, as we should never stop learning and improving if we are to be efficient, professional language teachers!!

¡Muchas gracias!

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Week 9 - Final projects and Learning Styles

I can't believe the course is about to finish! It's been a lot of work, indeed, but it's been enjoyable. This week we read about learning styles and types of intellingences. It was fascinating to reminisce about the time when I was a college student. Of course, these theories have been updated and complemanted thanks to the advent of technology, and it is great to see that many institutions and teachers are taking into account how students learn in order to design better programs and materials. By the way, while looking for images for this entry, my husband found this really funny video about learning styles. I hope you can watch it and share some comments.

Rather traditional, innit?
Learning styles are essential for our practice, as we cannot assume that just because the learners are in the same group/level, all of them will be able to learn at the same time and follow the same process. It is a relief to find so much information about learning styles and intelligences, as nowadays it's really essential to consider what processes the students apply and how they prefer to learn, as well as which learning style is dominant. Whereas it is not really possible to cater for every single style all the time, having this information about our students' profiles gives us the edge to prepare lessons where the activities appeal to different learning styles and ways of solving problems. By adding this to the mix, our teaching practice is bound to improve. I can't this stress enough, though: understading how our students learn and respecting that will lead us to a more meaningful bond with them and they will feel more accepted, which means they will build their confidence to study a foreign language. We should never treat this information with disregard; assumptions are never good for us as teachers, and they damage students, even if it's not our intention. By getting an idea of how students learn and what type of activities they prefer, we're going to become more efficient and their learning will be meaningful and relevant, easily linked to the real world.
On the other hand, we handed in our final projects this week. I want to apologize to Jurga for the delay to send her feedback. It was a pretty hectic week for me and I honestly forgot to send my part, but I managed to do it last Tuesday (sorry again, Jurga!!). I don't  usually forget about things I have to do, but I've had to gather some papers for a summer program UNAM is organizing for some English teachers, and I was lucky to get selected, only we had to get the papers quickly, as we have to hand everythinhng in tomorrow (March 10th). As far as I know, it'll be a Methodology course for UNAM English teachers, so I admit I'm really looking forward to it, for it will be in Chicago!! I'm not really"in" until I've delivered my documents, but please wish me luck.

My students after finishing the WebQuest.
My students completed their WebQuest, and I think it was more than satisfactory. They followed the instructions carefully and took the time to look for reliable sources of information, wrote some texts with summaries and their own opinion (it was about feminism and gender equality and published on Tumblr, here).
I was happy to see they worked a lot and read most of the information in English. They had a very positive response to the work, and even though it was not possible to devote more class time to the project, they worked at home and delivered a very good final project. In my opinion, for a first try with WebQuests, which I will adapt and modify in the future, of course, they did excellent! I'm glad to see my students were focused and responsible with this task.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Week 8 - Drafts and online/offline practice for students

This week, in spite of not having texts to read, it felt a bit as a lot of work due to the task we had: explore websites where technology can be used to create exercises, flashcards, tests, activities, etc. for our classes. It was indeed interesting and I got to see many different and new options to complement my teaching practice. To tell the truth, I felt horribly clumsy at the beginning, as I did not know how to handle some of the options we were told, but after a while and after a good deal of clicking everywhere, I managed to create something extremely simple but useful for my students.
How I felt when I managed to create something.


As I have mentioned, my learners are elementary level students and I decided todo something to share with them in order to go a bit beyond the textbook. I also realized that with the iPad program we have at school, given that the projectors have already been linked to the iPads, I could show the exercises on the electronic whiteboard for all the students to see and answer the activities as a group. I did not like using the iPad at first, but this weekend I've been downloading some of the apps my co-workers recommended and now I am really eager to use it with my learners. We still have about one and a half months before the school year finishes, so I guess it will be a good opportunity to apply what I'm learning in this course and to use the technology we were lent.
I believe technology has become an essential tool in many areas of knowledge, and for teachers, it has proven to be fun, helpful, interesting, alluring, appealing and even thought-provoking. Many of us are teaching young people, teenagers who were born in an era when technology is a given and part of our everyday lives. I have witnessed the advent of the mobile phone, the touch screen, the smartphone, and even though I do not use all of these new gadgets, I feel curious as to how they work and what advantages they offer. In this Webskills course, I've been able to appreciate technology more, and to start wondering what the newest apps might be able to do to help me become a better teacher. Besides, it is great to be doing this not to be the "hip teacher", but to show our students how that technology can have an educational value. Studying is not that interesting, we know, but if we are enthusiastic about English teaching and technology, I reckon our students might eventually come to appreciate our efforts and feel more motivated to learn and use these options to learn more and better.
This happens every three months.
One of the tools I used was EasyTestMaker, where I designed a 15-question test for my students to review the simple past tense. The main problem I've noticed is that my students tend not to read carefully before answering; I decided to use a matching exercise where questions and answers are given, so the students have to read each question to understand which of the answers makes sense to match them. The webpage is really user-friendly and I managed to create the test rather quickly, after exploring the different formats and options it has. I like the fact that I can store my tests there, so they are available all the time; I can access the site from the iPad, I guess, and then I'll be able to use the projector for my students to work on this or other tests as a group before "the real thing" at the end of the term.

Some of my students' statement.
Finally, this week we exchanged our final project drafts. I must say I felt flattered to find that Jurga asked to work with me. I think she's extremely hard-working and smart, so at the moment I fear my project does not hold a candle to hers, but I am certainly doing my best effort and will take all of her suggestions into account to change and improve my text. I think peer correction is necessary and should be done as often as possible, but it's also important to rely on our classmates' opinions with an open mind and a positive attitude towards criticism. I know for a fact that some of my co-workers feel extremely uncomfortable with the slightest comments, and I'm glad there's no such thing in this course.

Our projects are focused on what kind of technology we can use to improve and enhance our teaching practice, and I think the results will be amazing. In my case, the WebQuest got a positive response from my students, and in spite of the lack of time for English learning, they are working at home and the language lab, even on their mobiles at school, in order to gather information and write summaries of their findings. I feel happy and proud of their work. The most advanced students in the group are not participating directly, but they offered to help with translations and corrections for their classmates' contributions, which was a reminder of how close and friendly this group is.

I believe that the more we use technology in our classrooms, the better we will equip our students to deal with everyday situations in a foreign language, particularly due to the amount of information and entertainment they find in English. As long as we keep the students motivated and interested, their response is bound to be positive and enthusiastic.

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Week 7 - Autonomy in learning

For no reason, I'd like to mention that last Monday, February 17th, was my birthday. I'm happy to say that I got FOUR birthday cakes this week! One from my friend Ambar (a taekwondo classmate) and three more from three of my groups in the school where I work!
I'm the one in pink.
This week I was very happy to see my students and to get so many displays of their appreciation, I really felt flattered and proud, as I had never had so much attention during my birthday. Facebook helped a lot, of course, otherwise my kids wouldn't have known it was my birthday, hee hee.


This led me to think of the relevance of these social networks in our students' lives. Granted, not all the youngsters are interested in having a Facebook or Twitter account, but those who do seem to be in the loop more often. This is not to say, of course, that social networks are some sort of "academic" advantage, but it is a very good way to stay in touch with people in an easy way.


This week, we read about independent, autonomous learning. I was happy to find so much information that sort of confirmed and completed my own ideas about autonomy. I love the fact that learners can be guided to become independent, and I especially like that our students,with the proper advice, can make their own decisions and check whether a given path is working or not. As I have mentioned, in Mexico, it's not very easy to accept or to foster autonomy, due to the fact that our education system is limited, old-fashioned and lacking in knowledge and theories. 

 
I believe autonomy is a misunderstood concept, as many teachers (and I mean, MANY) have told me and showed me that a student who makes their own decisions is a problem; they seem to interpret independence as arrogance, as something that has to be "controlled" in order to keep students "on the right track". Of course, not everyone sees it that way, but in my case, it's hard to find support to offer students projects where they can show their own creativity and ideas. Whenever there's the chance for collaborative tasks, they are told exactly what to do, how to do it and what the end product should look like. Many questions and suggestions from the students get replies like, "That's not what we'll assess here", "You're not old enough to know how to make that decision", "Your teachers are experienced in that area of knowledge, you should trust them and do as they say", which leads to the students participating just because the project is part of their credits, not something they are interested in. Afterwards, when the teachers see they're not motivated, they wonder why that is, if the students decided to participate in the project!! Not a good context indeed.

By the way, the group whose picture is here is the one I'm working with for the final project. I asked them to do a WebQuest and they were happy to participate, in spite of never having heard of such a thing before (lovely kids, indeed). They said they would do as much as they could in order to work and contribute to the project during the time they'll be doing research. By one student's suggestion, they are looking for information about feminism and gender equality, which is a very serious, yet not very important (society-wise) topic in our country. Mexicans have certain gender biases which my students have noticed at their young age, and I believe the project can have the social relevance we need to try to make people aware of what gender equality is, and given that these are young high-schoolers, that is, young adults in the making, it would be a perfect opportunity to share ideas and to gain insight into their own views concerning gender. We haven't decided how to present or display the project, but next Tuesday we'll create the rubric for the project, and we're already doing research in several websites as well as books from the school library. I hope to create a good report in order to explain myself clearly and share my views and experience with the WebQuest in an interesting way!

Perhaps this could be too much...

 This week I also started using a new website, Padlet, and I really liked its simplicity and usefulness! I guess my students and I can share our findings or some other sort of information on the website to keep a record of what we prefer to use and other topics we find appealing. You can see my very simple Padlet here. I've only included some stuff for my basic learners, but I hope to create other walls for my other levels, so that I can have something at hand for them.

The course is almost in the final stages, and I'm looking forward to our last assignments, but at the same time I feel a bit sad that it's only ten weeks, but it's been fulfilling and challenging for all of us!

Friday, 14 February 2014

Week 6 - Using Powerpoint and other technology

Hopefully this won't happen. From http://www.quickmeme.com/adam-angry-powerpoint
This week seemed a bit lighter than the previous ones, I reckon. We're more than halfway through and this time we're working with PowerPoint, interactive PowerPoint presentations, that is.


So far, I've explored the interactive items we can use in PowerPoint and I must admit I've found them overwhelming! It's not very easy to prepare a presentation where there are action buttons or other characteristics that allow students to interact, but I think the result is worth the effort. As I mentioned on Nicenet, I've only used PowerPoint as a visual aid, and the interactivity I talked about meant that the students would react to the slides and write something on the board, be it on the image or next to it, using regular, whiteboard markers. I'm looking forward to using the new interactive PPT presentation with my learners to review the simple past tense, and even though I feel a bit worried about using the interactive features, I'm really eager to see what happens. My students don't really feel they "need" to learn something. They do have a positive attitude, but not a really interested one. They are nice students in general, the problem is the assumptions the make about their level, so I figure that challenging with a bit of technology might shift their attention to something they have to work with, and at the same time they might realize they still need practice. It's about saving face, I suppose. 



I've always believed that humor motivates students, as it lowers their affective filter and somehow makes them feel more at ease and comfortable with the material. Besides, as they are teenagers, I believe it's important that the learn to laugh at themselves and gracefully accept when they make a mistake. We all know that sometimes the "not very bright" students are mocked or criticized, which makes them feel stupid and their motivation plummets. When I use any material where they have to read a text or analyze an image, I try to make it interesting but at the same time it must be something that at least makes the students chuckle. Memes are a good example and a very good tool, as they are everyday items nowadays, they are on the internet, they are easy to find and anyone can create a meme with relative ease. That's why I prefer to use something the students know with a caption related to what they are seeing in class so that I can appeal to the students' interest as much as possible.
That's the dream.

On the other hand, I started discussing the WebQuest with my students. They seem interested in working with it, but I must confess I haven't started with the process yet, but I have presented the idea to my students. So far, the response has been... how can it put it? Polite, I guess. It's a pity to see that my students, when asked to work (WORK) on a WebQuest, respond with the questions, "Does it take long?", "Is it too difficult?" "Does it give us extra points?" I'd love for my students to have a bit more of academic interest. Whereas I understand they are teenagers and their priorities are very different from mine, it would be really good to have students who show authentic interest in learning. These are rare, at least where I work. I chalk it up to our culture. Our education system lacks a lot of the essential features of an efficient system, and teachers can only do so much to motivate students, we do as much as we can, but our students were not challenged in junior high school and assume that high school does not require much effort. I hope that can change, at least a little bit, while or after they work on the WebQuest.
Reflection is key. From http://www.quickmeme.com/

Friday, 7 February 2014

Week 5 - Project-based learning (PBL)

As I sit next to a rather noisy guy in an Internet café, I type this entry about this week's task. We read about PBL (Project-Based Learning) and I found it absolutely fascinating. Traditional teaching used to dictate that the students were to do (and think!) what the teacher said, and there was hardly any room for creativity, decision-making, questioning, alternatives, freedom of choice, etc, which meant that the learners were expected to produce exactly what the syllabus or the textbook stated, nothing beyond. Nowadays we know our students are individuals, and their individual differences enrich the teaching-learning process in several ways. Not only are foreign language learners developing skills to understand and use a foreign language; they are also understanding other implications of learning a language, like culture, usage, pragmatics, implications, plays on words, etc. The students' individual traits, learning styles, types of intelligences and personal preferences make a huge difference in our lesson planning, and I must say this is a very good thing. They are not empty vessels and it is not our duty to "fill" them; we must guide them and try to help them make the most of what is at their disposal. The new theories and discoveries in language learning, plus the advent of technology and the internet, have provided us with many tools and possibilities we can take advantange of in the classroom.
Someday... from http://squareheadteachers.com/2013/04/21/teacher-memes-3/
Project-Based learning is an excellent option for students to stay motivated, at least in my opinion. I felt inspired after Reading Susan Gaer's texts. The ideas for a project seem to be endless, and the fact that the students' choices are included in the process is a big difference and a great advantage. The teacher usually makes the decisions and sets the tasks and the criteria for the students, but if the learners themselves are included, there is a sense of value and achievement from the beginning. Plus, while working on the project, the teacher can realice what difficulties the students have and why, and the teacher can also observe how the learners deal with obstacles, frustration or any problems that might come up in the project. Collaboration, teamwork, problem-solving, decision-making and common sense are not easily taught to teenagers (in my case), and perhaps at the beginning it might be hard to get them engaged in a project, but I figure that little by little they will eventually be fully involved to reach a common goal. I really hope someday I can achieve something like that with my students.
In a nutshell. From http://www.ncsall.net/index.html@id=385.HTML


On the other hand, we worked with rubrics this week. I had used Rubistar, it was two years ago, as long as I remember. It's a very useful and friendly site where you can create your own criteria and/or use some rubrics that are already there on the site. The idea of designing and applying criteria which have been chosen by the teacher and the students really makes me feel hopeful. Underestimating the students' capacity or ability to make decisions is not the right way to go. True, teenagers might be impulsive and perhaps they are not interested in school due to their teachers underestimating them or not paying attention to them, but asking students to participate and collaborate to come up with a rubric for a project or an activity can lead to the students' feeling worthy of an important task. When a teacher asks students to help make decisions for the whole group, the learners are not only participating in a motivating activity; they are applying other skills (both academic and social, I'd say) to listen to each other, to work in a team, to be tolerant and considerate, to express their opinion politely when they disagree, etc.

As they work with the rubric, preferably in the foreign language, the students can realize how much they are able to do to communicate with each other without resorting to their mother language, which leads to more motivation and to eagern
ess to continue participating and doing something meaningful. Of course, the rubric must always reflect what we would like the students to do, but always bearing in mind what they can actually do; this is to prevent the rubric from stating anything beyond the students' real skills, but also to make sure the students end up with a sense of achievement after cheking the project and comparing it with the rubric. 


This shouldn't happen... From http://memegenerator.net/instance/38706036

We're halfway through the course and we're starting to have a clearer idea of what we'd like to do for your final project, by the way. Using technology to solve some problems in our classroom might mean we will eventually become more familiar with the Internet and how to apply it to the teaching-learning process. I'm really looking forward to the remaining sessions, and I do hope I will create a decent project!!



Friday, 31 January 2014

Week 4 - Technology-enhanced lesson planning and issues in the classroom

This week we had really extensive reading on reading. Get it?? I'm funny!

We read a project by Mei-Ya Liang about reading E-books, analyzing texts and sharing opinions and summaries of what the students read. This idea, in my opinion, leads the students to a certain level of independence and confidence, as they have to choose books from a list provided by the teacher. Whereas the books are listed depending on the students' skills at a certain moment, there is variety and the students can make a decision regarding what they want to read. I wish I had enough time with my students to work on something similar. This year I decided, at least with one of my groups (intermediate level), to ask for a book review instead of giving them a test. They seem interested, so I'll follow Liang's ideas to work on their books for the rest of the school year, which finished in April. So far, some of them have chosen their books and some others are already reading something in English, so I see interest in reading. I'll take advantage of that as much as I can.


Traditional or ultra-modern?
From http://teen-reading-club.wikispaces.com/%2A%2AWELCOME+PAGE%2A%2A


We also read about adding technology to our lesson plans. I enjoyed the ideas suggested in our course's page. I particularly like the idea of choosing something as long as it helps our students, not just because it's "cool" and/or "everyone is using/talking about it". Lesson planning, I must confess, isn't my cup of tea, but I can plan lessons, I'm familiar with the aspects to cover, and I've written several lesson plans in my life. It's just that I believe it's not really possible to plan learning, only activities. Hence my imaginary lesson plans, which only exist in my head. I do not enter the classroom unprepared, but I find it very hard to think about writing down what I'd like to do in class. What if it doesn't work? What if the students aren't in the mood? What if we have an emergency meeting? I know it's always advisable to have a plan B, but that would imply writing another lesson plan. It's a vicious cycle. Joking!


Now THAT's how you plan lessons.
From http://thecornerstoneforteachers.com/free-resources/planning-and-assessment/purposeful-planning

Technology in lesson planning is indeed an advantage. We can explore the endless possibilities, pages, activities, texts, authentic materials, etc the Internet offers. As we have mentioned, the fact that many of what we can find is new, happening now, recent, or fashionable, can give us an edge to engage our students. They are in touch with the Web pretty much all the time, but I've noticed they do not really use the Internet for study or research. This week a student asked me the timetable of a museum! I asked him how often he uses the Internet... the reply? "Every day, but just for games." Therefore, I think we can surprise our students with something "cool" which has been planned for their education, that is, for their benefit. Technology is necessary and unavoidable, so we'd better use it as much as possible, in an organized way, that is.


We also discussed some issues there are in our own classes. In my case, the students seem to lack motivation, either because they had previous English lessons or just because they underestimate the importance of learning a foreign language. I feel a bit sad because it's a bit the system's fault. In Mexico, several English teachers are not really trained, they just "speak the language" and are not familiar with the theoretical background and framework which explain how a language is learned and what factors affect the process, and they also lack the sensitivity to understand students who struggle. This leads to a lack of motivation, lack of confidence and lack of trust. I know my students also have certain behaviors learnt at home, but when it comes to learning a language, their indifference, as opposed to their interest in other subjects, seems to stem from a situation where not only were they not challenged, but where they were not given any opportunities to learn something new, interesting or rewarding. I hope the project I make for this course helps a bit.


How I feel sometimes.
From http://futureofeducationsummit.blogspot.mx/2012/07/6-non-verbal-methods-to-gain-control-of.html
My students are not the aggressive type, I think they are not used to working in English class. That's why I'm interested in learning how to use technology for them to practice and to learn new vocabulary, particularly because they do not spend enough time (in my opinion) learning English . I do hope there'll be something meaningful in the activities I'll plan for them.