4 December 2017

With a Little Help for Educators - A Teaching Resource to Explore

Toa Heftiba

Time and time again, I hear the same statements from learners- I was soooooo bored! The lesson was soooooo boring! 

This state of semi-permanent boredom in classes is not restricted to only teens and young adults - but to teacher trainees as well. Despite the richness of resources for active learning,  so easily available today, there are still lessons where reading from a PPT  (or even just sitting and listening to a pre-recorded PPT) seems to be the norm. Reading from a PPT is merely that, i.e. reading aloud in front of an audience who probably is literate to begin with.  Little wonder that boredom shuts down any chance of learning. 

Learning is an active process. There needs to be a healthy dose of curiosity, of humour, of reassurance that not succeeding at first is part of the learning process. And though to be original and creative is not that simple for many, it is necessary to keep an open mind as an educator, to encourage different learning approaches instead of only repeating the same formatted  PPT endlessly or the same stale teaching "method"  (who doesn't know that teacher who takes pride in publicly saying that he/she will only use one particular method, regardless that there are many different options for learning and teaching today?) - it simply won't foster learning anymore. 

Bryan Minear

And why should it when there are search engines which so quickly serve up a range of facts and figures to so many questions that learners may have in lessons? 

One approach to deal with this is what Steve Wheeler calls ungoogleable questions, i.e. giving students questions which demand more than a click of a button. 

Yet, as educators well know, learning and teaching is much more than having all the answers or in fact, much more than providing answers. 

If teaching may be understood as modelling good practices, then as educators we need to  regularly reflect upon them. As educators, we also need to push our limits, seek new approaches which will stimulate curiosity and an appetite for learning. As educators we need to give learners the space and time to practice, to create and not only consume knowledge. 

Applied Digital Skills (a free technology curriculum aligned with ISTE), provides free lessons  for teachers to dip into and use or adapt to their teaching context. Each lesson indicates the necessary time, level (i.e. who it is most suitable for), a focus on the skills which are meant to be developed, as well as a rubric. If-Then Adventure Stories is an example of an interactive lesson with Google Slides - which could be adapted with the use of other visual tools. 

Joshua Newton

There are so many digital resources today, so many great educators who are regularly sharing ideas for teaching, so many fantastic ways to tell stories, to focus the learning process on the interests and abilities of learners, that when educators complain that their students are not engaged, when learners still shrug with boredom from their lessons, it is certainly time to stop and to look carefully at why this happening. 

How do you light the fire of learning?

Further Suggestions:

24 of the Best Writing Prompts for Middle School Students

1 December 2017

Decisions, Debates and Discussions

Every educator has choices, no matter how complex they may be. Sometimes it may be easier to just focus on routine and teach grammar towards a test/exam, thus keeping those who perceive learning as a mere number, satisfied with test scores. 

Yet we all know that learning is not a test score. Exam results reflect the ability to take exams.

Decisions, decisions!

Some of my most memorable lessons have always centred on discussing sensitive issues with students. Obviously, this depends on context and course goals. For instance, when I taught English for Medical Purposes, a springboard towards writing was giving the students the opportunity to think through ethical issues and debate them. When the writing phase followed up, they already had discussed the topic through different lenses and had the necessary scientific lexis and their own ideas to write about. Most importantly, they had actively participated with each other and with the topic at hand, understanding different perspectives while also building up their own arguments. 

Debates and discussions don't necessarily need to be kept to HigherEd.

Language learners, for example, need the opportunity for fluency activities at different levels (though of course, it does make a difference if learners are at a higher level of language ability, e.g. C1,  as well as maturity. That though is another discussion). 

Kialo offers a wide range of topics of debate and discussion, (again, teachers need to make appropriate decisions as to which topic should be chosen for their learners).

It's really easy for students to collaborate and use:

Kialo may be used before a lesson where students will orally debate or as a follow up
to a class discussion; learners may be given a certain amount of time, for example, a week, to contribute to the discussion. The choice is yours and your learners'. 

ProCon  is another site which offers a wide range of topics to discuss/debate in class. There is a corner for teachers, highlighting how ProCon may be used, while topics can easily be found in alphabetic order. Many topics also have accompanying videos which add further ideas and interest to the discussions.

Among the many reasons that fostering critical thinking skills is so necessary in education, there is also another perspective - the more informed a learner is, the easier it may become for that learner to make more informed decisions in life. 

Debates and discussions are not mis-spent time. Students often need to collaborate and research the topic (again, depending on context and topic). There may be writing follow ups to the discussions as well or other learning artifacts such as video /audio recordings. Depending on level, students may even be given the opportunity to express the outcome or debate experience with a shared visual (see Nik Peachey's Get Students Sharing Opinions ).

Decisions are not always simple to make. However, putting learners' learning experience first and foremost at the centre, giving them time and space to reflect and think through complex and, sometimes, sensitive issues,  debate and discuss, (in a safe place - which classrooms should be) does seem to me, an urgent decision to make. 

What other resources have you found of interest for debates/class discussions?

Further Suggestions:

Using Debate to Develop Thinking & Speaking Skills

Images by Pexels

29 November 2017

News and Media Literacy


If digital literacy hasn't been a burning issue to focus on in classrooms, it certainly has become one now. In particular, the skill to reflect critically on news and media.  Here are some resources for educators to use in classrooms. 

Games for Change  offers a wide selection of games, ranging from human rights to fitness. For this post though, it is Fake It to Make It,
that called my attention. Why? With "fake news" being dealt with on a regular daily basis, Fake It To Make It  is an appealing simulation to raise awareness of how misinformation can so easily be taken for reality. 

"Fake It To Make It is a simulation-style game where players take on the role of someone creating and distributing fake news for profit. Players learn how misinformation is created, spread, and emotionally targeted, and leave better prepared to be skeptical of misinformation that they encounter in the future."

Another great resource to deal with this topic, is Nik Peachey's Writing & Discussion Activities to Promote Awareness of Fake News.

Earlier this year Doug Belshaw also put together a Fake News and Digital Literacies: some resources, which is of interest to educators and higher level students.

And can you really tell what is fake news or not?

Factitious is a free game which tests your news sense - go on! Test yourself then share with your learners and observe how well - or not - they know how to tell the difference between fake and real news.

Common Sense Education  also has some great resources for raising awareness about news such as a backgrounder on misinformation and a long suggestion of resources on Media, News and Information Literacy for students   .  You can also consider using or adapting suggested Lesson plans  . Facts-vs-Opinion" is an example of a shared lesson plans. 

What other resources for news and media literacy have you found of interest?

Photo by Victor Freitas from Pexels https://www.pexels.com/photo/person-with-teal-and-yellow-left-eye-685526/

Further Suggestions:

Making Media Literacy Central to Digital Citizenship

Teaching Current Events in the Age of Social Media

Post-truth teaching: coming to a lecture theatre near you?
Open University report looks at key trends in teaching and learning - Published 7th December 2017

Supporting Sustainable Development


Every year there is World Environment Day   (as well as other celebrations which you can find here and here ); and every year, in so many different curricula, learning about the environment is part of the syllabus. 

But can our learners really save the environment? Can our learners really make a change?

In my experience, yes. Undoubtedly. 

Environmental issues stare at us all everyday - whether it is public litter, poverty in our societies or making decisions about day-to-day shopping. Discussing these issues, in particular issues which directly affect our learners' everyday lives, helps  raise their awareness to other global issues, which may or not directly affect them. 

Among other resources available, (e.g. videos ), Sustainable Development Goals by the United Nations, has compiled a simple list of how every individual is able to make small contributions towards sustainable development. These may be shared among leaners - for further discussion/ for them to add their own ideas and create their own guides. 

Overall Sustainable Development Goals is a great resource for teachers and learners. 

After all, learning is not only passing an exam or filling in a gap correctly (if ever that could really reflect learning). 

Learning is being involved, open to curiosity and finding solutions.  

Learning is an activity.

Learning is doing. 

Further Suggestions:

A Breeze of Summer Green

Achievable Change in 2013

Climate Change for Young Learners

Inquiry as Learning - An Environmental Example

Using Computer Games to Raise Global Issues - by Nik Peachey

Let Me Tell You a Story - A Writing Tool for Storytelling

Come, let me tell you a story. 

A story about a magical place, where, within hours, you can leave cold greys and darkness behind. A place which will lead you to cities of light, red shimmering deserts, warm turquoise seas. 

Come! Let me tell you a story. 

And as I tell my tale or two, you too may add yours, with your characters, your dreams and decisions. Together we shall create our own stories. Together we can end boredom and create twists, bends and all the upheavals we wish to within our stories. 

StoriumEdu seems to promise the opportunity for learners to write stories collaboratively, where teachers set writing goals, learners are given a character and together, write their stories within a game-like environment. 

It will be accessible for desktops/laptops as well as tablets and smartphones. 

Although still in Beta, this is a writing tool that I am really looking forward to trying out! 

For what is learning but a collection of stories?

Stories of success, stories of failures, stories of discoveries, stories of life. 

What other writing tools have caught your teaching imagination lately?

8 November 2017

Sharing Learning and Professional Development with Videos

If you happen to live where Autumn has set in, this post is especially for you. As conferences become increasingly expensive to attend, one of the best alternatives for professional development is to turn to what is offered online.  Here are some suggestions. 

IATEFL Webinars  are open to members and non-members and have topics which relate to language teachers as well as to other fields.

You can also find recorded webinars, which is always helpful if you can't attend the event live.

Another of favourite of mine, is the well known site of
Russell Stannard, whose videos are full of ideas and clear instructions regarding edtech and teaching. Teacher Training Videos is not only for ELT teachers but for all educators who wish to update their practices with technology and state of the arts approaches. 

Landesinstitut für Pädagogik und Medien is another site to follow closely for professional development. With free webinars offered regularly, you only need to sign up to receive the link to the webinar. 

The best part is that none of these suggestions are video or PPT dumps, nor someone reading from their PPT (because a presentation and/or teaching is not a read-aloud exercise) - but real practitioners sharing ideas, teaching approaches and know-how that actually do bring life into classrooms, while interacting with colleagues who attend the webinars. 

On the left hand side of your screen, you can probably notice a video log with video resource suggestions for teaching. Two videos resources which are really worthwhile dipping into are ESL Video  and the already much talked about ISL Video Lessons which 
also offers video lessons in languages other than English. 

These are some suggestions for professional development; there is a wealth of opportunities for learning on the web and no reason not to keep up-to-date in education. 

What other webinars or learning sites for educators would you recommend for this Autumn?

Further Suggestions:

Viewpure - Videos without Clutter

3 October 2017

An Autumn Game and Resources for Teachers

Having a stock of games to use in classes, whether analogue or digital, is common practice among language teachers and other subjects. Quiznetic is one more digital game that is simple to create for class revisions, with the teacher only needing to share the automatic code for a specific game.  So far it is free and when learners have used it several times in class, they too could sign up and create team games for each other, thus having them more involved in their learning process. 

It's also possible to share one's quizzes with colleagues though I think I would also like to have the option of embedding a quiz. Here is a short quiz with videos that I am including as a quick test to Quiznetic, while below is a short video on how to create a game. 

Two other interesting resources for educators which have caught my eye are Oxplore and Poetry by Heart .

Oxplore offers a variety of topics to be discussed and debated in class. Each topic offer a "yes" or "no" option which then leads to further questions, short quizzes, short readings and videos on the topic. 

It's an open resource and very simple to use or to dip into,  regardless whether a teacher is digitally skilled or not.  And, for many educators, a time saving resource. 

Poetry by Heart is a dynamic site which encourages learners to engage in poetry and to take part in competitions. 

What other resources will you be using this Autumn?

Other Suggestions