Saturday, 30 April 2011

Week 4: Choosing and Using Websites for Reading

Using the internet  to improve our students' reading skills might pose a dilemma for teachers between choosing authentic or tailored, ELT websites.   If in two minds which ones to search for , I would  again refer to Grade the task rather than the material strategy for reading as well.  A well designed task will allow our learners to deal with authentic texts and websites and benefit from them.

According to the number of computers and the internet connections, the activities can be organized in the following ways:

  • classroom with no computer and no internet connection - texts can be printed and then copied for all students to read; although maybe not the cheapest option, at least it  brings in the authentic and varied reading materials

  • one computer classroom - if connecting the computer to a video beam (or interactive whiteboard where available), texts can be projected allowing greater visibility; another idea is computer rota with students, divided in small groups, taking turns in working on the computers, while other groups do some other, offline reading (or writing, speaking...) tasks

  • ICT classroom or lab with computers connected to the internet - authentic texts and web sites can be incorporated in regular teaching and building of reading (and other) skills

Some teachers  think that it is impossible to enhance reading skills with young learners by using the internet because they fear how much of the given text the kids will understand and if they will be frustrated by not understanding every single word. Choosing the right websites can go some way  towards raising children's comfort levels and these websites should meet the following criteria: simple, short and clearly presented texts, lots of multimedia and visuals - pictures, sounds, video..., a group of non-linguistic data like charts, graphs, lists... or  having been  written specially with this audience in mind.

Thanks to our two most productive providers of such websites, Khaled and Robert, we  need  not worry for the next couple of years :)

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Week 3: About a listening strategy

In my third week's blog I am going to reflect on the types of materials used for developing listening skills.

Today almost every course book comes with a package of various supplementary  materials and nearly always the first one to be included is a class tape or CD with recordings  and listening materials.  Although more often than not of a very good quality and designed specially to build and develop this particular skill, I often feel  that their purpose is to prepare the students for 'the real thing', i.e. the opportunity to  do something with the language they have acquired, in this case to gain some understanding, get the message or merely enjoy themselves during the process of listening instead of  offering  the right answer. For that reason,   I am very much in favour of authentic materials.  When I think of young learners and what they listen  to (while watching) most of the time, it is, with little doubt -  television.  Unfortunately, there is very little possibility for my students to have access to any good online TV broadcasts for children. Why?

 Well,  that one's off, apparently.

 But, where there's a will, there's a way. Films, then. They are not so hard to find and download as good TV shows.  I really like playing them to my students.   Even when I find the ones with  appropriate topic and length of no more than  30' (luckily, there's a Charlie Brown and a  Muppet Show one  for almost every occasion and holiday)  it may be difficult for them to grasp and follow the whole story.   That is when I apply the  Grade the task rather than the material strategy. We discuss the topic as a pre-listening activity and I tell them some key facts about the story, but not the most interesting part or the twist. Then I give them the task, usually some very simple question which they are to come up with the answer  by the end of the film. Sometimes it does happen that they get bored or frustrated by not being able to understand everything, but gradually they have come to expect this way of watching films and enjoy it as much as I do. As a post-listening activity, we usually discuss what they have learned (about  the topic, not the language), liked or not and why. What I try  is to demonstrate how a new language brings in a whole new world.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Week 2: Cross-country hike

In  the course's second week, we have been invited to consider  some different approaches  to two very important aspects of  teaching: academic search and  lesson planning.

I have never given much thought about how to search the web or which engine to use for this up until now. For me it has always been a sort of a reflex - googling.  However, 'NoodleTools' with its list of  categorized search engines  brought up some new interesting   instruments  to try out and  evaluate. It  made me realize only then  that I have different needs when going on the net  consequently causing  a  feeling  that  a whole new path of web searching appeared  in front of me  to be explored, walked upon and included  in the future strides of mine.  That does not necessarily  mean I will  give up good old Google that easily, on the contrary, but when stuck or in two minds (or bored?), I will reach for help on NoodleTools.  It's always  nice and safe to know there are alternatives at hand.

New perspectives on writing objectives and Bloom's Digital Taxonomy were a real treat.  I've written quite a number of objectives about the things  the students will have learned, skills they will have improved and points they will have reached by the end of the lesson with no regard to the conditions and the degree because these two very important aspects  were simply implied in my mind, as I saw it.   Only now do I see how vague and ambiguous that really was.  The ABCD objectives demand some serious thinking and precision therefore  sticking to them every single time when planning a lesson will  not only make our teaching much more better but also, paradoxically, easier. The time we invest in planning will pay off during the lesson.

For ending this blog, I will borrow  a metaphor for writing objectives from Jim Scrivener's 'Learning Teaching ' and accompany it with my own humble one about web searching .  If we think of a lesson as a cross-country hike, we know where we want to end  up even without seeing the end and getting there successfully  is our main objective. We have to make a number of  various decisions to make about the way - the speed, route, map,  aids... -  all of them related to the main decision about the objective.  If not precisely and clearly defined, our walk could still be enjoyable, but we might miss some really interesting sites, waste our time,  meet some unexpected problems and even be in a position to  get lost.  Also, if we already have a  dominant way of  taking a hike and scouting  the environment, it might be inspiring and enlightening  to give a try to some new, smaller and yet unexplored paths to see what's there in them for us.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Week 1 - Not Much of a Blogger

Blogging  has never been my cup of tea.

Of all Web 2.0 tools, I've always more willingly deployed  podcasting and wiki .

On the one hand, I don't  like blog's navigation, or rather the lack of it, and the fixed hierarchy of  always-on-top last entries.  Next, my students are young learners of English with little or no computer literacy therefore unable to independently  access and upload blog content.  Paradoxically, only once did I decide to give it a try and use it as a platform for a digital learning object for a national competition project and my two colleagues and I were awarded the first prize. Sadly enough, the project had almost nothing to do with English language teaching since this subject is  not very much appreciated among the competition's judges and stakeholders.

On the other hand,  my thinking is: ''Who am I to write about what I think and do?''  when there are  Jim ScrivenerJeremy Harmer, Gavin DudeneyNick Peachey and the likes blogging regularly about the things I have yet to learn.  It seems presumptuous, to say the least.  I would always direct my trainees to their pieces of writing and consider  it my fair share of contributing to ELT practices by using blogs.

Nevertheless, there are a number of  reasons for  using blog as a tool  for enhancing teaching English to young learners. To begin with, it can be used as a kind of an organized  repository, or   a portal for students  where multimedia materials and links to games and other interactive contents  can easily be accessed from one place which is very important for this target group and the way they acquire language. It can also provide an excellent medium for  curriculum and extra-curriculum extension.  And last, but not  least, blogs retain another motivating and significant  feature  and that is the ability to provide  audience other than the teacher, i.e. other students, classes and teachers as well as potential collaborators  and therefore turn the physical classroom into a virtual one.

So, here it is, my first personal and reflective blog entry ever. Who knows, the habit might start to grow on me once I begin doing it habitually. Blogging for this course makes perfect sense. First of all, there are people who will take an interest in what I have to say, at least our teachers and tutors, if no one else.  Secondly, I have to write it and make the best of it in order to get a good grade. Finally, I  hope  someone will pick my blog to read and  leave a comment. That would do for me,  I'm motivated enough.