Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Article 10: BYOD Teachers Talk Classroom Use

The school I did my practicum at did not have Wi-fi and there were many times I wish it did, because, like this article says, there is a lot you can do when students bring their own devices. Not only does asking students to access images on their own devices save paper, it also saves space (I accrued a significant amount of paper resources after only three months of teaching).

I see the value in posting up notes but I don’t I agree with completely doing away with student note taking. Although I’ve missed thinking about what a teacher was saying when scrambling to take down the important things, as a visual learner who consolidates information by writing it down, I learn best when I can look over my own notes (based on the things I judged to be important or interesting). Instead of banning note-taking completely, we could teach students how to take notes selectively and effectively.

To a certain extent, students’ ability to take good notes and also pay attention depends on the clarity and quality of the “presentation” and context. Thinking back to my own experiences, I tended to focus more on writing things down than on what was being said when I was in a class where a teacher wasn’t clear about what they wanted us to remember and droned on without stopping. I think being conscious of students having to take notes would help me to put together clearer and more interesting lessons. 

A common worry with BYOD is that some students will be disadvantaged or feel left out or if they don’t have access to the technology. However, if used simply to save and paper from students copying down homework, this is not as much of a problem—I noticed the students who didn’t have phones simply asked their friends to send them the picture. If I wanted to ensure that students follow through I could assign a student to be in charge of sharing the “homework” with those who needed it each week (this would also avoid some of the ‘mass paparazzi effect’ that occurred when almost the whole class crowded around to take a picture of the projector). I remember a student who had trouble with organization finally submitting his assignments when I got him to set an alarm reminder on his phone. Most students now carry their phones with them all the time, so these could now be the place where they store homework assignments and not their agendas. However a simpler solution would be to post homework assignments on my blog.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Article 9: Powerpointlessness

I’ve definitely seen my share of pointless Powerpoint presentations, where it seemed like the presenter went crazy inserting clipart or simply pasted his or her entire presentation in verbatim (and often wondering if the presenter would insist on getting through the many remaining slides even when the class was almost over). Brown’s emphasis on the importance of training students how to use Powerpoint effectively might initially seem like a given, but thinking back, I don’t think I’ve ever had a teacher who taught me what made a good presentation. If we did receive instruction it never went beyond a quick tutorial on how it worked. Despite this lack of training, I’ve had to create Powerpoint presentations for many classes as a student.

Personally, I love using Powerpoint to enhance presentations (however, I have a tendency to spend too much time editing colours, fonts, transparency, and searching for pictures, so it would be important to also caution students against this). I think the key is using the Powerpoint for things that can’t be conveyed through voice or paper, such as including multiple literacies (pictures, video, music) and reinforcing key ideas. Scaffolding students’ effective use of Powerpoint would give them skills they could apply to any presentation. For example if studying a text or a particular topic, I could first get them to practice selecting key words from a text and to then find pictures to summarize or capture interest for each section. They could then compare their selections in groups and we could discuss which ones were more effective.

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Article 8: Collaborative Projects: What does It Mean to ‘Co-construct’?

I can relate to the kinds of teamwork issues Skillen raises. He emphasizes “genuine interdependence” as the goal for group-work, and his examples of this kind of collaboration seem to be one where students choose independent topics and then regularly read, offer suggestions, and share resources with their group member. I think the Internet can be a great tool for collaboration; sites like Googledocs and Prezi enable people to all work on the same product at the same time, in ways that were not possible before (it would be pretty hard to have several people edit the same essay and see each others' changes at the same time if working with a hard copy, paper-version). The Internet also provides a more "concrete" way for a teaching to look at student contributions, as in the case of Skillen's hyper linked projects. For instance, you can clearly see who posted what and who responded, whereas it may be possible to miss a quieter member's contribution in a group discussion is the teacher is with another group at the time. However, I also think it's important to have face-to-face collaboration, because the methods Skillem suggests, while powerful, seem a little artificial to me (they are required, and take place within set frameworks).

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Article 7: Innovations in Education

Before reading this article, I had not heard of "content curation" before. As a student in the B.Ed program, I've saved and organized resources useful for teaching, but this "collection" never left my computer. The wealth of information available through the Internet certainly makes collecting much easier. In the search for resources, I often came across websites that gathered linked resources. I also participated in a Dropbox folder for French resources with my cohort, and although we shared the information with the goal of helping each other in our teaching, I don't think we really had a specific focus on inquiry. I'm still not sure whether these cases would be considered "curating", though. The author emphasizes curating as a shared, continuous process of inquiry, but doesn't provide concrete examples of what exactly this looks like.

Curating starts from inquiry and gives context to information by determining how each added "piece" further answers the initial research question. I love the idea of teaching students to become curators--in some way, I think I am learning to do this through this course (through my blog and as I take notes on the different resources and how I could use them in my practice). In this case, perhaps the purposeful inquiry part has something to do with evaluating each new resource through the eyes of a FSL teacher. Doing so gives added meaning each resource "added" to the collection. I could get students to create a network of blogs with French resources (such as for vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation) where they include samples of how they've used them to enhance their learning in the course. In this way, they'd learning to search for and evaluate information, apply it, and share it with others in a meaningful way. Like Mr. Coley's podcasts, this network could also benefit other French learners.

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Article 6: Listening to Themselves: Podcasting Takes Lessons Beyond the Classroom

When I first started reading this article, I wasn’t too enthusiastic about podcasts, because, as a visual learning, I always prefer having a visual element accompanying everything. However, the different rationale for using podcasts showed me that this is in fact a vehicle for teaching a very important skill. I agree that presenting information in a compelling way and selling ideas is extremely important, and that knowing others will read their work motivates students to do their best. I like that Coley makes the podcasts meaningful by making them be about course materials; in this way, students' podcasts will be heard by people other than the teacher. 

Practically, though, I'm not sure how this would work on a regular basis, since frequently asking students to do this for homework seems like it a lot of work. It might also become a source of anxiety for ESL students conscious about their accents or for those who don't like hearing their own voices. In a second-language class, however, students would be less likely to feel embarrassed since everyone would be speaking in the L2. It would also be a great formative tool since students would be able to hear themselves. Done on a regular basis, it would give a record of how their pronunciation improved over time. When thinking of their listener, however, in an FSL classroom, I'm not sure the podcasts would be as engaging as the ones Coley's class did produced, since it would be hard to add in inquiry and analysis with limited vocabulary. Instead, students could create short segments to teach a vocabulary set with music and memory aids (this would really push students to pay attention to their pronunciation). They could also create short grammar review explanations. However, I still feel that visuals are extremely important to second-language-learning and that discussing ideas via podcasts is much more likely to keep listeners' attention. To modify Coley's practice while still maintaining the distribution of student work, students in a second-language class could create screencasts. I could challenge them to synthesize grammar concepts in an interesting way, using vocal expression accompanied by visuals. If there were a way to save just the audio part of the screencasts, students would still be able to access the material on their audio devices.

Monday, 30 July 2012

Article 5: Making the most of online translators in foreign language classes

Students’ tendency to blindly rely on online translators was something I experienced both during my practicum and when tutoring. My sponsor teacher emphasized the need to clearly show using an online translator was considered plagiarism. I told students that looking up individual words and short idiomatic phrases was okay, but I do not think they knew how to use the translators to their advantage. I noticed students sometimes used online translators as a kind of security blanket, entering words they that they themselves could correctly translate into French when asked. One of my students used a translator for his homework and got many answers wrong, but then was able to correct the mistakes right in front of me when he took the time to think about it. Showing samples of badly (and comically) translated text would be both funny and emphasize the potential pitfalls of online translators.

To get students to view online translators as a powerful tool (rather than as a crutch or something they must always avoid), I would have to explicitly teach the students a new way of using them. Polio’s suggestions for a series of lessons focused on online translators are great, particularly her idea of having a contest to see who can write the funniest mistranslation of a text. This game would require an understanding of how the L2. I think it would also be a good idea to show students that not all translators are equal. Most probably simply use Google translate or the first service that pops up in a Google search, so pointing them to the better ones would be beneficial.

As technology continues to develop, I wonder if there will come a point when online translators can perfectly translate simple writing (or at least to a level where it will be hard to tell). If this happens, we as teachers will certainly need to show the value of translating “by hand”.

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Article 4: Reading matters: What is reading?

It’s interesting that we rarely (in my experience) discuss the kinds of reading that most people naturally do in their L1 in the L2 class. Living in a bilingual country, there is actually more French around us than students might think. It can be found on nutrition labels, information manuals and pamphlets, and national signs and TV or news websites. I wonder if the reason we rarely discuss these kinds of reading is because it seems so natural and straightforward in our L1.

I like the idea of using Carroll’s “Jabberwocky” to emphasize that it is possible to make sense of something even if we don’t understand a lot of the words. When I spoke a lot French in class, I kept emphasizing that the whole point was not to understand every single word but for students to piece together the general sense of what I was saying using what they already knew. Students still felt uncomfortable with not understanding everything so showing them they can understand an English poem with words that don’t even exist if they get the sentence structure would help me emphasize that the same applies in French. I also think it would be neat to try the “What’s the purpose 1” activity in an FSL class using and see whether students could identify different types of text in French and use clues that stay the same across language (such as “40° C”) and then piece together the rest of the meaning. For instance, I could stay by simply showing students the text alone and then go on to show them a picture of the text in context and then ask them to piece together what the words meant.