“Describe the pictures”: phenomenal teaching ideas for the B2 test and beyond

“In this part of the test, I am going to show you two photographs. I would like you to talk about them for about a minute and also answer a question about your partner’s photographs”. No matter which official B2 exam your students are taking, they are likely going to come across a task like this.
Happy-Girl--300px

If we refer to the GSE, students at this stage “can describe objects, possessions and products in detail, including their characteristics and special features” (59) and “justify and sustain views clearly by providing relevant explanations and arguments” (60). So if they are at the right level there is no need to press the panic button: your students are ready to do this.
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Education in two languages: bilingualism and CLIL

Education in two languages: bilingualism and CLILIf you’re a teacher of English, a parent of a child at a bilingual school, or even a teacher called upon to teach your subject specialism in a second language, then you’ve more than likely heard of CLIL.

But what is it? And what makes it different from traditional language teaching?

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EDpuzzle: getting the most out of video in education

EDPUZZLE video in educationUsing videos in lessons is nothing new for most teachers, but what if there were an easy-to-use tool which insured active listening over passive and were able to provide assessment for learning, gauging understanding and informing future lessons? Enter EDpuzzle.

 

What’s EDpuzzle?

EDpuzzle is a free online video editing site, allowing users to manipulate content available on the web or indeed upload personal videos for editing. Its first key feature is the ability to crop videos: no more waiting around for your internet to load 11:44 or telling your pupils to “Listen, there’s an important part coming up!” So far, so simple.

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11 ideas about the teacher profile

Sometimes I feel like a treasure hunter when I travel. There are amazing educational jewels hidden in schools, and I love to find them.

It goes something like this:  You visit a school and start to talk to a teacher or a headteacher.  Nothing out of the ordinary so far.  A normal school in a normal town.  But suddenly you hear them say something that catches your attention, like the glimmer of a shiny jewel.  Just follow it, ask the appropiate questions and…there it is!

A while ago I found one of these gems in a school called Betania-Patmos located in Barcelona. They had been asked by the regional governtment what kind of profile a teacher needs in this global era, but they didn’t rush to write down hasty conclusions as teachers.  They did something smarter.  They turned this into a task for their last year high school pupils.  This is what they told them:

 

“Imagine you work in human resources and you have to hire a teacher.  What profile would you be looking for?”

 

And those teenagers (you know, the ones everyone describes as being “lost”) worked in teams for a week, and then presented 11 ideas that demonstrate they might not be the ones who are lost after all, but the ones looking for someone who isn’t.

 

11 ideas about the Teacher profile required  for a global era.

Recruiters: Last year High school students.

 

This first set of requirements had complete consensus amongst the group.

 

1.-   Teachers commited to helping their pupils, who care for them, are close to them, and instill confidence through  respect and generosity.

2.-  Teachers with a deep, broad and up-to-date knowledge of their subject area.

3.-  Teachers that can express themselves clearly and make themselves understood using structured methods.. Good communicators balanced and mentally organized

4.-  Teachers that exude emotion about what they are explaining, and are enthusiastic and passionate about their subject and respectful of other disciplines.

 

Requirements with a very high level of consensus

 

5.-  Teachers who have mastered different types of learning – from paper to the latest generation of technologies (drawing, writing, sound, image, and mixed media), following the idea of introduction not substitution.

6.-  Teachers  who have mastered different languages, with English being considered absolutely necessary.

7.-  Teachers that teach critical thinking and promote alternative ways of doing things.

8.-  Teachers with patience, modesty, energy and coherence.

9.-  Teachers that promote participation, interactivity and practice.

10-   Fun teachers, with a sense of humour that can make teaching and learning a pleasure.

 

Requirements sine qua non:

 

11.- Teachers that are punctual and don’t miss classes.

 

The first time that I read this I was struck by two things:

–   When a teenager says that he is looking for someone stable and mentally organized…it makes you think about what he has seen

–   Technology appears in a discreet second place. First people, then gadgets.

 

So, as you can see here, our youth are just looking for a stable reference in a confusing world.  They are looking for educators that can teach their mind and their soul, someone who can maintain the essence of the educational experience even when all the elements keep changing.  Because essencially our young generation is alone and we are letting them grow up alone with no tribe to guide them.

As usual Mafalda said it first and better: “Educating is harder than teaching. To teach you need to know, to educate you need to be” .

 

 

Please listen to them

The Myth…

I have to admit that I spend a huge amount of time browsing the web searching for resources and trying to be as up-to-date as possible.  And while diving into educational sites, you can read a lot of grandiose statements about children – about what they like and how they learn, sometimes  written by non-teachers far away from the reality of the classroom, or, as the Pope says ” Lots of shepherds not living with the smell of sheep”

And…you know what? I feel a kind of sadness when I read statements such as:

“All children are bored in schools”.

“Children don’t like books anymore”.  

“Poor children! They have to listen to their teachers”.

“Children learn like this, children like that….”

Most of the time, those statements are not based on serious research or real experiences but on general prejudices, not respecting the wide range of children’s personalities and interests.

 

The Reflection…

 

The fact is that after more than 15 years of teaching I have to say that:

 

–   Children usually love going to school since it’s their universe.

–   They like to have books because they love to have something of their own and books can also facilitate those intrapersonal moments that every human being needs. I believe in complementation not in substitution. Books and technology can live together.

–   They also love to listen and talk to people who care and who listen to them. As Rita Pierson makes clear in her passionate TED Talk: “Children don’t learn from people they don’t like” since learning flourishes from interactions and relationships. Innovation should always start from there.

We talk a lot about innovation and about thinking outside the box,  but sometimes innovation could be easily found by looking carefully inside the box and listening more to our children.  Once, a great principal from a great school told me: Nowadays, great teachers speak a little, listen a lot and reflect on that all the time.

I’ve also learned that encouraging students to reflect on their own behaviour, feelings or knowledge, and making these thoughts visible by expressing them in a logical and coherent way helps to structure their minds and to interiorise their own learning.

 

The Task…

 

So, that’s the reason why a while ago, we decided to interview young students asking things such as: How do you learn English? What do you think about the material you use in class? How do technology and videogames  help you?  How do you solve problems?

I asked Pedro Fernandez (colleague and friend) for some help, and he presented his 5th grade pupils the following task:

He told them that we needed their help so as to improve our materials. We wanted them to think and reflect on their own learning and explain it in their own words. We made clear that there wasn’t a right or a wrong answer, we just wanted to know their point of view. They had 2 days to reflect on it before the day of the recording.

The day of the recording we just made sure that they felt comfortable enough so they could speak freely and then we pushed the record button and just listened to them.

Children have a lot to say. They should be listened to more often

 

 

 

5 Major Edtech Trends

Pearson Morning Madrid 2014

Last week in Madrid I had the pleasure of doing the second session at the Pearson Morning for English teachers at Adult Learner Centres.  It was also a distinct honor (and more than slightly intimidating) as Speakout author Antonia Clare kicked the event off with her superb and provocatively titled talk: Love and the Art of Language Learning.  All of us at Pearson sincerely hope those of you who attended the event enjoyed it as much as we did.

For those of you who could not be there, or those of you who were but wanted to have a second look, I am including below a brief summary of my talk: 5 major Edtech trends for English teachers to watch out for… and embrace, as well as the presentation itself.

 

From Content Delivery to Prosumerism

We started out by attempting to define Edtech and a quick look at a recent post at the site eltjam made it clear quite quickly that, if nothing else, it is a topic which is often politically charged and stirring up considerable debate.  And we also saw a rather funky example of some pretty serious content delivery from the 1960s that showed us that Edtech is not exactly a new idea.  But today instead of being almost solely about the delivery (or bombardment) of content, Blended Learning approaches are (or at least perhaps should be) increasingly about 1) putting learners in the driver’s seat as Prosumers (doers instead of merely consumers) and 2) providing them with a process by which to access their own individualized learning paths.

 

My five Edtech trends?  Well here they are:

 

Video

Though this may not sound very new, video is like the glue which holds everything together nowadays.  It is THE medium which almost single-handedly defines the Internet experience today.  It is now an integral part of what makes courses and online learning spaces work and has to be taken into account from the moment these products and services are conceived. They are no longer just an add-on or extra component.  And from Prosumer video tools like Movenote to things like eduCanon which allow you to curate your own video content, or sites like Kieran Donaghy’s Film English where a true expert in video shares his ideas for how to use them in class, we are witnessing a real democratization of this form of expression applied to language learning.

 

Mobile Learning

There are lots of exciting advances in apps and e-books which are certain to take us in very interesting directions soon, but at the moment much of this is fairly straight forward content delivered in a pretty traditional way.  The real value that mobile can add to you classes today resides in its ability to bring the learner’s experience into the classroom, not simply receive content.  Just as a video or voice recorder your students’ smart phones are probably still worth more than most of the apps out there.  And if you are going to use apps why not use those that your learners are familiar with?  For these reasons BYOD is still king in most contexts.

 

Social Media

I’ve spoken about this and backchaneling before, but in a nutshell: This is one way that we are speaking to each other today.  As language teachers we know that anywhere and anyway that communication is taking place, we need to be there.

 

Online Collaboration Tools

What I find interesting about experimenting with things like shared Google Docs is the way they help us to see that the most transformative kinds of changes (see my explanation of the SAMR model for evaluating technology use) that come about from using technology do not happen because of the technology itself, but because an emphasis is placed on the types of skills needed to use the tool to its full potential.  And the teacher working as a guide is key to helping students hone these skills to use these tools in new and unexpected ways.  This example of “Chrome Smashing” is a great example of how you need to get creative to redefine tasks and take them up a notch.

 

Adaptive Learning (AL) and Big Data

This is perhaps the most fiercely debated of today’s Edtech innovations.  Proponents claim data mining the information trail that students leave when completing work online will allow us greater insights into their needs, helping us to personalize their learning experience.  Others feel that language learning is too complex to be able to be measured, or that any measurement will only be at the “McNugget” level.  I actually believe that there is some merit to the McNugget argument, but only because these are very early days for AL.  We still have only a very preliminary idea of where this may go, but new tools are already being developed which measure student progress far more accurately and granularly than before thought possible, give automated and nearly instantaneous results, and can measure gains using much more meaningful “can do” descriptors instead of the simple completion of discrete McNugget-type content items.

 

Puffin Academy

 So, you are surfing the net with your mobile device trying to find some good educational resources.  After a long while you find something that might be interesting,  you try to open it and…oops! Your browser doesn’t support Flash.
Does this situation sound familiar to you? No, don’t worry; we are not here to argue for or against the use of Flash, we are here to give all those teachers who have had this problem a solution.
Ever since apps came out, there have been some that would allow you to browse over  flash content by streaming it, such as Photon or Puffin and they still work fairly well, but Puffin have taken their free app a step further launching a new educational browser called Puffin Academy
Puffin Academy only allows educational websites. Publishers and content creators need to apply to add their sites to their browser, so this is a great solution for all the teachers or schools that are implementing mobile learning in their classes and want to assure that they are using quality content for their students.
Just yesterday I read quite a significant comment from Alfons Cornellà; “while nowadays “searching” is the key, in the near future “finding” is going to be the key.”  That’s why the figure of the curator has become more and more relevant – because you don’t want to venture into the information jungle alone.  You had better contact an information hunter and you’ll save a lot of time, or you can become a specialized hunter and partner with other hunters, which is even better.
So, Puffin Academy has taken this path to becoming a browser and a curator, and it’s a win-win relationship for all the content creators.
It has also improved the customer browsing experience a great deal, with its JavaScript engine and cloud computing technology is faster than the buid-in browser by up to 550%. Note that it also includes some useful built-in tools.
Since all the content companies are moving towards the cloud, this app provides a cross-platform/cross-device solution, so it’s also a great option if you are thinking to go BYOD.
Downloads:
Google Play
App-Store

Big trends in ELT by Mario Herrera

Mario Herrera is the author and co-author of many acclaimed ESL/EFL series that are used in levels ranging from pre-primary to junior high schools. As an international consultant and teacher trainer, Mr. Herrera travels the globe, directing seminars and delivering professional development workshops throughout the Americas, Europe, the Middle East, and Asia…and we have had the enomous privilege to talk with him after his BIG conference in Madrid.

Thank you Mario, it was a pleasure to learn from such an experienced traveller, you gave us one of the biggest learning journeys!

We hope that you like it as much as we did!

A class with your class

Workshops with children are great. I love them.

I have realised that  after being away from the class for quite a long time, you start to talk and think too theoretically and idealistically.

Children bring us back down to earth, back to class, a place where you need to find the perfect balance between theory, trends and reality, where emotions and relationships are as important as the latest trends in education.

Why am I saying this? Because we have created what we call “A class with your class”. The principal aim of this activity is to offer teachers a “live teacher training” . We conduct a class for the students, (we request the presence of the English teacher) and a meeting with the teachers afterwards to talk and reflect about what we have done as well as to complement the session with resources and more ideas.

Let’s have an example. We did this in A Coruña, in the International School Eiris, a great school that is now facing the challenge of implementing the use of tablets in their classes, so, we decided to deliver a QR code workshop for students and a training session to the teachers focused on  digital competence in the English class.

Why QR codes? When we talk about literacy,  we have to be aware that in a technological society, this concept is expanding to include the media and electronic text, in addition to the alphabet and number systems. Our students need to learn how to read images, how to read multimedia, how to read the web, and how to read anything that can give them information. QR codes are just another way to get or to offer information.

In this session we explained to the children the QR code concept, we practiced with QR codes, we created QR codes and we reflected afterwards about how we can apply it to our daily activities.

Here you have the presentation.

Another session is called 20-2-GO.

20-2-GO,  is a collaborative contest that measures children’s reading comprehension in a fun way. Here you have the presentation where the rules are explained. You can use it for so many different purposes in your daily routines just by changing the questions.  The counter works only in presentation mode and its duration can be adjusted to your necessities.

Here you can read a review of the activity written by a teacher after one of the workshops, thank you Salva!

2014: Ed Tech debate opens up

2013 was a dizzying year for Ed Tech.  It was the year of the tablet, the app, the MOOC and gamification.  We learned that you can quantify yourself, augment reality and wear technology.  We found out that data can be big and live in a cloud.  And of course there was the inevitable chorus of voices heralding in each new tool or trend as THE definitive game-changer. Things, we were often told, would simply never be the same again.

But much like the glittery promise of beautifully-wrapped gifts under the Christmas tree, once opened and inspected the inevitable consumer malaise sets in.  Things do return to normal (with a vengeance!) and the holiday splurge gives way to a nagging sense of remorse and the obligatory resolutions that next year will be different: simpler, more frugal, truer to our principles.

We all know this drill (all too well I would guess) and so any hope that 2014 is likely to ring in even a momentary lull in Ed Tech investment will probably sound naïve in the extreme.  In fact if 2013 is anything to go by we’re going to be seeing at least as much splurge, start-ups and shiny cool stuff (much of which will still be a flash in the pan) over the coming year.

But I have reason to believe (OK, not too many reasons actually, more of a gut feeling) that this year is shaping up to be a little bit different in other respects.  Particularly in terms of the kind of conversations we are having around the technology.

A case in point is the 2014 Horizon Report Higher Education Preview which strikes me as differing in some interesting ways from the 2012 and 2013 versions.  The report continues to focus on key Ed Tech developments, trends and challenges.  But whereas the versions from previous years focused first on the developments (think of these as the shiny new stuff) and left the trends and challenges towards the end (almost as afterthoughts) this year they’ve flipped it on its head giving the trends and challenges prominence.

The language of the report has a marked shift in tone as well.  For example “fast moving trends” are not only put forth as “likely to contribute to substantive change in one or two years”, but there is also an admission that they might “burn out” in the same time frame.  The toughest challenges facing us are termed “wicked” and described elusively as “those that are complex to even define, much less address”. And among the “slow moving trends” is the matter-of-fact observation that “making online learning natural” (no technical language obfuscation there) is a key priority.

The take-away for me is that we have reached a key moment of maturity in the Ed Tech debate which owes itself to a number of factors.

One is that the conversation is much more inclusive, particularly with respect to more critical voices wary of the direction and effects of change.  As with other historical moments of extremely rapid technological innovation, there is often a lag before arguments questioning its use are formed.  But the concerns now being heard are going to have an important impact on the conversation because they raise the fundamental questions as to WHY we will choose to implement certain technical solutions in education, HOW that is best accomplished and WHO the key stakeholders are.

Another is undoubtedly the hangover produced from the excesses of the start-up boom.  Personally I think that excess at times is inevitable and even necessary.  In times of intense disruption you’ve sometimes got to throw a lot of stuff at the wall before you can see what sticks.  This has been going on for years now and the result is that what is sticking is starting to clump together around some key areas.  Things haven’t yet gelled completely around concepts that are always obvious or meaty enough for teachers to sink their teeth into on a practical day-to-day basis, but general trends are more discernible all the time and, as a result, much easier for everyone to talk about.

In my next post I’d like to take a look at what I think some of those trends are, and where they might be taking us.