Teaching skills for working with teens

Teaching skills for working with teens - Image by Mansour BethoneyTeaching English to teenagers can be frustrating and fulfilling in equal measure. They can be full of energy and ideas that add a real buzz to the class, but they can also be sullen, self-conscious, reluctant to work together and difficult to engage. However, if you approach lessons with teenagers with the right ideas, materials and tricks of the trade, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be a great success.

Here’s our list of indispensable teaching skills for working with teens:

***Do group project work***

Group projects come in all shapes and sizes and work well with teenagers. They increase motivation, promote learner autonomy, have clear, achievable objectives, involve all four language skills, and can be managed in a way that lets everyone in the group take on a role that’s best suited to them. They also make a welcome break from routine and can be run over several classes, with a section of each lesson allocated to them. You’ll find plenty of examples of project work here and here. Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

To la Rioja with love. Part II :)

Last week I had the privilege of collaborating with La Rioja region again.
The Department of Educational Innovation has included a blended course of CLIL methodology addressed to all the teachers interested in implementing bilingualism in their classes (or already implementing it!).

The session objective was to complement the on-line content with down-to-earth experiences from bilingual schools in order to reflect on how Digital Competence can help us improve our pupils’ Communicative Competence. Continue reading

To La Rioja with love :)

Two weeks ago I had the privilege of collaborating with La Rioja region.

The Department of Educational Innovation has included a blended course of CLIL methodology addressed to all the teachers interested in implementing bilingualism in their classes (or already implementing it!). Continue reading

Phonics, Reading & Technology

A month ago I had the chance to attend to a great training session delivered by Jude Edwards at Alloha College, in Marbella. Everything she explained was so interesting that I really wanted her to share it with as many teachers as possible. So, it’s a pleasure for me to introduce Jude and all her experience to you. I hope you find it as interesting as I did.

About her:

My name is Jude Edwards. I teach children and teachers. I’ve spent a lot of years in the primary classroom teaching all ages from 4 to 12. I’ve also had a number of years in school management and leadership.

More recently I’ve been providing continual professional development to primary teachers in Maths, Literacy and Special Needs.

Learning Journeys: Why did you start to use phonics in your class?

Jude Edwards: British teachers were advised by the government to use a programme called ‘Letters and Sounds’. The government listed all the phonemes (sounds) that children should start to learn when they come into reception class at the age of four or five. Some teachers teach directly from this list and improvise ways to help make it interesting and relevant for children. Other teachers use phonics teaching schemes such as Phonics Bug – so that the hard work is done for them!

LJ: When do you think it’s the best age to start with phonics and why? (in Spain people start very early, since they use phonics more for pronunciation than for reading)

JE: I think it makes sense for children to learn phonics from their first days in school. Letter sounds are going to be more useful for them in the beginning than letter names.

 LJ: Have you got non-native speakers in your classes? and if so, how can phonics help them?

JE: Phonics is an enormous help to those with English as a second language. What teachers are really doing in phonics sessions is teaching pupils how to turn symbols into sounds and sounds into symbols (i.e. graphemes to phonemes and phonemes to graphemes). In a recent lesson with seven year olds, I had pupils explore how the sound /ai/ can be spelt; they came up with ‘ai’ ‘a’ ‘ay’ ‘a-e’ ‘eigh’  ‘aigh’ ‘ey’ and ‘ei’ …. And of course they were correct!

 LJ: Why synthetic phonics?

JE: The word synthetic comes from the word to ‘synthesize’ – meaning to blend different parts together. That’s exactly what we want children to be able to do; to blend phonemes together when reading and to separate or segment them to spell.

 LJ: What other methods do you use in class to complement the reading and literacy skills?

JE: The obvious strategies, such as contextual and syntactical, plus of course reading for meaning and enjoyment. When teaching early readers I also anticipate which ‘tricky words’ they are going to come across before they start reading the pages. We do a little bit of work on these words first so that it doesn’t put them off when they’re in the flow of the text or story.

 LJ: How do you work on phonics awareness in your classes?

JE: Phonemic awareness is the ability to hear, identify, and manipulate individual sounds (phonemes) in spoken words. Before children learn to read print, they need to become more aware of how the sounds in words work. Therefore it’s important to spend time segmenting words  – taking a word apart by listening to the individual phonemes that it’s made up of. And then it’s important to do the opposite, to spend time blending – hearing different phonemes and combining them into a word. In the early weeks of school this involves lots of aural and oral work, tapping and clapping sounds and using memory aids such as those found in Jolly Phonics and the more modern video clips found in Phonics Bug.

Later on in their phonemic development, children are introduced to graphemes, which is just a way of writing sounds down. I like to let my pupils experiment with graphemes, perhaps using magnetic letters or on an IWB so that they are ‘spelling sounds’. Sometimes those graphemes are one letter, and sometimes they are digraphs, tri-graphs or even quad-graphs!  I like children to be as confident turning sounds into symbols (phonemes into graphemes) as they are turning symbols into sounds (graphemes to phonemes). This is what we call letter sound correspondence.

LJ: Do you think technology helps when learning phonics?

JE: Yes definitely. Even children as young as four can appreciate quality visuals and sound clips. Technology really helps to embed learning and to ensure that what is taught stays taught!

LJ: Tell us about the results that you have noticed in your class.

JE: When phonics is taught well and pupils are engaged with the learning, their new knowledge becomes an extremely effective springboard for future literacy tasks. We must remember that good phonetic knowledge equips us to spell as well as to read. Children who miss out on quality phonics teaching will not achieve to the same extent in literacy as children who do receive it.

LJ: How do you guide families on how they can support their children if they are not aware of phonics

JE: I would suggest they talk to their children about sounds and have some fun ‘spelling sounds’. For example, the phoneme /ur/ can be found in ‘church’ ‘bird’ ‘work’ and ‘sister’ but in all of these words the /ur/ sound is spelt differently! They could then extend older or more able children with the /ur/sound found in ‘learn’ ‘journey’ and ‘were’!  Families could even have little charts up on their walls showing ways to spell different phonemes. Of course, parents can also invest in educational materials but the most important thing is to talk about letter sound correspondences and have fun exploring them.

 LJ: I loved the beans and sausages idea, could you explain it a bit?

JE: First of all you have to open a tin of Heinz Beans & Sausages if this is going to make any sense!

When phonemes are written down as graphemes and combined into a word, it is sometimes helpful to identify the sounds within that spelling. For example; ‘brown’ is made up of b + r + ow + n. That’s 4 phonemes and 4 graphemes. If I were to draw marks under the letters to identify the phonemes, I would have a bean (or dot) for b, a bean for r, a sausage (or dash) for ow, because it’s a digraph, and a bean for n!

Get it?!

Therefore:   ‘ mat ’ would be bean, bean, bean for (m+a+t)

‘stick’ would be bean, bean, bean, sausage for (s+t+i+ck)

‘chip’ would be sausage, bean, bean for (ch+i+p)

LJ: Thanks a lot Jude!

         ŸŸ

 

 

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

Gamification and stickers

Have you heard about badges and gamification? You like the idea but you are not sure how to implement it with your younger learners?

We have a freebie for you!

Here is our proposal. It uses the familiar idea of stickers as badges to complete a collection of skills.

We hope you enjoy it and if you do…share it!

And here are some more stickers for day-to-day use.

Teaching students to tweet

Eight years ago today Jack Dorsey, the co-founder and chairman of Twitter, sent this first ever Tweet and things haven’t really been the same since:

Despite initial doubts from just about everyone as to how you could say anything meaningful in 140 characters it’s hard now to imagine the Internet without the famed microblogging site.  A tool which for many did not seem to have a clear use has managed to create its own impressive uber-niche in the communication landscape.  But what is Twitter exactly and is there any way to use it in our classes?

Twitter Skills are 21st Century Skills

To help answer the first question, consider this 2012 article from Glenn Greenwald – certainly one of the most influential and innovative journalists out there today – in which he details a specific instance where he used Twitter to crowdsource his readers to check the veracity of of a suspicious online Op-Ed.  Many saw this as an example of “further evidence … that people’s ability to verify info online is *rubbish*.

But Greenwald saw it differently, because not only was the suspect article quickly exposed by his Twitter followers as a hoax, but:

That happened by virtue of all of the strengths which the Internet uniquely offers, and which traditional journalism precludes: collective analysis, using one’s readers (tens of thousands of people, if not more) to help with research and investigation, instant and mass collaboration with other journalists and experts, an open and transparent analytical and investigative process.

I don’t know about you, but as a teacher hearing things like “collective analysis”, “mass collaboration” and “transparent analytical and investigative process” (all variations on core 21st Century skills) gives me real butterflies in the stomach – and I’m talking about the good kind.

The Backchannel

Nowadays we expect an article, a conference, a lecture or just about any event to come with a conversation, a comment section or a hasthtag.  And we no longer think of this as just background chatter.  The article, lecture or event used to be the end product but now it is the starting point for something even more important – a social conversation about what the publication or event means, what we think about it personally and where we want to take it.

There’s  a name for this – backchanneling.  As language teachers this probably rings a bell, because it is a term which was originally applied to spoken interactions.  During a conversation a speaker receives feedback from his listener in the form of “umms”, “ahs”, “hmms”, “reallys”, “you don’t says” and the like.  Though these interjections may at first seem largely irrelevant, they give the speaker some real clues as to the effect he’s having on his audience.  And if you don’t believe it, try being totally silent as someone relates an anecdote to you on the telephone.  Trust me, it won’t take long before you’ll hear a puzzled voice ask, “Are you still there?”

There are a number of reasons why backchanneling in virtual space via tweets has become a vital modern communication skill that we should begin to focus on with our students.  Firstly, it is no less important than the spoken variety.  If we are going to ask our students to come up with follow-up questions to keep spoken conversations moving why wouldn’t we ask them to practice the same type of skill in their online interactions?  Secondly, it is no less important today as a genre of writing than a formal letter or e-mail, and arguably, because of the ease with which we can publish it online, more empowering and consequential.  And finally, it can easily used by teachers and students to profoundly change classroom dynamics and give learners greater protagonism.

So, how do you get started?  Try TodaysMeet.

First of all I probably wouldn’t start by using Twitter.  While it is possible to set up a private Twitter group for your class there’s a much easier way to practice the fundamentals of backchaneling with your students.  Check out TodaysMeet where you can create a room (like a temporary hashtag) for an hour, a day , a week or even a year.  You then share out the URL, students access it, provide their name and join the conversation.  It’s really that easy.  The space is non-public, “self-destructs” after its time limit and provides you with an easy way to download the transcript to read through later or look at with your students.

And what can you use it for?  Here are 3 quick ideas:

1.  Increase Student Feedback and Interaction

When students are taking in any content, be that a lecture, video or even a reading text, allow them to use their mobile devices to text in their opinions, thoughts or queries.  Often feedback only comes when the teacher asks “Any questions?” but we know all too well that ideas don’t always occur to us at these pre-prescribed moments, and some students tend to dominate class discussion while others avoid the spotlight.  Letting them chime in when they feel like it or without having to speak out loud can help increase both the quality and quantity of interaction in your class.

2. As a Project Space

Working on group projects?  Why not open up a room for each group to share their ideas or any links they think might be useful.  This room can stay open for the length of the project and you can also join in as a teacher providing them with your own insight and tips.

3. To decide on focus for future classes

Monitor the discussions and use them as a springboard for future work in class.  If you think you’re out of ideas you often don’t have to look any further than your own students.  Social networking tools like TodaysMeet or Twitter allow us to gain some real insight into what our students are thinking, what their interests are or what they might be having difficulty with.

Baby Steps!

As always, don’t bite off more than you can chew.  Start out with something short and simple which can be done in a single lesson.  Begin with a discussion on the form, function and appropriate use of these mini-texts.  And end up by sharing and analyzing the transcript together, picking out salient points and useful contributions.  Then decide as a group how you want to use this information to focus future classes.

And most importantly, remember to think of it as not only  a classroom tool but a language skill for today’s world.