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.

It’s Carnival!!

Carnival is here and  we have a present for you and your students.

Your students can dress up their favourite characters (we published them here),  and play with them.

Here you have the cut-outs for the costumes.

Carnival gives us the perfect context to discover new vocabulary about clothing. Here you have some resources.

Are you still looking for the perfect costume? What about dressing-up as a tablet or as your favourite artist self-portrait?

Using Movenote

Unlike Jing or Screencast-o-matic, Movenote is not really a screencasting tool per se as is doesn’t give you the ability to capture your entire screen or use the cursor as a pointer for you audience (in other words it doesn’t record what you’re doing on your screen).  What it does do, however, is provide you with a quick way to upload a variety of document types and images, order them into a presentation and make a recording of your narration with a webcam.  And it can be used as an extension of your Gmail.  A new and easy option for teachers interested in flipping their classes!  Check it out below!

Click here

Click here

Augmented English language in the classroom

During the last seven years , I have trained English teachers in ICT in the public, semi-private and private schools from different regions.

Almost always I start the session by asking: ” In the classroom, your pupils use ICT primarily to develop which of the following skills … writing ? Reading?  Speaking? Listening? The answer is almost always the same: ICT is mainly used to develop receiving skills, (reading and listening), then writing, and… least of all, speaking.

This is not to say that reading and listening are not important skills , but there should be a better balance between receptive (more passive) and productive skills (more active) Productive skills should be at the end of any task where the student expresses through written, oral or multimedia forms their outcome learning to their peers and the world.

In addition, all the international reports show that our students can read or understand much better than speak, a result that is not surprising , since the foreign language classes are still more focused on a grammatical model than on a communicative model .

We learn to talk by talking, and we can’t expect that  the student suddenly is able to communicate verbally only after a few  intensive sessions of comprehension and written exercises,  unless we give them the opportunity to use and practice the language.

Therefore in the classroom we have to think … what reasons will I give my students so they feel the need to communicate in English? What and who should they communicate it to ?

My students have been using microphones , blogs , videos , talking cards , avatars, audio books , animation , … all the tools that can facilitate production at the end of any learning story .

And augmented reality is the perfect tool to increase language in the classroom because it can combine all of the tools mentioned above .

We all know that students learn a lot from the materials posted on the walls … but these materials are silent , they let you read, but not hear , unless we increase your content with audiovisual materials created by themselves, would create an  augmented class.

Imagine a school where flashcards, displays, drawings or research offer augmented audiovisual information created by the students themselves, in which everyday objects such as tables, chairs or blackboards are brought to life explaining who they are or present hidden secret oral messages with challenges that arouse the curiosity of the students.

Learning corners can be explained by an audio or a video tutorial QR facilitating independent work of students who do not yet possess sufficient reading skills and might need oral and visual aids to understand the task presented in each corner .

On the other hand the increasing number of bilingual schools presents new challenges when teaching science, physical education or Arts and crafts in a foreign language . Hence it is also in these areas that AR can make a significant difference.

All this opens up a world of possibilities in which the student has a real and significant reason to communicate in a foreign language with the addition of that touch of magic.

But to put this into practice here you can find some resources and ideas that can help to increase the use of language in the classroom.

Each presentation is a different and “augmented” learning story. Hope you like it!

CLIL & ICT, a perfect marriage

Bilingualism and multilingualism in schools are hot topics in different regions of Spain that are and have been implementing different plans in order to improve students skills, and all of them have chosen CLIL as the most appropiate approach.

CLIL is a challenging and exciting approach developed by David Marsh and his team studies. It aims at a broader objective than just learning a language. It shows us how to use the language to learn and learn to use languages.

I have had the chance to work for several years in a bilingual school that, thanks to its principal and faculty, has achieved great success in implementing this approach and demonstrating how reflection, planning, commitment, passion and profesionalism can make a difference.

During my stay as a teacher there, I actively collaborated introducing ICT in the project and after all these years and experiences I can really confirm that the symbiosis between CLIL and ICT works beautifully! Communicative Competence and Digital Competence is a perfect marriage.

Now, I’m collaborating with the “Marc per al Plurilingüisme a Catalunya”, a very ambitious plan that aims to use the communicative competence of their students as leverage. I have attended some meetings with the people in charge of the plan to set a common framework and It was very interesting to observe that they are not only focused on external exams but on a more profound methodological change.

I delivered this session in Tarragona and in CPR Navalmoral, and It was great to meet and share some of my experiences with such passionate teachers.

As promised to all the teachers attending the sessions, here you have my presentations. Hope you enjoy it, and if you do…don’t hesitate to comment and share it!

Celebrate Martin Luther King Day with your class

Over the past year I have had the pleasure to travel all around Spain giving a talk to students of English on the topic of Freedom.  2013 was a year full of significant anniversaries in the struggle for civil rights in my country of origin, the United States, and it proved a wonderful opportunity to share some of my history and culture.  150 years ago saw the beginning of the end of slavery.  The great hero of the fight against segregation Rosa Parks was born 100 years ago.  And 50 years ago Martin Luther King gave his powerful “I Have a Dream” speech.

Though he was born on January 15, today, the third Monday of January, is Martin Luther King Day in the United States.  It is impossible to fully convey the importance of his place in the history of the United States, but I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that it goes far beyond his social and political contributions as the deepest impressions he left in the world were without a doubt spiritual, reminding us always of our duties to our fellow man and to the principles of justice and equality.

I would like to share with you a wonderful video put together by the expert in presentations and communications, Nancy Duarte.  In it she analyzes the “I Have a Dream” speech for its structure, pauses, and use of repetition, metaphor and reference to spiritual, literary or political texts.  The amazing thing about it is how visual it is.  And for a teacher of languages it represents a wonderful use of technology to convey some central concepts of discourse analysis to your students in a way which is easy to understand and intuitive.

It will provide you with a fantastic pre or post-listening or reading task for the speech, depending on how you want to use it.  And I am certain that having understood the rhetorical conventions that King uses it could also be a wonderful springboard for more productive work.  Perhaps your students could even write their own speech with their dreams for a better world.

It would be great to hear how you decided to use it in your class!

Activitict for Christmas

We have reached the end of the first term! It´s time to take break and to take a breath.

But before we go. These days, families use to ask  teachers for nice sites or activities to do with their children during the holidays, so…here you have our proposal.

Design and create some digital toys online with your children, print them, cut and paste and…that´s it! you are ready to play offline with your creations for a truly significant  learning activity.

Here is how you can do it.

Enjoy it and have a Happy Holidays!

What are you thankful for?

Last week I travelled to Malaga to deliver a training session, and I had the chance to visit a great school called CEIP Valdelecrín, an elementary school in beautiful Fuengirola.

They have been running a bilingual program for 6 years and they have achieved great success implementing CLIL methodology…but…this is only the formal part…while I was there I met two of the teachers, and they were the kind of teachers that are driven by passion. Like most other teachers, their interest goes beyond simple things such as money or social status, they are driven by something higher, they are driven by values, by knowing that their work makes a difference.

The economic crisis is hitting education budgets hard and teachers find themselves tied by a lack of resources, but they manage to keep smiling and find creative and great ways to keep moving “onwards and upwards”. Ken Robinson says that there´s no better school than its teachers and It´s so true.

While I was there, Alicia showed me the blog that she uses to engage the students (we have added it to our blogroll here) and she explained to me how parents are thrilled with her work, and how families collaborate by taking part in the video tasks she proposes.

She also showed me some projects that they have done, and one of them was about Thanksgiving, so I thought it was a great opportunity to share their ideas with you.

Children are going through hard times, indirectly they are on the receiving end of the consequences of the crisis that many of their parents face, and they sometimes perceive anxiety, sadness and anger. This makes them feel unsure, and children need security.

Making them reflect on what they can be thankful for can help to reinforce their self-confidence and happiness. It also teaches them an attitude to life,  the same that I have seen in their teachers. It´s not just about Thanksgiving holiday…it´s about being thankful.

I would like to express what I am thankful for. I´m thankful for enjoying the little details in life. I´m grateful for my profession, for having the privilege to learn from all the amazing teachers I meet.

I´m thankful for enjoying teaching so much. I´m thankful for this learning journey. Thank you Málaga.

What about you? When was the last time you thought about what you were thankful for?

What is the relation between being grateful and hapiness? don´t miss this TED video

Let´s get real. Real competences for real life.

Last week I attended and participated in the “I Jornadas de Asesoramiento sobre secciones Bilingües”, held in a series of cities around the Castilla-La Mancha region.

On this occasion the workshop was focused on why and how to introduce Inquiry-Based learning in our lessons and how to include media making in the process as an answer to the real competences that our students will need to acquire in their lives. Here is the presentation (and at the end an interview with the organisers). I hope our non-Spanish speakers reading this get the general idea.

 

This region has a growing bilingual project and this was the first conference organized by the Administration. As they explain here, teacher training is going to be a key element in its success.

Jing: Flip your class and keep it simple!

I talk about the idea of The Flipped Classroom quite a bit with teachers.  And my interest goes beyond the obvious stated objective of delivering lectures online.  For me it provides a great starting point for a discussion on the more interesting conceptual issues involved in Blended Learning.

Because as you can appreciate in this video it’s not only or even primarily about what you’re doing online.  It’s about how moving certain activities outside the classroom gives you and your learners the opportunity to change the dynamics of the class space.  So the class ceases to be a space for the delivery of information and becomes a space for communication and collaboration.

If you want to give “flipping” a go I suggest you opt for the easiest tool out there – Jing.  You can download it in minutes and after playing around a bit will quickly learn to narrate screen captures and share the link with your students.  And maybe your students will even start to share their screencasts with the rest of the class!  Because in the end it’s really about tools that your learners can become more productive with.

Check it out:

Here’s my own Jing video using the presentation at the top of the post to give you a few ideas to start with.  Let me know if you come up with any more!