Innovations in how we measure progress

Innovate ELT Conference - Brian EngquistIn order to further prep myself for the Innovate ELT Conference in Barcelona where I will be giving a talk titled How technology helps you improve what your students can do I sat in on Ian Wood’s session yesterday at the Pearson Morning for English Teachers of Cambridge Exams event in Madrid.  Ian is something of our own in house guru on all things testing and is extremely adept at using clear language and metaphors to express quite difficult and meaty concepts from the world of English language assessment.

So, in that same spirit of clarity I would just like to sum up the thrust of Ian’s talk with this very simple, but important question that he reminded us we all hear from our students, but are often at a loss to answer entirely adequately: How good is my English?  All of us have our ways of dealing 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

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SR-NySOvWzA?list=UUj9aAMIR0Fx3fcfVRyr1i_g&w=560&h=315]

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

 

 

Teens, teen brains and exam prep

Ian Wood Madrid

Ian Wood’s visit to Spain last week was not only a wonderful opportunity for him to get the message out  about changes to the Cambridge exams.  At our Madrid and Seville events he also did us the added favor of looking at teenagers, teenage brains and exams with this thought-provoking talk:

 

Click on image to download

mission impossible

 

The teen brain is a topic which I’ve written about before, and so it was great to be able to follow up his talk with one of my own, Helping students help themselves with assessment.  It focused on implementing technology via the SAMR model to foster a Blended learning approach in exam preparation courses by giving students more autonomy and protagonism.

At the center of both of our talks was an emphasis on the teen learner as a doer actively constructing their own learning in a social context which is relevant to them.  Voice, choice, grouping, creativity and personalization were words that really jumped out at me on slides 18 and 19 of Ian’s presentation, for example.  And when he spoke about using media teens relate to, like texting for practicing writing skills, it really resonated with me as it is also similar to something I’ve been thinking about recently.

I know I speak for both of us when I say we sincerely enjoyed giving these talks and getting a chance to meet and speak to many of the teachers who came out to see us.  Thank you for all the energy and good vibes!

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.

 

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Social Media and how we speak to one another

There was some rightfully worrying news for teachers on the BBC website today.

The UK’s largest teachers’ union, the NASUWT, released the results of a survey which showed that fully one in five of its members have been the targets of “adverse comments” by both pupils and parents on social networking sites.  The nature of the comments was sometimes so severe as to impair the ability of the teachers to do their job adequately.

Amazingly “fewer than half of [the] incidents were reported to the school or the police” leading union officials to call out for “clearer sanctions” against those taking part in such abusive behaviour and “a better system for removing offensive material from websites.”  Certainly you are going to find few people arguing with such measures, not only in light of the serious nature of the behaviour but also because of how commonplace it seems to be.

Still, my concerns go beyond what such punitive, after-the-fact steps will ever be able to remedy.  I worry that social media itself will be further demonized while the root problem, namely how we speak to each other, will continue to be ignored.

Social media and similar online communications tools hold huge potential for learning.  They give students, teachers, parents and institutions the ability to engage openly with one another outside of the physical class space and underscore learning as a social activity in the broader community.  Knowing how to use these tools is becoming vital to the way we interact with one another and solve problems together.

As a language teacher I tried to make clear in my last post that it is not the tools we use to speak to one another, but the content of the conversations and the rules and considerations we take into account when interacting that need to be given centre stage.  Facebook, Twitter and Instagram aren’t going away whether we like it or not.  It is imperative that we give our learners the communications skills they need to have respectful, constructive conversations be they face to face or online.

Punishing behaviour which does not conform to socially established rules is often necessary, but we first need to establish clearly what those rules are.  And in this rapidly changing world that is the kind of conversation that teachers, schools, students and parents need to be having.

Social context, not just tech with teens

A few days ago,  I looked at why it’s important for us not only to teach our teenage students good English, but to do this while stressing higher order 21st Century skills at the same time.  Because adolescents’ brains are undergoing enormous changes in the pre-frontal cortex they are particularly receptive to work done on these social skills which are so vital to their future success as confident individuals who can work well with others.

Today I want to talk about how this impacts on the way we use technology with our learners.  And what I would like to suggest is that the most productive lessons on the use of technology for our teens (and maybe for us as teachers as well) actually have very little to do with technology per se, and a whole lot more with our awareness of  the social context in which we use it.

A particularly interesting model for the evaluation of technology use which was developed by Ruben R. Puentedura in 2011 called the SAMR model might be instructive here.  If you’re interested you can hear him speaking about it in this video, but let’s just quickly deconstruct the acronym to get an idea of what it’s all about.

Puentedura divides uses of technology into those which merely enhance the way you carry out learning tasks and those which truly transform those tasks and the learning process leading to improved outcomes.

Enhancement is represented by the letters S (Substitution) and A (Augmentation) of the acronym.  An example of substituting a technological tool for an existing one might be using a word processor instead of pencil and paper, or sending your teacher your work via e-mail instead of handing it in.  It’s kind of nice, but it brings little new to the table.  Augmentation goes a step further and the student might start to use some of the improved functionality of the word processor to format the document differently, add media or use a spell-checker, for example.  If you notice, what the students are adding to the task in both of these cases are mostly technical elements.

But ultimately I think students can do many of these things on their own.  What really interests me are the M and the R – the ways we can transform learning with technology.  Puentedura identifies these as Modification, where you can significantly re-design a task using technology, and Redefinition, where students are going beyond what was before possible, being empowered to employ the technology to carry out tasks which have never before been undertaken.  Obviously this level of outcome is precisely what we should want our students to aspire to as it impacts not only on their individual development, but ultimately on how innovative our society as a whole can become.

Putting aside what a truly transformative task might look like for a moment ,there does seem to be a great deal of agreement about the kinds of skills that are required to make them work.  In contrast to the almost purely technical skills required to carry out substitutional uses of technology, Transformation, as I read it, can only take place if higher order, 21st Century skills are thrown into the mix.

For Modification and Redefinition to occur we need to have prosumeristically-minded students who are able to collaborate with others, organizing information by applying critical-thinking , sharing it in an appropriate way which will impact positively on continued debate and stimulating future contributions by others.  In short we are asking for nothing less than to have them lend a hand in building up this vast shared construct we call human knowledge.

And this is where the teacher comes in.  When you think about it there is nothing particularly 21st Century about 21st Century Skills.  Were Communication, Collaboration, Critical Thinking and Creativity unheard of before 2001?  Of course not, but they have once again been put center-stage by a society which has seen an explosion of internet-based tools which demand a new understanding of these skills in a new context.  And the role of the teacher is to help our students transfer existing analog skills to a new digital and increasingly hyper-linked landscape.  But the trick is to see them more as social than technical aptitudes.

Take a Google doc.  It’s a fantastic tool for pushing our students in this direction – a shared document which lends itself to collaboration, shared insight, group editing and, hopefully, sharing or publishing – the ultimate in empowerment.  But when you open up a document it is still nothing more than a blank page.

Students are likely have the technical know-how to deal with all its bells and whistles, but how many really know how to work productively on a project with their colleagues?  How many have the social skills to undertake a project with that level of organization?  How many are prepared to give or receive criticism or correction from a classmate, turning their mistakes or someone else’s insight into a personal or collective gain?  And how many are aware of the power and risks implicit in pressing the publish button in today’s day and age?

Once again, this is where the teacher comes in.  When teaching with technology we are often under the impression that we need to master the tool.  But what is really true is that we need to help our students master the context in which they will use the tool.

And as teachers we already have these skills, honed over years of experience in getting students to analyze print texts, think of their effect on the target reader, the register and context they are written in.  It is only a question of transferring them to a new and highly public arena where titles pop-up in Google searches, footnotes have morphed into hyperlinks and even URLs can provide context.

In many ways things really haven’t changed all that much.  In forming literate members of society we have always started out with the basics with younger students, gradually increasing not only the linguistic difficulty at which we expect our students to read and express themselves, but also building their awareness of the social complexity into which our cultural artifacts are woven.  Known as “Digital Literacy” this is a logical extension of where our society is going and it obviously impacts very directly on how we need to see our role with our students  (if you need any more proof of this – or practical examples of how to approach teaching it I suggest you check out Digital Literacies by Dudeney, Hockly and Pegrum).

Our teens are moving quickly towards a future where much of their lives will be online.  We know that one of the things which can help them the most at this age is raising their awareness of social behavior, helping them to work together effectively  and empowering them to make their own critiques of the world around them.  If you open up a shared doc with them (or use any other tech tool for that matter) maybe you shouldn’t sweat the tech stuff so much.

Stick first and foremost to what you already know as a teacher – how to foment an understanding of communication in a broader social context.  And see it as an opportunity for a project that’s going to help them ask bigger questions about their future than which tab to click on to get the chat box to come up.  They’ll figure that part out for themselves.  It’s how they use that chat box with their classmates which is going to make the difference.

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!

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.