Our Educational Message

Hi, and welcome to our blog. This space is designed to share ideas and methodologies that we use to teach Turkish teenagers. In particular, there is a strong focus on ICT-ELT, which means if you like visual and technological support for your style of teaching, this blog is for you. My colleague, Brentson Ramsey, has been working alongside me for three years. He is also a big proponent of the ICT-ELT Paradigm, which means he will also be posting from his own teaching perspective on the blog.

2010 was the beginning of this new journey, and although there is no definitive ICT-ELT road map available for everyone to follow, it is exciting to explore the technological means to make teaching more fun and affective for students. Our main message is for teachers to ADOPT & ADAPT the paradigm shift for their own needs, and remember that

Sunday, 29 September 2013

PenzuClassroom Offers Up Quality Writing-Feedback Opportunities

Several years ago I started doing some serious data collection for my MSc TESOL dissertation.  The topic was Video Feedback in the Writing process.  It meant I used the data from my grade nine class, and I found the best way for collected student work was by using an online journal. I came across Penzu, and I used it then and up until 18 ago. The reason I say 18 months is down to the Penzu team creating something even better for teachers and students around that time. It means I don't have to rely on antiquated emails, word files and a messy desktop with scores of files ready to get sent to each individual student. You know what happens, things get mixed up, confusing and extremely irritating in your gmail inbox. It all adds to the already far-too-long process of weekend feedback and marking. Therefore, I give you the awesome:

The Penzuclassroom is all in the cloud, therefore you never need to save as it is done automatically like in Googledrive.  That is such a revelation for the forgetful and stressed out teacher.  Anyhow, the next amazing function of Penzuclassroom is that once you set up your classroom and share the code with your students (you can have as many as you want for the 50$ sign up, so it is cheap per student), the student then simpğly writes on Penzu, like they have always done, and submit it to the class.  It then arrives in the teachers administrator classroom window. It has time of submission, the students who sent and its size.

So, once the students submit, you simply open it up and give your feedback.  Now, this is where the title of this post comes from: Feedback opportunities.  I came up with this last week, and shared it with the Penzuteam. They liked it and are working on making it a feature for teachers. It involves Color-Coded Highlighting for Feedback on Errors.  You can note at the top of this last image there is a line of macro-icons.  This is where you can find the highlighter for marking on the students journals before you return them.  The colors available on the site struck as something that could cross-over into our teacher-toolkit.

So, I thought about all the acronym-symbols we have been shown over years. But I believe the color-coding works better, as do my students, who took to it immediately.  It encourages them to think about their errors, and not just accept what the teacher has changed for them. THEY NEVER LEARN proper writing that way. Teachers seem to think it can help, but it really doesn't! The students must have autnomy in their writing, if they are to rise to levels needed for Academic expectations throughout high school and university. 
So it is as simple as it looks:

ORGANIZATION is Orange, LOGICAL IDEAS are Lemon, GRAMMAR is Green, BAD VOCABULARY & SPELLING are Blue, with PUNCTUATION bringing up the rear in Pink.

Click this video tutorial which shows the platform and how the highligter looks

I really hope you take the opportunity to sign up for PenzuClassroom. I guarantee your efforts will be rewarded with quality engagement from your students, and your boring-marking times will be enhanced with this addition to your ICT-in-ELT toolkit.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

There is (an) WHAT'S APP for that...

Now that we are all aware (and in acceptance) of the huge numbers of mobile apps available to us all as consumers, it surely makes sense, as teachers and students, to Adopt and Adapt educational apps that can help to facilitate learning?  One such app that has become ubiquitous in a reasonably short time for free messaging on mobile phones is WHAT'S APP.  That is why we have started to use it with our new intake of preparatory students this year to communicate, share and practise English out of class time.

In fact, it was one of our students, Sinan, who initiated the class forum. Once he had each class member on board, he asked if my colleague and I would be interested in participating.  We accepted his request, but with some guidelines for an effective platform:

All communication has to be in English
Every student is encouraged and reminded to join in
No posts that could fuel iritation (football or negative teasing)
Polite and informative chat is the primary consideration

Here are some snippets that show how responsive our students have been to the forum:

Students greet each other in English

A Student enquires of others where their class peer is

A student uses it to arrange a Saturday hook-up

It's always important to remind them it's English-only

Students Request & Receive 24/7 Homework-Support (from Trs & Sts)

Another interesting find, and use for this service, is how the students use it to find out about other subjects such as Science and Turkish. Remember, these are native Turkish fourteen year olds with limited English.

The final exciting use of WhatsApp is how the students can also post audio files of a message they want to share. This will improve speaking and listening, plus build a lot of self-confidence.

Now after three weeks, we have seen over 1000 posts of English communication.  It is an authentic place for practice, development and communication.  It also leads to great self-confidence, which students starting off in a foreign language so desperately need.
I will say that anyone who reads this and thinks it could only be an irritation for you to be receiving notifications on your mobile phone as a teacher.  That is a simple fix.  DON'T OPEN the APP if you want to stay off at any time.  It is a small price to pay for getting further in contact with your students for educational purposes. Switch it to silent for notifications and away you go.  We have had over 1000 English posts, from less than twenty students.  I reckon the numbers speak for themselves, and I urge you all to try it.  

Critical Thinking Music Videos

Music and English learning go seemingly hand-in-hand. All around the world, songs are used to teach language, especially in primary schools.  It is fantastic way to keep young children engaged. The problem, however, is that as the children get older, music becomes less and less used in any of the school subjects syllabi, despite the fact that teenagers are listening to music all the time on their smartphones. For those who teach high school students, the reasons for not including music in a curriculum are quite clear. Very few teenagers would ever sing in class in front of their peers. They are too cool for that now.

My colleague and I had this very discussion a few months ago, but we were still determined to find a way to get some music in our program. There are simply too many brilliant songs that we could use to engage our students, most of whom have no idea that songs could be about something other than just love, dancing or partying. A perfect example of this was when our students had to make a presentation about their favorite English songs. One young man chose to present Maroon 5's international hit, 'Moves like Jagger', but when I asked him who the song was about, he had no idea!  

After several more occurrences such as this (several students who had never heard of U2), we decided to give it a go. However, seeing that there too many genres of music to choose from, we knew that we would have to narrow our focus down to songs that we could use in an academic context. Therefore, we finally decided upon finding songs that would make our students think. In other words, we would use songs that have various underlying themes, such as the environment, bullying or war, just to name a few, to lead us into a whole class discussion on that particular topic. We would also add several thematic consideration questions to help students better understand the lyrics, as well as help move the class conversation along. Then, for homework, the students would write their ideas and opinions of the song and discussion of it on our class PLN, Edmodo

Finally, to take it even a step further, we would try to match up songs that share the same theme(s) as the readers and novels in our syllabus. After serious brainstorming sessions, and many hours spent on putting the videos and discussion questions together on Blendspace, we have come up with a list of more than 50 songs that we believe will get the students thinking and talking, and we call these Critically Thinking Music Videos.

To give you a better idea of how these mini-lessons work, here is an example of one of the first music videos that we discussed with our students, 'Another Day in Paradise', by Phil Collins. At the time, our students were reading the ESL version of A Christmas Carol. While working on the reader, we focused a lot on the underlying themes of poverty and homelessness, and introduced the subject of Dickensian era workhouses to the students. For this reason, we felt the addition of Collins' song would really get our students to empathize more with those who live in these dreadful situations.  If you are not familiar with the song, watch the music video just below.

We left a 15-minute space in the last period to do the activity, which was a nice way to end a busy day. After introducing Phil Collins and basic information behind the song, we showed the music video to the students. Then, we asked them how they felt about the song, followed by the thematic questions we prepared on the Blendspace, pictured below. I was genuinely surprised when, during our class discussion, the majority of our students were engaged by the song. They simply couldn't believe that there could be a hit song about poverty and homelessness. It was not something they had ever heard before. These feelings were further reinforced that night when they wrote short responses to the song on Edmodo for homework. Our critical thinking music videos were a hit, or so it seemed.

Unfortunately, not every music video we have shown since then has been as successful. We teach a fickled group of 14 to 15 year-olds who typically enjoy doing something new the first time, as with Phil Collins, but when the second time comes round, they get bored very easily. Moreover, if the sound or rhythm of a song does not appeal to them, they automatically switch off. This happened when we showed U2's famous ballad, 'Where the Streets Have No Name'. Just two minutes into the song, they all stopped listening. We learned that it all depends on the student group you have. After the U2 debacle, for instance, we started choosing more upbeat music videos that would appeal more to them. 'War' by Edwin Starr was another winner. 

In the end, these music videos have overall been a positive addition to our curriculum. They are a brilliant way to break up the day, and introduce the students to songs they would have otherwise never listened to. The activity leads to a engaging discussion where all students are involved. As with all new additions, though, it takes some time to find out which of the songs work best. The links to our videos can be reached below, or alternatively, they are always available on the right side of the blog. Try some out, and let us know if your students enjoy them or not.