5 ways of using Edmodo with language learners (part 2)

In part 1 of this series, I shared 5 ways of using Edmodo with language learners to make homework more interesting. In this post, I will focus on ways of using Edmodo with language learners, to support the development of their language learning autonomy. This post extends what I spoke about in my webinar on developing Learner Autonomy, offering a similar mixture of initial theory followed by practical ideas for using Edmodo.

Introduction

In my current context, learners are obliged to do ten hours of private study over the duration of the course, in order to pass. With classes that only happen twice a week, in most cases, out-of-class study is vital for good progress to be made and I am fully in favour of this component of the languages courses here. However, I would argue that this obligation requires autonomy rather than scaffolding it. Indeed, “…fostering autonomy does not mean simply leaving learners to their own devices, but implies a more active process of guidance and encouragement to help learners extend and systematise the capacities they already possess.” (Benson, 2011:91)  When faced with the requirement of private study and left to their own devices to fulfil it, some learners may just default to doing language practice activities online or watching films in English. This may be particularly true of those who are new to language learning and do not yet know many different ways of helping themselves learn outside the classroom. Of course there is nothing wrong with either activity in the above example, and learners may find that these work best for them. The important thing, I feel, is that this be an informed decision based on awareness of alternatives rather than a default position.

Theories of, and perspectives on, learner autonomy abound (for an overview of different perspectives, see Oxford, 2003).  The sociocultural perspective is the one I have chosen to use in my work with my students, with its “central interest in the roles of interaction and social participation in the development of learner autonomy” (Borg and Al-Busaidi, 2012:5). In terms of methodology, I prefer Smith’s (2003) “strong” approach, which works on the assumption that learners are autonomous to different degrees and attempts to work with them to “create the atmosphere and conditions in which they will feel encouraged to develop the autonomy they already have” (Benson, 2003:305). This contrasts with a “weak” approach (Smith, 2003), which is based on a deficit model in which learners are viewed as lacking certain behaviours, which must be transmitted to them. Autonomy within this perspective, then, is a product of instruction and a deferred goal (ibid). A “strong” approach starts with what learners bring to the table and addresses issues, raised by critics of the concept of learner autonomy, with regards to its appropriateness in different contexts. By developing an approach with the learners, the methodology is what Smith (2003) describes as a “becoming appropriate methodology”.

But where does Edmodo fit into this? Well, Edmodo, as a collaborative space for learners, can be used in conjunction with giving them a handout with range of ideas for them to try, some of which entail using Edmodoand providing opportunities in class for learners to reflect on and discuss what they have tried, how useful they found it, as well as why, and what they would like to try next, setting personal goals along the way. These discussions needn’t last for too long (for those who are anxious about using class time) and provide a valuable opportunity for building motivation, by enabling learners to help each other with any difficulties met along the way (group trouble-shooting!) and sparking interest in terms of trying ideas that classmates have tried. In my experience, learners are proud to share what they have achieved and interested in what their classmates have done, as well as generally able, between them, to resolve problems met by a member of their cohort. The metacognitive element inherent in reflecting on one’s own learning and discussing it with others is also invaluable in the development of person, task and strategy awareness (Vandergrift and Goh, 2012).

Here are five ways that learners could use Edmodo, within the framework described above, to further their own learning, in doing activities that are not set for homework and to complement other activities, using English, done in their own time.

5 ways of using Edmodo

1) Article sharing and discussion

This activity gives learners the opportunity to express their thoughts, opinions and ideas related to a newspaper or magazine article and see what others think. This uses both receptive (reading) and productive (writing) skills, and enables authentic, communicative use of language between students outside of class time.

  • A learner finds an article that he or she thinks is interesting and posts the link to Edmodo, along with a short paragraph explaining why they think its interesting and an opinion related to the topic.
  • Other learners in the class can then read the article and respond to the original poster with their own ideas and thoughts.
  • The discussion continues until it has been exhausted.
  • (Optional: Learners are allowed 5 or so minutes at the beginning of a lesson to discuss the article[s] in small groups.)

Benefits:

  • The opportunity to share opinions provides a purpose to reading that may be motivational for some learners.
  • Sharing opinions about an article requires a greater depth of processing than just skimming the article for an overall meaning and moving on. The learner has to engage with the ideas contained in the text in order to form an opinion.
  • For learners in contexts where there is not a lot of opportunity to use English outside the classroom, a genuine communicative situation is created.
  • The teacher can look at the exchanges to see what language is missing, that the learners need to express themselves better, and provide this in the classroom.
  • If this is done at intervals, learners can look back at early discussions and compare these with more recent ones. This enables them to see progress in their ability to express themselves.

Of course, the same activity can be applied to a podcast or video clip.

2) Listening task generation

This activity is adapted from Vandergrift and Goh (2012). They call it a “peer listening task” (Vandergrift and Goh, 2012: kindle loc 3923), whose goal is to facilitate extensive listening. The idea is that learners create a listening task for their classmates to carry out.

  • Learners find a youtube clip or podcast in English. (This will require listening closely to a number of such clips, in order to find a suitable one)
  • They post a link to this clip on Edmodo, along with some questions about it.
  • The teacher checks the questions to make sure they are correct and clear, making any suggestions/corrections by responding to the post.
  • The learner can edit the questions according to the teacher’s feedback.
  • Other learners then watch/listen to the clip and answer the questions.

Vandergrift and Goh (2012) provide a template for this activity, which can be adapted and used, or you, the teacher, can create your own brand of scaffolding, if you wish. Obviously, in order to make suitable questions, learners need awareness of suitable question types for listening tasks. By taking a metacognitive approach to listening in class time, you can help learners to increase their task knowledge, which can then be applied to to this activity, with support from you.

Benefits:

  • Edmodo provides an easy means of sharing the clips and questions, creating a repository of listening tasks for learners to do in their own time.
  • To decide on a clip, learners need to listen closely to a variety of such clips.
  • A bank of listening material is built up, which learners can use at any time. (I did this with my learners in advance of their end-of-course listening test, as a means of enabling them to do extra listening practice!)
  • Making questions for other students to answer may be more motivating for some students than just listening, particularly if they don’t understand enough first time round: rather than giving up and moving on, they are encouraged to persevere.

3. Time for a chat!

This is a very simple activity but potentially a very beneficial way of recycling language met in class in a communicative, meaningful way.

  • Any learner may start a conversation on Edmodo, on any topic, by posting a conversation opener. (In Headway Pre-intermediate, there is a lesson on keeping conversations going. You could model this activity by setting it as follow-up homework to that, or a similar, lesson and then encourage learners to do it independently when they see fit. Learners may be more inclined to do it if they have had a go and know that it is not complicated, whereas they may shy away from doing things they haven’t tried before, as it is easier to stick with the known.)
  • Other learners respond and the conversation develops.
  • The conversation continues until learners run out of things to say.

Benefits:

  • Learners use language communicatively outside of class and are able to experiment further with language that they have studied earlier in the course.
  • Quieter learners may feel more comfortable expressing their opinions in writing and doing so may help build up their confidence to increase spoken production later on.
  • The teacher can see if learners have understood how to use this language and troubleshoot any misuse.

When recommending this activity to learners, suggest that they try to incorporate language that they’ve been using in class: this then becomes an opportunity to experiment with that language. It doesn’t have to be from the latest lesson, it could be from any lesson or combination of lessons earlier on in the course. It could be grammatical or lexical,  most likely a combination of the two. Of course the emphasis is on communicating meaning rather than using specific forms, but if learners have in the backs of their minds that this an opportunity for recycling, they find ways of bringing in some of the language naturally. If it sounds stilted or is used inappropriately, the teacher can use this as the basis for some analysis in a subsequent lesson. Research demonstrates that

4. Let’s Cook!

This activity will not appeal to all learners, but that’s fine. Those to whom it does appeal can try it and may benefit from it…

  • Learners write a recipe for a favourite dish. (Not an easy task, but you can direct them to recipe websites, particularly those with lots of pictures, for them to see example recipes)
  • When finished, they post it on Edmodo. 
  • Learners may then try and cook friends’ recipes and post pictures of the finished product on Edmodo. They can tell their friends what they think of the recipes and find out what their friends think about their own recipes.
  • Variation: For lower level learners (one of my pre-ints managed this very nicely!), direct them to a recipe website, where they can search for a recipe in English that they want to cook. Once they have cooked the recipe, they can post a picture on Edmodo and/or (depending perhaps on what it is!) bring a sample to class! (My pre-int did both!)
  • Variation: For higher level learners, they may like to compare an L1 recipe and the English version (i.e. a recipe for the same dish but written originally in English) and see what similarities and differences there are in structure, lay-out, use of language etc.

Benefits:

  • It’s a fun way of using English outside of class.
  • It exposes learners to English used in a different way from what they may be used to.
  • It’s practical and hands-on, using language rather than just learning about language: this will hopefully be motivational for learners, as there is a concrete outcome of using the language.

Obviously if a learner has no interest in cooking, then it’s a non-starter. But the beauty of out-of-class work is that learners can choose what they do…

5. Reporting a conversation

Many schools offer some kind of conversation club or guided (to a greater or lesser extent) speaking opportunities, that learners may attend outside of class time. Edmodo allows students who attend these extra-curricular sessions the opportunity to benefit more from them.

  • Students attend conversation club/pub night/guided speaking opportunity of whatever description.
  • Subsequently, learners write about it on Edmodo: What was discussed? What new language did they learn? What did they find most interesting? What was the silliest/funniest/cleverest thing that was said?
  • Other learners who were not able to attend can then read about the session and respond to the content of the post in any way they wish. A further discussion on the topic may arise!

Benefits:

  • Students who attend the speaking occasions gain from revisiting and reprocessing the content and language of these.
  • Students who did not attend may be tempted to attend at a later date when they are able to and may learn something new from the posts written by students who did attend.
  • The teacher can see what their students have picked up from a speaking occasion and clear up any linguistic misunderstandings that may have arisen.
  • If further discussion arises in response to the post, this creates another opportunity for meaningful language use. For the original poster this may offer chances to recycle newly learnt lexis.

Edmodo and Reflection

In addition to activities such as these, of course, Edmodo has potential as a reflective tool. You can encourage learners to write reflective pieces regarding past language learning experience, progress they feel they’ve made on a course so far (perhaps at the mid-course stage), goals, and what they’ve learnt when they reach the end of a course. Reflection is arguably an important factor in the development of learner autonomy: “only experience that is reflected upon seriously will yield its full measure of learning” (Kohonen, 1992:17). Obviously this shouldn’t be over-done – learners may get tired of it if you try and get them to do it all the time! Written reflection of this type, done at reasonable (what is “reasonable” will depend very much on the length of the course, the frequency of the lessons etc) intervals, can, however, complement the discussions alluded to earlier in this post. The added benefit of using Edmodo as a means of doing this is that learners can read each others’ reflections and gain from their colleagues’ insights, which may differ from their own, and it’s also very interesting for the teacher to see what the students think and how aware they are of their learning, learning processes and learning progress, and what they take away with them at the end of a course.

Student feedback:

As I’ve already shared student feedback from completed courses in the webinar (see my slides in the recording) and in part 1 of this series of posts about Edmodo, I thought I would use feedback from my current semi-intensive course who are now just over half way through their level. At the half-way point, I find it useful to give learners the chance to evaluate Edmodo and come up with ideas of their own for how it could be used. A class of heads plus mine is better than one! In addition to fresh ideas arising, it gives learners ownership of the page, and this ownership motivates them to invest more time and effort into using it. My semi-intensive gang are pre-intermediate and focus on the first 6 units of a 12 unit pre-intermediate course book. Therefore at this point, they have looked at 3 and 3/4 units.

I gave my learners the beginning of six sentences to complete – two about the reading project, two about Edmodo and two about the course as a whole. The two about Edmodo were:

Edmodo is good because…  and I think Edmodo would be better if…

This didn’t give me any statistics but those 6 questions gave the learners the opportunity to critique different aspects of the course and the course as a whole, and me the opportunity to negotiate the onward path with them. Between us, then, we benefit in terms of the course becoming better-suited to learners’ needs.

Here are the students’ answers:

Edmodo is good because…

  • Edmodo is good because is useful to exchange and train our English. It is also good to propose topics for discussion and creates team spirit of classmates.

  • Edmodo is good because….. I think that it’s a very good way to exchange some informations not only about homework but also about topics we chose discussing on.

  • Edmodo is good because we can talk with the other classmates and when there are some homework we can compare together.

  • Edmodo is good because, through the app, I can read and post topics and homework from everywhere…

  • -Edmodo is good because allows all the students to comunicate each other not only for the homework but on everything we decide is useful to improve our english

  • Edmodo is funny even though I hate FB. This exercise of writing would be better if we read and checked our written in classroom all together.

Edmodo would be better if…

  • Edmodo would be better if we use it more and if we continue to use it after the course.

  • Edmodo would be better if…. I don’t know, I find it useful enough as it is ! …..Perhaps if everyone could choose a topic of conversation on which we have to prepare from the next time and on which we will discuss for improve our ability in conversation.

  • Edmodo would be better if it was possible connect it with the student’s personal mail addresses So when a student writes something or a post, all the recipients could automatically receive notice or, if possible, the whole contents of the edmodo’s posts

  • Edmodo would be better if is possible have a private chat like facebook because I think that if I can talk with someone for a thing the private chat is more useful than the notice-board ( ? )

  • Edmodo would be better if?

2 students have yet to respond (this is hot off the press homework!) and one conflated the questions, as you can see in the first set of answers above.

This class didn’t wait till the half-way point before taking ownership! They are the first class which I introduced Edmodo to straight away at the start of the class. They are also the first class who got the activity ideas handout for the Experimenting with English project straight away. (Straight away in both cases means lesson 2, when we did the Self-Access Centre tour) However, on the strength of this evaluation, we have decided to use the beginning of the lesson on Monday to bring Edmodo up on screen using the projector and do a quick collaborative error correction slot. This will focus on the posts that are generated by the other idea to arise, which was to choose a topic each week, share links to relevant articles/information and discuss it on Edmodo, then use a small amount of class time to share ideas in class too. So again, learners benefit from rehearsing language, followed by feedback and task repetition (although changing the medium from written to spoken) and all based on something of interest to them as a group. With regards to the student who wants email notifications every time something is posted, I have looked into that using the Edmodo community support forum and got a link for him to set it up.

One similar thing to come out of this feedback and the feedback from the end of my previous courses, is that learners may not be keen on social media but still like Edmodo and recognise the benefits of it. The feedback from these learners clearly demonstrates their recognition of it as a tool for supporting their learning and for using independently – they like the fact that it is not just for homework. It is important to emphasise from the start that it is their space. Using it for homework, to model activities and to encourage communication, is great but at the same time, if they know it is theirs, they will find even more innovative ways of using it.

Finally, being a semi-intensive class, they are likely to have a good rapport anyway, due to the frequency of classes, but having Edmodo enhances that, too, as one student above recognises explicitly. Therefore, while autonomy may be a major goal (at least as far as I am concerned!), the benefits are not limited to that. I  think, on the whole, that this group of learners is getting a lot more out of their course than 4hrs a week of language study. As well as becoming more autonomous, they are getting what they want out of their course (despite the fixed learning goals/curriculum/assessment, there is still room for negotiation, if one enables that) and enjoying lots of opportunity to use language collaboratively, communicatively and meaningfully outside of class time, as well as the “team spirit” that arises from this.

Conclusion

It is important to differentiate between expectation of learner autonomy and fostering learner autonomy. In order to do so, it helps to be aware of different perspectives on learner autonomy and methodologies for bringing it in to the classroom. Edmodo is a collaborative tool, which allows greater scope for language use outside of the classroom, and used in conjunction with a supportive framework, which helps learners to experiment, reflect on their experimentation and become more aware of different ways of developing their language skills, can, I believe, play a role in helping learners become more autonomous.

Webinar on Learner Autonomy: Information and References

Today, the 19th of February 2014, at 11 a.m. C.E.T., I had the privilege of leading a webinar on Learner Autonomy Development, courtesy of the British Council’s Teaching English website. I started with a discussion regarding the theory related to learner autonomy, inviting participants to offer their own definitions and images of learner autonomy, and using the variety of definitions offered to illustrate how learner autonomy looks different in different contexts, before providing some definitions from the literature. This was followed with a brief look at each of my current learner autonomy development projects:

  • the Reading Project (click here)
  • the Experimenting with English Project (click here)
  • the Edmodo/Blog Project (click here)

(Links to these will be added in the next few days, as they are published)

Links to these can also be found on my Learner Autonomy page (click here). They cover largely the same ground as that covered in my webinar but with additional information regarding the process I went through with each project while developing it with my learners.

I concluded my webinar with a series of quotes from learner autonomy theorists. Each of these, I feel, makes an important point that is worth keeping in mind as you embark on the process of working with your learners to develop autonomy both inside and outside the classroom.

To see the recording of this webinar, please click here.

Many thanks to the British Council for giving me this wonderful opportunity, to International House Palermo for being supportive of my penchant for trying new things in the classroom, and last, but assuredly not least, to all the tutors in the M.A. ELT department at Leeds Metropolitan University for helping me find my voice and empowering me to question things as well as look for answers. Looking for answers may mostly lead to further questions (!), but it’s an amazing journey to go on. 🙂

Here is a full list of the references used in the webinar:

Benson, P. (2003)  Learner autonomy in the classroom in in Nunan, D. [ed] Practical English language teaching. PRC: Higher education press/McGraw Hill.

Benson, P. (2011) Teaching and Researching Autonomy (2nd Edition) Pearson Education. Harlow.

Borg and Al-Busaidi (2012) Learner Autonomy: English Language Teachers’ Beliefs and Practices British Council, London.

Dornyei and Ushioda (2012) Teaching and Researching Motivation (Kindle Edition) Pearson Education. Harlow.

Holec, H. (1981) Autonomy and foreign language learning. Pergamon. Oxford (First published 1979, Strasbourg: Council of Europe.)

Holliday, A. (2005) The struggle to teach English as an International Language (Kindle Edition) Oxford University Press. Oxford.

McCarthy, T. (2013)  Redefining the learning space: Advising tools in the classroom in in Menegale, M [ed] Autonomy in Language Learning: Getting learners actively involved. (Kindle Edition) IATEFL, Canterbury.

Oxford, R. (2003) Towards a more Systematic Model of L2 Learner Autonomy in Palfreyman, D and Smith, R. [Ed] Learner Autonomy Across Cultures. Palgrave Macmillan. Basingstoke.

Smith, R. and Ushioda, E. (2009) Under whose control? in  in Pemberton, Toogood and Barfield [Ed] Maintaining Control: Autonomy and Language Learning. Hong Kong University Press. Hong Kong.

Smith, R. (2003) Pedgagogy for Autonomy as (Becoming) Appropriate Methodology in Palfreyman, D and Smith, R. [Ed] Learner Autonomy Across Cultures. Palgrave Macmillan. Basingstoke.

If you are interested in learning more about Learner Autonomy, I would recommend the following resources:

Benson, P. (2003) Autonomy in language teaching and learning in Language Teaching vol. 40 issue 1 p.21-40. Cambridge University Press. Cambridge.

Menegale, M [ed] (2013) Autonomy in Language Learning: Getting learners actively involved. (Kindle Edition) IATEFL, Canterbury.

Palfreyman, D and Smith, R. [Ed] (2003) Learner Autonomy Across Cultures. Palgrave Macmillan. Basingstoke.

The IATEFL SIG newsletter, Independence, which comes out three times a year and is free to SIG members or £6.50 to non-SIG members.

If you are interested in learning about research done into the use of CMC tools in the language classroom, I would recommend the following resources:

Pinkman, K. (2005) Using blogs in the foreign language classroom in The JALT CALL Journal vol 1

Tratjemberg and Yiakoumetti (2011) Weblogs: a tool for EFL interaction, expression, and self-evaluation in ELT Journal vol 65/4. Oxford University Press.

5 ways of using Edmodo with language learners (part 1)

Edmodo is a collaborative platform that is specifically geared towards use in teaching and learning. It describes itself as “a free and safe way for students and teachers to connect and collaborate”.  When I use it with my students, I tell them it is a space for us, only for us, to use English at any time when not in class. In my current context, this has instant appeal: opportunities for using English outside class are limited in Palermo, particularly if your commitments are such that you cannot get to the school to participate in any of the extra-curricular activities on offer.

It is easy to get students signed up on to Edmodo: you provide them a group code, which enables them to register as student in the class attached to that group code, and they generate their own username and password. The trick when you introduce any new tool, of course, is to get learners using it comfortably and regularly. For me, another goal that I keep in mind is to enable learners to use it autonomously in a variety of ways that supplement their classroom learning. What is the difference? Well, learners could use it “comfortably and regularly” but only when told to and only in fixed, limited ways…

However, the focus of this post is on homework, so “compulsory” use of Edmodo, rather than autonomous use. Autonomous use will follow in a different post (part 2!), after my webinar. I’ve found that using Edmodo allows me to set more interesting homework tasks, that provide learners with the opportunity to communicate and me with an overview of what they can produce and, in some cases, what difficulties they may be having with what we have done in class. Here are five ways of doing this:

1) Question Time! (Pre-intermediate level)

 There is a big focus on questions in the first half of our pre-intermediate course. Students struggle with word order, form and choice of question word, sometimes adding words in when they shouldn’t, too. The course book has a grammar focus box which requires students to match question words and answers, as well as the usual focus on form gap-fills as practice. As homework, rather than a.n.other gap fill or writing questions that will never be asked, you can get students to use Edmodo to ask each other questions:

  • Give them the set of question words which they have learnt how to use
  • Ask them to post a list of questions for people in the class to answer.
  • They can then respond to each others’ questions.

Benefits: 

  • You can see at a glance who has and hasn’t got their heads around question forms. (Obviously secure in writing doesn’t preclude problems when speaking, but you can address that in class later!)
  • The students have a non-linguistic purpose for making questions: to find out more about their classmates. This should be more motivating than filling in more gaps or writing a list of questions and then forgetting about it.
  • The way they answer the questions provides insight to their understanding of the questions.
  • The students spend time between classes using the language that you have been focusing on in class in a freer way, making it more memorable for them.
  • As students communicate with each other between lessons, as well as during their twice a week classes, their rapport builds.
  • You can correct any mistakes in the questions as students post them and respond positively to correct questions, and there remains a record of this: students can look back and see where their mistakes were and what the correct version is. This could be useful when it comes to revision for tests.

A very simple activity, with plenty of benefits for both teacher and learners. This could be applied to other levels by varying the complexity of the language required. Lower levels could make more simple questions, higher levels could be encouraged to use a range of tenses and/or perhaps include reported questions too.

2) A “Getting to know you” diagnostic activity (Pre-int upwards)

The first lesson in any course usually features a heavy component of “getting to know you” -related activity. (My own current favourite is “A Map of Me”, which Sandy Millin came up with!) Of course, as a learner, when you meet a big group of people (in my context, the maximum class size is twelve and if it’s a full class this is big enough to count as “big” in terms of getting to know people!), it’s hard enough to remember all of their names, let alone everything they told you about themselves, in English, one after another. Here is a homework activity you could use in an early lesson:

  • Ask learners to write three sentences about their past, three sentences about their present, three sentences about their future. In each set of sentences, one should be true and two should be false.
  • Learners then post their sentences on Edmodo and look at the sentences written by everybody else.
  • Learners guess which sentences are the truthful ones.

Benefits:

  • You get a swift overview of learners’ basic tense control. (You already have a fair idea of what their speaking on the topic of themselves is like, from your “getting to know you” activities during the lesson, so this complements that and allows you to see if spoken mistakes are slips/procedural, and therefore not present when learners are writing and have more time to spend on accuracy, or due to absence of knowledge.)
  • Once learners have finished guessing and the truth has been revealed, you also learn more about your learners as individuals.
  • Learners write briefly about themselves for an audience, using a mixture of tenses.
  • The “game” factor hopefully makes this writing a fun activity rather than a chore.
  • Learners get to know more about their classmates.

Another simple activity, requiring no preparation, that gets learners communicating. For higher levels, encourage use of more complex language – stipulate, for example, use of a mixed conditional, a past modal etc.

3) A “taster” (all levels)

Looking ahead at what you are going to focus on in the next lesson, topic-wise or language-wise, you can use Edmodo to rouse learners’ curiosity and engage their interest before they even come to class.

  • If your next topic/sub-topic is, for example, the news, post on Edmodo asking if they have seen anything interesting in the news lately.
  • If you’re going to look at vocabulary related to “My Ideal Day”, post on Edmodo and ask learners what they like doing at the weekend. (You could then get them to repeat this activity, using “My Ideal Day” as the title, following the lesson, so that they can use the vocabulary from the lesson. They (and you!) could compare what they produced in the taster and what they produced in the follow-up. You could also get them to compare their “ideal day”‘s and find anything they have in common, to make it more interactive.)
  • If you’ve prepared a concordance activity to draw their attention to the differences between “say”, “tell” and “speak”, post a sentence using each, on Edmodo, with the key word blanked out. Get them to decide which word fits into which sentence.

Benefits:

  • You can get an idea of your students’ communicative capabilities in relation to the topic/language you are planning to look at in the next class. (This may influence your planning, too!)
  • As the lesson is not the first time for the learners to think about the topic/language/vocabulary in question, they start in a stronger position.
  • It provides an extra opportunity for rehearsal of the language, meaning learners may be able to produce more complex language during class discussions. Where necessary, you can help them reformulate this and the net result can be a higher quality of language as the take-away.
  • If learners compare “taster” and “follow up” production, on Edmodo, they will hopefully be able to see progress.

Again, very little preparation required on the teacher’s part. (How long does it take to post a topic-related question or similar?)

4) Spot the difference (higher levels)

This works well with upper intermediate and advanced learners. It requires detailed reading and some writing too. Summary writing is not an uncommon task, every learner has to do it at some point, but this activity makes it a less tedious thing to do…

  • Ask learners to find a newspaper or magazine article that interests them and to post a link to the article on Edmodo.
  • As well as posting the link, in the same post, they should post a summary of the linked article. However, this is not a straightforward summary: learners need to summarise the article but change five pieces of information, so that the summary is inaccurate.  Encourage the learners to be sneaky and make changes that are difficult to spot straight away.
  • Learners should then read classmates’ summaries and linked articles, in order to identify the differences, and reply to the post with their suggestions. (This does not preclude other learners reading and guessing – there’s nothing to say that whoever posts first is necessarily going to be correct!)
  • You can post error correction feedback on the summaries if you want to, or use it as the basis for a delayed error correction in the next class. (It’s quick and easy to copy and paste sentences that could be improved OR examples of good sentences onto a powerpoint slide to project in class). Learners can then be encouraged to go back and self-correct their summaries, using what they have learnt from the error analysis activity.

Benefits:

  • Learners are required to read (both their article and other students’ articles and summaries), write (the summaries) and communicate (their guesses) with each other.
  • The “spot the difference” element gives the learners a purpose for reading, writing and communicating.
  • Trying to trick their classmates will hopefully be fun and therefore add some motivation, where “write a summary” on its own may fail, with some learners.
  • Learners have an audience (their classmates) for their writing. This may encourage learners to take more care over their work, rather than rushing something off on a piece of paper to submit to the teacher in the next lesson.
  • It generates a writing sample for the teacher to use for error analysis, and learners can edit their own work following this, upgrading it.

5) Project work

I don’t know about other course books but the newer editions of Headway like to include little “projects” at the end of some sections. These usually go along the lines of “Use the internet to find out more about ________ [ ________ being related to the topic that learners have just finished working with]. Bring information and pictures to the next lesson to share with your classmates about it” or similar.  That’s all well and good, but what if your learners don’t have a tablet or a printer? What if your learners find interesting articles that other learners didn’t find but would like to read? What if you are pushed for time and just can’t see yourself “using up valuable lesson time on random project work, you stupid course book!” ?

Well, these projects can work very nicely using Edmodo.

  • Very simply, ask learners to share links to information, upload pictures, and comment on what they find using Edmodo. In other words, do the project, but do it on Edmodo.
  • Encourage learners to look at what other learners have found and compare it with their own findings.
  • Now that you have a shared body of information, that learners have thought about and discussed on Edmodo, you can still allocate five or ten minutes in a subsequent lesson for learners to discuss it orally. However, if you really don’t feel you can justify this, at least learners have still had the benefit of searching for, reading and discussing information related to the topic they have been studying in class.

Benefits:

  • Learners get to do the projects and communicate with each other outside class, using a range of skills and language in the process.
  • Learners get to benefit from the information their colleagues have found.
  • Tablets and printers are not required for information-sharing, making it a lot quicker and easier and not excluding learners who haven’t got access to these. (Of course more and more students have tablets, but it is still probably more common to have access to a computer. As for printers, *I* don’t have one, my sister doesn’t have one, it’s not everybody who happens to have access. Also printer ink is expensive and black and white grainy pictures are not that exciting to look at! :-p )
  • If the teacher is pushed for time, the in-class portion can be cut, if necessary, or kept very brief. (A lot briefer than would be possible with loads of paper articles to swap, compare and discuss etc! Students would be ready to launch into discussion, having already seen each others’ offerings, and rehearsed the necessary language to discuss them, on Edmodo)

Conclusion

Edmodo is a great tool, very simple to use and with huge amounts of potential. The activities I have described above are equally simple, require little to no preparation on the teacher’s part and generate a lot of genuine, purposeful language use, both receptive and productive. It enables learners in context where English isn’t much-used to use English between classes and consolidate learning done in class in interactive, hopefully motivating ways. I’ve only been using Edmodo since September, and haven’t even begun to tap all the “extra features” it has – various features and apps and so forth – but the way I use it, just on a basic level, is proof that you don’t have to be particularly tech savvy in order for you and your students to benefit from using it.

I will finish with some student quotes gained from feedback forms and reflective pieces:

“The third English course is a bit different from the previous: Edmodo has been a new tool to improve English and, even thought I don’t like very much the social network, I think it is a very useful tool to share many things, to suggest other tools, give ideas and take one’s cut from my classmates’ works. Edmodo has been a virtual place “dedicated” to our level three and I liked it.” [From a reflective piece]

“Yes definitely. I really like Edmodo and the reading project. It’s a new idea to improve our English” [The question was, “Did the course “extras” help you?”]

“Enough helpful, because it’s difficult to speak English in this city, it’s not a thing that happens every day” [Question as above]

“Yes, because I was always in contact with my classmates” [Question as above]

“Edmodo is a good opportunity of communication” [Question as above]

“I think that the ‘extra’ activities are useful, because they are moments to improve our English and you can compare your extra homeworks to your extra homework of your classmates” [Question as above]

I hope I’ve convinced you to give it a try, if you don’t already? 🙂

If you do already use Edmodo, I would love to know how you do – I’m always looking out for fresh ideas! Please comment and share ideas below… 🙂

39th ELT Blog Carnival: Blogging with Students

The theme for the 39th ELT Blog Carnival is Blogging with Students and it is a timely theme for me: With adult courses coming to an end this week, my first experiment with using a blog in the language classroom has also reached its conclusion. This was done with my Advanced class, which took place twice a week, at 1hr20 a pop, for approximately four months. It was an interesting class in terms of demographic: There were 7 students in total, 3 of whom were middle-aged and 4 of whom were teenagers (but older teenagers, coming to the end of their school years).

My goal in using the blog with these learners was:

To give them additional opportunities for using English and to harness it as a tool to help in the development of learner autonomy.

I’ve learnt a lot from the experiment and am looking forward to trying again with another group of students, using what I’ve learnt this time around.

How I did it:

I  created the blog on WordPress (I don’t know how to use any other blogging software currently!), naming it after the class, and introduced it several lessons in to the course (it got delayed by a lesson due to technical issues but I’d delayed it until that initial technical issues attempt for other reasons – see “What do I think…” below), giving learners the user name / password, demonstrating use and clarifying that they needed to put their name in brackets after their post title so that we could know whose was whose.  I mostly used the blog for homework with them initially – with the idea of modelling potential uses of it. One thing that I found very interesting is that half way through the course, I gave the learners the opportunity to discuss the use of the blog and how they’d like to use it. They came up with some great ideas (which I am going to steal and try to implement with future classes! 😉 ) but mostly they did not implement them. They also wondered if having their own log-ins would be better but then agreed that it actually wouldn’t change anything in the great scheme of things. However, in conjunction with other learner autonomy development tools, some of the learners did use the blog autonomously as well as for the activities I set as homework. Given that 4/7 were swamped with school work and tests, while 3/7 had full-time jobs and family commitments, I can understand why the ideas were there but the action wasn’t, and particularly admire those who did make time to use the blog autonomously.

What did the students really think of the blog? 

Well, I collected final feedback in two different ways: feedback questionnaires, which covered various activities/tools used with the group, and reflective pieces in which students were asked to look back on what they’d learnt from the course and evaluate it – NB the brief was very vague, I did not ask them specifically to write about the blog or the other “extra” activities used, but just to reflect on what they’ve learnt and what they found useful.  (These were published on the blog! *still awaiting a few more of these to be submitted…). Here are a couple of soundbites:

From a reflective piece, looking back on the course:

What I appreciated most was that most of these activities were often intended to foster interaction among participants by different forms of technical communication, such as publishing texts on the school blog.  By drawing upon constant web-based practice it succeeded in offering a fresh approach to language production.

From another reflective piece:

The use of the blog was also encouraging to use english outside class in many different ways.

From a feedback form in space provided beneath each question for further comment on the number circled:

It helped us to have feedback even when not in class and it was a great way to learn English in a new, less traditional way.

From another feedback form:

I liked the blog idea. […] The blog is a very useful tool and it could be exploited even more.

Due to the nature of the feedback forms, students were able to expand on what they wanted to, so some talked more about the other tools/activities used. However, the four extracts above are from four different students.

One piece of feedback which reflects my approach to using the various tools/activities, including the blog is this:

The teacher made the tools not compulsory, which was already the best way to use them.

It was in response to “How could the teacher make these tools/activities more useful for you?” More on this in my forthcoming webinar on learner autonomy.

What do I think of the blog/”blogging with students”?

I’m very pleased that it went down so well with the students, despite their time, or lack thereof, issues and I absolutely agree with the student who thinks it could be exploited even more. That is something I will be mulling over before kicking off with the next course. Now that I am more comfortable with the process (it can be ever so daunting introducing something new, that you haven’t used with students before – even if, like me, you are familiar with blogging for your own purposes! I was incredibly nervous when I introduced it, hence putting off a few lessons before I did so – I had to really push myself to do it but I’m very glad that I did!), I think it will be easier to refine it and maximise on the potential that lies in it, both in terms of opportunity for using English outside of class and in terms of learner autonomy development.

One thing that blogging with students does enable is more interesting, interactive homework. (This is also true of Edmodo, which I have used with my other classes, with very positive feedback) You can get them to do writing tasks with a real communicative purpose, which require them to read each others writing and respond to it meaningfully, and which are also good fun. (I will dedicate a future blog post to ideas for using a blog or Edmodo for interactive, communicative homework… )

Extra work?

Teachers may worry that having a class blog will create a lot of extra work for them. Maybe it does a bit: it’s important to respond to learners’ work. One problem I had with this was simply forgetting to open the blog and check for new work, because in my main browser, I’m logged into my own blog and so I used a different browser to be able to be logged into the class blog at the same time. However, it’s a lot easier to mark homework that is typed and that you can copy/paste and reformulate/refine than it is to decipher student handwriting and try to squeeze feedback into any available space. The student can then compare their work with the feedback in the comments, without being put off by all the pen marks (and possibly struggling to decipher the teacher’s handwriting! 😉 ) and the piece of work stays filed away on the blog, enabling easy comparison with future pieces of work. I also think the benefits do definitely outweigh what we, as teachers, need to put in for it to run smoothly.

Potential?

One thing I did not tap sufficiently is the blog’s potential as a reflective tool – ironic, given the name of my blog and my penchant for reflection! Also, because I’ve been trialling various things, the trialling has occurred as and when the ideas arose in response to what has been happening in my classrooms. It’s all been super-interesting but definitely not very…smooth. Now that I have a stock of ideas and a clearer idea of how to approach using the tools, including the blog, I hope I will be able to tap its potential more effectively. Of course, I will still respond to what emerges in individual classes, so more ideas will be born and existing ones adapted, but having a core of existent ideas gives the project more of a backbone and frees me up to focus on tweaking and identifying new ways to exploit the blog further, both as a communicative tool and a learner autonomy development tool. Already the ideas are bubbling away in my mind… 😉

Another avenue of potential that I’d like to explore is that of converting the accumulation of learner work on the blog into a learner language corpus. This could then feed back into work done in the classroom, in a variety of ways. This would also be possible with Edmodo. One would copy the texts over from whichever platform and store them in plain text format, before analysing them with a corpus analysis tool. I can envisage also having a corpus for each level, so that over time, the more classes I use these tools with, the bigger each corpus would become. There would perhaps be potential for comparative work, where learners analyse their own class corpus in relation to a higher level and gain a clearer picture of where they are and what they are working towards. Or compare with a lower level, to gain a clearer idea of their own progress. Or compare with an established corpus, native- or non-native speaker-based, such as the BNC or VOICE.

I think technology, especially that which enables opportunities for genuine communication, has a lot to offer language learning, if it’s used in a pedagogically sound fashion, where there are clear aims and benefits inherent in the uses made of it. In my current context, it offers students a valuable means of communicating in English between classes, which is important as, being in Palermo, there is not a lot of opportunity for using English outside of class time. They clearly recognise this and I hope that with future classes, my use of the blog and its integration into the course will be smoother and more effective so that the benefits are maximised.

Conclusion

I’m really looking forward to reading the other blogposts in this carnival, and anticipate hopefully that they will form a lovely little resource for teachers looking to use a blog with one or more of their classes. To any teachers who have been thinking about trying it but been too nervous too: Just jump in and give it a go! It’s not actually that scary (I’ve discovered!), in fact, it’s a lot of fun and very rewarding – for teacher and students alike.

blog

What shall we do with it? Anything is possible… (Taken from Google advanced images search – licensed for commercial reuse with modification)

Elementary Teens (13-15yr olds) Christmas Lesson Idea

I had a lot of fun with my elementary teens today, for our last lesson before the holidays and thought I would share the lesson idea here, for anyone else to use…

Materials:

  • Recording of “Merry Christmas (War is Over)” by John Lennon
  • Gapped listening text
  • Whiteboard, board pens
  • Christmas Spirit!

Plan:

  • Put the learners in small groups (3 ss per group). Ask them how THEY celebrate Christmas (activities, food etc) and get them to take turns to tell their group. However, the task is to draw up a list of similarities and differences in their Christmas celebrations. When they have finished, give each group a chance to report their similarities and differences to the whole class.
  • Ask them if they know how people celebrate Christmas in other countries in the world. Let them share any knowledge/ideas/opinions related to this.
  • Put the learners into two teams. Give each team ownership of one of the whiteboards (if you are lucky enough to have 2 whiteboards in the classroom, as I am in this particular classroom!) or split one board between the two groups. Divide the boards into pros and cons (of Christmas). (With + and – signs and happy and sad faces, to clarify!) Let the learners brainstorm in their groups and fill the board. (My learners had lots of ideas!) This should raise the point that Christmas is not rosy for everybody (e.g. poor people, lonely people, old and infirm lonely people etc.) Give learners the opportunity to look at and comment on the other group’s whiteboard/ideas. (I found it particularly amusing when they were discussing how the magic of Christmas is for when you are young, not for them – I guess that makes me a proper grandmother then! 😉 I was impressed by all the ideas that they came up with, especially for the negative column.)
  • Write the song title and John Lennon on the board. Ask the learners if they know this song. (Most of these learners had!) Tell learners they are going to listen to the song and write down any key words they hear/understand (NB: check they are clear that words like “and” “but” etc don’t count!) (My learners were able to note down quite a few key words, some more than others – depending on level within the level and familiarity with the song). Let learners compare and pool their key words in their teams.
  • Hand out the gapped listening text and get learners to tick the words on their list that they can see in the text. Ask learners to listen again and complete the gaps. Get them to compare in their groups after listening and then play the recording again for them to check the answers they have decided on through the discussion/comparison. Project the complete song lyrics for them to see/check their answers against. Get them to check their list of key words again. Work together as a class to identify what caused the misunderstanding of any words written down (in gaps or as key words) that are not in the song. (E.g. it sounded like a different word, they heard half of the word and interpreted it as a different word etc. Think of sound interference at word boundaries and problems that may arise from chunking the stream of sound incorrectly…)
  • Get the learners to use their completed texts to sing along to the recording. See if they will try and sing the song without the recording – mine did! They thoroughly enjoyed it.
  • Ask learners why John Lennon wrote this song. Elicit their ideas. (E.g. Protest against war/injustice/inequality etc. To bring people together. To get people to think about less fortunate people at Christmas…)  Ask them what kind of song it is. (A protest song). Ask them if they know any other protest songs. (Mine did! Came up with lots of good examples between them). Ask them if they know any protest songs in their language. (Again, mine did! Though they specified that they were more like solidarity songs) Ask them if they think these protest songs do any good. (My optimistic, positive crowd thought they did and had plenty of ideas why this was the case) 
  • Round off the lesson with some “Stop the Sleigh!” (which you may know under the more common name of Stop the Bus… 😉 )  This works very nicely with Elementary teens in teams of 3: especially as adjectives, nationalities and food have all been covered during the past term – it was a game but also a bit of review.

The lesson worked well, the teens were very keen to express themselves (!) and I was able to feed in a lot of language that they wanted there and then. The song gave them listening practice and acted as a stimulus for discussions about Christmas that enabled us to extend discussions of Christmas well beyond the initial, familiar Christmas food and activities talk that we started with. We also had a lot of fun! Win all round… 🙂

christmas_by_bioclay88-d5p4k6o

“Christmas” by bioclay88 – taken from google images search licensed for commercial use with modification.

Extensive Reading (part 2)

In this post, I wrote about my own experience of extensive reading and reflected on the idea of getting students a) reading extensively and b) benefitting as much they can from it. Following on from this, I have attempted to start the ball rolling and get the pages turning (at the hands of my learners, of course!).

page turning

Let the pages turn! (Taken from advanced google image search filtered for “labelled for commercial use with modification”)

My experimentation thus far is informed by:

  • what I have learnt about learner autonomy (as well as the role multimedia can play in facilitating this).
  • what I have learnt about motivation.
  • what I have learnt about the relationship between these.
  • what I have learnt about theories of learning (particularly drawing on social constructivist ideas).
  • my own experience of extensive reading (as language learner and teacher) as well as others’ (e.g. the experiences related during a talk at a MATSDA conference this year).
  • reflection on the relationship between the implications all of these and the learners in my classes.

My goal is:

To get my learners reading regularly, over a substantial period of time (not a one-week wonder) and reaping the benefits of this. However, it is important that it comes from them, that they are doing it of their own volition not because it’s forced on them, not because Lizzie said so. Ideally, it should also be something they can enjoy. Of course, pleasure is multi-faceted…

For example, this could be pleasure that results from:

  • relaxation.
  • discovery/satisfying curiosity.
  • achievement/success.
  • overcoming a tough challenge.
  • finding something really difficult but persevering nevertheless.
  • feeling a sense of progress – linearly through the book and/or in terms of language learnt from it.

And the type of pleasure experienced, if any at all, is likely to shift regularly.

Why is pleasure important? I think because it is then more likely to be something they do long term rather than just this semester. (I read in French for pleasure still. And it keeps my language ticking over.)

My classes:

For now, I am focussing on adult classes. (Perhaps when I have done my IH Young Learner training certificate, which I am starting soon, I will think about how to set about this project with my low-level teenaged learners…!) I teach a mixture of levels (currently pre-intermediate, upper intermediate and advanced) and I am using a similar approach with all of these levels. I’m keeping track of what I’m doing with the learners and how they are responding over time by recording anything of interest/relevance in a 50-cent notebook. (The same notebook that I’m using to keep track of my experimentation with various multimedia tools for developing learner autonomy, as I think extensive reading can be an important tool for autonomous learning and autonomy is important in extensive reading.)  It’s early days but it’s already really interesting! (I think so, anyway :-p)

My approach (the beginning):

I started the whole process by putting the learners in small groups for a brief discussion about extensive reading (scaffolded by some simple prompt questions).

This enabled me to gauge:

  • their attitude to reading
  • what they already know about the benefits of reading for language learning
  • what approaches they have used and how well (or not) these have worked for them.

At both lower and higher levels, the learners had experience and ideas to share. Unsurprisingly, a mixture of approaches were discussed. Of course, they then looked to me to tell them “the magic way” but that was not to be…

I responded that:

  • all the approaches they had discussed were equally valid
  • all the approaches had different benefits/drawbacks.
  • varying the approach used could be the best way to gain the most benefits in the long term.

I think this was important to discuss, because there is a danger that learners may think there is only one “right way” of doing things (“I must read x type of book in y time using z approach, if I don’t I won’t learn anything”), and if the perceived “right way” doesn’t work for them, they may give up altogether, feeling that their way is wrong and therefore not worth doing. Whereas, there are, of course, any number of ways to skin a cat/read a book/learn a language.

They also wanted me to tell them what to read, so we discussed the benefits/drawbacks of:

  • reading a book that you have already read in L1 vs. a book you’ve never read before.
  • graded readers vs. authentic texts.
  • books vs magazines/newspapers.

I then gave them the task of finding something they wanted to read in English. The only stipulation was it had to be something they could read over time. So, a book, a book of short stories, a newspaper/magazine that they would read regularly (as vs. a single article). I encouraged them to find something that they want to read.

This, of course, is very subjective:

  • Some learners welcome the challenge of an authentic text (like me and Harry Potter in Italian – it may seem a ridiculous prospect, an elementary learner trying to read Harry Potter written for Italians, but it’s working! And, as it happens, one of my level 3’s has picked Harry Potter in English – which he says is difficult but he is enjoying it and wants to persevere – so far! 🙂 )
  • Some prefer the security of a reader graded to their level and will benefit more from this.
  • In terms of subject matter, one man’s meat is another man’s poison.

I think that whatever learners choose to read, if the desire is there, they can gain something from it. Why? Because it will add to the all-important motivation to persevere. And perseverance = exposure to language in use.

The learners themselves had ideas of where to get hold of English reading material:

  • local bookshops
  • the library
  • online sources, for those with kindles
  • I also posted a link to the Gutenberg project on Edmodo for added inspiration.

My approach (further information):

Compulsory?

I did not make this project compulsory, but explained that once a week we would use ten or so minutes of a lesson to discuss progress/difficulties/approaches used etc. As we had already discussed the benefits, they understood why I was introducing this into their course and were receptive to the idea. I’m not forcing this on them, I’m offering it to them as a potential learning tool and scaffolding their independence in using it. A couple of students in one of my classes don’t want to read. So they are going to listen extensively instead. They are going to watch series/films in English with English subtitles on (so, a bit of reading too!). That’s fine. We’ll see – perhaps as the course progresses and the other learners who are reading share their experience of it and how it’s helping them, these learners may be tempted to experiment outside of their comfort zone. Meanwhile, any exposure to English is better than none!

Level?

With the lower levels, this discussion came the lesson after we had done a lesson of which part had focused on learning new vocabulary and the kinds of things you need to know about a word in order to learn it. This tied in quite nicely: Their homework was to find three words/phrases that were new to them, find out the type of information that we had looked at in class (collocations, prepositions, examples of different meanings of a single word where relevant etc. etc.) and post this on Edmodo, to share with the other learners. I put a link for the Oxford Learners Dictionary onto Edmodo for them to help them with this.

With higher levels, I have some other tools up my sleeve to try out with them, but meanwhile the project levels itself by choice of reading matter.

Autonomy potential?

Subsequently, I have told learners that I won’t set this vocabulary work as homework anymore but it is still something they can continue to do. It can also count towards their 10hrs guided study (learners at IH Palermo need to complete 10hrs of independent learning – any time they use English outside of class of their own volition i.e. not homework). Soon, I want to introduce Quizlet as a way of reviewing the vocabulary they accumulate. Over time, I hope to help them build up a range of ways to use reading material and any vocabulary they choose to extract from it. (I’m not dictating when or how often they should look up words, but between them there is a range of approaches in use, which I am encouraging and will continue to encourage experimentation with.)

I have also asked two levels (so far) – pre-intermediate and advanced – to set themselves mini-goals for their reading over the next week. It was their choice what their goal was, the only stipulation was that it should be small enough to be a realistic aim for one week of reading. Next week’s ten-minute discussion will enable them to share what progress they have made with their goals and consider how realistic they were in light of this. Hopefully, success with the goals will be motivating, in terms of the reading, and if any learners don’t achieve their goals (there are bound to be some), collaboratively (and with my help if necessary) they can work out why and adjust their goal-setting for the next week to make their goals more achievable while still challenging. This will hopefully avoid demotivation by guiding learners towards a way of enjoying a series of meaningful mini-successes rather than becoming dispirited because the end goal (the usual, vague “improve my English for xyz reason”) doesn’t seem to be getting any nearer. I’m doing this because I think motivation management is important for the development of learner autonomy and perseverance.

Conclusion

So, it’s early days but I would say a positive start: the learners are on board. For me, the next step is to help them sustain this motivation rather than get bored/lose interest/give up. Additionally, of course, I want to help them become more autonomous learners. This extensive reading project is one strand of that. I have a handful of ideas up my sleeve (in relation to this project and the larger learner autonomy project) and time this weekend (a three-day weekend, hurrah!) to reflect and formulate the next phase of my plan of action.

What’s next?

Well, if you want to know the results of these experiments (what worked, what didn’t, evaluation at the end of these learners’ current course/level, what else I did to try and make these projects successful i.e. the afore-mentioned ideas lurking up my sleeves), I think you’ll have to wait till my British Council webinar on learner autonomy which will take place in February next year, as conveniently enough my current adult classes mostly finish towards the end of January next year (except for one that finishes in December) – just about in time to round up what I learn, and package it suitably for sharing with others… 😉

Your thoughts?

Meanwhile, as usual I would be very interested to hear from anybody with any thoughts on all this. As I mentioned in my previous post, I would love to hear anybody’s experiences of trying to get learners reading extensively and independently, as well as of being a language learner and using extensive reading as a learning tool.

“Itchy Feet!” (Some *more* new materials…)

Recently, Sandy Millin published a blogpost, in which she shared an audio recording, made on request shortly after arriving in Sevastopol, Ukraine, and described a lesson that another teacher (not the one who had made the original request) had made based on this recording after finding it on Twitter.

I listened to the recording and felt inspired to create some materials to go with it. You can find a link to these materials (a student handout and accompanying teachers’ notes, as well as a brief powerpoint quiz about Sevastopol, including introduction to Sandy, and a transcript of the recording) here. (Scroll down to number 3, “Itchy Feet” )

Conveniently enough, the topic links in with a reading text that my learners will shortly be looking at in New Headway Upper Intermediate. I plan to use these materials to spice up the lesson a bit. At higher levels, we have more time to work through the book content, so there is room to do this. Though it isn’t written into the materials, because it would be overly specific for materials to share, I also plan to have them compare Sandy’s experience, and the language she uses to talk about them, with the experiences written about in the reading text and the language used therein. The title of the materials was actually inspired by NHUI, as the phrase “itchy feet” features in a vocabulary activity within their reading and speaking sequence!

For homework, I’m planning to get my learners to pretend that our Edmodo group (http://www.edmodo.com) is a travel forum that they use, and through which they have got to know each other, and have them post from the exotic destination of their choice, to say they’ve moved there to work/study, describing how it’s going so far – positives and negatives. As well as language and content related to this lesson, this will also recycle the informal language usage that they looked at earlier in the unit, in the context of informal letters and emails between friends.

No doubt I will blog to share how it goes after I’ve used these materials. I’d be interested to hear how you get on with them too! 🙂

Extensive Reading (some reflection and a request for ideas!)

It is widely agreed that extensive reading helps language learning and we are always trying to encourage our learners to read, read, read…

reading_harry_potter__by_shadowhawk49-d5i09x0

It’s a good way to learn a language… (Taken from Google advanced search filtered by “free to use, share or modify, even commercially”)

I started reading in French when I was doing French A-level. I remember the first longer-than-course book-length text I read, which was a short story by Guy de Maupassant, set as summer holiday reading. I looked up many, many words and wrote the translations above/next to/below the words in the book. I remember the sense of achievement when I finally finished. Homework done, I moved onto Le Petit Prince, which was a lot less laborious and more enjoyable, with much less word translation. I was in France at the time, so I was reading only in French (had to be done!) I bought myself the audio disk of Le Petit Prince and listened to that repeatedly. (I just loved the story and hearing the words!) On a subsequent trip, I began my journey through what was then the whole series of Harry Potter – up to The Goblet of Fire. Later, I had to do a lot of reading for my university studies, but I still managed to fit in some pleasure reading when I was in France doing the compulsory couple of months there in the summer after the first year of studies – I worked my way through both enormous tomes of Les Miserables!

Old_book_-_Les_Miserables

Just a light read… (Taken from commons.wikimedia.org via Google advanced search filtered by “Free to use, share or modify even commercially”)

Looking back, the extensive reading worked well for me, but I think not as well/effectively as it is now that I’m doing the same thing here in Italy. I’m reading Harry Potter in Italian. I’m an elementary (if that) learner but I know the story and Italian has a lot in common with French, so it’s manageable. (I think with very different languages, it becomes a lot more difficult at elementary level – for example, I tried to read in Indonesian but found that very difficult, though at least it shared the same alphabet with English and had its share of imported vocabulary…) But unlike before, I’m not just reading: I’m reading to learn, I’m reading actively, I’m noticing everything I possibly can about how the language works. I’m comparing and contrasting how it works and the vocabulary with both French and English. I’m also using the English version to help me: I read some of the English version, then read it in Italian. I also do it the other way round, to have a go and then check my understanding.

It’s early days but within a relatively short period of time, my receptive vocabulary has soared and even my productive vocabulary is coming along. I also have a much clearer mental picture of the language. For me, the key to successful extensive reading has been in choice of text and approach.

Ideally the text needs to be enjoyable or motivating in some way:

I’m enjoying Harry Potter in Italian because it’s relaxing, being light-hearted, amusing and easy conceptually, and I’m free to focus on all the new (for me) language contained in it, a lot which, of course, is extensively recycled. I’m motivated by all the new language I’m discovering. Familiarity helps – you’d think it would be boring re-reading things but actually once you let go of reading to find out what happens next, it’s like spending time with an old friend i.e. comfortable and relaxing. I think that relaxation helps the brain be open to new linguistic discoveries. It also lowers as much as possible the cognitive demand of the content, freeing up my brain’s resources for linguistic matters.

In terms of approach:

 Shifting the focus away from “what happens next” to “how does this fit together?” is working well for me so far: noticing and then trying to understand, as well as experimenting with the new language. I find that the descriptive parts are useful for building up my vocabulary and seeing how things fit together, while the dialogue parts provide language to play with and attempt to produce. The experimentation won’t necessarily be at the same time as the reading – it often comes later when I’m walking to or from work, reflecting on what I’ve read most recently and playing with it in my mind. Sometimes that might just be mentally repeating a chunk, sometimes using a chunk as the basis for forming an original sentence of my own. I suppose it is inductive learning – rather than looking at a list of rules, I’m looking at language in action and inferring the way it works from that. I do also refer to my grammar book from time to time, though, to check my hypotheses. Contrary to how it might sound, it’s not a laborious process. And it gets quicker all the time, the more I learn. It’s also, I would say, a fairly autonomous learning process: I’ve chosen what to read, how to approach it (based on what I know should work), how much to read a day (limited by other commitments but little and often seems fine!) etc. I suppose it is also a heavily metacognitive process – I’m very aware of what processes I’m using to read and learn the language, and why I’m using these processes.

Why am I reading like this?

Because during my DELTA and M.A. in ELT, I learnt a lot about how languages are/can be learnt, which I’m now attempting to apply to my own language learning. Reflecting on this, I’m now wondering how I can use my own experience to help my learners a) do more extensive reading (because I really believe it helps) and b) become more autonomous and effective in their extensive reading. (I’m fairly sure that the way I’m doing it now is a lot more effective than the way it was when I first did it in French!) Of course, horses for courses. It won’t work for everyone – does anything? – but the trick is to help those learners find out what does work for them and to help those who it could work for but who haven’t tried it to discover it as an additional learning tool. I think this could be especially helpful for my learners here, who have 1hr20min lessons twice a week and little exposure to English otherwise. (This is why homework and guided study and PSP [Personalised Study Programme]/PSP Speaking  – which all encourage the use of English outside of class – are such an important feature of the courses at the IH here.)

I might start with a little questionnaire to find out what their extensive reading experiences have been up to this point, and take it from there. I’ve been experimenting with Edmodo and class blogs, which has been overwhelming positive (they are very willing!), so by and large they do seem to be the sort of learners who will give anything a go if they think it will benefit them. The motivation to learn is definitely there, it’s a case of harnessing it, or helping them to harness it.  I think helping them develop metacognitive awareness will also be key.

(Of course, extensive listening is another interesting avenue to explore but that for another time!)

Any ideas?

NB: we don’t have sets of graded readers and the school’s little library (a few shelves) is a rather eclectic mix of books! Time is also a factor – it’s racing by. One of my courses finishes in December, the majority  finish in January. My elementary teens and my 11/12 year old mid-level tweens, I have until the end of May (I believe) so a lot more time to play with there… (Though of course what may work for them will be different from what may work for adult learners.)

Please share your stories of trying to get learners to read extensively, both successful and otherwise: let me learn from your experience as well as my own! I’d also be interested to hear about how extensive reading has worked (or otherwise) for you as a language learner…

🙂

Some materials – at last! (Part 2)

I have just added another section of materials to my Materials page!

The materials are some of what I produced for the Materials Development module that I did as part of my M.A. in ELT at Leeds Met. The linked page contains further information and links to the materials themselves. I’d be interested to hear what you think (but understand that this may not be possible until I’ve uploaded the whole of the unit!) 🙂

I have now uploaded the second section of the unit – some reading and language focus – plus teachers’ notes. However, because I haven’t got copyright of the reading text – which is taken from Frank McCourt’s Teacher Man – I have blanked out the text. You could still use the sequence by sourcing the book and pulling out Chapter 14 pages 20-23 from “All right the bell has rung.” to “Just take the story and feel sorry for the kid and the mother with her countenance and, maybe, the dad, and not analyse it to  death.”  This follows on from the speaking section, which I uploaded previously.

Enjoy – and if you use them, please do let me know how it goes by commenting below or on the Materials page…

#ELTChat Summary for 18-09-2013: How can we help learners produce natural talk in everyday, casual conversation?

For anyone who is not yet aware of it: #Eltchat is a Twitter hashtag which offers Twitter-based discussions that take place every Wednesday at 12.00 and 21.00 BST/GMT (when the clocks change). The topics, all related to the ELT industry, are listed on the  #Eltchat website, together with some background reading, a few days in advance of the discussions. The tag #eltchat can also be seen throughout the week as an identifier of all things that might interest those who work in the EFL industry.

On 18.09.2013, the 21.00 BST discussion was on the topic “How can we help learners produce natural talk in everyday casual conversation”. (I was busy finishing my dissertation at the time, so couldn’t take part, but volunteered to do the summary when it was offered on the #ELTChat Facebook page!)

The suggestions were many and varied. (I’ve divided them into categories and expanded abbreviations to make it easier to process!):

Authenticity and Input

  • Authentic materials help a lot!  I use “Real Lives, Real Listening” series a lot. (North Star ELT -now Collins) (@elawassell)
  • I encourage watching soap operas – in English – lots of natural exposure, but it might not be everyone’s cup of tea (@elawassell)
  • The thing that needs to be most authentic is the reason for their communication – it has to mean something to them. (@theteacherjames
  • By using listening that contains natural talk rather than ‘model dialogues’ (@Marisa_C)
  • Get involved in social media communication…find real friends to speak English with. (@HanaTicha)
  • Role of input via listening also quite important #eltchat and types of activities which focus on chunks of language (@Marisa_C)
  • Ask sts to repeat what you’ve just said now and then.  See if they’re noticing these natural language chunks. (@ljp2010)
  • Use typescripts etc for them to identify useful chunks. (@Shaunwilden)
  • Teach them discourse analysis i.e. do  conversational analysis – moves, politeness rules, coherence etc (@Marisa_C)
  • Record an authentic conversation on video and use @dotsub to transcribe and share with Ss. Using authentic models are helpful (@ESLhiphop)

Drama

  • Acting out whether playacting (rehearsing) or roleplaying (producing more freely) can help  (@Marisa_C)
  • We’ve been using scenarios for our students..Today is Thurs..your essay should be in by Fri..you are not ready..you have to chat with your tutor.. (@shaznosel)
  • One activity I have used with monolingual classes – act out scenario in L1 then listen in L2 and compare – language/attitudes, style.  Have them prep their improvisations in groups or pairs – act out THEN listen or watch video – it’s fascinating to watch. Often they don’t [end up with similar things] – which is interesting – the cultural element is interesting as this raises awareness of that. (@Marisa_C)  I do something similar by asking students to look at video with no sound and working out conversation from gestures (@Shaunwilden)
  • For freer activities I keep a set of situations which Ss improvise as a skit and class spots roles, setting, relationship etc (@Marisa_C)
  • Drama can include relaxation, trust building and fun, can lead to role-plays and that… with less anxiety (@Marisa_C)

Identity

  • I’ve seen the suggestion that the use of masks can help learners become more uninhibited – they adopt the character of the mask (@pjgallantary)
  • What about props? small things to lend credibility to the new identity?  (@Marisa_C)

Small Talk

  • I think small talk starts with the teacher. It can settle a class and it produces natural language (@SueAnnan)
  • It’s really important to engage students in normal conversations outside of class time, while waiting, break time etc. Helps them relax (@theteacherjames)
  • Finding out about students usually produces natural speech too (@SueAnnan)
  • @sandymillin shared her lesson on #smalltalk here:http://t.co/Yg205gQlGv my Ss found it useful (@Ela_Wassell)

Methodology, Approaches and Techniques 

  • Rehearse and then revisit, all too quickly teachers move on (@Shaunwilden)
  •  How about some good old-fashioned drilling then? (@ljp2010) yes why not? Not necessarily old fashioned but well conducted, snappy oral practice can help a LOT! (@Marisa_C)
  • Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. ALM is not “stylish” today, but it has its merits (@ESLhiphop)
  • Speaking’s like tennis practice: you need to intensively practice a single stroke, but you also learn by playing games. You need both. (@ESLhiphop)
  • As a variation sometimes you could ask Ss to define the topic and stage manage a CLL lesson where they learn and eventually record new chunks (@Marisa_C)
  • How about getting them to create their own personalised phrasebooks – with functional headings (@Marisa_C) Or a voice memo one should they wish to hear it instead? (ljp2010). Nice idea, phones help with that too as they can record the pronunciation (@Shaunwilden) or make their own recordings on something like Vocaroo and email it to themselves
  • Learning a language again: what sparks our classes are topics we care about, then we make effort even with minimum vocabulary (@annabooklover)

Some potential pitfalls were also identified:

  • When I lived in Brazil, everyone told me watching soap operas was a good way. I’d prefer not to learn the language!! (@theteacherjames)
  • If someone asked me to wear a mask I’d feel about 10x more self conscious! (@theteacherjames)
  • The problem students have with natural talk is ‘performance anxiety’ – in sports parlance, some sudents end up ‘choking’ (@pjgallantary)
  • I think it [new identity] can go too far, e.g. giving Chinese students Western names (@pjgallantary)

Meanwhile emerged some other questions that need to be pondered:

  • It does raise issue of what is ‘identity’ – many students feel like different person when speaking in English. (pjgallantary)
  • Personally I have observed that lack of fluency in any given area is often caused through the teacher’s reluctance to ask students to rehearse (@marisa_c)
  • Do you think teaching language chunks more could help? I think it’s important for fluency (@elawassell)
  • I’m not keen on the new identity, but being forced to temporarily be someone else can be useful (@theteacherjames)
  • But here’s a question: do you feel like a different version of ‘you’ when speaking in different languages? I do! (@pjgallantary)
  • The question is how to scaffold a speaking activity…  (@marisa_c)
  • Does improvisation work that well esp. at lower levels? (@Shaunwilden)
  • Control vs freedom always a worry but teachers need to intervene when needed – either facilitating or providing language needed (@Marisa_C)
  • How do you raise awareness of what is natural and what isn’t? (@Marisa_C)  Aye this is quite tricky, was thinking that listening to people in London today, nothing like we expose students to (@Shaunwilden)
  • Can drama activities help? (@Marisa_C)
  • What do confident,fluent, but not necessarily accurate speakers do that grammatically accurate but reticent speakers don’t? I suspect that confident,but inaccurate,speakers actually don’t give a stuff for the lang. ‘target’ and get lost in the performance (@pjgallantary)
  • How else can one practise a variety of language functions unless some kind or role activity – new ID or self in other contexts? (@Marisa_C)

So plenty of ideas and plenty of food for thought – what more could you ask from an #Eltchat?! 🙂