BELTA & TESL Toronto Online Conference: 8/9 August 2014

Today, the 9th of August 2014, I was lucky enough to deliver a presentation as part of the BELTA and TESL Toronto Online Conference. The topic of my talk was Is anybody reading this? Making writing more interactive using Edmodo and Blogs. 

Saturday 9th August @ 16.30

Saturday 9th August @ 16.30

I started off by looking at what exactly writing is and how/why we do it with our learners. From this, I moved on to consider some of the issues that may arise in the teaching of writing, which provided a useful springboard for me to introduce the 4 C’s:

C-ommunication

C-ollaboration

C-reativity

C-omparison

My presentation went on to explore each of these, in terms of what we do in the classroom, what we ask learners to do at home and how Edmodo/Blogs could enhance this for our learners. For those who are unfamiliar with Edmodo, I provided a link to a workshop on using Edmodo that I gave at IH Palermo last academic year.

I also discussed a variety of activities, which you can find out more about at the following links:

Finally, I offered some student feedback gathered during the last academic year…

  • “Edmodo is a good way for know the classmate.in the same time is a good idea to improve our knowledge and confront opinion and so on! besides is a good tool to read and think in the english mode.”
  • “Edmodo is a good idea because we can write, read and talk in english with our classmate. We can improve our english with text, podcast that one user post and we can link an immage and describe it and we can talk about it togethere.”
  • “Edmodo is a funny way to keep in touch! You can also discuss (in English) about everything you want and share links, photo, files…”
  • “Edmodo simply is an informatics tool for the class students more usefull than a personal mail because It gives the possibilities to close the comunications only between them!”
  • “Edmodo is like a forum. Of course if you write about everythingh in English, you’ll improve your writing. It’s funnier than doing homework on your notebook. You can write wherever you are (at the moment I’m writing while people are talking about neuroprotection!)”
  • Edmodo is a usuful way to continue your english studies outside the school. Thanks to this group you can compare your homeworks,share your favourite links and discuss about everything you want to discuss! At first,I thought the typical workbook was better than this innovative way ,instead the prons are lots. Everywhere you are,you can look up something you learnt but that you forgot asking something writing on ed-modo, ’cause thanks to the app available for smartphones,you can connect in a real time and you’ll find the other one who will answer to your posts. Even your teacher will be on ed-modo who will correct your homeworks and will answer to your doubts accelerating your studies without waiting for the next lessons beginning.

…before handing over to participants for some question and answer/discussion time. Thank you to BELTA and TESL Toronto for giving me this opportunity to share my ideas and experiences with fellow teachers world-wide.

The link to the recording is available here. Additionally, here is a link to my powerpoint slides.

Fire away!

Fire away!

Feel free to comment on this post if you have any questions or want to discuss anything further! I will be happy to hear from you.

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Autonomous learning (5): Games learners can play (autonomously)!

This is the fifth in a series of posts whose goal is to explore ways of helping learners develop their language skills autonomously. The first two posts are specific to listening. The first post, which focuses on perception of connected speech can be read here , the second post on dictations as an autonomous learning tool here. The third was on the topic of “text mining” and can be read here while the fourth post was on using Graded Readers as a means of autonomous language and skill development. This post expands the series even further (!) to look at games as an autonomous learning tool. 

Games are widely used in the language classroom – as warmers, as stirrers, as lead-ins, as a means of practice, as review…and so the list goes on. This post looks at games as an autonomous learning tool:

  • What games can learners play on their own?
  • What games can learners play collaboratively via platforms such as Edmodo, Blogs or Wikis?
  • What games can learners play on other websites?
  • What value do these games have?

These are based on activities I’ve done with learners and activities I’ve done/am doing as a learner (of Italian). None of them are sufficient on their own, of course, but I believe each of them could become one of the many little pieces that make up the mosaic of language learning.

What games can learners play on their own?

Games are not the first thing to come to mind when you think about learning on your own. However, there is plenty of fun to be had in autonomous learning. Here are a few ideas:

Scrabble

Alone? Why not!

  • Get hold of a cheap scrabble set (I picked up a set of magnetic letters for about £6 on Amazon recently) or any game that constitutes a set of letters (e.g. Bananagrams) and play! Even if, like me,  you don’t have the scrabble board, as long as you assign each letter a score, you can create your own scoring system. You can also combine sets of letters and make a bumper game…
Bumper-scrabble!

Bumper-scrabble!

  • Get hold of an app! There are lots of free or extremely cheap word-game apps available. I picked up one with multiple dictionaries so that I can play in Italian. It’s nice to have a board and to have the scoring done for you, but on the other hand you can’t randomly decide that you’re going to work with 10 letters rather than 7 to give more scope for word-creation! NB: yes, you may need to be Player 1 AND Player 2… Some apps offer a solitary option, others not!
Scrabble App! (Rex verbi)

Scrabble App! (Rex verbi)

Benefits:

  • Trying to make words out of any given set of letters has you drilling yourself for every piece of vocabulary you know!
  • More time spent focusing on the target language – and every little helps…
  • Fun! = An extra thing to do using the target language that doesn’t seem like “study”.
  • Sometimes you make a word that you remember exists but can’t remember the meaning – then you look up the word and remind yourself of the meaning. This helps take the word from that borderline between recognition and production closer to production.

 Magnetic Poetry

  • Get hold of a set! There’s nothing quite like sticking alllll the magnets onto your fridge…then wondering what to do with them next. Seeing how many words/stems you know is a good start. Categorising them comes next. Into words types. Into ‘words I recognise’ and ‘words I use’…then try to use the ones you only recognise so that you can move them over. Make sentences. Make poetry. Make anything you feel like… 🙂
I particularly enjoyed classifying All The Words...well, nearly all!

I particularly enjoyed classifying All The Words…well, nearly all!

  • Use it online: Here learners (of English) can play with magnetic poetry pieces for free online. With 6 kits to choose from, there’s no shortage of words! Learners of Italian have to satisfy themselves with the real life version. Ah well! 🙂
Screenshot from Magnetic Poetry Online (http://magneticpoetry.com/pages/play-online)

Screenshot from Magnetic Poetry Online (http://magneticpoetry.com/pages/play-online)

Benefits:

  • Trying to make phrases or sentences out of the various words/stems has you drilling yourself for every piece of language/possible combinations of language that you know!
  • More time spent focusing on the target language – and every little helps…
  • Fun! = An extra thing to do using the target language that doesn’t seem like “study”.
  • Creativity that sidesteps the blank page syndrome: Having a load of words to start with, and making a game out of using them, makes production less daunting.

Storyonics

  • Get hold of a set: Storyonics is essentially a pack of cards, each of which has 4 pictures on it. Each picture is surrounded by a different coloured rectangle. But the same 4 colours per card are used throughout the pack. The game is to make a story using the pictures on the cards. You can use all the pictures on each card, or for the quick version each player chooses a colour and only has to incorporate the pictures ringed with that colour into the story. As an autonomous game, you can pick a colour (or two!), or try to use all the pictures, to make a story. You could record yourself re-telling the story, with the cards laid out in order as a prompt. You could attempt to upgrade your language in the re-telling: use more complex language, use more features of spoken narrative etc. Over time, you could compare your attempts and progress.
Storyonics!

Storyonics!

  • Make a set!: It’s a simple concept. And with resources like ELTpics, making your own needn’t be too difficult. Learners could make a couple of ‘cards’ each and share them in an Edmodo group or other collaborative tool e.g. Google docs, thereby jointly producing a pack. Learners could then compare the stories they come up with…

Benefits:

  • Stimulant for language production: This game acts as a stimulant for extended language production. Telling stories in another language is challenging but rewarding. Difficult at first, practice makes, well, not perfect but certainly for an improvement!
  • Potential for language upgrading: Retelling a story and recording oneself doing it (which is very easy with technology these days) provides an opportunity for language upgrade.

Bingo

  • Make a Bingo card: use recently learnt language, focus on a particular element of language, etc. Watch or listen to something suitable. (E.g. an action film might not be the best thing if your Bingo card is full of news vocabulary…) Tick off any of the language that you hear.

Benefits:

  • Active listening vs. passive listening: You may not hear all your chunks but you can be sure it’s going to make you listen to whatever it is you are watching/listening to super-carefully!
  • Simple, straightforward and free: All you need is a pen and a piece of paper, as well as whatever it is that you are going to watch.

Quizlet

  • Create sets of flashcards and play games with them online or on your mobile phone/tablet. It could be words and definitions, it could be phrases, it could be language you have picked up from reading/listening that you want to be able to use productively as well as recognise, it could be language based on a particular point (for me, recently, such a point was personal pronouns!) …

Benefits:

  • Fun: Quizlet is a fun way to study vocabulary. (As with anything else, as the sole means of learning, it is insufficient, but as part of a varied diet, it’s very valuable…)
  • Recycling: Learning vocabulary requires repetition and exposure to that language in context. Drilling yourself on Quizlet keeps it fresh in your mind so that you can look out for it while reading or listening extensively.

For more about Quizlet and how to use it, see this post.

My Quizlet Sets!

My Quizlet Sets!

Shadow-reading

  • Acquire an audiobook with accompanying text. E.g. a graded reader. For more challenge, go authentic! Play the audio and attempt to shadow read. How many sentences can you keep up for?

Benefits:

  • Helps make you more aware of different pronunciation features and sound-spelling relationships. I recently discovered that I had been pronouncing (Italian) third person plurals completely wrongly without realising it. This activity helped me to discover that on my own.
  • Helps to develop your sense of rhythm of the language.
  • Gives you experience of producing language at speed, physically.
  • Fun! Often ends up with a bit of a tongue twist. But over time, the tongue twist happens later and later.

What games can learners play if they have access to classmates via tools like Edmodo?

There are lots of things that classes of learners can do outside of class, if they are using a tool like Edmodo  as part of their course. Here are a few:

Out of context

  • A learner picks a word or phrase out of something they have been reading or listening to and posts it on Edmodo.
  • Other learners try to put it back into context – turning it into a sentence, a question, a couple of sentences, seeing who can get closest to the original.
  • The original poster can help by giving clues. E.g. the number of people involved, the mood, the location etc.

Picture stories

  • A learner opens the story by posting an opening sentence or two, then linking to or copying in a picture.
  • The next learner must continue the story with a sentence or two, somehow incorporating the picture into their continuation and then link to another picture.
  • And so the process continues, with learners adding text and pictures to the thread.
  • The end product is an illustrated story.

Define me, describe me

  • For inspiration a learner can gather a bunch of random objects or find several pictures with lots of things in them, online.
  • The learner sets a timer for one or two minutes and defines or describes(orally) as many things as possible, recording him/herself doing so.
  • Next, the learner posts the recording on Edmodo. Other learners should try to guess what the things are.
  • Over time, learners can look back at their own recordings and see if they can improve the definitions/descriptions or correct any errors, and compare earlier and later recordings to identify progress.

Picture dictation

  • A learner writes directions to draw something, without identifying what it is, for other learners to follow.
  • The other learners attempt to follow the directions and post their drawings in response to the original poster, together with guesses as to what they have drawn.
  • The original learner looks at what is produced and may or may not wish to refine their directions…

Benefits:

I am grouping the benefits for these collaborative activities, as there is plenty of overlap.

  • Development of spoken and written fluency, through extensive use of language.
  • Encouragement for learners to think about/in the target language.
  • Encouragement for learners to use language more between classes.
  • Motivation for learners, as studying becomes a bit more fun and language production isn’t threatening.
  • Language play: playing with language can help give learners more ownership over the language as they manipulate it in different ways.
  • Of course, as with all the other activities in this post, any given activity is insufficient on its own but as part of a varied died of activities, the end result is increased input and output of the target language.

Scaffolding

Many of these activities are based on activities commonly used in class. Using classroom counterparts and encouraging learners to try out the activities at home, perhaps through getting them to make a learning contract with an ongoing cycle of experimentation and discussion, learners may be more likely to do these kinds of activities unprompted in their own time, thus supporting their in-class learning.

Conclusion

Games can form a valuable part of a varied diet of language learning activities. There are games that don’t require the presence of other people and other games that can be realised via tools like Edmodo which enable learners to connect with each other outside class time. Providing adequate scaffolding is important in order to get learners using these types of activities independently, to support their language learning.

If you have ideas for other games learners could play on their own or collaboratively via tools like Edmodo, please comment and let me know about them! 

Edmodo Workshop: 28/3/2014 (A how-to for teachers…)

Today I did a workshop on using Edmodo, for my colleagues here at IH Palermo. It was a very practical workshop, with the goal of sending teachers away with the technical know-how necessary for using Edmodo and some ideas for integrating it into their classes. I thought I’d share what I did and the materials I made/used here, in case it’s of interest to anyone else who wants to run a similar workshop at their school – or anyone who wants to learn how to use Edmodo, themselves! (The handout with step-by-step instructions for teachers and students, and my power point slides with step-by-step screen shots, are at the end of this post.)

Edmodo home

Welcome to Edmodo! – A screenshot of Edmodo’s homepage!

This was the outline of my workshop:

  • What is Edmodo?
  • Edmodo as a teacher (“How do I…?”)
  • Edmodo as a learner (“How do they…?”)
  • Integrating Edmodo (Homework; autonomous use)
  • Potential issues (“But what about…?”)

What is Edmodo?

For the “what”,  I used Edmodo‘s own description of itself:

“a free and safe way for students and teachers to connect and collaborate”

– in combination with the way I explain it to  my learners:

“a space for this class to use English together at any time, to discuss, to share links, to share pictures, to share files. And sometimes, a space for homework!”

It isn’t a millstone, it’s not compulsory, it’s an opportunity. I think it’s important to put it like that, so that students feel they are getting something extra rather than being forced into doing something.

 “Edmodo as a teacher” 

This involved getting all the teachers registered and attached to our school, as well as exploring the Edmodo platform from a teacher’s point of view. I had prepared powerpoint slides with screen shots, which I used to take the teachers through these steps. Registering is a one-off process, so getting it done in the workshop meant that teachers didn’t have to fiddle about with it on their own later on, which might have been off-putting during an already busy day.

Edmodo as a learner” 

For this part, I gave the teachers a group code, which was for a group I had set up in advance, getting them them to register as students in this group. This was to give them a flavour of Edmodo from the students’ perspective. As well as the powerpoint as a guide, I had my own Edmodo account open on the group page, so that they could see what happens on the teacher’s page, when a student joins a group and uses the page. I had set up a little poll and a quiz for them to do as students too. Hopefully having used Edmodo as a student will help them be better able to help their students, if it is needed.

“Integrating Edmodo”

Now that my colleagues had played with Edmodo, both as a teacher and as a learner, I got them to brainstorm ideas for using it with their learners. I also gave them links to my two blog posts, on using Edmodo to make homework more interesting and on using Edmodo for fostering learner autonomywhich each contain a series of ready-to-use ideas to experiment with. The goal of this part of the workshop was to arm them with ideas so that they could easily start to use Edmodo with their own learners. 

“But what about…?”

This section was to give teachers the opportunity voice their concerns about using Edmodo and hopefully to address these. I started with the slide of potential issues (though some had cropped up as the workshop progressed, of course):

  • But what if my students don’t like social media?
  • But what if my students don’t use Edmodo?
  • But what if my students think this is a stupid idea?
  • But I don’t have *time* for this!!
  • But how do I give feedback?
  • But I’m rubbish with technology!
  • …any more?

These listed I could address:

  • I’ve had students who hate Facebook but love Edmodo. The trick is avoid selling it as Facebook the second. It’s not. It’s a tool to support their language learning and to enable them to communicate in English more than they otherwise could.  They may not be too sure about it as first, but just give them time and don’t force it down their throats. It’s an opportunity not a millstone.
  • That’s ok. It’s not compulsory to use it. Also, hopefully, as they see course mates using it, and finding it useful, they will want in on the action too! Again, don’t force it. But allow a bit of class time for discussion about it (within discussion about activities using English outside the classroom), so that those who don’t use it are exposed to the experiences of those who have, which will be potentially motivating.
  • I haven’t had a student yet who’s thought it’s a stupid idea. Students tend to like things that have been made specially for them – it makes them feel special!
  • With regards to time, once you are registered, it’s quick and easy to use. If you use it for homework, then you are only using what time you would be using for marking.
  • Feedback can be done in a variety of ways: you can reply to posts with both response to content and corrections, if it’s a case of homework – I usually copy the sentence with the error, put it in quotation marks, then paste it again and correct it, with the corrections capitalised so that they are easier to spot. Alternatively, you could use it for delayed feedback in the classroom – it’s easy to copy and paste to a slide and project it in the classroom.
  • With regards to technological prowess,  very little is needed in order to use Edmodo. As long as you can type a message in a box where it says “Type your note here”, type in a group or student name where it says “Type the name of a group, student or teacher here” and click send, and as long as you can type a message under student’s note, where it says “type your reply here” and click send, you’re away! Anything else (polls, quizzes etc) is an optional extra. You also don’t need a Facebook account or an email address, or anything else, in order to use it.

The teachers then had time to voice any more, for discussion of how to deal with them.

Finally, I showed them some of my own class pages, so they could see it in action. I had even got some of my students to write a post for me to show the teachers, saying why they like Edmodo (and therefore why it’s good for teachers to use it with students!)

Here is the handout I made for extra reference (made for use in conjunction with the powerpoint, hence lack of screen-shots!)

Here is a copy of my slides (which are mostly step-by-step for how to use Edmodo)

To conclude this post, I’d like to say a big thank you to Sandy Millin, who introduced me to Edmodo, by essentially doing a mini-version of this workshop with me, when I visited her last year! (And also, when I mentioned this workshop to her, for reminding me of the value of an opportunity to play about with it, if you are a teacher coming to it for the first time!)

And thank you, of course, to my DoS, for giving me the opportunity to deliver a workshop to my colleagues, which was a rewarding learning experience.

 

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.

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… 🙂