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! 

MATSDA 2014 – What about the other 165 hours a week?

Today I was lucky enough to do a 45 minute presentation at the MATSDA conference in Liverpool. This was held at Liverpool University and the usual lovely crowd of people attended. Thank you to all who attended my talk – one of four that took place at 12.0o.

My presentation focused on ways of helping learners increase their exposure to English, and their use of it, outside of class time. I feel this is essential for learning and acquisition to take place, as the limited quantity of time available in class is insufficient, and beset with course-book related issues.

I discussed obstacles to acquisition and then looked at the various projects I’ve been working on with learners,  for the last 8 or 9 months: my reading project, my experimentation with English project, my use of collaborative tools project (which is linked with the aforementioned experimentation project), my efforts to help my learners become language researchers. I also briefly discussed the materials I made for my dissertation project, whose goal was also to help learners make use of the language in the out-of-class environment.

For further information about these projects and to access all the references made during the talk and that I’ve used during the course of all the projects, please visit my learner autonomy page and look in the section entitled Learner autonomy-related projects. For information about my dissertation materials, scroll down further on the same page and see the third link in the Presentations section.

Finally, here are the slides I used during the presentation.

Thank you to MATSDA, and especially Brian and Hitome, for allowing me to speak and making me feel very welcome.

How do we help out learners to bridge that gap... Copyright: Lizzie Pinard 2014 (between Palermo and Cefalu, Sicily)

How do we help out learners to bridge that gap… Copyright: Lizzie Pinard 2014 (between Palermo and Cefalu, Sicily)

Top ten resources for teachers

The internet is a great place for English language teachers, if you know to where to look! Here are my top ten resources (ok I cheated a bit by grouping some!) – have you used them all yet?

Conversely: What is your favourite resource?

– Have you used any resources that completely wowed you, that aren’t on this list?

Please comment and let me/everybody else know about them!

In no particular order then…

British Council Teaching English – website and Facebook page

Screen Shot 2014-05-11 at 20.40.15

http://www.teachingenglish.org: screenshot of the home page

The British Council Teaching English website and Facebook page are both very valuable resources for teachers with any level of experience.

The website contains a wealth of freely available content, such as:

  • teaching ideas
  • articles on methodology, skills etc.
  • webinar recordings
  • downloadable ELT-related research
  • links to the blogs that have been awarded the popular “blog of the month” award and associate blogger posts
  • information about professional development courses

…and much more besides!

Screen Shot 2014-05-11 at 20.40.44

Screenshot of the British Council Teaching English Facebook page

 

The Facebook page is where links are shared and people can be found discussing the ELT-related issues that those who run the page raise for this purpose on a regular basis. Both are well worth a visit!

Onestop English

Screen Shot 2014-05-11 at 20.39.23

http://www.onestopenglish.com: screenshot of the homepage

onestopenglish is another goldmine of ideas for lessons and articles about different aspects of teaching. Good things about this website include the breadth of its resources (which are regularly added to) – as well as general English (divided into Grammar and Skills, which in turn are sub-divided into numerous other categories) the site holds ideas for teaching:

  • Business English
  • CLIL
  • TKT
  • ESOL
  • Young learners and teens

– and the ease with which it is possible to find things due to clear categorisation. In addition to resources, they also have a handy jobs section. Some of the resources are freely available, while some are only available if you subscribe.

Academia.edu

Screen Shot 2014-05-11 at 20.39.39

Academic.edu: screenshot of homepage.

Academia.edu might seem less user-friendly than the above two websites, but is nevertheless a very valuable resource: as a researcher, you can register and upload .pdfs of articles that you have written, to share with the community, and as a teacher/reader, it gives you access to research for free, which is not something to be sniffed at!

English Teaching Professional magazine’s website

www.etp.com : a screenshot of the home page

http://www.etp.com : screenshot of the home page

You have most probably read, or at least heard of, the ETp magazine for teachers, which contains articles and activity ideas, book reviews and much more. Well, the ETp website is equally worthwhile and demonstrates commitment to professional development in the resources it provides to this end. Each of the different sections contain links to articles around various topics and the site also has its very own registered blogger, Chia Suan Chong, whose posts are always worth reading. Currently, EtP are also organising a one-day conference, which will be held on 21st June 2014 in Brighton.

Twitter

Screen Shot 2014-05-05 at 14.46.31

The ubiquitous Twitter bird via Google search for images licensed for commercial use with modification.

Naturally! By Twitter, I don’t mean the Twitter website, per se. What I mean is the wealth of links it can make available to you and the discussions you could participate in, if you use it professionally. As everything you need to know is in the afore-mentioned link, I’ll leave Twitter right here.

Teacher blogs

Many ELT professionals these days maintain a blog. It is considered to be a valuable form of professional development to do so. It is easy to follow these blogs and be notified each time a new post is added. Here are a few to get you started:

Screen Shot 2014-05-12 at 08.29.42

Sandy’s blog – a screen shot

  • Sandy Millin’s blogSandy is a DoS at IH Sevastopol and has been blogging for a number of years now. Her blog contains a wealth of teaching ideas that she has tried and tested, reflections, collations of useful links, for example relating to the Delta qualification that she recently completed and to Cambridge exams like FCE. You might also like to check out her (Almost) infinite ELT ideas blog too, if you require an injection of fresh inspiration! In this blog, which is all about collaboration, she publishes a potential resource and canvasses ideas for how to use it with students. Now that she has finished Delta and is settled in her post-Delta new job, this site has been resurrected so keep checking back.
Screen Shot 2014-05-12 at 08.30.45

Adam’s blog – a screenshot

  • Adam Simpson’s blog:Adam works at a Turkish university and is dedicated to his students and to his own professional development, as well as sharing these passions with others. His blog contains a wealth of interesting posts related to this.
Screen Shot 2014-05-12 at 08.34.35

Rachael’s blog – a screen shot

  • Rachael Roberts’s blog Rachael Roberts is a teacher, MaW SIG committee member and materials writer, and her blog contains lots of useful teaching resources and materials that she has developed, together with the rationales behind them, and tips for creating your own materials too.

Some of these blogs sport a “blog roll” of other blogs that the owner has found interesting and useful, so it would be worth checking these out too. Of course there are hundreds more I’d love to name, but this post would get awfully long if I did so!

Some of the “big names” in ELT  also maintain blogs:

Jim and Adrian’s Demand High ELT blog – a screen shot

  • Demand High ELT is a growing site, owned by Jim and Adrian, and devoted to Demand High ELT. There is discussion, links to relevant resources, materials for seminars and more.
Screen Shot 2014-05-12 at 08.39.42

Scott Thornbury’s blog: a screen shot

  • An A-Z of ELT is Scott Thornbury’s blog, containing a wealth of articles about a range of ELT-related topics and issues.
Screen Shot 2014-05-12 at 08.40.49

Adrian’s pron blog – a screen shot

Screen Shot 2014-05-12 at 08.29.24

Hugh’s multi-faceted blog – a screen shot

  • Hugh Dellar’s Blog is full of interesting discussion about various ELT-related topics and ideas that you could try out in your own classes, as well as recordings of talks he’s given at past events.

Of course, the kind of blogs you read will depend also on your own interests within the profession.

For example:

To see links to blogs which relate to ELT management, please click here.

To see links to blogs which relate to Delta please click here.

Why not start blogging yourself, too, if you don’t already? There are lots of good reasons to do so!

Free Webinars for Teachers

Free Webinars for Teachers

Free Webinars for Teachers

Free Webinars for Teachers is a Facebook group where people share information about free webinars that teachers can attend. This makes it a good way of keeping up with what is available in this area of online professional development. You need to make a request to join and posts are moderated so that content remains useful to members. You can choose whether or not to receive notifications when something new is posted.

Technology

There are three major players in the technology game, all of which are worth keeping an eye on in order to stay abreast of technological innovation:

Screen Shot 2014-05-12 at 08.49.11

Nik’s technology lover’s paradise – a screen shot

Russell Stannard's website which answers "How to..." for pretty much anything technology-related.

Russell Stannard’s site which answers “How to…” for pretty much all techy questions – a screen shot

The Consultants-E

The Consultants-E – a screen shot.

  • The Consultants-E : These guys offer training courses and consultancy services but also carry some freely available great resources relating to technology on their website. You can find these by clicking on “Resources” on their home page.

#ELTChat

You could argue that this is part of Twitter, but these days #ELTchat exists beyond the bounds of Twitter too. There is the website, where you can find all the summaries carefully indexed by date, as well as links to podcasts and videos.

ELTchat - a PLN in the making: a screen shot.

ELTchat – a PLN in the making: a screen shot.

And there is also the Facebook group, where people share links to interesting sites they’ve found, to recent chat summaries and more.

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…and the Facebook group page – a screen shot.

IATEFL

IATEFL is the International Association for Teachers of English as a Foreign Language. This organisation has a website , a Facebook group page , and lots of satellite pages run by various of the SIGs or Special Interest Groups.

IATEFL.org - a screen shot

IATEFL.org – a screen shot

The website contains information about forthcoming events, links to webinars that the association has put on (as well as information about those forthcoming), information about the afore-mentioned SIGS and of course its jobs pages where you can see job advertisements, especially in the run up to the annual IATEFL conference, due to the job market place that runs during this event.

IATEFL Facebook group page

IATEFL Facebook group page – a screen shot

The Facebook page is a space to discuss ELT-related issues and share links of interest to others in the profession. It is not a place for self-promotion and advertising (or spamming!).

In terms of SIG pages, here are a few that I know of:

  • MaW SIG Facebook page : For materials writing fans –  here you can find information about events run by MaW SIG, links to materials writing-related blog posts and sites, information about other materials writing-related events and connect with people who are also interested in materials writing.

Here is a list of all the SIGs currently in action, so if you find one in your area of interest, google it and you will doubtless find a Facebook page and/or a website that it maintains. You could also email the coordinator (name and contact details given in the list) for more information.

SIGs are a great way to connect with like-minded individuals and keep up with issues in your professional area of special interest.

You have to pay to join IATEFL, as well as any of the SIGs themselves (which is highly recommended, as you get plenty of membership benefits), but following their Facebook pages and Twitter handles is open to all.

image taken from openclipart.org via Google search licensed for commercial reuse with modification

Don’t forget: share your favourite resources too, by commenting on this post!  – image taken from openclipart.org via Google search licensed for commercial reuse with modification.

I hope this post gives you some new resources to look at and I look forward to hearing about the other resources you’ve tried…

Using Twitter for professional development

What?

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Twitter! Image via google images search licensed for commercial use with modification

Wikipedia defines Twitter as:

an online social networking and micro-blogging service that enables users to send and read short 140-character text messages, called “tweets”

Of course, these days the content of this definition is fairly common knowledge. And people not only send messages but share photos and links too. (And that’s only the tip of the iceberg…)

Twitter distinguishes itself from other social media due to the above-mentioned need to be concise: 140 characters is not a lot.

Why?

Initial questions: 

The first question, once you know what Twitter is, might be, “But, why should I join? What will I gain from it?“, followed by “But… I don’t want to know what everybody has for breakfast…”. (Don’t worry: used professionally, it is easy avoid this genre of tweets! As you will see during this post, there is plenty that is of value on Twitter – if you know where to look.)

As an ELT professional, Twitter provides a platform for connecting with like-minded fellow professionals and sharing links to useful resources, as well as discussing ideas and issues.

Conferences often have hashtags (e.g. #IATEFL2014) which allow participants to share goings on with a wider community of teachers, those who are unable to attend. So next time there’s a conference you wanted to attend but couldn’t, you could look out for the conference hashtag, and join in that way?

If you’re still uncertain as to whether you’d get anything out of using Twitter, I suggest that you have a look at this link to a series of articles collected under the title “Why Twitter for teachers?”

For some more anecdotal evidence of why it’s worth joining:

I joined in 2011, because someone recommended it to me on an ELT forum. As well as this leading to me getting involved with #ELTchat (see below) and starting to blog, I happened to see someone post a link to the IATEFL conference scholarships. Prior to that time, I didn’t even know such scholarships existed. I applied for several and was lucky enough to win one, and as such was able to attend my first IATEFL conference in 2012, in Glasgow. At that conference, as well as well and truly getting the conference bug, I found the leaflet for Leeds Met University’s M.A. in ELT with Delta in my conference pack. As you can see from my blog site, the rest is history! So in my case, joining Twitter was literally life-changing!

How?

  • Create a Twitter handle:
    Screen Shot 2014-05-05 at 15.45.39

    Screen shot of Twitter registration form

    As you can see, it’s a quick, easily completable form. Once you have set up your account, you will be able to do the following:

  • Follow people:Many institutions, teachers, teacher trainers, DoS’s and other members of our profession have active  Twitter handles.As well as individuals, IATEFL SIG groups have them (e.g. @MaWSIG, @IATEFL_BeSIG), as does IATEFL itself (@iatefl).  If you follow them, their tweets will appear in your feed, when you log in. This can be a good way of keeping up with the online professional development opportunities that they organise e.g. webinars.

    Major publishers have them (e.g. @OUPELTGlobal, @CambridgeUPELT, @Pearson_ELT, @MacmillanELT, @Richmond_ELT) so you can keep up with what these influential players in the ELT field are up to.

    Professional magazines have them (e.g. @ETprofessional) and tweet a range of interesting, relevant links.

    Finally, some popular, useful ELT websites such as the British Council Teaching English website, have a Twitter handle (@TeachingEnglish) in addition to their Facebook page.

  • Retweet what you find helpful/useful/interesting:
    Screen Shot 2014-05-06 at 08.08.39

    To retweet a tweet, click on the retweet symbol – two little arrows that form a square.


    When you retweet somebody’s tweet, it appears in the feed of anybody who follows you and returns to the top of the tweets indexed to any hashtag mentioned in the retweeted tweet, meaning that more people are likely to see it.

    Retweeting somebody’s tweet indicates that you have found what they had to say interesting, or if the tweet includes a link, that you have followed the link and feel it is worth sharing with others. Therefore, it makes sense not to retweet any links that you haven’t looked at! If you want to tell the writer of the tweet that you think the content of it is really good, you could also “favourite” it. Once you have retweeted and/or favourited it, it will look like this:

    Screen Shot 2014-05-06 at 08.11.28

    I have retweeted and favourited this tweet!

  • Try new ideas:Part of professional development is finding new things to try and reflecting on the outcomes. Twitter can be a great source of new ideas and things to try, shared by fellow professionals via links and discussions. Many Twitter users also have blogs. You might like to start blogging as well – if you don’t already blog. There are lots of benefits to doing so! Summarising hashtag discussions (see below) can be a good way in to blogging.
  • Search for hashtags

    There are hundreds of hashtags in use by different groups of teachers and educators worldwide. A hashtag is a means of indexing tweets. If the author of a tweet includes a hashtag within their tweet, that tweet becomes searchable via the hashtag. Anybody who searches for a #hashtag will see all the tweets which include that hashtag, ordered from most to least recent.Some of the hashtags are defined by location (e.g. #AusELT) some by specialism (e.g. #EAPchat, #edtech). Some are more general (e.g. #elt and #tesol or #ELTchat) Finding a hashtag that relates to an area of the profession that you are interested in learning more about can be an easy way in to accessing a regularly updated range of resources related to that area.

    Many hashtags (e.g. #ELTchat, #EAPchat, #Edtechchat) run discussions at regular intervals, where people from all over the world – or a particular area of it – join to discuss a proposed topic, using the hashtag in question to gather the tweets. To find out about what hashtags are in use, you could look at this index of hashtags that was created by Chiew Pang and has been edited by people around the world since.

  • Use Tweetdeck:Tweetdeck is a platform for navigating Twitter. When you search for a hashtag, it generates a column for that hashtag, within which all the tweets indexed to it appear. It updates as tweets are added. You can keep columns open so that it is easy to open Tweetdeck, have a quick look at what’s new and close it again. You can also generate columns to display any notifications (you get a notification whenever somebody retweets a tweet you posted or mentions your twitter handle in a post) and private messages, known as “direct messages” (you can send a direct message – with the same length constraints as a tweet – to anybody you follow who also follows you). Thus, using Twitter doesn’t have to be hugely time-consuming.You can use Tweetdeck by logging in via a web-browser but you can also download a programme, which is a convenient way of using it, to avoid having more browser windows open than absolutely necessary! (NB: You don’t need to “manage multiple accounts” for it to be useful – I only have the one!)
Screen Shot 2014-05-05 at 14.26.36

Screen shot from the Tweetdeck website

Who?

I could go on forever, listing oodles of people that you could possibly choose to follow, in addition to the examples I picked above…

However, I would suggest that rather than following people because I, or anybody else, said so, you do the following:

  • Use the hashtags as a means of helping you find people to follow: Search for a hashtag, see who posts and what they post. If you are interested in hearing what they have to say and seeing the links they share, follow them!
  • When you find people of interest, have a look at who they follow, if anybody from their list stands out, have a look at that person’s past tweets and decide if you want to follow them too.
    Screen Shot 2014-05-06 at 08.32.49

    When you visit somebody’s “homepage”, you will see their total number of tweets (1,928 for me!), the number of people they are following (252 for me!) and the number of people who are following them (720 for me!) – if you click on any of these, more information will appear: i.e. recent tweets/retweets or a list of the people being followed or a list of followers.

    Screen Shot 2014-05-06 at 08.31.35

    This is an extract of what you get if you click on “252” in the first image. Of course, here, where it says “following” in the blue rectangles, it will say “follow” if you don’t already follow the person in question. When you “follow” someone by clicking the “follow” button, they get a notification telling them that you have followed them. 

  • As you become more active, retweeting others’ tweets and sharing your own ideas too, people will start to follow you too. When someone follows you, have a look at their past tweets and see if you want to follow them back.

When?

Now! Why not have a look! 🙂 You don’t have to tweet straight away, it is perfectly normal to start using Twitter by simply “lurking” – which means to look without participating and is definitely not as dodgy as it might sound!  – and learning how it works through observation. You can learn a lot by seeing how other people use it.

  • #ELTchat discussions take place once a week for one hour, on Wednesdays, at 12.00 BST (GMT in winter) or 21.00 BST (GMT in winter) on alternate weeks. During these hours, the hashtag is dedicated to the discussion, so you should refrain from using it to tweet links or ideas that are not related to the discussion taking place. It may seem completely chaotic the first time you watch or take part, but you’ll soon get used to it! For more information about how to propose and vote on topics and what the next topic will be, visit the associated website.

If you know about any other regular ELT-related Twitter discussions, please comment on this post with details and I will add the hashtag and discussion times to this post.

 Remember!

  • Be polite: as with any social media, it is advisable to use it courteously. This makes it more pleasant for everybody involved! If someone is abusive towards you, or spams you, you can both block them and report them to Twitter. A good post by Nathan Hall about manners on social media, as well as the importance of approaching it critically, can be read here .
  • Don’t use it purely for self-promotion: You may have lots of good ideas and links to share, but take time to look at others’ too, and retweet anything you think is of interest.
  • It’s like a massive staffroom with no walls: Treat it well (see first bullet point!) and you can connect with people all over the world – what better if you want an injection of fresh perspectives on the profession!
  • Don’t get overwhelmed: Yes, there is lots of information out there, but a) you don’t need to look at it all and b) the really good stuff will get retweeted so you’ll see it eventually anyway.
  • You don’t need hours a day: Which is good, because who has that kind of time?! As little as 5-10 minutes will mean you catch a lot of good stuff – even if you can’t immediately read all the links you end up bookmarking. Using Twitter doesn’t have to mean a massive time commitment. To help you, it might be advisable to streamline your curating system – do you use Diigo? Evernote? Whichever means of organising information you do use, it will come in useful when you uncover useful stuff during your Twitter travels.
  • If you use Tweetdeck: You can change the settings so that it doesn’t beep at you every time something happens (the default)! Each column you generate has the symbol you see highlighted on the right-hand side at the top. When you click on that, the options appear. Make sure “Alerts” is set to “None”!
    Screen Shot 2014-05-06 at 07.10.40

    Get rid of those beeps!

     

  • *Everybody* can read your tweets: Tweets are all publicly viewable. The only tweets that are private are direct messages. Your boss could follow you on Twitter. (E.g. my current DoS follows me!) A prospective employer could look at your tweet history. Therefore, it makes sense to only say things that you are comfortable with sharing publicly. Avoid saying anything you might later regret. As a rule of thumb, if it’s private or personal, it’s best off not being shared on Twitter!

If anybody with Twitter experience reads this and thinks I have missed anything vital/useful/interesting from this post, please comment and let me know so I can add it! And finally, I hope it is useful to those of you who aren’t yet using Twitter professionally.

In reply to David’s rebuttal: the future of language learning part 2

Firstly, I would like to thank David Petrie for this opportunity to debate and discuss that has arisen out of his thought-provoking post for the British Council Teaching English site and equally well-written rebuttal of my response to that post. For me this is one of the magic things about blogging: the opportunity to engage in critical, reflective discussion and debate on our teaching and learning beliefs, our pedagogies, our methodologies, with fellow members of the profession, so that much less of it becomes entrenched or gathers dust.

I will now respond to David’s rebuttal to my original points and weave in a few more points of my own along the way.

David explains that:

I certainly didn’t mean to imply that language is anything but social or used for anything other than a communicative purpose.  I don’t see, though, how this belief mitigates against learning in an online environment.  People do, after all, communicate quite effectively online. 

Absolutely. People do communicate very effectively online and language is used communicatively. Computer-mediated communication (CMC) tools are brilliant – I use Edmodo and blogs with my students regularly. However, does this use of language fully prepare learners for face-to-face encounters? I would argue that it doesn’t. Spoken communication and use of language involves so much more than words. Online communication recognises this: we try to bridge the gap between online and face-to-face communication by using emoticons ( 🙂 ) , abbreviations for paralinguistic devices (LOL! <sigh…>) [For more about this overlap between spoken and online communication, see my summary of Fiona Johnston’s talk at IATEFL this year: Write here, write now- developing written fluency ] and we manage most of the time – give or take a few arguments when tone is misread. However communicating in this way does not fully capture the diversity of spoken communication. For this reason, I feel that while online collaborative platforms are a valuable additional opportunity for meaningful language use, learning language exclusively through their use is insufficient. I think online learning may be better suited to content learning, which we are able to package in words and diagrams, rather than language learning, which is a lot more complex to package. (This perhaps being one of the reasons why technologically based language learning has seen lots of change and innovation, and is continually evolving, but has not taken over classroom-based language learning despite this kind of prediction.)

However, in addition to this, David argues that sites such as Vocaroo mean that speaking can be included in online learning too. Yes, again, absolutely. In response to this, though, I would like to highlight the difference between this form of speaking – making a voice recording, listening to someone else’s voice recording, responding to that voice recording in a further recording etc – and a face-to-face conversation. If you are not sure what I mean by this, record yourself and a few friends having a conversation. Now try and transcribe it. Can you capture the full meaning of what was said? How much code do you need to be able to do that? Do you notice how you pick up what your friends are saying, interrupt or overlap and complete their utterances? Do you notice the wide range of different tones used? What about non-verbal communication? How do you capture it all? Now how do you transfer that to online communication such as that done using Facebook messenger or similar? Spoken conversation is co-constructed and we have to co-construct differently online, mimicking spoken conversation but adapting to the different medium. Clearly it would not be possible to interact online using discourse analysis transcription coding to capture spoken communication – it would take far too long and be too complicated; beside which, until technology enables us to see what someone is typing as they type it, then mimicking interruptions and overlaps, as they happen in spoken conversation, are not possible in any case. So I would say tools such as Vocaroo are great for helping learners to practice speaking in terms of stringing words together fluidly and coherently over the piece of discourse as a whole, and certainly lend themselves to practicing presentations or other single-turn speaking, but they do not enable learners to practice genuinely conversing in real time in the target language. (And this, together with the social side of language learning, is why PSP Speaking and Thursday night English-speaking pub night are so popular with our students – they recognise that in order to use English more competently, as well as learning and developing skills, they need opportunities to converse in English.Skype and other similar video-conferencing software such as Adobe are another possibility, but even this is limited.

I would argue that since language began as caveman noises which in turn became utterances and developed into the complex form of spoken communication as we know it today, if learners want to learn language in order to be able to use it face-to-face, then they need opportunities to use it face-to-face in a supportive setting. If they don’t live in a situation/community/location that allows this, then the language classroom and, indeed, the language community of the language school, can provide such opportunities. Returning to the social side of language learning, I would also argue that online socialising is no replacement for face-to-face communication. As a friend of mine who is currently working in a small place, far away from friends and family put it, and I paraphrase, “I feel isolated. Having people on the end of a skype call is not the same as having them there with you.” To illustrate this further, would you prefer to spend the evening having a drink while talking with people in Second Life or similar and trawling Facebook, sat at your computer, or join those people for a drink in real life? Being able to communicate online is brilliant, and social media have helped bring like-minded people together from all four corners of the world, it is true (#ELTchat is one such shining example, as is the British Council Teaching English Facebook page); but think how excited we get at the prospect of attending a conference and talking to members of our online PLN in person! I believe there will be no small number of learners who feel the same way about their course mates. (I know I’d give anything to be back in a room with my fellow M.A. DELTA course mates of 2012-2013, for a good discussion, and our Facebook group just isn’t the same – as a small example!)

Well, despite the length of this blogpost, I’ve only scraped the surface of David’s second blogpost and there is so much more there to deal with. However, for now, work beckons and will be followed by a 3-day holiday from the computer, so you’ll have to wait a bit for the next instalment! 🙂

open clip art org

Computers are great but grrrr! 🙂 Photo taken from http://www.openclipart.org via Google image search labelled for commercial reuse with modification.

 

The Future of Language Teaching – a reply to my critics

David Petrie blogs again in response to my response (https://reflectiveteachingreflectivelearning.com/2014/04/26/what-about-the-social-side-of-language-learning-in-response-to-david-petries-the-future-of-language-teaching/) to his blog post (http://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/blogs/david-petrie/future-language-teaching-%E2%80%93-a-case-study-2034) for the Teaching English British Council website! Thank you to David for opening up a really interesting discussion – stay tuned for my next response! 😉

teflgeek

divided brain

About a week ago, I wrote a piece on “The Future of Language Teaching” for the Teaching English blog.  It seems to have been slightly controversial.

In it, I tried to paint a picture of what language learning might look like in twenty years’ time, drawing largely on themes and ideas I had come across in various talks and presentations at the IATEFL conference, as well as my own experiences as a teacher and learner.  In short, I argued that students of the future won’t need to learn languages at a language school as they’ll be able to do it all online.

You can read the full piece here: “The Future of Language Teaching – a case study from 2034

It was a deliberatively provocative piece which I wrote with the intention of opening up a debate on where we think language teaching should be going…

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