Saturday, July 31, 2010

Week 6: Steps Towards Framing My Project Plan

Through the previous five weeks, we discussed how to integrate technology in our classrooms. Everyone of us suggested one or two technology-inspired changes that c an work with 21st century students. I liked very much Deborah’s way to lead us to such change step by step. In this post, I’m going to remind myself and my colleagues with the three steps we have done to make our project appear to light: describing my students and setting of classroom, describing an issue that needs to technology-inspired change and finally describing such change.

Project Task 1: Describe a class

In this task, I described my students, setting of classroom and technology tools available to be ready for describing some issues that technology might help with.

For my students:

I teach both the 7th and 8th grades, but I’m going to make change with my 7th graders. The number of students in my class is between 40-45. It is a large class I think. They are between 13 to 14 years old. All of them are boys as I work at a school for boys. They are of different academic levels. Most of them have intermediate level. The rest of them are between high and low levels. Most of my students are good at using computers and some of them have an internet access at home.

For the class setting & Computer Lab:

If you look at the design of this class, you will find it just desks in 3 rows. Every row consists of 5 desks. Students work in groups of three. I mean 3 students sit on each desk. In front of these desks, you will find a blackboard. It is a little bit traditional. As I’m going to use technology, using computer lab will be beneficial. It involves 25 computers with internet access. Unfortunately, we haven't wireless or DSL access, just the phone line access. You know it is very slow. But, we expect a DSL access in the next school year. Also, we have a Resources Room from which we can borrow anything we need. This room includes: 3 laptops, 3 computers with internet access, TV., whiteboard, 3 datashows, a printer, photocopying machine, and a scanner.

Project Task 2: Describe some issues


In this task, I described some issues and problems that I face when teaching. Here, I’m going to focus on one of them that technology might help with.

Writing difficulties:

One of the main problems that students face in their academic study is how to express their ideas, thoughts and feelings easily and freely without apprehension or fear. When I ask my students to write a paragraph (Two types of writing are required – descriptive and narrative), I find them at a loss. Yes, writing is not an easy job not just for them, but for us as teachers. Its difficulty results from the various processes it requires. Among these processes are these strategies needed for planning, monitoring, evaluating, and revising; skills needed for producing text, e.g., handwriting, spelling, and sentence construction; and knowledge about specific genres, writing conventions, and so forth.

Thus, using paper and pencil method to teaching writing is not suitable for 21st century students. We also need more authentic audience to hear students' words, to share information, to comment and suggest new ideas for them. Moreover, students want to deal with the written task as fun not a burden. I can't forget my students' faces when they are asked to write. You find them very busy writing, rewriting, revising and editing. Also, I can't forget their words "Writing again ... It is enough to write it once ....". The question is “How can I make the written task more interesting for students?”

Project Task 3: Describe a change

In this task, I tried to answer the question I asked in the previous task. Through reading a lot about web 2.0 tools that provide many opportunities for students to be heard all over the world, I found a very good tool that can improve my students’ writing skills and change their negative attitudes towards the writing experience. It is blogging.

Can Blogs Be A Solution For Students’ Writing Difficulties?

Blogs allow students to write for authentic audience. They also help students to edit their work many times before and even after publishing. Moreover, one of the most important features of blogs is "giving instant feedback" through commenting. Commenting on students' work either by teacher or their peers will increase their writing quality.

According to Campbell (2003), there are three types of blogs. I’m going to use all of them. First, I’ll create a "Tutor's Blog" in which students can find many stories as I’ll focus on writing stories. They will also find some information about the story elements, setting, characters, plot, solutions, … etc. Then, I will ask students to work in pairs to create a "Learner Blog". They will use it to write stories. Every lesson, I’m going to focus on a certain element of stories, then I let them to write their own piece. Also as Campbell (2003) pointed out "Class Blogs could be used as a virtual space for an international classroom language exchange”. I will create a Class Blog to collect all stories of students, then they can share other schools or even countries with their stories. By doing this, the entire exchange would be transparent to all readers and could be followed and commented on by other learners, tutors, parents and friends.

Project Task 4: More Details

As a step towards implementing blogs to teach writing stories, I’ve created a rubric for writing stories by http://rubistar.4teachers.org/. Here is the link: http://rubistar.4teachers.org/index.php?screen=ShowRubric&rubric_id=1929565. It is a rough draft. I will modify it to suit my students’ level. Also. I searched for some rubrics deal with creating and using blogs. I’ve found many rubrics. Here are the links: http://www.evenfromhere.org/?p=1282, http://www.evenfromhere.org/?p=1282, https://docs.google.com/View?docid=df8b89sj_324h7b58tgq, http://www.personal.psu.edu/cpl2/blogs/cplportfolio/Blogging%20Scoring%20Rubric.pdf, http://www.frenchteachers.org/technology/Grading.Rubric.pdf,%20BloggingEvaluationRubric.pdf, BloggingEvaluationRubric.pdf, & mame.pbworks.com/f/Class+Blog+Rubric.doc. Again, I’ll read them carefully and selected one suitable rubric for students or select suitable dimensions from these rubrics and create my own.

I’m still thinking about this technology-inspired change. May be I can discuss it with my partners that I hope to find sooner. This will provide me an excellent opportunity to know other experiences and ideas about the same interest. Also, I want to know how this change works in different settings with different students.

Resources Used:

Campbell, A., P. (2003). Weblogs for use with ESL classes. The Internet Journal, 9 (2). Available on line at: http://iteslj.org/Techniques/Campbell-Weblogs.html.Retrieved on May 4, 2010. 

Week 6: Can Interactive PowerPoint Be a Solution for Large Classes Challenges?


In this week, we’re introduced to a very problematic issue that many teachers around the world face when teaching. It is how to teach large classes. I think it is not impossible job, but it is a little bit challenging. Teaching large classes needs a creative teacher that can vary his/her ways of teaching, treatment and even pitch of voice to address all students’ personalities, interests, intelligences and learning styles. Actually, my dear instructor Deborah provided us with a very valuable array of resources from which we can select any techniques that are suitable for our students, e.g., http://serc.carleton.edu/NAGTWorkshops/earlycareer/teaching/largeclasses.html, http://www.thiagi.com/interactive-lectures.html, & http://www.linguist.org.cn/doc/su200605/su20060516.pdf. Among the solutions that I and my colleagues suggested to solve large classes’ problems and engage students are creating websites for courses, online-tests for assessment, online discussion boards, WebQuests, ConcepTest, Concept Maps, scripted cooperative learning, pair & group work, clicker technology, mobile learning (especially cell phones), and task personalization. Thanks my dear colleagues for these wonderful ideas. I can’t use all of them, but I’m going to select putting in mind my students needs, the setting of my classrooms, and technological tools available in my school.

Another task that we are asked to do through this week is to find ways to turn lectures or lessons into an interactive experience for students. I used to create attractive PowerPoint presentations either for my students or trainees. However, reading the article “Best Practices in Presenting with PowerPoint”: http://tep.uoregon.edu/technology/powerpoint/docs/presenting.pdf and the interactive PowerPoint sample: http://umbc.uoregon.edu/eteacher/webskills/material/interactive_powerpoint.ppt provided by my dear instructor Deborah, I’ve found many techniques and tools that can make my presentations more interactive. Among these techniques are Blank Slide, ConcepTest, Think-Pair-Share, Interpreted Lecture, Rapid Reflection, and QuickWrite. 

My colleagues also suggested many ideas for using interactive PowerPoint with their students. Liliya, for example, liked the idea of presenting a short quiz at the middle of the presentation. Sometimes, we want to check our students’ understanding, so it is a wonderful idea to give a short quiz. Victoria used crosswords in the PowerPoint presentation. She thinks that it is advantageous for students. Also, she suggested the use of games like Luiza as a way for creating interactivity during the lesson. Luiza thinks that her students may consider games as a waste of time. Yes, she is right, but if these games have a clear objective and reinforce the items learned, they will be interesting and valuable for students. Cami also suggested a very valuable way for interactivity. It is “Typing on a Slide during the Presentation”. I think it is the most interactive way for using PowerPoint. Again, thanks my dear colleagues for all these ideas and thoughts. They are of great value for me.

The question now is “Can Interactive PowerPoint be A Solution for the Large Classes Challenges?”


Through reading the resources provided by Deborah and the posts written by my colleagues on Nicenet, I think the Interactive PowerPoint presentation can be an impressive solution for the problems and challenges of large classes and engaging students. If the PP presentation has a clear objective and includes a variety of media, e.g., pictures, audio sounds, video clips, hyperlinks with some techniques of interactivity such as the Blank Slide, QuickWrite, ConcepTest, … etc, it will be beneficial as it uses more than one sense. This means that it deals with more than one learning style, intelligence and interest.

I think discussing both topics "Large Classes" and "Interactive PowerPoint" in one post will help me find a link between a problem and a possible solution introduced in this week.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Week 5: Project-based Learning with WebQuest


“I wish to be one of your students”

I begin my post with this quotation to assert how lucky I am with my wonderful students. They not only make me feel proud of their achievements using the PBL, but also they convey their attitudes and experiences to other students to the degree that they wish to be like them.

In fact, project -based learning is considered a solution for many problems related to students. Many researchers (cited in Guo, 2007) point out that it engages them in the investigation of real life problems and develop their creativity, problem-solving and lifelong learning. Gaer (1998) also asserts that using such approach gives meaning to learning. This is what we search for. Finding meaning to learn is our ultimate GOAL. If students find such meaning, they will involve in their learning process not only to accomplish the required tasks in such projects, but also to find a relationship between their academic studies and the reality beyond classroom where experience plays a vital role.

I can never forget my students involving in the project I asked them to carry out. Many skills were developed either expected or not. They have learned how to surf the internet and use its resources effectively, how cite printed or electronic materials, how to use MS programs (e.g., Word, PowerPoint, Publisher) in a very good way, how to search for information in the library, how to search for information around them asking their teachers, parents and other members in their community and how to present their products. I’m so proud of them and they honestly deserved to win in the competition of INTEL on the Republic level.

When I read about WebQuest as a tool for using the project-based learning, I found it not different from what we have done in our project. It is designed to lead students through a web-based lesson that can range from one class period to one month in depth and duration. However, WebQuest is more than simply exploring information related to one’s content area on the internet (Woodard, 2008). According to March (2003), a true WebQuest requires more than students exploring the internet in relation to a class related topic. A WebQuest requires that students complete a thoughtful and thorough exploration of internet-based content in order to increase their understanding of a topic. This exploration can be used on multiple instructional levels, either allowing for students to work collaboratively or individually.

Thus, the instructional purpose for the WebQuest was to “use learner’s time, to focus on using information rather than looking for it, and to support learners’ thinking at the levels of analysis, synthesis, and evaluation” (Dodge, 1997).

This means that we should select more challenging and authentic tasks that require students explore more information using higher order skills like analyzing, synthesizing and creating.

Woodard (2008) in his article “WebQuest in the English Classroom”: http://cnx.org/content/m18040/latest/ suggested a very valuable list of tips for teachers using this tool in their classrooms. I wanted to share it with you:
  1. When designing your WebQuest, make sure to keep the six essential elements of the WebQuest in mind: 1) Introduction, 2) Task, 3) Information sources, 4) Process, 5) Guidance, and 6) Conclusion. By keeping these six ideas in mind, you will be able to create a more effective WebQuest than if you were to put together a worksheet with a list of website and questions. The true WebQuest allows for students to gain a deeper understanding of a topic by a thorough exploration and the opportunity to make conclusions!
  2. Make sure to select your resources carefully on the internet. It is easy to slip up and give your students an unreliable website to look at. In other words, be familiar with good education resources that are available on the internet.
  3. The best WebQuests that I have looked at gave students choice. When Students are given choice in the assignments you give them, they will be more highly motivated and engaged in the assignment.
  4. Give students your grading rubric at the beginning of the WebQuest, so that they know how they will be assessed on the assignment. Your expectations for you students should always be clear.
 
Resources Used:

Week 5: Creating Rubrics

Another task of this week is to create a rubric using http://rubistar.4teachers.org/. You can also use other websites such as: http://myt4l.com/index.php?v=pl&page_ac=view&type=tools&tool=rubricmaker & http://www.rcampus.com/rubricshellc.cfm?mode=gallery&sms=build. They are very wonderful tools which save teachers’ time and effort. Creating rubrics by these tools doesn’t take more than 15 minutes. Even if you decide to create it yourselves without electronic tools, it is very easy with the instructions involved in the article "Rubric Tutorial" that provided by Deborah: http://health.usf.edu/publichealth/eta/Rubric_Tutorial/default.htm. Through reading this article, you will find many valuable hints about rubrics' definition, reasons behind using them and how to create your own rubric. You can also find many examples for every step of creating it. You can view my rubrics either using a rubric maker or doing it myself on our wiki page: http://sites.google.com/site/webskillssu2010/participant-files. By downloading all my colleagues’ rubrics, I have now a bank where I can select what is suitable for areas I want to asses in my students performance.

Although it seems easy to create a rubric, teachers should take their time to think how to make it simple, easy to understand and effective. Suttor in his article “Teaching tips: Creating and using rubrics”: http://www.helium.com/items/1158203-creating-and-using-rubrics
pointed out that effective rubrics can be real time savers for teacher, but an ineffective rubric can bog teachers down and actually make grading an assignment more difficult. Then he suggested a few key points for teachers to create and use effective rubrics:

1. Don't invent the wheel. There are thousands of different rubrics in various books as well as online. Start by looking for a rubric that is most similar to what you want to use. If it appears that it will work as is, use it. If not, simply adapt this rubric to meet your requirements.

2. Don't make it too overwhelming or complex. One mistake that teachers make is to include everything possible on the rubric. The result is a clumsy rubric that is a burden on the teacher causing increased grading time. These extensive rubrics are also overwhelming and discouraging to students. They appear to be too much nit-picking and will not win any favor with the students. Keep the rubric to around 5 categories at most.

3. Checks and circles. One of the fastest rubrics is one that simply uses check marks. The teacher then can give a grade based on the number of check marks. Another easy method is simply circling the successful qualities or numbers. These will save teachers time. It is much faster to make a check mark or to circle than to write down individual scores.

4. Use a highlighter. Using a highlighter to mark a rubric can be a quick grading method. Then after highlighting the successful areas and comments, go back with a pen or pencil to score it. This can make rubric use more effective.

5. Let students in on the secret. One of the worst decisions is to not show the students the rubric in advance. In all fairness they should see exactly what the teacher is grading on from the beginning. The result is usually increased quality of the assignment as well as less complaints from students and parents.

6. Keep the components positive. Make the areas of evaluation more about what the students do right than what they do wrong. Make it a way to earn points rather than taking points away. This helps the grading to appear positive to the students rather than more criticism.

Now you can agree with me that creating rubrics needs more time and effort to make it effective and valuable tool for your students.

Week 5: Technology Knocks My Door?

Technology knocked my door this week with a very valuable array of ideas that can make a difference or change for my students.

Literary tracker tool, online calendar, digital avatars, plagiarism checker, wikis, blogs, webQuest, e-mailing, chatting, online discussion boards, delicious.com, podcasts, websites, and digital camera to record students’ presentation are among many tools which my colleagues will use to change their classrooms.

Thanks my dear colleagues for these thoughts and ideas that can help me approach many issues and problems in my classrooms. What I think about now is how to know the results of using these tools with your students as some of us are on holiday. Even If we prepare a well-organized plan for our suggestions , there will be a difference between what is on paper and what is on realty.

When I thought for the first time to use blogs as a technology-inspired change in my classroom, I find it very motivating and interesting. This is before even this course as an idea for my Ph.D. I spent two months to search for this change and after I found it, another problem appeared. The main point is not related to integrating blogs in teaching, but how to use it effectively with students. When Deborah asked us to create blogs at the beginning of this course, I expected an approach to frame our use of blogging. I mean blogs are just a tool by which students publish their work. Of course, there is a drafting cycle that enables students to write, edit, rewrite, publish and even after publishing, students can edit their work again and again many times. I suggested this framework in one of my blog’s posts: http://azharreflections.blogspot.com/2010/06/week-1-framework-for-using-blogs-before.html#comments. However, I want a broad approach under which I can use blogs as a tool. May be the process approach is suitable here, but I want something new for using this new tool.

If we look at blogs theoretically, we will find it based of a new learning theory called “Connectivism”. It places emphasis on the importance of instructing students to search for, filter, analyze, and synthesize information in order to obtain knowledge. Siemens (2004) advocates this theory pointing out “When knowledge …. is needed, but not known, the ability to plug into sources to meet the requirements becomes a vital skill. As knowledge continues to grow and evolve, access to what is needed is more important than the learner currently possesses.

Siemens compared the “flow of information …. in a knowledge economy to the equivalent of the oil pipe in an industrial economy. Creating, preserving and utilizing information flow should be a key organizational activity. This pipe is more important than the content within the pipe. Our ability to learn what we need for tomorrow is more important than what we know today.

In short it is a theory of the digital age and the 21st century. Then, how to use it in our classrooms. This can be done through developing new approaches, models or strategies involved its principles. I searched a lot for frameworks to use it as I liked its idea very much, but until now there are just tools for applying its potentials. All of you know the web 2.0 tools. They are wonderful means to add flavor in our classrooms. However, I’m still searching for an approach to frame my use of blogs or even wikis.

Resources Used:

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Week 4: Issues & Plans

In one of the training sessions I’ve attended, our trainer asked us “What will you feel when a student asks you a question you don’t know?” All of us didn’t answer this question, but instead we jumped to the next question before he asked it. This question was “What will you do when a student asks you a question you don’t know?” The answer of the first question can be “I feel furious.” The answer of the second question is that “I pretend to be calm.”

I remember this situation when I read the second task of our project. That’s to write about some issues which technology might help with. Every time I write about a certain issue that I face in my teaching, I find technology precedes that issue. But, I tried very hard to forget about it in this week and write just some questions that can be signs for integrating technology as a solution.

Through reading my colleagues’ posts, I’ve found that we have common issues and problems even we live far from each other. The problem is the problem everywhere. Among these issues that all of us face in our teaching are the lack of materials and plagiarism as Liliya mentioned. Another issue is how to motivate students intrinsically to learn and mater all skills of English language as Juliet & Camelia pointed out. Stephen also mentioned many issues either related to teachers (e.g., tracking students’ progress, communication with parents & lack of continuity form one day to the next) or students (e.g., lack of time for writing, group discussion communication & difficulty to express their wants, needs … etc easily). For me, I mentioned some of the issues that need some sort of change, e.g., planning lessons, tracking students’ progress by portfolio, motivation of students, difficulty of writing & pronunciation correction.

I’m sure if we think about integrating technology in our teaching, all of these issues and problems will be on the way of solution.

These words lead us to the idea of designing technology-enhanced lesson plans as a step towards making considerable change in all aspects of our job. To be honest, I spent more time and effort accomplishing this task. And at the end, I haven’t found a huge difference between the traditional lesson plan and that plan integrated technology. As Krajka (2000) mentioned in his article http://iteslj.org/Techniques/Krajka-WritingUsingNet.html it adds a flavor to teaching, but what a flavor? I never forget my training sessions as a trainer. I downloaded wonderful materials and prepared valuable websites to use during the session. In addition to many PowerPoint files to make information more interesting. I do this all the time with my trainees. I never forget their faces smiling and involving in the tasks from the very beginning to the end. However, we should prepare plan “B” as an alternative if this technology became an enemy not a friend.

Week 4: Writing skill-Building

Within the communicative framework of language teaching, the skill of writing enjoys special status. It is via writing that a person can communicate a variety of messages to a close or distant, known or unknown reader. According to Olshtain (2001: 207), such communication is “extremely important in the modern world, whether the interaction takes the form of traditional paper-and-pencil writing or the most technologically advanced electronic mail.” That is why writing, as a communicative activity, needs to be encouraged and nurtured during the language learners’ course of study, especially in early stages of their school years.

In the school setting, writing plays two distinct but complementary roles. First, it is a skill that draws on subskills and processes such as handwriting and spelling, rich knowledge of vocabulary, mastery of conventions (e.g., punctuation, capitalization, word choice, and grammar), and the use of strategies (such as planning, evaluating, and revising text). All are necessary for the production of coherently organized essays containing well-developed and pertinent ideas, supporting examples, and appropriate detail. This role can be characterized as “learning to write.” Second, writing is a means to extend and deepen students’ knowledge; it acts as a tool for learning subject matter. This role is called “writing to learn” (Graham & Perin, 2007).

In spite of the significant importance of writing for students, research in the field of foreign language teaching reveals that writing is the most poorly understood and the skill that is given the most cursory attention in English language courses (Warschauer, 2000). As a result, students’ level in writing performance is getting worse and worse. One reason behind this poor performance form my viewpoint found is the way that writing was and continues to be taught. That is, the practices and approaches adopted by teachers in teaching writing.

Teachers in the product approach to teaching writing, for instance, focused solely on accuracy, appropriate rhetorical discourse and linguistic patterns to the exclusion of writing processes. They focused primarily on “text-based” writing, forcing student writing into academic conventions that stifled creativity. In contrast, teachers in the process approach encouraged students to use their internal resources and individuality; they taught “writer-based” writing (i.e., writing read only by the writer himself or herself) to the exclusion of external audiences. They neglected accuracy in favor of fluency. The processes of generating ideas, and expressing feelings were more important to individual development than the product (Reid, 2001). In the genre approach, on the other hand, the knowledge of language is intimately attached to a social purpose and more focus is on the viewpoint of the “reader” than on that of the writer. However, this approach undervalues the skills needed to produce a text and sees learners as largely passive (Kim, 2006).

From what is discussed above, we can say that we need a framework that can incorporate all these approaches: the final product, writing processes, the purpose of writing, and the context where the writing occurs.

Actually Deborah suggested a very beneficial article that can be a solution for students’ writing difficulties. The article is about “Using the Internet in ESL Writing Instruction” by Krajka (2000): http://iteslj.org/Techniques/Krajka-WritingUsingNet.html. One of the most important points that Krajka mentioned is considering the internet as a teaching aid or as a teaching medium. It is a tool by which students are taught how to write different writing genres. Through reading this article, I’ve recognized why one should incorporate online lessons into the syllabus. Krajka (2000) mentioned many benefits. One of these benefits is that the internet gives students variety and choice, since they have the enormous number of sites to choose from. Every student should be encouraged to do something different, and later the class could compare their findings orally, in this way adding speaking and listening development to the lesson.

Another benefit of the Internet lessons is that the Web materials are completely authentic, unabridged and not prepared with a learner in mind, which can be sometimes difficult in terms of language, but extremely rewarding when students realize that what they read or write is real and belongs to the outside world, not the world of the classroom and textbook.

Another positive aspect of on-line instruction is the fact that students, especially teenagers, are additionally motivated through using computers and the Web, especially when they do not have the chance to use it outside the classroom. Finally, on-line lessons, while done from time to time, might add some new flavor to the classroom, and the Internet instruction could spice classes up with some new elements.

Variety, authenticity, motivation and adding a new flavor are the key words that should put in mind when using the internet in our language classrooms. Using websites to teach writing meets such needs. One of these websites that can develop students’ writing skills is “ESL Interdependent Study Lab": http://legacy.lclark.edu/~krauss/toppicks/toppicks.html
. It deals with all areas of English language. When I visited the “Writing Section”. I found many links to wonderful resources for writing. One of these treasures is “TV411 Writing": http://www.tv411.org/writing/. This website provides students with a kind of self study. Students will find some features about the genre they are going to write about, detailed steps for writing and an editing checklist to check their final product before publishing. Then, it incorporates all approaches I mentioned above.

May be many of you think that we should scaffold our students during their self study. Of course I do agree, but it is more desirable to leave them to explore this world alone. We should prepare independent students that can think, analyze, evaluate and then create their own products. I’m sure if we grow this exploration inside them now, they will not stop. It is just a step towards the beginning.


Resources Used:

Graham, S., & Perin, D. (2007). Writing next: Effective strategies to improve writing of adolescents in middle and high schools: A report to Carnegie Corporation of New York. Washington, DC: Alliance for Excellent Education.

Kim, M. (2006). Genre-based approach to teaching writing. TESL Working Paper Series, 4(2), 33-39.

Krajka, J. (Nov., 2000). Using the Internet in ESL Writing Instruction. The Internet TESL Journal, Vol. VI, No. 11. Available online at: http://iteslj.org/Techniques/Krajka-WritingUsingNet.html
. Retrieved on Jul. 13, 2010.

Olshtain, E. (2001). Functional tasks for mastering the mechanics of writing and going just beyond. In M. Celce-Murcia (Ed.), Teaching English as a second or foreign language. 3rd ed. (pp. 205-232). New York: Heinle & Heinle Publishers.

Reid, J. (2001). Writing. In R. Carter & D. Nunan (Eds.), The Cambridge guide to teaching English to speakers of other languages. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Warschauer, M. (2000). The changing global economy and the future of English teaching. TESOL Quarterly, 34 (3), 511–568.

Week 4: Reading/Vocabulary Skill-Building

Another valuable week is about to say “Good Bye”. I’m still enthusiastic and happy with this course despite of having two other courses at the same time. I want to involve in the discussion more and more, but again time is a big problem. Any way, I’ll try to divide my time wisely to accomplish all tasks required.

For this week, we have 4 tasks in addition to an optional discussion about lesson planning. One of the tasks that I’ve accomplished is to read some articles about ways to use computers to enhance ways to teach reading and vocabulary, then find specific web pages that work with my students. One of the articles provided by Deborah is Using Technology to Assist in Vocabulary Acquisition and Reading Comprehension written by Constantinescu (2007): http://iteslj.org/Articles/Constantinescu-Vocabulary.html. This article stresses the idea of integrating language skills and areas. Although it is important to focus on each skill separately to identify its elements, we can’t do this. We will find them integrated unconsciously. Here for vocabulary and reading, there is a close relationship between them. As Constantinescu (2007) concludes that the better the students’ vocabulary knowledge is, the better they perform with reading comprehension tasks.

Technology also enhances this relationship and provides teachers with many tools to do this. One of these tools is multimedia. Constantinescu (2007) reviewed many studies regarding the effect of using multimedia on developing vocabulary and reading comprehension and he found that multimedia plays an important part in both vocabulary acquisition and reading comprehension, therefore, teachers should be a ware of the potential benefits of integrating technology in language classroom.

For me, I like the idea of integrating more than one sense to develop students’ skills. Multimedia meets this need. I think it is better to present a text with audio, video and graphics. It will be more interesting and make students involve in doing such tasks. That’s why I’m taking “Visual Basic” course these days. I just want to design some reading programs. I want my students to be good readers as reading is one of the most important ways for rich input. I’m sure if students read more, they will be proficient.

Another way for developing reading comprehension is using suitable and rich websites. One of these websites provided by Deborah is “Breaking News English”: http://www.breakingnewsenglish.com/. It is one of the most valuable websites that provides well-organized lesson plans. If you choose any lesson, you will find everything you need as a teacher: print materials, mp3 downloads, complete lesson plans, games, .... etc. Also there is a handout that includes step-by-step guidelines of all what will happen in the lesson with many alternatives. Any lesson plan follows the 3-stage approach: Pre-While-Post. I think it is a successful approach as it makes students concentrate on a certain task at a time. At the end, I recommended my colleagues to use this website with their students as it provides many activities from which they can select putting in mind students’ levels and interests.

Many of my colleagues recommended the same website: http://www.breakingnewsenglish.com/. Juliet & Bella for example used it to search for more authentic text that is suitable for their students. Janet used it as it allows students to work with material focused on current events. Luiza also used it with her students. I like her idea about adapting lesson plans taking into consideration the objectives and target students. You know it is not desirable to adopt something and apply it as it is, we should decorate it with our experience putting in mind the context in which students live. Hanan also recommended this website for teachers who have difficulty working online most of the time. As I mentioned above, we can download and print all activities and handouts we need. For Arbi, what he liked about this website was its smooth integration of all skills in a well-organized lesson plan.

For developing vocabulary acquisition, I’ve visited another website suggested by Deborah. This website http://a4esl.org/ is also well-organized with many quizzes and crosswords for all levels “easy, medium, difficult”. Of course, students sometimes need to play and have fun. So, this website provides them with many printable quizzes and crosswords that can be used as closure activities. It will be more interesting. Reading my colleagues’ posts, I have not found them visit it except Victoria. She also used it as me to search for quizzes and crosswords.

By doing this task I’ve learned a lot about how to develop vocabulary acquisition and reading comprehension. Also, I want to thank my colleagues for their fruitful discussion. Although we use the same websites, we deal with them differently. This makes me think from different perspectives and now I’m a lady with “30” minds or more.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Week 3: Using Technology To Enhance Aural/Oral Skills

How to analyze, evaluate, and create was an ultimate goal in mind before this course. I surfed the internet for more ways to develop these skills for me and my students. I’ve read an article about using blogging for enhancing HOTS (*). However, there is a big difference between something you read and something you see in a practical way.

These tasks we are asked to do in this course, especially the third task of this week provide me with many chances to analyze and evaluate the readings provided by Deborah and my colleagues’ posts, blogs and comments, then create my own. Before this course, I thought developing such skills are very difficult. Now I use them automatically as the proverb says “Practice makes perfect”. I’m so happy to achieve my goal and I promise to help my students to reach it.

The third task of this week is to read at least one of 3 articles recommended by Deborah about CALL for listening, speaking and pronunciation skills and then explain how technology could be helpful in improving my students’ aural/oral skills.

I’ve read the article written by Miller (2003) Developing listening skills with authentic materials: http://www.elthillside.com/up/files/article4.doc. She suggested a very good framework to develop students’ listening skills. She divided the lesson into 3 stages: Pre, While, Post. It is not a new approach as I have attended a training dealing with the same idea for all language skills not just listening. What makes it new is the involvement of technology tools that provides more authentic materials. Among these tools are the Radio, TV/Video and the Internet/CD ROM. These tools provide students with many opportunities to listen to native speakers. I know it is a good idea to do this, but I should adapt these tools first and then step by step students will be ready to these authentic materials.

In general, technology makes students’ learning process more easier and colorful. It creates a safe environment through which they succeed to get rid of anxiety when speaking or listening. It also provides them with many resources from which they can select according to their learning styles and needs.

However, when dealing with technology, we shouldn’t forget about our humanity. Although technology proved its utility in all areas, it failed in developing the emotional aspects. That’s why many researchers call for using blended learning as it combines two methods: the traditional face-to-face instruction and the technological one. This doesn’t mean I’m against using technology, but it is desirable to use more than one approach in your classroom. I like to be multi-approaches teacher. ……… What do you think?

Recommended Resource:
  • (*) Zawilinski, L. (2009). HOT Blogging: A Framework for Blogging to Promote Higher Order Thinking. The Reading Teacher, 62 (8), pp. 650-661.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Week 3: Aural/Oral Websites

The second task of this week is to select two or more websites that can develop our students’ aural/oral skills. We are also asked to mention English level/age of students that could best use these sites, what skills these websites enhance, and overall recommendation about them. 

Actually, this task takes more time and effort. Again and again I surfed the internet to select suitable websites for my pre-intermediate students. The most difficult thing I faced is to select from all these websites on the web. What makes me prefer one website to another is its suitability and availability. I mean is it suitable for my students? Are its resources downloadable?

Deborah suggested a very good collection of websites. They are of great value for me and my students. However, I wanted to explore more websites and share them with my colleagues. 

I’ve recommended my colleagues to use three websites that I admire. The first website is http://www.englishenglish.com/
. It contains a great deal of exercises, quizzes, tests, puzzles and it deals with all areas of English language: grammar, vocabulary, listening, reading, speaking and writing. What I care about is the diagnostic listening test as I want to know what skills students have and what skills they need to improve.

The second website is http://www.123listening.com/
. It has a very simple interface. However, all its audio files are downloadable and worksheets are printable. Moreover, it suits my students’ levels and needs.

The third web site: http://www.uiowa.edu/~acadtech/phonetics/english/frameset.html
concerns with developing my students’ pronunciation. To be honest, this website was recommended by my dear friend Mariam 4 years ago. She used it with her little daughter. And when I tried it, I found it fantastic as my students can listen to the right pronunciation and see how it is pronounced.

Also, I’ve visited my colleagues’ recommended websites. I liked Liliya’s and Camela’s website: http://bbc.com.uk/
that is suggested by Deborah. It suits my students and its resources are downloadable. Luiza’s website http://www.englishcentral.com/en/videos is also wonderful. It is a good idea to make my students practice speaking and pronunciation while watching videos. This means that they use more than one medium to do a certain task. Also, I like the idea of recording students’ pronunciation. This provides them with many chances to repeat until they master the right pronunciation of words. Arbi suggested similar website: http://www.karaokeplay.com/. It contains many songs for all levels. Students can use it to record their songs with their microphones. I think they will like it because after recording, they will hear their voices online. Then we can use these songs in their listening lessons. I’m sure they will involve in these lessons because I use their voices and works. The same idea of using students’ voices is asserted by Stephen. He suggested a wonderful website: http://chirbit.com/home for doing this. I like his idea of using this website as a closure activity where he asks his students to record a "Chirbit" summary of their week at school. It is a good technique of checking their progress in their speaking and pronunciation skills.

Bostan also recommended http://www.onestopenglish.com website. Actually, I’m already familiar with its rich and valuable articles and lesson plans that involves many applicable ideas. Also, it contains many updated authentic activities, exercises, quizzes and tests that help students to develop their skills effectively.

One of the most wonderful websites that I admire is Arjana’s: http://www.listenaminute.com
. It has many exercises in alphabetical order. You can download the audio files and print the worksheets. When I selected one of its topics: http://www.listenaminute.com/f/food.html, I found everything available. You can listen or download the audio file and you can read the typescript. This is followed by many exercises: listening gap fill, correct the spelling, unjumble the words, discussion, student language survey, writing and homework. There are also 2 online quizzes to finish the lesson. Thanks so much Arjana for this treasure.

http://www.manythings.org/ that Bella recommended is one of the most well-organized websites. You can find many resources that deal with all areas of English language: vocabulary, reading, grammar, listening, speaking and pronunciation. I like very much the page concerning pronunciation “Listen & Repeat”: http://www.manythings.org/repeat. I can download file and use it in my classrooms. The most wonderful thing in this website is the new material uploaded every day at midnight. It is continuously updated.

Wow! I have learned all about these websites in just one week. How lucky am I and how lucky are my students? Now, we have a bank of treasures to select from. Even If I’m familiar with some of them, but what makes them new for me is how my colleagues use them in their classrooms. Although many of persons described the same website, every one added something new and valuable. Thanks my dear instructor and my colleagues for this effort.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Week 3: How delicious is this week?

Sometimes I feel myself as my students. I need some activities full of fun and enjoyment. The last week was a little bit tough, but this week began with a delicious task. At the beginning of this week, one of my colleagues asked me about how to use “delicious”. To be honest, this is not the first time to hear about it. I know it is one of the web 2.0 tools, but I don’t think about making use of it. Surfing the internet, I found that http://delicious.com/ is a social bookmarking site where you can save all of your bookmarks or favorites in one place. This permits you to access the same bookmarks on any computer at any location.

What else can delicious enable you?
  • It enables you to bookmark links you want to return to.
  • It enables you to share links with people who have common interests. By sharing links through del.icio.us rather than by sending links in an email, users are providing access to current and future links they may add to their del.icio.us accounts. Users can mark links as private so that visitors to their del.icio.us site will not see them. del.icio.us also allows users to share content directly through certain tags.
Tags are one word descriptions assigned to bookmarks by the user. They are not hierarchical. The use of tags rather than folders in organizing the content has several
implications for del.icio.us users. First, users can invent their own tags. This allows users not only to tag resources based on content, but also based on what they want to do with content. For example, you might tag a resources as to_read if you want to read it later. Tags also make your bookmarks at del.icio.us searchable. Users can assign as many tags to a bookmark as they want.

Some colleagues pointed out that one of the disadvantage of delicious is not having folders. However, I think we can consider tags as our online folders, If we create a little bit broad tags. I like the idea of adapting everything we have and not to restrict to a certain format.
  •  Another benefit of del.icio.us is the ability to view information from other del.icio.us users. When a user bookmarks a site on del.icio.us, they can see how many other people have saved that content. They are also able to see the usernames of those who have tagged the content, allowing them to find people with similar interests. In addition, users can search del.icio.us using tags to find other peer recommended links.

Is it difficult to use it?

As one of the web 2.0 tools, it is very easy to use. You don’t need even instructions to do this. You need just to explore it: http://delicious.com/azharyoussef. As you know I don’t depend on my experience or exploration of new task only, but also I do search for more information about it. In addition to my dear instructor Deborah, I’ve read a lot of articles and watched some videos of how to use delicious effectively. Here is one of the videos that opened many windows on this delicious world:




Viewing this video, you will find it is very easy to create your account:
  1. Go to http://delicious.com/.
  2. Click on “join now” at the right top of the page.
  3. Follow the instructions in order to set up an account.
  4. After you have registered for your account, you will be taken to a page allowing you to install the del.icio.us buttons on your browser. These buttons will allow you to navigate and save bookmarks to your del.icio.us page in a an easy way.
  5. If you wish to install these buttons, select “Install Buttons Now”.  
  6. Save the delicious.msi installer to your desktop.
  7. After the installer has completely downloaded, close all open Internet Explorer windows. 
  8. Double-click to run the delicious.msi installer and select Run.
  9. Once the installation is done, a new browser window will automatically open to your del.icio.us account.
As soon as you create your account, you will feel how delicious the delicious website is. You can make many things: you can add a new bookmark and send it to your friends at the same time, add a new user to your network and benefit from his/her bookmarks, create tags to collect similar sites, read and save other people’s websites, …. etc. Although it is a magic tool, I think it is not of great value for my pre-intermediate students. They can benefit from it indirectly. I mean through me as a teacher. I can share and save valuable sites, then visit them to print and download suitable files for my students. This tool is suitable for advanced students as they need to know other people of the same interests and make friends around the world.

As you see this tool is very valuable for teachers. I’m not going to repeat my self, but everyone of us should have a delicious account not just to save our favorites but also to check others’ favorites and choose people of the same interest. This will extend our friends base and gain more experiences. I recognize all these benefits when I use it this week. My colleagues’ delicious pages are full of treasures that it is very difficult to get them alone. Thanks so much my dear colleagues for your valuable websites and thanks my dear instructor Deborah for this task that helps me to discover two worlds one inside me and the other around me.

Resources Used:

Monday, July 5, 2010

Week 2: Tips or Tricks!

I’ll begin this post with a situation took place 6 years ago. Of course, you know as a researcher I need to visit all libraries available in my country to check their references and resources. This is not an easy job, because I had to visit 29 governorates to do this. One day my supervisor told me that I could do my MA by just a click. At first, I didn’t believe him as I need many studies done in the same context (I mean Egypt where I live). I traveled to all these governorates to collect all what I need to accomplish this task. Also, I used the internet to download some books and full-text studies. After all these sufferings for 3 years, I’ve finished my MA. A very wonderful project which has recently started all over my country makes me change my mind. It is the project of digital and automation libraries. This means that I can get all studies I need by just a click. Then, I remember my supervisor’s idea. Yes, He was right.

From this moment, I decided to explore the world of the internet and identify its tricks. There was a pressing question all the time I thought about. How can I get anything without pain? without wasting time and effort? To be honest, I used Google to answer this question. It was my friend. Any way, I found many tricks that we should use when surfing the internet. Most of these tricks were discussed by my colleagues and provided by our dear instructor Deborah. Actually, I’m familiar with all discussed on the Nicenet Board. Using (+), (-), (‘ ’), Wildcard Symbols (*, ?), Boolean operators (and, or, not), file types (Determining the file type you want: pdf, doc, ppt) & inurl search syntax (searching for words within the URL) will save time and effort and helps to find more suitable and satisfactory results.

Thanks my dear instructor Deborah and my colleagues for all your tips. Actually, we badly need every trick to deal with such age of technology and knowledge explosion.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Week 2: What a Task?

For three days, I haven't stopped surfing the internet day and night, visiting this new website to check its utility, using the other to identify its disadvantages, reading my colleagues’ recommended links and my dear instructor Deborah’s tips for better web searching. It is not an easy task to do because you should use these search engines many times to identify their strength and weakness points.

I tried one of the noodletools websites recommended by Deborah. It connects us to the collections and services of more than 10,000 libraries worldwide. This web search engine,
http://www.worldcat.org/, provides everyone with all what he or she needs; books, music, CDs, DVDs, audiobooks, articles, … etc. Also, It is available in many languages. However, I didn’t recommend my colleagues to use it as we need to subscribe to take advantage of its resources. 

I also visited all my colleagues’ suggested search engines. If you use for example http://www.virtuallrc.com/, you will get unsatisfactory results for your queries. So, it is not beneficial as Arjana mentioned. Google Scholar, http://scholar.google.com.ua/, doesn’t differ from Google as I think it is a part of its world. Also, I visited http://intute.ac.uk/, but I didn’t find it beneficial for me. May be it needs to be tried more later, then I can judge. http://clusty.com/ is a good one as it is called a metasearch tool. This means that it involves more than one search engines. It includes Ask, Bing, and Yahoo. It presents search results in "clusters" by subject. Titles of the clusters are displayed to the left of search results allowing you to easily navigate from one cluster to another, but I think it doesn’t differ from Google and Yahoo.

One of the most beneficial websites that Saulat recommended is
http://www.biography.com/search/. Actually I need it badly especially when I teach my students how to write a biography. I can download some biographies from this website. Moreover, I found another website similar to it. It is http://www.who2.com/. I can use both websites with my students effectively.

Roxana recommended a website for downloading any type of music. I tried it many times, but it didn’t work well. Through checking noodletools, I’ve found two other websites for downloading music and clips. They are
http://www.findsounds.com/types.html & http://www.soundsnap.com/. I can use both websites to download songs for listening or clips to involve them in the PowerPoint presentations I design for my students.

To be honest, at first I didn’t want to change the search engines I accustomed to use. Soon I discovered that I have many keys to open many doors to get the world of the internet, but I restrict to one key. What a shame? So, I decided to try many keys to take advantage of all these opportunities. Actually, using Google doesn’t mean that I don’t use other websites. As a researcher I have many websites to visit daily. They are very valuable and easy to use. Here are some of them:
As a teacher I use other websites when I need articles, activities, exercises, worksheets, quizzes, songs, videos, … etc. Among these websites are: http://www.sitesforteachers.com, http://exchanges.state.gov/englishteaching/forum/archives.html, http://www.agendaweb.org/ , http://iteslj.org/, ... etc.
Of course they are not search engines, but they are specialist websites where I find all the resources I need in my EFL classrooms.

Although I spent more time and effort to accomplish this task, it was of great value. At least I tried web search engines besides my friend Google. One more thing is that I want to send a very
BIG THANK YOU to my dear instructor Deborah and colleagues for their fruitful discussion on the Nicenet board. Their posts, comments and discussions provide me a new mind to think with and a new way to search with.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Week 2: More Information About Learning Objectives!

While I was searching for information about learning objectives and how to write them, I found many valuable things. Please let me share them with you.

Every time we write an objective, we ask ourselves: Is this an objective or a goal? Actually, the use of the terms “Goals” and “Objectives” can be confusing. Is there a difference?  Of course, there is. Here is a comparison between the two terms:

Goals:

Broad Statements
General Intentions
Intangible
Abstract
Generally hard to measure

Objectives:

Specific
Precise
Tangible
Concrete
Measurable
 
Thus, the goal of a learning activity is like a target and the objectives are the arrows that help the learner reach the target and demonstrate mastery. Of course, this means that all what we should focus on is the behavior we expect from the learner. In other words, the learning objective defines what the learner will know or be able to do at the end of every lesson. That’s why it is very important to write the objectives clearly in a manner that is easily understood and measured.

One of the models that can be used to write the objectives clearly is the ABCD Model.
This model consists of 4 elements:

Audience
Behavior
Condition
Degree


The objective does not have to be written in this order (ABCD), but it should contain all of these elements. Here is a detailed description for these elements:

1. Audience: 

Here we identify who will be learning (not the instructor), e.g., the learners, students, readers, participants, trainees, …etc.

2. Behavior (Performance):
 
It should include an action verb indicating what the learner will do. We always ask ourselves: What type of behavior do we want? Actually behaviors for learning objectives fall into three domains: cognitive, psychomotor, and affective.

Cognitive Domain: 

It deals with the intellectual abilities of the learners. These are also called “Head Objectives”. One of the most widely accepted taxonomies that was developed for the cognitive objectives is Bloom’s Taxonomy. His taxonomy has been adapted by Anderson & Krathowhl (2001) to suit the 21st century. Here are the original and revised versions of Bloom’s Taxonomy.

If we compare these two versions, we will find that the names of six major categories were changed from noun to verb forms. As the taxonomy reflects different forms of thinking and thinking is an active process, so verbs were more accurate. The knowledge category was renamed. Knowledge is a product of thinking and was inappropriate to describe a category of thinking and was replaced with the word remembering instead. Comprehension became understanding and synthesis was renamed creating in order to better reflect the nature of the thinking described by each category. For more clarification, here is a video describing the Bloom’s Taxonomy: 


video


Psychomotor/Skill Domain: 

It includes objectives that require basic motor skills or physical movement. These objectives relate to: perceive a need to develop a skill, develop readiness to learn a skill, develop initial responses under the guidance of the instructor, refine responses, adopt skills to use in new contexts, and create new skill sets. When I set objectives related to this domain, I put in mind developing all the skills of English: listening, reading, speaking and writing.

Affective Domain:

 
It relates to the expression of feelings including emotions, fears, interests, attitudes, beliefs and values. These are also called “Heart” objectives. And these objectives are often the most difficult ones to develop and measure.

3. Condition: 

Here we state the conditions we will impose when learners are demonstrating their mastery of the objective. It includes:

The location or context in which the behavior will be performed, e.g, in a written assignment, in the class … etc.
The set of tools to be used, e.g., calculator, the internet, computers … etc.
The learning materials to be used, e.g., dictionaries, handouts, textbooks … etc.

4. Degree:

 
It is the standard or criterion for judging the behavioral performance. It might be:
Speed: within 10 minutes. 


Accuracy: with 90% accuracy.
Quality: accurately.
Quantity: in 20 words.
Permissible Errors: without errors in tense.
Number: three out of four times.

Resources Used:

Week 2: Writing Objectives Seems Easy ….. But BE Careful!

Although I’m not very bad at writing objectives as I did many of them in every lesson, I spent a lot of time to do this task. It seems not difficult, but for two days I’ve continued to read and reread the resources provided by Deborah and search on the web to get a thorough idea about learning objectives and how to write them.

I also read my colleagues’ posts and comments. Actually, they were very helpful for me. One more thing is that my dear instructor Deborah is available all the time giving a hand and supporting all of us to be on the right track. Her comments helped me a lot before writing my own objectives. At last, I did them, but I don’t know If they are right or not. I’m waiting for my instructor and colleagues’ comments.

This task provides me a very wonderful chance to be an expert at writing learning objectives. Before this course, I was utilizing another model for writing objectives that is the SMART Model. Of course you know it. SMART is the abbreviation of 5 key words:

S pecific
M easureable
A ttainable
R elevant
T ime-limited


Although I like very much searching on the web, I uses this model as there are no any alternatives. But this meat week explodes a surprise for me. There are many models for writing objectives. One of these models is the ABCD’s. It is very applicable for me because I can determine the behavior of students clearly. The condition under which the learners will accomplish their tasks is
mentioned. The degree of mastery is also determined as we know the power of an objective increases when we tell the learners HOW WELL the behavior must be done.

Any way I benefited a great deal in this week that is why I called it a meat one. I exerted more time and effort to accomplish its tasks but I’m so happy to know new things that I didn’t know before.