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Finding your tribe

One of the most enjoyable and inspiring books I have read this year has been Sir Ken Robinson's "Out of our Minds"  and my ref...

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Just because you can..

...doesn't mean you should!

I was reminded when reading this tweet of an essential truth that should underpin all teacher use of technology. Moving your activity online is not necessarily innovation, presenting a task though a website or in your VLE may not be an improvement over giving out a handout or setting work from a course book - in some cases it may even be worse! 

During my teacher training days (when dinosaurs ruled the earth) we were asked what language we could teach given just a box of matches. This lesson has stayed with me ever since. We can teach: tense (I will strike, I am striking, I struck - this will get attention!), pronouns and questions (guess what is in the box, is it a bug?) adjectives and adverbs ( it is a big flame, he struck the match quickly), even complex structures such as hypothesis and subjunctives (if I were you..., I wish you would...) and much more. These lessons can all be taught without electricity, although you may be well advised to have a fire extinguisher handy for health and safety reasons :)

So, my point is, when planning we need to take into account whether the "wow" factor we may experience in planning a digital session is really earning its place in our classroom with our students. Is it bringing something extra, adding value to the learning by increasing student autonomy, impacting on their experience of the learning points or offering greater opportunity for creativity and involvement? If not, we risk the student expressing something similar to the tweet above - same old, same old. So get your digital box of matches out and start sharing your best ideas with other educators, let' s make sure that the technology enhances the experience. 

Monday, 26 August 2013

Extending our reach

 This tweet was a lovely illustration of the need we have as professional communicators to be engaged with the changing context of communication. This is a theme I have been mulling over for some time and, having now found a suitable illustration, I will be sharing the "how" to encourage others who need to extend intellectual activity from the physical into and through the virtual. I am about to write up my thoughts. This "announcement" on my blog will now give me a reference point so I can no longer put off committing my framework to paper. Watch this space as publication will doubtless be online and available for download. (plums optional).

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Accuracy and language usage.

Take a look at this tweet:

Those of you who teach French will notice immediately that there is an error in this tweet.  The correct spelling of the infinitive of the verb to go should be used in this sentence: aller, not the past participle which has been used. This is not an uncommon mistake amongst language learners as the 2 forms sound pretty much indistinguishable. Michel illustrates this unintentionally, he is a native French speaker. Many of us make typos when we tweet, even in our native tongue, it is part of the territory. We type quickly to convey a message which we hear in our head. I have no doubt that I could find hundreds of examples in a few minutes on social media sites.

For some teachers the visibility of this sort of error make them fearful of encouraging their learners to participate in  "real" language" exchange on twitter and other social media platforms. However, I would like to point out the positives these sort of errors present to your learners:

  • As a learner, it is encouraging to know that even native speakers make mistakes in their own language use. So language learning is a complex, demanding activity.
  • The phoneme difficulty learners experience as they struggle to match sounds and their spellings can be off putting, it is a form of code breaking. How reassuring to know that there are often multiple combinations of written representation of a certain sound, and that all language users have to go through this matching activity which only gets easier with experience. 
  • Coming across misuse of language presents a real teaching opportunity. Collect real examples such as the one above and use them as a "you be the teacher" activity, getting your learners to discuss and correct. Choose your examples wisely, they could include common misspellings, phonetic errors for example. Your learners can then become language investigators, you are sensitising them to the ever changing phenomenon that is language evolving through technology usage.