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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. 

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Shifting sands

At no time do I ever feel that I have mastered the French language, despite the fact that I have constantly used and studied it for most of my life. There's a good reason for that...language constantly evolves and changes. It is a complex, dynamic phenomenon. Language use and the social and psychological dimensions that are part of it merit serious study and this can bring great insights into who we are as human beings.  

I enjoy seeing how technology use effects the changes in language. Technology users themselves share a further cultural experience that I find fascinating. I wonder how many of my French friends have ever used this for example:


Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Many heads are better than one!

Many tell me I am a natural networker. True, I find connecting with others generally life enhancing and certainly collaboration brings great inspiration and rewards. Of course there are challenges, human relationships can be complex but generally I find it is better to accept that no single one of us has all the answers. 

During the past 10 years or so I have extended my professional networks in language teaching and learning , technology enhanced learning and research and I have been fortunate enough to find many supportive, international collaborators who have helped to provoke, inform, challenge and hone my skills. They include individuals (many are tweeps) organisations (ALT is a great example) and companies who provide my tech solutions. 

Advising on tech choices these days is increasingly challenging thanks to the many changes that happen in this context almost daily but there is expertise that we should consult in order to avoid making costly,wasteful investments which do not ultimately fit our aims. One of the technology providers I have found to be well informed and supportive is the open source video streaming service that is called Kaltura. Here is a recent blog post on the promise of HTML5 video. Hope you find it helpful too.

How's your PLN coming along?

Thursday, 11 April 2013


Been so busy just lately but this tweet has reminded me that I need to post again :) Here's the tweet that motivated this post:
Surely every teacher's goal is to create autonomous, self directed learning. That is the end game, we start incrementally in the same way we do as parents. Leading by example; showing curiosity; rewarding interaction with the world and with the means of acquiring knowledge; – the trick is to find the way of creating the urge to learn and grow – the drive (recommended reading: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Drive-Surprising-Truth-About-Motivates/dp/184767769X) . From an educational perspective, this is where work on motivation fits (Dornyei et al). A skilled teacher, whatever their sector, knows how to create an ethos of rigour and investigation, collaboration and mutual support, interaction and mutual development. A student centred approach is not, as so often portrayed some kind of "happy, clappy" movement where there are no boundaries and even the feeblest, fake attempts to feign interest are praised. Why would anyone wish to accentuate the wishy washy! I find it annoying when teachers divide each other into the "strict" and the "fun". Such oversimplification is lazy thinking, not worthy of the profession. Like all reductionism it fails to acknowledge that a good teacher, like a good parent, modifies their behaviour to fit a given context in order to achieve their aim. Oh and what was that again? Creating autonomous, self directed, LIFELONG learners. Our aim is to make ourselves dispensable. We need to be experts whilst knowing that expertise includes knowing that we have little expertise:
"To know, is to know that you know nothing. That is the meaning of true knowledge." Socrates