Doing some work

May 27, 2011 § 15 Comments

“Thinking is easy,
Acting is difficult.”
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

I clicked End Call with a feeling of exhilaration. I’d just Skyped Rick, prompted by Brad’s excellent activity for getting to know your PLN better. Here are others who have participated. Whether they had seeped in unconsciously, or whether the questions were spot on, or whether Rick and I just hit it off right from the start and all our talking shop covered them easily enough, with neither script to hand nor the need to dig them out, I realised later that we’d got through four out of five of our own accord.

Rick is a thinker, his blog Doing Some Thinking tells us so, here he is look, wrapped in a toga, head in hand, laurelled by nature and civilisation alike, ruminating on rhetoric, postulating on pronunciation. I’d chosen Rick precisely because of this. I love listening to someone who enlightens the world, someone who digs deep and carefully dusts and polishes trinkets of wisdom and holds them up for scholars to admire and reflect on, like Vladka the archaeologist.

Except this image I had couldn’t be further from the truth.

Rick is a man of action. Sleeves rolled up, he’s a doer, emanating energy. He talks non-stop. I had considered taking notes but got too involved right from the start, as very soon, the focus had shifted from general chitchat to exploring how we could work together in some way in the future.

He set up his own company a few years ago, a language school, first with just one partner, then taking on another. They all balance teaching with running a successful business with six other full-time teachers on their payroll. He struck a good deal renting classrooms in the school he went to as a boy, taught at as a teacher, and now profits from as a businessman.

His immediate agenda is to find and rent new premises so he can expand into teacher training throughout his home suburb of Brasilia. Elsewhere, he’s involved with #breltchat and is organising a regional conference for 150 English language teachers in July, also in Brasilia. As a result, recent books he’s read are on business, Blue Ocean Strategy and the like. Brad asks what else you’d be. This isn’t a dream, it’s real, he’s a businessman. But he needed to be a teacher first.

Here are my adjectives I’d describe him with. Caring. He cares about doing the best for his students, like taking them on a trip to the US a few months ago. Precise. He’s prepared to put in the effort to get things right; his pronunciation is native-like. Modest. Though he wouldn’t admit to it.

Knowledge shouldn’t be treated like pieces of antiquated jewellery, to be displayed behind glass. It’s living, to be applied, a journée from A-Z where learning never stops, reflecting and wondering close up on a cruel world of dandelions, and this was my overriding impression of Rick. Oh, that other question, what’s in his fridge? Dunno, never asked, could be empty, could be chock-a-block, certainly more than just food for thought.

“When I get a little money I buy books;
and if any is left I buy food and clothes.”
Desiderius Erasmus

ELTchat Teaching Online Summary

May 14, 2011 § 12 Comments

“When I skype a student or ELT team,
I put on a nice top, lipstick
and put plants behind me.”
Bethany Cagnol

The ELTChat was about teaching online. It proved to be a popular and exciting discussion, not least because it really got me thinking of the next step I need to take in my career (Fuertesun). This is true. We have already entered an age where we can teach in our pyjama bottoms, even if when I skype a student or ELT team, I put on a nice top, lipstick and put plants behind me. Nutty? (BethCagnol). This is a great topic and one that will become more and more of a feature in ELT, I think (rliberni).

Right from the off, we should highlight the distinction between two types of online teaching: “Asynchronous” describes blogs, wikis and forums, not teaching face to face in real time. “Synchronous” teaching is in real time, online. Integrating the two is good. I really enjoy having a wiki to supplement my synchronous teaching! Students enjoy a reference (ShellTerrell). I would use a ning or an alternative – like grouply – but blogs and wikis are also a good idea (Marisa_C). I do a Monday surgery every week using Adobe connect so my students can see me and ask questions. I love these sessions (boyledsweetie). Here is a comparison of the two types:

There was a wide variety of online experience amongst the participants. I’m interested in becoming an online teacher, but don’t really know how to get started. Any advice? (theteacherjames) whereas after 4 years of E-learning I’m really changing my view a lot and doing things very different to how I started out (rliberni).

Some have also taken online courses, so have experience from a learner’s perspective. I did my M.A online. It was a painful and enjoyable experience at the same time (lolonagi) and here’s a post I wrote about being an online student on an IH Online Teacher Training course (sandymillin) and my whole course is delivered by modules within a virtual learning environment (VLE) (boyledsweetie). Here’s a student’s perspective: Benefits of Online learning (Guest post on Teaching Village): (tarabenwell).

Is this useful for being an online teacher? Definitely!  Getting experience first as an online student will really help make you aware of what is involved with it (janetbianchini).

Teaching online is a new skill, and needs to be learned. Good online teachers have to be masters of the technology being used (LARC_SDSU). If not, you can forget all about good teaching practice: I just starting talking too much, forgot to talk to the student, the unfamiliar made me nervous (dreadnought001). So prepare yourself: A great book is “Teaching Online” by Nicky Hockly and Lindsay Clandfield (janetbianchini). Online, I’ve come across this article that lists Top 8 traits of a Good Online Teacher (cintiastella). Another way is to take a course – LANCELOT, IH COLT, the Consultants-E to name a few – all are slightly different (hollysuel). I’m planning to do IH Certificate in Online Tutoring later this year to get some more ideas (sandymillin).

Or you can take the plunge and try tutoring a student you already have on a one-to-one basis first so you can get used to it (Marisa_C).

If you want to be an online teacher, you can work for an online company. Here’s a blog post on companies that hire/help you find students: and a few others include Myngle, Edufire are free markets–Tutor ABC, TalkBean & ESOL Nexus are direct hires (hollysuel). Or you can go it alone, in which case, you need to market yourself. Guy Kawasaki and Seth Godin are good to follow and a must read free ebook about marketing is Seth Godin’s The Idea Virus (ShellTerrell). Also create a PLN and use twitter.

So, what synchronous teaching tools are there? It seems there are lots, and changing all the time. It’s a full-time job just keeping up! Jing seems to be a favourite with everyone! (Marisa_C). I learned to use Jing by watching Russell Stannard’s Training Videos, they are great! (cintiastella). scribblar is a really good online collaborative whiteboard which is developing all the time (HelpMyEnglish). I have a bamboo board that I can use in virtual classrooms – no need to type (hollysuel), whereas I have definitely found Elluminate the easiest synchronous platform (Englishonthenet). I use Skype only to interview people (Marisa_C).

But can we trust technology? There’s the obvious: different time zones, bad connection. However, it’s much better, more stable and getting better all the time (rliberni). Even so, with technology, it’s not enough to have plan B – you need a plan C, D and E (Englishonthenet), and so many teachers resist online teaching for fear of the technology going wrong (Marisa_C). I don’t often use webcam as students haven’t got them, problems with bandwidth etc. (rliberni).

So what do students actually think? Surely that’s the most important question! They begin by resisting but then only want to be taught online (Marisa_C). It’s not easy to help people over their initial resistance but once they get hooked they’re fine (Englishonthenet). I worked with older and younger students some hi-tech and some low-tech who couldn’t figure out chatting (ShellTerrell). It’s not plain sailing.

But let’s imagine we’ve got the students there. Are all out problems solved? Don’t you believe it! Another problem is getting students to commit regularly to attending courses and finishing assignments (ShellTerrell). Online students seem to cancel more easily – you need to be flexible as a trainer (Englishonthenet). So, to combat this, lots of email nudging, reminders, blogs, webinars etc, keep your learners lives in mind and help them not fail (Boyledsweetie). It’s hard work to prepare, a lot of time checking messages, attendance etc and the students got demotivated unless they join chats (fionamau). And what about money? Another problem is getting students to pay – some think everything on the internet should be free (hollysuel).

Anyway, we’re off and running. What should we be aiming to do to make it a successful course? Having students get to know each other is great for building a community! What’s your favorite intro online activity? (ShellTerrell). You can make use of your location. A fabulous intro – View from my window – show a picture of your view, and invite students to do the same (janetbianchini). It naturally follows to get your students to create a photopeach slideshow of their country.  First show them yours and then they do one. It’s great (janetbianchini). A similar activity is to have the students upload a favorite picture and talk about it (hollysuel). And then there’s the dogme activity “Story of my name” (tarabenwell). And another getting-to-know-you activity, the 30 song challenge:

In fact, everyone being in different locations can have its own advantages: a bird flew in through my window the other night whilst I was on camera. A chat box of hilarious comments kept us all laughing for 10 minutes (boyledsweetie).

So, an ocean of opportunities, it seems. And thanks to this wonderful PLN and forums like ELTchat, the friendship and support to help us navigate.

“Never before in history has innovation offered promise
of so much to so many in so short a time.”
Bill Gates

Saturday Night Fever

May 9, 2011 § 2 Comments

“Convince yourself
Convince your friends
Convince your enemies”

The Globe in Brighton has catapulted itself into top spot of my favourite pubs. It’s got a buzzing atmosphere upstairs where you have to shout to be heard, and a cosy cellar downstairs where on some nights you need only whisper. But on IATEFL’s Saturday night, dance fever took over: it was heaving with renegade teflers; the dance floor was rocking.

If you were there, like they say, then you probably won’t remember it, but it is me who you should thank. I’d nipped down to go to the loo, and the dj’s tunes had got my hips shaking. I stayed for a while, alone, the only groover there labelled with a name badge. A few recognised faces came and went on their way to the bathroom, but for some time I remained the sole representative of the funkier element of ELT.

That was until I got Heike. I’d raced upstairs to let someone in on my discovery, and she seemed like the best bet. Her all-nighter at the Virtual Round Table is spoken of in hushed tones by fellow party animals. She had pulling power, as did Shelly. Within the blink of an eye and the wiggle of an £$%&, the dance floor started filling up. Upstairs, the squares, or just those deep in conversation would at some point have noticed first the trickle, then the flood of colleagues descending into the abyss.

Over at Rick’s, where the four walls of the classroom are opened up by technology, Hend asks a commonly recurring question, namely how to get others engaged in what you believe to be good practice. Her question was in relation to twitter, but there have been similar discussions about dogme. For me, it’s language plants.

Just this weekend, I learnt of an activity that is promoted in UK schools to improve learner autonomy. I was attending a seminar at a conference for teachers working in independent schools. First, learners convince themselves of the proposition, such as who had the best claim to the English throne when William invaded from northern France in 1066. Then they convince their friends, working in small groups to strengthen their argument. Finally they are unleashed on their enemies, who mercilessly question their views and try to undermine them. If you are left standing after this onslaught, then you can be pretty sure you’ve got a good case.

Your enemies, those who are more questioning, or more conservative, or just less caught up in the maelstrom are not, for the most part, actively hostile towards you and your convictions. Most are just too busy doing what they’re already doing, and enjoying it, like the ones upstairs in the pub. They don’t feel the need that you do. But rather than seeing this mass as a solid, immovable and immutable brick wall, unshakeable and unyielding, some are just the slightest nudge away from taking a peek down the stairs to see what they’re missing out on. Actually, they’re not pushed, they’re pulled, drawn in by the Heikes and Shellys of this world. It must be their decision to come along for the ride. And it is. After all, we’re too busy dancing.

“The philosopher’s soul dwells in his head,
the poet’s soul is in the heart;
the singer’s soul lingers about his throat,
but the soul of the dancer abides in all her body.”
Gibran Khalil Gibran

Technology, Dogme and language plants

May 1, 2011 § 15 Comments

“One machine can do the work of fifty ordinary men.
No machine can do the work of one extraordinary man.”
Elbert Hubbard

During a lull in the YL SIG at IATEFL, I nipped out for a spot of window shopping in the boutiques of Brighton. By the time I had sneaked back to catch the end of the next session, 300-odd hard-thought-out reasons had supplanted the 300-odd hard-earned pounds I’d outlaid on the latest addition to my wardrobe, a nice new navy-blue suit.

For centuries, philosophers’ utopias were ruled by rationality and devoid of passion, for only then would people be able to make correct decisions and lead fulfilling lives. Plato’s image of a charioteer commanding runaway horses as a metaphor for reason subordinating emotion is attractive, but completely wrong. We humans are the most emotional animals of all. It’s how we are able to make decisions, and we are, for the most part, able to control them.

It’s like that with technology. Technosceptic Scott warns us that it can be all too easy to fall prey to a shiny new product and then convince others, and ourselves, of its worth. There must be a link between what this technology can achieve and why we would want this in the first place. The stronger the link, of course, the more dogmeists endorse it. I can’t find fault with this attitude.

Wordle is a case in point. As the inventor states, it was never intended to perform an educative role, it was merely the rather attractive result of some messing around with algorithms in his free time. But people like the images, they have an emotional impact on us, we want to find uses for them, and are grateful to teachers like Dave who have picked up the gauntlet to give us activities that, I’d say, do have value.

In fact, leaps of progress often come from unexpected sources. Accidents have more than their fair share of statues in the pantheon of human achievements, the mouldy antibiotic that became known as penicillin being perhaps the most famous example.

Creativity, a new idea, happens when several existing disparate ideas come together at the same time. Behold! a new connection, logical and obvious in hindsight, but if it were that easy, it would have been invented, or discovered, years before.

When you get a sound idea and integrate it with smooth technology, things can really catch on. The new language plant maker is designed with technophiles and technophobes in mind, and Surfing Brad will go “hey dude, this is cool, man”. But don’t worry – you won’t have to scratch your head and furrow your brow in a quest to unearth reasons to support its use in class. That’s what language plants are made for.

“The feeling is often the deeper truth,
the opinion the more superficial one.”
Augustus William Hare and Julius Charles Hare

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