Putting learners in the driving seat

I was really pleased to have taken part in this memorable TESOL SPAIN National Convention held in Elche.

I had never before spoken in a training event like this, and despite all the nerves and fears it turned out to be a truly wonderful experience. I had the chance to meet and listen to many ELT professionals I knew and followed online, and I was lucky to have met many like-minded teachers I hope to keep in touch with.

Thank you to all the TESOL Board members and organizers for giving me the opportunity to share some of my classroom experiences at the convention.

My talk was about student involvement: Putting Learners in the Driving Seat.

Some of the work I referred to in my talk is available in these blogposts:

Building Vocabulary: 1) The Post-it 2) Helping it Stick

Examples from quizlet:House and Furniture, Classroom language

Examples from padlet:Verb patterns.

Examples of collaborative work: My town, Shopping, Tips for language learning

Celebrating learning:

I always collect everything I do in class and post the pictures and summary in an animated video that I play on the last day, and share with them via email or on our LMS. In the past I would use google slideshows, but I’ve become very fond of using POWTOON, a very easy-to-use tool to create presentations and animated videos.

Motivating perfect language learning

There is a visual that I like to share with my students hoping it might make them reflect on the benefits of becoming autonomous learners. So, I shared it on my classroom blog One Click Closer. I’m not sure it sparked any interest at all, I know a simple visual will probably make no difference -if I ever come across a life-changing visual I will let you know.

However, whenever I see it myself I wonder that if my students became perfect language learners by following these or other tips and managed to step out of their cocoons, then what is left for me to do as a  teacher? I mean the taditional, classroom teacher. Just open the door and smile?

This idea has been going on in my head for some time now. In fact, I am very interested in any research that can prove anything on how language learning can happen online, for instance. After all, with web tools and connection students can take learner autonomy to a whole new level. So, I recently followed an experiment on The Guardian Can I learn a language online? and was relieved to read how Alan Haburchak concluded that he needed real people to help him learn the language. Not that it surprised me that much. I think language learning can happen more effectively with people and when it is supported by teachers.

But knowing surely can’t be enough. My role as a teacher definitely has to transform somehow. I can’t rely on being a content and tool provider when content can be found anywhere -Google, if you are seeking immediacy- and tools and resources…well, there are hundreds.

I came up with this idea for me to understand what precise actions can be more helpful in the classroom for my students given this new situation. Whenever I come across a visual or a set of tips for language learners I stop to think what my role is in order to support my students to become perfect learners.

Here is an example taken from the visual Are you the perfect language learner?  The secret of making the most progress is that learners are supposed to:

1. Learn every day.

2. Be motivated.

3. Record new vocabulary.

4. Read, read, read

5. Be brave

6. Use technology

What am I supposed to do as their teacher?

Motivation will strengthen if the learner enjoys what they are reading about or listening to. Also, in the case of adults the idea of usefulness is key. There has been much said about how to keep students motivated in class and outside. And I agree that choosing the right materials and focusing topics in certain ways can help. But still, if it is only the teacher who has the ultimate decision as to what to bring to class, and a curriculum and its tests determines the topics and their sequence, keeping students motivated is far from easy. So, it would be a good idea to help students “customize” their own learning experience, so that learning every day is not felt as a drag and could go on even after the course has finished.

Maybe if they had their own PLN  they’d have the chance to create a learning network based on their own interests and even learning needs. Reading and trying to engage in communication in the target language with other learners with similar interests is easier when aided by technology. Being a curator myself, rather than a content provider, could make it easier for everyone in class to ease our way through the web 2.0 jungle; we could even end up helping and informing each-other.

There are plenty online tools to help students with vocabulary, and many others that are incredibly useful like quizlet to prepare activities for class or share on our LMS.

Be brave? I think the idea is rather to help them feel comfortable with the mistakes they make so as to learn from them.

I don’t know any EFL teacher who has helped learners create their own personal learning network, so I would really appreciate your comments and insights on this.



Taming Twitter

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Social networks have become an integral part of our lives. Still have a doubt?  Just grab your phone, google it and done. Looking at the world through my kid’s eyes, it is even more obvious. I will say: “I don’t know, son”. Son goes: “Well, mum, look it up on your phone.” In fact, that was exactly what I was thinking of doing myself, except that at the back of my brain something was telling me that perhaps I should encourage my kids to seek answers some other way. But that is another matter.

Just as everyone else, I have witnessed the amazing transformation that the digital media and social networks have brought about. But still, I had not realized how much I could gain from a professional point of view. Whenever I heard a teacher explaining how powerful it was, I must admit, I was quite sceptical. I actually thought that it could not be more than merely informative.

But I was wrong. Very soon I realized that Twitter is much more than a noticeboard. In fact, it opened my eyes to dozens of new ideas that were being put into practice somewhere near or far from me. Connected, social, or blended learning. OEDs, apps, blogging…you name it. There were schools and educators who had been for more than a decade integrating these new ways of teaching with technology in their classrooms and seeking strategies to do so effectively.

At that point I saw myself in black and white.

Get on That Train

So there I was. Convinced that the world is moving fast, my students are rapidly changing from one year to the next, so I’d better get on that train.

At the beginning I really enjoyed connecting with like-minded people and reading their brilliant articles. I was learning on the very spot. Wherever I was I could read something inspiring to me. I engaged in chats where I could connect with teachers who were tackling issues I was concerned about, both as a teacher and as a parent. There are some amazing people out there! In record time I became aware of a lot things happening in education, language learning and where these two meet technology.

On top of that, the time was right. It made a lot of sense at that precise moment of my teaching career because I had been instictively driven to change and incorporate new tools to engage learners in a more social and connected environment. Just that I did not know exactly how to do it.

But there was a downside to all this euphoria. It was a bit of a frenzy. Just too overwhelming and exhausting sometimes. There came a moment I lost track of what I had gone there for in the first place.  What was it all about? Creating a personal brand? A quest for followers?

Too Fast to Handle?

Twitter had become an essential part of my personal learning network, but all the value it had was at times withering due to the lack of time and focus. I got very easily distracted by almost anything.

I am a mother of two. I can’t spend the time I have just sifting through endless streams of resources if it won’t get me anywhere. Obvious as it might sound, as a teacher there is no point in paying the same attention to everything, basically because not everything is necessary for my students. At least, not now. It’s like when you know you should take up a sport. You can’t possibly do all sports just because you like them.

It also dawned on me that maybe I was becoming nothing but a noticeboard -maybe spam?- to all of those who were following me. I would tweet and retweet great ideas and information about web 2.0 tools, for instance, which sounded just fine. But what is the value of informing people of things that exist if I haven’t had the chance to test it myself? Then my profile would be nothing but an echo, while my learning isn’t taking place either.

The time had come to tame twitter.

Seeking the Balance

Here are a few things I learned about using twitter for professional development.

  • Try to stay focused on what is genuinely meaningful in my context for me and my students.
  • I have to learn to use time wisely. And just as with other social media apps, try to make the most of content curation sites to keep resources organised.
  • I mustn’t neglect the power of hashtags. Following the tweets on a stream of educational hashtags helps me optimize my time on twitter and also find other teachers with similar interests. I’ve also found it helpful to follow hashtags and lists on twitter apps like tweetdeck.
  • Create and suscribe to lists where I can follow people that tweet about specefic areas I am interested in.
  • Engage in chats. Meeting new people and learning what others are doing by communicating with them in real time is a wonderful opportunity.
  • If I am keen on social learning and all its benefits, maybe I should take advantage of it myself and interact with the people I connect with. That single action usually makes me reflect and think about many topics, just as writing does.
  • And last, but not least, enjoy!

Twitter, which, in the end, are the people and organizations that bring it to life, have so much to offer to help me grow professionally and personally.