New Year, New Tech

Once I deteremined to integrate technology in my classroom I was quite aware of where my starting point was, but surely couldn’t imagine where it would lead me to.  At the beginning, I was really into blogging with my students, and I still am, but I am increasingly interested in the benefits of flipped learning and seeing how it impacts the daily life of the classroom.

So, I am finding it hard to identify one single piece of technology. It is really a combination of tools that I am really looking forward to using. That would be Screencast-o-matic, or Jing for creating videos and YouTube or Vimeo for publishing them. Also, Thinglink is a presentation tool which might fit well for delivering the online content.

I think the flipped classroom is the perfect setting for a language learning environment. I teach English and I’ve realised over the last years that much as I try to use time wisely in class, I end up spending -not wasting- potentially precious classroom moments in lecturing or going through content that, not only could be done online, but would probably have a more significant effect on the learners. I am very curious to see how the classroom atmosphere benefits from students preparing the class at their own pace, rewinding when necessary, going through the “getting started” activities as many times as necessary.

I hope learners welcome it with a positive outlook. I know that for many of them it might be a little struggling at first, because they do have to change the way they are used to learning. Somtimes they adopt a very passive role and might unintentionally simply rely only on what is taught in class.

Some articles and resources that I have found very useful lately are:

What’s the Difference Between a Flipped Classroom and Flipped Learning?

6 Tips for Flipping the Classroom

Technology for Flipping the Classroom

I was lucky to have seen this video by John R. Sowash yesterday, shared by a teacher of my PLN.

 

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.

 

 

Step In. The Classroom Door Is Open.

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After months of struggle trying to gather the courage to get this blog started, the moment has come. It has been a long winter, full of foggy mornings and stormy nights, which matched my mood and made it altogether fascinating, uncertain and overwhelming. But spring has come and I feel it is the best time of the year to start.

I’m bilingual and I have taught English for more than 18 years now. But I must confess that I have never felt that I fit in the role of the traditional teacher of languages. I admit to not knowing the meaning of every single word that my students ask, or why it turns out that certain grammar “mistake” appears to be commonly used in certain contexts. I don’t blush. Language usage can be just as fascinating as it is mysterious. Still, I think I make a fairly reasonable teacher regards content knowledge and I’ve grown to feel comfortable looking up the doubts with my students in class whenever they came up.

I don’t enjoy tests, but I am aware of the role they play in the learning process of my students so I try to grade and give feedback as accurately as possible. Ironically, when my students fail, I might also feel disheartened when all they worry about is the number they get at the top of the page. They may feel they have failed, but so do I when I didn’t manage to help them understand that knowing how to perform after the test is just as important as the result itself.

Truth is, I have always felt that I performed better as a coach. And what worries me is letting them down, sounding unrealistic or, incoherent. Much as I try to inspire the joy of learning and how rewarding it is, I know it does not only happen just because you want to. It takes patience and time. Adult language learners, for instance, often have to make a huge effort to get out of their comfort zone and embrace a new learning opportunity, which they have probably never tried before. 

That’s why being a “coach” makes it easier sometimes, because teaching is a challenging job, indeed. It requires more than content knowledge, and I reckon anyone who has ever taught can relate to this. It involves emotions. One of my own experiences to prove this is that sometimes I will say in class something perfectly reasonable like “Just practice, go out there and speak! Listen! Read! Seek every opportunity !” It sounds a little bit like “carpe diem”, doesn’t it? Yet, as we know, not everybody has a natural push for seizing the day. Nowadays, with all the information overload, there are terabytes of opportunities to take. But what to choose? I have somehow always perceived that they were being left alone in the middle of a jungle of words, discourse and accents. So, is it enough for a teacher to propose a limited list of resources and sites for them to practice? Will that make shy students have a chance to improve their skills at all? I wonder if it would make a difference if they were trained how to exlpore the web to create opportunities based on their own interests.

On top of that, I made this wonderful discovery, which is the joy of learning again myself. I’m just starting to grasp the amazing potential of web 2.0 tools and social media. Promoting cooperation among peers is easier now than it has ever been before, and reaches further beyond the classroom walls, which is motivating, fun and I hope it proves to be be effective. Now that there is a whole wide world out there to learn from, I am looking forward to exploring the tools and digital contexts that will boost my student’s communicative skills and mill make learning happen. Will it make sense for them to create their own PLN? How can blogging improve their language skills? Which tools and new forms of discourse or audiovisuals can be used in the classroom? And why? It seems that education technology has developped to a point that we may experience positive outcomes more quickly. But is this always true?

With this blog I intend to open doors and make my work visible, too, just as I intend to open the doors of my classroom so my students have the chance to connect and challenge their language skills outside.

Experiences, tools, discoveries, success stories and fiascos. Challenges and doubts. That is what it is all about.

 
photo credit: Thomas Hawk via photopin cc