Showing posts with label autonomy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label autonomy. Show all posts

Monday, June 01, 2015

Google Hangouts: Not Your Regular Test Validation Meeting

An important component of the assessment design cycle is validating the instruments, and to that effect we count on the group of teachers working with that particular level/course. This collective validation process used to take place in the form of a traditional meeting which took place in our school’s Main Branch, usually in a room big enough to accommodate a group of around thirty teachers (sometimes more).
I’d already been adopting some group work dynamics in order to optimize the use of time, hopefully enabling teachers to make the best of the experience of collectively analyzing the test. In a nutshell, I wanted a productive, pleasant atmosphere where not only the outspoken individuals had a go at critiquing and sharing their views. I wanted all of them to feel comfortable enough to voice their concerns and suggestions to tweak the assessment instrument at hand. Teachers worked in small groups of five to six people, appointing a spokesperson who would be in charge of communicating the group’s opinions/suggestions regarding the test.
That had been working quite well. So, it occurred to me: they worked so well within their small groups, usually sitting with fellow teachers from the same branch, who have been sharing their experiences on a regular basis. I couldn’t help but wonder if we could make the validation process even more practical. That was when I had the idea to try out Google Hangouts for Test Validation Meetings. This is how we did it.
Let’s Hangout
Teachers were asked to attend the Validation Hangout at their branches; therefore, they worked with small groups of fellow teachers with whom they connect/exchange every day. They appointed their Hangout representative/spokesperson and went about their business of analyzing the test.
Adjustments along the way
The three Hangouts we had this semester were two-hour-long events. In the first Hangout, I took the groups through the test exercise by exercise, asking them to look at one part of the test at a time. That ended up being as time consuming and noisy as a regular meeting.
After getting some feedback from them, which they gave via a Google Form Survey, we decided it would be best if I gave them about 40 minutes to work on their own first, and only then start gathering their feedback. That worked better. (That and using the mute button to lessen the noise, of course!)
However, the third tine around was the best, indeed. We decided groups should be given even more time to look over the entire test before the feedback-giving stage. I gave them an entire hour, and it really paid off. The feedback stage ran more smoothly and rather fast.
Project Success
  • Convenience: teachers were free to attend the Hangout at a branch of their convenience, which most of the times meant the branch closest to their homes;
  • Capacity for collaborative self-management: teachers had to organize the analysis process themselves, preparing to report their impressions and suggestions to the Course Supervisor (yours truly) and the other branch groups in a clear and concise manner;
  • Agency and accountability: they worked hard to convey their opinions and provide pertinent suggestions, relying on the expertise of their own groups;
  • Voice: working with smaller groups of familiar faces made the more reserved people comfortable to speak their minds, something which tended not to happen with the large face-to-face traditional (very loud and somewhat messy) meetings;
And, last but not least,
  • Modeling innovation: teachers had the chance of trying out a new tool which they might find useful for other professional development opportunities.
This is an experience I would certainly like to replicate in the future, and which I would recommend other admins try out with their teaching staff.
What’s next?
Hangouts for Professional Development and innovating the adjacent possible.

Clarissa Bezerra

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

IATEFL 2013 - Liverpool - The Future is Now!

IATEFT 2013 – Liverpool

The Future is Now – What Tomorrow’s Schools Will Look Like

     International conferences are a great opportunity to learn new things, debate controversial ideas, and check if you are doing a good job at your school. The IATEFL annual conference is especially exciting because you have teachers from all over the world sharing information on teaching English as a foreign language. So there I was, ready to take part in this international exchange of ideas.
     Being a tech-savvy teacher who blogs and reasonably up-to-date on technological advances, I was quite curious by the title of this presentation by Peter Davidson (Zayed University, United Arab Emirates) on Thursday, April 11th 2013. “The Future is now – What Tomorrow’s schools will look like.” Could this be a breakthrough? Could he have discovered the future of teaching? After all, he was asking questions such as, “What will classrooms look like in the 21st century?”, “Will there be classrooms?”, “Will there be schools?”, “Will there be teachers?”. Looking for answers and for new ideas, in I went.
    Peter Davidson started talking about the factors shaping education at the moment, some of which are economics, globalization, research, and technology. Going on to the topic of curriculum and tools, He mentioned blended learning, online learning (MOOC), laptops, tablets, and phones. After cruising through web tools, he got the audience to discuss the role of the teacher in the future. Will we be facilitators, enablers, guides, mentors, gurus, or just bystanders?
    Finally, the session went onto the future of education. Whether education will be challenging, frustrating, chaotic, fun and exciting, Peter Davidson concluded that teachers need to not only be aware of the changing face of education, but they need to embrace this change and help to shape it. This change needs to lead to more effective learning. According to him, and I fully agree, teachers and educators need to shape the future of education – not Bill Gates and Steve Jobs.
    The important question here is, “Did I learn anything new by watching this presentation?” The answer is no. However, what I would like to emphasize is how rewarding it is to know that Casa Thomas Jefferson is one of the frontrunners embracing this change. We, as teachers, have been using web tools for several years. Online and blended learning are already part of our reality. Computers and tablets in class are our daily routine. Even living in a developing country facing a never-ending economic crisis, we are not bystanders. Into the future we boldly stride.

André Netto

Monday, November 12, 2012

Rethinking Test Reviews - A Digital Twist

Final tests are just around the corner. It is that time of the year that teachers, before starting thinking about their well-deserved vacation, have to focus on how to better review the content for the tests. Though we always feel compelled to try something new and exciting, we are in a period of intense tiredness, so we always go for the simple and easy. And, we, the CTJ Ed Tech Team, feel it is the best approach. However, we´d like to invite you to re-frame your review classes, to think of how you can actively engage students in reinforcing what they´ve been learning, but, mainly, how you can have an exciting grand finale for your students, a memorable time together of practice and interaction. 

Our general approach to reviewing is generally asking our students to do the review handout at home and correct it in class. Or just do the written activity in class. Here´s how you could re-purpose your review class, making students active producers of their own review for the test:

- Use your students´ cellphones:

  • Take advantage of notetaking apps. Ask your students to open their notetaking apps and give them an instruction card with what they should add to their note page. Invite them to flip through the lessons and add vocabulary notes, grammar points, writing their own examples to help them remember what they´ve been studying. 
  • Ask them to take photos with their cellphones of objects and situations and write sentences to highlight vocabulary or grammar. They can use an app to add the image and the sentences (and trust us, if they have a smartphone, they know how to do it!), or they can use the photos and write their sentences in their notebooks. 
  • If you have adult students with Smartphones, ask them to download the app Evernote ( ) before class. With Evernote, the students can open a page, add images, sentences and voice to make their own review. Then they can share a link to their final review page with peers. 
  • Students can go through the book and create a short quiz in their cellphone for their peers to answer.
- If you have a set of iPads available:
  • You can use the same ideas above we shared for the cellphones
  • Use simple book creators apps for students to create their own reviews. After students create it, they can share their review pages with peers and teacher by sending the ebook via email, dropobox, Evenote, as a PDF file.  Here´s an example with the app Book Creator (The Ed Tech Team like it because it is super simple to use it!)

  • In apps like Notability and Penultimate, students can make personalized review pages, recording their voices, adding photos and text to their pages. 
  • Students can also open the Pages app to create a page with the main review points
  • The Keynote app lets the students produce well-designed reviews that can be shared with peers. One idea is for teachers to give different tasks for different groups of students (some groups are responsible for the vocabulary review, others for the grammar). Once their review is ready, they can plug the iPad to to the projector and present to the whole group. 
  • Students can also create a listening quiz for peers. Then, they can exchange iPads, or the teacher can plug the ipad in the classroom loudspeakers and have students answer the audio quiz. (this activity can also be adapted for smartphones) 
  • For the younger ones, they can use very simple tools, like Skitch, to write sentences or practice vocabulary. 
- If you have an iPad and a projector in your classroom:
  • ask your students to prepare a quiz on a blank sheet of paper, then take a photo of the quiz and project on the board for their classmates to answer the quiz. 
  • Take photos around the class to practice certain vocabulary items/expressions/grammar points and do a photo dictation by projecting the images on the board. 

- If you have a computer and a projector in your classroom:
  • Here is a nice way to review vocabulary with intermediate and advanced groups using the laptop and the projector in the classroom. It requires no preparation, all you have to do is open a Word document to type in the vocabulary words that need to be reviewed
>> Divide class into 2 teams. Explain that the teams are going to play against each other.One member of the team (at a time) should sit at the front of the classroom with the back facing the board. This way, that student will not see what is going to appear on the projection on the board. The teacher then should type in a vocabulary word. The only student who doesn`t see it is the one sitting at the front. The group , then, should explain the vocabulary so that the student sitting on the chair can guess it. Explain that the group has 3 chances to give an explanation (in other words, up to 3 different students in the group can raise their hands and explain the vocabulary using their own words). The group gets the point if the vocabulary word is guessed correctly.  
Tip: the students can be given the power to choose the vocabulary words used in the game if you assign each team a unit in the book. This way they can pick the words they want to test the opponent team. If you decide to play the game this way, then have them choose the words beforehand.

Remember that the most important aspect of spicing up your review class with digital tools is to make your students active participants in the review activity, in which they are producers of content. By doing that, you are helping them to personalize learning, organize their strategies for learning, and truly understand how they can become autonomous, self-directed learners. 

Remember, however, to keep track of time for students' tasks so that all the main points are reviewed. Also, the paper review is always an important focused practice. Thus,  assign it previously as homework, and be sure to check the main points with students or  let them check their answers with the answer key. Students need a tangible learning object for extra practice to feel safer and more confident when taking the test. So make sure they have either a handout or a digital page, or even better, both!

You might also want to check what teacher Dani Lyra has done with her students to review for the test:

Any other tips or ideas that you´ve tried in your English classroom?

The Ed Tech Team

Vini Lemos, Sílvia Caldas, Carla Arena and Fábio Ferreira

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Dreaded "D" Word

Dictionaries have always been part of the language classroom – even if only as background props used by teachers and students when an unknown word crops up. However, despite their usefulness, they are seldom allowed to take center stage.

WebWords 001For many teachers and students, the idea of using monolingual learners’ dictionaries to supplement the staple diet of every class sounds unappealing. This is partly due to teachers’ ignorance of the strategies they can employ to help their learners build dictionary skills and partly due to students’ lack of ability to use dictionaries appropriately.

In this post, we will consider some of the reasons teachers should integrate dictionary work into their classes, and take a look at some possible class activities.

Why should we use dictionaries?

Dictionaries provide not only definitions of words, but also phonemic transcriptions. These are especially useful given the confusing nature of English spelling, which often
misleads us as to how words should be pronounced (consider, for instance, though, trough and thought).

Another reason is that by reading through the example sentences illustrating how words are commonly used, students are exposed to natural-sounding ways of using new input, to words and phrases that usually co-occur with the headword, and to the grammatical patterns a word can take. An interesting side-effect of this is that users can acquire the ability to self-correct once they realize how much potential there is to be exploited in dictionary examples.

In addition, building dictionary skills leads students towards autonomy, thereby giving them the chance to work independently, especially in situations where this is crucial (e.g. when writing a business email to a foreign colleague).

Teachers often forget that one’s first encounter with a monolingual dictionary can be very daunting and that learners may need time to become comfortable with definitions written in the target language. However, integrating continual dictionary work into your classes should help your students overcome their initial reservations.

Ideas for using dictionaries

1 Elicit the meanings and pronunciation of new words from the students. When no one can provide these, have one or two students look up the words in the dictionary. Encourage them to help each other with phonemic transcriptions. Point out the example sentences and how the students can use them as a way of increasing their access to how words are used – by learning collocates, grammatical patterns, etc.

2 Before a test, or after the students have worked intensively on a unit or two, split the class into small groups. Have each group pick out a few words from each unit and look up how they’re transcribed phonemically. They then give these transcriptions to the other groups, who must write the words in ordinary spelling.
Note: Tell the students which pages of the coursebook each group will cover so that they don’t pick out the same words. Extend this activity by having the students work on meaning and collocations, too.

3 Give the students definitions of new words on small cards and ask them to work out what words are being defined. Then hand out cards with example sentences of the words and get the students to match the sentences to the definitions.

4 Write a couple of new words in phonemic script on the board. Split the class into two groups and get them to take turns trying to guess how the words are pronounced. Award a point for each correct answer.

5 Prepare a quiz with mistakes your students have made, e.g. incorrect use of dependent prepositions, awkward collocations, etc. Using dictionaries, the students work together to correct the errors.

6 Prepare a quiz with useful collocations which you think your students might not know. Gap example sentences from the dictionary, leaving only the headword. Students then have to look up the headwords to find out what the collocations are, e.g.:
Managers are __________ aware of the need to provide new staff with appropriate support. (Answer: acutely aware)

7 When students are confused about a pair of words, ask them to look both words up in the dictionary and find the difference between them. This works with words which have similar meanings (e.g. say and tell), those that students have difficulty pronouncing accurately (e.g. ship and sheep) and those that are pronounced the same (e.g. won and one).

8 Split the class into two teams. Explain that you will dictate some words, but that you will also mispronounce some of them. If the students are not sure whether a word was pronounced correctly or not, they look it up in the dictionary. Points are awarded for each (first) correct answer.

9 Tell the students that you are going to dictate a number of sentences, but you will hum some words in each sentence. (Make sure all the words you hum are the same part of speech, i.e. all prepositions, verbs, nouns, etc.) The students write down the complete sentences, including the missing words. They then check their answers in pairs, by looking up the appropriate dictionary entries.
Note: Students are often not aware of how to learn how to use prepositions accurately. This can be a useful strategy to help them understand that they can use a dictionary whenever they are not sure which preposition to use.

10 To teach students how to make their writing more “colorful”, pick out some sentences from their essays that make little use of interesting adjectives or adverbs. Get them to work together, using dictionaries, to make their writing more vivid by adding adjective + noun, adverb + adjective or adverb + verb couplings. For example, they can rewrite The girl was beautiful as The girl was remarkably beautiful.

Many teachers and students do not feel comfortable using dictionaries, and for this reason many of the activities proposed here aim at building dictionary skills without necessarily making use of dictionaries proper. However, it is my firm belief that students should be told about the important role dictionaries can play in their learning process. By gradually introducing our students to dictionary skill-building tasks such as these, we can make them feel more at ease with the dreaded “d” word – as well as making the task much lighter and more appealing to everyone involved.

Online resources:

Learners’ dictionaries

ELTChat summary on how to integrate dictionary work into classes

* This post was originally published in issue 80 of English Teaching Professional.