Edmodo

I don’t know why but a few weeks from now I still believed that students did not start using social media until late high school years. I guess I was mistaken, and I was  the most surprised when my teacher told me about the students having Facebook… I mean… They are barely twelve years old!  They are still in sixth grade! This can’t be real…but it is. However, despite it’s incredibly negatively portrayed status, social media can in fact have quite a positive influence in academic area. Indeed, if used wisely,social media can generate the most impressive outcomes.

Using social media to teach is, to me, one of the best way to get students hooked. Also, it allows us teacher to get an hold on our students whenever it is needed. No need to wait until the next class, which in the case of Quebec’s ESL courses, may only be one or two weeks away from the previous one.

The most popular social media used in education surely are twitter and Facebook, but they aren’t this popular ONLY in education. As you probably know, these social media platform are used for any other area of people’s life. It is used to reach up to friends, to family, to plan on events, to create soccer team groups, etc. Moreover, such social media are sometimes criticized and portrayed negatively. Not everyone is willing to subscribe to such websites. For this reason, I prefer to go for another website which is strictly designed exclusively for educational aims: Edmodo. With Edmodo, no one will be forced to subscribe to any website without willing to.

Edmodo is a website to which it is possible to create groups. These groups are restricted to educational group. For example, a teacher will create a group to which he is the administrator. He will then have his students subscribe to Edmodo and will add them to the group.

An Edmodo group could be created either for the entire school board or for the classroom only. An Edmodo group for the entire school board could include special announcements, sporting events, school news, etc. It would be a great way to make the school appear more like a community to the students. It would be a great way to keep the students’ interest in anything that relates to school.

In the classroom, an Edmodo can be created for  nearly anything. It can be used simply as a news thread in order to keep the students aware of some new information concerning assignments or exams. For example, it could be used just like any other social media where the teacher would be the administrator and post information and upload documents concerning the course and the students would be able to comment on the teacher’s post or to post questions about course material and assignments.

It can also be used for the students to post their works and have the students review each other’s work. Each student will post their work on Edmodo and the other would comment on the work and give advice on how to make the it better.

In ESL classroom, Edmodo could be used to keep a conversation going and therefore have the students practice their English. For example, once to twice a week, the teacher could post questions such as ‘What did you do over the weekend?’ or ‘What are your plans for the holidays?’.

Edmodo is a great way to have the classroom match the students interest. Students love to interact on  social media thread. Not only Edmodo can provide such an opportunity, but it also allows to restrict the use of a social media in the classroom to education.

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Cursive writing… it is so 1940!

11564533-large”You need to write in cursive”, said my practicum teacher as I was writing the course plan on the board. Her comment made me feel very self-conscious, I hadn’t written in cursive since sixth grade. I barely remembered how to write my name. I thought ”No one ever writes in cursive anymore, what’s the point?”

Although I myself never write in cursive anymore, when I step in the classroom, I need to remind myself that cursive is these students’ reality. I never rethought about it until last saturday. I was eating my breakfast and my mother reading the newspaper when she exclaimed ”No more cursive? In the USA, schools decided not to teach students to write cursive anymore, what a shame…They are even talking about teaching children the art of keyboarding instead…” and she went on raving about how, when she was in school, cursive was made obligatory for years and that not learning it anymore would consist in the beginning of the end. The end because she refers to the contemporary shift to technologies as scandalous and as a HUGE mistake. She went on grumbling about how people won’t even be able to handwrite anymore and that everything would become computerized. She even mentioned that this will make children lazy and undisciplined. When SHE was in school things were SO MUCH better, right?

I could not help but to disagree with her to some extent. I must agree with Katie Zezima in her NY times article, that it is normal to be questioning whether cursive teaching should be abolished or not. As she mentions in the article, many documents are ONLY handwritten in cursive style and if ever people stop learning cursive writing, they will not be able to read some documents of major importance such as The Constitution.

It is no secret to anyone, cursive writing is not as relevant as it used to be a thirty to forty years ago, when my mother was in school. Lined sheets have become word documents, notebooks have become iPads and textbook have become e-books. I am not not surprising anyone here…This is going to be our reality in just about a few years from now. I will not be surprised when one day my (future) kid has written on his school material list ”an IPad”.

Although I must admit that teaching students cursive is a great way to make them disciplined, I do not think that learning cursive or not will determine a child’s success in life. More and more, children will need to be able to write on a keyboard much more than to be able to write perfect cursive letters… Does it mean kids should master the art of keyboarding?

I don’t think so, although I definitely think that children should be taught how to write on a key board as young as possible. I mean, this  is not undermining their skills, but it is giving them the preparation that they need in the 21st century. What I am saying here is that children should be given opportunities to get acquainted with writing on a keyboard early in age.

Today’s education IS different. This is why us, teachers need to adapt. Unlike my mother, I do not believe that computarization will result in the end of high level of thinking abilities or in the students becoming lazy. I think it is the other way around. Computerization is about making some tasks easier and faster in order to leave more time for an extensive and critical processing of information. For instance, it allows to reduce the amount of time needed to look for information. This process used to take hours on end for people to look at every single book. Today, one only needs to access databanks online and retrieve any information related to the subject of interest. it is easy and fast. This leaves a lot more time to analyze and understand the information. Doesn’t that will make any work A LOT better?

Let’s Skype !

I am currently completing my first practicum in an elementary school with two 6th grade intensive English groups. When I started teaching there, what stroked me the most was how good the students were at communicating in English all the time.

But then, I also had the chance to observe second, third, and fifth grade ESL learners, and trust me, from then on I perceived the class speaking English hundred percent of the time that was pictured in my ESL Pedagogy class as a kind of utopia. Having the student who are not embarked in any kind of intensive English program to speak English all the time IS a utopia. At least… for what I observed.

But this was not a surprised to me. I myself come from a region in which English is not spoken AT ALL. I remember that, in my English classes, I would never speak a word in English… even to the teacher. I guess speaking English appeared to us as a bit ridicule since we knew we could talk French with our friends and that speaking English just never happened outside the classroom. English was to us similar to a foreign language. We learned in school, but never did get a chance to apply what we learned unless we went on vacation where English was spoken.

I really began to have an interest in speaking English when I was first immersed in an anglophone milieu. Well… Let’s say I had no choice but to speak English. Anyhow, from this point on, my English began to improve. Speaking English became real.

This is what I would want to elicit from my student. I want them to feel like speaking English IS real. I want them to aim at English proficiency. But for this, I need to make communicating in English REAL. To do so, I figured that I could have my student talk with some native English speaker with an amazing video conferencing tool that will put any distance barrier down: Skype. Indeed, with the use of Skype, I can imagine numberless of possibilities which would provide opportunities for the students to experience real communication in English.

Skype, as many of you may know, is an online platform on which it is possible to have video conversations. It is as if talking on the phone, but people can see each other while talking. Moreover, you can have a conversation with anywhere in the world, at any time of the day, and it’s free! All of what is needed is to create an account on Skype.

Basically, if I was to use it with my students, I would contact native English speaker which are available to have conversation with student during class time. I would ask native English speaker i know, or for someone who does not have any native English speaker contact, I would loo out for someone on Skype community.

With these conversation, students would have the opportunity to experience real conversation with a native speaker which, at the same time as developing the student’s cultural knowledge, will increase the student’s motivation to use English in the classroom and improve the participation rate. Instead of having the teacher talk all the time, it would be the students talking most of the time. Skype is a great tool to use in order to practice communicative skills, which I think is as important if not more than practicing grammatical skills.

In the context of ESL, it is also easy to find complete classrooms to make conversation with. For example, I could match one of my Quebec classes with another classes elsewhere which is trying to learn french as a second language.

Skype is a great tool to use in order to practice communicative skills, which I think is as important if not more than practicing grammaticskills.

Mind mapping

I personally believe that visual support can help make any abstract idea or concept easy to understand. I had the chance myself to experience both the role of the teacher and that of the student at the same time. I often find myself to be very conscious about whether the activities I choose to do with my students are interesting and whether it will actually make the material easier to grasp on. I know what it is to be a student. While I am teaching at the 6th grade level, I remember what it was like when I was myself a six grader. Let’s be honest, the teacher writing on the board is not always the best way to teach stuff. Although I am a strong advocate of visual support, I do not think that any type of visual support will have the same beneficial effect. To me, the best visual support contributes to favour the level of students’ understanding, no matter how young the students are. Images and slides presentations is OK, but what is even greater is a tool that I discovered just about a few weeks ago: Mind mapping. Indeed, mind mapping not only serves as a tool that supports what is taught, but it also explains what is taught. It shows the relationship between one concept to the other through the use of arrows, ideas and sub ideas. It crystalizes the relationship between concepts and ideas in the mind of students in a way that makes it easy for the student to retrieve the information when needed.

There are various softwares for mind mapping (Imindmap, Cmap, Xmind, etc.). This type of software allows for making maps with ideas. In other words, using a mind map software, I can choose a central idea such as Mind mapping and, with the use of arrows, linking it to sub concepts such as the benefits, its history, its use, etc. The sub concepts can also be subdivided as wanted. Such a Mind map would look like so:

Capture d’écran 2013-04-02 à 11.09.53

Mind mapping has many beneficial implications in the classroom. It can be used in various ways. It can be presented on the board (using IWB or simply by projecting it), but it can also be printed out and handed in to the student so they can review it and study it for the exam.

Mind maps are a great addition to traditional notes as it allows the students to exercise their thinking skills while being able to see how every idea are linked to each other, and how one concept can interfere with one another.

In context of ESL classes, I believe mind map could during reading comprehension. Indeed, the students could read a text that requires higher level of thinking and draw a mind map so that they can organize the main ideas presented in the text. This would be a good way to have the students reflect on their reading and to make sure that they understand what they read. Mind maps could also be created to gather grammatical notions such as adverb formation patterns, for verb conjugation, etc.

Mind map are help the students to create visual memory of the material taught and therefore, it makes it easier for them to understand and to remember. Mind maps are easy to make and they require little time. It can be done by hand or with the help of special software such as Imindmap.

Google drive, a stress relieving, simple, and interactive online tool

One thing always pops out in my head whenever I think of some way to make my teaching more appropriate to today’s learners, or what we should call it the digital learners. Make it interactive. It may be hard for teachers to make their teaching the more interactive as it can be, especially here in Quebec where the reality is that we often get only one computer for the whole class and very few amount of time per week at the computer lab. This is very unfortunate since using computers can be very beneficial. However, there some options in these cases. Indeed, there are programs such as Google drive, which allows teachers to make the class interactive up to outside the classroom.

Indeed, it is most likely that the majority student will have an access to Internet form home. Those who don’t will be given access at school since they will be a few. Having the students use Google drive has so many possibilities, for us teacher as well as for the students. Google drive is an online software which can be used to store any files and share any files. It particularity is that these files can be accessed from any computer. Also, one who shares a document can choose who they allow to have access to the document.

Its main benefit? Everything is being saved in one place as one document gradually as the teacher or the students are modifying it. YES this IS magical.

googleDrive

I, myself, I am a bit worried about having the responsibility of having to deal with twenty files at the time, as it happens more often than not that I delete by accident my own twelve page essays. I do not imagine how bad it would be to delete one of my student’s work…by accident. Hence, to me, Google Drive is a saviour. Google Drive, is a very reliable software which will register any change that is made to the document, and you can access the historic of changes to see when and what has been changed.

In addition to being a good back up software, it makes any assignment time saving. Indeed, it allows the students to share their assignments online with the teacher and having the teacher add comments to it, without using e-mail. As a result, us teachers do not have to e-mail back and forth every student. This again will keep any document from getting lost in the cloud, and any teacher to experience e-mail overload!

Google drive also makes team project a LOT easier. Indeed, during team projects, students can share a file and share documents, which every member of the team can have access to and modify if they want. Moreover, it allows each team member to have access to the documents whenever they one, and wherever they want. Without Google drive, the documents would be spread among the team member and so when one member of the team is missing, the student cannot work. With Google drive, every document is stored on one place and the student can access it without any problem. As mentioned earlier, team project is also a situation in which it is likely that one of the students will lose an important document. Here again, Google drive provides a reinsurance that no document gets lost.

Out of its numerous benefits, I mentioned the ones that stands out as most life changing to me. Google drive really does have a great effect in the educational field. I believe it makes the life of teachers so much simpler and it is a tool to which teachers can rely on. No need to worry about the computer crashing the night before the submission of an assignment. The assignment is accessible from any computer, not only the one to which the assignment was last modified.

IPads: The Future in Education

textbooks_currentEarlier today I attended my first general assembly as a student teacher in an elementary school in l’Ancienne Lorette, Québec. The meeting seemed to go by quite well until the principal came up with an issue that seemed to bring about couples of diverging responses on the part of the teachers. What the principal proposed was to use the extra money they had for the school to buy Ipads.  No matter how interesting and innovative the proposition appeared to me, I realized that it is not easy for teachers who have a solid established curriculum to live with the constant technological evolution of the educational world. Especially for these teachers who have more than twenty years of teaching experience on their hands. Indeed, the only teachers that demonstrated any enthusiasm to the idea were the youngest ones, which should not be any surprising to me.  As the older teacher went on expressing their frustration toward the darn computers and the projectors and then this need to constantly adjust to new teaching tools, one teacher, the physical education teacher, stood up and told them how they did not realize how beneficial the Ipads could be to their teaching approach. It ended up, indeed, that they had no idea how integrating this new tool to their class could make a significant difference.

I left the meeting with hundreds of questions in my head. How could Ipads make teaching any better?  How can I integrate it in my ESL lessons and how does it improve traditional teaching methods? Can Ipads be introduced to students as young as those at the primary level? How can the limited number of Ipads per class be handled?

I made a research myself and I could conclude that the use of Ipads in the classroom really has no limit. No matter the educational level of the student, what appears to come across every article I read about Ipad’s use in educational environments is that it allows an instant shift from a teacher-centered classroom to a child-centered classroom. In other words, classroom are no longer proceeded as a teacher standing in front of the class delivering material to be taught. It becomes the teacher giving broad directives and the children become actively engaged in their learning.

There are more and more educational applications available on Ipads, which can be used in the classroom. I looked for ones that could promote the teaching of ESL.

Amongst others, I discovered apps that could be used for writing activities such as Airsketch, Writer’s hat, IDraw. There are also applications that can be used for beginners to learn vocabulary.

Ipads can also be used to improve the beneficial effect of other teaching tools I mentioned in previous posts by placing them directly in the hands of the students. Indeed, there are apps for Prezi, Voicethread, and IMindmap. For instance, students would have their own electronic version of a Prezi presentation while the teacher is presenting it with a projector or on the IWB.

The Ipad can be used to carry over activities that involve cooperative learning. With apps such  as note taking and chalkboard ones, it is easy to have the students write down notes and have them save it on the Ipad. They can reach to it the next class. No excuses. Forgetting the sheet at home is no longer a valuable excuse.

There is an app that is called IBook to which it is possible to download electronic books, which is a lot cheaper than buying paper books. There are even schools in which the textbooks are all digital, hence there is no need for carrying all the heavy textbooks in the schoolbags. Everything is found on the IPad.

Ipads are the future in education. I am sure one day every student from the elementary level and above will own his Ipad. I believe it will constitute the center of all educational activities in any class, be it in the Math classroom or in the ESL classroom.

Voicethread in ESL classrooms

voicethread_wordle

While virtual classes are more and more popular in universities, there have been many attempts to create new technological tools to be use in online classes. Some teachers have adopted a well made online audio software: Voicethread. Voicethread is a website to which one subscribes and create an account. To this account, one can record audio files. It is set up as a conversation to which the person who record the audio files selects users to listen to the files and respond with an audio comment if they desire.

Although online classrooms are mainly directed to higher educational level students, there are many ways in which it can be used at the elementary and high school level. As a future ESL teacher, I am interested in finding new ways of having the students get more occasions to communicate in the target language. Hence, I think that the concept of Voicethread is very interesting and, as I made researches about it, I discovered a few ways in which Voicethread could be used in the context of a second language-learning classroom.

There are many ways in which Voicethread can be included in ESL classroom. It can be used for any audio recording project. It can be very basic where the teacher starts a conversation by recording him or herself introducing a debatable subject to which the students would record audio comments. It is a great way to render a conversation more interactive and to ensure that the distribution of students’ participation is equally shared.

It could be used, for instance, in order to simulate a radio channel. Students would be asked to record themselves as radio animators. It would be a great opportunity for students to practice oral skills. It could be done in teams and set up as an interactive project to which each teams could record audio comment to another team’s radio record. This is a great way to incorporate the concept of cooperative learning while keeping things innovative and interesting.

Voicethread could also be used to create a story. Indeed, the teacher would initiate the story by recording a storyline to which students would take turns and record the subsequent storylines. Images can be added to each voicethread so that it makes it more of a real story. It would be a good idea to combine it with the online comic strips creation website Toodoo. The students could make the comic strip they create more interesting by putting voice over the images.

Voicethread is a great tool to be used in order to have the student to speak more in the target language. It allows the shyest students to express themselves more, hence it improves the rate of student participation.