Tag Archives: EduTech

Blogging and English Language Learners

Writing is something that I feel gets neglected a lot in the ESL classroom. Motivating students to write more is a struggle, but it is a necessary component for learning and mastering a language where students can improve their skills.

I have used discussions in Schoology for some time. They are so simple to set up and they are a fantastic way of encouraging students to participate in writing activities.

schoology_discussions

Discussions are a folder option in the virtual learning environment Schoology which can be used just like a Facebook wall. Students can write as much as they want to, and the teacher, or other students, can reply.

In the discussions I post a question to which students respond to, often around a subject we have discussed in class. Since they have already had the discussion, following on with writing helps students to repeat the information, and use the vocabulary, which would otherwise be forgotten.

Recently I found that these discussions can be assigned individually, which gave me  the idea of assigning students with their own discussion wall and calling it their “blog”, where only the assigned student and myself can see what has been written.

I am really pleased with how well the blogs have worked so far. Students are motivated to write on their blogs and many do so several times a week, using it as a diary for their learning. It has really encouraged students to learn more independently, as they have taken ownership of their blogs.

The blogs have made it easier for me to spot common errors amongst my students. I am able to reply to their writing, just as you would reply to a comment on Facebook, point out errors in their work, and paste direct links to websites where they can practise improving their English. Students will later reply with their errors corrected.

For this class I decided to make it so that only myself and the assigned student are able to see the blog. My reasoning behind this was that I had one student who seemed very shy about their writing because it was of a lower level than his peers. I thought by not allowing others to see his mistakes, it would encourage him to write more. With my future students I want to try more peer error correction, perhaps assigning students into groups, where they will write on their own blogs and correct their group’s work.

I would recommend that all teachers of English should consider student blogging. I use Schoology, but there are many different ways of doing them on-line.

I shall definitely be making blogging a permanent fixture with my classes.

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Using Smartphones in the Classroom

This week was the first time I have got my students to use their smartphones in the classroom. I hadn’t planned to use smartphones in the classroom but the positive results really got me thinking about my future lessons and how to include the use of smart phones more.

The first opportunity arose after I was told that the printer wasn’t working one day as I came into the college. I was covering for a sick teacher so no printing had been done in preparation for the lesson and I was left thinking about what to do instead.

smartphones

Entering class I had decided to just work from the book, but after looking around the classroom I noticed that every student had a smartphone. I had 7 students in class and all, whether it be a Blackberry, an iPhone or an Android, placed their phones in front of them as soon as they sat down. An idea popped into my head and I started to direct students to the website where I had a gap fill exercise as a downloadable document. Luckily I had an IWB to use in class so directing students to the right website and links wasn’t too difficult. Once there, I instructed students to download the task sheet so that they had it ready to use later in class.

Really all that I did was swap a paper copy of a task sheet for a digital copy. The task sheet was a gap-fill activity so students, unable to fill in the gaps on their phones, still

had to write their answers on a separate sheet of paper. There is nothing incredible about how I got students to use their smartphones, and I would still have preferred a paper copy of the task sheet to an electronic version, but just being able to use them for the first time really got me excited about their potential in class.

The second opportunity came again during another class I was covering. It was an IELTS class and the teacher I was covering for had kindly planned the lesson thoroughly. The teacher had included some IELTS speaking cards for the students.

The IELTS speaking cards usually focus on a topic where students have to describe a personal experience, for example a teacher who has had an important influence on your education. The card also gives hints about what you should include such as where they taught you or what you liked about their teaching.

There were only 4 students in class so the first activity we did as a group. I got one student to pick up a card and read it to the group. The student then had one minute to prepare and immediately after the minute was up they had to try and speak about the topic for two minutes. After this I instructed students to give some feedback on how the student performed, sandwiching one constructive criticism with two positive comments. This task worked really well and the students were using their iPhones to monitor the times.

After each student had spoken I split them into two pairs. I told the students to use their iPhones as voice recorders and continued the task as before, having one minute preparation then two minutes talk time, followed by feedback. The only difference this time was that after feedback students could listen to the recording of what they had said and then discuss if they agreed with the feedback and what they would have done better. The task worked really well and all students said that they would be trying this task at home independently.

I’m really excited about other things that I can do with smartphones in the future and I am sure they have lots more potential.

If you are reading this blog and have used smartphones in your classroom then please make a comment. I would really like to hear your stories.

Thanks for reading,

Tom.

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Wikis and virtual learning environments – testing the water (part 2)

On today’s blog I’d like to talk about the Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) which I have been using called Schoology. I have been using Schoology for less than a month but in that short amount of time I regard it very highly.

I think every school, whether small or large, would value from a VLE. Which VLE to use, Moodle, Blackboard, Frog, Edmodo, or Schoology, depends largely upon how you will use it and who for. I think VLEs are amazing things. I missed having one in my own education and I am envious of students having all this amazing technology available to help their learning today.

The VLE I have set up is for classes of ESL students. My class sizes vary from 4 to 15 students max. I am using the VLE as a study space for students to come and use resources that I have selected appropriate to their level and set small assignments in class. The VLE has so much more potential than this, but it’s key role is to make learners more independent and autonomous.

I am no stranger to VLEs mind. A few years back I had a short role as a trainer for a Moodle sales company. In the UK the government made it compulsory for all primary and secondary schools to have a VLE. The company I worked for set-up your Moodle and charged for its hosting and training.

At the time I saw Moodle as a brilliant VLE. It’s used by the Open University, and many other universities across the world, and was the most widely used, and probably still is, VLE in the world. It was open-source too, which meant the code wasn’t locked down, so many people could work on Moodle to make it better. I think what happened though is that it became too much and too difficult to understand everything that went on in it. Too many IT technicians and not enough educators working on it was a likely cause. Luckily for me that gave me a job to instruct confused teachers on how to create courses and resources. What they didn’t know though was that I found it very confusing at times too. I bought the guide on how to use it and would always get lost somewhere.

Anyway, let’s focus on Schoology.

The school I currently work at does not use a VLE, which gave me some freedom to try out Schoology as a potential candidate for future use. It is the first VLE I have tried as a teacher and I am very happy with it.

The first thing you notice about Schoology is that you already know how to use it. It’s pretty much the old Facebook layout with a few extras. My students even commented on this and how much they liked the idea of having something like Facebook for the classroom. One advantage I think of straight away is no training! This means no extra costs for the school and no unpaid training sessions. Bonus!

Another thing about Schoology is that it’s free. You can pay for a premium package if you’re a big school, but if you’re using like me, in a small language school, then there are no costs involved. You can of course download Moodle for free. Be wary! To do this you will need a fast computer and access to somewhere that will host it online for you. You might as well pay for all that fuss. Schoology is accessed online. There is no download. All you need to do is sign up using your email account. Two mature students I had didn’t have an email account – no problem I said – and it took about 5 minutes to set them up on Gmail and allow access to the VLE.

At the moment I have set up two classes on to the VLE. A beginners class and a pre-intermediate class. The type of content obviously varies for different levels, but the basic set-up is the same.

The first thing I have done is create courses. Courses can be seen as classrooms on your VLE.  In the courses/classrooms you can start to add materials. There are 6 options of content that you can create in the materials section and you can hide or make visible, just like in Moodle, and decide what you want to show. The 6 are: assignments, online tests/quizzes, files/links, discussions, albums, pages. At the moment I have only got as far as using 3 of them and hidden the others.

Assignments can be used as in-class assignments or homework assignments. I have wanted to watch how students use the VLE so I have only used it in class so far. It’s easy to create an assignment. All you do is click into assignments, choose create assignment, give it a name and then give instructions to your class. You can also provide students with files to look at or links to click on. If you were setting an assignment as homework then you can set a date, allow grading options and allow students to upload finished documents.

In the files/links section you can add files and links. Definitely useful. In here you can separate them into different folders. Great for independent learners. Say a student is struggling with the present perfect, then they can click into the folder and practice using all the links and files you have provided in previous lessons. I think about how much time I spend looking for good resources. I think it’s great how I can now save all these in an accessible place for both myself and students.

Discussions are also a great way to get students interacting with each other. The other week I tried a live discussion with the class. It’s pretty similar to a Facebook wall. I can definitely see the potential in this by getting students to practice their English outside of class. It would be great to set a week long chat on a topic so students can contribute and continually practice what they’ve learnt.

One final thing I’d like to mention is the Schoology network. Schoology is also a social networking site. It is not just a VLE. On here you can join groups such as Schoology Educators where other people who use Schoology will communicate with each other on technical issues or anything else. There is also a system where you can upload your resources from your computer. You can decide if you want to share your resources to the larger Schoology network of teachers. I currently use GoogleDrive as an online drop box for all my resources but I am considering moving them over as it may make things faster in the future when using Schoology, but if you don’t keep files online already and you don’t have Schoology then I would recommend signing up and uploading your resources here.

I hope you have enjoyed reading.

Thanks,

Tom

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