Sketchnotes for language teachers

Never heard of sketchnotes? A heads-up in a great TED talk

Here's one that I suggested in my session at the IH Barcelona ELT Conference back in February (yes, I've been kinda busy since 😉 !). I suggested sketchnoting for anyone who ever has to attend conferences and listen to presentations (etc), but also because some of the ideas behind it are of interest to presenters — and also to teachers in general.

My experience of language teaching is that as teachers we buy into the bullshit that "a picture is worth a thousand words" and assume that that means we use Google Images for everything — job done!

Wrong! Images are only worth a thousand words if you put them to work, and drawing live, in front of learners is doing that — using drawing to convey and clarify meaning and ideas and so on. And, as I suggested in my session, it's not just the teachers, but also the learners that can be doing the drawing.

In language teaching, where we're not lecturing (hopefully 😉 !), my suggestion is that we're not so much really sketchnoting as pinching the idea that drawing can be a powerful tool to aid understanding and learning.

My colleague at IH Barcelona Susana Ortiz suggested to me a couple of great examples of how sketching ideas could be used in language teaching. With trainees on pre-service courses for Spanish teachers, Susana gets them to illustrate how "communication" occurs by using circles and arrows; and with learners on Spanish courses, gets them to illustrate the difference between ser and estar with simple drawings (try the same with bring and take, if you teach English, to give you another example.)

Below, a further example, which I use when attempting to explain to trainees how we get swamped by too information on social media, and how we need to (a) "follow" fewer people and (b) "engage" with those we do follow somehow, either by actually using what we "like" or by engaging in actual dialogue with them (via tweets or blog comments, for example):

Diagrammatically:

Drowning in social media

The vicious circle of find-like-forget… Because on social media you forget the minute you instantly find something else

See also this post for a further example of a simple diagram to illustrate a complex idea to pre-service teachers.

More on sketchnotes
Sunni Brown's book, The Doodle Revolution (Amazon.co.uk), is one that I can recommend both for the arguments it puts forward but also because it will help you get started doodling — and sketchnoting.

And some great links:

Useful things if you blog with learners (and you should!)

Over on Edublogs ("Easy Blogging For Education"), where they reckon they've helped build 3,378,490 blogs since 2005, they're carrying out their annual survey of blogs in education. If you blog, they'd like just 5 minutes of your time.

I'm a big believer in getting feedback from people and listening to what they have to say. With students, Google Drive forms are so brilliant for that, and as a teacher you should complete such things, apart from anything else because it forces you to reflect for a few minutes on what you're doing.

"Is there anything else we didn't cover that you would like to share?" they ask at the end of the survey.

You mean apart from the fact that I love blogging with learners?

Well yes:

I always recommend a single blog per class with all students "authors" on it but generally working in 3s or 4s to collaborate to write posts (so we get 5 posts on one topic on one blog, not 25 on 25 different blogs) and with the fewest possible number of posts by the teacher, the highest possible number of posts and comments by the learners.

Facebook and so on have come along and, sadly, displaced blogs as the popular platform. I used to run a blogging in language teaching course but it got dumped as "old" but, because you can make a blog so water-tight on privacy, they're in fact still my first choice as a shared digital space for use with learners, particularly if what you want to have is somewhere for your learners to "publish" their project work.

Edublogs uses WordPress as the platform for blogs you create with it. I use WordPress for this and other blogs but in fact recommend Blogger to teachers as experience suggests that they find it slightly easier to learn to use.

Nevertheless, Edublogs have some great things on their website and on their blog (these 50 ideas for student blogging, for example, and see also these resources), useful whichever blogging tool you decide to use. They also produce one of the few email newsletters that I actually read and haven't unsubscribed from (as I have with virtually every other email newsletter being pumped at me). On Twitter, you also have @edublogs.

Previous reports on the state of educational blogging are to be found there.

10 do's and don'ts for ELT teacher trainers using technology

Too long creating materials
How to really mess up a class: spend too long preparing materials, and not give yourself time for other, possibly more important things. See also (6), below.

In the summer here at IH Barcelona we have a ELT trainer training course (this year, July 27-31), on which I have a session on technology.

These were my 10 technology do's and don'ts from that session, here slightly expanded, intended for language teacher trainers, but I would say most the same things to language teachers, too.

  1. Do keep up-to-date with technology. You want to be at least aware of how it's developing and what new tools are coming along and what possibilities they might have for teacher training and language learning (and try the most promising of them out!). Following sites like Edutopia and MindShift is a good way to keep up, with an RSS reader like The Old Reader a useful tool to keep your head above water in the avalanche of new information.
  2. Do get beyond the photocopier and printer, PowerPoint and the projector. None of that is 21st century technology, which puts technology in the hands of everyone (like your learners), not just in the hands of a select few (like the teacher), as might have been the case when technology meant chalk and a blackboard eraser. A long time ago, I disabled my own photocopy code, and have never since taken a photocopy to a language class; would your trainees become better or worse teachers if you at least restricted access to photocopiers (you could of course actually smash the photocopiers!) ?
  3. Do take advantage of mobile devices. In most of the classes I come into contact with here in Barcelona, whether with language teachers or language learners, there are now almost invariably more smart devices than people. We shouldn't be leaving such things in bags and pockets for the entire class! You want to design tasks, and get your trainees to design tasks, that will incorporate smartphones for creating things like audio (aka podcasting), video and images (with Instagram opening up some fabulous possibilities).
  4. Do model good use of technology to trainees. You can't expect them to have their learners use mobile devices if you stuck with PowerPoint and Google Images. You want to show them how collaborating on shared Google Drive documents, for example, is so much more useful, and more powerful a tool for language learners to use, than sticking with Word.
  5. Do have learners not teachers using technology. Both with language teachers and language learners, I like not to touch the technology in my class at all, ever. Instead, I put someone "on keyboard", for the classroom computer but it goes way beyond that: you want learners collaboratively creating text and images, audio and video of their own for the purposes of active learning, rather have you displaying content you've selected for them to passively listen to and watch.
  6. Don't allow your trainees to waste a vast amount of time creating materials. In our computer room, I observe so many people on CELTA courses going so wrong on this one, spending hours trawling Google Images at the expense of more important things, such as language analysis and good task design: do your trainees actually know the language they are going to be teaching and the likely problems that will come up? If they don't, they would probably be better off with their noses in Practical English Usage (and see 7, below) or Scott Thornbury's How to Teach Vocabulary (Amazon) rather than trawling through hundreds of images on Google (which in any case is probably going to provide them with the wrong kind of images). See also the image from my IWB, which begins this post.
  7. Do encourage the use of technology for autonomy and independent learning. If you are training teachers, apps like the Macmillan Sound App and the Practical English Usage app are brilliant. If you have teaching practice with them, having the trainees discreetly video at least parts of their lessons on their mobiles is also great (I recommend having a peer filming on the phone of the person teaching, who can then watch him/herself afterwards, in private). With language learners, we want to be encouraging them to use apps like Memrise outside the classroom [see also this task]; and we want to persuade them to do simple things like change the language configured on their phones to English, and do the same for any tool they are using.
  8. Do take advantage of social media. A WhatsApp group or a private Google+ Community works well with trainees. Many of the trainees I come into contact with seem to have the former set up way before any of their trainers suggest they might. The latter we use for post-course support groups (now with 3000+ people!). Both are also great for trainees to see tools they could then use with their own language learners, with Edmodo being another option, especially with young learners. See also (9), below.
  9. Do encourage the use of technology for professional development. Whoever you are training, however much teaching experience they have, as teachers we all need to go on learning to teach. You can take formal courses, perhaps online (at IH Barcelona, or with publishers like Macmillan, or things like EdmodoCon or the EVO sessions or IATEFL Online); but there's so much informal ongoing professional development that can be done on places like Twitter (assuming you follow the right people and — especially — unfollow the wrong people) or some of the IATEFL SIGs. Technology isn't really for teaching, and while it's great for learning, it can also help teachers become better teachers.
  10. Do step outside your comfort zone. Word and PowerPoint never let you down, do they? I'd better stick with them…! Er, actually, don't do that! That's the equivalent of a language learner knowing the simple present plus everything  in the word list in their first coursebook, feeling safe with that and not wanting to learn anything else new. Try podcasting! Try Google Drive!

If you were in a foreign country, you wouldn't just order chicken and chips, would you? You'd try out the local dishes, wouldn't you? And you might ask the locals, or find out online (like, on social media!), what other things you might like, mightn't you?

Technology is still a foreign country to many people old and experienced enough to be teacher trainers. But Word and PowerPoint are chicken and chips and you know what Dr. Seuss would say… !

Grandpa and Me and a Helicopter to Heaven

Grandpa and Me and a Helicopter to Heaven from Aeon Video on Vimeo.

This one, which I found because I follow Vimeo on Twitter, and keep my eye open for their Vimeo Staff Picks, I found profoundly moving.

I'd say it's too long for use in class (and perhaps too moving as well?) but it's exactly the kind of thing that you could share if you were on social media with your learners.

But as a starting point for either writing or speaking about the memories we have of our grandparents it's so wonderful and as material for classes memories are so much more powerful than anything we could pick up off the trash pile that is Google Images.

3 reasons why you want to use social media with your learners

Social media

In a previous post, I argued that as teachers we should be "on" social media; now, I'd like to suggest that we should be there with our learners, too, taking full advantage of the opportunities it provides…

First things first: for any teacher wanting to use social media with learners, privacy ought to be a big concern, and an excellent reason for picking the fabulous Edmodo as the social media platform to use for any class — and for not choosing Facebook for it.

Particularly with young learners, as well as considering any school or local education authority requirements, you want parental permission, preferably written, before you and your learners start posting anything online or using social media (or mobile phones) — and it's far more likely to be forthcoming if you provide information on exactly what you're going to be using it for and how you're going to ensure privacy (by using Edmodo; or with a private "authors/readers only" blog — for example with Blogger; or with a private G+ Community…).

With a group of adults, again do check school policy, and you want everyone to be willing to give social media a go, even if they're not currently big social media users. For that reason, Edmodo is again a good choice, because it doesn't involve anyone sharing their private life with others), though again a private G+ Community would also be a great choice — and do make it private when you set it up.

TIP Next after ensuring privacy would be ensuring your learners' willingness to be "on" social media with yourself and their classmates. There are still a surprising (?) number of people that don't want to be — and so I expressly avoid using the term "social media" when suggesting we create a space to use. Instead, I suggest we're going to use a "tool" or a "group" or a "Community". The term "social media" seems to set alarm bells ringing — and you want willingness to be there.

What is the point of being on social media?
Why, as a language teacher, would you want to be on social media with your learners? For three reasons:

  1. Because first of all it's social — and learning should be first and foremost a social experience (and not a technological one)
  2. Because, as a result, it generates good group dynamics, which washback into your face-to-face classroom — because your learners create and share and comment on things together, and therefore belong
  3. Because it creates further opportunities for interaction — outside the classroom — and for use of language, and therefore language learning, which is your primary reason for being in your classroom in the first place

If you teach a lot of different classes, you probably don't want to be "on" social media with all of them — you don't want to be managing half a dozen or more very active Edmodo groups for example.

But try it with one group or, better still, get one of your learners in one of your classes to set up the shared digital space you are going to be using, take charge of running it, and invite you to join…

Possible alternatives to Blogger, Edmodo and G+ Communities: a WhatsApp group or Twitter, which you can also use privately.

If it takes off, it will change learning

See also
Why teachers need to be on social media
Top 10 tips for starting with Edmodo