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.

Project work: Letters to Father Christmas (2)

Dear Santa,
I'm writing to tell you what I want for Christmas.
I want an iPhone6 (484 GBP on Amazon.co.uk). I need one. My Mum says that I don't need one and that I have to wait (several YEARS!!!) but lots of other people in my class have got a smartphone and I feel left out.
An Apple Watch (the 42mm Stainless Steel Case with Milanese Loop, 610 GBP on Amazon) would be cool, too.
I've worked really hard this year! It's true that I've failed a few subjects at school (OK, a lot if you count things like sports and music and social sciences) so I'll be happy with just the phone. And some chocolate.
Thanks.
I'm SO EXCITED about this!!!!!!
Desmond (8)
PS Please DON'T get me an iPhone5 !!!!

Assuming that your class enjoyed Part 1 of the project suggested last week, and that you ended up with a nice collection of random objects, here's Part 2, as a follow-up.

This works best if you make no reference to Part 1, so you perhaps want to let a couple of weeks pass by so that Part 1 has been forgotten before starting Part 2.

Part 2 is quite straight-forward. Your learners have to (1) invent a character who is going to (2) write a letter to Father Christmas to say what s/he'd like for Christmas; the letters should then be (3) shared with everyone else in some way (see below).

You probably want to provide an example of such a letter, as shown above.

Writing the letters
You could have your learners work individually or you could have them work in pairs or threes (and because pair- and groupwork leads to more interaction and more speaking, I like to do virtually everything in class in that fashion).

Having you learners start individually but then pool their ideas and pick the best to work on one letter between each pair/group also works well.

Sharing the letters with the rest of the class
If you're strictly low-tech (though, nowadays, are your learners?), you could have printed versions of the letters displayed on a classroom wall.

But it's surely way more interesting to share the letters digitally in some way, so that everyone gets to read everyone else's, and comment on them. If you've had your learners collaborate on writing them, with one letter from each pair or three, we're not necessarily talking about a lot of letters.

Among the alternatives:

  • A class blog on which all your learners are authors (and can therefore create new posts), in which case you can keep things tidy (important!) by ensuring everyone uses the same "label" (e.g. "Letters to Father Christmas"). My recommendation would be Blogger, rather than WordPress or other similar tools
  • An Edmodo group, with the letters being published there directly as new "notes" (or posts, as they'd be called on Facebook). If they're collaborating on writing the letters, they might find it easiest to use shared Google Drive documents and then copy and paste from there to Edmodo — which in turn then makes it easier for others to comment on the letters
  • With adults, I'd recommend a private G+ Community, rather than Edmodo

Fun with adults
Friends and colleagues have been doing this project for the last couple of years in schools but I think you'll find it works with adults, too, no matter how long it is since they last wrote a letter to Santa!

Note in the example letter, above, how "Desmond" has been given an age. Part of the secret of getting such creative writing ideas to work is to help your learners be creative, to help them see some of the possibilities that are there. You are there to help with the language but help them generate the ideas, too. That's just as important!

For Part 3, and to see what this has to do with the random pictures we took in Part 1, come back next week!

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

3 brilliant videos to share and comment on via social media

In a session last week on one of our Spanish teacher training courses, we were talking about using tools  such as Edmodo or a Google+ Community or other social media — and the question was raised on what you should do if learners start sharing things that have nothing to do with what you've been doing in class.

My answer to the question would be "Brilliant!" — for two reasons: (1) that's exactly what I want to happen with shared digital spaces used with learners — I want them to take charge of running it, rather than me doing all the work; and (2) if it leads to more interaction and use of language, fantastic! That's why we're on social media with language learners!

An example would be the video above, shared by a learner in an Edmodo group being used by a colleague, Esther, who then shared it with me.

Here's another example, one I posted on Twitter the other day, which I shared with the teenagers I have in a small private class which meets only once a week, sometimes not even that — circumstances crying out for a digital space in which to share and comment on such things:

These things can be a bit hit-and-miss: I thought I'd got zero response (!) on this one, as none of them "replied", but face-to-face it turned out that they had  all watched it and they found such a lot to say about it!

And while we're on the subject of great videos for class, here's another TED talk that looks great material if you teach adults B1 or above who spend any amount of time attending meetings:

You might try this generic activity with it, and then talk about whether or not they think the idea would work in their company and why/why not.

If you don't have a lot of learners doing that kind of job, it's still a brilliant one to share with them — both for the listening practice and for any discussion it might generate. It won't always do the latter but that's not going to stop me posting such stuff!

See also this video on how (not) to motivate people, great for discussion with adults.

A class blog would also make a perfect platform for such things.

Next question: How do you correct all the errors learners then make?

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

Amazing photo and video for a fun creative writing task

Here's a creative writing activity — or digital storytelling if you like to be modern — that went down well when I tested it on three willing teenagers and which we posted earlier today, along with two other similar activities on our Spanish teacher training blog (content in Spanish):

To really appreciate the photo in the tweet there, you perhaps really need to see the other photos in this Huffington Post article (and see the amazing video, below).

I'd recommend doing this in groups of at least 5, with one person being the Queen sitting there in the photo and the other members of the group being people that live and work in the castle (which you can just about see there on her knee — and see also the article mentioned above).

Stages of the activity
(1) Discuss and pick who should be Queen (there were only four of us and I finished up being the Queen (!) but in a bigger class I wouldn't want to do that).

(2) The "workers" should answer the following questions individually:

  • What's your name?
  • What's your job?
  • What effect do the mushrooms have (see article, or the video below, for the images)
  • Is the Queen good or bad — and why?
  • What hidden secret do you have which — until now — you have never told anyone?

(3) Whole class — or with the class divided into however many groups you have — get together, in the presence of the Queen, to discuss the answers, and keep and/or iron out any contradictions as well as making any additions to the story desired.

(4) Write (or record) and share — and comment — on the different versions of the story.

Tools for the activity
With only 4 of us, we in fact did this in a shared Google Drive document, though it would work excellently on a class blog — one on which all your learners are authors — with each "worker" writing their story as a post, with text and images (their own!) as desired and/or audio versions (with Spreaker being my preferred tool for that).

On a blog, you could then get the Queen to "comment" (something which I did, as the Queen, in comments inside the Drive document). You want comments in this kind of activity — comments give you more interaction, more use of language!

In a bigger class, within the groups, you could pair people to tell their story-within-a-story — as husbands and wives living in the castle.

Fun!

How it was made…

Into the Gloaming (Episode One) from Alexia Sinclair on Vimeo.

Amazing…!