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Teaching for Today

13 Mar

If we teach today as we taught yesterday, we rob our children of tomorrow.
~ John Dewey

To teach and to educate are words that are often used interchangeably in the English language but if we were to look at the origin of these words we would see that while to teach has its roots in the Germanic language meaning “to show, present, point out”, to educate is made up of two Latin words: educare and educere and means “to lead out and led out.”

educateTo educate assumes that a learner already possesses the knowledge and only requires a guide or a mentor to lead that knowledge out whereas to teach implies that knowledge has to be imparted on to a learner through the presentation of facts and the showing of skills.teach

To Teach or To Educate

In today’s technology driven world, students have access to an abundance of information anywhere and at any time, giving them ample opportunities for learning. As a consequence of this, teaching cannot be about the presentation and imparting of information but rather the assimilation and assessing of that information.

teacherrole1a

With this in mind, teachers’ roles are no longer about lecturing nor the teaching of rules. Teachers have to be flexible, and willing to learn, relearn, and unlearn, to remain abreast of their students’ needs.  They have the opportunity to design, create, and collaborate in a learning environment of their own making. Planning, organizing, engaging, and connecting learners of all ages and at all levels in learning activities and project based-learning are the aims of education today. Providing students with opportunities to develop their communication, collaboration, creative problem solving, and critical thinking skills are the goals of schooling.

Teachers monitor and guide learners so they can find their own path to knowledge, and lead them to their inner wisdom thus applying the true meaning of the word educate!

What Students Want

31 Jan

For the past few weeks, I’ve been listening to and reading a number of articles on education,  specifically schools in America, as I prepare my return to the United States after having taught overseas for almost 10 years.

What I’ve come across has left me hopeful and optimistic despite the grim statistics and the general consensus that the American education system is in crisis. What stood out for me are the numerous creative solutions that individuals are employing to transform teaching – one student at a time.

In many of the government studies and reports that I came across, ‘reforming’, ‘improving’ and ‘fixing’ what is wrong with today’s schools focused on issues dealing with teachers, tools and testing. While these are undeniably important components of education, rarely did reports incorporate students’ concerns, desires, and vision.

I came across a video on YouTube presented by a high school senior sharing the top ten expectations that students have of schools.

Technology, creativity, and choice were expectations that were expressed by the students on the video and also by a number of students across America when eSchool News asked its readers “What’s the one thing you hear most often from students about what they want in school?” Knowing that the student population is one that is quite diverse at many levels (race, ethnicity, cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds, language, interest, abilities, learning styles and learning needs), I decided to take a small poll of the student population that I teach in Hanoi. In response to the question, “What do you want from school?” The top five answers were:

  1. More interactive technology
  2. Less boring subjects
  3. More choice
  4. More time to reflect on what I learn
  5. More explanation of why I need to learn what I am learning and how it will help ME in the future

My students’ responses were overwhelmingly similar to those given by students across America. What these answers undeniably suggest is that despite their uniqueness and diversity, students everywhere want the same things from their education, and if we were dig a little deeper, we would find that what they really want is to have ownership of and feel connected to their learning experiences; in other words, what students want and what they should have is Student Centered Learning or SCL.

What is Student Centered Learning?

Student Centered Learning (SCL) places the student at the center of the learning process. As such, students influence the content, materials, activities, and pace of learning.  SCL inspires and motivates. It allows for choice while presenting students with active learning opportunities. Working in a team in an SCL environment develops communication and collaborative skills. In-depth thinking about a subject promotes critical thinking and ensures long-term retention. This model of instruction results in a deeper understanding of a subject and a positive attitude toward learning in general. SCL awakens, once again, the curiosity that human beings have but often forget to employ. It opens up the doors of creativity and allows for different styles of learning. SCL encourages students to become independent learners and ultimately to be in charge of their own education.

In this shift from teaching to learning, teachers become mentors that provide students with opportunities to learn independently and from one another, guiding and coaching them on different skills that can help them best achieve their learning goals. In an SCL classroom, parents and community members are tutors and mentors, sharing in their passion and expertise while providing connection and real-world applications for learning.

Technology facilitates the delivery of information and complements student centered learning. It makes individualized instruction feasible and tailored information delivery achievable.

Looking at all the benefits that Student Centered Learning offers to learners, why is it not then the pedagogy of choice? For the next few blogs, I will be looking at the role of teachers, existing teaching tools, as well as the role of testing in today’s schools, and how they can each, with a little tweaking, make teaching about learning.

Mobile Technology for Teaching and Learning

10 Nov

Necessity breeds invention, the old saying goes, and in the case of bringing education to those with limited educational resources, and closing the gaps between those who have access and those who don’t, this necessity is turning people’s attention to mobile technology for creative and innovative ways to learn from one another and the Internet.

In developing countries, poor infrastructure, and the relatively low cost, availability, and mobility of mobile phones have resulted in mobile technology as the way to get online and connect locally and globally. It is why mobile technology is the tool that innovative and concerned citizens are turning to in an effort to connect students and teachers to educational texts and a global community of educators.

Africa is a great example of such a scene where mobile learning is being used to reach marginalized populations.

In Ghana, with the help of e-readers, villages have access to hundreds of books that could never be physically sent to a library.

Despite its limitations – unavailability of local language books in some countries– e-readers have opened up the world to curious learners and can be a very effective and inexpensive way to eradicate illiteracy globally.

Nigeria is another example where UNESCO is piloting a program with English Language teachers who send daily messages on how to teach English to teachers throughout Nigeria. UNESCO has received feedback from participating teachers that the support is changing their teaching style and helping them to improve.  As a result, teachers are part of a global village of educators where they can collaborate and share their concerns, challenges and successes.

Screen shot 2013-11-06 at 8.18.58 AMIn Kenya, Eneza is a group of individuals who wanted to ensure that every child in Kenya has access to information no matter where they live and how poor they were. They decided to put together the information and content that is relevant to the local context on mobile devices and make it available to students everywhere. In addition, they provide tips and tricks for teachers and parents to help their children learn.

Innovation hubs, like the iHub in Kenya, are places where teachers and tech savvy can meet and optimize the use of simple technologies for teaching and learning. Creating more innovative spaces like the iHub in Kenya, providing e-readers with native language textbooks, delivering qualified trained online communities of teachers for remote areas, are some of the low cost effective ways to meet necessity, breed innovation whilst creating global communities of learners and teachers.

Planting the Seeds of Empathy

28 Oct

Yet, taught by time, my heart has learned to glow for other’s good, and melt at other’s woe – Homer

Putting ourselves inside the shoes of another – as the old saying goes – has never been more relevant – This, according to an article written by Forbes contributor Georges Anders, who makes the observation that the number one job skill that will be in highest demand for much of the workforce in 2020 is empathy.

What is Empathy?empathy

Empathy is the ability to identify with and understand the feelings, experiences and motives of others. Empathy enriches relationships and builds trust among individuals. It is a vital tool in building a community of caring, collaborative, creative citizens who are active, contributing members to the global world we live in.

Can WE Teach Empathy?

For as long as teaching existed, teachers have always shown empathy towards their students. They know that students learn best when they feel supported, respected and safe. And although teachers do agree that teaching empathy is important to the overall success of a student, more often than not, it is ignored because funding is based on reaching state standards and test scores, and a skill such as empathy is not as measurable as a skill in math, science or literacy.

Today population mobility is such that more and more people move from one country to another for their work.  As a consequence of population mobility, linguistic, cultural, ‘racial’, and religious diversity is permeating the classroom walls and with its diversity comes diverse problems for schools. Teaching empathy is no longer an option. To better prepare today’s students for tomorrow’s world, empathy must be taught.

Teaching children to be empathetic can simply begin by teaching them to be good listeners.  Pointing out to them the things they have in common with other people or modeling sympathetic behavior through role play are also other ways that empathetic behavior can be taught and modeled.

For more ideas on teaching empathy, check out Teaching Tolerance, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, where you can find classroom resources, by grade level, to teach students about empathy.

Teaching English with the Vlog Brothers

2 Oct

Video is an excellent medium for use in the language classroom. It can be used either for teaching or revising. Research shows that students are more likely to retain complex information when it is presented in video format. Furthermore, students take ownership of their learning as they make decisions about when and where to view their videos and how often.  With John and Hank Green, the two brothers who are the creators of Vlogbrothers, students are entertained as they are introduced to simplified complex subjects thus creating a learning experience that is motivating, memorable and engaging.

The origin of the Vlogbrothers YouTube Channel was a one-year project that the two brothers started in 2007 when they committed to update each other every weekday of the year using a video no more than 4 minutes long.

Since then, Vlogbrothers, where the brothers post video blogs on different subjects, has grown extensively to include many projects such as “Crash Course“,  where John Green teaches you US History and Hank Green teaches you Chemistry.

Check out the following video for a taste of John and Hank!

Another note-worthy project started by the brothers is Project for Awesome where individuals are invited to create videos about their favorite charity. What a great class project that would make!

John and Hank are very popular with middle and high school students. As the teacher, however, if you do plan to use their videos, it is vital that you watch all the material to be shown to students beforehand.

Google Apps for Language Teaching

14 Sep

workshopphoto Below are the slides from my presentation at the Google in Education Vietnam Summit. It is always a great opportunity to gather as a group of educators, to reflect on the latest technological tools and to share ideas and strategies of effective technology integration in the classroom.

Google Apps offer teachers the necessary tools to give learnerGoogle Apps in Language Teachings opportunities for critical thinking, creativity, communication, and collaboration – essential skills needed for every learner in today’s digital age.

To learn more about Google Apps in Education, check out Google in Education.

Google in Education Summit is coming to Vietnam

25 Aug

My school has been using Google Apps for its administrative and educational needs since it started out two years ago. This year it is hosting the Google in Education Summit on September 14 and 15, 2013. This will be the first time that a Google Apps event comes to Vietnam.

Teachers, IT specialists, administrators and anyone who is interested in teaching and learning at any level and to any age group would benefit from attending the Google in Education Summit in Hanoi. For more information on the sessions and presenters and to register for this event, go to: http://vietnam.appsevents.com/

Vietnam Google SummitGoogle in Education Summits are held all over the world and usually include Google certified engineers, teachers and trainers. In addition, teachers who use Google Apps in their classroom will also be presenting. I will be one of the presenters at the Vietnam Summit.

I have been using Google Apps in teaching and for collaborative projects with English language learners of every age and level. This has enhanced my teaching and communication with students, families and colleagues. It has also resulted in an instruction that goes beyond the classroom.

Google Apps in Action

In a Flipped Classroom environment, learners do the learning at their own pace, from anywhere, and do the practice and application of the learning with their teacher and classroom peers. Using Google Apps, this is how a Flipped Classroom learning experience would look like:

  • The learner watches a video or listens to a lesson on YouTube or reads an article shared on Google Docs.
  • The student then answers some questions and records them in either Google Docs or Forms. He/she can also work collaboratively with another student on a shared document to prepare an in-depth response.
  • In class, the teacher responds to inquiries. As such, the time spent in the classroom is more about interaction with the teacher who can then address personal learning needs and styles by giving students one on one time and by providing them with different methods of showing their learning.
  • The student has an opportunity to reflect on his/her learning through sharing and collaboration with other classmates. He/she may also ask classmates to edit their written work. This collaboration can take place with classmates not only from their classroom but also with students from anywhere in the globe.
  • The final learning product is then published in an e-portfolio in the form of a blog, a drawing or a recording.

It is easy to see why a Flipped Classroom environment is sweeping the education community worldwide. It is a versatile, engaging manner of teaching that gives students control of their learning and uses teacher contact time more efficiently. Plus, it is inexpensive for schools to implement especially when schools adopt Google Apps.

In my next post, I will share some of the highlights from the summit. In the meantime, you can read more about the summit by visiting the event’s website.