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.

Parents as Partners in the Acquisition of a Second Language

17 Aug

Parents care about their children and often want to know how they can help them in the second language acquisition process.

Time, exposure, continued development of one’s home language, and role models are some of the ways that contribute and enhance the acquisition of a second language.

It takes time to learn another language

When parents ask me why their child is not yet speaking in the target language, my response is always “It is okay. Give them more time!” I also point out that not producing words does not mean that their child does not understand. Time therefore is a factor that needs to be taken into account and learners themselves have to be reminded of this so as not to feel discouraged.

Exposure to the target language outside the classroom

When learners are using a target language to meet a need, for example, communicating with peers, listening to a program of interest, or watching an entertaining educational program, greater retention and learning occur. Out of the classroom exposure to the target language in a social, fun and relaxed atmosphere is therefore crucial.

Using worksheets to practice grammatical rules is void of personal value and cultural meaning. If you wish to teach grammar to your child, the child needs to recognize the communicative value of that particular grammatical point in order to retain it and truly adopt and use it. For example, to teach the verb to be, ask your child to describe someone or something or talk about him or her self.  To teach verbs in the simple present tense form, discuss daily routines and habits.

Continued usage and development of one’s home language

Continued development of the home language is essential and beneficial. Many parents want their children to be immersed in the target language and neglect – and sometimes even forbid – the use of the home language but that is not to the benefit of the learner. Reading in one’s own language is pleasurable, relaxing and beneficial to the acquisition of a second language. Explaining and discussing school subjects and concepts in the child’s home language will deepen his/her background knowledge and better prepare him/her for school where the focus can then shift to learning the particular vocabulary of that theme or subject. Recognizing and discussing similarities and differences between the home and target language deepens the learner’s understanding of the target language and leads him/her to excel in both languages.

Positive role models who demonstrate the value of being proficient in more than one language

Last but not least, role models.  The presence of role models can strongly affect the desire and ability to learn another language.  Parents can play a significant role in being role models by taking on the challenge of learning a second language themselves and by sharing their successes and efforts with their children.

Parents’ involvement in a child’s second language acquisition process is vital and results in highly motivated learners and a greater knowledge of the target language so go ahead, get involved!

At the end of the school year…

16 Jun

At the end of the academic year, it is good to take time to reflect on the progress made in one’s teaching, the challenges encountered, and the vision and goals one holds for the next academic year. Teaching is a unique profession in that it allows us a fresh start at the beginning of each academic year and reflection ensures that we are continually growing in our teaching career.

As I reflect back to this year, I find myself pondering the question what does it mean to be a teacher? Is being a teacher in Hanoi different from being a teacher in Dubai, Chicago or Montreal or any other city? Has my role as a teacher changed from the time I first taught in 1986?

It is a known fact that good teaching encompasses the development of a child as a whole and is, without doubt, a very challenging and demanding profession. After parents, teachers play the most vital role in shaping a child’s character and molding future generations.

In a funny and inspiring talk on TED Talks Education, Rita Pierson addresses the question of what is good teaching. She urges teachers to build relationships with their students. Good teaching, she points out, is about human connections and the building of significant relationships. She shares examples from her own experience of teaching and that of her mother reminding us once again that the influence that a teacher has on students goes beyond the imparting of knowledge or the teaching of concepts and skills.

 

As I reflect back on this year and all of my previous years, I know that teaching has not changed for me. From the onset of my career as a teacher, it has always been about my students’ overall well-being. In Hanoi or in any other city, teaching for me has been about cultivating my students’ curiosity, motivating and inspiring them to be the best they can be, and always reminding them that they have all that they need to be anything they wish to be.

Rita Pierson talks about children needing a champion, someone who does not give up on them, who understands the power of connection, and who insists that they become the best they can be. What I have learned in my 20 years of teaching is that I can be that champion in my students’ lives.

As I step back and reflect on this academic year, I know that every one of my students learned one thing well and that is that they are special human beings who mattered greatly to me. In time, they may not remember all the English words I taught them but I am certain they will always remember how I made them feel.

Feeding the Hungry One Word at a Time

1 Jun
For the past two years, I have been using Freerice with my English Language Learners. We usually kick off the Freerice Vocabulary Feeding Project in November just before the American Thanksgiving Holiday.

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Freerice is a free online educational website that is maintained by the United Nations World Food Program. John Breen, a Harvard professor, founded it in 2007.  He hoped Freerice would aid in both ending world hunger and educating as many people as possible. Since its inception, Freerice has won many awards for its ability to both raise funds and awareness about the fight against hunger.

Freerice is an intelligent game in that it adjusts to the level of the learner, offering multiple choice questions on the skill of their choice: Math, English vocabulary or grammar, SAT Prep, Geography, Art, German, French, Spanish and Italian.  A virtual bowl fills with grains of rice with every correct answer they provide.

My students love using Freerice because they feel they are not only learning new words but more importantly they are helping others.  They also love its competitive aspect and all try to be the top player of the week or the top-leading group.

I love Freerice because it makes my students eager about learning new words. Its ability to adjust to a learner’s level and to recycle mistakes is a great way to ensure that exposure to new words is being met. Using Freerice gives me the opportunity to discuss issues such as world hunger and being of service with my different grade levels. Integrating Freerice in my teaching is not only exposing my students to new words but also teaching them to be compassionate. It supports my ultimate goal: teach children to grow up to be global responsible citizens who speak English among other languages.

When my students show Freerice to their parents, I get emails requesting membership into our group from moms who want to improve their vocabulary. I have so many of my students now using Freerice at home with their own parent.

Freerice Vocabulary Words - One Step Further

Freerice Vocabulary Words – One Step Further

One of the ways I use Freerice in my classroom is to create a database of vocabulary words. For a language learner to truly learn a new word, the learner has to actually be able to use that word.  Knowing therefore involves not only learning the meaning of that word but also how to pronounce it, spell it, and use it in the correct context. With that in mind, following each Freerice session, I ask my students to choose one word that they will commit to learn for that week. They then add the word to a spreadsheet I have set up in Google Docs.  These words are then shared with everyone in the group and are used for games such as Hangman, crosswords, word jumbles and fill in the blanks. In having my ten students submit one word each, we, as a class, increase our vocabulary by ten words – words that we get to use over and over in different contexts.

Courtesy of Vietnam News

When the whole school competed in Freerice for a month, the students, along with their parents, were so focused on filling bowls of rice, they spent many evenings after school on the website. The experience lent itself to great dialogues on world hunger and effective ways of learning a new language, a dialogue involving parents and children that went beyond the classroom walls.  Its success led to newspaper coverage in Vietnam News, Hanoi’s English newspaper.

Whether you use Freerice for extra credit, to engage students in collaborative projects with other schools and classrooms, for service credits, or to keep students that finish their work early engaged, there are no drawbacks to incorporating this website into your teaching.

While it may not end world hunger, when you use Freerice, students become sensitized about the world and specifically about world hunger. More importantly, students are empowered when they see how they can make a difference and contribute to a good cause irrelevant of their age, race, language or location.

The Powers of Photography

18 May

Where memory fails, Google remembers! In today’s technology driven world, search engines dig out information about us even when we no longer have a recollection of them ever taking place. That is how I came across a project I took part in, while teaching English in North Carolina, entitled CommonVisions.

Essentially the project consisted of taking pictures using disposable cameras. (Do these even exist now?) There were 20 participants from 8 different countries. The youngest was 12 years old and the oldest around 60. We met twice a month.

It was 2001. At that time, taking pictures meant using film photography and one had to wait about a week to see their ‘developed’ pictures. We were so filled with excitement upon receiving the envelope with our name on it. We would open it hastily and go through our pictures choosing one to share with our group that evening and leaving the rest to savor later.

This was not a photography course. For most, like me, we had no prior lessons on photography nor were any techniques taught. We were told to simply click when it felt right. We were given the medium of photography to capture that which we deemed important and to then use the photographs to dialog about race, ethnicity and culture.

As the English as an Additional Language Specialist, my job consisted of teaching English to Hispanic children of migrant worker. To achieve this goal, I worked at bridging the gap between parents of these children, the mainstream classroom teachers, and the school administration.

Mona.MobilHomes.small

America: the land of opportunity, the paradox of our time-
                                                                               George Carlin

During my time with CommonVisions, I took many pictures of my students, their families and their homes.  These photographs allowed me to share and discuss the realities of migrant workers living and working in the States with project participants and co-workers, resulting in a much more profound understanding of the students I teach, their language needs and daily challenges.

CommonVisions is one of the many projects that exist where photography is used to bring about social change and to remind us of our unity as human beings. Kids with Cameras and PhotoVoice are the other two projects that I know of with a similar vision and mission.

Let us be grateful to people who make us happy. They are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom - Marcel Proust

Let us be grateful to people
who make us happy.
They are the charming gardeners
who make our souls blossom.
Marcel Proust

With today’s ease of capturing photos, doing a project along these lines has a worthy place in any type of classroom, regardless of age and level, and especially in an English Language Learner setting, where students’ background and diversity lends itself to an array of discourse.

Whether you use the pictures for students to tell a story, give an opinion, or simply as a starting point to discuss issues  that unite us as a race, this type of activity will build connections that will once again leap out of the classroom, breaking all barriers, while forming responsible global citizens along the way.

Photography is an effective tool that can ignite a child’s curiosity, give an outlet to a young struggling student, build communities of learners and artists, and even transform lives. I would encourage each teacher to experiment with photography in his or her classroom and each parent to give his or her child a camera.  Why not pick up a camera today and start your own dialogue!


 

Student Writing and Peer Editing with Google Docs

3 May

Google Docs make teaching and learning creative. It gives students the opportunity to work collaboratively while becoming digital savvy. It is fairly easy to use and it is another one of my zero cost tools to use for teaching and collaborative learning.

I have been using Google Docs word processing for peer editing with my Middle School classes.  Students read each others text and offer comments, ask questions and suggest corrections.  At first, this exercise is modeled over a few lessons. On the overhead projector, a piece of writing is displayed and as a class, it is edited. Each student either offers a comment, a suggestion or a correction.  As comments, corrections and suggestions are noted, I as the teacher can then identify those strong editors in the class as well as point out the difference between “peer editing” and “content editing” all the while giving direction and modeling to ensure that students are focusing on specific aspects of the writing process. Throughout the process, students are paired with different writers in order to be exposed to many writing styles.

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What I find useful in using Google Docs for peer editing is that it is web-based and therefore students aren’t limited by physical space, time, one classroom or even one country.  Students’ learning consequently goes beyond the walls of my classroom as they interact and exchange ideas and comments. In addition, it can be used at any point in the writing process: idea formation, outlining, draft revision, or copy editing a final draft. Another added bonus is that it is easy to track my student’s development and as I work with English Language Learners, this tool gives them a platform for purposeful communication and interaction in a stress free environment.

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Peer editing keeps my students all participating. When students know that their classmates will edit their writing, they write better, livelier text. Identifying problems in their classmates’ writing helps them to think about their own writing. Peer editing gives them the opportunity to teach what they learned thus giving them confidence and solidifying the concept in their minds. After all, asking students to teach is a great teaching tool in itself!

Other ways I have successfully used Google Docs word processing in my teaching with different levels are:

  • I’ve set up a close exercise document where in teams students fill in the blanks –You can then project the answers for all the students to share and discuss.
  • For vocabulary building, I have provided students with a basic story line where students are asked to add details in teams.
  • I’ve given students stories where they have to change one part of speech for example verbs in the present tense to the past tense, adjectives to their antonyms, etc…
  • I’ve placed a shared reading on a topic where students can highlight words they do not understand. They then can click on the word and it takes them to its definition.
  • I’ve had students collaborate in creating a story by each adding one part. We did this as a collaborative project with another classroom and it was very successful.
  • I have also used it for brainstorming or developing ideas and goal setting.

Google Docs have made teaching and learning in my classroom more collaborative, creative and student-centered. Why not try it out!

ACAMIS EAL Spring Conference

24 Apr

I have just attended the ACAMIS EAL Spring Conference held at Shekou International School in Shenzhen, China. Shenzhen is a modern vibrant city located in the southern part of China, about an hour away by ferry from Hong Kong.  Shekou, where the school is located, is a green expatriate residential area in Shenzhen known for Sea World – a large French cruise liner cemented into the ground and around which one can find many ethnic restaurants and a lovely open area to hang out. As this was my second year attending a conference there, I was looking forward to seeing familiar faces and meeting new ones.

ACAMIS EAL conference attracts teachers from all over China who are either classroom or English as an Additional Language specialists as well as administrators at different levels.  This year, there were also a good number of technology experts to share in their knowledge and expertise on successfully integrating technology into teaching and learning.

From the onset, this conference proved itself to be one that utilizes social media and technological tools for communication, collaboration and co-creation.  From the moment I stepped into the school, evidence of the latter was to be found everywhere. It began at the social hour with a glass of wine and the bar coding of each other’s nametags with the use of a QR (Quick Response) reader and scanner application, to the very last instant, while sipping champagne and waving goodbye, as pictures of that day were brought to life with the help of Aurasma, and through it all with tweeters keeping us all informed and connected.  Each participant was led to take one step further on their journey of truly integrating technology in their teaching and in their daily living.

The conference theme was around literacy and more specifically on elements of literacy to support English language learners.

Participants were introduced to numerous IPad applications to support teaching, learning, creating and collaborating. In addition, components of the Reading and Writing Workshop were examined and the use of World-class Instructional Design and Assessment  (WIDA) for the assessment of English Language Learners was discussed in grade level focus groups.

In its endeavor to ‘go green’ the conference was a BYOD (bring your own device) event where if you did not have a tablet to use, one was signed out to you, fully charged and with tech support for the whole duration of the conference. In addition, a designated hash tag (#SISeal) was created for speakers and attendees to communicate, collaborate and create.  All handouts and material used at the conference were shared on Dropbox and a designated padlet wall to post questions was available.

The keynote speaker was Jill Bromenschenkel. Jill introduced us to many applications that can change the way we teach and learn as well as the way we, as professionals, communicate and collaborate. She reminded us to think about whether we are digitizing our teaching with a purpose and asked us to rethink the way we learn and teach and communicate.  She went on to say that simply introducing the tool does not create the interaction. She urged us as educators to reflect on what tools we choose to use and to ponder the so what of it all. Jill introduced us to some applications that can transform the learning and aid students to move from being consumers to becoming creators in the world of technology.  Using some very memorable images and short clips, Jill made an impact on the way we view technology in education and left us with worthy thoughts to ponder.

Two of the workshops I attended were on the Writing Workshop model and English Language Learners. Suggestions on using the Workshop model for vocabulary teaching were shared and ideas for implementation were presented.

Another workshop which also dealt with writing and which was filled with ideas that can easily be implemented and used with students at every level of proficiency presented the Gretchen Bernabei philosophy on teaching writing and suggestions from Barry Lane, an author who has some very interesting videos on YouTube that discuss different aspects of writing. The ideas were practical and can easily be incorporated into the Reading Writing Workshop model. I personally cannot wait to put some of these suggestions into practice.

The workshop Making Thinking Visible with Digital Resources showcased some of the ways that we can give English Language Learners opportunities to demonstrate their learning and where teachers can assess the students’ abilities. Skitch, Educreations, Socrative, Popplet were some of the suggested applications. Using TitanPad to share comments, teachers were given opportunities to share ideas and classroom usage for these applications. The presenter used SurveyMonkey to receive feedback on the workshops.

Of the many things I heard and saw, one video in particular summed up the lessons that this workshop left me with!

All in all, after all that was said and done, what I was left with is a reminder that I do not have to be stuck on an escalator. I can use the necessary tools to move forward in my own learning and in so doing, I impart on my students strategies and opportunities for them to get unstuck and move forward in their learning.  So the next time you are about to use that application or that tool, ask yourself these questions:

Is this the best tool for this task?

Is this beneficial for my students?

Am I teaching my students to be creators instead of merely consumers?

Have I simply digitized the same teaching I’ve been doing all along or am I utilizing technology to improve collaboration, delivery and instruction?

Ask yourself the so what question. You will be amazed at where your thinking will take you!

To read some of the social media comments made by conference attendees, check out my Storify post.

Collaborative Projects Across the World with YouTube

25 Mar

This is article two on using technology to collaborate with classes all over the world at no cost and with little time and training. This week I will share with you some of the ways I have used YouTube to work with classrooms in different time zone and continents.

One of the projects that proved successful was when my students learned a song and the movements that went along with it. Using YouTube to video them, we then sent the link to a school in North America where the first grade class took time to learn the song and the movements that went along with it and then sent us a video of them performing it.  This was a great success at so many levels in that the kids felt a pride in being able to teach a song to other kids that involved not only memorizing words but also doing some tricky movements along with it. In addition, the kids were once again reminded of how similar we are and how we are all capable of teaching one another, no matter where we live and what languages we speak.

Another project was with the fourth grade English learners who prepared a presentation on the ecosystem of where we live and shared it with 6 classes from 6 different parts of the world who also prepared their own ecosystem presentation. The kids were thus exposed to the major world ecosystems and learned about the characteristics of each from students their own age living similar experiences and learning about the same topics. Once the presentations were viewed, the students then posted their comments and asked questions of one another. This project was truly collaborative in that the students were relying on each other to learn all that they needed to learn about the ecosystems of the world and by teaching the facts about their own ecosystem, they reinforced the learned concepts and applied them for an authentic purpose and to a captive audience.

YouTube makes editing, uploading and sharing videos a breeze.  It is a powerful tool that gives teachers total control. Your settings can be set to private so that only those in your project can view the content. It is very user friendly and with a click of a button, you can open up your classroom to the world thus turning it into a global community.

So next time you are thinking of a collaborative project for your students, don’t’ hesitate, expand your simple classroom project and reach across continents. You will be amazed with the learning opportunities that your students will encounter.

If you are hesitant about using YouTube to share your educational experience, you can check out SchoolTube.com. I personally have not used this site but I am told it is a moderated video sharing site for K-12 students, teachers and parents.