In the latest guest post for the Technology in Modern Foreign Languages series, Saira Ghani reflects on the role that social networks has had in her own professional development and examines how she has incorporated some of the tools she has recently learned about into her teaching, focusing on Wordle.
A year ago I would have described myself as a technophobe, an MFL teacher who thought using Powerpoint as a teaching tool, as well as allowing pupils to create their own Powerpoint presentations, was more or less the limit of using ICT in Modern Foreign Languages lessons, along with CDs and the odd DVD. How wrong I was!
Last January I discovered Twitter, and the myriad of enthusiastic and supportive teachers that go with it. My personal learning network (PLN) broadened rapidly. Having such fantastic support, encouragement and advice on hand almost 24 hours a day gave me the confidence to begin trying out new ideas and web 2.0 tools both as an aid to teaching and as a creative tool for my pupils to use when practising and consolidating new language. Tools such as Edmodo, Voki, Wallwisher, Go!Animate, Xtranormal, Animoto and Wordle have all become part of the armoury of resources used in my day to day teaching.
Wordle is one particular tool that I have used in a number of ways. It really is easy to create a Wordle! You input a piece of text, or a list of words, click go and your text becomes a Wordle, a word cloud in which the most frequently used words are displayed in a larger font. You can then play around with the font styles, colours and layout until you have a finished Wordle. Inspired by posts written by Samantha Lunn and Tom Barrett about ways in which Wordles can be used I decided to take the plunge and give it a go.
In terms of my own teaching, I have used Wordles as starter activities. As classes enter the room, I have my Wordle displayed on my projector. Pupils then look at it and guess the topic they are going to be learning. Another way I have used them is as a vocabulary classifying exercise, which has proven to be a big hit with pupils arguing over how they have classified it.
I have also allowed pupils to create their own Wordles when they have been in an ICT room. Year 7 and 8 classes have typed sentences on various topics in a Word document, before copying and pasting them into Wordle. At first I was a bit sceptical about the worthiness of this in terms of language learning, but the pupils are so keen to produce a top quality Wordle that they are very happy to draft and re-draft their work in Word, thus contributing to their learning.
Also, the knowledge that their work might be displayed for the whole world to see on our department blog drives them to produce a quality piece of work (you can see some examples here). From a slightly negative point of view, pupils could become bogged down in fiddling with the appearance of their Wordle once they have inputted their text. I have to admit, however, that I haven’t encountered that problem. Perhaps the highlight for me was reading the comments of some of my pupils, which you can read here.
Reflecting back on the past year, I have gained confidence and am no longer afraid to try out new ideas with classes, even if they don’t always work the first time around. Remember the old saying “If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again”? I feel it’s just as important for us as teachers to be taken out of our comfort zone from time to time as it is for our pupils.
My PLN has given me the opportunity to reflect much more on my own practice and to work more collaboratively with my pupils themselves, as their feedback is invaluable in terms of tweaking future lessons and tasks. More importantly, from a purely selfish point of view I have gained a new enthusiasm for teaching and my pupils are becoming more enthusiastic language learners!