A week ago I was surprised to learn that I had been shortlisted for a Naace Impact Award in the Leadership category. As part of the process Naace requires shortlisted nominees to supply supporting evidence of the work for which they have been nominated. Since my work here in Box of Tricks is largely responsible for my nomination in the first place, and since the supporting evidence can come in any format, I thought I should write a blog post. So here it is:
I started teaching in 2002. The cheer of the millennium spirit was still in the air. Good times when we were breathing in hope and exhaling expectation. The 21st century was dawning like the first spring day after a long winter. Mobile phones were becoming smarter, web 1.0 was well on its way to becoming web 2.0 and online social networks were beginning to be bob up (and sometimes sink unceremoniously) like croutons in a primordial soup of new opportunities and possibilities.
Except if you went to school, that is. Because if you went to school, mobile phones had to be switched off, the internet was fire-walled and, apparently, nobody was really who they claimed to be on social networks – woof! I realised immediately that teaching and learning in schools was like inhabiting an alternative reality in which electricity had just been invented and cutting and pasting could only be done with scissors and glue. The proof was displayed proudly all over the walls.
From day one in my teaching career, I was fortunate to work in forward-thinking environments and receive the support of innovative senior leaders who could see that the internet had huge potential and that it would not simply go away by pretending it wasn’t there. I was able to start experimenting with new and innovative ways to use what was then called web 2.0 (today we refer to it as, well, just the web). My pupils and I started creating and publishing content that was instantly available worldwide. This presented us with wonderful new possibilities for communication, content creation, assessment, and independent learning, but it also delivered new challenges.
Earlier today I spoke at the 2nd national training day for teachers and directors organised by FECEI, the Spanish Federation of Language Schools. Unfortunately, a few technological gremlins (I blame Windows!) prevented me from showing all the content I had planned to show: actual examples of pupils’ work, video testimonials and other videos which illustrate why I think school teachers must re-consider their often hysterical relationship with the internet. The missing content has been included in this post. I hope you find it useful.
Many schools are trying their hardest to keep their heads buried firmly in the sand while the educational landscape changes rapidly around them. Very often a false dichotomy is established between ICT and academic rigour; wordprecessors or pen and paper; classroom learning or home learning. But it’s never a question of either/or, it’s a question of weaving innovative practices into teaching and learning to enhance the education we pass on to our students. We must avoid getting mired in unhelpful dichotomies such as these and focus on what is best for our students. We must also never forget that educational technology is to education what a telescope is to astronomy… it’s just a means to an end, not then end in itself.
Introducing new vocabulary in an engaging way is one of the greatest challenges for language teachers. Remembering vocabulary is arguably the greatest challenge for language learners. That’s why I’m always on the look out for new and exciting ways to present vocabulary items to students in a memorable way.
Wordfoto is an iPhone and iPod app that allows you turn any photograph into a mosaic made up of your chosen words, which can then be used to reinforce vocabulary learning or other concepts, not just in languages, but in a variety of other subjects. Below are some examples of picture-mosaics I created to introduce the topic Healthy Living to my Year 10 class.
Once you have created your picture-mosaic, you can tweak the colour and fonts further by choosing from some preset themes. Pictures can be saved as .jpg from within the app.
If you don’t own an iPhone or an iPod – or if you don’t fancy spending £1.49 ($1.99) – you could consider Tagxedo, a browser based tool that allows you to achieve similar results for free. For a greater focus on the words, I’ve been using Wordle for years.
Glogster is an internet tool that allows users to create and share interactive posters composed of text, graphics, sound and videos, as in the example above. Glogster is a free tool but offers a premium service to teachers and schools, which is great for those who have concerns over privacy and security or would welcome the ability to generate, control and administer their students’ accounts.
Why use Glogster? The student’s perspective
Tools such as Glogster dovetail effortlessly with our students’ digital lifestyle. You may well remember fondly those fabled times without email and digital distractions when when every student was reputedly exemplary, but those who started secondary education in the past three years do not remember a world without social networking and internet interactivity. Our students are growing up in a multimedia world where they can communicate, learn and exercise their creativity online.
The ability to create products – tangible outcomes – that they can share with pride, using tools with which they are familiar, is undoubtedly a motivating factor for most students. However, it is not a magic bullet: using Glogster doesn’t guarantee students will do a good job. The best outcomes will only be achieved if both teacher and students assign the required level of importance and significance to the task.
Whenever students achieve poorly in their exercise books, we don’t blame the exercise books and decide to stop using them. Instead we tackle whatever problems led to such poor achievement in the first place and even apply sanctions if deemed necessary. The same principles should apply to using tools such as Glogster. The internet is not an excuse for poor teaching.
There is a lot of gold on the Internet but sometimes your students can spend a huge amount of time mining for it, searching and getting distracted by content that is not relevant to the task in hand. MentorMob allows teachers (and why not let your students be the teachers?) to focus the students’s attention by creating learning playlists of relevant content which can be enhanced by quizzes and comprehension exercises to test their knowledge as they go.
As you can see above, MentorMob playlists can be easily shared and even embedded on classroom blogs. In the above example of a learning playlist, I wanted my students to do some preparation work prior to watching a film – La piel que habito – which we would then discuss and critique. Rather than giving them a worksheet or just asking them to Google the film, I decided to try out the tool after Eric Pitt from MentorMob wrote to me last January to introduce the service.
This example is fairly simple – it only contains four steps – but notice how the students are directly taken to the websites I have deemed appropriate and how their attention is immediately drawn to the task at hand – in this case, vocabulary building and comprehension – by the quizzes that you can build within MentorMob.