Thursday, March 15, 2012

Farewell reflections:Recollection of the highlights of this course through my eyes

This entry will be a test for me: What has remained as knowledge or skills? How has my attitude changed towards the use of technology in my teaching?

 I started with the basics; search engines (noodletoolsGooglescholar, infotopia, DuckDuckGo), good practices of seaching the web both leading to practical, useful, guaranteeing sustainable use of the web.

Then came my acquaintance with Blogger, delicious, scoopit, Nicenet. With Nicenet I had my classroom where I was able to discuss with my colleagues, exchange views, share ideas, questions. With Blogger I had my personal territory to reflect, write, share comments. Delicious and scoop.it to store, save or publish resources that can be of use to me and whoever might be concerned.

I had the tools but what for? I needed a purpose. Vague at start? It takes its distinct form with the ABCD method. How can I put this objective into practice? I had some tools available. Can they help? What literature has to say? Readings on CALL like  The pedagogy-technology interface in Computer Assisted Pronunciation Training or  E-mailing to improve EFL Learners' Reading and Writing Abilities: Taiwan Experience to mention just two and sites such as ESL Independent Study Lab , Many things , one-stop English  gave me a lot of ideas about what is on offer and how to use technology. My students need to be interested, their desire to learn is a prerequisite. How can they be motivated? PBL is a method that keeps most, if not all, students engaged and then I need clear guidelines and explicitly defined  assessment criteria that don't keep the target out of sight!
So much work and I haven't started, yet, poor me! Don't worry,  Rubistar will aleviate the anxiety derived from having to designing assessment rubrics and if a WebQuest can guide students with their research and easily lead them to the completion of a project zunal can be a helping hand and an interactive power point slide show can keep even a big class on edge. However the point is how I will make my students autonomous and independent learners and my teaching should address their different learning styles and give them opportunities to open up and discover the world. Skype, websites, wikis, virtual classrooms can stimulate students to move ahead. And there are resources to turn to if you are in search of activities to match to your students profile like Teacher Tap.

A fruitful journey in the world of webskills. I leave the course wiser, more knowledgeable, and grateful.

I am sorry, Robert, this time I can't answer your questions. I can't say what was most relevant, most useful, or what was missing. There may be things to learn, how else it could be, but I feel the water has taken its course. So I don't feel any awe anymore and I can move to discover many more about technology.

Thank you so much!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

"Learning styles" the focal point of the week

We are moving towards the end of this ten-week-course and my feelings are pretty mixed. On the one hand, I am quite satisfied with myself as I managed to meet deadlines and complete my assignments despite the big number of responsibilities I had and  kind of relieved from the stress that this endeavor entailed and on the other hand  I feel sad that this marvellous learning experience will be over soon. I have already started missing the interesting discussions I had with my colleagues on our Nicenet classroom and the encouragement I always received from Robert, our tireless and enthusiastic professor.
The main topic of this week's discussion was "learning styles". I was not unaware of  Gardner's theory and I always took into consideration that not all students learn in the same way. However, the readings of this week and the varied technology options suggested practically helped me in specific ways. First of all, I now know of the existance of on-line tests which can be used to discover the learning style of an individual. This is pretty useful for the teacher as they can indntify their personal learning style as well as the learning styles of the students and therefore the teaching can be designed appropriately. Thanks to Luisa,  I took a test to see my personal learning style and I intend to recommend it to my colleagues and students.

As I wrote on  Nicenet after clicking on eduscapes.com and after exploring the site which is so rich, I reached "Build A Project Select a topic and brainstorm outcomes and technology-rich activities that fit all the intelligences".| Verbal-Linguistic | Logical/Mathematical | Visual/Spatial | Bodily/Kinesthetic | Musical/Rhythmic | Intrapersonal | Interpersonal | Naturalist | Existentialist | at the bottom of the home page. I found the classification very useful and practical not only as a guide to designing appropriate activities for a multiple intelligences class but also to check whether a lesson or series of lessons one has designed includes activities that address different smartnesses.

Besides, I found particularly interesting the way the different learning styles were reflected in the postings, blogs, lessons and activities, as well as preferred readings and resources of the participants in this course. It is a common belief among us that we've learned a lot but it is so obvious that we reached the knowledge from different paths and although we all had at our disposal a bank of resources, each of us took advantage mostly of those that best suited their style. However, I saw that we all tried to experiment with new things and develop as many smart aspects of our brains as possible, but the preferences were clear especially in the outcomes or the products of our stydy.

What I feel sorry about is that I didn't manage to explore everything suggested in these 9 weeks. I have promised myself to go back and without the pressure of time I will revisit our discussion topics, sites recommended, resources suggested. And after delving into each aspect of TBL discussed here I hope I'll be able to disseminate this knowledge through seminars to English Teachers in my city and other subject teachers in my school.

I feel more than just grateful for the opportunity to do this course. 

Sunday, March 4, 2012

The highlights of this week's webskills experiences

This week has been the most difficult of all. I had to finish my draft project report and continue with the weekly tasks. The fact that the lessons for a Master's degree I am doing started two weeks ago in combination with the responsibilies at work which become more and more caused me to miss out on a exceptional experience to fully attend a webinar conducted by Jeff Magoto in the framework of the webskills course. However, I feel quite satisfied with what I accomplished.

Going back in time, I am trying to recall what I learned this week. A fascinating experience was that of the ANVILL virtual classroom I was acquainted with and the fact I managed to connect to the chatroom of the webinar and I, at least, exchanged a few words with the people I have been working with for eight weeks now at real time. I was so sad I was not able to attend the whole event. I would have learned so many things! However, I was impressed by the readiness of the connection. I had been given the http://tinyurl.com/uoregon-march2-webcast link and following simple and clear steps I was in, in a matter of seconds. I only had a 20- minute -break between classes at University. I had my laptop with me, I went out of the classroom to a quiet corner of the foyer and thanks to the wifi connection I immediately had access to the virtual classroom. It was amazing to hear Jeff and greet my friends. Unfortunately, I couldn't stay long.

 I also created an account as a teacher and I can use the facility of  ANVILL for my classes since it is free but I didn't have the time to explore how everything works. It is a pity, Jeff won't be with us any longer so if I have questions I will need to figure everything out by myself based on tutorials.

This week I also had to create an online course site or an exercise to use online or offline. I haven't done that, yet. I feel overwhelmed, I used to do my tasks well in advance. I have something ready a wiki I created for my students last semester, but I wish to experiment on something new. I started creating a classroom assistant on Nicenet but there is no content in it, yet. I wonder, is that enough?

What I appreciated a lot this week, is my reviewing of my colleagues project reports. Apart from my hopes of proving to be of some assistance to them, I had a better insight of the value of the assessment rubrics and the importance of giving them to students well in advance. To cross-ckeck your work with the help of the given criteria safely guides a student to self-development and learning autonomy.

I will be missing all my colleagues and my tutors, Robert in particular for his exceptional work with us, when when this course ends. I wish we could continue to communicate and create a network which will design projects, exchanges, webinars and whatever else we can come up with. Maybe we could start discussing projects on a European basis with Luisa, Ricard, Natasa, Sinnika and all the other european partners and then see for funds for international collaborations.

What do you think dear friends?

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Learner autonomy vs teacher autonomy

This week I read articles related to learner autonomy like Thanasoulas' article http://iteslj.org/Articles/Thanasoulas-Autonomy.html  and Samuel Sheu's one http://coyote.miyazaki-mu.ac.jp/learnerdev/LLE/8.1/sheuE.html which I found most informative. However, I gave more thought on the interconnections between teacher and learner autonomy thanks to the conversation of Richard Smith with Andy Barfield found on  http://coyote.miyazaki-mu.ac.jp/learnerdev/LLE/8.1/smithE.html and secondly due to the position I hold, that of a headteacher. Convinced that learner autonomy is by far the most important goal for a school, my main concern now is to find ways to encourage teacher autonomy, given that it goes hand in hand with learner autonomy.  
One needs to consider which aspects of the teaching context are objectively against any teacher autonomy and to what extent and secondly to examine the degree to which teachers are willing to abandon these otherwise strict guidelines in terms of curriculum, preselected books and teaching material, time and type of assessment. To my mind, there are opportunities for a teacher to design, make decisions, use alternative resources without having to account for or putting their professional name at risk. I always believed that the set of rules or guidelines given my the ministry are only indicative of what students need to learn. At no point is there a hint by the law that a teacher is unauthorised to use any material or reorganise the content in a way that better meets the learners' needs. What really matters is the learning outcome, and to me, the strict guidelines can be seen not as a recipe but they are given to ensure that all teachers do at least more or less the same things in all schools throughout the country. By no means does it imply that teachers who feel confident and are capable to move forward are obliged to go by the book. I suppose the system is designed to safeguard the learners from the small percentage of teachers who are not highly qualified in terms of pedagogy __and the system "knows"  how teachers enter this professional sector. Besides the system seeks equilibrium and thus tries to be based on the big number of the average teachers and thus ignores or swallows the small percentage of pioneers. But these two marginal minorities make the difference. Isn't it about time to help the weak teachers and give ground to the gifted ones?

Another aspect of this big issue is the teachers'  reasoning for what they do, what they would like to do and they don't and so on and so forth. One should be able to distinguish the real obstacles from the alibis for doing nothing more that the minimum. Lots of excuses for not integrating technology into the lessons, for example. However, with only one computer a teacher can do wonders. They can totally transform their lessons and not only grasp their students' attention but keep that vivid  throughout a whole teaching period. My colleagues in this course suggested beautiful ideas. Ky, for instance, uses this site www.howjsay.com to improve students' pronunciation,   Luisa used just one video clip  My Cubicle in multiple ways and thus taught vocabulary, critical thinking, listening and writing.  And the list is much longer than this.

I 'm borrowing  John Wooden's quote as cited in Robert's post to end this reflective post:

"Don't let what you can't do, stop what you can do".

Thursday, February 23, 2012

7th week in my webskills journey

I have been working on webskills on a daily basis for seven weeks now trying to make the best out of it. That is to say, I am trying to learn as much as I can before this collaborative learning experience ends and I am left alone to continue learning and implementing what I learn. I am curious to see whether, when this continuous challenge, constant trigger and motivation cease, I will be armed enough to continue, in other words, whether I will be autonomous enough to move on.

This week my anxiety for the success of my scheme to integrate technology into my project at school has come to its peak.  Hardly a day passed last week without my checking the blogroll page on our reading club website:
Until one night, to my amazement, the first URL to an all new student's blog appeared. I clicked on it and I was more than happy that the first blog post of a student was long, concise, comprehensive and in good English. I felt as proud as a peakcock. "This is a good sign" I thought. I immediately commented on her post and sent her an encouraging e-mail. The next day during breaks I did nothing but walk up and down the corridors on the school premises to meet as many students as I could to remind them of what they were expected to do, to find out what their constraints or problems were, to advise them, to help them. What was the result? Those who had not even created an email address did so the very next day, and some promised that they would definitely have the requested content to upload on our site during the lesson. They didnot have a computer at home or internet connection or their parents didnot allow them to use the computer during the week days. I had to reconcile with reality.

Wednesday came and we gathered in our classroom. We were lucky! The ICT teacher was on a sick leave so the lab was at our disposal. Some students logged in and started writing on the site. Once they saw their first post published,  their faces lit up. It was more than obvious. They felt proud of themselves. Some others were still at the point of creating their e-mail account and others, not familiar with keeping a note of passwords and usernames, were struggling to recollect them. Anyway it was clear that we had jumped on the waggon. We assigned tasks for our next meeting and a deadline was given. This time their pieces of writing would be on Google docs, they would share them with me so I could make comments.

Again enthusiasm faded away after we split and the deadline expired with no sign of response. I e-mailed them reminding them of their duty and giving an extension to the deadline. A day later I received my first notification that someone had shared  a document with me. I opened it and I started highlighting parts she could edit. She was there viewing and we started communicating on-line. We were both enthused about this process and we kept on working although it was after midnight. That was my first time to give feedback to a student from home and it was so rewarding for both of us.

The next day I called in to my office a couple of students I happened to meet and I showed them what we had done. They were kind of jealous and promised to send me their work. There is still time. I know they will work on their task during the weekend! Let's see!...