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Note Taking Experiment

January 11, 2014
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Last semester I tried to upgrade my note taking activities and actually work on note taking in a more systematic way. When I put together my original ebook for the communication class I teach, I gave overviews of some note taking strategies such as the Cornell System, outlining, mapping, and sentences. However, I didn’t do much in class. I simply assigned students to watch the assigned TED talk for the class and take notes. One page of notes can be used when I show the video in class and give the test on the video.

This approach was working well enough, but I wanted to do more and have struggled to find ways to make note taking engaging. Last semester I came up with an idea that is probably not original, but it does enable me to attempt to get students to be more analytical in taking notes. One problem students seem to have is with separating supporting details from main ideas. In other words, everything has the same importance. I want them to develop some skill in distinguishing these types of information. Also, I want them to get a sense of how a speaker shapes his or her discourse in a speech.

I took a few TED talks that I have been using and edited them to include just the initial few minutes of the talk. I labeled the parts of one of the edited talks with story (since the speaker used stories to begin and reinforce the main idea), main idea, supporting detail, and transition. Then I took a couple more talks, edited them down to about five minute and inserted numbers using the captioning in MovieMaker. I made a handout with the numbers and the choices of main, supporting detail, transition, and restatement. The students watch the video and circle the part of the speech they identify. This activity led to some discussion about identifying main ideas and details.

This semester I am going to push it a little further. I took a TED talk by Angela Lee Duckworth and devised a time line for the speech dividing it into 6 parts.

The speech is six minutes long and seems to break into 6 distinct parts. I plan to have the students first summarize the parts by stopping at the point where a new part begins. Next, I will show the video again and have them identify the elements such as main idea, supporting details, recommendation, reporting research results, and drawing conclusions. Finally, I plan to have them identify the clues that help them distinguish the different parts. If this works, i.e., if students seem to show that they can do at least many of the tasks with success, I will repeat this with a couple more similar activities during the semester. I hope that as I do it and with feedback from the students I can improve their learning experience with note taking.

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Pop Quizzes – Teachers Policing

June 29, 2013

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I was at a training today on how to use our new learning management system.  Our school has changed from ANGEL to Canvas.  Truly, they have enough differences that we can not go right in and get to work.  

During the session, one teacher spoke up saying she didn’t see that she had any need for a learning management system because she gave lots of pop quizzes to her classes to make sure they did their work.  I mentally took exception to this because I don’t like pop quizzes.  I also interpreted the tone of her voice as one of self righteousness.  So my reactions were colored by my attitudes toward this and my perceptions of the teacher’s tone which may be completely wrong.

However, it caused me to think about pop quizzes used as a policing tool, i.e., did the students study what I wanted them to study?  I have a policy of no, or seldom, using pop quizzes to avoid the punitive quality.  If I do give them, they are not usually for a grade.  When I do use them, I want to know where a problem exists.  Thus for me, a pop quiz should be another method of formative assessment in order to find out what needs to be worked on.   If I do use something like a pop quiz, I often have students complete the quiz, then compare and discuss their answers before reviewing it in class.

A pop quiz should not be used to determine whether or not the students did the reading or the homework.  After all what kind of message do we send when we give pop quizzes to determine whether or not the students did the homework?  

Some evidence exists that frequent quizzes support learning because they encourage retrieval, and completion items seem to work better then multiple choice.  Therefore, the use of quizzes can be productive when used appropriately, as a learning tool.

The Flipped Class: Evolution or Revolution?

June 9, 2013

I gave a plenary speech on the flipped class as evolution or revolution.  My argument is that for English Language Teachers the flipped class approach is an evolution in best practices for language teaching.   The emphasis of language pedagogy has consistently emphasized learner-centeredness.  If we look at the designer methods from the 80’s, the Silent Way, TPR, Community Language Learning, they emphasized the learner and often tried to get the teacher out of the way of the learning.  This focus on learners and giving the learners control over aspects of their learning has pushed English Language Teachers (ELTs) toward teaching approaches that differ much from traditional teacher-centered approaches.  

ELTs have focused on the learner pretty much from the start of their careers although we may have felt a tension between the teacher-centered and learner-centered approaches, or perhaps it is just me.  Most of us were taught in teacher-centered classes, and the teachers we have sought as role models may have been those types of teachers.  Adjusting to the learner-centered approach has required many adjustments in our mental models, but those adjustments (in my case continuing adjustments) seem more necessary at this time in which traditional teacher-centered approaches have been shown to be less effective with contemporary learners.

I think ELTs will find the flipped class model more of an evolutionary step in their growth as teachers.  It enables more time for teachers to work with individual and small groups.  Some teachers have found their ways to doing this without the flip.  For me, the flip has provided a way to do what I have always wanted but coult not figure out how to do.

Florida TESOL Day 2

May 18, 2013

I expect these notes will be much less complete than the ones on the first day because I presented twice on the flipped classroom and on making an ebook, so I wasn’t as focused at times as I could have been.  

I attended a very good session titled “Learning from the test: Going beyond class averages” by Dayna Foster and Jeannette Horwitz from Wright State University.  They presented very clearly the process for examining multiple choice test results using item analysis and item differentiation, which they explained in a way that clarified the process and the math for me, to determine the effectiveness of test items.  This session was one of the high points of what has been a good conference for me.

I next attended a session Li-Lee Tunceren and Susan Benson from St. Petersburg College on “Advancing Critical Literacies in Online EAP Courses.”   While I don’t think I will teach an online class in the near future, I still found the ideas about how to find and use texts very usefull.  She showed how she set up a text about Internet use at work and employers responses by using an article from Monster.com.  We had to fill in adverbs in a gapfill made from the opening paragraphs.  She also showed questions used to further develop critical literacies that students would respond to such as author’s purpose and intended audience.  Only Li-Lee was at the conference.  Still she explained well how to manage the social, cognitive, and  teacher presences in an online course.

We were supposed to have a keynote speaker, but that didn’t happen.  The first session I attended was on the The English Language Fellow Program.  Most attendees were young teachers, but as I approach retirement, I was curious about their program.  It looks like a good way for a young teacher to get experience or an older teacher to revive their understanding of other cultures while contributing to a country’s developing educational program.

The next session was a whirlwind tour of many different online applications that can be used for instruction.  This session was presented by Eman Elturki and Reima Abobaker from Washington State University.  Soem sites they showed were familiar such as Wordle and Spelling City and some were new such as http://azargrammar.com which naturally has many grammar resources and http://citationmachine.net which helps make appropriate citations for research papers.  Many many apps in a short time.

The final session of the day for me was “Supplementing Academic ESL Curricula with Authentic Materials” by Lillian E. Vargas and Victoria C. Shelly of the University of Florida English Language Institute.  For first time presenters, they looked like veterans with a clear plan and good materials showing how they supplement textbooks with authentic materials from everyday life and media to provide necessary language experiences.  

Florida TESOL

May 17, 2013

I am in Orlando, Florida for the Sunshine State TESOL convention and have attended some fine sessions.  The first session I went to was by Robert Deacon, a Ph.D. student at the University of Florida, who presented research on orthographc errors (spelling errors) in writing focusing on Arab learners.  His research provides empirical evidence that Arab students struggle more with spelling than students from other language groups.  We speculated on why this may be so such as an oral culture, transference from Arabic, the unpredictability of English spelling, or perhaps the cognitive load of having to not only get the spelling right but also write paragraphs and essays in a form much different from Arabic practices.

I next attended a session on using video clips from popular television shows to teach recognition and and use of tones in listening and speaking class.  This session was given by Deborah Kellerman and Jennifer Schroeder from the English Language Institute at the University of Florida.  They presented ways to teach tone in listening and speaking which is tested by TOEFL and IELTS but which is not taught in textbooks.  They presented several activities that can easily be adapted for teaching tone and provided a well scaffolded series of steps preparing for the activity.  They showed a clip from the The Big Bang Theory that included several examples of sarcasm as well as ending on an amusing note.

Reima Abobaker presented her Ph.D. dissertation research design and research questions about the effect of captioning on listening.  She is asking questions about the effectiveness of an approach to improving listening I often encourage my students to take when they struggle.  A couple of audience members offered what seemed like useful suggestions for making her research more robust.

The afternoon began with a whirlwind tour by James May from Valencia College on curating engaging level-appropriate content for students in a flipped classroom.  He showed several ways to use Google search to find materials after reviewing pedagogical and psychological research supporting the use of the flipped classroom approach.  His Prezi presentation will be up on http://teachertricks.org.

The keynote speaker was Dr. Janet Zadina from Tulane University School of Medicine who presented an entertaining and informative talk on “Using Brain Research to Enhance and Energize Language Instruction: The Multiple Pathways Model.”  She showed evidence from brain scans that learning changes the brain and without some type of reinforcement the learning can be lost.  Her message in part was to find ways to make the lessons important to the learners, i.e. our brains learn first for survival, and reinforce those pathways through different modalities.

I then attended a session this time by Deborah Kellerman alone on using PowerPoint to successfully teach ESL students oral presentation skills.  She showed an approach that was carefully structured for learners to develop presentation skills around building a PowerPoint presentation.  She says she has the learners evaluate themselves after watching their videos and finds that they are almost always evaluating in line with her evaluations.  This I want to try.  She gives the leaners clear criteria for their self-evaluations.  

The final session I attended was by Mitchell Porter of Full Sail University.  He presented on iBooks and iTunes U.  He showed the power of the tools and clearly was enthused about the applications and showed creative materials.  He teaches in a school that is primarily a Mac school so this approach works well.  However, my school has few Macs, so it would be difficult for me to adopt. 

Artist?

May 14, 2013

While running a couple of errands the other day, I was listening to the radio.  An interviewer was talking with an artist.  The artist explained that in art, the artist doesn’t always know what the final product will be.  This brought to mind teachers and learning outcomes.  Certainly we have a learning outcome in mind when we enter the classroom.  It might be one from our curriculum or syllabus.  The idea is easy enough until I walk into class.  If the class takes off in another direction does the artist in me go with it, or does the responsible craftsman in me work back to the specific learning outcome such as distinguishing run-ons from compound sentences?  The artist identity appeals to me greatly; however, the Puritan taskmaster residing in my consciousness keeps reminding me of my responsibilities.

If we carefully design our activities to reach a specific goal, we may stifle the creativity inherent in learning.  If we plan and shape the lessons so well that they lead to a specific outcome, we take away the artistic license that learning needs to thrive. However, if we abandon the carefully constructed scaffolding, we may well betray the students in most need of it.  This tension should exist but it plays against comfort levels.  

What I mean by this is that when I design a lesson, I need to be careful that I don’t take the creativity out of it.  In other words, if I go into class with a worksheet and only look at whether or not the students get the correct answer, the worksheet and I have worked together to stifle the potential learning that can come from mistakes, different interpretations, and alternative answers.  Without the mistakes and alternative answers, the creative attempts at understanding that lead to “mistakes”, we are left with a reduced understanding of our students struggles with creating for themselves a grammar of their second language.

What a carefully planned lesson can lead to is a well-controlled experience for teacher and learner.  The learning outcome arrived at with a clear path for both teacher and learner means success.  But a less carefully planned lesson may lead to the magic that leads to learning as the control slips a little here and a little more there.  This is the artist’s unknown in the end.  It is the magic of the artist who gives us something special, magical which on the surface may appear simple but only because the artist did his or her magic behind the scenes.  Admittedly this magic happens too rarely, but when it does, a teacher feels like he is part of a masterpiece.

My ebook experience

April 30, 2013
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I made an ebook for the communications class I teach and used it this semester. I would like to say it was a thing of beauty, but functional would probably better describe it. The ebook solved two problems: guilt and paper use. Guilt came from having the students buy a textbook, a really good textbook, that we only used a few chapters from. I hoped to cut down on paper use, and I succeeded to some extent. The extent was limited because the ebook application I use and the others I am aware of don’t handle tables well, so it was difficult for me to put my rubrics in the book. I finally went with handouts.

Getting there

For the book, I tried a free online application but ran into problems when it conflicted with the browser I was using. I shopped around and decided to purchase Jutoh because I can use it on my PC at work or my Mac at home.

It took a couple of tries to even get it into ebook form, and the first version I used with the class looked rather plain with spacing problems. Over spring break I redid the book and got rid of some of the problems and fixed some of the text.

From the beginning, there were problems to overcome. First, the book needed a reader. I posted a link to Adobe’s Digital Edition, and I had to have the reader installed in the ESL lab and on the computer we used in the classroom. I put the book on Box.com to be available for download because the LMS had trouble with the format. However, Box.com works great, so I will continue to use it. After we could use it in class and in the lab, most of the problems were alleviated.

Advantages

The ebook offered several advantages. It was always available, so no one could claim to have lost the textbook. It provided links within the textbook, so students had fast access to additional materials that were not in the textbook. These were materials like additional places to find topics for speeches or download video converters. I could use the textbook in class, sometimes in place of PowerPoint, for presenting the expectations and procedures for an assignment. In addition, it was free.

Not all good

There were problems. If we were in the classroom, students did not have access to the textbook unless they brought their laptop or other device, and they usually didn’t. The format is not consistently displayed. On a computer, the format changes depending on how large the reader makes it on the screen. The information needs to be carefully linked (more about that below) so that navigating is not so confusing. Tables have proven very difficult to use in this format, and text from screen captures loses some of its clarity.

Suggestions going forward

While I have read many books of fiction and nonfiction on my Kindle and iPad, they did not prepare me for an instructional book. An ebook for instructional purposes requires much linking because an ebook requires a different approach to reading. My ebook is not very long so it can be navigated relatively easily, but with longer ebooks, there needs to be recursive linking.

To explain that last statement, I will describe my recent experience in working with an instructional ebook. The book is a paper book that has been turned into an ebook without any adaptations to the ebook situation. It makes references to different sections of the book but provides no links. If I look back for the previous explanation without taking note of my place, I end up searching backwards and then unable to easily return to my previous spot.

As I move forward with the ebook I made and others I plan to compile for our students, I realize that a guide to using ebooks would help the students use them with more confidence and comfort.

Presently, I would like to find a way to make workbooks usable in the ebook format. My current thinking is to put an exercise on one page and having the key linked to it on another page. It seems that there should be something more elegant. Why do I keep thinking hypercard here?