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YouTube

Why ignore it! You know you use it! YouTube is a great ‘old’ tool for teaching. We use it so much we sometimes forget just how useful it is. If we set up accounts on sites such as Weebly to create webpages, for instance, YouTube videos can actually become a part of the site. The video stays intact just like any document and can be accessed with one click of a button at any time and directly from the site. Also, how many times have teachers put on a YouTube video on a Smart board to supplement class activities? For instance, I taught a segment on Canadian history, and specifically the brave souls that tight-rope walked across Niagara Falls a hundred years ago. Students were amazed at the videos. The fact that all sorts of obscure videos exist on YouTube means there is almost always something available that will supplement a lesson. In fact, it is too available. Some teachers tend to show too many videos or they simply show the videos with no real pedagogical method. The use of YouTube should be done in a disciplined manner. Worksheets can be made just like for any listening activity. In addition, teachers can set up playlists therefore they can conveniently organize their activities by themes. Another advantage is that real life situations can be shown to students. The real advantage of YouTube – at least from a language learning point of view – is that it offers authentic examples of everyday English used by everyday people. Students today tend to prefer authentic content and YouTube has an endless supply. In addition, current events around the world often end up on YouTube long before they are on mainstream TV news. For instance, in 2012 nine Peruvian miners were trapped for a week. One of my students found out about it during the break on his smart phone and almost the entire class stayed in the classroom during the break to watch the drama unfold on YouTube. This is not to say class should be stopped to watch YouTube, but when special events occur it is an invaluable link to authentic information that catches student’s attention. For example, several of the students who watched the miners on YouTube were not particularly enthusiastic with the regular listening activities, but when real-life events occurred they were very willing the follow along in English, their second’s language. This is certainly quite ‘low tech’ but it is free, easy, easily accessible from any computer and very visual. There is the danger of having little student input, but this can be avoided by students uploading their own videos to YouTube that can, in fact be posted on a private group, that only the class can see. You can teach students video production and editing skills through projects and upload the videos to your classes YouTube channel.  In this way students can become familiar with other Google tools such as Google drive. This will prove to be a valuable combination with the videos …  in that students can communicate and create documents on the drive that could, for instance, be plans for their activities in their YouTube group. In fact, the administrators of YouTube recognize its potential as a pedagogical tool and have created EDU which lets you discover, create, and share educational videos. So next time you are thinking about finding a new educational tool for the classroom … think about the ‘old one’ which may just surprise you and how ‘not old’, it really is!

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BBC Learning English

Call me old fashioned, a traditionalist, whatever you want, but ever since the Anglo-Saxon conquest of  the British Isles between 400-600 AD, just after the Romans left, and the celtic speakers learned the language of their new ‘guests’  the Brits have been in the business of teaching English and have sure done a great job of it! … English is the most spoken second language in the world … 600 million plus second language speakers! The BBC Learning English online web tool proves this once again. To give an example of its use in Bangladesh, more than 1m English lessons have been downloaded to mobile phones as part of the BBC’s Janala sercvice, the corporation announced today at the World Mobile Conference in Barcelona. Nothing here is fancy. Just clean learning situations that are clearly supported with images. The site is divided into different categories: General & Business English, Grammar, Vocabulary & Pronunciation, Talking Sport, Quizzes, The Flatmates, Community, for teachers, Specials, about us and Downloads. Each of these categories is clearly indicated on the left side of the site. You will notice certain expressions that are common in British English as opposed to that found in Canada … for example ‘flatmate’. That’s OK because I didn’t suffer too much when learning certain French expressions from France while learning my French in Quebec. We live in a great big global community and we should get used to these different usages. The savvy teacher must be careful however not to allow less advanced students to get mixed up in these details. Allow exposure to these language items but don’t let the students feel like they are learning several different languages. In terms of everyday language the site has some great features such as the lesson it gives called Express English where every week, people in London are asked questions on a specific topic At the Englishblog we see that the BBC Learning English series which follows the fortunes Anna, a sales executive. Following the exploits of a ficticious character may seem odd, but isn’t that what every movie and TV drama are about. The BBC is able to construct situations that are geared at certain language learning objectives. Another very useful feature are the podcasts that makes following the characters even more convienient. The site is slightly on the dull side and would definitely not be suited to young learners or those with certain attention challenges because there are no real attention grabbing special effects, but for certain students who enjoy reading about current events the BBC site is right on track. The BBC is afterall primarily a current events media outlet. For instance, the section Words in the News could be very interesting to certain students who like learning obscure facts such as the dilemma scientists have had in determining whether or not a certain sound coming from the ocean depths was a whale or a duck … I won’t give the secret away here … check it out yourselves on the site. I find the site quite interesting, but its not ‘everyone’s cup of tea’. A final and very important note is that the BBC is well-known, and respected around the world. It is therefore not surprising that many people use the site to learn English and as the site tesl.ej mentions how relationships between the intermediate level users of all nationalities have emerged and developed through the use of each feature at the site. This pretty well sums up what learning a language is all about, communicating and in the process making new and enduring social relationships, and the BBC Learning English tool is certainly facilitating this for many people.

Storybird

Storybird is a simple but effective web tool that offers a quick way to create and publish short illustated stories. The illustrations are provided by artists the site has contracted, and you will find that they are very suitable for young learners. In fact, even very young learners can quickly learn to create stories. Obviously, learners in cycle one of elementary school cannot write stories but they can participate with the teacher, adding suggestions as the story is developed. Don’t expect any sophisticated writing tools here. You only get the bare essentials. You can add pages, like in Power Point, and see these pages as a numbered list, but you can basically just add short texts to the artwork that is provided by the site. At digigogy.blogspot it is mentioned that its based on writing which at first seems fine, but in cycle one of elementary school the students cannot write. Thus, the site is essentially rendered simply a tool with which teachers can write short stories for these very young students … with their input, as mentionned above, if the teacher and the students so desire. This is not entirely a bad thing because the teacher can quickly create short stories that fit in with other activities the class is doing. moving on now to the art work … it is very colourful and has a very pleasant innocent quality that is suitable for childrens’ stories. The title of the site, Storybird, gives a good idea of the fact that it is geared toward a very young audience. It’s very basic but this makes it a quick and easy method to create short activities for the teacher who is busy. Some eight year olds, and certainly most nine year olds would be able to write, perhaps with the help of teammates, a short story on Storybird. The simplicity of the site offers a great introduction into the world of online story creation to them. What is particularly good about the site is the fact that the artwork actually inspires story telling. The idea of ‘writers block’ is resolved by the presence of pictures. As they say ‘a picture says a thousand words’. Thus, in this case pictures will often come before the story, rather than being used to embellish it afterward. The images on the site are arranged into categories such as rabbits, balloons etc. When the category is clicked on numerous different images in this theme appear. This is useful, for instance, if the teacher wants to teach a particular subject. For instance a story about different bunnies at Easter time. At EDLab this convience of having pre-supplied pictures is described as being at odds with advances in teaching techniques as children’s books move toward multimodal, this website only offers conventional pictures created by professionals instead of letting users to import their self selected or self-created pictures. It is fascinating how the same thing can be seen from a completely different perspective in the site grafite.org which mentions that with the groups of images provided students young and old can tell that story as they consider it and imagine it. This site therefore says that the pictures actually enhance different intepretations and thus creativity. Try it out and you decide, but remember, like all learning tools, the savvy teacher must use the site within reason because all good things begin to show there faults through overuse.

Edmodo

Edmodo is a great site that’s a social network site similar to Facebook. It is however geared at teachers specifically and is used by countless teachers and is officially recognized as a pedagogic tool by many school boards in the United States. The fact that so many teachers use means that there is a very well established professional development communities related to the site. It should be pointed out here that the site is very secure, it is password protected, and parents can enjoy access to their own child’s work with the peace of mind that only they, and the teacher, can have this access. In addition, and unlike Facebook, students cannot create private groups that the teacher or parents cannot access so again this is an attractive feature in terms of being a secure pedagogical tool. On the other hand, there is the possibility of creating a discussion wall that is open to the whole class. This is very useful for students who would like to share suggestions and also for students who may be inspired by information that they read on the discussion wall. The fact that Edmodo is similar to Facebook, in many ways, has the additional advantage that students will quickly learn how to navigate around it. Other access features include the fact that the system can be setup so that teachers can send message alerts to students. In terms of class management assignments can be sent to the students, marks can be calculated and there is a calendar so the class can clearly see their term activities. Kelly Croy is a language teacher who adds that the quiz feature on Edmodo is a great way to see if his students are understanding their assignments. For extra-convenience sake there is an app that allows access from smartphones or iPads. In addition, Google drive can be directly accessed from the site, thus adding a further convenience to a multitude of tools. Another teacher, Valeria Foarce makes perhaps the most obvious, and hence well worth mentioning, positive point about Edmodo, and that it drastically cuts down on the use of paper. The advantages of cutting down on paperwork are limitless … starting out with not needing to carry it around, photocopy it and of course for the good of the environment. It is in the ‘backpack’ on the site that students turn in their work. It should be mentioned here that there is a very useful feature in that teachers can correct work that is turned in right online. Teachers can write on the documents students sent in and add comments. Students can then see these corrections. Again it is important to point out that students can only see their own work and corrections. To end on a dollar and cents factor, teacher Keith Rispin points out that Edmodo is affordable to run, it’s free, and he notes I ran a Moodle site for my online classrooms but unfortunately I had to abandon it because it became to costly to self host on a private server. So there it is, Edmodo is easily acceefficient, safe and free!

iPads in Class

The iPad is more and more becoming the paper and pencil of the modern day teacher and student, but with innumerable other uses. It is very much more than a simple writing aparatus, in that it is an all-in-one tool where a plethora of exercises and projects can be done with the whole class together, in small groups or individually. Essentielly a ‘smart screen’, the iPad’s  functions are manipulated with touch technology. Its dimensions and light weight make it suitable for learners even at the very early elementary levels. There is also of course the recognizability factor. Most elementary and secondary students now have grown up with technology and are referred to as digital natives. The iPad is something they are familiar with and thus very willing to use. Getting students to use a particular pedalogical tool is a big step in teaching, and the next step is to get them to use it properly. this will be explained aa little later in this post. Once the teacher is able to establish a teaching environment, with the iPad as the primary faciliating tool, organization of instruction, exercises, and projects will be very efficient. For instance, students are often required to keep a personal porfolio of activities they do. This can easily and effectively be done with the iPad. Applications such as educlipper can be used to do this, but, as stated at ipadeducators : whichever tool you select, remember that the heart of developing a digital portfolio lies in granting ownership of the content to students and allowing them some freedom to share that content with an audience. Portfolios are a wonderful tool for showcasing student work and they’ll motivate your students to create quality content that they want to put on display. This quote gives excellent insight into the iPad’s use in the modern classroom, in that it points out the fact that students will be motivated to work if they are given a certain degree of control over their own learning and are able to share their efforts with others.

There are innumerable benefits in using the iPad, but the savy teacher must not ignor the dangers of it’s use.  An article published in the Globe and Mail on December 11, 2013 caught my eye : A third of Quebec students surveyed about using iPads in class admitted to playing games during school hours and an astounding 99 per cent said they found the gadgets distracting, suggests a new study based on the experiences of more than 6,000 tablet-toting kids. Of course, this sort of problem will exist if students have easy, uncontrolled, access to ‘fun’ activities, but the problem is not in the use of iPads but just how in fact they are used. This quote at iphoneincanada effectively illustrates the real problem : But the problem lies deeper in the system, as highlighted by the study : about 70% of the teachers had either never nor rarely used an iPad before they got one from the school as their new teaching tool. For this reason it is absolutely necessary that teachers be very well-educated on the use of iPads before their use them in class. In fact, once the teacher is familiar with its use they will find it an excellent pedagogical tool and, in fact, a great class management tool also. For instance, software such as airdrop and doceri allow teachers to send activities to the students wirelessly and thus have control over their students’ iPads.  This technology can be intimidating to some teachers, and especially when faced with the vast array of apps that are continually being marketed. In order to navigate around this myriad of information the teacher must seek out tools that will guide them properly to useful iPad applications. For instance, the iPad pedagogy wheel can greatly assist the novice, as well as seasoned iPad user alike, and a taxonomy such as Bloom’s provides a framework in which to seek out the most effective apps for their classroom.

 In terms of assisting the teacher pedagogically, two other tools are of particular interest as facilitators of class activities. Educreation and Explain Everything  are excellent tools used with iPads that have become standards for teachers that are up to date on their software know how. Starting out with Educreation, the site itself effectively sums up this tool’s function : Educreations is an exciting app that transforms your iPad into a recordable whiteboard.  It is important to note here that both Eucreation and Explain Everything are not only visual tools but can also simultaineously make audio recordings with the video. The audio element is obviously an important feature in language classes where, for instance, students can hear their own voices. In other words students can self-correct themselves. For instance, they can keep redoing their audio-visual presentations until they are happy with the result. The Quebec Ministry  announced in 2011  a planned investment of CDN$160 million over the next five years to equip every kindergarten through twelfth-grade classroom – 43,000 in total – with interactive whiteboards and other technology products. This is great news for teachers, and students, but the classroom in this context is still a traditionally based environment where the board is at the front with the teacher. With technology such as Educreation the white board is in the students’ hands. This makes learning a more direct and interactive experience … quite literally a hands on approach. In terms of the activities the students can do, the selection is limited only by their imagination. For example, the students can create films for class projects, which can be recorded, saved and sent to others. A useful feature is that they can make the video private or public, therefore having control over who views their creations. Another advantage of Educreation is the price tag … it’s free.

Moving on to Explain Everything, the first thing that must be mentionned is that it is essentially the same as Educreation, but with certain more advanced features. For instance, students can edit and correct videos with Explain Everything, whereas Educreation is a one shot deal  where the video must be done correctly the first time or else students must 1) redo it, or 2) live with their recorded mistakes. The added features on Explain Everthing does come at small a very price ($2.99 at itunes). In terms of being cost effective I noticed this comment at newschooltechnology  Explain Everything can be a cost effective solution and/or replacement of whiteboards. This is quite true if all students own their own iPad, but, quite simply, they don’t. In addition, the Quebec Governmnet, as mentionned above,  has invested millions of dollars in placing interactive whiteboards in every classroom. Never-the-less, in terms of pedagogic efficiency, teachers can balance teaching time between the class interactive white board and the iPads, with those that students own, or are supplied by the school. Simply put, the more screens in the class, the more ground that can be covered in a given time. Another interesting comment I noticed, this time at Edshelf, was by  Mr. Greg Kulowiec, who stated that Explain Everything  is the only iPad screencasting app that allows for direct upload to YouTube. Whether or not this is the only one, is more or less important, but the fact that direct uploads can be made is a handy feature. In particular, if the teacher has created a private Youtube group where only the class can access it. In addition, at edshelf I noticed this comment : Explain Everything is currently being used by thousands of teachers and students in over 60 countries.  The fact that Explain Everything is so widely used shows that it has become a standard teaching tool. As such, teachers who are familiar with it’s use can get teaching ideas from around the world. Additionally, more and more teachers are making good use of, what has become to be known as, the ‘flipped classroom’. Basically, the flipped classroom is an environment where the explanations are done as homework and the in class time is dedicated to exercises and projects. The use of iPads with Educreation or Explain Everything facilitates this by allowing the teacher to record instructions, then send them as homework to the students. The students can then follow the instructions at their own pace, without the distractions of the classroom.

In summary, the iPad is an excellent tool that should be used by teachers; but, only if they are well aware of exactly how it should be used properly. Many teachers who grew up with little or no use of computer technology are often intimidated by it. This definitely does not have to be the case. No matter how old, or young, teachers are, they should become familiar with as many new computer technolgies as they can. Things are constantly changing, and this should be embrassed as a sort of continual rejuvenation rather than feared. So, get informed and show your students a thing or two they don’t know on the iPad. That’s how you will get their respect and interest, which will then allow for an environment that is efficient, enjoyable and enlightening.

Questionaut

The website Questionaut http://www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize/ks2/english/  is a great fun ESL tool that has many features that are necessary when one is searching for practical pedagogical tools. It is a creation of the BBC so it follows in the tradition of quality products offered by this British standard in excellence. What is often forgotten by teachers but very important is the ‘first impression’ factor … what in real estate sales is referred to as ‘curb appeal’. There must be a genuine good first impression and Questionaut achieves this. The site is colourful and very easy to use. There are sections for English, math and sciences, but these are easily identified and, once in a section, completely independent of one another. The fact that there are math and science sections, in addition to English, could in fact be very useful from a pedagogical perspective, in that students can use these other sections, while in other classes, thus entrenching their familiarity with the site. In addition, colleagues teaching other disciplines can share ideas with ESL teachers. Once in the English section there are three categories: 1) reading 2) writing 3) spelling and grammar. Each of the three categories is further divided into subcategories. For instance, the reading category is divided into ‘Deduction’ ‘Dictionaries’ ‘Poetry’ and ‘Finding Information’.  Activities are further divided into ‘Play’ ‘Read’ ‘Watch’ and ‘Quiz’ for each of the above four subcategories. There are audio-visual and written aids that at first sight may appear suitable for very young or beginner learners, but this is definitely not the case. For instance, in the reading subcategory of the deduction section there are explanations of similes and metaphors in fiction and poetry. This is definitely too advanced for elementary cycle one in the MELS program who are not, in an explicit manner, even taught grammar rules. The teacher must be very selective in the activities chosen. The voices on the listening activities have a British accent, but, in my opinion, this poses no problem, for students learning in the Quebec-Canada context, because the accents are non-the-less clear and students must become familiar with different accents anyway. Moving on to the next point, the quality of the videos, sound and written exercises is excellent. I like the fact that the writing and grammar sections are two distinct categories and I also like the fact that quizzes are given at the end of every exercise in all three sections. The quizzes are designed so that students can simply click on the correct answer and at the end click on ‘check score’. For this reason, students can work autonomously.

At The English Blog I found the following statement although, the site is aimed at native-speakers; learners of English will find a lot of useful material here which reaffirms what I was saying about the fact that teachers must be careful when selecting activities at Questionaut. This is because activities, that are designed for much younger first language learners, may at first appear, in terms of images for instance, appropriate for a particular ESL class, but it is, in fact, too advanced and will be more appropriate for a more advanced group.  I also found another interesting point at Edublogs where this comment was made about QuestionautSometimes information is presented with text, and this text works well with Speakit! in Google Chrome. This means students can use the Google software, if necessary, to ‘speak out’ the text. This will definitely give additional oral dimensions to the activities, but some teachers may not find this necessary because of the numerous auditive activities already present. Following in the same train of thought, with regard to Questionaut’s compatibility to other tools , I found another interesting comment at Teacherslovesmartboards The graphics and audio on these activities are very professional and all the activities were developed with interactive whiteboards in mind so they all work great with the SMART Board. This is definitely an advantage considering the central role Smartboards play in the modern classroom.

To sum up, Questionaut is an aesthetically pleasing, well-organized, fun, easy to use, practical and compatible web tool that ESL teachers will find very useful, as long as they remember that it was designed with first language learners in mind.

Toondoo

Toondoo

This week’s blog is about the tool Toondoo. This site allows students to create their own cartoons and books online. The site is colourful and has great fun images, many of which are dynamic, in that they move during manipulation of the different features. For instance, there are little gears, like those in a machine, that move around in circles when information is being opened. This keeps the students attention when they are waiting for things to open. Keeping students attention focussed is a primary preoccupation of teachers and Toondoo understands this well. Children love cartoons and the idea of creating their own is a fun way of developing projects in their ESL class. They will be having so much fun that they forget that they are learning English. At the end they will be proud to have a finished project they can keep and show off to their classmates and parents.

The Quebec Ministry of Education requires that teachers encourage their students develop their creativity and Toondoo is an excellent tool with which to do this. Students are able to work autonomously on projects individually or in teams. The tool can also be used to create class projects where everyone participates in doing their part of the collective effort. The fact students can choose from a variety of characters to appear in their cartoon is, in itself, great, but studenst can also customize the characters by giving them different features such as hair colour and hair style, eye colour and eye shape etc. etc. The cartoon or book is also custom created by the student. For instance, the actual layout and background scenery is selected by the student. In this way the tool really makes for a personal experience. For instance, students can create characters that resemble themselves and their classmates, thus making for a much more meaningful experience.

The setup of the site is divided into: Toons, Books, Dooers, Tools, Compleetoons, Shop and Etc. When these are selected a list is given of the uses of each. I will give a brief description of the most important of the uses in terms of pedalogical purposes. In the category Toons the students actually create and save their cartoons. The fact they can save their cartoons on the site is very convenient. In addition they can also access their other cartoons they are working on here so we can see they the students can have numerous projects if necessary. I like the idea that the Toons and Books categories are divided into two separate parts because this keeps things more simple for teachers explaining to students what they should open. I also like the fact that the language in the toolbar is very simple and clear … ‘Toons’ , ‘Books’ etc. The Dooers category is essentielly the user profile area. In the Tools section students have tools that they, for instance, create characters with, before putting them into there cartoon or book. The Compleetoons section is where students can access cartoons that have completed.  The Shop section is not free and where high-resolution Toondoos can be produced … which of course is at the discretion of the teacher. The Etc. section is essentielly a collection of useful information that can help teachers and students better use the site.

Here are three sites that give other pertinent information with regard to Toondoo:

At http://teachinghistory.org/ I noticed an interesting comment that the fact that this tool eliminates some of the frustrations students may have when doing their own drawings. In other words this means the students are concentrating on the actual subject matter rather than the artwork which is of secondary importance.

http://www.teachersfirst.com points out that like any online use teachers shoul be concerned about safety concerns, though their editor did not see anything objectional. Teachersfirst explains that students should be prohibited from accessing the links to ‘popular’ Toondoos because there could be objectional context since it is open to the public.

At http://www.teacherade.com  there are two very simple but very important comments about Toondoo : that its easy to use and free. Easy to use is obviously essential when working in a class environment and particularly with younger children. Well free means free … so the teacher doesn’t have to ask the school direction for funds.

I will finish this weeks blog by saying that I worked with Toondoos with a group of elementary grade six students in intensive English and found the site to be extremely useful. I should point out here that is not a tool that can be used as a quick ‘filler activity’ because, although quite simple to use, it takes students a bit of time to get used to using the tool bars. In addition, the projects themselves take up a large amount of time. On the other hand, for longer projects Toondoos is a fantastic tool for teaching ESL reading and writing skills and, while the site does not have an audio element, the students practice their oral skills while talking about their cartoon or book, and if they present it to the class. Thus, Toondoos is an excellent tool for working on all three Quebec Ministry of education ESL competencies.

Kindersite

This week I will talk about the website Kindersite which is a fun but very useful pedagogical tool for use in elementary cycle one classrooms. Some of the activities can be used with older elementary students. It should be noted here that it is aimed primarily at first language learners in pre-school but the level of the activities is appropriate for elementary second language learners. I should mention here that a slight disadvantage of the site is that it is most obviously a British site, so the accent and some of the vocabulary is ‘foreign’ to ‘Canadian English’. On the other hand, it contains a vast array of books, games and songs that are easily accessed from the homepage. The site is very colourful with age appropriate images. The activities are graded according to age, but with first language learners in mind. Never-the-less teachers can adjust to the differences, between first language and second language levels,  and use these gradings to select appropriate activities for different class levels and individual learners. The sound quality is quite good is the oral activities. The site is interactive, in that many of the activities allow the students to pro-actively participate. For instance the digital books can be stopped and replayed by the student. Students can also play games, where they can play alone or with a partner. Other activities include puzzles and e-cards. The e-cards are of particular interest to teachers who would like to have students create cards on special occasions such as birthdays, Christmas, Easter etc. This site is very practical also for teachers who wish to walk around the class and help students individually, while the rest of the class works autonomously on their own or with a partner. In addition, the fact that students can read the digital books and other activities at their own pace allows more advanced students to work more quickly while students having difficulty can take all the time they need. This means students are more interested in the activities and do not feel overwhelmed.

http://literacylog.blogspot.ca/2009/07/kindersite.html makes a comment that caught my attention about Kindersite: Kindersite’s stated mission is twofold: first, the proprietors want to provide a portal to safe, educational content for children ages 2-8; second, they want to provide data to facilitate research on how children use such online content and how it affects their learning. This statement shows the essential quality of safety with regards to the site, but also that the site is actively participating in pedalogical research, thus one sees here the site is very serious in its approach to learning.

http://www.media-and-learning.eu/resource/kindersite-project gives an interesting comment about Kindersite: The content that is found to be most engaging or requested by a child can be added to a personal list, via an updateable ‘My page’ mechanism. This feature gives the site a very personalized approach that both student and teacher can take advantage of. For example, teachers can tell students to go to their ‘My Page’ area to get materiel or ask students to place materiel in the ‘My page’ area.

http://www.teachersfirst.com/single.cfm?id=11413 mentions that Kindersite is an ‘award winning site’ although they do not specifically say what award. Never-the-less, this site gives a very positive review of Kindersite. They mentioned a couple of points that I find very relevant to teachers: that it is expanding to older children of 7-12 and that there are activities in seven languages. I briefly touched on the age factor earlier in my blog, but this expansion to older levels is most useful to primary school teachers. Concerning the multiple language issue, and obviously, as an English teacher, the other languages would not be used often; but, on occasion, students may be interested to take a ‘cultural excursion’ to these other languages. This could prove of interest, for instance, as a comparison exercise with English, though this may be frowned upon by ‘purists’ who refuse any word other than English. For the very young and beginner students, this would not be a good idea, but on occasion, with more advanced, enriched students, this may prove useful as a change. Other problems however may arise with access to the other languages. For instance, if a teacher has a student, say Hispanic, that student may do the Spanish activities rather than the English ones. Therefore, like any online activity, the teacher must be careful to closely monitor the students.

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Randall’s Cyber Listening Lab

In this weeks blog entry I will talk about the Website Randall’s Cyber Listening Lab and it’s uses as a pedagogical tool in teaching English as a second language. I have used this site for a number of years in my teaching of adult learners in secondary one through five and have found it most useful. The site itself is not particularly appealing in terms of aesthetics nor is it especially sophisticated but it is efficient. Basically, it offers a number of listening activities that are in the form of quizzes. Accessing the quizzes is very simple because they are there in front of the user when the page is opened. The quizzes are divided into ‘easy’ ‘medium’ ‘difficult’ and very difficult’. In each of these categories the quizzes are further subdivided into various subjects such as ‘Bookstore shopping’ ‘Baking Cookies’ etc. For these reasons teachers can guide students to the level that is appropriate for them and select subjects that are relevant for the work they are doing at school. Getting into each quiz takes simply a click of the mouse. Once in the quiz students find a control bar and a number of multiple choice questions below it. The control bar works just like that found in Youtube and therefore students can control when they want to start/stop the listening activity. The activities themselves are short conversations of about two minutes. It is very important to note also that the sound quality is excellent. Once the students have listened to the activity they can answer the multiple choice questions by simply clicking on the answer of their choice. Once finished, the student clicks on ‘Results’ and they are give a percentage score and a list of the correct answers. This website is an excellent means of building students’ confidence for listening exams. Teachers can encourage students, that are having difficulties, to do the easier quizzes then build up to the more difficult. The activities are short and the students self-correct, so they see instant results. The website TeachersFirst , which is extensively used by teachers, offers an important warning that some of the quizzes in Randall’s, that are related to such topics as ‘personal problems’, may not be suitable for young children. In general TeachersFirst gives an excellent review of the site and recommends it’s use by teachers.The website tewtjournal reviews different websites and they posted an article by Jarek Krajka, which was first published in the review Teaching English with Technology, vol. 1, no. 2, pp. 20-25. It gives similar information to that I have already given, but what I didn’t know was that Randall’s constantly provides new listening activities which is definitely a good thing. New activities also mean that  the site keeps up with what is happening in society. At the site esl-lab Fall 2008 issue, reviewer Minuta Botea points out an interesting feature of Randall’s, and that is its blog, which users are encouraged to use. This allows the site to keep up with suggestions provided by users and thus ensures staying relevant to user needs. I will end here by stating that Randall’s has been very useful in my teaching experience and especially for increasing students’ confidence for listening exams. Teachers may want to use the site as a filler activity, such as at the end of a period, or maybe as a complementary activity to a larger project, or, in fact, for any other activity they deem appropriate.

Facebook for Teaching

In this blog I will give a description of several useful computer applications for the purpose of teaching English as a second language. I will also give useful sources which can be consulted for further and more detailed information on these applications. The first entry covers uses of the social media giant Facebook

 

Mr Mark Miller teaches a course in computer applications for pedagogical purposes at Laval University and greatly encourages Facebook for use with students. He is very clear in pointing out however that students must be aware of the security elements concerned and that they be familiar with the privacy settings. This obviously also applies to the teacher who must always give a professional image when using Facebook. The teacher therefore ‘friends’ a student on Facebook solely for professional teaching purposes and the teacher’s class Facebook page must rigorously reflect this. Finally, the school administration and parents must be aware of the students’ use of Facebook and be an active part in the use of this very useful tool.

 

Mr Miller explains that Facebook does not replace teaching but is a facilitator in that students are already there on Facebook. Students are already very accustomed to its use and are very often at the site, so simply for practical and convenience purposes Facebook has a huge advantage over other sites. Following along this train of thought, Facebook is also ‘fun’ for the students to use therefore when, for instance, homework assignments are posted, there is less reluctance for students to engage in the activity. The students are already exchanging ideas with friends and family so the same can be done with teachers and classmates in this closed environment which is very safe as long as the above mentioned security measures are taken.  

 

The website Mashable.com covers social media news and gives interesting information about these technologies which can be very useful to teachers. An interesting entry, posted April 4 2013, entitled Mark Zuckerberg Moonlights as a Middle School Teacher caught my attention because it proves very relevant to our topic concerning Facebook as a pedagogical tool. It turns out that Mr Zuckerberg is married to a teacher, and this, along with inspiration from Bill Gates, has given him reason to become quite the philanthropist. Among the activities Mr Zuckerberg engages in is teaching a middle-school class once a week. Mashable.com quotes an interview Mr Zuckerberg had with Wired where he states: “Every Tuesday we go over one skill, and each group has a side project,” Zuckerberg told Wired. “When the class ends, they’ll come to Facebook and sell the products they’ve made, like they’re marketing them.” Mr Zuckerberg is quite obviously a very able businessman and he wants to promote the use of his own product, but if one thinks further than this simplistic view we see that Mr Zuckerberg is taking a chance with this project, in that it could prove to be a monumental disaster if there were some sort of a problem involving the students use of Facebook. Therefore, for our purposes, we can see that the founder, chairman and CEO of Facebook is confident in putting his company’s reputation at risk, in his use of Facebook as a pedagogical tool, so this is proof enough for most that Facebook, when used responsibly, is an efficient and safe application for use in schools.

 

The very reputable British newspaper The Guardian is always in the forefront of current issues and is willing to tackle ideas that may be controversial. On Wednesday June 25, 2008, The Guardian mentions the reluctance of schools in the UK to allow use of  Facebook in the classrooms. The date should be taken into account because even here in 2014, six years later, schools around the world are still reluctant in many cases to allow its use. In other words, students are missing out on educational opportunities if they are denied the responsible use of Facebook in their school. The website EducationWorld offers an inspiring article for proponents of Facebook as a pedagogical tool entitled Social Networking Tips for Teachers. The article is written by Facebook Chief Security Officer Joe Sullivan who, like his boss Mark Zuckerberg, has a vested interest in promoting the product, however his advice is quite enticing, even to naysayers. Here are some ideas from Mr Sullivan, in italics, and as published in EducationWorld:

 

Create a Friend List: If you’re a teacher, you can create a Friend List called “Students” and adjust your privacy settings to control exactly what your students will see. For example, you might allow students to see your basic profile information, but not your tagged photos or wall posts.

Use Facebook Groups for Engagement: You can create a Facebook Group for a course you’re teaching or a specific class project, and invite all your students to join the group. That will provide a way for students and educators to discuss relevant topics on a platform students love. There also is a Discussion Board where students can share their thoughts.

Share Rich Content: Use the Wall on your Facebook Group page to share rich content, such as news clips, interesting articles, Web sites, videos, and so on. Invite students to do the same.

Discuss Online Safety: Teach students about appropriate online behavior, including keeping passwords private, never talking to strangers online, and treating others respectfully.

Know Your Resources: Get up-to-the-minute, dynamic content especially for teachers at the Facebook in Education page, and check out safety advice for teachers.

Check Your School’s Social Networking Policy: As an educator, you should make sure you’re in compliance with your school’s policies before opening a Facebook account. Additionally, it’s always a good idea to notify parents and receive their permission before asking students to join Facebook. Explain to parents exactly how the tool will be used in the classroom — and make sure all students are older than13.

Student Feedback: Ask students — the digital natives — if they have any creative ideas about ways in which Facebook can enrich their learning experience, both in the classroom and beyond.

Be a Safe Harbor: Make sure students know they can come to you with questions or concerns, or to discuss what to do in tricky situations they encounter online.

 

APPS FOR EDUCATORS ON FACEBOOK

Teachers also can leverage free technologies to engage with students on a platform they enjoy, and can use those tools to share presentations, notes, practice tests, and quizzes. Facebook has many apps.

I will finish here with this summary by Mr Sullivan, which lists numerous uses and gives a clear idea of the benefits of Facebook as a pedalogical tool. I agree with all the ideas presented by Mr Sullivan so there is no need to repeat them; but I should mention that he has not drawn attention to the multitude of Facebook users, who offer educational tools themselves, and which can be accessed by students through the site. For instance the ESL-Library.com is on Facebook and this tool, along with numerous others, can be accessed with ease through Facebook. Perhaps the word ‘ease’ mentioned in the last sentence is what makes Facebook a teacher’s ally in his or her pursuit to inspire students to work harder, more efficiently and in a more enjoyable manner.