Thursday, 16 September 2010

Bringing It All Together (2010)

I have recently started using Google Docs with some of my classes. It has been an interesting process in itself. In order to do this, I took part of a lesson to get all students to create Google accounts, using their school email accounts. The benefit of this is that it becomes easier for me to track students - especially when sharing documents.

Google Docs has proved to be a great resource when students are engaged in group tasks. One student creates the document and shares it with his group members (the fact that accounts are based on school email addresses makes this sharing easy!!!). I typically ask the groups to share the document with me.

Google Docs is also a great tool where a teacher would like to observe students engaged in individual writing tasks.

There are many benefits for me in getting the boys to use a Google Doc to record their group work.

It gives them a place to record their discussions. One person does not have to be responsible for recording all the discussion. Each student can contribute to the document. Group members may take responsibility for different parts of the document.

As a teacher I can track the group discussion through their document. Since the students share the document I have edit rights. I can use colour coding to suggest grammar or spelling corrections. I can also leave comments suggestion areas that still need to be discussed or elaborated.

Tracking student work however involved me having to wade through my Google Docs file list of "files shared with me". I must admit that I was finding this somewhat time consuming.

Enter the idea of bringing multiple student documents together in one page using our Apple Wiki and Blog Server.

I simply use the following HTML code to embed the Google Doc

The width and height can be adjusted to suit your page.

The result is shown below

Students can only see their own Google Doc and those that have been shared with them. As a teacher I can see and interact with all of the student pages on one page. Students can quickly and easily access their work through the class wiki.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Contemporary Dictation

Let me preface this post by saying that I am neither an English teacher nor trained in ESL (English Second Language). I am however, a secondary teacher in a school with with a very high LaBOTE (Language Backgrounds Other Than English) population. Raising our overall literacy has been and continues to be a great challenge for all our staff. We are constantly examining ways to assist our students in the key areas of
  • reading 
  • writing 
  • listening and 
  • speaking 
My role as eLearning Coordinator continually challenges me to examine my own pedagogies and try new ways - especially ways in which utilise technology in our teaching. I am also especially aware of the time pressures faced by the teachers I mentor.

Recently I was reflecting on how I might be more effective in my classroom. Like all teachers I have the pressures of covering the curriculum whilst ensuring I can also assist my students to improve their literacy skills.

I decided to try and come up with a dictation exercise that would enable students to potentially take on the task anytime, any place, anywhere; provided the teacher with meaningful data about their students’ literacy skills and did not overburden the teacher - in fact allowed the technology to perhaps reduce the teacher’s workload.

All students have their own laptop machines which have sound enabled. Most use earpieces to listen to their machines rather than relying on the built in speakers.

I also wanted the boys to make use of the technology available to them. We do not restrict the boys to one particular word processor so they could choose their favourite for the task. The boys were not discouraged from using spell checkers, grammar checkers, the dictionary on the machine or paper version of the dictionary.

I wrote a summary passage based on work we had just completed in class. The passage was based around the current topic and provided a means of revising work. I recorded the passage using GarageBand (though I could also use freeware such as Audacity to do this) and saved it as an MP3 file. This file was placed in a Wiki page that also included the instructions about how to complete the task.

The boys were to listen to the passage and type it up in their favourite word processor. Once completed they were to export their work as a PDF file and submit this file to the teacher’s drop box. This was so the teacher had a copy of their work.

A time limit was placed on the task, however, the boys were able to replay the passage, pause the passage at their own leisure as many times as they needed in order to complete the passage given the time restriction.

Once all boys sent their PDF files to the dropbox, I posted a PDF copy of the passage to the wiki. I got the boys to download the original file and then the magic began!

Using Adobe Acrobat Professional, I got the boys to make use of the document compare feature. This allows the boys to “mark” their work and see differences between their passage and the original dictated piece.

The advantage here is that the boys get immediate feedback about their work and can ask questions of their peers or teacher if uncertain.

The teacher (as they have copies of the files submitted by the students) can also examine the student passages looking for trends, strengths and weaknesses from within the cohort.

In my mind there were a number of advantages in conducting this task in this manner. These include but are not limited to:
  • students are able to work at their own pace 
  • this task could be carried out by students at home 
  • the task does not have to involve the whole class 
  • a variety of passages may be made available to provide lesser students a chance to achieve and more capable students to be challenged 
I have tried this activity with two Year 10 groups and the student feedback was quite positive. I look forward to attempting some variations in the future.

I believe this task can also be a great tool to assist teachers in modeling examples of good writing to students as well as demonstrating the use of different text types.

Somewhere recently I was reading about dictation. The mention of the word took me back to my old primary school classroom, some forty odd years ago. I was tempted to dismiss dictation as a worthwhile activity as for me it seemed old fashioned, boring andvery teacher centred. I was impressed with the thoughts of Davis and Rinvolucri (1988) who stated that “decoding the sounds of (English) and recoding them in writing is a major learning task”. This is a skill that I believe we as teachers take for granted. It IS a VERY difficult process especially for our ESL and LaBOTE students.

Traditional dictation lessons can also be fraught with problems when working with Year 9 and Year 10 boys. Students can find the task boring, especially if the passage is not carefully selected. Students can disrupt possible learning by constantly interrupting the dictation with “distractor” questions/statements such as constantly asking for repetition of words, suggesting the teacher is reading to fast or slow, etc. This becomes even more of an issue in unstreamed classes where there is a wide range of literacy and oracy abilities can make running the traditional dictation difficult.

Traditional dictation lessons involve the teacher reading a passage of text. There can be a variety of styles in doing this. One is to read the entire passage once through at a slightly slower than “normal” speed. This is to provide a context for what the students are about to write. The teacher then rereads the text at a much slower speed for students to copy. This is possibly followed again by an almost normal read through again so students can hear the passage in context. After writing the text the passages are compared either by the student, a peer or the teacher. The emphasis is on the student reproducing in written form that which has been read.

A variation of this is the Dictogloss. Here the teacher reads a passage and the students make notes based around keywords from the text. Following the reading, students reconstruct the text in their own words. Here the emphasis is on the accuracy of the meaning of the student texts as well as spelling, punctuation and grammar.

These forms of dictation are quite time consuming and centred around teacher control of the activity. Whilst the passage can be selected to reinforce subject content, both revising content and introducing new content, teachers will often not employ the exercise as it takes away from subject based teaching activities.

Friday, 23 April 2010

Is it OK to Publish Unfinished Ideas?

My experiences in traditional education suggest this is NOT okay!

The traditional publishing process involves edits, rewrite, re-edits, more rewriting and even more re-edits and rewrites before the publication of the “final product”.

… and often this “final product” is not really final. The author may be struggling to meet deadlines (like handing in an assessment task) or their ideas later change.

This concept of writing suggests that writing (and indeed the development of ideas) is a linear process.

Clearly, in my opinion, this is NOT the case. It is very much cyclical in nature with ideas constantly being challenged and reviewed. As a teacher, one of our roles is to challenge students ideas.

But why should this role be exclusively the teacher’s domain. Getting peers to review can be just as – if not more – powerful. Like it or not students listen to their peers – something they don’t always do with their teachers.

When I recently suggested my Year 10 students publish their unfinished work and seek others’ opinions – they immediately baulked at the idea. They were concerned that others would simply steal their hard work rather than comment and suggest improvements.

I then posted a Blog entry asking the question:

      “Is the best way to protect your work, to publish it for all to see?”

and asked the boys to comment.

The boys raised a number of interesting points:

  • by sharing your work during the production process, all can see the origins of your work
  • you are able to draw on others’ ideas through their feedback
  • they are able to self evaluate their own work by comparing their own work to others’
  • all are able to input into the originality of the work.

This last point triggered a class discussion where the boys were raising the point that they know some students “always” (not sure its always but that’s their words) simply copy and paste work from the “net” and achieve good marks consistently. By publishing work openly the boys were challenging each other to the origins of the work. One boy even posted a comment that said…

     “Hey. That piece of work came from http://www.nameofsite….”

I believe that for too long too many good ideas never saw the light of day because we were afraid of putting our thoughts our there because they were incomplete, partially formed or we didn’t have all the answers.

Today through the power of the “Net” and Web 2.0 we can get our ideas out there easily, whether they be text based, audio or video and get feedback from others so that we can continues to evaluate, change or perhaps reinforce our own thoughts and ideas and maybe even help someone else.