Category Archives: Life inside the classroom

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Three different perspectives on contemporary ELT classrooms

In the latest edition of the iTDi Blog, Vicky Loras, Chuck Sandy and I offer three different perspectives on classrooms. In my post I examine the best ways to set up a classroom to make the most of different activity types, Vicky looks at the elements that make up an excellent teaching environment, and Chuck takes us outside traditional classrooms and has us look at how we need to support teachers working in all the places teachers work.

iTDi’s latest blog series on classrooms

Please take a look at our three different perspectives on classrooms.

New students, new dilemmas

As we approach the start of a new academic year, we see a new influx of students who will all be taking many classes and be required to write any number of pieces of written work, including essays, term papers, research papers, other coursework and even a dissertation. While getting to terms with all these types of writing, the student has to also get to grips with having to follow the intricate and varying requirements of each of their professors.

What makes things worse is that fact that there is a great deal of variation, indeed, no fixed specification or link connecting how to each professor addresses their approach to the genre in which they are asking students to write. Rather, every academic seemingly comes up with their own requirements. Instructions, question prompts and overall requirements can become extremely confusing for modern day college students. These are the pitfalls facing students who are desperate to receive good grades for their written work.

When it comes to essay writing, students not only have to deal with the burden of research, but also meeting the writing specifications which, as noted, can vary from professor to professor. So, here we see a dilemma: In such cases, some essay writing advice from a custom writing website service is often seen as a viable option. Basically, there are two views on such essay writing services: they are ok or they aren’t ok. If you’re on the liberal side of the fence you might say that model essays which offer guidance and simplify the essay writing process, save time, and improve the general understanding of the writing process are ok.

Zeitguest: 4 tips for incorporating technology into the classroom

Technology has become a common presence in classrooms around the world. From learning to type to having their own assigned iPads, modern students are equipped with more technology on a daily basis than they have ever been before. But, with this surge of technology can also come distraction and, in some cases, overload. That’s why it’s important for all teachers to use technology in class in the most productive ways. Here are a few tips for incorporating technology into a classroom:

1. Try new ways to present old material.

When you’ve been dealing with the same curriculum for many years, it’s hard not to feel a little bored, even as a teacher. The problem with that is it makes for a pretty uninspired classroom. As much as the best teachers work as hard as they can to keep information fresh and exciting, even the most inspired teachers can use a little refresh. Utilizing technology is the perfect way to get yourself to think of new methods to present the same ideas. Look for videos, online workbooks, infographics, anything that will help change things up. Create your own videos and photos for learning activities or have students create their own projects.

2. Allow students to explore topics on their own.

This is another wonderful thing about the power of the internet. It’s a world of information, ripe for people of all ages to explore. Fit some time into your curriculum for students to pursue their own interests. You can also give them directives according to lesson goals or topics and have them explore the online information in their own way. This adds a new dimension to their learning process and also gives them practice with academic internet use.

3. Look into district-funded gadgets.

One thing standing in the way of many teachers and the ability to incorporate technology into their class is lack of funding. Technology is a wonderful tool, but the cost of purchasing and up-keeping any tech investment is a serious investment. Teachers can’t afford to but these things on their own, and students cannot be expected to buy tech gadgets for school on a whim. Every teacher should, instead, become active within their school district to promote technology and vie for technology equipment for their classrooms.

4. Avoid too much tech play time.

While it’s important to allow students the time to get to know their technology devices and have some fun online, it’s good to make the distinction between work and play time. If students get too used to breaking out their iPads every time they want to take a break after an assignment or before class starts, they may be less likely to use technology productively during work time. Try to create a nice balance, but schedule in more time for “old-fashioned” play, such as games, outside time, arts and crafts, and other hands-on activities, rather than simply letting the students zone out electronically.

About the author

Lauren Bailey is a freelance blogger who loves writing about education, writing, and health. As an education writer, she works to provide helpful information on the best online colleges and courses. She welcomes comments and questions via email at blauren99@gmail.com.

Dealing with the physical aspects of the classroom: Part 2 – Is G045 a teaching paradise?

My favourite classroom out of all those I’m using at the moment is the functionally named G045. Please take a look at the video clips below (there are four and one should play immediately after the previous one finishes) and you’ll get a good idea why.

So, on first impressions it seems to offer me everything I could need to conduct any number of activities. It’s big, the furniture is movable and yet comfortable. There is a nice area for me to conduct my business, while there is also space for the students to get up and move around when necessary. The room is also fully kitted out to meet my technological needs and those of the learners.

So, how does this room measure up to the perfect classroom?

When I was thinking about putting this series of posts together (read my prologue post here and my first room discussion here), I did a bit of research to see what had been written about this phenomenon. One really good report that I did find was one by the University of Oregon, which looked attempted to define the perfect classroom based on instructor and student use. Their findings are fairly comprehensive (and available as a PDF download here) and detail everything that you might consider were you trying to create the perfect learning and teaching environment. I’ve picked some of their descriptors here to give you an idea of what their report looks like. Look at these and think about the room I showed you in the videos. Also, try to reflect on the rooms you have to use: this might help you identify problems in your classes that you couldn’t put your finger on before.

Room Size & Shape:

  • Avoid rooms with long, narrow proportions
  • Avoid rooms with low ceilings
  • Avoid rooms with no windows
  • Avoid rooms with columns or other obstructions

Ceiling Height & Shape:

  • Provide minimum ceiling height of 10′-12′
  • Avoid over-illuminating the ceiling or creating a shadow under the light fixture

Daylight & Views:

  • Control daylight and views with opaque shades
  • Provide motorized shades with simple control from the teaching area

Finishes:

  • Provide carpets
  • Provide colored walls
  • Avoid white walls unless used with accent color
  • Avoid hard, sterile surfaces and “timeless” color palettes
  • Plan for room upgrades every ten years or less to keep the room “fresh”

Acoustical Control:

  • Design the room so students can easily hear the instructor, but consider how students will hear each other as well
  • Provide low-pressure air systems when forced air is used
  • Provide sound-insulated walls
  • Provide amplification so the room’s performance is not dependent upon enhanced audio
  • Avoid movable walls
  • Avoid hard ceilings

Furniture & Adjustability:

  • Provide chairs that move easily, but are steady when in use
  • Chairs with sled-style supports are recommended
  • Position tables allow small groups to form around them, but be close enough to allow a “critical density” of students to create engaged lectures and discussions
  • Assume that tables will not be regularly moved but that lecture format courses will have to transform into small groups easily and vice versa – arrange table to allow both uses easliy
  • Avoid round tables unless lecture style presentations are unlikely to ever occur in the space
  • Avoid tablet arm desks
  • Avoid room layouts that assume a high level of user-directed changeability

Connectivity:

  • Provide robust wireless connectivity
  • Avoid unnecessary costs of added hard wire data ports in classrooms

Lighting:

  • Provide an easily controlled variety of lighting, including general lighting, perimeter accent lighting, and instructor area highlighting
  • Provide dimmable or stepped lighting
  • Provide override control for room occupancy sensor
  • Avoid suspended lighting

Controls:

  • Provide simple, intuitive controls that require no special knowledge to operate
  • Use simple switches where possible
  • Provide labeled switches
  • Place light controls near the primary teaching area
  • Limit the number of switches to about 3-6 switches

Student Arrangement & Area Requirements:

  • Provide 40% internal circulation area
  • Program space allocations based on the number of students, recommended instructor area and internal circulation based on observations

Electrical Supply for Student Use:

  • Provide perimeter plugs evenly distributed around the classroom to allow use for those who need power
  • Avoid column drop outlets
  • Avoid hardwired data connections for student use

Instructor Arrangement & Area Requirements:

  • Provide a generous teaching area (on average about 180 Square F)
  • Position podium to provide good visibility of both students and the screen
  • Assume that instructor will generally teach from one location regardless of teaching format
  • Plan instructor area to have direct connection to the door of the room allowing the instructor to arrive late or leave early if necessary

Technology & Media:

  • Provide a ceiling mounted projector
  • Provide instructor podium with connection for instructor laptop
  • Provide amplified speakers connected to the projector system
  • Provide instructor podium with:
    - desktop mounted power supply
    - easy access to lighting and daylight controls
    - access to writing surface
    - under-desk storage for backpack
    - stool stored under knee space (to allow standing presentations for most of the time)
  • Provide a large whiteboard near the instructor podium
  • Provide additional whiteboard around the room for small group break out and teaming activities
  • Provide a robust, high speed wireless system
  • Assume that all technology is temporary and will be replaced in less than 10 years
  • Assume that instructor will use personal laptop for media presentation
  • Use surface mounted or easily accessed wiring systems where possible

See, I told you it was a comprehensive list, didn’t I!

By now you can probably see why G045 is one of my favourite classes. I’m not sure, though whether I’d like to walk into any room with these descriptors as a checklist: I’m sure I’d come away from most feeling fairly despondent! Nevertheless, it is useful to look at these and consider the ways in which your teaching environment is most constricted, be it in terms of furniture, acoustics, or any of the other factors mentioned above.

How does G045 measure up?

I have only two gripes with this room…

Too darn big

Firstly, it’s too big for the size of the class I teach. I have on any given day fifteen students in this room and they do so enjoy sitting way at the back. This can mean me moving to them to get their attention, although I also then have to return to the teacher zone as and when I need to utilize the technology. The white board is also very distant when they choose to sit at the back.

Solution

I pointed out that the furniture is moveable, so, guess what? Never be afraid of giving the furniture layout a good makeover before a class starts. If you’re in a room that is blatantly too big for the number of people occupying it, group them together and group them fairly near you, otherwise the open space can be intimidating and even a bit creepy.

Lack of control over lighting

Secondly, the lighting is really clumsy and difficult to control. There are two light switches, one of which turns on the lights at the front and one the lights at the back.

Solution

As with the first point, group the students so as to try not to allow any of them to lurk in the gloom. Having them all operating in the same lighting conditions may seem like a small consideration, but, believe me; it can really affect the dynamic of the class if you don’t get them all in a well lit part of the room.

All in all, for a classroom that was built about twelve years ago, it has really stood the test of time in terms of how it is fitted out technologically. It is a bit gloomy when it’s dark outside, and the limited control over electric light in a big room like this is an issue. Nevertheless, you can really go for it in terms of varying activities and it is an extremely flexible environment.

What’s your take on all this?

So, what do you think about this room? How would you go about making the most of this environment? How does this compare to the rooms in which you teach? I’d love to hear your comments on this.

Dealing with the physical aspects of the classroom: Part 1 – The curious case of G062

How much does the physical environment of the classroom affect what we teach and how we teach?

Probably, I’d say, it has a bigger effect than it is given credit for. This is a shame really, when you think about how much attention is given to describing pedagogy and teaching techniques: rarely do you find such discussions taking into consideration the size and the shape of the classroom. I hope this series of posts, along with the prologue I put on the blog at the end of last month, helps to readdress the balance. I also hope that this is a theme that will be picked up by other teachers. With this in mind, I’m delighted to say that my comrade from across the pond, Tyson Seburn, has already critiqued his classrooms in the blog post ‘What classroom is perfect?’ He has also prepared a checklist of things he looks for in a classroom, which I hope he doesn’t mind me quoting here. His checklist reads as follows:

Tyson’s ten requirements of the perfect classroom

1. long, solid desks in a semi-circle facing the front, enough room for everyone to spread out their work
2. capacity for about double the number of students in the class
3. ample chalkboards (or whiteboards), preferably that shift to reveal more
4. an electronic console controlling the audio system and ceiling-mounted projector
5. reliable internet connection
6. concrete architectural features
7. good lighting, preferably not too bright
8. a big window with a view of the outdoors
9. dark hardwood elements (e.g. floors or desk)
10. close proximity to my office

I think that’s a very healthy list to get started on. To be honest, there isn’t anything there that I would disagree with, although I would prioritize some points over others. Nevertheless, I think that we always have to work with what we have. This was something I focused on in the introductory post of this series. Allow me to reiterate:

1. Making the room work for the activity: Bearing in mind what you want to do in class, you need to think about what adaptations you need to make to the room to best facilitate the outcomes you’re looking for.

2. Making the activity work for the room: If the room can’t be adapted, you need to think about what activities you can do within the constraints that the physical environment has placed on you.

Viewing the room in this way allows us to think of how we are going to utilize the room effectively, rather than assuming that we can make our plan first and assume that it will go OK regardless of the physical constraints.

Introducing G062

Ok, so let’s take a short break from all this theoretical stuff, so I can introduce you to the first of my rooms for this semester. This is the delightfully named G062 in the Faculty of management building. Please watch these short video clips and, while you’re doing so, think about what might and might not work in such a room. There are five clips, one should play automatically after the other.

Your homework for today is to think of one constraint this room would place on you in terms of planning, as well as one way you could use this room to your advantage. If you can’t be bothered, then, well, please just keep reading!

Strengths

It’s big (1): I can move around easily and distribute materials quickly and efficiently. The students have plenty of desk space, too.
It’s big (2): There are enough seats for all of my students.
There’s a huge board: If at any point I get better at planning board work, there’s huge potential in this room.
We hooked up technologically: The speakers and projector are in full working order and the projector screen is visible to all. Furthermore, there’s a phone in the teacher’s desk so I can call someone when there’s a problem.
It’s isolated: We can make noise and do some interesting stuff without worrying about disrupting other classes.
Room to roam: There’s plenty of room for students to get up and move around, even if the seats don’t follow.
There is a focus: That big board and projector screen are a focal point of attention and lessons tend to revolve around them.

Weaknesses

The seating is fixed: Although the chairs swivel, they are mounted on a metal bar which keeps the person pretty much focused on the front of the room.
There are no windows: As I mentioned in the previous post, lack of natural lighting is never a good thing.
We’re away from the main School of Languages building (1): Students like to mingle with other students on the same course during breaks, so the fact we’re some distance from these other classes can be 1) dispiriting to those who don’t want to walk to meet their friends, and 2) a pain when it comes to trying to start the class on time and your students are still in another building.
We’re away from the main School of Languages building (2): On days when I teach here I have to try and remember everything I’ll need for the day, such as laptop, power cable, speakers, pens, paper, all handouts, books, etc.

How have these factors influenced my classes?

  1. I have tended to do things which utilize the ‘front of room’ focus, such as PowerPoint presented activities, showing videos and focused board work. Such activities are particularly effective with Generation Yers, so it’s great to be able to utilize the environment in this way
  2. I have also used this room for ‘information delivery’, such as explaining exam criteria and the like. Again, the seating makes it hard for students to be able to avoid me. Although the layout is drastically different from what we saw of the ‘dance floor‘ in the previous post, it nevertheless delivers many of the same benefits.
  3. We have, on a couple of occasions, co-constructed paragraphs in G062, by which I mean we look at the subject we’ve been studying and either 1) I write up the paragraph on the board based on student suggestions, or 2) the students co-create the texts themselves. This activity is a real winner, as it involves all of the students in spite of their ostensibly static position in the room.
  4. This room has quite a somber and serious air to it (we’ve started making posters for the walls so as to cheer the place up a bit), which lends itself to administering end-of-unit quizzes. Although I have no control over the scheduling of course exams, I can work my schedule to make sure the ‘unaccredited’ quizzes can take place in this room. While this is never the greatest of things to do in any class, the pseudo-’battleship‘ layout of this room – compared to my other classrooms, at least – does lend itself to such work.

Would it surprise you?

We have done a good amount of group work in this room. There is a lot of space between each row, so students can stand up and gather around an area of one of the desks quite easily and comfortably.

What would you do?

You’ve seen the videos; you’ve read what I do, so… what would you do differently? How can I get the most out of this room?

 

Dealing with the physical aspects of the classroom: prologue

This looks suspiciously like the start of a blog series…

A few weeks ago I posted a very brief photo post about the classrooms I would be teaching in this semester. It struck me that this deserved some expansion, as the kind of challenges these rooms have posed to me are probably the same that many of you face when adapting the physical environment in which you teach to the aims you have when planning a language class.

Deciding how to plan activities is both incredibly easy and horribly difficult. We might have a good idea of how we want our classes to unfurl over the course of a series of lessons, but we perhaps don’t always give enough consideration to the physical size and shape of the classroom as we should. While we might recognize that the shape and size of our classrooms dictates how our classrooms are arranged, we also need to understand that these factors should influence our choice of activities.

Before we get down to the business of moving desks and chairs around, we need to have a clear vision of what the room will look like and whether this will facilitate the activities we want to use. This post will act as the prologue to a series that introduce the challenges and opportunities that different physical environments present us with. I hope you’ll follow me on this journey…

The feng shui of the language classroom

Every classroom has a particular energy and flow to it. This isn’t new age mumbo jumbo; it’s common sense. Even in a place such as my school, where a number of rooms all follow a certain design, I find that there are little quirks in the shape and layout which make each unique. The little differences can make or break an activity if you haven’t factored the room into your planning. Here are a few preliminary questions that you might like to ask yourself about any given classroom.

Do you have enough seats for everyone? That sounds too simple to even bother considering, doesn’t it? You’d be surprised.

How mobile is the furniture? If you want to rearrange the tables or get students to move their chairs, to what extent is this possible? Sometimes these are in a fixed position: when this happens it definitely affects what you can do.

Where is the board? I know there are those of you who think the some kind of teaching wizard if they can get through a lesson without writing anything on the board, but for us mere mortals the board, be it chalk, white or electronic in nature, is still of paramount importance. So, how often are you going to use it? If you have several points of focus in the room, students need to be able to see all of them without straining their necks constantly.

How mobile are you? I run around like a madman during some lessons and hate it when I don’t have room to do so. For some activities you need a central position for demonstrating what you want to do, or just for delivering instructions effectively. Where is that space in the classroom?

How would you distribute handouts? How can you get paper to all of the people in class at approximately the same time? Of course, it’s nice to give students the responsibility of helping in distribution, but sometimes you’ll want to get this over and done with quickly. Where are the channels of distribution that will enable you to do this?

Are there windows in the room? A lack of natural light can put your students into a very strange mood sometimes and has an amazing effect on whether certain activities work or not. A general rule of thumb is this: nothing works quite as well in a room with no windows. Conversely, a room with blinding sun is terrible should you have any need to use a projector.

To what extent will the students engage with one another? At this point I imagine that the Dogme ELT fraternity will be foaming at the mouth at the suggestion that there would ever be a class in which the students weren’t engaged in speaking. Nevertheless, there are indeed times when you want the students to either listen to you speaking or to give their attention to some other interlocutor. Naturally, if eye contact is needed, such as in a class debate or in practically every type of group activity, eye contact you should allow.

If you’ve answered these questions, you’re off to a good start (if, while reading this, other questions came to mind, please feel free to make suggestions in the comments section below). Depending on the answers, you can now approach how you are going to use your room to facilitate learning. You are now faced with a classic ‘either / or’ situation.

1. Making the room work for the activity: Bearing in mind what you want to do in class, you need to think about what adaptations you need to make to the room to best facilitate the outcomes you’re looking for.

2. Making the activity work for the room: If the room can’t be adapted, you need to think about what activities you can do within the constraints that the physical environment has placed on you.

How do you get the room to work for you?

I find myself in a variety of rooms at present. Each presents a different challenge in terms of the questions I laid out above, but each also presents opportunities to get the room to work in your favour. I’ve given considered thought about what I can and can’t do in each of these environments, and over the course of five posts I’ll be detailing how I go about the ‘art of teaching’ in each particular setting. During these posts, I’ll be using the following four classroom layout models as points of reference, so the remainder of this post will be a look at these different models and what activities they facilitate.

1) The dance floor

As the name suggests, the dance floor is a layout that places the focus on an area visible to all. This layout can promote lots of student interaction as all the seats point toward a central focus point. The large, open space in the middle of the room is traditionally in front of where a teacher’s desk might appear and is equally great for group activities and class discussions as it is for teacher talk.

On the downside, that big area might be regarded as a serious waste of space, particularly if you have a large class. Nevertheless, if you’re looking to get a group talking to each other this can be a winner, because students are able to hold eye contact without constantly having to swing around in their seats. However, this seating chart requires a room with a lot of space in it.

2) The catwalk

As I mentioned, I walk around a lot during my lessons, mainly in the hope that my movement will instill motivation in my students, but also so that I can maintain eye contact with each of them and not leave anyone out when it comes to asking questions. The catwalk is effective in preventing me from wandering aimlessly. While it narrows the area in which a teacher can easily move, it’s extremely effective in rooms that have boards on opposite ends of the room. Bear in mind, however, that because you are teaching down the center of the room, you may have the unnerving feeling of being surrounded.

If you’re planning on holding a class discussion or some kind of two-team game, such a layout is a practical way of arranging seating, as students will always face at least half the class. Success with this layout depends entirely on the number of rows you use: the fewer the better. To maximize class interaction, make the rows of students parallel to the center lane as long as possible.

3) The independent-nation-state

Who doesn’t love a bit of group work? If, like me, you see the benefit of cooperative learning, or even if you regularly split your class into teams for games, this layout is an essential. This eating plan instantly tells students that you want them to operate independently from the rest of the class. It’s important to bear in mind that students still need to be able to see the board easily without giving themselves an injury.

Using this too often will probably result in a fragmented classroom and a lack of dynamic among the class as a whole. If your room is permanently set up like this, you might even find that each group forms their own classroom culture and is unable to work with students in the other groups. This is an effective layout, but should not be a permanent one.

4) The Battleship

Like the game and, I suppose, the – bloody awful – film, the battleship layout is all about the element of surprise. Consider the picture a metaphor for the battleship, the spirit of which is just to mix things up from the everyday norm.

This layout can be effective when trying to foster creativity, or even the polar opposite; this works when you have to administer a classroom quiz. The battle ship will almost certainly be a single lesson one-off. If you change the seating too often you’ll drive your students nuts.

Putting this into practice

I teach in five very different classrooms this semester. What’s more, they are very spread out. Before classes started, I did a tour of my prospective rooms and it took me about fifteen minutes to visit each of them. I clocked up more than a kilometer in the process. One thing became instantly clear; I wasn’t going to be able to pop back to my office in between each lesson. Consequently, I was going to have to bring everything I needed with me. Things have been interesting over the past few weeks and I hope you’ll enjoy reading about how I’ve dealt with the physical constraints placed on my teaching. Please join me again over the next couple of weeks!

NOTE: I’m hosting the 31st ESL Blog Carnival on 1st November, so this series will get properly underway at the start of next month!

A new year begins: part 3

Hey, we’re on part three now, so no need for an introductory paragraph; let’s jump straight in…

In addition to working with my students on classroom research and developing my content knowledge with online courses, another area that I’ll be considering greatly over the coming academic year is the notion of Generation Y. For those of you not particularly familiar with this term, it relates to those people born roughly between the years 1982 and 2000. While initially this term was mostly applied to those born in Westernized nations, research is showing that, in terms of this generation, there are many commonalities with people in this age group across the entire globe, including Turkey. Given that the people I teach were born smack bang in the middle of this era, it makes a great deal of sense that I should look at what makes them tick.

Why Generation Y?

I must admit at this point that there is another reason for my interest: In December I will be one of the keynote speakers at Yıldız Technical University’s 1st international ELT symposium (a big thanks to Işıl Boy for inviting me), where I will be joined on the bill by such heavyweights as ‘the’ Stephen Krashen, Gary Motteram, Nicky Hockly, Chuck Sandy, Luke Meddings and Lindsay Clanfield. Anyway, that event is going to be the subject of a future blog post, so enough of that for now.

What focus will my Gen Y research take?

I’ve done a lot of reading around this already and, much to my surprise, a lot of what my teaching philosophy currently leads me to do is actually pretty much perfect for this generation. A great article by Professor Ronald A. Berk notes ten characteristics of Gen Y learners, all of which I can find reference to in my classes. While I am tied to the classroom and set teaching hours (I sometimes feel like I should be taking a masters degree in human resources to be able to deal with this), I plan this year more than ever to work with my students beyond the confines of the classroom walls and the hours I’m assigned to teach them.

How? Primarily, I’m going to be looking again at the lessons I’ve learned from the online educational environment. Here are three areas from the 10 listed by Professor Berk that seem appropriate for me to think about:

1. They are tech savvy

This generation is, if not ‘Tech Savvy’, then at least comfortable with technology to the point that they rely heavily on it in their daily lives. With this in mind, I plan to incorporate technology meaningfully into my class assignments, activities, and especially demonstrations; I’ll be using music, video clips, blogs, video games, wikis, and search engines that are interactive, animated and image-based. These are all elements I’ve encountered in my online learning and have found them engaging, so why not focus on using such resources with this generation?

2. They are interested in Multimedia

They’ve grown up not knowing a world without YouTube, so it makes sense to use music, video clips and video games, especially those that are student favorites. I see this as a great way of connecting them to each other as people, to you, and to the ‘actual’ course content. Students are used to engaging with a wide array of media, often simultaneously. With this in mind, I plan to expand on my practice of structuring class work using e-portfolios (another lesson I’ve learned from my online studies).

3. They are able to create their own Internet content

Web 2.0 is another thing that they’ve grown up with, and they know how to use it to create their own content. This year I’m going to provide my learners with opportunities to write their own blogs contribute to Websites, and wikis. Another thing I’d like to expand on is creating YouTube videos and podcasts with content appropriate to their course work. Again, this is something that has been expected of me on my online courses (perhaps there’s an online project management degree somewhere in my future), and I’ve enjoyed it greatly as a way of engaging with the content.

Basically, I hope to benefit from having put myself back in the position of the learner, albeit the position of a 21st century Gen Y learner. I’ll be looking to take the tips I’ve got from online study and apply them to my classes (I’m starting to sound like I’m taking an online masters degree in organizational leadership!). I think this is a theme I’ll be returning to on a frequent basis on the blog, so I hope you’ll come back and see how I’m doing!

A new year begins: part 1

Here we go again

So, a new academic year is upon me and I’m getting the same feeling I always get. Walking around the corridors of school over the last couple of days has been an interesting experience. Some people look excited, others look downtrodden. Most exhibit a kind of overriding aura of stepping into the unknown. I myself am knackered after a long, hard week getting curriculum documentation ready and then editing and revising it until I can’t remember what it originally looked like, while also trying to remember to disperse way too much information to my unsuspecting colleagues. To be honest, it’s going to be a relief to get back into the classroom.

I have a plan…

I have sixteen weeks scheduled with two classes of upper intermediate learners. Little do they know it yet, but they are going to play as important a part in keeping me going as I will in maintaining their motivation. They’re going to do this in a couple of ways.

Firstly, I’ve really reaped the benefits over the last couple of years of involving my learners in classroom research. Whereas in the past I might have asked students to respond to research questions and then written up and presented these to peers, I now keep my students informed about the research every step of the way. They enjoy this as; 1) it really shows them that you are interested in developing the way you teach, and 2) it really shows them that you are interested in them as learners and that you are exploring ways to better facilitate their learning. If you haven’t conducted classroom research thus far in your teaching, I highly recommend doing so for these reasons.

The second way they are going to help me is by allowing me to start applying what I’m learning from attending online courses of study to my classroom practices. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, this year I will return to the classroom, although as a virtual student in an online platform. In fact, I’ve already started and am now four weeks into my first course, which is an introduction to sustainability. The reason I chose this course, which on the face of it has little to do with language teaching, is because, again as mentioned in a previous post, I’m examining the TPaCK model as one of my professional goals for this year. In my teaching situation content is king and therefore knowing more about the kind of subjects I have to cover seems like a pretty good idea (I’m not sure I’m ready to tackle a master of finance online just yet, though). Indeed, I’ve already learned much that I think will help me when dealing with environmental issues in the classroom. Given that such issues are ones which are particularly appealing to Generation Y students – another area of research I’ll be reading writing about on the blog this year – I think I’m onto a winner, both in terms of personal learning and in being able to relate to my learners’ interests.

So, how has the online experience been so far, and how might I use this to benefit my students?

Here are a few aspects I’ve enjoyed:

1) I can study when I want

I’ve been doing my reading and lecture viewing during my commutes to and from work. This has meant that I haven’t had to really rearrange my schedule to accommodate my learning.

As far as my classes are concerned, I don’t really see how I can avoid the set classroom hours. We’re not ready to go for flexible learning schedules yet!

2) The course materials are available in a variety of formats

I can download everything I need from the internet and in formats that can be used on many devices, including my recently purchased iPad.

This is something I’m a big fan of. I deal with hard copies of materials in class, but I’m also diligent in making stuff available in electronic formats for downloading and later referral.

3) The material is highly visual

While I’m doing a fair amount of reading, I also get to work with a lot of graphs and information presented in other graphic formats.

My students respond less well to long texts, so it’s nice to see that contemporary courses are starting to deal with less lengthy texts and are able to conceive of different ways of presenting information. This is definitely something I’ll be looking at over the course of this academic year.

All in all, I’m learning some very important lessons from online study. I recommend trying it, especially as there are now many free courses available, as well as formal qualifications such as an ms information technology online, for example. I’ll be commenting on this again soon, so please come back for more!

Those other 'most important' trends in ELT

Here are your thoughts on my previous post, in which I gave opinions about the factors that will help shape our profession in the coming years. Thanks for the great comments and suggestions. Please feel free to join in the conversation!

Thanks in particular to Sue Lyon Jones, Tyson Seburn, Tamas Lorincz, Mike Harrison and Gavin Dudeney (sorry to Gavin for not including his comments in the video, as I’d just finished putting it together when he commented on the post). I’ve tried to put your thoughts together in the form of this infographic…

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