Archive for the ‘Methodology’ Category

After another lengthy hiatus  due to the summer term, cricket and laziness during the summer holidays, I’m getting back to blogging again. I have been fairly busy with work projects to be honest, as I’ve been occupied with populating my school’s Spanish department VLE. It is a source of pride and motivation to me that this should be a leader in the school, and the aims of it are as follows:

– to provide resources for independent study for pupils and suggestions for further study.

– to collate resources for the benefit of teachers

– to provide a framework for study for the department

– to enable the improvement of IT skills for pupils

As such, I am making use of many of the Web tools and Apps that I have blogged about (and will blog about in the future, hopefully!) and one of the web tools I am using a lot is Annotary. Annotary is a effectively a resource collection site, in which you can create ‘Collections’ for websites. This can be done on various other sites, but what I most like about Annotary is that you can download a tool for your internet browser’s toolbar that allows you to annotate texts that you have collected. This gives a lot of nice possibilities such as highlighting important vocabulary, key phrases, important parts or facts of the text, or to add questions to check understanding of the article. Pupils could also use it as a way of collating their resources towards project work (for instance IB extended essays, 6th form coursework or oral exams, other investigation work) and make notes as they go on. It is also possible to collaborate on projects, and to invite other users to these collections.

Here is a video made by Annotary to explain their product briefly.

Registering for Annotary is free. First go to the website http://annotary.com and you will see the screen below.

Annotary

 

Click on the ‘Sign up for Free’ button’ and fill in the relevant details. You can sign up with Facebook, though as a teacher, I do not use this option. As with most of these tools, I use a fairly formal username, though for Annotary I have created a Spanish Department account that all the teachers can use. The weekly newsletter comes to my email address, but the username is that of the departments. (Obviously, each member of the department has access to the password and usernam so they can add and annotate resources)

Having signed up you will need to download the toolbar app that eventually you can use most easily to add websites to your collections, though this can also be done without the tool, slightly less quickly, but still with few difficulties. You will then begin the process of creating collections and finding websites or articles to include in them. To create a collection, simply click ‘Create Collection’; then give the collection a title and if you want a short description of what the content will be, and then decide if you want to make it public or private. If you make it public then anyone can see it, if private then only people you can invite can see it, and the collection will not appear in the search function either.

Alongside my hard working Colombian speaking assistant, we have created folders for each topic within the AS and A2 syllabus (as well as the IB topics and subtopics), and our idea is to collate useful texts within each of these. These Annotary collections are linked to prominently on the relevant page on our department VLE, and hopefully they can be used by teachers and pupils alike. Teachers can quickly find a text they like, and pupils can read around the subjects and also use the texts for their preparation for their speaking lessons.

To add a webpage to a collection, find a useful page, and if you have not downloaded the toolbar app, then copy the URL address, go back to your Annotary page, click the green ‘Add Bookmark’ button, paste the URL into the relevant section, and then choose the folder to add the bookmark to. Finally click Add Bookmark again, and it will be in the folder. Alternatively, if you have downloaded the toolbar app, you will see a yellow ‘a’ in the toolbar, click on this and you will see a mini drop down menu of chain icon, a pen icon, an envelope icon, two little people icon and a home icon. To save the link click the chain button. The title will be there already but you can change it, add a note if you wish to, perhaps to be specific about what the text is about, and then choose the collection to add it to. It is worth noting that a new innovation enables you to use # hashtags and @ mentions for twitter.

You have to have saved a text before you can annotate it. To then annotate a saved text, click on the pen icon. Then highlight the area of the text you want to make notes on and a little sticky note will appear for you to type into. As mentioned earlier, various uses of this function suggest themselves such as :

– highlighting key vocabulary, such as topic words, useful phrases

– highlighting use of grammar, such as tenses (even proposing questions)

– asking questions to elicit understanding of the text

– suggest synonyms for words

– summarising key points

– highlighting most important info from the text.

When you are finished, click on the save button again. To share the text, click the envelope to send to pupils for instance or colleagues.

I hope this tool will be very useful this year with my students, and I intend to use it a great deal with my 6th form students in particular. I am very keen for them to read and listen to as much as they can to back up what is covered in class, and to facilitate that process.

Here are some other links about Annotary that may interest you.

http://howto.cnet.com/8301-11310_39-57575179-285/use-annotary-for-efficient-online-research/

http://web.appstorm.net/reviews/project-management/highlight-bookmark-and-share-web-pages-with-annotary/ 

http://lifehacker.com/5993001/annotary-marks-up-web-pages-and-saves-them-for-later-research

 

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Mentormob is a nice site which enables you to create playlists for your pupils. With it, you can set up a playlist composed of internet links, uploaded files, multiple choice or true/false quizzes and written articles that will guide your pupils along towards some piece of work. I discovered this a year ago I think, and I can’t remember who from, and filed it away into the ‘must explore fully another day’ category. I remembered it when having a meeting with some pupils for whom I am supervising their IB Extended Essay, and when I was promising to set them up with various links to help them begin their study, and Mentormob seemed to be a great option to help them get started.

Mentormob homepage

The URL is http://www.mentormob.com and you will see the homepage as above. To join, click ‘Sign up’ in the top right hand corner and fill in your various details. You can link your Facebook or Google accounts to it, but if you have a Facebook account, I would be tempted to keep it ‘away’ from school pupils and set up an ‘independent’ account. Once you have signed up, you will be directed to your dashboard, from where you can browse previously created playlists, create your own, and eventually see and edit playlists that you have already created. It will look something like this below:

Mentormob dashboard

When you are ready to start, click ‘Create’ at the top of the screen, and the follow screen will be viewed:

Mentormob create new

 

Give your playlist a name, write a short description, decide on Recreational or Academic, choose a category and then add tags to help it be searchable should you want it to be. Crucially, are the privacy settings on the right hand side. For school purposes, unless you are going to subscribe to the Mentormob University option (there are various price plans for this), it is probably worth clicking the ‘Unlisted’ option for privacy so only those you send the link to can view your playlist and then click the option that only you can edit your playlist, so that it can’t be changed. Then click ‘Save and Add Content’.

Here is a short 5 minute Jing video showing this starting process.

Mentormob demo

The process is very simple. Click the + button to add content, choose from the 4 options, either a link to an internet site, upload a file of a variety of types, write an assignment or create a pop quiz, involving true or false or multiple choice activities. Challenges can be created for various steps to ensure that pupils are thinking about what they are seeing.

Once you have created your playlist, click ‘Done Editing’ and that will save your playlist as it is. You can go back to it from your home page to edit, add and remove content at a later date. To do this, once you have clicked on the playlist, click on the pencil icon on the top green bar.

In order to share your playlist with your pupils, you simply copy the URL of your playlist and email it to your pupils. Your pupils will be able to do any pop quizzes that you have set from them, and click the arrows at the top of the page to go from stage to stage of the playlist.

There are plenty of ways that Mentormob can be used. Here are some quick ideas:

1) Coursework preparation: you can set mini tests on crucial elements such as verb endings, spellings, common mistakes, upload specific word documents that pupils could refer to, upload powerpoints and tagxedo / wordle clouds of useful vocabulary, perhaps podcasts or videos, and maybe use the assignments section to show sample courseworks.

2) Create a research list for projects such as Extended Essays, courseworks and projects, that start pupils off for their bibliography.

3) Create a practice pathway for the progression of a topic, grammar point or unit, involving different skills.

4) Get pupils to create playlists for each other on certain topics

5) Use it as a presentation tool

6) Pupils could create their own revision playlists under your supervision, bringing together key resources for holiday work or independent learning

Here are a few other links to help you get to grips with Mentormob

http://www.mentormob.com/learn/i/how-to-use-mentormob/what-is-mentormob-7

http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLB8A7824F8240814B – a series of 4 videos on Mentormob by the wonderful Emilia Carrillo, who deals with Browsing and creating

http://growingbrainstemporarysite.wordpress.com/2013/01/20/resource-for-teachers-and-parents-mentormob-allows-sharing-content-playlists-edchat-teachingresources/

iPad users: Be aware that currently (this is March 2013), you can’t create Mentormob presentations on your iPad or do pop quizzes, but having spoken to some of the guys behind Mentormob, this is on their roadmap as they develop the tool. Who knows, maybe an iPad app is also in their plans.

All in all, I really like Mentormob as a way of helping to organise your pupils for projects with a defined outcome, helping to structure their process and bringing together resources that they can respond to constructively. It is something I will be using a great deal with my Spanish IB extended essays and written assignments, and probably interactive orals as well. I’ll also be using it with the A level speaking exams as pupils prepare their presentation topics and discussion answers, and also towards coursework. I hope you find it useful as well.

Leading up to the Easter holidays, with the dark shadow of exams looming over the horizon, one thing I wanted was to be able to monitor was what (if anything) my pupils were doing in terms of revision. I wanted proof that regular work was being done, evidence of exercises done, progress being made and skills being practised. It is true to say that I am something of an obsessive perhaps on this front, though maybe it is just because since I feel I put my fair share of time in to help pupils prepare for exams with extra lessons, loads of mock orals and time spent preparing targetted work and revision sheets, I expect to see that dedication being mirrored to some extent. Do I bother coming into school on a Sunday like I did today for everyone if they aren’t doing what I expect?! (for the 2 pupils today absolutely given how hard they have worked). This need to be able to see what is done in addition to officially set work obviously helps with reports and assessment grades, and can also show parents either how much, or how little their offspring are doing.

I recommend a number of websites to all my pupils – all of them are linked to from our department VLE website. Some of the best of them in my opinion are Languages Online, Español Extra (needs subscribing to), Asi Se Hace, and Oye (see Zut and Gut for French and German respectively) which allow pupils to do exercises and check their own answers. In the IB Spanish B website that I am involved with, Exclusiva (which will soon go live when some subscription issues have been sorted out!)  this will also be a feature, pupils being able to get instant feedback from their exercises. The only problem is that teachers can’t see which exercises their pupils have completed or seen their results. The Authentik Interactive site does have this feature – at least you can see when your pupils have logged on though they seem to have had some problems with the facility that allowed you to see their marks as well. Authentik is an excellent site, though on the pricey side, and they do need to sort out their word translation problems and the ongoing assessment problems for it to be worth the money for the subscription.

This is where two of my favourite sites have an advantage. Edmodo is great for this particularly. Though you have to create your own quizzes and so on, it does allow you to see easily who is doing what. All you have to do is to create the quiz and ensure that the marks go into your gradebook for that group. It gives you quick and easy feedback on how pupils are doing and how often they do tests. I look forward to showing any parents saying their pupils are working hard the evidence of how many tests they did during the Easter holidays. Strangely there is an obvious coefficient between those doing best and how  many tests they have done and those who are struggling to some extent! There is little hiding place to defend anyone’s lack of effort, particularly if you have got everyone to subscribe to the relevant group in a lesson and you know that internet facilities are working! I have also said that pupils will find it difficult to get a ‘1’ effort grade in their orders if I don’t have evidence of extra work, something stipulated in our reports criteria.

Voxopop also allows you to see if pupils are doing anything or not. Here there are a few more excuses for not participating. Some school computers may not have microphones but if you have assured yourself that it does work across the school and / or pupils’ own PCs and laptops, and obviously showed your class how it works, then you have a better chance of everyone being able to use it correctly. Again, I would stress the need to use a few minutes of a lab lesson to subscribe your class to Voxopop and to show them how it works, ideally getting them all to make their first recording too. From then on you can see if they are using the tool or not, although with Voxopop you may need to remind pupils or inform them of new topic discussions as alerts are not sent to emails, unlike with Edmodo.

Blogs are also an easy way of monitoring extra work, this time for writing skills. I intend to start blogs with several exam sets in my new school in September and asking them to produce a regular blog entry, either on a topic of their choice, or about things covered in class. There are various blog options out there, obviously WordPress, Blogger and so on, and it may depend on whether your school has a preference too. Ideally, I would like my future sets to have the facility to embed videos, images, cartoons, animations and recordings onto their blog, and so I might employ Blogger, though I do need to look into this more. (Any advice welcome!) I know that colleagues in the drama and history departments at my current school have asked their IB and 6th form pupils to produce blogs, challenging them to do the extra work expected, and again permitting teachers and parents to monitor continuous progress and revision outside the classroom. My colleagues have also told me that it has led to pupils almost being forced by the efforts of others to put the same amount of effort in, or risk being shown up! There is also a pleasing aspect of trying to outdo each other in what they are writing as they check each others’ blogs.

The obvious downside to this is that you need to be prepared to spend the time checking what your pupils are doing. Some teachers see the marking and planning as the extra work they are expected to do, and may not like the extra extra checking that Edmodo, Voxopop and reading blogs would entail. Personally, this is time I am prepared to invest in order to help my pupils to progress and that support and input can really help improvements. It also puts the ball in the pupils’ court and shows those who struggle to see how to practise their language skills how they can be more independent learners. Pupils need to take these opportunities and the responsibility for their own education and not leave it all down to us!

Today I thought I would do something slightly different; rather than introducing a new program or web 2.0 tool that could be employed in your lessons, I though I would deal with how you go about training or teaching pupils how to use them.

There are lots of time pressures on teachers at all the various Key Stages and the use of some of the tools I have blogged about previously could be seen by some as a luxury lesson. For example, it is all well and good to do a writing task by using a comic creator such as Chogger, Strip Generator or Toondoo (yet to be blogged about, it will happen!) but is this really the best way of getting pupils to write? Do pupils become obsessed about the layout of the cartoon and forget about the linguistic importance of the task they are charged with carrying out? Does humour take over from intellectual and educational relevance? Is it time effective or could pupils produce more work in the time available just by writing in their books in the traditional manner? What happens if things go wrong with the programme or website? What happens if pupils don’t like using computers or find it hard to work out how to use the tool effectively?

My first point is that by using cartoon generating tools you will stimulate interest in the task, and it is likely that pupils will make more of an effort to produce an entertaining and well made piece. The same is not necessarily true of yet another piece of written work in their exercise book, which doesn’t really spark much interest and can be trotted off in a rush. Any language production is worthwhile immediately, and the finished cartoons will almsot certainly be shown off to others in the class and be read by others. This hardly ever happens with exercise book work. A sense of competition, and the desire to outdo others could grow, and as long as you, the teacher, controls this competitive instinct and directs it towards target language production then better work will be elicited. It may be a luxury lesson, but it will in my opinion be productive and something that will enthuse and motivate your pupils. It doens’t have to be done every week, maybe once a term will suffice, and who knows, pupils may be inspired to do others independently.

The difficulty is perhaps teaching pupils how to use the tools without losing much time of the lesson and this is a key factor to debate. First of all, you have to be very confident in using the tool or application. You  have to anticipate what problems could arise, work out how you want everything to work and see what every button does before using it in a lesson, as the last thing you want is for some unsolvable disaster to occur which leaves you looking stupid as you try and work out why you can’t type into a speechbubble, or why something hasn’t saved. One method is to do a presentation demo infront of the class beforehand and restrict the features of the tool that they use. Another is to walk a class through their task step by step, giving a set time limit per stage of the task you are completing. Some kind of handout is probably necessary as well with a basic guideline for using a tool. This is something I will be doing during the summer holidays in fact.

There are various other options as well. Perhaps you could liaise with the IT department and see if they will teach some of the tools in their class. After school or lunchtime hobbies time will also be useful projects, though the downside is that not all pupils will become involved and some could get left behind. There is the chance that interest will spread if pupils enjoy the creative process. If finished projects such as animations, cartoons and videos can be embedded on well published and regularly viewable blogs or department webpages, others may be curious and encouraged to join in. Certainly using these tools in my opinion is an excellent way of  promoting TL use in language clubs for instance, where time pressures are not as restrictive.

In all situations, the most important thing to do is to do the preparation work first. Know WHY you are using the tool and WHAT you want the finished outcome to be. Know HOW it works and have the appropriate support ready fo the pupils. It helps a great deal to have the target language material prepared fully prior to using the tools you are going to use in the lesson, or requiring them to use in their homework.

So far I have had fair success with implementing certin tools. Edmodo has gone down a storm, but then it is very easy to use given its facebook like style and interface. Voki has also worked very well, and my chogger lesson was pretty successful, barring slow running internet issues which slowed the process down and led to rather rushed finished projects.

I am already thinking of how I will introduce the tools I use in my next school. This clean start seems an ideal time to begin properly. I think it will be very important to be organised before this, deciding which things to start with and not overloading pupils with too many things right away. I do intend to ask pupils to subscribe to certain sites immediately, certainly Edmodo and Voxopop to start with. I also would like to get every pupil going with their own blog page, and teach them how to embed their own videos, cartoons and so on as a lasting ‘folder’ of their efforts over the year. I just hope the computer systems at my new school will be reliable!