Monday, May 2, 2011

Using Podcasts in the Classroom

In light of recent political events - the death of Osama Bin Laden, the upcoming election year, the budget crisis- I've been thinking quite a bit about how difficult it must be for ELL's to filter through the news in the United States.  Surely, we know that every country has a diverse belief system, and much of our own knowledge and experiences with political systems can be transferred between languages and cultures, but the particular registry involved in political-speak must seem overwhelming for students trying to stay in touch with current political issues.

Take Seth Meyer's  recent remarks at the White House Correspondent's Dinner, for example.  Surely, this example is a combination of humor and political registry, but listen from the perspective of an ELL and you'll quickly realize how his comments sound like they come from an entirely new language in itself.

Knowing about how to listen to the news, and more importantly, how to identify viewpoints within our cultural-political context, will not only help students become more involved in their national community, but will also empower them with the ability to understand and enjoy a wide range of cultural references and intellectual discourse on the state of politics in the US.

That's why I'd love to use this podcast about Liberal and Conservative news from ESL Pod in my classroom.  As a collection, their podcasts are great because they take into account the annunciation and rate of speech ESL students can understand, documenting how much slow and fast dialogue the podcast includes.  I could have my students listen to the podcast, take notes, and then apply their knowledge by interpreting an actual news report as either liberal or conservative and presenting the report (a youtube video clip or otherwise) to the class with their explanation.  This would be a great way to integrate some content vocabulary into the classroom, promote critical thinking, and help students gain knowledge of some of the media sources they have available to them to stay informed.

Monday, April 25, 2011

TED Video Reaction

After watching Ethan Zuckerman's TED talk entitled "Listening to Global Voices," I realized that like in so many supposedly 'groundbreaking' arenas, social norms still define the way we behave.  Considering other social groups that form out of new modes of expression (art, literature, news, television), it's not difficult to spot the motifs of racism, sexism, ethnocentrism, etc. that pervade them.  Mr. Zuckerman makes an important point: the internet is no different.

From a personal perspective, he's absolutely right.  One thing that came to my mind was my behavior on Facebook.  Until I met some Korean and Chinese students in my classes at UB, I'd never added anyone from the continent of Asia to my friends list, despite the fact that I easily could have in the past.  I didn't have the slightest idea what their cities looked like, political issues in their country;  all that information was  something I could have easily found on the internet.  But I never did.

Maybe this speaks to the fact that until something touches us personally--until it actually affects our immediate reality--we often lack not just the motivation, but the interest to seek out information on our own.  Our attitudes toward our ability to influence change might also contribute to our lack of global communication over the internet.  Many people (on my bad days, myself included) feel resigned to the fact that in a world dominated by a few wealthy corporations, our voices (and, by association, our knowledge) have little power to motivate any substantial social change.

Sunday, April 24, 2011


After doing some exploring on the ePals website, I noticed a few extremely useful features that I'd love to incorporate into my classroom.

Feature #1:  Collaborate > Search by Country.

Imagine your class is learning about Africa and it's history of colonization along the coast.  Imagine that students in your class could contact other students from coastal African countries to discuss how this colonization has impacted their lives or their environment.  You'd have to admit:  This is so cool.  You can do exactly that with ePals' "Collaborate" feature, which allows you to select a country anywhere in the world and contact classrooms from that country so that your students can become 'ePals' (electronic pen pals).  Why spend so much time trying to tell students about what life is like in other parts of the world when they could be sharing real, relevant stories while practicing writing with other students from other countries?  It takes authenticity of learning to an entirely new level.

Feature #2:  Teachers > Community Media > See Teacher Work > Teacher Spotlight Projects

When you search for lesson plans online, there's always an abundance of results, and some are more useful than others.  At ePals, their Teacher Spotlight Projects take inspiration in a new direction.  What I love about this feature is that the projects are meant to be collaborative across the global community- it's not just something you print from the internet and try to mix some diversity into.  Instead, the teacher projects actually have students collaborating in different classrooms around the world.  For example, and Alien Adventure project has students from different countries each creating a 'part' of the alien, and writing part of his story (the alien travelling around the world to different countries is a premise of the story).  What a rich experience for students, and what a way to see how different cultures interact with the same assignment!

Monday, April 11, 2011


Tonight I created this great little book about plants in just a few minutes using Bookr, a website that allows you to create books using beautiful flickr photos and your own added text.

In another class I'm in right now, we're designing a unit plan for teaching content ESL through science units, and I thought that Bookr would be a great opportunity to create a resource that drew upon that unit.  We've been discussing how valuable second language learning through content areas can be: students learn academic vocabulary and registers in a context-embedded setting while reinforcing content learned in other classes.

Photography is one of the most compelling mediums for displaying the beauty of the natural world, and Flickr provides us with essentially limitless quantities of just that.  With Bookr, I could have students looking at incredibly colorful, beautiful photos that can help them appreciate the significance of what they're learning.  That's why I chose to add some text about humans' responsibility to take care of and protect plant life; students can connect these photos with the idea and draw some meaning from it.

A more ambitious application of this program would be its use in a science project.  We could have, say, a 'class plant' that we shoot photos of in its different stages of life, and create a Bookr to catalogue the life cycle of a plant.  I could have students shoot photos of the various steps of a science experiment, and make a Bookr that has each step of the experiment listed under each photo.  Students could then share their experiments with the class.

Creative Commons Licenses

A creative commons license allows creators to copyright their work while allowing others to use, edit, and distribute it at the same time, given that they are properly credited.

There are 6 types of creative commons licenses:

1.  CC-BY
Allows commercial and non-commerical distrubution and editing/tweaking so long as it is credited.
2.  CC-BY-SA
Allows commercial editing/addition to your work so long as editors license their new creations under identical terms.
3.  CC-BY-ND
Allows commercial and non-commercial distribution so long as the work remains complete, unchanged and is credited.
4.  CC-BY-NC
Allows non-commercial editing/addition to the work so long as it is credited.
Allows non-commercial editing/addition to the work so long as it is credited and licensed under identical terms.
Allows others to only download work (no editing whatsoever) and share with others so long as it is credited.

Friday, March 11, 2011


Twitter is an interesting extension of some of my previous discussions of how social networking can be used in the classroom and for professional development.  On the surface, it's got a lot of the same features as other social networking sites: you can connect with people from all over the world, share thoughts and ideas, develop an online identity, learn how to evaluate source validity, and have fun.

However, as Silvia Tolisano points out in her blog post What About That Twitter Thing?, many schoolteachers and administrators don't recognize the value of Twitter quite as easily as I do.  She does a great job of summarizing some of the most common anxieties: people found it overwhelming, irrelevant, or asked, "Who has time for that?"  She makes two important points defending Twitter:

  • You can customize it.  You don't have to view thousands' of people's thought in a huge, never-ending list if you don't want to.  You don't have to know how delicious Susie from Nebraka's dinner was.  You can carefully select what you see based on your own interests and goals for using Twitter.
  • You don't have to 'dive-in.'  Becoming part of the Twitter community can be more passive than one would think: you can just read tweets without responding at all.  You're not expected to become a Twitter maniac (or, at least, not overnight).
Many of these common concerns are likely part of a larger experience with other social networking sites.  Twitter truly is different in my eyes, and serves some of our needs a little better than other social networking opportunities.  Darcy Moore's Twitter Love Song points out the fact that "The network is always with you" with Twitter.  It's true, you can access twitter anywhere: your phone, your computer, your iPod.  Now, that's also true with other social networking sites such as Facebook, but I'd argue that twitter's format- it's rolling 'ticker' of short messages (140 characters or less)- is best designed for on-the-go access.  There are no distractions- just a list of information.  What's more is that if you're on Facebook, you're probably 'friends' with any number of people- family, coworkers, friends, etc- whose "newsfeed" posts (by no fault of their own, mind you) provide you with useless and uninteresting information.  "Dave commented on Shirley's photo."  Twitter is an opportunity for you to select what types of information will be there when you open it up on any given device.  If I want information that's coming from educators about relevant issues in education, I can tailor it this way.  I can even follow the US Department of Education and keep updated on what's going on in education policy.

One thing I noticed in Darcy's Twitter Love Song is the amount of people who mentioned turning to Twitter for help.  You don't hear that everyday about social networking.  I myself had never thought of it this way.  People mentioned that Twitter allowed them to get almost instantaneous responses to their questions, and also that it helped them find answers to their questions without having to look very far at all.  What's lovely about this is that Twitter gives searching for answers via technology a more human side.  We all know that many 'answers' are really just information from a single source.  With Twitter, we can receive many answers from many sources, and watch a conversation about those answers unfold before us.  It's an opportunity to develop a nuanced understanding of many sides of an issue- provided that you're following a variety of interested and diverse people.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Leading and Sharing

I read a blog post on leading and sharing among teachers on the Thumann Resources blog tonight, and found it interesting because it points to how teachers should take advantage of their colleague's knowledge and skills and share experiences about 'what works' in the classroom.

I thought it related strongly to what we've been discussing in class, especially with respect to how sharing experiences through education blogs can be a great source for personal development.  It also reminds us that as teachers, we're leaders in a variety of ways: we lead our students, but we also lead our own and our coworkers' professional and personal development.