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.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Networking as Teacher Education

I can't express it more: teacher collaboration is an absolute must in education in general, and in the ESL world especially.  It's a field that's constantly adapting because of changes in population, politics, philosophy, and science.  It's also an area where ethics, cultural sensitivity, and larger systems of oppression play a large role.  Without a place to discuss and cope with these rapid changes and myriad challenges, EFL/bilingual teachers can't improve. It's curious, too: we spend so much time studying the value of collaboration and feedback for our students, yet forget sometimes to practice it ourselves.  Why?  Maybe we don't want to bug our coworkers while they're eating lunch.  Maybe we get tired of hearing ourselves talk all day as it is.  Maybe we're afraid of making someone angry, or being rejected.

The ESL Classroom 2.0 group is a great place to engage in collaboration without being hindered by these common social factors.  It's a great resource for me to find materials I can use in my classroom, too: games, reading materials, smartboard exercises.  Beyond that, it gives me some flexibility in seeking out others' opinions and advice:  I can read blogs that discuss important classroom issues, comment on those, or even start my own discussion in the Forums section.  Essentially, I can be as active or passive as I like, and still get great tips, points for reflection, and diverse opinions on teaching emergent bilingual students.

A learner is like a computer: they both have imaginary pipes.

Working in retail computer sales has had a profound impact on the way I conceptualize technology.  When customers ask me to what variables to consider when examining processor speeds, for example, I tell them that there's three things you can consider:

1.  Number of cores in the processor:  How many pipes are there?  (How many channels can information pass through?)
2.  Base model, i3, i5, or i7:  How big are the pipes? (How much information can they hold?)  
3.  Ghz (gigahertz): How fast can those pipes push information to you?

It's not necessarily accurate, in that it's a gross oversimplification of what actually goes on inside of a computer.  It is, however, a nice way to give someone who doesn't know what wireless internet is an idea of what these miraculous machines can do.

While reading George Siemens' article on connectivism, a learning theory that reorients how we view learning in light of recent developments in technology and information sharing, I was reminded of my commonly used metaphor.  Commenting on how learning can be newly conceptualized, Siemens writes, "the pipe is more important than the content within the pipe," i.e., our ability to detect patterns across unrelated concepts, find out how to retrieve new information, and determine which information is valid, is more important than our ability to retain the information itself. The same is true for a computer:  it doesn't matter what it's actually processing; miles of code means nothing until it's been organized and translated into a legible product or tangible action.  It's the same way with information and learners- having a large store of knowledge is pointless when a learner doesn't know what to do with it.  What's so beautiful about this metaphor is it's implication of movement:  in both computers and humans, information is not a pool that accumulates, but rather something that is constantly passing through us.  We're exposed to an enormous amount of information every day, but we retain a small amount of it.  Computers use temporary files, caches, streaming; they retrieve and present information and 'forget' it just as quickly.

What, then, does this mean for instructors of these newly conceived learners? In a video explaining his thoughts on instruction and human nature, Siemens explains that "Our challenge then, as educators, is finding a way to value and to foster that human need that we have to be express about our ideas, and to focus less on trying to bring knowledge into the mind of a person, and more on developing the skills of our learners."  We need to help build good pipes; instruction should be geared toward not the accumulation and/or retention of pieces of information, but evaluation, manipulation, and creation of information.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Video Reaction Post

Though it might be a little bit corny, this video makes an important point: many teachers don't know how to use technology to engage their students.

I'll admit, the admonitions put forth this video are no surprise to me.  One reason our schools are failing our students is that they do not provide them with enough resources for organization, showcasing their work, or critical reflection; technology provides a number of resources that, when applied correctly, can facilitate those important elements of an enriching education.  What was most interesting was the highest rated comments some other users have posted.  I'd like to respond to those, in addition to this video.

  • This concerned parent has a great point:  Technology can often seem isolating.  As a user of Facebook, I often notice the superficiality of conversation and social pressures online communities can cause.  There's a body of literature supporting this point, most notably MIT professor Sherry Turkle's book Alone Together.  There's certainly no question about the value of human interaction between students, their parents, their teachers, and their peers.  
  • However, I don't believe this video is suggesting that technology should be used as a replacement for anything, but rather as an additional resource.  We should not forget that there are students whose parents do not have the ability or time to spend with them reviewing homework assignments or important concepts.  Many students are unable to spend additional time at school with their teachers because they need to be at home, working, helping out around the house, or taking care of other family members.  Technology gives students a way to connect to and reflect on academic material outside of the classroom, and it is a teacher's responsibility to give his/her student as many ways to connect with the class material as possible. This, of course, includes blogs, videos, podcasts, and other sources that provide an interactive, engaging experience beyond their textbook.

  • This comment's author seems to be suggesting two things: 1. Students and teachers need to be reminded that their gifts arise from themselves, not technology, and 2. The experience of using a computer is somehow less 'organic' than taking the time to use pencil and paper.  
  • I'd like to address the second point first.  This video points out that the use of technology is a skill that is extremely 'natural' for our nation's youth.  For myself and other students in the twenty-first century, typing something is less time-consuming and easier than writing with a pencil.  It's a tall order to suggest that using typing as a method of thought-to-word-making does not allow room for "deep personal reflection." One of the students in the video asserts: "I blog," referencing a tool used for deep reflection.  Furthermore, typing allows me to edit my text as I write.  On a piece of paper, I'm much less likely to consider re-wording or re-ordering my sentences because of the format's physical limitations.  By typing I can carefully construct my thoughts on 'the page' (web-based or otherwise), and I have more room to do so.  I stop writing when I feel it is useful to stop, not when I reach the bottom of the page.  Also, let's not forget that the pencil-and-paper method was, at one time, created as a technologically advanced, more efficient, edit-friendly tool for writing.  Do inkwell pens on parchment leave more room for personal reflection than pencil and paper?  Both methods allow room for physical interaction with text and for deep reflection. The purpose of the video, it seems to me, is to emphasize that few have 'forgotten' the utility of pencil and paper, but many have disregarded the utility of computers.
  • To address the author's first concern, I think the video makes it clear that technology is nothing without human creation, and therefore is a lovely way to emphasize human achievement along with technological achievement (which is simply another form of human achievement in engineering and design).  I'd argue that while it's physically powered by electricity, content on the web celebrates humanity and human's ability to create incredible works of literature, digital art, and critical thought.  I find that a common misconception about technology is that it accomplishes something for you instead of you accomplishing something with it.  As described in the video, students want to use technology to create their own great works.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Internet Safety

The internet, as many of us are aware, is an infinite cloud of information, and often there are very few limitations on what can be discussed, viewed, or shared with others in this virtual world.  If I'm going to be introducing this world of the internet and blogging into my classroom, I'll need to be sure my students are prepared to protect themselves while exploring this valuable resource.

Essential things to teach my students about blogging:

  • To insure the safety of yourself and your classmates, don't use any personal identifiers (last names, specific locations, birth dates, or phone numbers) about yourself or others.
  • Connecting with Others:  Blogging is a great way to connect with others that share your common interests.  When communicating with other bloggers, be sure to keep in mind that they are independent individuals with the ability to say or share what they see fit.  If any language or content that another blogger shares with you on your blog makes you uncomfortable, know the process for reporting inappropriate behavior and make sure the teacher is aware of any problems or issues.  Never meet in person with anyone you don't know.
  • Responsibility and Accountability:  What you say and do online is part of your digital identity, and you should share that identity with your parents and friends.  Our blog is a classroom site: do not include any language, material, or links to material that you wouldn't use in a formal class presentation.  Comments and blog material should be constructive, appropriate, and useful for the classroom.  While reflecting on personal experiences is essential to second language learning, be aware that you are displaying this information about your private life in a public forum.  Do not include information or details that might offend or distress myself, your parents, your classmates, or your classmates' families.  Take ownership of what you express.

No matter which type of networking (blogging or otherwise) we would use in the classroom, I'd make sure all of my students were well-educated on the issue of cyber bullying, because it is an increasingly important issue today, especially because of the amount of young suicides related to cyber bullying.  This article is a great place to start learning about what it is and how to prevent it.

Using Blogs in my Classroom

In the US, the state and national standards for education are what dictate the learning goals for every student in a public classroom.  How these goals are met, however, is determined on a more individual basis. For my first entry, I'd like to take a moment to reflect on how I could use blogs in my future emergent bilingual classroom to not only reach but exceed these standards in an enriching, relevant, and challenging way.  For this assignment, I've used the standards for ESL for Intermediate Grades 5-8.

  • Standard:  Students will demonstrate cross-cultural knowledge and understanding.
    Requirements include:  Demonstrate understanding of norms in American English and different regional and social varieties of English, recognize and share cross-cultural experiences, identify similarities and differences and universal cultural themes.

    The blogging community is a great place to begin cross-cultural learning because it is so large and, by virtue of its size and accessibility, encompasses a wide range of authors that express viewpoints on innumerable aspects of world cultures.  In our textbook, Will Richardson points out that the weblog will "expand the walls of the classroom."  Through blogging, my students could reference and review other sites that comment on cultural (or cross-cultural) traditions, evaluate the positions presented in those sites, contrast/compare videos, photos, or other media across culture, and share their own processes of cultural learning.  
  • Standard:  Students will listen, speak, read, and write in English for literary response, enjoyment, and expression.
    Requirements Include:  Identify and explain distinguishing features of the major genres, locate and identify selected literary elements and techniques in texts and relate those elements to those in other works and to students' own experiences, create stories, poems, songs and plays using a variety of writing styles appropriate to different audiences.

    I love the idea of blogging in the classroom because it will give my students the opportunity to showcase their work; their creative efforts can be praised and criticized by their peers, organized and accessed anywhere, and presented in a visually stimulating way.  Because learning English as a second language is a process rooted in personal experience, it's essential for students to use language to express their experiences creatively, and to receive recognition for their mastery of multiple languages.  With a blog, students can showcase their skills in their native and English language in a format that can add some 'prestige' to their work.  What I mean to say is this:  Blogs are not a crumpled up piece of notebook paper.  Blogs have a customized, clean, professional, visually appealing platform for students to present their work to the world.  They can help students take more pride in their work because they give it the presentation and the recognition it deserves.  What's more is that students now have an opportunity to share their work in English and their native language.  Without blogs, if I am unable to understand a students' native language, their creative expression in that language can only reach and/or be recognized by so many people. With blogs my students could know that their work in both languages is being appreciated and recognized by whomever they choose to share it with.
  • Standard:  Students will listen, speak, read, and write in English for critical analysis and evaluation.
    Requirements Include:  Assess, compare, and evaluate the quality or spoken or written texts and visual presentations, evaluate students’ own and others’ work, individually and collaboratively, develop and present clear interpretations, analyses, and evaluations of issues, ideas, texts, and experiences, supporting positions with well-developed arguments.

    The "comments"  capability of blogging caters to this important standard of learning.  Thorough comments, students can offer criticism of each other's work and engage in an ongoing discussion with multiple members of the class.  Therefore, their evaluations can be completed on both an individual and collaborative level.  In our text (p. 32), Richardson mentions how blogs can be used to deconstruct other websites, pointing how structural aspects of these resources affect the reader's experience.  A blog could be used to review and discuss books translated into English from my students native languages.  We could also evaluate and discuss news articles from both English and native language sources, comparing and contrasting the same story in two different news sources each day. In this way, my students would have an opportunity to critically analyze numerous forms of text, provide links to or photos or excerpts of those texts, and also consider the reliability/validity of the texts.  With blogging, the amount of information on the screen isn't limited by space in the same way that a piece of paper is, and information can be added or edited at any time.  In this way critical conversations done in writing are not limited by time or space, giving students more opportunities to practice and learn English together, all while participating in a thought-provoking conversation.