Today I am at the Barcelo Hotel in Guatemala City, attending an the National Conference for Teachers of English, hosted by Instituto Guatemalteco Americano, and I had a notion. Why not live-blog the event? This is something I’ve never done before. Live-blogging is a form which demands brevity, and for me that is sometimes difficult. But I think it is a cool way for me to reflect on my day here, and I’m trying to expand my brain a little bit, and think about all the different ways we can use this blog. So, I’ll be checking in periodically with my thoughts about the different sessions I attend.
I just got out of a session called, “Let Them Write Blogs: The Literacy Revolution.” A great deal of it was stuff I already knew by experience, or had intuition about. Her approach was pretty data driven, so it was nice to receive some statistics to back up some of my own ideas. Her basic premise was that you guys are already reading and writing on your own, through text, social media, and email, and it’s our job as teachers to help you do what you do well, which is write to real audiences with real purposes. Again, in the spirit of live blogging, I’ve got to move on to my next session, but before I do, I want to show you a video she used in her presentation:
A Vision of Students Today Dr. Michael Welsch
Next Up, “Motivation in the 21st Century” by Nick Perkins
I grew up with a kid named Nick Perkins. He once poured a gallon of gasoline down a well and lit a match. He created a pillar of fire 200 feet tall, and got 2nd degree burns on half of his body. More later!
Nick’s presentation was very interesting. It was a lot about how the ability to choose in the 21st century forces us as educators to rethink what motivates students. He returned often to the idea that mobile devices are an important part of our student’s lives (“If you asked your students which technological device the would be least willing to live without, what would it be?”), and insisted that we must begin to use them in the classroom, as opposed to deny them. He also presented Dale’s Cone, a framework for examining the most effective ways to transfer skills, concepts and knowledge to students, in order to assert that web based applications like Skype allow students to learn English by using it with real audiences all over the world (he used the example of assigning students to make hotel reservations in New York City). In any case, a lot of what I got out of it was new strategies for using technology to teach language as well as good science and expert opinion to support ideas that I already use to guide my instruction. Whelp, I’m of to “Developing Reading Comprehension through Universal Access,” and I’m late because I can’t shut up.
Taking another leap today, I am blogging DURING the session! I was in a session with Hector Ramirez yesterday. Yesterday the session was about vocabulary building, today it’s obviously about reading comprehension. I am glad I have come twice, because in both sessions, he focuses on general methodology, modeling a great deal of what he wants us to do. He describes Universal Access as each human’s ability to access information somewhere, and therefore it is a teacher’s job to provide intervention, which means that the teacher’s role is to provide access and scaffolding for a room full of students. We do that by providing opportunities for students to demonstrate what they know in different ways, challenging students to reach beyond what they currently understand through connecting, thinking, reading and writing, modeling procedures and skills, and helping them feel comfortable taking risks.
So, I started applying what Dr. Ramirez was saying to some of my ideas about my classroom. One note. On the way out of class, I asked Dr. Ramirez about applying some of his ideas about picture walking to an 8th grade classroom of only three students. He encouraged me to a) find multiple articles which discuss the same topics at different English comprehension levels, b) use lots of pictures which relate to the concepts addressed in the articles so that students may broaden their vocabulary of concepts covered, and c) front-load the reading of the articles by discussing concepts and vocabulary which will be present.
This session, “Blended Learning in ELT” by Victor Castro, is providing a lot of information and resources, so I figured I’d just try to digest it all without much reflection.
To summarize, blended learning is mixing face-to-face instruction with computer-mediated instruction. This can help to facilitate the combination of direct instruction and discussion, collaborative work, and self paced work, all of which are important to my ESL classroom. Blended learning is a combination of a platform, content, and a community. A platform is a place to deliver information to students, for example a physical bulletin board, a wiki, or a ning. Content is clearly the information being taught. The skills, concepts and knowledge students must master. Content can be bought, borrowed, or built. A community is the group of people interacting around the course. The teacher’s role in community is moderator, manager and administrator (plus, according to Dr. Ramirez, intervener). The student’s role, therefore, is to navigate the course.
My stomach is full of cheeseburger. You might think that cheeseburgers would be scarce in Guatemala City, but you’d be wrong. And I am happy to report that cheeseburgers with chimichuri are delicious!
Alright, this is a research driven workshop with Christine Palumbo called “Imagining Differentiated Instruction with Language Objectives in Mind.” Here’s what I got out of it. Language learners need to know what to focus on in the classroom because there is so much other information white noise going on. Language objectives are therefore important to identify so that the teacher both knows how to guide second language learners through the other objectives of class and can help prime second language learners by giving them something to focus on from the outset. According to Palumbo, once language objectives are in place, there are different strategies available to differentiate instruction, so different kinds of learners who have different levels of language proficiency may engage in learning at the same time. She noted that a teacher can, from the outset, choose six different ways for students to demonstrate or engage in learning, then have students roll a die in order to determine which way they will engage.
I guess I kinda ran out of gas near the end of my last session, so I am now back at home. And because I wanted this to be an experiment in live-blogging, I am going to resist the urges to either further comment or revise what I have talked about and just throw this stuff up. Maybe I’ll return in a few days to reflect.