Sunday, September 28, 2014

Interviews with Plan Ceibal English Remote Teachers

Last week, we held two more training days for remote teachers working on the Plan Ceibal English project. In Buenos Aires, this was the first training day that the British Council and Plan Ceibal have organised since the project began, and this was followed the day after with the third RT training day in Montevideo. 

On both days, while waiting for the sessions to begin, I interviewed some of the teachers to find out what they thought were the challenges of teaching children English via video conferencing and what they enjoy the most about the project.

Interviews with RTs in Buenos Aires:


Interview with RT Isabel Aurelio from Graham Stanley on Vimeo.


Plan Ceibal English RT Training Day Interviews - Buenos Aires from Graham Stanley on Vimeo.


Interviews with RTs in Montevideo:


Interviews with RTs in Montevideo Sep 2014 from Graham Stanley on Vimeo.


Interview with British Council quality manager Mem from Graham Stanley on Vimeo.

 Read more about the project here 

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Teaching and Learning English Under Difficult Circumstances

Last week, Dr.Richard Smith had been due to give a workshop and attend an English breakfast in Buenos Aires prior to presenting at the 39th FAAPI / APISE congress in Santiago del Estero, Argentina. Unfortunately, he had to cancel at the last minute and the British Council Argentina asked me if I could come to Argentina earlier than I'd planned to so they could fulfill their commitments to the embassy and the school they'd planned the workshop for. I was happy that I could do so and decided to keep the theme of the workshop that Richard had planned. I prepared slides to go with it, but there wasn't a projector at the school, so I abandoned this and stuck to the low tech of paper, pens and post-its on the day. I told the 80 participants that I'd share the slides here and also summarise what they prepared, so here it is!

Abstract: 
Many English teachers find themselves teaching in difficult circumstances. Large classes, multiple levels, and demotivated students are just three realities that can make language learning and teaching a challenge. The idea behind this interactive workshop is to examine these difficult circumstances and others, and to use our shared experience as teachers to help each other with classroom strategies and ideas to overcome the challenges we face on a daily basis.

The workshop:
The workshop was organised by the Ministry of Education of Buenos Aires, Lenguas Vivas and the British Council Argentina, and held at a teacher training school in the south of Buenos Aires.

The slides: 


Teaching & Learning English under difficult circumstances from Graham Stanley

Introduction:
I kicked off by briefly introducing some difficult circumstances that English teachers have to cope with (large classes, multiple levels, demotivation) to the 80 participants and some innovative solutions that have been put into practice around the world, with varying results (Crazy English, China; SOLEs, India and the UK; Plan Ceibal, Uruguay; Hole-in-the wall, India; Plasma teaching, Ethiopia) – these are all large-scale projects, but can individual teachers help each other teach in difficult circumstances? This was the purpose of this workshop – to use our collected experience to help each other.

Prevention/Solution game 
Participants wrote down on slips of paper (post-its) brief details of the most difficult circumstances they have had to deal with as teachers – they were collected, then the room was split into 2, with tables taking the role of ‘prevention’ or ‘solution’

Here are a selection of the participants' difficult circumstances that they said they had to deal with:-
  • A student was particularly disrespectful to the teacher several times (both verbally and non-verbally). When the teacher presented the issue to the school head, she underestimated the importance of this and offered no support.
  • I have a demotivated student who will not work. His family is absent an all respects. He just wants to play games in his netbook.
  • I have two students in the same class with different special needs, so I have to do different types of activities each class.
  • I used to have a student who never did written work, but he enjoyed oral activities, so half of the class he was brilliant and the other half he spent his time misbehaving or he fell asleep
  • The kids keep interrupting because they need to be the centre of attention
  • Many students come and go - that is, there should be 36 students but 20 of them usually attend and the others are absent. The absent ones usually come only once every month.
  • I have 80 students in my class and some have problems with their behaviour (including physical violence)
  • I have students with special needs (including a girl without a hand)
  • I have 18 students in the same room and they have different ages and levels (from beginners to pre-intermediate)
  • My students come from a complicated background - they are all from a shanty town and they are used to stealing, etc.
  • I have a class of 20 teenagers - 4 of them usually sleep. The rest are demotivated and they say their parents send them to school and they don't want to be there.
  • One of my first grade students gets violent and starts hitting classmates or throws objects at others. When he misbehaves it is impossible to do anything.
  • I have 39 students in class and 5 of them have phsychological problems, which leads to misbehaviour. 
  • My students hide a cell-phone in the classroom and make it ring as the teacher explains something or when the students are interacting.
  • I have a student who self-hurts himself in class, because of parental problems
  • I had 3 students in class with ADD - it was a great problem to teach them in a class of 28 13-year-olds.
  • I have kids who misbehave and parents who back-up the kid instead of supporting the teacher.
  • I have students who are not motivated to learn - they think they cannot do it.
  • I have 41 students in class. They do not pay attention. They do not work in class. They do not have the material (the book).

I next read out some of the difficult circumstances (we only managed to get through 2 of them because of the number of participants) and the teams discussed each one and then wrote their prevention or solution on the flipchart. Once each table was finished, the prevention/solution suggestions were read out and participants voted for and discussed the merits of each. 

Issue #1: (the responses to the post-it - prevention and solution mixed)

  • Create activities to integrate students from both groups and ask students from the higher level to help/monitor students from the lower one.
  • Change activities for that day and give students options. Alternatively, forget the book!
  • Plan the class to take this into account - divide the students between teachers if possible.
  • Assign different roles in advance and split the class up into separate groups with separate roles (speaker, scribe, reader, mouse controller, etc)
  • Organise a 'floating' teacher to take over (or a classroom assistant)
  • Give the same activity but have different tasks for each group
  • Mix the two groups to play a game. Advanced students can help lower ss or they can work on a listening activity (e.g. a song). Give activities according to their level/knowledge of the language.
  • Pair ss so that the 


Issue #2: (responses from the teams to the post-it)

  • Set relaxing activities/routines to start working and use simple instructions and demonstrations.
  • Assess students beforehand better to know their levels
  • Use a warm-up activity before giving instructions (sing a song they know, read a short-story, etc). Also, consider carefully the moment in the day when planning the class. Include an agenda on the board so the students know what the steps of the class are.
  • Come to an agreement with the class teacher on how to cope with the students' over-excitement
  • Set up quiet activities, such as a crossword, a short story or song.
  • Scaffold the instructions, play something easier before then increase the level of complexity
  • Do a relaxation activity to calm them down, then you can explain what the game is about.
  • Sing a song, make them sit down and be quiet, give clearer rules.
  • Do some sort of physical activity first (clapping hands and they imitate the rhythm) 
Discussion
We finished with participants on tables discussing various broad subjects and then sharing their ideas with the whole audience:
  • Large Classes. 
  • Multi-levels. 
  • De-motivation. 
  • Lack of resources. 
  • Social problems. 
  • Other
References


The English breakfast
Photo thanks to Gabi Madera
The morning of the workshop, there was an informal English breakfast event held at the British Embassy's Official Residence of the Ambassador in Buenos Aires, with Jim Scrivener and myself being asked questions by Claudia Ferradas and members of the audience. 

I think it was a very successful event, and I thoroughly enjoyed the discussions that took place, from classroom management to demand high, remote teaching to digital games. Claudia, as moderator did an excellent job of making sure everyone was concise and that a range of topics was presented and discussed. 




Using Digital Games to Demand Higher

Last Friday, thanks to the British Council Buenos Aires, I had the pleasure of leading this workshop with 300 participants at the 39th annual FAAPI conference in Santiago del Estero, Argentina.

Photo by Pablo Toledo, British Council Argentina
Apart from being surprised at the number of participants, I was encouraged to see so many hands being raised when I asked how many of the teachers in the audience played games themselves. 

Normally, when I ask this question, less than half the audience put up their hands, but this time more than half of the audience raised their hands. 

After running through reasons for using games in the language classroom and showing how graphics in games have changed since the early days, I had time to work through two digital games-based activities with the participants (Droppy and Spent) and to talk briefly about other games that can be played.

Because Jim Scrivener had been one of the plenary speakers, and the focus of his opening plenary and follow-up workshop was 'Demand High ELT', I'd decided to focus on this and how tasks using digital games can be prepared by teachers who want to push their students and get the most out of each of them. I know some teachers have said this is common sense and something they do anyway, but I think it's an excellent idea and well worth emphasising at a conference such as this. You can read more about Demand High on the Demand High website that Jim and Adrian Underhill manage.

The ideas I showed during the workshop were based on those that can be found on the Digital Play blog and in the Digital Play book I co-wrote with Kyle Mawer, who also keeps a great wiki with many links to games, activities and walkthroughs. I was also very surprised but pleased to see that Cengage had copies of our book on sale at the conference - surprised because since its publication I've been looking for it at the conferences I've presented at and have been disappointed that it wasn't available - hats off to Cengage Argentina for being the first publishers to reverse this trend. Unfortunately, CUP Argentina didn't have any copies of Language Learning with Technology on their stand. A missed opportunity.

Here are the slides from the workshop:

Using Digital Games to Demand High from Graham Stanley

and here are the Droppy Slides as a separate presentation:




Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Joan Shin Kang & the end of the 11th Anglo Congress


The final plenary of the the 11th Anglo Congress invited us to ask ourselves the question 'Are you a 21st Century Teacher?' and Joan Kang Shin started by saying that she believes the most commonly used approach to teaching young learners in the 20th Century led to separation between local and global. 

Joan shared the stunning TED Talk by Eric Whitacre, featuring a virtual choir of 200+ voices singing one of his pieces. This kind of collaboration is an example of what was beyond imagining in the 20th century.

Mentioning Kachru's classification of English as a world language consisting of three circles (1988) and in particular the importance the outer circle has taken, with English being used more by non-native speakers among themselves than by native speakers with non-native speakers, with all that this signifies when it comes to the English we teach in the classroom. 

She encouraged the audience to bring both the local and the global into the classroom through song, first leading the audience through a song about peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and then giving us a template for a recipe song that she had used to write a song about the Uruguayan chivito.


Among other things, Joan talked about how the tradition of map-making distorts reality and showing students this through tools such as Map fight, comparing it with information displayed on Google maps can encourage them to reflect on the information that is taken for granted and to think more critically.
Joan also suggested getting students to create a time capsule to help them reflect on what is important about their own culture.

Mark Prensky' digital natives, digital immigrants article was cited as an important reason why technology should matter in our classes.

Finally, Joan finished by inviting teachers to participate with their students in the Our Class City Country project, sharing information with students from around the world. 


The end of the Congress

Many people stayed until the very end, for the congress raffle. In the photo (left), Gerardo Vallaza from the Anglo hands out 6 copies of Language Learning with Technology donated by the British Council Uruguay. 


Before the raffle, an announcement was made about the British Council's Action Research Award Scheme, which is an exciting initiative to encourage teachers to become involved in researching their own context. There will be 6 awards across the Americas "for projects of one year duration and £2,000 for projects that last six months." I recommend you take a look to see if you are eligible to apply.

There was also an announcement made about next year's LABCI conference, which is due to be held in Montevideo on July 9th, 10th & 11th. This large conference, held every 2 years is sure to be an exciting event. See you there?


Monday, July 28, 2014

Interactive Stories

I first came across Mark White's Interactive Stories quite some years ago, but I haven't ever blogged about them. 

I did use some of the techniques that Mark outlines on the English Conversations website in class and was impressed at the results. I also did a couple of training sessions with them in 2005, which seemed to go down well.


I'm now revisiting this storytelling technique, preparing to use the ideas as part of a presentation I'm preparing on Storytelling games and activities for the 11th Anglo Congress in Montevideo, in August. For this reason, I thought it would be good to write about it here as part of that preparation. 

What is an Interactive Story?
As Mark puts it, "the technique consists of a story, which includes both sentences and questions so that as one student reads it to the other, the listener can respond to the questions and interact with the storyteller and the story itself by making it up as they go along."

The original idea for using interactive stories was as a classroom speaking activity, to stimulate conversation and imagination. The goal is to teach language in context and also encourage learners to ask and answer questions - it can also be a great way of getting learners to focus on their pronunciation as they read aloud.

How to do it
The students work in pairs. One of them has a handout of the story and reads it aloud, stopping when they come to a question, until the other student replies with a suitable answer. Once answered, the storyteller continues until the end of the story.

An example interactive story
The Big Dream: Part 1 (the Graveyard) is a story by Mark White that I have used in class. You can listen to how it works in practice here (mp3 recording). Each part of this story focuses on different language elements - this particular story is suitable for lower intermediate learners. 

Writing your own stories
After trying some of the stories that Mark White wrote, I ended writing an interactive story of my own to use with a group of learners I had that were studying photography. It was called 'The small town photographer' (link to the story).

Adapting  interactive stories
Other interactive story ideas I have used in class include urban myths and jokes. Now looking forward to introducing more teachers to using this idea at the Anglo congress on the 9th August.

Handout for the conference presentation


Sunday, June 29, 2014

Engaging Learners Online

I had a lot of fun during my presentation yesterday for the Teachers Teaching Online (TTO) MOOC, with my session 'Engaging Online Learners', splitting the participants into teams and using a quiz format for the presentation.


I wondered beforehand whether it would work and how best to split the participants up into teams. The quiz was designed to get away from a linear presentation format. The idea was to ask the audience to select a category and a question (each had a different number of points) and then jump to that question. In the end, this didn't work in the webinar and I had to do the quiz in a different way (linear), but it seemed to work out well. I asked the participants to choose a colour (blue or red) and to change their text chat and then I asked the questions and the first member of team red or team blue to answer correctly won 10 points. 

If the comments on the session page are anything to go by, participants enjoyed it:

Amazing lesson showing how interactive and amusing one should be in order to engage online students. Million thanks to Graham!



Mary Ronemous
Yes, engaging and interactive. He modeled what he was teaching. Great presentation! Thank you, Graham.

It was interesting,although RED lost but even than we enjoyed the class.....

A really engaging presentation from Graham.

What a fun, yet really useful presentation. The time passed quickly as we were all so engaged

Really enjoyed the class! Very engaging and interactive!!!!!!

That was wonderful!! So glad I was able to be here live!! Thanks so much Graham and Jase!


















Judy's comments in particular were very encouraging. So many webinars I have attended (and some I have given!) have had so little interaction in them, you wonder if it's worth attending them live or if it might not be done better by recording a video. It seemed to me to be ironic to talk about engaging online learners without doing something a little more engaging than your usual talking head webinar, so I'm glad it turned out well.

The recording of the webinar is available here

Here are the slides (direct link to the MOOC page with comments):



And here's the text chat. The most interesting comments from this, for me were:

  • Valentina: freedom is important when learning under teacher's control
  • Chris Holsman:visual non verbal behaviour helps communication
  • Kerstin Hendriks: When you're teaching f2f, you are also "on stage"!
  • Elisabeth Horn: the audience normally focuses on the powerpoint presentation as well - so (webcam) not THAT important
  • Judy Wong:Be careful the kind of room you are in so you don't have echo
  • Frances Walker:Planning is good, but be prepared to be flexible
  • Judy Wong:You should be careful who you pair up together
  • Judy Wong:Or give them a type of pairwork that doesn't mean they are there at the exact same time
  • Irina Ostapchuk: it`s great when you have two students like a husband and a wife who want to learn together. or two friends
  • Jason R  Levine:Audio files are often more popular than video
  • Frances Walker:Listening practice - not always same voice (teacher's) all the time!
  • Chris Stanzer:they should hear different accents
  • Vance Stevens:...and audio can be made from YouTube video
  • Judy Wong:It is important to have the learners invested in the learning process
  • Nora Choperena:Objectives and deadlines go together.
  • Chris Stanzer:without deadlines I'd never do anything
  • Vance Stevens:there are soft deadlines and firm ones
  • Kerstin Hendriks:deadlines can help the teacher plan.
  • Vance Stevens:but if they are not meeting deadlines, make them feel welcome to complete the work
  • Nora Choperena:A matter of culture, also. Don't leave things for the very last minute. 
  • Vance Stevens:nothing focuses like a good deadline
  • Irma Ramos:yes, most of us are not very proactive so we need deadlines
  • Anna Lee Vinson:classes much like this one.Where the student is vested in the class.
  • Judy Wong:It doesn't matter if in a school or private. It is always important to make the student feel safe in your venue
  • Vera:when learners have the opportunity to participate using voice, they keep more confident
  • Irma Ramos:Graham I learn a lot and had a lot o fun at the same time. Thank you!!
  • Penny Mosavian:This was so helpful! I really enjoyed the class!!!

The Teachers Teaching Online MOOC runs until 12th July and there are lots of very interesting speakers. Consult the syllabus here. There are also 3577 people enrolled in the course, so it's a great opportunity to meet like-minded people.