Saturday, 27 April 2013

Input and Output and Content Based instruction

I agree that providing lots of input is essential in second language acquisition. However, I do not think that output is less important or that we can completely rule out grammar.

It is true that we become fluent in L1 without knowing the grammar rules. However, learning a second language seldom replicates the conditions in which we learn our mother tongue. Even in total immersion situations, there’s always the factor of L1 interference, which becomes more prevalent the older the learner.

Anyway, let’s suppose we can learn a second language in the same conditions we acquire our mother tongue. According to the Inputs and Outputs piece, a child would begin to speak only when it can produce accurate output, when, in fact, we know that we all start by uttering barely recognisable sounds that evolve into fluent speech by the feedback from the listeners, who constantly model, reinforce and correct. I believe that the process of acquiring a language always presupposes the presence of an interlanguage, which doesn’t necessarily reflect the internalisation of mistakes but, rather, the attempts at reaching competence in the target language.

What can we do to make our students’ outputs effective instead of damaging (as the author indicates is possible)?
  • Providing scaffolding appropriate to the level so that learners can develop learning strategies that will eventually enable them to become autonomous learners.
  • Encouraging students to take risks. You can’t learn anything without leaving your comfort zone and risking making mistakes.
  • Working on weak areas by modelling, giving feedback (teacher and peer), providing plenty of opportunities to revisit problem areas and tackling them from different angles.
  • Exposing students to lots of relevant, meaningful, appropriate input, the sort that is neither too easy as to lead to boredom nor too difficult as to result in frustration.
And I think that this is where Fredricka Stoller’s piece on Content-Based-Instruction comes into play. I totally agree that content should be the meat and not just simply the shell.

In the last few years, we have been carrying out cross cultural projects with our students. They connect with peers in other countries who are learning Spanish as a second language. Working together, they choose a topic of interest to them (F.S.’s meaningful content). For example, last year, the topic of one of these exchanges was bullying. Prior to their live communication via Skype, the students in both countries researched the topic in relevant web pages and through feedback from peers in different schools (information gathering) Then they processed the information collected to share it with their partners (information processing and reporting) The grammar they needed emerged naturally through the completion of the task at hand (grammar in context). Meaningful output took the form of written texts and visual artifacts (for example, using Glogster) which were posted in their wiki. Oral output occurred during the video conference. Skype conferences can be recorded, so after the live meeting, students had the opportunity to watch the recordings and listen to how native speakers were using the target language.

I am convinced that the fact that students were learning the vocabulary and grammar they needed for a clear, meaningful purpose made it the more memorable. And, of course, much of this wouldn't have been possible without the presence of technology, which gives us access to lots of authentic native content and the chance of connecting with native speakers of the target language.

Saturday, 13 April 2013

LTMOOC: My Introduction

Hi there! My name is Maria Rosario Di Mónaco. I’m an EFL teacher from Rosario, Argentina, so my native language is Spanish. I’ve lived in this town all my life though I’ve had the chance to travel abroad a couple of times (wish I could do more of that!) 

For over 25 years now, I’ve run an EFL private institute in my hometown. We teach all ages and levels, from beginner to upper intermediate. Basically, we cater for those students who want to reach a high level of English and cannot afford to attend bilingual schools. 

Ever since I graduated as an English Teacher, I’ve been committed to my professional development. I sometimes feel that I’m a bit of a “course-a-holic”. It was face-to-face back in the years when the internet was not around. These days, it is mostly online. Every summer holiday, I make a point of joining at least one of the EVO sessions and, on one occasion, I co-moderated one of them - Enhancing Lessons. I’ve also taken several courses on CALL, Instructional Design and Moodle. 

It was in one of the groups I belong to, Multiliteracies, that I first heard about this course. I had once intended to join a MOOC but couldn’t find the time to pursue it. The topic of this MOOC sounds particularly appealing plus I’m curious to see how the platform works. Above all, I value the opportunity to connect with like-minded people from different corners of the world. That’s why I’m here, though I’m not sure I will be able to do much - no “course-time” now, with classes having started just a month ago and still so much to organise and sort out. 

About my interests, I love music, books, swimming and travelling. On a professional note, I’d like to connect to people who are interested in cross cultural projects so that I can offer my students the possibility of connecting to peers in different parts of the world and developing their cultural awareness.

Monday, 16 May 2011

My Professional Development Project

Along the many online courses I have taken, I have noticed that effective and efficient communication seems to be one of the key factors in the success of a course. In face-to-face interaction, we have the aid of body language and intonation to perceive if and how we are getting our message across, and to make the necessary adjustments to ensure that our course is inclusive and engaging. In online environments we do not have these cues so it becomes crucial to make the best possible use of the tools at our disposal as well as to look for other ways to hone communication so that we can prevent the learner from feeling isolated and lost, and from eventually dropping out as a result.

I find this topic fascinating so I decided to choose it for my PD. I carried out my project directly on the Moodle sandbox (no links therefore), which helped me put into practice the skills I have acquired during these workshops.

Course Description

This is more or less what I had in mind, though I have been able to cover only 2 weeks of the three I had initially planned.

Week 1
The idea was to have participants reflect on the nature and requirements of effective communication and think of ways of making this possible in online learning.

  1. Success in Online Learning: Communication 
  2. Online vs Face-to-Face Communication  
  3. Promoting Efficient Communication with Moodle as a Curriculum and Information Management System

Activities and Resources:
  1. Wordle image to trigger reflection and discussion
  2. Forum to share views asynchronously
  3. WiZiQ session to discuss the readings and the participants' reflections synchronously. Tutorials are provided for those not familiar with this virtual classroom.
Week 2  
The focus of this week was the different types of communication available in online environments, the features and affordances of synchronous and asynchronous tools,  and the importance of including synchronous tools in a medium that relies heavily on text-mediated communication.

  1. How to Enhance Online Student Engagement and Satisfaction 
  2. Opinion: The Importance of Being Synchronous
Activities and Resources:
  1. Participants are invited to watch this video:       
  2. A forum is created for participants to share their views on the readings and the video. 
  3. Participants are invited to take part in a Webquest to explore different tools that can be used to provide online live meetings for the school where they work.
Week 3
In this week, the aim is to have participants explore other tools that can help enhance communication both synchronously (Skype, voice boards, instant messaging, mobile devices, chat) and asynchronously (email, forums, news groups, blogs, wikis, podcasts, text messaging)

    Sunday, 15 May 2011

    M4T-A: Book Review

    For our book review, Sandra, Jose and I had chosen "Moodle 1.9: English Teacher's Cookbook" by Silvina P. Hillar. An English Teacher and a Certified Legal Translator, the author has done a lot of research on writing and composing techniques and describes herself as passionate about educational technology, qualities that can easily be noticed in her construction of the book.

    Here, Hillar focuses on activities and resources for developing reading and writing skills with the Moodle environment in mind. Along its 10 chapters, the book moves gradually from simple activities designed to improve writing at sentence level, to reach more sophisticated levels of written discourse like poem, description, composition, essay and article writing.

    She uses a wide variety of resources and tools, including Hot Potatoes, Twitter, Facebook, cubing techniques, Venn Diagrams, Mind Maps, Tree Diagrams and Discussion Clocks. Most of them call for collaborative and creative work, and are clearly presented and illustrated by means of abundant screenshots. The latter feature could be seen as a bit redundant for those who are already familiar with Moodle, though it will be of great help for the Moodle newbie.

    All in all, this is a good book for those teachers looking at honing reading and writing skills within Moodle.

    Here's our presentation:

    M4T-A: Week 4 Group Challenge Project

    For our group challenge project, we chose a voiceboard tool that Sandra came up with. All of us immediately fell for Gong since we think it would make an invaluable addition to any course. It would be particularly useful in the EFL field as it would provide listening and speaking practice in an invironment where there is normally not much opportunity for the development of these skills. Among other features, it offers the possibility of listening to and responding to text and voice messages. It also allows the participation in group discussions using synchronous and asynchronous chat.

    Here's the presentation we put together:

    Nanogong or gong
    View more presentations from Mary Di Monaco.

    And here's our advertisement for the tool:

    M4T-A: Week 4 Readings

    I've been going through two of the suggested readings in Week 4: Success factors in online teaching and Nine principles for excellence in web-based teaching

    Not surprisingly, they both emphasise the need to engage learners by using materials that are relevant to their needs and to the learning objectives. Both of them also stress the importance of creating a supportive and safe environment for learners to achieve their goals. 
    • Success factors in online teaching  
    This presentation states that, as online learning entails isolation and a need for time management skills, technical skills and computer access, it is essential to provide a collaborative and supportive environment and to ensure the accessibility of the course materials. In this medium, the role of the mentor becomes crucial for engaging and supporting learners. Success depends on learning resources that are relevant, challenging, but achievable, and easy to navigate. 

    Providing support and feedback by means of regular meetings becomes central in this context. The presentation illustrates the point by referring to an experience in which several tools were used to this effect:
    Gmail: to profit from a wide variety of Google apps by creating a Google account.
    Google Calendar: one of the many Google apps, useful to schedule and view events. for mentors to add events to calendars, and check preferred meeting times. Good tool for selecting event times convenient to the majority of the students.
    FlashMeeting: to hold group meetings as a way to foster collaboration and a sense of belonging, as well as to provide opportunities to clarify doubts
    my.TAFE: for students to receive announcements and see them in the Google calendar.
    redcoal: to send meeting reminders by sms text with the link to the meeting, and feedback on marked assignments.

    • Nine principles of online education
    This article elaborates a bit more on the subject, outlining nine principles that are essential for online education to become a successful experience.
    1. The online world is a medium unto itself: materials need to be designed with the web dynamics in mind, providing clear guidelines to navigate them.
    2. In the online world content is a verb: learners need to be actively involved with the content in order to master it. Rather than merely providing content, the instructor needs to design tasks and assignments that learners can engage with in order to meet the course objectives.
    3. Technology is a vehicle, not a destination: tools must be chosen taken into account how they can help to meet the learning objectives, and they need to be constantly evaluated to make pedagogically informed decisions for their implementation.
    4. Great online courses are defined by teaching, not technology: a successful online course presupposes clearly stated objectives and goals, regular and individual contact and feedback.
    5. Sense of community and social presence are essential to online excellence: it is crucial to develop a sense of community to make up for the lack of face to face contact and so that the learner can be percieved as real person.
    6. Excellence requires multiple areas of expertise: excellent instruction must be accompanied by technical expertise to ensure that the contents can be properly delivered and accessed.
    7. A great web interface will not save a poor course; but a poor web interface will destroy a potentially great course: it is necessary to articulate a clear guide to lead students through the course.
    8. Excellence comes from ongoing assessment and refinement: course effectiveness and efficiency should be regularly and systematically reviewed so as to obtain diagnostic feedback.
    9. Sometimes the little extras go a long way:  additions such as exemplars, rubrics, guides, tutorials, personal email messages, calendar reminders, audio clips and video segme

    Tuesday, 12 April 2011

    M4T-A: An Open Letter to Educators

    The young man in the video “An Open Letter to Educators” claims that he left university not because he was no longer interested in learning, but because he felt institutional education was interfering with his education.

    He points out that information is no longer in the hands of a few. It is now accessible to everyone and, therefore, education can no longer be centered on simply imparting facts (which are now just a click away), and expecting students to memorize and then regurgitate them when testing time comes.

    I believe he is right. This information era calls for new literacies. With the information overload we are exposed to, it is essential that students be taught how to look for, filter, analyse, evaluate, organise and apply information.  This involves higher order thinking skills that go beyond just storing, remembering and recalling facts.

    So what’s the role of educators in view of this paradigm shift? Incorporating technology in our classrooms is not enough if it does not serve a meaningful purpose and is supported by a sound pedagogy. Rather than spoon-feeding our students, we should seek to empower them to make the most of the tools and resources at their disposal. As Albin Toffler puts it, we must prepare them “to learn, unlearn and relearn”, to think creatively so that they can keep abreast in a fast changing world. But how can we prepare them for that if we are not ready to embrace change ourselves?