Design your own CV - the autonomous learner

This week I have been commenting and creating tasks for our new project blog: Fabulous Futures. Task 1 (personality tests and education webquests) is on-going and I have introduced the assessment rubric to my students. I have to be careful to also implement the rubric in my own comments as an example to the students. I think the groundwork that I have done on the rubric plays a key part in establishing learner autonomy.

The first task worked well and the students seemed to enjoy it. However, I need to create polls to assess their responses to each task (what they learned, what they liked/disliked). One spontaneous comment from a student was, "Wow, Ms Leino, did you do all this yourself?"

This week, I will be posting Task 2: Design your own CV and next week I will introduce it to my students. Unfortunately, I have noticed that the template that I chose for our blog does not publicly show who wrote which blog post so I have to make sure to remind students to publish their names underneath each post. I don't want to switch templates at the point because it is otherwise visually clean and beautifully minimalistic.

Templates, appearance and layouts are an important part in next week's task. I have never had students create their own blogs, I have always shared one with my students. Sharing a blog gives me ultimate control over visual appearance and content, which I like. However, a CV is more personal and should represent the job seeker stylistically. Student autonomy is an important motivator, but I am also afraid that students will end up publishing something they will later regret online. In order to prevent this I have to be very careful about the instructions and stress copyrights and self-censorship. I want the digital online CVs to be something they can ACTUALLY use in the future.


Large classes, beautiful minds

Large classes are a reality in Finnish high schools. Usually approx. 30 - 35 students start an English course, hiding behind their handbags and backpacks before they are told to take out their books and pencils and notebooks. And put away those cellphones! Then, when everyone is finally settled, the teacher gets to teach.

Since language is all about communication and interaction, a language teacher should not lecture. I sometimes find myself lecturing when I get carried away telling stories about my travels in the States or Apartheid or school in Zimbabwe, where I lived when I was a child. They love hearing good stories and it can be interesting at times, however, lecturing does not serve different learners when used constantly. And if used for teaching grammar, it does not allow the students to have any of their own epiphanies.

Here are some methods that I use to make a large class interactive:
  1. role-playing in pairs
  2. discussions or tasks in smaller groups which are then presented to the rest of the class
  3. polls (online or the "raise your hands" method)
  4. passing a piece of paper around onto which everyone writes one answer - checked by the teacher by projecting the answers on the Document Camera
  5. mind maps on the Smart Board
  6. PowerPoint slides with questions instead of answers
  7. grammar through demonstrative examples and deduction instead of a list of rules

A teacher should never chew up the information and knowledge for her students. Students need to develop stronger teeth to chew for themselves and acquire a deeper understanding of a topic. When you understand, you do not forget.


PowerPoint is a tool, not a method

Don't take your students' technological skills for granted, they have to be taught how to use PowerPoint. I always demonstrate how to create a PowerPoint before students start making their own. Nevertheless, the end-result is PowerPoints with too much text and a terrible layout. The problem is that they are afraid to memorize their speech and look at the audience. Instead, they often end up reading EVERYTHING off the PowerPoint. What I have learned is that the key to a good PowerPoint is teaching students how to PRESENT A TOPIC and SPEAK in front of an audience. After that, the PowerPoints are easy. It often helps when they see some students read from the slides and realize the problem themselves when filling peer evaluation forms.

Why most presentations suck


Fabulous Futures Blog

I have tried to incorporate everything I have learned about PBL and alternative assessment into creating a technology enhanced project for my Work and Education English course (upper secondary school).

I will be using my course orientation blog Espoo heart English! for schedules and instruction. I have already introduced the course requirements and outline to the class. They have agreed to all the hard work and seemed to understand the underlying notion which is that we are preparing for the future. The goal is to produce actual digital documents for the future that can be used for applying for jobs and to create a blog (project) to provide information to help us and others consider different career options. Using technology to create modern digital CVs that are available online was a concept that the students embraced. Especially since I could show them an example of my own digital portfolio.

During the course we will complete the following tasks:
  1. Project task 1: 1 blog post (personality tests and dream careers) and 2 comments (introduction + peer evaluation)
  2. Project task 2: 1 blog post (a CV on Prezi.com or personal blog) and 2 comments (introduction + peer evaluation)
  3. Project task 3: 1 blog post (job ad and questions for an interview using Voki.com) and 2 comments (introduction + cover letter)
After the blog is finished, documents will be printed out and we will have job interviews in class (oral skills). I will be creating a separate rubric for this occasion.

I believe in the motivational aspect of having students' project work visible online for the world to see and comment. This also enables instructed constructive criticism (peer evaluation) and more interaction by commenting. I think the students will have their hands full. However, I believe in positive reinforcement and a rewarding experience through hard work. I am confident that they will succeed and we will have lots of fun together!

Having used rubrics before, I was well-aware of their influence on the quality of work regarding students. However, I had never tried Rubistar before, which is an extremely helpful online tool for writing rubrics and publishing them online (perfect for my blogs!). This time, I used Rubistar to clarify our project objectives. To create visually and intellectually captivating WebQuests, I used the original WebQuest Model and my own previous experience. Never before have I had so many web tools in one course - exciting!

You can take a look at what I have achieved so far at Fabulous Futures. I would love to hear your thoughts on the first task (project task 1) and the rubric (commenting). Please do not comment the blog itself, that is reserved for students only. Comment this blog post instead!

Anna will teach you English on Facebook!

I have always wanted to teach on Facebook! So finally my fan page is up and all you have to do it "like" it in order to receive status updates which will help you learn English. I wanted to share this idea with everyone because it can be a wonderfully innovative way to reach students via their favorite social medium.

Anna will teach you English


White House Webquest

I don't believe teachers should be using technology to teach. Instead teachers should be encouraging students to use technology in order to learn a language and valuable IT and communication skills for the future. There is a presidential election going on in Finland right now and I told my students this week that if they ever wanted to be president, they would need to know how social media works. Both presidents have impressive blogs, Twitter accounts and Facebook pages: Pekka Haavisto Campaign Blog. It's all a part of each person's digital footprint and web image. Students need to start practicing now.

One of the tasks this week was to create a computer assisted lesson plan. I would like to share a version of it here for everyone to see. I think it is a good practical demonstration of what I would like to do with technology and teaching English.

Lesson Plan with Technology

Class: 20 upper secondary school students, approx. 16 years old, mixed level (intermediate to beginner), English Course 4: Society.

Duration: 75 min. The lesson will take place in computer class.

Objectives of this lesson:

  1. to learn advanced political vocabulary and about the U.S. Government and political system

  2. to learn how to access different web sources and look for relevant information + summarize in our own words

  3. to be able to use the vocabulary in writing (150 - 250 words, 90% accuracy) and orally (1 min. presentation on voki.com, 5 min. presentations in pairs in front of the class, 80% accuracy)

  4. to be able to provide constructive criticism for a peer
Procedure and activities:

  1. A WebQuest with questions about the White House will be available on our blog at the beginning of the lesson.

  2. The teacher will clarify some of the questions and present the main source of information: the White House Official Website. The teacher will also explain how to tell about a topic in your own words and choose relevant information from a long text. She will also encourage students to look for video and photo material and show the students how to comment the blog post when they have found their answers.

  3. Students will partner up and each get two of the questions to research + they are asked to teach the rest of the class 3 difficult words they encounter on their quest using an online dictionary.

  4. Answers to the WebQuest will be posted as comments and presented to the rest of the class orally in front of the classroom (5 min. each)

  5. All the students read through some of the speeches and remarks available online (Barack and Michelle Obama) and choose one issue that they are interested in from the website.

  6. Students write / record their own speech as Obama or the First Lady on Voki, addressing one of these important issues and offering a solution. Vokis are published on the blog as posts.

  7. Students comment each others' vokis on the blog (constructive criticism) according to the evaluation criteria provided by the teacher on the blog. The idea is to use challenging political vocabulary and formal English.

Learning styles addressed: Different kinds of learners each get their chance on the computer. When working with a partner you can always ask for help and teach each other (often the best way to learn) + comments on the blog will also encourage peer evaluation. Visual and aural learners will have plenty to work with due to the videos and presentations, so will those who enjoy writing (blogging).

Homework: Write a blog post describing a day in the life of Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, Malia, Sasha or their dog. Use your imagination and everything that you have learned during the lesson about life in the White House. Details and colorful description will make your story real. Please write in first person, i.e. "I woke up this morning and kissed the first lady on the cheek."

Learning by doing

I don't believe that CALL should be about teachers using technology to teach their students.

In Finland, it is safe to assume that students already have the technical skills required, but no idea how to put those skills into good use. Teachers all know how to show a YouTube video in class and can demonstrate anything on the WhiteBoard using a document camera. This is not what I consider computer assisted learning. The world has evolved, Web 2.0 is here, and teaching has to keep up with the pace.

In order to really take computer assisted language learning further at this point, students need to be taught HOW to best use social media and technology to learn a new language and then INVOLVED in the process of creating new content for the web to analyze and comment.

Let me conclude by quoting the ancient Navajo saying: "Tell me and I'll forget. Show me, and I may not remember. Involve me, and I'll understand."