Tag Archives: theory

Mashup Your Theory

The above video applies Bloom’s Taxonomy, a classic theory of learning, to one of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies.  While some of the examples in this video are a bit of a reach, this is an interesting way to explore an educational theory.

This sort of project may be a bit beyond most ESL students, but what about teachers in training?  Demonstrating understanding of a theory by identifying examples of it in a movie would be a lot more fun and creative than writing a paper about it.

When I was in graduate school, we often analyzed student development theory as it played out in The Breakfast Club and its five archetypal characters.  How do Chickering’s seven vectors of personal development explain the actions of John Bender, for example.  Now that digital video editing can be done on a laptop, these kinds of mashups are easy to do.  Are there any other good examples out there?

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ESL Games

various colored dice

I’ve been thinking about games a lot this week.  I had viewed games in ESL as a way to engage students and possibly elicit some complex language tasks such as negotiation that might be challenging to practice in a more abstract context.  I had even contemplated developing a simple video game design class for the same reasons.

Since participating on a panel discussing the role of video games in higher education this week, I’m seeing games in terms of a more authentic purpose.  Specifically, learning games should an activity fun so that the player gains experience doing a given task in a low-risk environment.  If the game is fun, the player will be inclined to repeat it, thereby gaining more experience.  So, for example, a game that rewards your avatar for making good dietary choices could be a good way for diabetic children to learn about foods that can help them manage their diabetes.

But what is the equivalent in ESL or language learning terms?  Should a game be very simple (a fun replacement for a drill-and-kill activity) or complex (navigating a virtual world in the target language)?  Can games be made in a way that students can gain something more from doing the activities more than once?  Can some part of a game be crowdsourced to the students so that the teacher is not the sole guiding force behind their design?  Can games incorporate some web 2.0 or social media elements?

I’m curious to know if any ESL or EFL teachers regularly use games in their classrooms.  If so, what games are most useful and what are the essential elements that make them so successful.  If you use games, digital or otherwise, please share it by leaving a comment.

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Assessment Blues

Baby Blues Panel #1 11/20/09 - Teacher asks if everyone understands the chapter: "Yes!"

Is this assessment? Click the panel to see the rest of the panel.

I came across this Baby Blues comic one Sunday morning last fall and it made me think about how we assess our students.  The first panel, above, shows a teacher asking her class a pretty typical question: Does everyone understand this chapter?  And the class gives an emphatic YES! in response.  This is great, right?  Click the link or on the panel to read the whole thing.  Go ahead.  I can wait.

Did you read it?  It didn’t turn out the way we expect when we ask this question as teachers.  I think this comic struck a nerve with me because I have looked out at classroom-fulls of students and seen blank facial expressions that can be difficult to interpret.  Is a student totally lost, unsure of how to connect new information to old?  Or are we moving too slowly causing the student to become bored and tune out?  The same blank stare can hide either reaction to my teaching.  And, as this comic points out, our first reaction, asking if everyone understands, may not clarify the situation.

There are technical innovations such as clickers that might allow students to provide honest, anonymous feedback.  (I envision students turning dials as if watching candidates making election speeches and causing a pointer to draw a line somewhere between “I get it – teach faster” and “I don’t get it – slow down”.)  While this might be valuable, and maybe even accurate, feedback, I’m not sure it’s a practical solution.  But it would be nice to know if the instincts we use to pace our teaching are accurate, at least in the students’ opinion.

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Summer Inspiration: Connectivism

I came across this video a couple of months ago and haven’t stopped thinking about it or recommending it to people.  It makes a very compelling case for using Web 2.0 technologies to allow students to construct their own knowledge.  This would change the role of the teacher from keeper of knowledge to facillitator of learning.

In particular, I’ve been thinking about how these ideas could apply to my grammar classes.  I often teach advanced grammar to ESL students with a wide range of abilities (our students are placed into levels based on aggregate scores, not into each class).  In general, I present new material and then vary their homework activities based on their ability.  But what if there were a better way?

The materials I typically present in class could be put online (with my voiceover explanations, animations to illustrate key points, etc.) and students could watch the presentations at home.  The could then come to class prepared, ask whatever questions they had, and then we could do the “howework activities” in class.  Wouldn’t I, as a teacher, be more helpful to them while they were trying to use what they had learned?

My presentation could become a part of what they used to study a particular grammatical structure.  They could supplement this with other online resources they find (and are probably already using) and share them with the class via online courseware.  So, some students could learn from  stories that include highly contextualized examples of the structure while others could examine charts and tables if that was their preference.  It’s easy to see how this process would enable students to learn in ways that matched their learning styles.

Will it work?  I’ve tried elements of this approach and one of the biggest hurdles seems to be the reaction from students that the teacher isn’t “teaching.”  If we can get past this issue, we might really be able to run with it.

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Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants, and Digital Fluency

I was weaned on an Apple IIe.

Think I'm not native? I was weaned on an Apple IIe.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Marc Prensky’s Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants analogy.  Perhaps this is because I teach English, my native language, as a Second Language.  I help students to become more fluent in English every day, so I tend to see technological savy in terms of fluency.  And this analogy is a pretty good attempt to describe how different people react to new technology.

Prensky’s analogy is by no means complete.  It has been criticized as being ageist and xenophobic, which is fair, given the way he has described both groups.  (See a fuller rebuttal.)  But, in terms of fluency, perhaps technology has a critical period of acquisition as well.  After the critical period in language learning, it is extremely uncommon for a person to learn a second language to native-like fluency.  Is the same true for technology as well?

In some ways, technology, or at least tech-savvy, can similarly be viewed as a language or, perhaps, culture.  When someone is immersed in information technology from birth, that person has a different relationship with it than if he had become more familiar with it later in life.  For example, a student who works in my office recently found a credit card.  Her first reaction was to look for the owner on Facebook.  Although I use Facebook, I’m on Facebook, and I communicate via Facebook, my first reaction to finding a credit card would have been to either call the bank that issued the card or to turn it over to the campus Lost and Found Office.  Despite my familiarity with Facebook, I still use Facebook; I don’t Facebook.

Perhaps Digital Fluency, then, is a more subtle and satisfying analogy to describe a person’s incorporation of technology.  In my opinion, technological and linguistic fluency have nativeness in common; someone not born immersed in it will never use it in quite the same way as someone who was.  Of course, with both technology and language, there are exceptional cases and counter examples, but differences and accents remain.

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