Thursday, April 26, 2012

It doesn’t all have to be whistles and bells. In praise of ... The IWB

I love my interactive whiteboard but I don't believe in whistles and bells.  You don't have to make words spin and pictures dance to use the board effectively. I just use my IWB like I did my old board but I take advantage of the benefits; clear pictures and words, save-ability revisit-ability multiple screens, everything in one place etc. I love not having to rub out something because there is no room. I love being able to easily do something again.
I know they have their limitations, for example they make the class more frontal and possible less interactive. I know only one or two students can use it at one time.
In a perfect world I’d love both an IWB and a whiteboard in my class but this is reality and I’m glad I have my IWB.

Do you need to be a good language learner to be a good language teacher?

I'll be honest I am a terrible language learner. Laziness, lack of motivation, frustration with lack of progress, etc. all add up to a real struggle, (by the way did I mention laziness?) Someone said to me recently I should try to learn Czech again so I can feel what it is like to learn a language, so I can relate to my students. Well, I think I can relate to my students, I know what it is like to learn a language, I know it is maddening, frustrating, time consuming, and not very rewarding. I know that the puddles of satisfaction are quickly swallowed by lakes of frustration. I can empathise with those who can't, not those that can.

Is it better to try and fail than never to try at all?

About ten years ago I learnt how to Salsa dance. It wasn’t easy, it was akin to turning one of my left feet into a right one. After 15 lessons my teacher said, 'at first I thought never, now… maybe.' About 2 years later, while dancing, a stranger asked me if I was from Cuba!!!!
My teacher had stuck with me, encouraged me, set me achievable goals, helped me. I didn’t shoot for the stars but in the end I reached the moon.
Yet I hear teachers say that they shouldn’t demand too much of their students because they are setting them up for failure. In my opinion if we set realistic targets and give encouragement then our students can succeed. Some things blossom when you least expect them to, but if you don’t water them they never will. 

Manage the classroom, don’t let the classroom manage you!

One of my pet hates is poor classroom management. You might have the best lessons in the world but if you can't control a room, you reduce your effectiveness dramatically.
My advice:
Have a spot in the room where you talk to the class from. Move to it when you want attention.
Say stop, wait five seconds, say it again. Then wait for attention. Don’t say anything else. Speak firmly, but not loudly.
Don't speak over people.
Know the boundaries in your lesson plan and don't blur them. Have different voice tones for when you are speaking to the class and to individuals or small groups.
In lockstep stages remind students they’re talking to the whole class and not just to you. So everyone needs to hear them.
It's worth practicing because it does make a world of difference.

The politics of the retweet! Blind faith or blindness?

An ELT 'name' tweets about his /her blog. Within seconds the original tweet has been retweeted 6 times. Not enough time has passed to open the blog, let alone read it; so why the retweets? Are the followers so sure of the quality of the blogger that they are willing to stake their reputation on it? Is Twitter so transient that tweeters don't care what their name is associated with? Or are the retweets just an attempt to curry favour with the 'name'? A retweet to me implies agreement with the original tweet. Therefore, personally I would never retweet unless I have read and agreed with the blog.
So, I call on an ELT 'name' to publish a blog of gobbledygook. See how many retweets you get!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Have we forgotten how so say ‘that’s wrong’? And is that a bad thing?

A few weeks ago I was in a seminar with a group of non-native speakers of English. The tutor a Native English speaker asked a question and got an answer. The tutor then said ‘Yeeeeees.’ The intonation told me that the answer was, in fact, wrong. Despite it being a wrong answer, I watched as some of the other participants wrote down the answer believing it to be correct; after all the tutor had nodded and said yes.
A few weeks earlier, in my own training session a colleague said they were surprised about my correction technique. I’d said ‘Good idea but…. no!’ with a smile but a firm no. Nobody was in any doubt - the answer was wrong, but my colleague felt I had been too harsh.
I wonder which our students/conference participants would prefer.

Friday, April 20, 2012

It's an electronic whiteboard not an interactive whiteboard

I often hear teachers saying that interactive whiteboards make lessons more interactive. But research actually suggests that IWBs make the lessons less interactive with students sat in their chairs and teachers stood at the board. Even when students do use the board only one can use it at a time.
The interactive in interactive whiteboard refers to the fact you can interact with the computer from the whiteboard not that there will somehow magically be a lot of class interaction.
Of course you can make it interactive if you want to but I prefer to think of mine as a display tool, something to help me to save time in the classroom and with preparation, and meaning that I can be monitoring my students and helping them rather than writing something on the board.

Computer says no Syndrome

One problem arising from using technology in the classroom is what I call the ‘computer says no’ syndrome. Those of you familiar with Little Britain will know Carol who sits at her computer and utters the words ‘computer says no’.
How frustrating must that be for her customers who have no idea why the computer says no or what the solution is? It can be a problem when we are using teaching programmes that have a ‘show answers’ type function. This can de-motivate the students who don’t know why the answer is wrong or why they made the mistake. Therefore we need to remember that learning still requires the personal touch and that wrong answer can be just as useful as a correct one if we are willing to learn from them. 

here's a clip from Youtube of Carol saying no