February 26, 2005

50 words for portfolios?

complains E-Portfolios for Learning:
I find it interesting (and frustrating) that many educators are using the word portfolio to represent what I would be more apt to call an online repository or collection (or an assessment management system). There is a huge misunderstanding about what portfolios are...

This also clarifies the meaning of "repository", which was used by Stephen Downes in a recent talk at NorthernVoice. Check it out.

E-Portfolios for Learning

This caught my eye, as my colleague and I have been thinking a lot about portfolios and the possibility of using them in our EFL classes.
E-Portfolios for Learning: "My interview with eSchool News was published yesterday. As usual, some of my comments were taken out of context or misquoted, but on the whole, the article outlines the REFLECT Initiative sponsored by TaskStream. The opening story is innacurate. I said it might be urban legend, but the reality of how some students feel about their portfolios can be seen in the trash cans at the end of the school year. He also didn�ft tell the complementary story, the other side of the coin, about the student who offered a $50 reward for the return of her lost writing portfolio, as related by Jim Mahoney in his excellent book, Power and Portfolios, published by Heinemann. The reporter also began by talking about �ghow students feel about creating learning portfolios�h when I was really talking about students creating assessment portfolios. But then, most readers wouldn�ft know the difference. On the whole, though, it was a good representation of what we want to do with the REFLECT Initiative. "

Down with communicative approach

Jamie Hall started an interesting discussion:
I have been teaching in Japan for 6 years. Currently, I am a EFL teacher-trainer/ EFL instructor. I came to Japan a big proponent of the communicative approach but now I just don't know if it is the appropriate approach for the students I teach. I read a book by a professor at Keio University. He is a Japanese teacher of German writing about foreign language learning in Japan. He wrote that Japanese students are just not the kinds of students who will speak out in class. Thus, the communicative approach is ineffective. His experience has been as an evaluator of Japanese students' foreign language ability is that the students who have undergone a communicative approach to foreign language learning that he has evaluated learned next to nothing in their classes.

But then seemed to go offline. So I'm posting here and hoping he'll re-appear.
Here's my take: 1) OK, Japanese students won't speak OUT in class. That's because of Japanese group protocol. It doesn't mean they won't SPEAK. Soooooo, have them speak without being put on the spot. One way is to break them into small groups each working on different (or similar) tasks. Break up the group! Coz that's when they feel all eyes are on me! and it makes them freeze. (There's a lot more to it, but that'll take a longer post).
2) How does the teacher of German KNOW they don't learn anything from the communicative approach? Like, ask them to stand up in class and say something in German? Why might that not be a good idea, let alone a good way to evaluate them? OK, I don't KNOW how the teacher evaluated students, but that's the point. Without knowing that, it's impossible to say if the teacher's judgement was correct or not.
3) Japanese students won't speak out in class, but that doesn't mean they can't learn to speak a foreign language! There are plenty who manage it.
The problem is the class! Because of Japanese group dynamics a class of more than 5 students is a very bad format in which to teach people to learn to speak a foreign language. The most effective way I found is to break the whole class into pairs and have them practice acting out a scripted dialogue. Everyone is speaking at the same time, no-one's on the spot. With good coaching, they can go 90 minutes like that.
So why have classes at all? Ah, that takes us into another fascinating direction. Here's something I read recently about the matter: Against School

February 25, 2005

Stephen's Web ~ by Stephen Downes ~

Stephen's Web ~ by Stephen Downes ~: "If we're deriving meaning and connections and communities in a random fashion everything flows from the big spike. Scoble was up here, saying, 'My friend was saying, I want you to link to me.' And, he said, 'That's not how it works. Create something of value,' he said. Right? 'And I will decide whether it's worth linking to.' That's the big spike telling the long tail what to do. Isn't it? That's what happens when meaning derives from the centre. And if you push it, that sort of organization and arrangement requires control. Look at Technorati Tags. Now, we've already gotten some tag spam, and we've already gotten some structured vocabulary in Technorati Tags, and eventually somebody will come out and propose and ontology of Technorati Tags, a taxonomy, and they will say, 'Everyone should do it this way.' And anyone who doesn't, well, they're being chaotic, they're being disruptive.
But if the idea emerges from the pattern of connections between individuals there's no one in control. Scoble can't tell me what to twrite in my blog and it doesn't matter whether he links to me or I link to him. And the dynamics in such a network are completely different. This works if you have freedom. This works if nobody tells you how to tag. This creates order and relevance and meaning through diversity, not conformity. Two very different pictures of community.
So how do we pull this off? How do we kill the big spike? How do we transform tagging from something that people can use to spam to something that can actually get us to the point where we have meaningful communities?
Well we come back to online learning. Because again, that's what I know about. And in online learning what's happening is -- and it's very slow and there's a lot"

Blinger: Goals and motivation

Blinger: A linguistics & ESL Blog: "I recently posted about a presentation I gave ongoal training which is also part of my approach to building learner autonomy."

Blinger then quotes me (bless him). My partner in crime and I are also coming round (again!) to the importance of goals, as I posted here, here and here (and here). When I first talked about goals in class, it was with the idea of just sharing with them something I was personally interested in; later, it was related to language-learning goals, part of becoming an autonomous language-learner; but now it seems vitally related to the matter of motivation, to their general well-being.

Blinger: Motivation and tailoring to students' needs

Blinger: A linguistics & ESL Blog:
Interestingly Aaron suggests that that the topics of the class should be tailored to the students individual interest. I think this is a fine idea in theory. However with 25 students in a class and 6 classes per semester for a total of 150 students. I'm not sure where I'm going to find the time to individually tailor topics to students.

This leaves me with using general topics of interest such as movies, sports, & music which the students have all seen over and over. I do however provide individual advice to students on internet resources in responses to posts made on my moodle installation. I do respond to all posts from students with words of encouragement. If the students brings up something specific (rarely happens) then I direct them to specific websites of interest and use to them.

There is an alternative: break up the class. Instead of YOU the teacher running around trying to find 25 individually tailored topics of interest, you let the students free to find their own. Perhaps they can all run to the computer lab, or you can bring in some resources to the classroom. This is what my colleague and I have done in what we call our "4 corners" class (originally, where each of the 4 corners of the classroom had a different station with different language-learning materials). See here and earlier (pre Nov. 15th 2004) for pics. I.e., autonomous learning.

PS Blinger, if you're reading this, I tried to comment on your blog but it wouldn't let me without typing in some security code shown in an image. Well, I don't know why but I couldn't see the image. It was just an "x" on my screen, and all attempts to conjure it up failed. Is it because of my uni's firewall? It's a damn nuisance that firewall - it won't let RealPlayer play any videos!

February 24, 2005

Marco's Blogstudent: Blogging in Japanese EFL classes

Marco's Blogstudent: Blogging in Japanese EFL classes: "Now here's Aaron Campbell's blog:apcampbell :

All the talk this week at our Weblogging in ESL/EFL group on adding sound and photos to blogs got me thinking about how I could go about incorporating these applications into my work with personal webpublishing in Japanese EFL classes. If students are already blogging, or at least reading and writing on blogs (not necessarily blogging!), then the addition of sound, photo...(read more)"

February 23, 2005

Bloggers blogging how tech is changing teaching

After reading this post, I left a comment, which I'll expand on here.

I'm in EFL, but am also coming to a similar conclusion, perhaps for different reasons. Hence the interest in autonomous language learning (i.e. learning how to learn, or the ability to self-direct one's own learning). At dinner the other day, I blurted out that I didn't know why kids went to school anyway: everything's on the Internet. This relates also to the idea of teachers no longer being the gatekeepers, or the sole keepers of the keys of knowledge (certainly knowledge as information).

The main reason I'm coming to this point of view is that most of our students have low motivation to learn English. They've studied English for 6 years prior to entering university, but they haven't learned it: they can't use it. In addition to that, while most of them have a vague sense that "English will be useful for my future", they don't have a clear idea of what that means, nor is that a very strong motivator; it's too vague and too far off. And what does it mean? I doubt that more than a handful out of the 120 of our freshmen will get a job where they actually need to use English, and probably about the same number will travel abroad and need to use English. Probably what they mean by "useful in my future" is that they know more and more Japanese companies are tightening the screws on promotion and using English-language proficiency tests like TOEIC as a means of sorting the wheat from the chaff.

Discovering Teachers' blogs

Thanks to the EVOWeblogging course, I'm spending long periods of time glued to my screen and chained to my keyboard, but learning tons about blogging and the various associated technology. Still lots to learn, but the great thing is I can go at my own pace. A few others on the course recently posted questions to the list which began (or ended) with variations on "I'm so behind in everything!"

One thing I'm discovering is a lot of teachers blog, and here's a recent find: Renata Suzuki, a teacher in Japan. She writes well, and you get a clear sense of her bubbling enthusiasm and humour.

Situativity: Internet, Information Flow, and Implications for Education

Situativity: Internet, Information Flow, and Implications for Education
Thought-provoking stuff, so I'm posting the whole entry. Can I be sued for copyright infringement?

Internet, Information Flow, and Implications for Education
Jay Cross gives a brief history of internet facts that are always an eye-opener in his recent CLO article - reposted on his blog (e.g. 10 years ago 38 million people used the net, today 1 billion; 1999 23 bloggers, today 4.5 million, etc.). I call these kinds of nuggets "grains-of-sand" facts from my days in the planetarium. We would always try to get the attention of our learners by putting the vastness of the universe into some mind-boggling terms that our earthly patrons could understand the (e.g. there are more stars in our galaxy than there are grains of sand on all the beaches in the world). Even if they oversimplify, gaining attention can be useful.

Jay opens with these facts but moves on to discuss some of the implications. One of which is:

Outboard brain. You don’t need to memorize something if you know where to find it. For the past 30 years, I’ve been collecting tidbits of knowledge, frameworks for thinking and useful algorithms, at first on paper and now in bits. Most of this is on the Net. It helps me avoid reinventing the wheel. Haven’t you started building your self-help portfolio? Never mind, soon we’ll have the Library of Congress on our PDAs.
This is one of the intriguing notions I have been pondering as I teach and think about learning strategy. What does this realty mean for educators and trainers? Should we start to deemphasize factual information and focus on frameworks and processing skills? The thought being that we allow these "augmentation" devices to replace much of the cognitive load we currently carry for retaining factual information and we teach and design to support increasingly higher-order thinking skills.

A look at How People Learn: Bridging Research and Practice yields three principles we need to consider. One is connecting to previous knowledge, another is a need for deep factual information, and a third is metacognitive skills (a vast oversimplification, you should read the book for the whole story). The need for deep factual knowledge means that we don't stop teaching basic information but what is different?

An overused example is the calculator. I can remember when my dad brought home one of the first handheld calculators. The little red LED numbers and small size of the device (I think it weighed about 3 pounds) was a modern marvel. Within just a few years teachers feared the devices would undermine teaching math and I can clearly remember all of the rules instituted to stop the possibility of cheating with calculators. But now, in 3rd or 4th grade, kids are augmenting basic math with the use of calculators. Some will lament that they are "losing" basic skills and I am sure they are. But does it matter if we can move this cognitive load to external sources?

The biggest change is that we must shift to emphasize the third principle: metacognitive skills. People must learn to learn, unlearn, and relearn as quickly as possible. They therefore must aware of how they learn best. This self-awareness is often what is lacking and, if Jay's notion of "outboard brains" is going to become increasingly important, then metacognitive skills will increasingly become the most critical component we should teach.

February 13, 2005

The Wow! Factor

apcampbell :
I posted the following comment on Aaron's excellent blog:
Great stuff! Prompts me to re-read Illich. I would add that, while the "drone on the throne" is to be avoided, the problems with "traditional models of pedagogy with rigid curricula and predefined outcomes" are not only these but also the fact that it is a 1-way, transmission model of learning, and research (and practical experience) shows that this is simply not the way human beings learn best. While SOME people can learn well this way (sometimes), not ALL people do. Firstly, humans seem to learn best by being involved, by doing something, and secondly different strokes for different folks, as Gardner has so eloquently described. Your post is thought-provoking, and resonated with me. While my focus recently has been on autonomy and language-learning, I found that what I'm really searching for is "real learning", or acquisition as opposed to "learning" (going through the motions, showing learning behaviour which does not necessarily lead to acquisition). Perhaps this is what you are searching for too ("Can it empower our students to take control of their learning, follow their bliss and play as they learn, like they did as young children?")

What happened next!

(Continuation from this post)
Then he asked why they were there. He said he wanted to know that, before he started talking, to be sure everyone was on the same wavelength. He pointed to students and asked them. Many of them said "study" and "learn".

Next he asked, what does "learn" mean? If that's what we're here for, we should be clear what it means. He asked one student with a dictionary (he expressed shock that so few students brought dictionaries to class) to look it up in Japanese, and to read aloud ALL the definitions she found there. Once that had been cleared up, the next stage was to ask, how were they going to achieve that? If learning English was the goal, how were they going to achieve it?

One of the definitions of learning the student read out was "mi ni tsuku". "Mi" in Japanese means "the human body", and "tsuku" is a verb which means to attach, to stick ("ni" is a preposition). He then spoke about "studying" versus "learning to use" English (I had mentioned to him during the 5-minute "brief" before the students came in, that students seemed to have spent their 6 years studying English but not learning it because they could not use it). He pointed out that there is a difference, and then asked students which one they were aiming for? He asked if students had much opportunity to speak English outside of class and they said no. "So, we must CREATE the opportunities". He then invited pairs of students to come out to the front with him; he invited other students (or sometimes the performing students themselves) to provide two or three English words or topics for the conversation, and the two performing students were invited to create a simple dialogue using these words or topics. He continued doing this with various pairs of students until just before the end of the class. For the last 5 minutes or so he fielded questions from the audience.

Our visitor spoke to two groups of students, one after the other. In the second group, which was quieter and less cooperative and lively, he spent more time on this difference between studying and learning to use the language, and he did it in the following way. Having briefly stated that there is a difference, he then began inviting students to come to the front. One student declined, at which our speaker defined the difference in more detail, and again asked the student which one he wanted to aim for.
You come to class, you don't really participate, and just before the exam you review like mad, take the exam, get the credits, and that's it, is it? No doubt you have other classes like that where that is perfectly acceptable. But this class is different, the purpose of this class is mi ni tsuku, learning to
use English. You've said that's what you want. And we've agreed that to do that, we need to create opportunities to use the language. Well, I'm creating an opportunity for you, and now you say you don't want to take it. That suggests to me that your purpose might not be to learn to use the language. Is that what you're saying?

Obviously, this was putting some pressure on the student to comply with the request, but I felt it was valid because in doing so our speaker clarified for everyone this issue and worked on it a little, which is something I had been hoping he would! Also, he did it with humour, without making fun of the student, and "sugaring the pill".

That's as much as I can remember without watching the video I took. I plan to use some of this approach in my freshmen classes which start in April.

February 12, 2005

What happened next?

A visitor!! I got a visitor! How exciting! But...how to reply to the visitor? No email on the profile....
So I'm posting it here.

What happened next was this! which has been taking up a lot of my time and energy!

Also, Christmas vacation, after which the class only met once: students handed in their portfolios and negotiated with their teacher for their final grade. If they wanted more than the teacher thinks their work is worth, they are given the opportunity to do extra work by a certain deadline.

My colleague and I are now taking a break. When we've recuperated somewhat (i.e. can bear thinking about the class without throwing something) then we'll put our heads together to come up with a new, improved version for next semester, which starts in April.