July 31, 2006

An EFL blogger wrote about the following incident. It doesn't surprise me. If anything, what surprises me is the naivety of not predicting this kind of thing abosolutely will happen, 100% guaranteed:

On Saturday there was an article published in el Pais about
a student who has been find 400 Euros (200 acording to the electronic edition of the newspaper) because of a comment published on his blog:

Ivan Fresneda wrote about his college, saying that it was incoherent and bsurd, complaining about the lack of newspapers in his school, and was extremely critical of the methodology of his Philosophy teacher.

Now Ivan has been taken to court and fined because of threats to the
Philosophy teacher that were published in the comments section of this blog post. Although the comments were published anonymously, Ivan has been held responsible because it is his blog, and he should have let the comment be published.

Obviously, this has repercussions for bloggers everywhere, who could potentially be held responsible for comments published anonymously on their blogs, and is also related to the cyber-bullying incident I wrote about recently

At the very least, we need to ensure that comments on student blogs are moderated before they are published, and now it's not just because of potential spam!

Life and inspiration and stuff

Purging my bloglines account. So many blogs subscribed to, many of which I haven't read in months. Which ones to keep, which to dump? Gotta read them first to find out. Well, first on my list in the "Life, inspiration 'n' stuff" folder is Ming the Mechanic. Scroll down and read a few posts. Pretty soon, I'm hooked (again) and reading each and every one, AND clicking on links within those posts.

Ming blogs about practical stuff like this, thoughts on principled (and less principled) and innovative business practices, high ideals, thought-provoking ideas on life and creativity, possibilities both exciting and terrifying, fun and laughs, inspiring thoughts, and some great pics. Waddaya think? Does Ming get the ol' heave-ho, or does he stay? In his favour, unlike MySQL or Firefox, he doesn't take up a lot of hard-drive resources.

July 30, 2006

Integrating conference and workshop

Purging Dave Warlick seems like a crime. But I must be ruthless. My subscription for Dave's blog shows nearly 30 "new" posts which I haven't read. I simply do not have the time (for the time being) to read all this stuff, fascinating and informative and provocative tho it all is.

Before I throw it all out, I take a peek at Dave's most recent offering, and find something of value (hey, isn't that a surprise!):
i will be teaching a two day workshp on Web 2.0 to a group of tech-savvy educators. What

is interesting is that day one will be tomorrow, followed be the Region 5 technology conference on Tuesday ( which I'll be keynoting), then the second day of the workshop on Wednesday. I want t figure out a way of integrating what folks learn at the conference into the communication facilies the learn in the workshop.


I'll be conducting a short workshop this autumn on Web 2.0, a pre-conference workshop, so this sounds like a nice idea. The "workshop" moniker is a bit misleading. Althought it's touted as a computer workshop, the only computers available will be the ones the presenters and participants bring with them. And there won't be no nancy-fancy wi-fi neither. Don't ask.

Dream and reality, or "It sounded like a good idea at the time...."

Dream: post assignments to a class website or Moodle, then students who forget what the homework is, or who missed the class, can still do the homework (absence is no excuse). Even better, if you use Moodle, students can post their assignments to the Moodle. Checking who's done the homework is simply a matter of bringing up the homework page and checking off the list of names.

Reality:
  1. Not all students have access to the Internet in practice, even tho they do in theory (through the school computers). Altho they CAN use the school's computers, they CAN'T because the computer rooms are not available when my students have free periods.

  2. Students forget their username or password, so they hand in their homework on paper.

  3. Students login ok but post their homework in the wrong place (wrong week, wrong forum, wrong assignment).

  4. Students login ok, but post their homework late (so many miss the deadline that it becomes meaningless), which means each time I bring up the assignment page, there's 1 or 2 stragglers who have added their contribution.


Dream: students can use the Moodle or a blog to post their reflections on their learning. Even better, they can read each other's reflections and comment on them, creating a community of learners.

Reality: Typical student reflections:
  1. Today, I studied English.

  2. It (sic) listening a song. It was interesting.


Much as I admire Anne Davis and people like her, at this point in the year, this post just makes we want to click "unsubscribe". Bye Anne!

SOLO

Artichoke reminds me of SOLO, something which I'd completely forgotten about when I did a blitz-revisit of Bloom's taxonomy earlier this year.

And speaking of Europe...

Ewan Macintosh is (or was) on holiday in Italy, and took lots of heartstring-tugging pics. Check them out.

Bump: Oh my god, he's on his honeymoon! Lucky beggar!

What's your USP?

Aaron Nelson, Teacher in Development, has moved on from being a full-time ESL teacher, to a part-time one, also doing private consulting. He writes about the experience here, in particular about the need to think in a more businesslike way about what he has to offer.

Aaron has obviously been drinking from the same barrel as AJ. AJ posts on the same teaching-as-business topic here.

More purgings

Leigh Blackall of Teach and Learn Online posts about a slew of open-course software fro m Japan, none of which I knew about. Hmm. Am posting it here because I don't have time to check them out now, and I know I never will. But at least I blogged it!

I don't have time to read Leigh's excellent blog anymore, and letting his excellent posts just pile up in my bloglines account just makes me feel bad. So out goes that subscription, along with about 50 others I never have time to read.

Not worrying about the competition

Still purging my bloglines subscriptions. Reading the posts before I expunge them forever. Here's one by Kathy Sierra:
Focus on the users, not on the competition
I like it because it made me think:
"What if the competition comes up with something really good? Something users really like? "
Then you'll hear about it by staying in close contact with your user community.

Am I keeping in close contact with my "user community"? How could I do a better of job of that?

Kathy has a post about fun and its role in learning.
And another one that caught my eye was this one about play with the enticing title of cognitive seduction.

Damn! This purging business is taking longer than I thought... It's like when you decide to throw away all those stacks of National Geographic and Home & Garden and other magazines after storing but not reading them for 10 years. Before you throw them away, tho, you just take one last peek... 1 week later you are still only halfway thru the pile and have made it your life's goal to read every single one before you die!

Anyway, here's a(nother) nice one from Kathy Sierra, which made me (a European) laugh: yes, a Yank goes to Europe and discovers (shock! horror!!) that other countries might actually do a few things better than the US! Yes! Ridiculous, isn't it!! The length and gushiness of Kathy's post is testament to a certain parochialness that seems to be shared by many of her compatriots.And before I expunge Kathy completely from my subscriptions, be sure to check out this picture.

July 29, 2006

Fireworks in Japan - clickable map and calendar

Here's a calendar and map showing when and where the many firework festivals will be held in Japan. Japanese-language only, I'm afraid.

July 24, 2006

Bakuten - house of dominoes

Here's a fun YouTube video: you get to see what the inside of a typical Japanese apartment looks like (usually minus all the dominoes, of course), and there's a nice Japanese visual "kigo" (seasonal word) at the end.

July 14, 2006

Qantas gripesheets

Doug is pleased to be listed as a resource on the website of one Susan Ohanian, whom I've never heard of. Doug's quotation sounds spicy, so I visited her website, and found this hilarious piece. Gave me my biggest laugh of the day (and I really needed it: it's been that kind of day).

July 09, 2006

Cool tool

David Hockney-ize your photos. Thanks to Peregrinations for the tip.

Create a unique "collage" from a single photograph. Choose one of two styles:
a "joiner" style image without
frames or an image created from simulated Polaroids. Every generated image is unique.
This toy was inspired by the photo collages of the artist David Hockney.
Works with your photos hosted on Flickr or anywhere else.

July 08, 2006

Mosaic of Thought

I've been enjoying browsing through Mosaic of Thought, which Doug of Borderland turned me onto. First of all, I'm a sucker for fiction, and the book includes some stirring excerpts of excellent fiction that made me want to read those books immediately. There are some parts of it that I didn't like, or questioned, but on the whole I was intrigued by the modelling of the various reading strategies: I thought I could use this with my own children as I help them read in English (a foreign language for them), and with some of my EFL students, perhaps. One possibility that occurred to me is of modelling other behaviours, such as strategies by proficient language learners (not just readers).

Essentially, the book describes teachers teaching reading based on schema theory. It focusses on actual procedures (mostly modelling) for teaching reading strategies to readers (mostly elementary but also to some high school students), based on research on what proficient readers do. It is not a teacher-training book.

The book is written as a story, with each chapter following a similar pattern: first a literary excerpt; this is followed by a diary-like section where one of the authors recalls her thoughts and feelings when she read (and re-read) that book or poem or article; this peek into the mind of a reader is a key part of the book, it is part of -
coming to know oneself as a reader. It may be that as we reintroduce ourselves to our own reading processes, we need to make conscious the strategies our minds have used subconsciously for so many years. It may be that, in order to emphathize with the frustrations of our developing readers, we must spend a few extra hours lost in the words, considering, simultaneously, the stories we read and the way we read them."(p 71)

then leads to a section where one of the authors meets with some teachers prior to a "reading workshop", (I didn't know what that was but it seems to be a time set aside within a school for teachers to focus on teaching reading, including discussing books with children); the author discusses with other teachers what proficient readers do and how to best teach this to students; we then "listen in" on an actual reading workshop with children, usually with a teacher or teachers modeling a reading strategy that proficient readers use; finally, there is a summary of the strategy and how to teach/model it to students with some key points for consideration.

Although the authors sometimes refer to "research on behaviours of proficient readers", there are few references and there is no index. Although this is not an academic book, the chapters and sections within the chapters are well organized and follow logically on from each other. The descriptions of teachers working with children are impressive, though subjective. Here are a couple of examples that show some of the strengths and weaknesses of this book:
Debbie continued reading, pausing two more times to think aloud about text connections to herself. By the time she finished, the children stared intently at her, as if she just surgically opened her head so that they could look inside to see how her brain works. They were captivated by this simple demonstration. I believe that many glimpsed, for the first time that day, the thinking processes or a proficient reader. (p.57)

The "surgically opened her head" bit put me off: it's a graphic and distracting image, and it's not exactly what the author intends, though close. "By the time she finished" should read "When she finished". And when, exactly, did the children glimpse the thinking processes? Was that the first time they had ever had this glimpse? Or was it merely the first time that day? While what the author believes about a pedagogical approach may be interesting, I was hoping for something more substantial.
On a snowy morning four weeks into the study of schema, the children are restless. .. [Debbie's] tension is growing as a group of observers, teachers from another school district who are late because of the snow, file into the classroom... Debbie's plan for the morning's mini lesson is to try something new, to shift the emphasis away from her own and the children's prior knowledge about books and focus instead on how developing schema for an author enhances a reader's understanding of other books by the same author. She glances at me. We express unspoken worry about whether or not to go forward with that plan on a snowy, frenetic day. Debbie takes a deep breath and motions the children closer to her. I can tell she's decided to go for it. Almost in a whisper, she says I think you're ready to learn something new about schema today, something most readers don't know until they are much oder than you, but I think you're ready. The room grows completely still as the restlessness drains away...(pp 61-2)

Earlier, Debbie admits
I remember Tip and Mitten. I remember SRA. I remember 'read the chapter and answer the comprehension questions' and, you know what? I learned to read just fine with all those methods we now consider obsolete. I don't really know what to say when parents or my principal ask me why I'm doing things differently now. ... I can't very well tell them I'm having much more fun teaching a new way...!

Hmm. Is this an example of what E.D.Hirsch has called unjustified experimentation with the youth of a nation? If the old methods worked, why change them? One of the authors was motivated by a parental concern for her own children after reading the report "A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform":
Public education was in trouble and the community was increasingly impatient with solutions proposed by teachers and administrators. (p 8)
The other tackles her own and other teachers' concerns
I'm not teaching. I'm not teaching these kids how to read.
While more students seem to be interested in reading than before, yet teachers do not want to go back to programmed reading instruction; they want to reach out to something better, something that will work to engage more students more deeply. As one teacher reads aloud, another observes:
I was so enticed by her oral reading that we were halfway through the bok before I became aware that I was more absorbed than just about anyone else in the room. Some of the children were looking out the window; others played with little pieces of paper or pencils; others stared vacantly as if they didn't know how to listen. A few appeared to be captured by the book, but many looked as if the reading had no purpose for them at all. (p. 34)
Over time, the teacher experiments with different books, different kinds of text. Same response. Some other teachers discuss this:
It's really as if they don't know that they're supposed to pay attention.
I don't think it's about paying attention... It seems to me as if they don't know that the books themselves are something to pay attention to... they don't seem to realize that the words and pictures have storied embedded in them.
Many don't seem to know that they can expect text and pictures to have meaning, and that the meaning is inherently interesting and worth paying attention to.
... the problem is still one of engagement... it's painfully clear that they are not comprehending anything more than superficial meanings... they read the way they watch TV. ... I've even watched to see if their eyes are moving.... They are 'reading' but they're so passive. This spring I asked them to use a highlighting marker to indicate the sections they thought were most important in a science piece I'd copied for them. You won't believe this... they either underlined everything or nothing! (pp 35-7)

The anecdotes had an alarming common theme: each described children who were missing out on the pleasures of losing themselves in a book, or learning passionately from its content.

I have more reservations about the book, but on the whole I got a lot out of it. The authors' goal is a high and praiseworthy one: to help children develop the ability to lose themselves in a book, to learn passionately from its content. It is also not an easy one to achieve, or to measure. As such, the book, and the approach it describes, will no doubt come under fire as yet another liberal, feel-good experiment that is destined to help achievement levels plummet (the lingering descriptions of school reading areas that have plenty of natural light, colorful cushions and chairs, etc, won't help).

More work and studies will obviously need to be done to see if this approach works. My own feeling is that it may well work, but it will depend on well-trained, conscientious and highly able and self-aware teachers. If the goal is engaged learners, then whatever works should be used. This may well work under the right conditions.

The argument about unjustified experimentation carries some weight: teachers are invested with a big responsibility, and they should not toy with it according to their whims or romantic notions (and Hirsch does a good job of skewering those romantic notions and where they come from). On the other hand, as Jacques Barzun and others have pointed out, teaching and learning are not problems that have clearcut solutions, they are timeless difficulties that all teachers and learners face, and they require constant creativity and hard work on the part of learners and teachers alike. There is a fine line perhaps between creativity and unjustified experimentation, yet creativity includes and must be allowed to include experimentation.

The procedures and approaches described in this book are definitely worth pondering and perhaps trying out, with proper care and lots of preparation. They may be of use to EFL teachers, too. I've tried my fair share of fads and experiments, so while I advocate an eclectic approach, I bear in mind the advice of Bob Leamson:
teaching and learning are not going to be made easy through innovative approaches and novel methods. Nearly everything imaginable has been tried at least once. And what works best generally turns out to be something that requires considerable effort on the part of students and teachers alike.(Leamson (p. 82) Purported breakthroughs that make their way into the media are little more than pedagogical snake oil if they promise success through use of a new and easy technique (p.110).

July 02, 2006

FLAN

Apparently, I'm not the only one being invited to join Questia. Miguel Guhlin has, too, and credits Brian Grenier of Bump on a Blog for the term "FLAN" to describe such spam: Flattering Letters Advertising Nonsense.

I won't be signing up any time soon.

July 01, 2006

Online research library

I got an email recently, inviting me to join Questia. It seems interesting, but I wonder what kind of books they have. Has anyone tried this?

Touchgraph


Try Touchgraph, better than Webgraph. Shows who links to your blog, and vice versa. Cool.

Thanks to Graham Wegner for the tip.