Saturday, February 4, 2012

Week 4 - Bedtime Reading

Photo on Flickr by Ismael Sans

Greetings from snow-bound Belgrade.

The combination of very low temperatures, strong winds and the snow that keeps falling culminated yesterday. My son's school was cancelled and it took my husband three hours for what's normally a half-an-hour trip from work.

I have been on holiday for the past week, but since the weather has been awful, I have hardly left home at all. If it hadn't been for Webskills, I would probably have died of boredom.

Photo on Flickr by Luka Knezevic

Luckily, this week we have been doing reading, writing and vocabulary skills. This means that I could read short stories to my heart's content. This site in particular has kept me busy for days. And my fellow-participants have shared loads of sites to bookmark and peruse at peace. We also wrote a technology-enhanced lesson plan. Since I have no computers at work, my lesson plan also revolved around reading activities.

That doesn't go to say that I didn't explore sites that would require computers in class. This site will take you on an interactive tour through the museums of San Francisco. Another place to go for a virtual museum tour and also do a bit of writing is the Art Safari. There are loads of vocabulary quizzes here. And a great activity that can be done from home is postcard writing. Two websites where students can find beautiful postcards to use for their writing are E-cards and 123 Greetings. They can send their cards to the teacher or to each other. Or both.

There is more. But I need to focus.

Another thing we did this week was to take one step further towards the final task. Here is my definition of the problem: My students need more exposure to English and more opportunities to develop the four skills from home. With the aid of user-friendly tools, I would like to create for them additional tasks that would be motivating, short and interesting.

I am not quite sure what this means yet, but I have a vague idea that I want them to read something or listen to something, then react to it in writing. It sounds simple, but it isn't going to be.

Making them react to what they have read or listened to is going to become a problem the moment they start seeing it as homework. I mustn't set the bar too high, or they'll give up too soon. This refers both to the tasks and to the web tools I use. The project will probably develop slowly and I will have to be patient and offer a lot of support.

And how will I determine whether the project was successful or not? I will only have up to 12 participants. My experience from online workshops is that quite a lot of people give up at the very beginning. My colleagues who have tried teaching in Moodle and other similar sites say that about one third of their students never even joined the site. Do I sign them up, or do I wait for them to sign up? And what do I do with the lurkers (the people who follow online workshops and read everything, but never post anything themselves)? In class it is not difficult to reach out to shy people and find ways to include them in the conversation. But online?

So, I have been thinking and this is what I came up with: I need to tie my online activities with what we do in the classroom. One way to do it would be to start each class by continuing the discussion that was started online and maybe asking the "lurkers" for their opinion. There is curriculum that I have to follow, but I can always put aside 15 minutes. If they know online materials will be discussed, they might at least review them in silence.

Again, I am back to the question I have already asked: How do we measure the success of an online project? Is it by the amount of interaction? Ideally, that should be how we measure it, but what if the students' IT skills are not very advanced and there are no computers at school? Maybe we should take into consideration how much their English has improved thanks to the online "homework"? In which case there should be a way to measure this through work in the classroom.

Just thinking out loud.


  1. Hi, Natasa!
    You raise some very interesting questions.First of all I would like to say that although not all students will probably respond with the same enthusiasm or commitment to the tasks I will assign (related to the final project), I expect, well, I am sure, they will all be there, working. Also because I have already talked to the school board and have asked permission to alter the original planning of the syllabus and the evaluation criteria if necessary. The next step will be to inform the parents about those changes and so, as there will be strict rules for their participation and work, students will certainly get involved. After all, grades are important!
    Of course that measuring the success of a reading / writing project won’t be easy and it will probably involve some subjectivity. We could go into content analysis but that’s quite complicated and time-consuming. I think that what is really important is to realize that students are participating more and that they write more and more accurately towards the end of the project.
    What do you think?

    1. Hi Luisa,

      I agree with you. They will all be there. Some of them will talk more, others will be a little shy. But they will all learn from the experience.

      You have to talk to the parents too, which is something that I am spared of.

      I like your conclusion and I think you are right. If they write better at the end of the course and if they participate more and more in the later stages of the project, then it made a difference for them. And their success with English will be the measure for our success with our project.

  2. Hi Natasa,

    Thank you for your sharing,

    You are right raising the matching between the online activities and the existing syllabus. I am also experiencing the problem of time management as I think I am behind the university program in terms of time when I tried to apply what I have learnt from this course to my classes. To make it more effective and not conflicting with the current syllabus, I make online studying some types of home assignments. And yes, the problem here is exactly what your question has stated: the assessment.

    I am eager to learn more on how to make assessment controllable and effective.

    1. Hello The,

      You are most welcome.

      I often have a problem with time management, since our syllabus is sometimes too ambitious. I never start doing a new unit until I am sure that the students are ready. Maybe Webskills can help me there too by moving some of the work to the online environment.

      As far as assessment goes, I am sure we will have a clearer picture by the end of the course.

  3. Hello Natasa,

    Online homework is now the alternative solution for short and limited classroom activity, which most of us face in the class. Students who have given home assignment can explore the targeted material freely, without hustle from friends and teacher. The shy one perhaps enjoy this even more. However the role of teacher here is not getting easier because the preparation of the lesson plan, class discussion, instruction and evaluation should be designed and convey to the students appropriately.

    I also agree that the success of an online course or project is the degree of English improvement reached by them, not only the amount of interaction during the project. With some modified approach, we can use the evaluation rubric illustrated by Mei Ya Liang on the journal "Three Extensive Reading Activities for ESL/EFL Students Using E-books".

    I hope the weather there gets back to normal.


    1. Thank you, Imas. I agree with you on all points. I like the evaluation rubric you have mentioned. I will try to incorporate extensive learning into my online project, in which case I will definitely use Mei Ya Liang's rubric.

      One thing is definitely true - all this is going to mean more work for the teacher.