Saturday, March 3, 2012
Week 8 - Don't Tell Me What I Can't Do
The title of this post is inspired by Lost, one of my favourite TV serials of all time. I feel it is an appropriate title for Week 8 of the amazing Webskills course. It is appropriate for me, for who I have become at this particular point in the course.
In one of my early Nicenet posts (Week 2) I said I felt "empowered" after being introduced to various search engines. Little did I know what waited ahead!
In Week 6, after being introduced to a range of interactive activities, I said I felt I was changing as a teacher. I couldn't check this as I was between terms and didn't have a class to teach. Now that I am back, I believe that I really have changed, in a good way.
The first week with new students is always scary for me. I feel nervous before going into a new class. That wasn't so different this week, but I felt that I had a bag full of newly-learned tricks that I could use. I felt confident.
I have three new classes and an old one. The old class is the intermediate one I am doing the project with. Then there is an elementary class and two advanced classes. The advanced students will stay with me for a year and after that time they will take their CAE exam. My job is to prepare them for the exam the best I can and I have already opened a Nicenet group for them. It will be a place for them to practice writing freely, the way my intermediate students are doing right now. After listening to Jeff Magoto talk about ANVILL, I opened an ANVILL class for my advanced students as well. Their speaking exam is very structured and I feel that ANVILL will be the right tool for them to practice various speaking tasks they have in the exam. It will give them the chance to listen to themselves speak, pay attention to their mistakes and reflect on whether they stayed on topic. I am not going to introduce both tools at once. I will start with Nicenet, since I want to develop good writing habits first. Besides, I need to master ANVILL myself before I introduce it, which is why I have opened another "course" which is going to be a "playground" for myself and anyone else who wants to practice.
As for my intermediate group, I felt they were really happy to see me again. The atmosphere in class was very friendly. Ivana, the student who posted the most, has become very confident when she speaks. So, there is positive transfer from writing to speaking after all. Also, I noticed that the rest of them (the irregular posters and the forum lurkers) are listening to her with respect when she speaks. She seems to have suddenly become the group leader.
To prove to me that they have read all the tasks, even though they didn't post their comments to everything, the students talked about them. There was something I could feel throughout the class, although they never expressed it openly. I believe it was gratitude. As if, by staying in touch with them over the holiday, I showed I cared for them. I don't know whether this new emotion is gratitude or not, but it feels good to be on the receiving end of it.
My post title refers to one more thing I have learnt in this course.It is that, no matter what technology you have or don't have in the classroom, you shouldn't limit yourself by focusing on what you can't do. Most tasks can be adapted to most teaching situations, but every step needs to be thought out carefully. Being overenthusiastic about a tool or technology in general and rushing into projects hoping that "everything will sort itself out somehow" is not a good idea.
In Week 8 we learnt about making online exercises. Some of the tools were already familiar to me, but I was now thinking about them differently. When I finally did create an exercise using SMILE (which is new to me), I tried to apply some of the interactive techniques learnt in Week 6, in particular with Just in Time Teaching and Online Multiple Choice Questions. You can see my past perfect exercises here. I am planning to share them with the students via our forum and to ask them to do the exercises before class. I will then make a similar set of exercises for the class itself and lead the students through them, checking on the way what they have understood and where they still have problems. Then I will continue with the exercises in the book. Finally I will give them some words and ask them to write a story, using past perfect in at least two sentences.
The highlight of the week was the live session. I enjoyed chatting with other participants as much as listening about ANVILL. I met some great people from other Webskills groups. I even asked Jeff a question.
One final thing we did in Week 8 was post the first drafts of our report and do peer review. Luisa made some really useful suggestions and I am going to work on what she has said. Also, there are a lot of things that I need to add - the feedback from my group, the changes observed in the group dynamics... I have mentioned some of them here. Writing an action research report is tricky because the big picture keeps changing in front of your eyes all the time. It still feels strange that we have to hand in the report this early on in the project. As for me, I want to document what is happening in every single stage of this project, so I will keep writing and gathering data even after I have handed in my report. I think I will keep this blog open for that purpose. Let's see what the big picture looks like once the school year is over.