Tuesday, January 31, 2006

ESL/ABE: Writer's Window

http://english.unitecnology.ac.nz/writers/home.html Writer's Window

An interactive site for students to share and comment on writing and also write collaborative stories. Students can share their writing and poetry, add to continuous stories or join a discussion on writing. There is an excellent 'how to' area: http://english.unitecnology.ac.nz/writers/workshop.html where students can get tips and techniques on writing. There is also a fun 'Reader's Cafe': http://english.unitecnology.ac.nz/readerscafe/cafeflash.php
with a book quiz, reading shelf and sharing page, with sections for teachers as well.

All: ReadWriteThink: Online Learning

http://www.readwritethink.org/: International Reading Association (IRA), National Council Teachers of English (NCTE), MarcoPolo Education Foundation

This site provides various lesson plans for integrating Internet content into literacy lessons.It includes grade appropriate lesson plans (reading levels K-12) and applies NCTE/IRA standards.
You can search for lessons by reading level, literacy strand or literacy engagement.

There is also an extensive list of web resources:(http://www.readwritethink.org/resources/index.asp)

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Commentary: Sotir: State of the Art vs. State of the Use

There are a lot of educational blogs out in the blogosphere, and I try to visit some of my favorites regularly (though I wish more would have RSS feeds so I can track updates easier). One recently poses an interesting thought: Technology for What? A Preconceptual Sketch by Robert Heiny (http://tabletpceducation.blogspot.com/) I hate to say it, but having been involved with technology for more than 20 years, he has a point. He asks a series of questions, including:

Do teachers agree that increasing (or maximizing) student learning rates is our top daily priority?

What compelling ideal or practical purpose do state-of-the-art technologies serve in student learning?

Do some interests merely want the newest gismos in schools whether or not anyone needs them?

Which imperatives relevant to novice and scholarly learning drive technology evangelists to promote the use of new technologies, such as use of digital ink and wireless connections, to increase learning?

Heady questions, all. As a self-confessed tech evangelist, I’ve asked similar questions. If education existed, and thrived, in the pre-technological revolution era, why do we need technology now? What purpose does it serve? Is it necessary? The simple answer is no, education without technology can be done effectively, as generation after generation proved. One of the most compelling arguments to make in favor of technologically-enabled classrooms is that today’s students demand it. That is true, since many of these technologies were created before today’s students were born, which makes it part of the societal fabric of their lives. They don’t know life without cable, cell phones, or computers. It just IS.

But for me, as manager of an academic technology lab, the question moves more from having state-of-the-art to how we use those tools effectively, which I call state-of-the-use. When I wrote to the original RFP for a Center of Excellence grant for the Illinois Community College Board in 1992, the general feeling was that technology was important, but the question was ‘why?. The Centers of Excellence were charged with being the state models for technology in education. And I doubt that I, or likely any of my colleagues, knew exactly why we needed it. But we had a vision of the future, saw the potential for technology, and set out as if we were explorers of a vast, previously uncharted universe.

As a Center of Excellence, we worked to first define what constituted technological excellence. New hardware and software was delivered almost daily, all amazing and all very expensive. It made sense to give funds to a few to explore the options for the many. And explore we did. Within months of receiving the grant, I was plunged headlong into a world that I had never seen before. Laser disk programs sold for $ 5000 -10,000 per station. Computers cost that and more. Vendors came out of the woodwork trying to convince me that their software was the best of the best. We had any and all adult educational software as it became available. It was overwhelming for my staff of specialists, who were charged with making sense of it all.

Eventually, we returned back from the future to the common sense of the past. We had a meeting and I said listen, all of this is wonderful and amazing and exciting. But we are teachers. How will this make us better? More importantly, how will it make students learn more effectively? We came upon a series of realizations that we still employ in the Center today. First, technology is a tool. It’s like a book or a blackboard or a lecture. It’s nothing more than an additional tool that teachers can employ, when it is needed, and when it is most effective.

Second, teachers won’t use anything that is difficult to access. Change is common, but in education, comes slowly. The way to get teachers to use it is to take away all the layers of difficulty, and make it as easy to use as a book or a blackboard. When students had slates, they were used much as paper had been used in the past. When the first blackboard was put behind a teacher, suddenly the idea developed of using it to explain not to one student but an entire classroom of students. It may have been extremely low-tech, but it revolutionized how teachers teach. You need to think the same way when designing technology for a classroom. It absolutely has to be invisible to be effective. So we brainstormed on the problems teachers had with technology. We came up with solutions. For example, no instructor had the time or inclination to read 500 page software manuals. We determined that teachers needed to know how to get into, through and out of the software programs. We developed QuickNotes, which are one page (hard and fast rule) telling them how to get into, move through and exit the programs. The QuickNotes increased software usage almost 300% in the first 6 months.

Third, teachers need to see a reason to use the technology. We considered the various learning styles of our students and developed a series of Individual Educational Plans (IEP) for every level student who accessed the Center. Any student from any class program could come into the Center and learn what they needed when they needed it. We cross-correlated the software with the classroom curricula, so that students could have it correspond exactly with what they were currently learning and could choose various programs from the same skill sets that presented the information in a variety of learning styles. And teachers needed to only know the class level of the student to point them to the correct software sections. Teachers saw the value that technology offered their students. Student attendance jumped dramatically once they knew they could get the information they needed quickly and easily.

Finally, we determined the need for patience. As a more recent example, I started using blogs as the main communication tool for the Center a couple of years ago, replacing email and the mailbox stuffed with outdated memos. Blogs are archived, and searchable, and they don't clog up mailboxes. The information is there, when you need it and when you want it, and is available anywhere you have access to the Internet. The teachers took to using a blog slowly, but eventually, it became the tool I originally envisioned it being, once the value was established.

Technology for the sake of technology simply will not be used by teachers. They are too busy, and sometimes too reluctant to use something foreign and difficult to understand. But if you make the tool invisible, give it a purpose and a value, then new ideas can and will be embraced. We don’t need to have the newest state-of-the-art. We need to have the best state-of-the-use. We need to spend less money getting the newest and the best, and spend more on developing the uses of the equipment we do buy. Technology still in the virtual box is nothing more than a waste of resources. Get it out, and get it used.

Commentary: Sotir: KISS: Keep it Simple, Stupid

Stuck in the office on a cold and snowy day, I started pondering why the U. S., which has all but single-handedly created the technological revolution, has faltered so badly in getting academia to take the lead in developing it for the classroom. Certainly, there are a lot of creative, innovative people doing amazing things in many classrooms across the country. But the MAJORITY of educators just don't get it. They moved from the blackboard to the overhead projector, but many have been hit with a wall of complacency when new technologies burst on the scene. These are good people, with good intentions of providing quality education for their students. But the thought of using any new technology is resisted.
I'll give an example. The tablet PC has been around for a while. So has email. Teaching writing is difficult, and many teachers hate having to drag all the papers home to grade. Students hate to wait for a week to get the corrections to their papers, and see where they can improve. Let's put a tablet pc in the hands of that instructor. Let's assume that she has an open mind. Now let's have the students write their draft writing assignments on their computers, and put them in a Word document. At any time, day or night, weekend or holiday, when finished, they can email that Word doc to their instructor. At any time, day or night, weekend or holiday, whenever the instructor sits down to grade papers, those papers are right there on her tablet PC. She switches to the tablet, and opens up one of her students' assignments. She picks up the pen and makes the corrections, and then emails the document back to the student. The student, with any kind of computer, can see the comments and make the corrections, finish the final draft of the assignment and email it off to the instructor. That can be the end of it, or the instructor can open up the assignments in the classroom, and use them (with a projector) to help instruct the students to improve their writing through example.
There are also programs that, in a wireless classroom where all the students and instructor have tablets, can let each student correct sentences or rewrite paragraphs. The instructor sees all the reponses on her tablet, and can choose a few of the examples, show them to the class and further improve their understanding of what constitutes a good writing assignment. Since this is on a website, students can download and print any of the examples for themselves. So much easier than using a blackboard, and so much more advanced than using an overhead projector. Now, someone just needs to find that open minded instructor and get her the tools, and instruction on how to use them. And she has to be an evangelist for change, and a mentor to others who still fear new technologies. As the saying goes, try it, you just may like it.

ESL/IEI: Oxymorons

http://www.oxymorons.info/ Oxymorons.Info

An Oxymoron is a combination of contradictory or incongruous words, such as 'Cruel Kindness' or 'Jumbo Shrimp' (Jumbo means 'large' while Shrimp means 'small'). It is a literary figure of speech in which opposite or contradictory words, terms, phrases or ideas are combined to create a rhetorical effect by paradoxical means. This is a fun, interactive site to discuss oxymorons. The oxymoron of the day on the day I checked out this site was 'tax-refund'. Since I was in the process of getting things together for the tax man...it seemed an appropriate choice. Instructors could do a lot with these, and it would be a great way to start or end a class.

ESL/IEI: Web English Teacher

http://www.webenglishteacher.com/ Web English Teacher

While created for any English students, this site brings a lot of resources to ESL students as well. For example, on the vocabulary site, there are the following areas:
1000 Most Common Words in English This page has the first 250. Follow links to the entire list.
All America Reads: Vocabulary Strategies Three approaches based on the work of Kylene Beers.
Best Practices: Teaching Vocabulary Classroom activities and resources, a model lesson on video, and an online development session for vocabulary instruction.
The Clarifying Routine: Elaborating Vocabulary Instruction This strategy is designed for LD students but will work with all students on multiple grade levels.
Teaching Vocabulary: Two Dozen Tips and Tricks A variety of approaches for a wide range of grade levels

ESL/IEI: Everything ESL/ Lesson Plans

http://www.everythingesl.net/lessons/ Everything ESL

44 content based ESL lesson plans for beginning through intermediate students, including topics such as:
How Weather Affects Our Lives Cold winter weather in the Northeast region of the United States provides an excellent opportunity to teach a unit on weather to my ESL students. Includes classroom resource picks.
Lincoln's Birthday: February 12th Introduce the concepts of slavery and the Civil War when studying this famous American President. Includes downloadable activities and classroom resource picks.
President's Day: George Washington Have students celebrate George Washington's on President's Day, February 21st. This is also a good time to teach about the first U.S. flag and the American colonies. Teach students to sing Yankee Doodle Dandy. Includes downloadable activities and classroom resource picks.
Snow Similes Understanding how poets use words to paint pictures is a concept that can be taught to young students. The key is to start with an easy simile that is very visual. The combination of a big snowstorm and hands-on materials made this lesson successful. Includes downloadable activities and classroom resource picks.
Valentine's Day Hearts Have a heart! Use Valentine's Day to give your students an interesting opportunity to learn and use figurative language in English. Includes downloadable activities

Activities downloads requires Acrobat Reader to be installed. These lesson plans can be used and adapted for a variety of situations, and offer good academic projects. When I taught ESL, I learned that the concept of Valentine's Day was foreign to most students. The lesson plan included on this site addresses many of the heart related idioms that confuse students year round. Imagine an ESL student trying to make sense of idioms such as:
to cry your heart out - to cry a lot and feel really badly about something
to eat your heart out - to be jealous of someone
from the bottom of your heart - to really mean something
to have a change of heart -to change your mind
to have a heart - to be compassionate, to care about other people

ESL: Diagramming Sentences

http://members.cox.net/teachro/ English Grammar Website

While most American schools have given up on diagramming sentences, ESL students, who are taught English largely through grammar, might do well to bring back diagramming exercises. The advantage of diagramming is that relationships of words in a sentence make more sense when shown in a pattern. English is a difficult language...any assistance in making it easier to understand is appreciated and embraced by foreign students.

Literacy: Commonly Misspelled Words


These games have been created to help students learn the spellings of the words highlighted in the KS3 National Strategy as those most commonly misspelled by Year 7 students. For literacy level students, this is an engaging format for studying spelling.