Monday, November 30, 2015

Reaction to a Podcast

I watched a podcast on EdTechTalk where two educators discuss the idea of charisma and how it relates to conveying information. They mention a book called, The Charisma Myth by Olivia Fox Cabane who determined via her own research that charisma rests on three elements: presence, power, and warmth.  Their discussion is much too brief to get into the book's many details, however they focus on one interesting detail. That is that charisma is essentially how someone encourages others to perceive them. One of the educators say that he conducted an informal experiment where he would go to a public place, such as a coffee shop, and carry out a typical interaction with twist: he would imagine that the clerk is an angel with wings and thus his mannerisms would ever so slightly change and this would be picked up, mainly unconsciously, by the other person in the interaction. Another example is that former President Bill Clinton was often described as charismatic due to his willingness to listen to others, thus convincing them that he feels that they are important. This boosts someone's confidence and really gets them to participate in a conversation, and a President is someone who needs to know many things from his many aides and advisors, thus this behaviora trait served Clinton very well. A third example is that student behavior inside and outside of the classroom affects how students are perceived by their fellow students. And so, a student associated with gossiping is a lot less likely to be attentively listened to by his or her fellow students, if they find the gossip uninteresting or tiresome, perhaps after a while. The student will become associate with bland speaking and his or her charisma will fade.

Charisma in Action

These three short examples, I think, highlight a few important points of teaching. Namely that teacher's should choose their words carefully and respect what their students have to say. This is especially important with adult students who signed up for classes as these are the voluntary students and so can fairly easily sign up for another class with another tutor in contrast to typical primary education students who are simply expected to go to school. Nevertheless, in this latter scenario student morale can be greatly boosted by a charismatic teacher who directs a productive and fun classroom experience. Student apathy goes a long way, from poor student performance to negative school reputation and all the way to a less educated populace, thus I would say that charisma, as described by the two educators in the podcast, is a serious point of consideration for any educator regardless of the level he or she teaches.

The aforementioned podcast can be seen on EdTechTalk's site or on YouTube.

Monday, November 16, 2015

A More Advanced Flipped Lesson with Storybird

Previously, I created a simple flipped lesson with Animoto for beginner or newly intermediate students. Now, here is a more advanced flipped lesson with Storybird. The lesson would go pretty much the same way, however the students for the Storybird lesson should be much higher up: high intermediate or advanced. The use of tense and descriptive vocabulary in the story is such that the students should be at a point where they can make inferences about English languages use (e.g. what function a new word has or guess at its meaning) and can fairly accurately consult sources outside of the classroom or at least other than the teacher (e.g. dictionaries, peers).

On top of the performance indicator for the simple lesson, for this more advanced one, students would also have:

    Performance Indicator - ESL.C.9- 
    Students consult print and nonprint resources (e.g., audio/visual media, family) in the
    native language when needed. (full list here)

I used a bit of archaic sounding language in the story, as it takes place during a past age. This will likely require a degree of inference making from the students. I would have the students read the story at home or outside of class as many times as they like with notes being allowed. However, in class there would be a brief objective quiz without the notes. Then the teacher would read the story aloud to the students. A storytelling voice would be great here as the story is narration to an audience, thus the students here take the role of that audience. Teacher would then this fact out to students drawing their attention to the pace of the reading, the use of punctuation, the narrators "breaking the fourth wall" and the like.

Next, for the remainder of class in small groups or 2 or 3 the students would fill in what's missing from the story. Namely, what happened when the hero encountered the monster. The goal would be mix past and present tense as the narrator talks both about the past events and to his or her present audience. This kind of narration also allows for the experimenting with grammar rules as colloquial speech (which may include narration) is not strictly grammatical, but rather expressive. This includes the elements noted above. The goal is the get students to see that grammar, while systematic and with boundaries, is also flexible. Examples from the students' L1 can be used to illustrate the point.

The completed first draft of the story would be due at the end of class. Then the students would go home, revise and rehearse for presentation, that is reading to their classmates, next class session. Each group member's amount of performed text should be more or less the same (e.g. one long story slide by one, but two shorter story slides by another). The rehearsal is meant for planning this part.

Evaluation will be on language accuracy (within bounds) with a submitted final draft of the story. Some consideration will be given to student creativity. A rubric will be shown to the students in advance of the assignment.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

A Flipped Lesson with Animoto

In a previous post, I had discussed my thoughts on flipping a classroom and then presented my first flipped lesson plan. That lesson was about learning a useful tool that can be used to flip a classroom. However, here is a lesson that's actually for those whom we'd traditionally call students.

It starts with this brief presentation on Animoto on Christmas-related vocabulary. The flipped lesson would be rather short and can be used for elementary school students in a region where Christmas is reasonably popular so that the largely American/Western version of Christmas in the slide show can be understood and juxtaposed with what the students already know. For example, those who celebrate the holiday in Haiti may find snow a new thing, while many students from Indonesia may only know about Christmas as a distant and exotic celebration. Thus, student body consideration is important here.

The lesson would go pretty simply: the students watch the video for homework and are told to note at least 3 new English vocabulary words. Next they bring them to school and the class makes a list of all words that were noted. The class sees if all words related to the topic of Christmas. For instance, "snow" does due to the time of year (in typical Western celebrations), however "art" (from slide 2) is not necessarily always part of the main topic. The video can be watched again to see if any word was missed from the teacher's target list. Also, the show can be re-watched and paused slide-by-slide with the words being identified within the photo. "Snow" may be easy, though "wreath" and "stocking"  may not be so obvious for new students. After the word/object identification a worksheet can be passed out with picture to word matching. This can be a race, either individual or group, with the first 3 finished to be awarded a prize.

    Performance Indicator - ESL.I.5-
    Students apply self-monitoring and self-correcting strategies for accurate language production
    and oral and written presentation, using established criteria for effective presentation of

    May Include - ESL.I.5-
    Strategies such as referring to illustrations, asking questions, starting over, rephrasing, and
    exploring alternative ways of saying things (see full list here).

After the lesson, the teacher could give an overview of the Animoto online program and have the students choose their topic for which to create a presentation. They could use their own photos that they find or have already on their computer. There are also many stock photos available on Animoto to be used. The Christmas vocabulary lesson's presentation would serve as a basis.

To be included:
  1. a theme, meaning a presented topic and presentation graphical theme
  2. a title
  3. at least 5 pictures
  4. a caption with each picture
  5. all in English
  6. music
The above mentioned performance indicator further applied in that now students also produce their own information and possible also explore alternative ways of saying things. Additionally, as I had created a TedEd lesson on creating TedEd lessons, that very platform could be used to explain how to use Animoto as well. Thus, instead of a class overview of Animoto, the TedEd lesson could serve the same purpose and allow for more class-based activity time.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

TedEd Lesson

I have gone meta by accident.

My first lesson that I have designed on TedEd, see here, is not so much about language learning as it is about learning about a teaching tool. However, since the tool, TedEd, is in English, teachers who plan to teach the language, but for whom English is not a native language, this lesson could very well apply. The lesson structure is a simple flipped classroom structure. Students watch a video, then answer questions. Then, in class the activity will be to create their own TedEd lesson.

The target here are definitely advanced and proficient speakers of English as an L2. They are also planning to be English teachers themselves, thus this is a pretty field specific lesson, though anyone who will go on to convey information in an organized and presentable way could make use of it.

Target Students
  • High intermediate/advanced students aiming to be teachers (ESL or other).

  • Students will have a basic understanding of TedEd's lesson building tool.
  • Students will be able to engage in "languaging" (as defined by Swain) about their L2 and field.

  • Outside of class: students receive link to TedEd lesson and go through with it. This includes a 3-minute video, a quick glancing over already made lessons on TedEd, a readings of 2 reviews, then 2 multiple choice questions, and two discussion questions with brief answers.
  • In class: class briefly goes over the two multiple-choice question. Students share their discussion questions with the class. Students create their own TedEd lesson, which includes at least what the lesson they took does. Some innovation is encouraged.

This is the basic first day of class. In later classes, I would try and guide it along so that the students end up designing lessons for their own classmates, which are then taken in class and assessed. Once again, to encourage Swain's notion of languaging. A pool of resource links should be available for the students to draw from, such as on Diigo, in the students creation of their own lesson, be it ESL or another topic.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Flipping a Classroom

The idea of "flipping" as classroom - that is conducting instruction outside of the class and follow up work in class - is a very interesting idea that seems to, quite literally, turn traditional teaching upside down. The main point that's presented in this article by John Graney is that flipping allows for much better use of classroom time. Instruction does not require much teacher-student or student-student interaction, the students simply listen and take notes and with today's abundant technology the students can easily do that outside of the classroom. Homework, however, can be greatly benefited with class time and the accompanying possibilities for collaboration. It is here, in assessing their intake of the presented material that students could most use the guidance of a teacher or help from peers, thus having them do this in the classroom is, in effect, maximizing classroom time. As well as maximizing the teachers' work time - questions, comments and help after the presentation of the materials can be be done right then and there in the classroom. Helaine Marshall states, "with lesson presentation taking place outside of class, time in class consists of the instructor observing students to ensure on-task attention and equal participation of all learners; assessing how well each student is doing based on contributions and questions; dealing with confusion or misconceptions about material in the videos, and encouraging higher level thinking" in this article.

Classroom restructuring
I think that this is a fascinating re-imagining of the role of the classroom. By having classroom time be activity time, it puts the most interesting things in the classroom and on a regular basis not just as an exception. Of course, class time will only be interesting and students will only be able to participate if they've completed the "instructional videos" (referring to above graphic) or, in other words, the presentation on the lesson. By having the students come in ready into the class they can be more focused and they can know, more or less, what to expect. I have not tried this method yet, but the theory looks way too good to pass up. Bored, unfocused and disinterested students are among a teacher's least favorite things. Other negative classroom things seem to radiate out from that: from poor performance to bad behavior. Thus reformatting the class to minimize these can only be a good idea.

A criticism of this method that comes up is that teachers apparently abandon their central role in the classroom here. However, I think that this is far from true. What is true is that students are empowered a lot more, though not at the expense of the teacher who still selects class materials and assignments, carries out assessment and so on. The teacher may not stand in the front of the class as much, yet still the whole class is still led by the teacher. To use an analogy, the traditional teacher is more like a marching band leader, central and unmistakable, while the flipped classroom teacher is someone along the lines of a team coach and referee bound into one, he or she sets the rules and overall strategy while the players/students actually carry it out.

I look forward to trying this method on when I go on to teach, though it will require some convincing. Many traditionally taught parents might be hesitant to embrace this method, this its presentation might have to be tweaked - e.g. "homework is to watch the video and in class we'll discuss it and have an activity and quiz." When grades and morale improve, parents should be accepting of it in a big way.

Monday, October 26, 2015

A Serious Game used for Learning

Last time, I looked at a simple game where the player must escape a room. In this post, I will look at a "serious" game where the player must escape a potentially dire situation. This game, 3rd World Farmer, has many more options to the point where a bit of strategy is required.

You start with a simple household: one head of the family, a spouse, and two kids. You have a hut and some land. What do you do?

Main Screen: Building up the farm resources with some acquired tools & a new family member has been born.

There are many options. You can choose what crops to plant and what tools to buy to increase crop yield many of which are not available right away due to their cost. You can also raise livestock and constructing certain farm buildings can increase the efficiency of your farm animals. Having wells can protect you from drought. The game then advances in one year turns, as in each turn is one year of in-game time. You plant your crops, set up your farm and hit "play" to go to the next turn, which begins by relaying you the results of your choices from the past turn. Many factors and events can affect the health, efficiency and value of your farm.

Good Events:
  • Good Harvest - better than expect crop yield (+50%)
  • Splendid Harvest - much better than expected crop yield (+100%)

Troublesome Events:
  • Civil War - get plundered
  • Theft - loss of tools or property
  • Corruption - loss of tools or property, more than in simple theft.
  • Bad Weather - poor crop yield, wells destroyed
  • Bank Crash - less profit from selling crops
  • Poor Markets - less profit from selling crops
  • Refugee Wave - potential loss of tools or property
  • Disease - death of livestock and/or family member(s)

Annual Report Screen: There's been theft! Also, results of the year's harvest and income are displayed.

Choices to Make:
  • Host paramilitaries near by? Could get you caught up in war.
  • Accept "harmless" barrels to be stored? Could poison your land.
  • Accept to host a "native culture" festival. Get some money. This seems to be a good option, but it comes up rarely and only if your farm is doing very well.
Those are the big choices, however there are plenty of small ones. Such as, what crops to plant. Their cost changes year to year. Also, do you want to have more kids? Caring for young kids takes work time, thus the thus makes your year's crop less efficient. But this can be offset by purchasing tools. Then as as kids get older they can lend more of a hand to the farm. They could also get married and head the farm or leave the farm for a job in the city, but this only works well if they've had an education. Act briskly too! Once family members get older, they can die easier even if in good health!

Choices, choices, choices!

Admittedly the game gets more interesting the second or third time through, once you know what's possible and can build up a good farm. Though, the first time through is perhaps the game's strongest point: real life doesn't give you a second chance in this type of situation.

This brings us to classroom use.

By today's game terms, this game is quite simple: an internet flash game. However, in terms of education potential, it is quite potent and the overall simplicity can lend itself to focus within the classroom on the content without being distracted by explosive graphics and winding story plots, though those can certainly also be fit in somewhere! However, for the purposes of intermediate level ESL 3rd World Farmer is apt. For one, the students could write a simple narrative of their first experience with the game, which could be used to practice past tense. "I did..., I planted..., we bought..., etc..." Given the many forms of the English past tense, this could be useful. The teacher, having already played the game many times and familiar with all or at least most of the game's possibilities, would give the students a list of verbs to put into the past tense in their narrative. Select nouns could also be included and these could be linked to the appropriate transitive verb: "I plowed/ploughed the field."

Going by Kyle Mawer's task types this incorporates listing, ordering & sorting as well as a degree of storytelling with each student's run through of the game being their own short story. This first simple exercise can get the students familiar with the game and ready for their next play through. Now, that they know many of the games events and possibilities, especially after reviewing the short story in class with peer editing in the manner described for a simple game, the students can take the game to the next level.

They can play the game and take note of the events that take place, both good and bad (see lists above), and list their causes and effects. "I lost money because my pigs died from disease" or "I had a good harvest and earned more from wheat this year" and then these could be linked to events such as "and so, I couldn't (or could) afford medicine this year and so on and so forth. The choices ripple down through the turns and the students should be encouraged to take note of them and see the connections.

This brings us to Performance Indicators (see full list here)

   Performance Indicator - ESL.I.5-
   Students read, gather, view, listen to, organize, discuss, interpret, and analyze information
   related to academic content areas and various sources.
   May Include - ESL.I.5-

   Sources such as nonfiction books for young adults, reference books, magazines, textbooks, the

   Internet, databases, audio and media presentations, oral interviews, charts, graphs, maps, and

This is a good performance indicator of students at least an intermediate level. They have the basic understanding of grammar and have a degree of proficiency, however they are not crossing beyond the reaches of the formulaic textbook language into the realm of creative language. The serious game allows for this much more than a simple game. The 3rd World Farmer game was meant to be education and so the students can look up in the news events that are similar to those depicted in the game. Given the complexity of news language, this could be done in the students' L1 (much easier and perhaps only feasible) with the same L1 in the classroom. Either way, the teacher should know about the students' L1(s) and have several sources/web portals in each language ready for them to consult. The students could then write a summary of the events in the news and related them to the game in a short prose essay in English. Much of the above performance indicator's elements would be included in this assignment as would be thinking of English outside of the classroom.

A good harvest season. Lots of crops. Expanded family. Developed town.

First: Play the game much like in the simple game assignment. The students can see how far they get with distinction being given to the winner(s) and then write a simple narrative in the past tense about their play through. Peer editing and handing in of the short essay follows.

Second: The students play the game and focus on the causes and effects within the game. Does hosting paramilitaries help? Are some crops better to plant than others? What tools and equipment is needed to sustain livestock? Does the outside world affect what happens in your farm? And so on. In advanced classes this could be quite open ended with questions such as these merely giving the students a start in shaping their second longer writing with the requirement being "examine 5 causes and effects." In intermediate classes, the questions may be more specific and the answering of each (or a certain miminum amount) can be made a requirement for the essay.

Third: The students look at real life news stories (in their L1, if they wish) about similar events in the real world and then write summary in English about the events and also say how similar or different the real events are to those of the game. The list of events to look for can be drawn from the game's "Annual Report Screen." After play the game through at least 5 times (as I did) most of the game's possible events are encountered.

To save on class writing and peer editing time, the play throughs where cause and effect is noted and logged may be assigned as homework. The teacher here takes the role of introducing the assignment and each step, though it largely in the background and available for reference for the duration. This is why much of the writing and the first game play through will be done in class as that's what the students will likely need help with.

My first successful play through: #3

Sunday, October 18, 2015

A Small Game used for Learning

I recently played a simple online flash game, one of those room escape games. Very simple graphics even by flash game standards, and a small game space of four main screens with some sub-screens. This is Polleke's Blue Room. It took me a while to figure it out. The game provides a timer, actually, and I got right around 15 minutes. What I find most interesting is that the game reminded me of the first escape game that I played ages ago, which, if I recall correctly, was titled something like "Red Room Escape" which a similar theme to this game. However, that first game had a bit of a short intro - you wake up in a room without knowing how you got there... now find a way out! It's like the start of a riddle, and this makes it connectable to education.

NOTE: The game that I recalled was called Crimson Room. The game has a very interactive almost cinematic feel to it due to its animation. Recommended!

Let's take an intermediate classroom in which students have a basic understanding of English, though mainly out of a textbook. They are missing the "living language" element. Given Crimson Room's simple story and introduction, the students could think of a more detailed story, with some constraints. They then could write the rest by describing the escape. Lastly, they imagine what's outside the room or what happens after. The result is a short story. Now, more details about each step.

This assumes a 50-65 minute class time with intermediate students.

Class session 1:

1) Students are told: "Game time! Escape the room!" Each student plays individually. 10-15 minutes is given after which teacher begins to drop hints and to have the students finish.

Polleke's Blue Room screenshot. In game caption at top left. Found items at bottom screen.

2) The teacher introduces the assignment of writing a short story. The game is to be the skeleton of the story, as it has very little story of its own. Each student gets a step-by-step walkthrough as a refresher.

3) Students play the game again and flesh out the details. Writing is to be in present tense: e.g. "I wake up in an odd room. I see a door. It's locked... etc..." Items needed to finish the game must be mentioned accurately. Teacher present in class to answer questions.

4) First draft is handed in.

Class Session 2:

5) Students are told to write, also in present tense, the intro and ending of the game. How did you get into room? What did you see after you got out?

6) Peer review. Students review each others' stories: is the present tense correctly used? Have all relevant details been mentioned? Afterwards, read over peer's comments.

7) Teacher asks for volunteer(s) to read their first draft to the class.

HW: Type up a final draft to hand in at the beginning of next class. Students may play the game again any number of times to make sure that they have all the relevant details. Adding creative details that do not throw the game series of events off track is encouraged.

Peformance Indicators (see full list here)

1) Performance Indicator - ESL.I.5-
Students make and support inferences about information and ideas with reference to features in oral and written text. 

   May Include - ESL.I.5-
   Features such as vocabulary, format, facts, sequence, and relevance of details.

2) Performance Indicator - ESL.I.5-
Students present information clearly in a variety of oral and written forms for different audiences and purposes related to all academic content areas.

   May Include - ESL.I.5-
   Forms such as paraphrases, summaries, stories, reports, essays, posters, charts, and other

Given the game's minimalist story details, but specific sequencing, the students can make many inferences as to what is going on and draw on their current vocabulary to fill in these gaps. They should, of course, be encouraged to look up words as well. Noticing relevant details, such as an item needed to finish the game and/or its location can indicate high or low level work. Whether or not the essay is written clearly is another performance indicator. In fact, some escape game walkthroughs are formatted in prose form, thus the students are effectively writing one of those, with their own added details if they wish. However, the core of the assignment and baseline for finishing it is essentially an accurate prose walkthrough in the present tense. According to Kyle Mawer's task types, this assignment closely resembles the storytelling task with a little bit of the creative task in there as well.

The final draft will be then evaluated by the teacher, who for the duration of the assignment had a background role and was consulted for reference by the students.