Monday, April 30, 2012

Friday Finds 4/27/12

A few random things I checked out last week:

How to clean up Youtube.
Can you make yourself smarter?
Cool if you want to print a poster on a standard printer.
Trying to get myself excited about Google Plus.
High tech solutions to Low-tech classrooms
Wappwolf seems pretty convenient.
Are you brave enough to use this on your phone?

Monday, April 23, 2012

Worth the Weight

 When I taught high school, and had my own classroom, my lessons were filled with realia, experiments, and hands-on learning activities.  Over the years as a community college educator, hiking across campus, slipping in and out of buildings, teaching in different classrooms for every class, those experiences dwindled.  There's only so much one teacher can carry, and there are times I wish for a shopping cart.  For the longest time, the barista at a neighborhood coffee shop thought I was an airline attendant due to my rolling luggage (filled with books, papers, and other teaching miscellany).

This semester, however, I've tried to do a little more to make readings, themes, and lessons come alive.  A recent reading text around the theme of the environment was pretty dry.  Focused on water, the text broke down tap water regulations, and the rise of bottled water in the U.S.  At home, I had students view The Story of Bottled Water, which caught their attention more.  Then I trekked to my grocery store, bought up a variety of bottled water (not especially cheap!), covered them and numbered them.  The next day, I hauled in the grocery bags of bottled water, cups, and rating sheets.  Then I played waiter, while students did a blind taste test of the water.

The results were revealed:  No one liked Dasani.  A lot of people like Fiji.  Crystal Geyser got mixed reviews.  Tap water fared quite well despite the fact they all said they never drink it.  Suddenly, students referred to their text, discussed the implications of bottled water, and the reality of drinking safe tap water in San Francisco.  Nothing extra-creative here, no real bells and whistles.  No technology.  Just a little extra weight I had to haul to class to generate interest and make a reading come to life.

 Lesson Learned:  Despite the heavy load, it's worth it to go the extra mile and bring in what you can to make a reading come alive.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Friday Finds 4/20/12

Random things I've been reading and watching this week:

Unless you've been under a rock, you've watched this video.  I've watched it three times so far.
I'm missing CATESOL because I spent all my money at TESOL - but I follwed it on #catesol.
Speaking of conferences, the one I really, really want to go to next is this one.
I was sick this week and had to cancel class at the last minute.  Too bad I didn't have one of these services.
response to the two-tier pricing system.
I've linked to some interesting Youtube videos for my students lately, and now I really want to use some of these handy tools.
This article about apps are students when you're not looking have some I'd never heard of.
I read these posts from my students and I know why blogging is such a great way for them to share their writing.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Friday Finds on a Tuesday

We all watch TED, but here are 5 that are underwatched.
I mentioned that I rediscovered QR codes at the TESOL Convention, and here are some more fun and resources.
Got a free account for Snapjoy.  All my photos backed up now!  Now I can play with PicMonkey and Stupeflix.
Could Zite replace Flipboard on my iPad?  Maybe!
I think this is important to remember when teaching college-age students.
I think I'll have these fake movie posters as a cool option for my students' book projects.
Using inFocus is even better than just linking to a website.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Top Moments at TESOL 2012

I was fortunate enough to be able to bite the bullet and pay out of pocket to present at and participate in TESOL for the 11th year in a row!  The best moments for me at any convention are reconnecting with far-flung friends, colleagues, teachers, and students.  You know who you are, and I'm so, so glad I was able to see all of you!

Below are a few of my other favorite moments in no particular order:

Overhearing Randall Davis at his poster session talking blenders: "I don't need to know the difference between puree and liquify.  I just need to turn it on and off."  Wise tech tool advice.

Listening to the dynamic Nigel Caplan use the word "corpus" more times than I could count when I wandered into his session:  Making Grammar Choices in Advanced Academic Writing.

Keith Folse letting me know that I am an idiot for teaching the adjective order chart.  His advice about grammar that matters: teach students to use one adjective, and to put it in front of the noun.  You know, because no one speaking says things like "I ran down the long, narrow, dark, decrepit street."  (CATESOLers take note - Keith is speaking next week.  Don't miss him!)

Eating crépes in the Reading Terminal Market, and seeing an Amish girl playing games on her smartphone.

Learning some exciting ways teachers are using Google Voice (already signed up and got my free account set up!), and got my interest piqued about how to use BigBlueButton too.

Planning to try out Poll Everywhere tomorrow.

Eating (twice) at Hawthornes Cafe in the lovely Bella Vista neighborhood.

Seeing how cool Moodle 2.1 is during an EV fair - and feeling dismay that we don't have that version yet.

Learning about some fun apps: Songify, Photoannotate, and Flashcards.

Speaking of apps, was thrilled I got to use my QR Reader at many presentations to instantly get the slides, handouts, and links.

Being impressed that PearsonELT was the first publisher to go entirely digital (no books in sight) in the exhibit hall.

Oh and yes, I did contribute by co-presenting on Digital Photostories

I got my Texas star pin and my TESOL 2013 luggage tag (thank you hospitality table!), so here's my TESOL wish list for TESOL 2013 in Dallas (just in case anyone in power reads this):

How about a mobile app or site for the TESOL schedule where we can favorite or star the workshops we plan to attend. (I'd love to put that heavy program book away!)

Better signage for the Electronic Village would be helpful - I ran into it quite by accident.

A networking session or general reception would be nice (Anyone else feel like you mostly just meet and greet the same people?).

Revamped Poster Sessions - a larger area and/or leave those things up!  Better yet, can we update them with technology options as well?

Watch This Space

Does it count as a blog post if I just say I have some things in the work?  Maybe it would if my last post wasn't nearly a month ago!

Here's what you have to look forward to as I jump back into the blogseat:
  • My Top Moments at TESOL 2012 last week.
  • Spring Break:  To give homework or not to give homework?
  • Water Break! How a little taste testing transformed a boring academic text.
I'll continue to post Friday Finds as well.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Friday Finds, 3/9/12

Albatros bookmarks from Oscar Lhermitte on Vimeo.

I've been crazy busy since last week, so this week's Friday Finds are both mine:

A newsletter article about blogging (skip forward to page 13) and my presentation about book clubs.
I do wish I could get one of those bookmarks shown above.
Sometimes you can only do so much!  More next Friday (promise!).

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Moving Day

This is what my classroom looks like every day when I walk in the room.  Nice, neat straight rows:  The "right" way for a classroom to be set up.

 Filled with students, it looks like this:

 But then, I make them move into groups.  Every day.  Well, nearly every day.  If we are having an in-class essay or a midterm exam, they stay in rows.  But for some part of just about every two-hour class, they move.

It involves gathering their bags and books, moving the tables and chairs, and going to a new part of the room . .  . basically a bit of chaos for about 4 minutes.  That looks like this:

Then everyone is settled into nice neat groups that look like this:

Turning around to talk to the "classmates near you" has never worked out well for me.  Students are not fully invested or engaged as much as they are when they take the time to push the desks together, unpack, and settle in facing each other.

Lesson Learned:  It only takes a bit of time and muscle power, but moving the furniture can make a big difference in the class community and interaction between students in a group.

And P.S. - Yes, we move the tables and chairs back into the "right" class formation for the next teacher.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

When I'm Not A Teacher

It seems like teaching is always a part of my life.  Everything I do, I think, "Oh, this is great for my students!"  This is the reason why Adele's song Someone Like You became a way to review verb tenses and why I once showed a clip of Jennifer Lopez's movie Maid in Manhattan to expand a book unit discussion. But what do I do when I am not teaching?  One thing I do is procrastinate relax by stalking reading the following blogs:

At least once I week I check these blogs:

Design Mom. I'd never be this fashionable personally or at home, but I sometimes catch cool videos like this one about the Joy of Books that I end up sharing with my students.

I Heart Organizing.  I just started reading this one, and in addition to helping me organize my family's stack of paperwork, it also inspired me to streamline my work files.

The Pioneer Woman.  I'm an urban girl, but somehow intrigued by the ranch life on this blog, and I've come across ideas from her homeschool section including Journaling 2.0.  I've shared the Mean Ol' Schoolmarm feature with my class as well.

Stats Dad.  My boys play basketball and baseball, so I'm fascinated by this blog about youth sports.  And I also read some great advice about starting up a blog.

Time Management Ninja.  There's almost no better way to spend time than to read about how to manage it.  I've recently read some interesting takes on work email destruction and bad meeting behavior.

Zen Habits.  This blog gives me good advice about balanced living which helps me (sometimes) to put aside all the papers and lesson planning.

The Happiness Project.  I love her quotes and interviews.  And I still watch this video The Years Are Short often.

Seth Godin's Blog.  I lied about once a week with this blog,  I read it nearly every day, absorbing every word.

Cool Mom Tech.  This blog keeps me hip with everything from the latest apps to keyboards.

Lesson Learned:  I'm not always in teacher-mode, but even when I'm browsing blogs for pleasure I seem to find things that impact my teaching anyway.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Friday Finds 2/24/12

Here are two weeks worth of Friday Finds (since I missed last week)!

I may move from Six-Words to Twenty-Five Word Stories
Go where you want to go . . . back in 1989!
I believe this: Men are from Google+, Women are from Pinterest
These are so cool, and have absolutely nothing to do with teaching or technology.
Since I lived and taught in NYC for four years, I totally get this field trip.
When I got my new MacBook, I made sure to load these browser extensions.
I'm still exploring BYOD days with my students.  Last week we explored some dictionary apps.  I don't think I'm encouraging distraction by including mobile devices in the classroom.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

What can you buy with $1,000?

TESOL 2012 Convention Registration: $265
Airfare from San Francisco to Philadelphia: $510.60
Hotel (shared room) for 3 nights: $198.72

Total:  $974.32

I just paid that amount of my own personal money to go to the annual TESOL Convention this year in March.  It's the fourth year that I have had to use my own money because of budget cuts (and that number above does not include food while I'm there).   Sure, it's not always that much - airfare the year it was held in Denver was much less.  And sure, there are awards and scholarships like this one that I was honored to receive last year.  But generally speaking, I pay my own way because there is no funding where I work for conferences and travel.

I have gone to this national convention every year for the past eleven years.  I have gone to nearly every state convention, and most regional conventions.  None of them are free, and I don't get reimbursed for any of them.  I go because they make me a better teacher.  I learn the latest trends in education, I come back refreshed from being among the vast group of international educators in TESOL, I browse new books and materials.  Oh, and I share and present my own workshops as well.  Through the years, I've learned the best way to organize book clubs, how to moderate a class blog, how group writing workshops can happen on a wiki, fun ways to incorporate readers theater, and on and on . . . but the question remains when and if schools will also realize the value of spending just under $1,000 per teacher per year for professional development.

Lesson Learned:  Professional development conventions are important for teachers, but continuing to pay out of pocket makes it less and less of a possibility.  How long till the costs outweigh the benefits?

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Pens in Hand

Like any teacher, I spend a lot of time grading papers, giving feedback, recording scores, and making notes to myself.  In other words, I spend a lot of time with a pen in hand.  I haven't used a red pen in years - since I learned in grad school that red all over a student's paper makes them feel like their essay is bleeding.  I recently also read this article about the terror of the red pen.  I used to just grab whatever pen was handy, buying jumbo packs that were on sale.

Lately, though I've discovered that when I write with a pen I like, I'm just happier and more productive.  Since I'm one of those people that loves to browse the office supplies aisles, I'm always on the lookout and I think my next buy will be one of these 7-year pens.   The bucket above holds my current stash of colorful pens I've been using this semester.  They are actually two different kinds that I use for different purposes.

I got this pack of 24 different color pens on sale at Office Max.  I like that you click it to use so that I don't have to worry about losing the cap.  (How many Bic pens without caps do I have in my work desk drawer?!).  I like that it's a pretty fine point that doesn't bleed through, but is bright enough to see easily.  I love all the colors.  I've been using the purple, turquoise, and lime green the most.  I use it for grading and commenting on papers.  I use them also to make notes in my planner and for the lists I write all day long.

I got this set of five fine felt-tipped markers at Target. I love the color and the felt tips.  It bleeds a bit through regular notebook paper though, so I don't usually use it for writing on student papers.  Lately I've been using it for making notes on my family and work calendars and for writing labels and titles on file folders and binders.

Lesson Learned:  I spend a lot of time with a pen in hand, and it just makes sense that it is one that I enjoy writing with!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Zumba As A Second Language

After hearing a lot of hype about Zumba, I started taking classes about a month ago.  Instantly, I was hooked.  Therefore it should come as no surprise that being a Zumba newbie has impacted my teaching.  First of all, it is important to know that I have pretty good rhythm and am quick at picking up dance moves thanks to years of gymnastics, ballet, and (umm. . . ) cheerleading.  Despite this, it is very, very clear that I am a Zumba beginner.  I don't have the cool clothes.  I don't know the steps.  I have trouble keeping up.  I'm the one who turns left when everyone turns right, and is facing back when everyone jumps front. Oh yeah, and I don't speak Spanish.  Talk about a true beginner!  If Zumba were tracked, I would be put in the slow group.  Zumba classes are crowded - I've counted over 50 in a room.  All levels of movement, fitness, and ages.   It's a recipe for disaster in a language learning class, but my teacher pulls it off!  She's an amazing dancer, but an even more amazing teacher.  How does she do it?

Here's what I've noticed:

1.  Differentiated Learning:  I'm brand new to Zumba.  There's a bunch of us newbies (New Year's Resolutions, I'm sure!), but there are obviously hard-core Zumba followers.  The teacher finds a way to welcome us new "students" while keeping the veterans happy too.  No matter the routine or steps, there are different levels you can do - she demonstrates all of them, and everyone works to their ability.

2.   Repetition and Routine:  I wrote about the power of muscle memory in this post.  My Zumba teacher gets this too. Every class repeats a lot of the same moves, while keeping it fresh and adding new layers.  I get more and more comfortable each class because I know what to expect, but I don't get bored because I know there's going to be something different to learn too.

3.  Feedback:  The feedback is loud and crazy.  You're doing a good job at something?  She's in your face shaking her thing next to you, or pulling the pros up in front with her to be a fun example. Those pulled up love it and beam with pride.  You're lost or struggling?   She appears next to you doing the steps side by side.  Those fifteen seconds of one-on-one are usually all that's needed to get on track.

4.  Classroom Management:  We always start out facing the front, but we don't stay that way!  The focus is constantly changing.  Each side of the room becomes the front at some point during the class, with the teacher moving from each side - this way everyone - even in the back (where I tend to hide) suddenly finds themselves with a bird's eye view of what's going on.  Other times, the class is divided, facing each other, and even turned all the way around.  In this way, a very large class is managed at all times and she constantly knows what's happening in every corner of the room.

5.  Formative and Summative Assessment:  Most of the time the teacher is modeling all the moves.  We follow her, but she finds ways to assess how we are doing.  When she stops to watch and cheer us on, we continue on without her.  If we stumble, she can tell we don't have it yet and continues to model - sometimes even breaking it down to half-speed so we can pick it up.  At the end of class, she always encourages us to let her know how class was, and if there was anything we want more or less of to let her know.

Lesson Learned:  I've been teaching a really long time, but learning something new has given me some great teaching ideas and put it all in a new light.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Friday Finds 2/10/12

Articles and ideas that caught me attention this week:

Hiring Committees really should move towards new resumes instead.
Just something I read the other day that got me thinking.
Prove you are not a dog (and other strategies for making your online teaching better).
I love how Google searches can tell a story.
These (like the image above) are awesome for impromptu writing and journaling.
More ways to use Pinterest in education.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Friendly, but Unfriended.

I think I have a reputation as a firm, but friendly teacher.  This has led to many students friending me on Facebook.  Perhaps because we use a lot of technology tools and social media in our class, students feel comfortable sending me friend requests.  If they are following me on our our class Twitter page, blogging, and interacting on our Moodle discussion board forums, doesn't it make sense to take the next step and be friends on Facebook?  Not just current students, but a number of past students have found and friended me.  I accepted all of their friend requests.

Until last month.  After thinking long and hard, I unfriended all my students.  It wasn't just because of startling stories of inappropriate Facebook interactions that surface from time to time.  I had long been struggling to stand on the other side of the coin, researching reasons why I should invite Facebook into my classroom.  I know that Missouri teachers are fighting to stay Facebook friends with their students, but I decided I wanted out.

No, I don't post a bunch of inappropriate pictures of me partying on the weekends.  I also don't use Facebook to complain or rant about my students or my job.  I do, however, post pictures of my family, and there are a lot of links and posts I like to share with my close friends.  I'm pretty sure my students got tired of seeing posts of my boys' basketball and baseball game scores.  Also, I don't think they needed to see where my husband and I vacationed on our anniversary.  Yes, I know that I can form groups, and put all my students in one group.  I know I can hide my posts selectively.  But every one of my friends, students or otherwise, can see anything anyone else puts on my wall, and it just got to be too much work to select out groups and individuals every time I posted.  There are other problems too, which finally brought me to my decision.

Lesson Learned:
My students can still communicate with me through Moodle, Twitter, Email, and even Face-to-Face.  I'm still friendly too, just not on Facebook.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Friday Finds 2/3/12

I almost don't know what I'd do without Gmail!  Here are my favorite things, as well as a few others:

Are you using Gmail filters?
And how about this Gmail trick for class accounts?
Speaking of Gmail, teach your students how to be a Google Apps Ninja
Moment Garden is great for making timelines
If are a Pinterest addict like me, then while you are there check out these boards.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Friday Finds 1/27/12

Friday Finds are back!  Here are some things that caught my attention this week:

If you are looking for inspiration then start reading some of these:  2011 Best Ed Blogs
If you still need a New Year's Resolution here are some books I want to read in 2012.
Six Word Stories  that will inspire you every day.
Not all words are translatable.
Quotes to share with language learners.
Tutorials like the one pictured above as comics
A cool way to make interactive flyers
Check this out because we should all learn something about the technology we use!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Teaching Organization

It started with this turquoise chevron-patterned notebook.  Perfect for writing notes about the lesson plan for the day's class.  I printed and added a label.

Then I happened across a matching solid turquoise accordion file . . .

Printed labels (umm . . . turquoise ink of course) for the tabs.

Added a label to a matching two-pocket folder.  And just like that, all my teaching materials for one class color-coded and labeled.  No more running to the wrong class with the wrong folder.  No more pulling out a handful of manila folders from my bag and trying to figure out which one has handouts, which one has papers to pass back . .  and where are those quizzes?

Lesson Learned:  I often talk to my students about the importance of organization, suggesting that they keep their notes for each class together and have a place for handouts and other paperwork.  It's nice to talk about it, but it's better to teach by example.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Power of Choice

Today was the third class meeting of the semester.  On the syllabus I gave out the first day I listed the required grammar and reading textbooks for our class.  Then there was this note:  You will also choose three books with your book club.  Today was that day.  I passed out nearly 30 books.  I told each group that they had to look through all the books and choose three that their group would read together as part of a book club.  Although I had explained this the first day, the students seemed stunned.

A lot of hands went up:

  • "Which books should we get?"
  • "Who is going to decide?"
  • "What is your favorite book?"
  • "What kind of book is best?"
  • "How will we agree?"
  • "Any book?

My answer to all of their questions was simple:  "You choose.  It's up to you."
I offered no suggestions, no helpful hints, no direction on how to come to a group consensus.

After that, the students got down to the serious and happy business of looking at all the books and discussing among themselves which ones they wanted to read.

And their final questions:

"When will OUR books be in?  When do we get to start reading?"

Lesson Learned:  Choice makes all the difference.


Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Before the First Impression

Who is my teacher?

I remember reading an old study (summarized here) back in graduate school, and it has stayed with me ever since.  In the study, researchers explored how to predict teacher evaluations based on "thin slices of behavior."  In a nutshell, they showed  30 seconds of videotape with the sound off of different teachers.  Viewers saw 10 seconds each of the beginning, middle, and end of class.  Based on those silent 30 seconds, they evaluated teachers on different areas such as confidence, likability, professionalism, and so on.  They then compared those results with end of the semester evaluations of actual (and different) students.  The results were strikingly similar!  You can read Harvard magazine's summary or download the full report.  For whatever reason, that study has stuck with me years and years later, influencing me to think about the first impression I make on my students.

Today I was in my office when a student came in asking about a totally different department and teacher.  He was lost and was trying to find out how to add a class.  He told me he had dropped the class he was originally registered for because he looked online at the teacher's college directory photo and decided the teacher was "too quirky" for his tastes.  He dropped because of the the picture!  The student told me he had also scrolled through a few other teachers and if there was no photo, he searched Facebook to see if the teacher had a profile picture he could peruse.  While this student may be a bit more over-the-top than most, I'm betting he is not alone in seeking out a before-class-peek at the teacher.

I spend a lot of time with first-day activities.  I used to fret about my first 30 seconds of walking in the door. Now I'm thinking of what impression students already have in mind of me before they walk through my classroom door.  And up above?  That's my current Facebook profile picture.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Just a Break, not a Break-Up!

My last post was on December 1st.  My last day of the semester was December 16th.  And then I did not do anything school-related until January 11th, and did not have my first class of the semester until January 18th.  I waited to blog again until today.

What I did was take a break!  I didn't check Twitter 10x a day to see what new educational resources were being shared, I didn't read all the teachers' blogs I regularly read, and I didn't prepare lessons or grade papers.

Teachers know how important the time off is between semesters, during holidays, and over summer.  It gives us a chance to gain perspective, take a breath, get some sleep, and pull out from under our piles (real and virtual) of student work.  Then we come back refreshed, ready and excited.

I met the students in my new class Wednesday.  They were as all students are on the first day of class: nervous, shy, worried, and full of questions.  I was ready for them.  Because I took that break!