Tuesday 27 October 2009

Creating an Online Journal for CPD

The importance of careful thought and reflection on what we do as both teachers and learners can not be overestimated in terms of the learning process and retaining information in a way that we can actually use it and make it part of our experience and practice.

Keeping a teaching or learning journal can be a really important part of this process of reflection and writing entries can help us to reformulate what we have read or analyse our experiences and draw conclusions from them which we can later return to, share and reflect on again.

For me Penzu is a really good tool which can help me and my students or trainee teachers to do this.

How to create your learning journal

  • You will need to create a password and enter a username, email address and agree to the terms of use. Then you just click on ‘Submit’.

  • You can then start creating your journal entries by adding a text and title. Each entry is dated automatically and you can move from one entry to another using the tabs on the right of the page.

  • To add pictures, you simply click on the ‘Insert Photo’ icon at the top of the page and locate an image on your computer and upload it.

  • Once you have uploaded your pictures you simply click to insert the ones you want to use.

  • The picture will appear in the margin and you can then drag it up or down to line it up with the text. Users click on the images to enlarge them.

  • To share journal entries you click on the share icon and this enables you to email your entry to someone else. You can either include your name and email along with a message or this can be done anonymously.

How we can use Penzu as a journal tool.
  • We can write short summaries of articles we have read and make a note of what our personal main points of interest or learning were from the article.
  • We can keep a journal of our teaching or training work and reflect on how classes went, compare these to our expectations and make notes of things we would like to try differently next time.
  • We can use it as an action research journal recording what we do in each lesson and setting out our objectives for the action research project. We can also ask students to use it to keep a journal of their reflections on our teaching and we can ask them to send us entries anonymously so that we can get unbiased feedback from our students on our teaching.
  • We can include it as part of a peer to peer development program and partner up teachers to watch each others classes, reflect on what they saw and send each other entries.
  • We can use it as a simple record of what we did in the class and what we want to do to follow it up in the next class.

The vital thing with all of these activities is that we return to our entries and reflect on what we wrote some time later. Immediate responses to what happens in our classes can be very subjective and emotional. If we record those responses and then come back to them at a time when we can be more objective we are often able to gain much greater insights into what happened in the class. In this way the journal enables us to capture thoughts and feelings that would otherwise be lost.

What I like about Penzu
  • It’s free and very simple to use.
  • The entries are private, but be can be shared
  • We can add images to make the entries more memorable
  • It can be accessed from anywhere
  • It’s quick and date stamps entries for us

What I’m not so sure about
  • It would be nice to be able to add a few hyperlinks (I think this is possible in the ‘Pro’ paid for edition.
  • It would be nice to have the option of having images in the text rather than just in the margin (again, probably available in the ‘Pro’ edition)

Well that’s about all I have to say about Penzu for now. I’ve focused on its uses as a tool for teacher development here, but it is also a great tool to use with students too. For more information on using Penzu with students check out my teaching manual Web 2.0 Tools for Teachers, which you can read or download for free.

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Nik Perachey

Thursday 1 October 2009

Revising Short Texts and Syntax on IWB

WordMagnets is a really useful tool that students can either use alone on a computer, or that you can use in class with a projector or IWB.

Here's a short video showing you how to use it.

You can download a copy of the video here and copy suitable for iPod here.

WordMagnets is a simple tool that allows you to paste text into a field and then click a couple of times to change the text into word tiles a little like fridge magnets that you can drag and rearrange. Here's a text that I quickly copied in from an article about J. K. Rowling.

I clicked on 'Next', then ignored the opportunity to change the background and clicked 'Next' again and I had these randomised word tiles that I could then drag to recreate the text.

This is a great tool that has some really useful features. You can type in and add words to the text, or you can delete word tiles from the text by clicking on remove then clicking the words you want to get rid of.

You can also change the colour and size of the tiles, which could be useful if you really want them to stand out on a whiteboard or dataprojector.

How can we use this with students?

  • Revising text - You can get students to test themselves working alone or in pairs on a computer. They simply copy and paste short snippets of text into the text field and generate their won activities. Just two sentences at a time should be enough (Try it, it's harder than you think). Then they have to drag the words back into the correct order. They can check against the original source to se if they get it right. This is great to help them develop an awareness of syntax and collocation.
  • Dialogue build - You can type or copy some short dialogues either from your coursebook or by grabbing text from a movie script (Here's a site that has a huge collection of movie scripts that you can copy and paste from: Drew's Script-O-Rama). First get the students to read or listen to the short dialogues then get them to work together to arrange the words into the correct order (This would be a great time to have the dialogue on an IWB and students could actually come up and drag the words into the correct order themselves).
  • Once you have the words in order you can get students to practice saying the dialogue. Once they have done it a few times, gradually start deleting words. Start with less important ones like articles and prepositions, so that the key 'sense' carrying words remain. See if your students can still say the dialogue. Then ask them to rebuild the text again adding the missing words. This is a great way to get students internalising dialogue.
  • Error noticing - You could use the tool to revise a text with the whole class and actually add in some words that didn't appear in the text as distractors or delete some words and see if students can guess which ones are missing.
  • Extending sentences - You could get the students to arrange a short sentence and then start adding new words to it to lengthen the sentence like the telescopic text from this exercise: Extending a Sentence. You could suggest a word to add to the sentence and then students can decide how and where they make it fit and what other words they need to add with it.
  • Focus on form - You could use it to focus on form by creating an exercise using examples of sentences with a specific structure that you want to revise. Get the students to arrange the words of the sentences then highlight similarities in structure.
  • Parts of speech - You can get students to colour code the parts of speech in the sentence of colour highlight collocations, etc.

What I like about it
  • Word magnets is free, easy to use.
  • You can use it to create materials and exercises almost instantly without any preparation.
  • Once the Flash swf file is open it works quickly in your browser and so doesn't require a fast connection or any software downloads.
  • It can push students to really think about syntax and collocation without having to focus too much on applying sets of rules.
  • It makes text much easier to manipulate on an IWB (if you have ever tried to create an exercise like this on an IWB, you'll know that it takes a long time).
  • You can get students up to the board and moving the words around and changing the colours themselves.

What I'm not so sure about
  • It's a shame you cant save activities, but at least this means that you aren't violating copyright by cutting and pasting text as all activities are transitory.
  • It would be useful to have a solution button that you could click and see the words in the right order. Again though this could also be a benefit because it encourages students to keep trying rather than give up and get the answer.
WordMagnets is a really useful tool whether your students are working alone or whether you are working with them using a projector. I hope you find it useful.

You can find more text based activities for EFL and ESL students here.

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Nik Peachey

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