Thursday, October 16, 2014

Our Need To Connect

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Every human being has a deep rooted need to belong - to belong to someone or something. Deep down, most of us need to connect with others and be socially accepted.  Belongingness is one of the basic needs included in Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, just above the physiological and the safety and security needs.  That need to belong is what drives us to seek relationships with others and participate in social events.   It is that inherent need to belong that drives us to connect with others, personally and professionally.

So why is it important for educators to be connected?  For starters, we will be happier and more fulfilled.  We were created to be connected to other people or groups.  Once our basic needs are fulfilled-belongingness being one of them-we will be able to grow and work at potential.  In today's technology-driven, global marketplace, we no longer need to leave our home in order to make connections with anyone on this planet.  We can easily connect with other education professionals  from the comforts of our home or school with little to no expense.  Thanks to social media, we have those social and professional connections at our fingertips.  There's really no excuse not to connect.

But back to the basic question.  Why is it important to be connected?  Well, as Maslow would suggest, it is one of our basic needs and it is only after meeting our basic needs that we can actually reach the top of the pyramid toward self-actualization.   So, we need to eat and sleep, we need to feel safe and secure, we need to connect (belong), and we need to feel good about ourselves (self-esteem) -  all so we can operate at full capacity.

So next time you wonder if that Twitter chat is a waste of time, don't fret, you are simply meeting one of your basic needs.


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Educreations: My New Toy

I love technology. While I still have lots to learn, I love using it in teaching and learning and I especially love discovering new cool tools that help me to be a more effective teacher  and help my students learn more effectively as well.  And I also love teaching at a dynamic and innovative 1:1 district that is 21st century in every way.  I learn a great deal, just from my colleagues at MGSD, but now that I've become an avid tweeter, I'm learning so much more.

Last Monday during #ELLchat, I learned about Educreations.  If you have an iPad, Educreations turns the tablet into an interactive whiteboard, allowing users to record, write and insert graphics into a single page or multi page presentation which can easily be shared or embedded into a blog, course website or other medium.  If you have laptops like we do, it's still wonderful because of the recording feature, although the writing part is not great.  While Educreations best used as an iPad app, I still find it to be a wonderful teaching and learning tool.  My ESL students and I used it today and we had some fun.  Actually, I had fun and the students probably just had fun watching me get all excited about it.  

Here's why I like it.

1.  Flipping Classroom and Read Alouds
The recording feature makes it ideal for flipping the classroom and doing read alouds.   It's also a great presentation tool for both teachers and students.  While drawing would be awesome, inserting a graphic, diagram or other object and then adding the verbiage to go with it would allow students to view the demonstration at home or use it as a review/study tool.  It would also allow the students to explain their work and giving teachers another way to assess.

2. Speaking Practice for ESL students
This is how I'm going to use it.  Yesterday I reviewed the rules for pronouncing words ending in "ed" and so I used Educreations for speaking and reading practice.  Students took a screenshot of a given paragraph that contained numerous words ending in "ed" and were asked to read the paragraph.  From this point on, I will use it to measure speaking, reading fluency and pronunciation.

3. Easy to Log In and Share
If you have a Gmail account, you can login using Google and when you are ready to share, you simply click a "share" button and it will give you a link or a code to embed in your product.

4.  It's FREE.
Anything free is welcomed in education, so long as it's useful and not just fun and interesting.

Like everything else, it's not perfect so I do have to warn you about its drawbacks.  First of all, if you are imperfect like me, it may frustrate you a bit.  If you need to edit one part, you will need to erase the whole thing and start over.  Furthermore, you have to complete the entire presentation in one sitting.  No saving and going back to finish it later.  Wasn't crazy about that part either.  It's also very simplistic and so you are quite limited.  For example, there's no copying/pasting and you can't draw basic shapes.  Nonetheless, I find it a pretty cool tool and I think it will be very beneficial to my ESL students, especially my beginners as they learn to read, write, speak and listen in English.

Check it out and let me know what you think.


Saturday, October 11, 2014

To Be Real

How/when does a connection become authentic?  A connection is like a relationship.  Two people come together, whether its friendship or romance, who have common interests and an interest in each other. In order for that connection to be authentic, it must be genuine and meaningful. Just like a relationship it must be nurtured and it takes time. Not only does it become more authentic over time, but those involved in the connection must invest their time and effort.

Connections among educators are no different.   Growing our PLN (connections) is not about growing our number of followers, joining numerous chats or tweeting several times a day, that's just a starting point.  Connections are authentic when there is some accountability, some meaningfulness, some genuine interest in the growth and well being of your connections.  In my view, while Twitter is an awesome place to expand horizons and find all sorts of connections, it's only a beginning.  I think that those connections we find on Twitter, or some other social media, need to be taken to another level and involve something more.

I must admit that my connections are rather shallow at this point and not very authentic by my standards, but I'm getting there.  Twitter has opened up a whole new world for me in the last six months or so and I'm guessing it will take me places I can't even imagine. However, what I am finding is that these connections I have made on Twitter have inspired me in my daily practice, helping me connect to my students, their parents, my colleagues and also my friends and family.
So, back to the original question, how/when does a connection become authentic?  It happens over time as the parties involved invest their time and basically, it's got to be real.

As I write this post, I keep hearing a disco song in my head from back in the late 70's by Cheryl Lynn, titled "Got To Be Real."  I was too young back then to go to clubs, but it was a catchy tune and it was often playing on the radio.   Perhaps you weren't alive back then or are too young to remember it,  or just didn't care for disco and never heard of it so here's a link to it on You Tube, in case you'd like to take a listen.  Enjoy and above all...keep it real.


Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Connected, Plugged In and Charged!

October is Connected Educator Month and I have decided to join Teach Thought once again and follow their blogging prompts.  If you have read any of my posts from last month, I follow the blog prompts, just as I follow my lesson plans. I will deviate, accommodate and modify as needed.  However, since these prompts are weekly rather than daily, I expect that I will be staying on topic.  So here goes week 1.  What does "connected education" mean to me?

As I started on this post, I thought about its synonyms and first thought of the words "plugged in" and that reminded me of "charged".  We connect to a socket and once plugged in, our devices are charged.  For me, especially since my district is 1:1, there was definitely a connection, no pun intended.  I later went to and looked up the word "connected" to find some more synonyms and below is a screenshot of the results.  

At first, I thought of a connected educator as one who is on the cutting edge.  An educator who tweets, attends edcamps,  leads PD sessions at local schools or other districts.  Basically, an innovative educator who is up to date on all the latest strategies and technologies.  However, after reading this article on Edutopia last night and after reviewing the list above, I've changed my thinking a little.  While being innovative and technology-driven is certainly part of being connected, that's not where the focus needs to be.  First and foremost, we must be connected to the young lives that are entrusted to us every day.  They are the reason we are in this profession to begin with.  It's not about the latest gadget, teaching strategy or expanding our PLN, it's about connecting with our students - capturing their hearts and minds.  It's not about imparting knowledge, although that will inevitably occur, but it's about laying a sturdy foundation for lifelong learning and continual growth.  

You might read this and say "well, duh".  We all know that is our bottom line, but that line is easily blurred in the busyness of keeping up with all our duties and our growth ambitions.  

So as we aim to be more connected, let's make sure we are plugged in to the right source - our students - and enable them to be charged up and ready for success, wherever their lives may lead them.


Sunday, October 5, 2014

Twitter: Connectedness and More

Have you ever taken a trip to the store in search of a specific item and found yourself finding that and a few other things you had no intention of buying. For a bargain hunter like me, it happens all the time.  Well, for me, Twitter has delivered much more than I expected to find when I plunged into its world last year.

Last spring I got serious about Twitter after learning that it was an ideal PD source.  I am "the" secondary ESL teacher for my school district.  We are a very small district and although we have three ESL teachers who serve our elementary and intermediate schools, I'm it for the secondary level.  I love it because I get to take the students from 7th grade all the way through to 12th grade, or until they exit if sooner.  Aside from helping them grow their English language communication skills, I get to mentor them as they get ready to graduate and take on the world.  It's very rewarding, but being a lone ranger is, well, lonely.   I split my days between the high school and middle school and although most teachers are very supportive and cooperative, I'm sort of a misfit.  I don't seem to fit in with any particular PLC, department or even school.  For the most part, I'm okay with it because it keeps me focused on my students, but there are times that I need to connect with someone who is in my field and grade level.

And so, I joined my first Twitter chat, #ELLchat and found it a great source of PD.  However, what I never expected was to connect with education professionals from a variety of fields, grade levels and countries.  Not only have I made some invaluable contacts in the ESL field, Twitter has enabled me to grow professionally in ways I never expected.  Here are just a few:

1.  #BestYearEver
This is my motto for this year.  It was started by Edutopia and I found it on Twitter. This hashtag has been a jumpstart and continues to keep me moving.  It's written on my whiteboard so I can never lose sight of all the great things that are in store for this year.

2. #GoodCallsHome
We all have the best of intentions for making positive calls all year long, but early in the school year I heard about the Good Calls Home movement on Twitter and joined in.  My colleagues keep me accountable through our posts.  This also became one of the goals on my professional development plan.

3. #ReflectiveTeacher
Thanks to TeachThought, I am now more reflective than I've ever been.  During the month of September, I joined the blogging challenge.  The challenge was intended to help teachers become more reflective, however, for me, this gave me an incentive to blog on a regular basis.  Although I'm very much a novice blogger, thanks to the blogging challenge I'm blogging regularly.  I post at least once a week and share these musings on Twitter.

4.  Global Connectedness
I expected to connect and chat with a few other ESL teachers across the U.S., but I never expected to be connected to teachers across the world - Canada, Australia, Ireland, Spain and New Zealand, just to name a few.  I'm also now more global-minded as I plan and carry out my lessons.  I hope to eventually connect my English learners to some of my colleagues' students at some point too.

There are so many unquantifiable benefits and there is still a great deal I need to learn about Twitter, so I'm sure there will be many other finds.


Friday, October 3, 2014

The Sounds of Learning

The sound of student engagement is music to any teacher's ears, but more so to an ESL teacher and especially coming from a group of beginner English Language Learners.

We ended the Beginner ESL class on a great note today and much different than most Fridays. Customarily, Fridays are Show & Tell days for my High School Beginner ESL class.   It's the best part of the week. A time for them to practice oral presentation and listening skills and it's also a time for them to learn from each other.  For me, the best part is what I learn from them. Most of the presentations have some sort of a cultural twist where we tie in their culture to something we are learning.  For example, last week (9/26), students brought in currency from their native country and contrasted and compared their currency to U.S. currency, including the currency exchange rate.  We had been covering the Industrial Revolution at that point and currency related well with the economic growth that our country experienced during that time.  Students were so engaged that one student didn't get to present hers and they didn't even have time to write their reflection.  While they can certainly blog at home, these students still need some scaffolding and so I let them reflect in class. Needless to say, we had one presentation on Monday and they posted their reflection on their blogs. Show & Tell is an awesome time for the beginners, but this week there was lots going on at our school and schedules were a little crazy, so we decided to cancel Show & Tell.  At first, I regretted the decision but hoped that the planned activity would turn out as engaging and productive as S&T.

So, we worked on reading strategies.  I gave them pointers on how to improve their reading comprehension by "talking to the text" and doing "think alouds".  In commemoration of Hispanic Heritage Month, I selected a reading on Cesar Chavez, which went perfectly with the issues we covered on the Industrial Revolution.  We read on Thursday, covered essential vocabulary and I introduced the concept of symbol reading.  Today, I divided them up by native language and asked them to use the symbols as they read and discuss what they were reading and thinking. They were awesome and best of all, they had excellent comprehension.  They were free to speak in their native language as they "thought aloud", but later would be expected to share some of their notes with the entire class in English.  All the chatter, including the talk I didn't understand, was music to my ears and made my day.  

They talked to the text and talked to each other, producing beautiful sounds of learning.  The best is yet to come.