Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Different But The Same

My first block high school ESL class is much more diverse than any other one of my classes.   There are seven of us, including me, with seven different countries represented.  Four of us are Spanish speaking, two of them speak Lao and Thai, and one of them speaks Telugu.  All cultures and languages are equally validated and celebrated as we share our backgrounds, traditions and values with one another.  As they learn/practice English, they also pick up some invaluable skills that will help prepare them for a global marketplace.

Today is Wednesday and we are going on fall break for the next two days.  So instead of our weekly Show & Tell, they engaged in an icebreaker activity.  We had an icebreaker at the beginning of the year, but after gaining two new students, I thought it was time to have another one.  They were given a list of 12 questions to ask each other and they had one minute to answer each question.  After each question, they had to switch partners and talk to a different classmate. Questions ranged from favorite foods and colors, to weekend plans and post-high school plans to questions about family and birthday traditions.  Nothing intrusive, but certainly a way for them to get to know each other.   After they completed the activity, they were asked to review the answers and determine whether or not they would respond to the question in the same way.  We ended the session with a blog post where they reflected on what they learned as they compared and contrasted.

While this icebreaker was designed to help them get to know one another, I used it to reinforce comparing/contrasting skills.  I also took this opportunity to help them see that even though we all come from different nations and don't have one common native language, we have many similarities in tastes, traditions, celebrations and dreams.  One obvious common thread is that English is our second language (myself included) but there is so much more that brings us together.  

It was a great moment and a nice way to send them off on their fall break.  And I can't end without thanking Shelly Terrell (@ShellTerrell) -whom I've never met, but is part of my awesome PLN - for the icebreaker activity idea.


Monday, October 27, 2014

To Fail Is To Succeed

I can't say that I have a favorite story about connected teaching and learning, but my personal and professional growth as a result of being a connected teacher is a story in it of itself.  I have learned to be more reflective (#reflectiveteacher), more positive (#BestYearEver), more in touch with parents (#GoodCallsHome) and so much more.  I have grown professionally by connecting with organizations like Teach Thought, Edutopia, the wonderful folks on the #ELLchat and not to mention all those blogs I read about others' reflections.

While I don't have a favorite story, I will say that the blog posts that have had the most impact on me have been by those educators who are willing to shed their masks and share their failures.  Those who have written about their mistakes and flaws in the classroom and other areas of the profession have, if you will, given me the permission to fail.  They have taught me that it is in failing that we succeed.  I'm really into motivational and inspirational quotes and I'm always sharing them with my students and my own kids.  Those quotes keep me going when I fail.  And even though I read quotes about failure all the time, I have to admit that I'm not one to talk about them with my colleagues, online or in person.  Now, I'm not one to pretend I have it all together.  I'm very genuine and am quick to apologize or admit my errors.  When I goof up in class and my students correct me, I graciously say thank you and move on.  I pride myself on dwelling on the positive, on being optimistic and hopeful.  However, I'm starting to think that perhaps I need to dwell on those failures just a bit longer so I can learn from them and make sure they are not repeated.  Perhaps that positivity is nothing but denial.

Unfortunately, I cannot specifically cite the authors that have so inspired me, but I need to say that I am thankful.  In the future, I will make sure to tweet, email or write a response on their blog.  And for those of you who don't write about your failures, please do so.   We all need to learn from our own mistakes as well as everyone else's.  I haven't yet to write a blog post about a failed lesson, but I will soon.

In success and in failure, this is still the #BestYearEver

Friday, October 24, 2014

The Power of a Pencil and Eraser

Despite all the efforts to standardize and align curriculum, we all will inevitably bring our personalities, hobbies and interests into our instructional delivery.  While I really don't have any hobbies per se, there is an interest that I most certainly bring into my lessons, and quite explicitly, and that is inspirational and motivational quotes.  I openly tell my English learners that they will face challenges and obstacles that most of their native English speaking peers will never encounter.  In many cases, they will have to prove themselves much more than if they spoke English fluently and with no accent.  However, I will always tell them that inspite of these challenges, they can expect a bright future if they are willing to work hard and stay motivated.  Attitude will be as important as aptitude.  Therefore, I use motivational and inspirational quotes in ESL to cover many language standards and hopefully add a little bit of motivation and inspiration to help them pick up some momentum. 

Idioms and figurative language are very challenging to an ELL.  Beginners struggle to learn language period and long term ELLs, while socially proficient,  struggle just as much with figurative language.  They can't seem to move past the concrete and into the abstract.  Motivational quotes and sayings can help English Language Learners learn idioms, grammar and vocabulary, but there are many literary lessons that can be taught using inspirational and motivational quotes and they will benefit the general population not just ELLs.  Here are just a few:
  • Figurative Language
  • Connotative Language
  • Inferencing
  • Symbolism
  • Imagery
  • Alliteration
  • Interpretation
  • Personification
  • Metaphors/Similes
I give them a quote a week and upload it to the announcements section of the learning system (we use Angel).  At the middle school, all teachers list homework assignments in the announcements section.  At the high school, they list all sort of items in there so this is a section they all will look at often. Therefore in the midst of all their work, they will find that motivational quote.  It's usually done as a warm up on Mondays or Tuesday, but I leave it up for the entire week and refer to it everyday, usually as I launch them.  

This week's quote was "The average pencil is seven inches long, with just a half-inch eraser-in case you thought optimism is dead" (Robert Brault).  Before reading the quote and interpreting its meaning, I review/teach key vocabulary. For this quote, they learned the meaning of optimism first (as well as all the related words) and then I went on to the quote.  It took all groups a little thinking, but they enjoyed it and most found it very inspiring.  I encouraged them to have a positive outlook and reminded them that when they fail, they can usually get a chance to erase and make a correction.  While in real life we don't always get a do-over, sometimes second chances come in the form of taking another route.  After they all got the quote, I issued them a pencil to serve as a reminder to remain optimistic.

I have to say that while these quotes present some great teachable moments, they inspire me just as much, if not more.  This week's quote is one of my favorites and I hope that it will motivate you as much as it motivate my students and me.


Thursday, October 16, 2014

Our Need To Connect

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.