Spelling out the maths

December 2, 2014

Hey, I am now over 300 posts on this blog. And things have changed since I started! What was originally a support for talks I gave has become a space for reflection on language teaching in a much more general way. That’s what technology does maybe: change how we function in subtle and unpredicable ways.

I have considered closing this blog: at best it needs a spring cleaning given that most of the blog list on the right are now closed with the exception of the wonderful David Crystal.

Meanwhile, while over Christmas pudding and various Ryanair flights I will ponder what to do next, here is a summary of where technology and language teaching may stand at the moment. Gavin Dudeney and his company have always been at the forefront of training when it comes to using technology in EFL. They have also been very realistic which for me is the key.

Have a look at this video.

Will or going to?

October 22, 2014

Predicting the future is essentially pointless but probably essential. We can never make the future happen the way we want to but if we ignore our ability to shape it, we may well lose opportunities that will never be repeated.

Enough of philosophy.

paperThe Economist has a recent ¬†article on how predictions of the impact of IT and the internet never worked out: the paperless office doesn’t exist; the internet is now ruled by big companies rather than putting them in their place; privacy on the internet doesn’t exist. At the same time it has and is transforming the world we live in. And that of course applies to education also.

I have long been an advocate of the use of Internet in EFL but I have to say my overall experience is disappointing. In class, it is seldom more than a diversion on the IWB. Out of class, students rarely have the time and often the knowledge necessary to use it in interesting and effective ways and as teachers, we don’t always have the skills or time to devote to changing this situation.

Personally I have returned to a more Dogme approach in my teaching, less material, more input; less IT, more direct interaction with my students and their needs.

The Economist article finished with another philosophical quote: “There is a world of difference between disruption and destruction.” In terms of education that is the decision the teacher has to make. Not an easy one. That is the secret: technology, despite all its promises, hype and sales promotion, never offers simple solutions, only complicated opportunities that can only be fully explored and effectively developed in the hands of professional teachers.

Good luck ūüôā


Building bricks

July 2, 2014

holeWhen younger my son went through a phase of wanting to do everything independently, by himself. If you are not in a hurry and trying to get a kid out of the house, it can be entertaining to watch a little boy struggle into his trousers back to front.

Sugata Mitra’s plenary at IATEFL this year continues to generate controversary; indeed, his work in general does as he promotes the idea of students teaching themselves (the famous “Hole-in-the-wall” experiment) and more recently his idea of Self Organising Learning Environments (SOLEs). A search for any of these terms on YouTube or TED will give you an idea of how radical some of his claims may seem, and how persuasive he himself can be!

Some years ago I was involved in organising a TESOL Symposium on Learner Autonomy in the University of Seville. One of the speakers, Leni Dam, spoke about how much teacher work goes into developing learner autonomy! It is not something that happens automatically or even naturally. I am not sure Sugbata Mitra would agree but I think I do.

Michal B. Paradowski has a comprehensive article on the debate in the recent issue of IATEFL Voices. It can be read online and the references at the end also provide excellent follow up, particularly the comments made by Hugh Dellar and Jeremy Harmer.

My son is now autonomous when it comes to dressing. But it took time, and I don’t think he learned all by himself. Parents seem to have some small role in kids development. Teachers probably do as well: even in the future. Sometimes people need to be taught how to brick up that hole in the wall before winter kicks in although, by the same token,¬†I think Pink Floyd had a song about the dangers of bricking everything out.

Taking our medicine

June 16, 2014

I still have fond memories of the good old computer room, particularly one we had when the students worked in pairs at a computer with their back to the teacher who was free to observe, roam, advise, supervise and aid students on an individual level. It was almost Dogme! In fact, it was in comparison to what came next: IWBS and up front technology driven teaching which may provide the occasional “easy” lesson but to my mind, fail to engage students or stimulate learning in any positive way. It is just far too easy to sit back and enjoy the graphics: Disney Channel probably requires more concentration.

The article below discusses increasing use of tablets in classrooms and how that moves back to my initial scenario: using tablets students can again work at their own pace, be helped individually by a teacher and all in all the whole procedure is effective, engaging and worthwhile.

This article gives some practical indications of how tablets and specific educational software can work.

Thanks for all the phishing

September 19, 2013

Hi all and welcome back to a new teaching year after the summer. For those of you who may be slightly paranoid about internet security the Economist has an in-dept survey on the issue and an interesting debate about whether or not security agencies should be allowed pervert the flow of information as it were. If you don’t want to read the complete article scroll down to the fun section on Panoramic paranoia where the newspaper gives some tips on being really safe electronically (ie keep your mobile safe from interference by switching it off, taking out the battery and storing it in the fridge when not in use).

This blog is, of course, about technology and teaching but maybe the security issues remain the same. At what point should we shut technology out and store it in the fridge just in case it corrupts our classrooms? My daughter has just started secondary school and has been told that all mobile devices have to be turned off and locked away during school hours. A recent talk by a work-mate encouraged me to get my teenagers to take our their mobile phones and use them creatively in class last night. There is always a back door when it comes to technology. The trick may not be finding it but using it productively, creatively and in a way that stimulates the teaching and learning process. Technology is not an automatic virus. It can be, but in education that probably depends on the teacher.

That has always been the intention of this blog: learning about and using technology in the best pedagogical way possible. I have just re-read the aims of this blog stated in the WHY section and I hope to some extent they have been fulfilled.

Time moves on and technologically things change ever quicker than time does. After nearly 300 posts I think this blog may have reached an end. Three years is a long time in the history of internet. Things have moved on. I may return here or on a new blog when I have found a new angle: at the moment I feel that it is time for an upgrade, and they always take time to de-bug.

Meanwhile thanks for all the phising! Let me leave you with one final clip which does what we try to do every class: put a humanistic layer on intelligence, artificial or not.

It all adds up

July 2, 2013

Here is an appropriate article to end my academic year. The Economist has a Briefing dedicated to how technology is about to disrupt America’s schools and, logically, schools all over the world eventually. The good news is that there is nothing here that has not been commented on allready on this blog! Been there, done that!

Nevertheless, it is a fine summary of where we stand on a very general level and of what the future may hold. As always, one of the currents in the article which I most admire and hope will be central to the future, is the potential technology offers for individual tuition. My worst experiences with IT have been those of teacher-led IWB / PowerPoint presentations. My best those when students have been working individually or in small groups with the teacher helping each person and attending to their individual needs. This article indicates the latter as the way forward. Let’s hope so.

Original article here.

That is it for the summer. Back in September.

Stringing it out

May 20, 2013

stringThe question of how long it takes to learn a language has to be similar to the query of how long¬† a piece of string is: how many variables do you want to mull through before approaching, what might be, a possible answer? Here are two recent articles from the Guardian which don’t provide the answer but do give a general insight into language learning and how complex it can be. Nothing new for those of us involved but still some salient points and also for me at least, a slightly different perspective in that the articles are written from the perspective of language teaching in the British state system as opposed to the more familiar world of EFL.

The first text deals directly with the question of how long it may take to learn a language, considering the contexts, the aims and also including the CEF as a reference point. Unsurprisingly, there is no conclusion but the article does trawl throught lots of the nonsense that surrounds the question. Also, if you do read it, take a minute to follow the links: some of them are very useful.

This second article follows the previous one to an extent by posing a further question: what is the best way to teach a language. And, surprise, surprise, again there is no conclusion. But there are some interesting points brought up and a curious introduction to task-based learning in British schools. The quote I liked most was that languages cannot be taught: they can only be learned.

Your views on these areas more than welcome.