Hear no evil

February 24, 2015

evilSpanish newspaper El País has a major story today on seven reasons why mobile phones should be switched on and not off in classrooms. The article points out that the days are far behind when teachers lived in awe of the technological abilities their students displayed: we now all live in the digital world and many of today’s teachers were actually born into it.

Nevertheless, as we know, use of technology in classrooms very often starts with “switch off your mobile phones please” rather than the opposite. Very often resources have been spent on technology in classrooms but the next step is to develop the notion of a digital curriculum in more detail and how the teaching profession understands and works with this concept.

It is a slow process. The challenge is not just how to use technology effectively in teaching, rather how to use technology in the best way in order to improve the overall quality of the education being offered.

Original article here:

Ironically, the weekend before El País published a major article on censorship and the internet across the world: are teachers the best censors?


Testing times

November 10, 2014

I am currently preparing a talk on Teaching and Testing and how to find the correct mix of both in our classes. Here is an interesting video overview of the history of testing from Ancient China (where it was fundamental to building the concept of trained civil servants and in turn a “modern” state) to modern language testing.

Barry O’Sullivan on language testing

Preparing my talk however, I decided I needed to include a third item into the title: creativity. In the environment I am working at the moment, here in Spain it appears that nowadays nobody wants to learn a language anymore, they just want a certificate for B1, B2 or C1: the piece of paper is all they need, the language is irrelevant. The Common European Framework, with its initial goals of fostering life long learning has, for the moment, in Southern Spain at least, created an atmosphere and expectations which are completely exam focused. The danger is that our classes do the same and are reduced to this short term goal rather the longer term objective of learning and using languages proficiently.


That is why I introduced a spark of creativity into the session: we can’t just teach and test. We don’t have to be doing drama or dance in our classes but we do have to listen to students needs and interests, use them and not remain 100% constrained by coursebooks, upcoming exams etc. to the expense of genuine interaction and learning.

Sir Ken Robinson, as always, has a lot to say on this: if you haven’t seen it before this TED talk really does make you think about how limited we, as teachers, are in terms of the preparation we give students for a future none of us can predict let alone imagine.


The Present is never Perfect

July 14, 2014

10,000 hours may be necessary to master the violin according to a recent Economist article. Nevertheless, while it can be argued that with enough practice anything is possible, research may prove otherwise. Unless you have a musical ear, years of practice may just not be enough!


As teachers I think we must agree that the same applies to language learning: practice will certainly help and, indeed, is essential but it may not make you perfect. Twenty some years on I still speak (pretty good) Spanish with an awful foreign accent, and it is not from a lack of practice.

It is humbling to realise I may never be perfect and gratifying, encouraging even to realise many of our students won’t be either. But that is no reason to stop teaching or learning. 10,000 hours can never go to waste, can they? That would be too ironic: even Alanis Morissette might agree.

Original article at http://tinyurl.com/moapyrt


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.

A one hit wonder

June 9, 2014

Here is a statistic: 3 out of 5 people spend more time with their technology than they do with their spouse. Time to unplug?

Did you know a “device-agnostic” APP is one that will work on most platforms? That will make your life much simpler if you are expecting lots of different students to use it: you don’t have to check what devices they are using and whether they are compatible or not with what you want to use.

Ever wondered what a teacher’s brain might look like?

Have you ten quick ideas for using mobile phones in your classroom?

The answers to all these questions and more are on www.edudemic.com

Great, easy to navegitate site with tons of ideas and advice for teachers. Love it. It’s in my top ten.

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.

Only words … child’s play

April 3, 2013

imagesNothing strange about a younger learners book introducing clothes vocabulary. Curiously, however, when personalising the activities and playing games withthe clothes they were actually wearing I had to introduce a whole new lexical set: tracksuit, uniform, trainers etc. Nothing wrong with that but it is interesting how irrelevant textbook material can be to real life … or vica versa.

Twenty years since Lewis proposed a more lexical approach based largely on findings from what was then recent field of computer based Corpus research. Suddenly it seemed impossible to distinguish grammar from vocabulary; everything became a chunk of language. Twenty years on, text books and possibly teachers still pay lip service to the concept but it nevery fully brought in radical changes in the way it initially urged.

It may just be that it takes that long or even longer for academic thinking to seep down to the chalk face. That is one of the ideas in this Guardian article on why the lexical approach has never been as influential as perhaps it should. The same probably applies to effective use of IT in teaching: despite all the initial enthusiasm, the reality at the chalkface or even the IWBface is that really creative use may take longer than expected.

The author of the Guardian article above has a blog http://leoxicon.blogspot.co.uk/ which is a great resource site for ideas on exploring lexis in class. The TOOLS section has an extensive list of very useful links for vocabulary and corpus information on the web. Some of them you will know and others perhaps not, but great having them all in just one place.

untitledMy message for today then? Let’s not let Lewis haunt us. The lexical approach is too important to be hidden away, another EFL skeleton in the wardrobe.