Saturday, November 17, 2012

ePals -- Global Community Where Learners Connect

To "Safely Connect With Classrooms Around the World for Collaborative, Project-Based Learning", ePals has built a global community of social learning networks, making it possible to enhance students' engagement and raise their global awareness through collaboration. 

To start with, we can find a classroom and match the students according to their age group, location, first language, etc, enabling them to "break" the wall of traditional classroom, and invest their efforts to collaborate with students from different corners of the world to accomplish their projects. Hence, more and more students can become members in this global learning center and get engaged in this cultural exchange community. Through participation, they can not only share resources, but also contribute and complete projects as a team. Also, in this global community, learning happens 24/7  and beyond the physical boundary of the traditional classrooms.

After establishing an account on ePals, we can start a new project or join a project. Since students from different parts of the world can be connected, they can interpret an issue through multiple angles. It can give each individual participant a wider perspective and an open mind through intercultural dialogue, making it possible for them to have friends all over the world, through which their cross-cultural communication skills can be improved to a large extent. I find the cultural center fascinating, where we can find a wide range of cultural projects. For example, we can let students to create a cultural profile or make make a video of their daily lunch routine.  Moreover, I think it would be beneficial for students to get a sense of accountability as global citizens, if we could put the Global Citizens unit into our teaching practice, where students can know more about the outside world by exploring the facts about certain counties or global issues. For instance, we can let students to do this Global Community Country Investigation, in which students can have a closer look at the social, cultural, political, economic and physical aspects of their chosen countries.

We can use ePals in EFL classrooms at different grade levels. For example, if we teach American holidays to a group of middle school students in China, we can initiate a project with students from America (Jennifer Nypert's students for example), who have been brought up in the target culture. We can assign our students a task and let them to conduct a questionnaire or interview with the cultural partners and make a summary about the American traditions in terms of holidays according to the response from the partners. Plus, we can let the students from both classrooms to make a compare and contrast between two cultures together and present and publish their works via other social media, like Prezi or class Voice Thread. 

If we teach English speakers Chinese in an American high school, we can use ePals to build connections with a group of students in China (Peter Scott's class for example). We can design a series of cultural activities together. For example, we can let our students to do an examination of the Education systems in both countries. In this study, they need to do a research first to have certain background knowledge on the schooling system in the target culture. Then, they need to make a survey or conduct an interview with their partners to get a closer image of the given topic according to their partners' response. After they analyze the data they collected, they will be required to write a report and make a presentation on Prezi/ googledocs and share the link on class blogs. Hence, by completing this project, our students can not only get more authentic input from the interlocutors but also get more opportunities to use the target language, thus enabling them to improve their proficiency and communicative skills as a whole. Through interaction, students from both classrooms can learn new cultural knowledge from their partners.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Garden Walk Buffalo 2012 -- A practice of Using Animoto in Teaching

Make your own slideshow at Animoto.

Life a like a journey where our hearts wander.
Let's hug the tree, kiss the sunshine and smell the flower.
Delightful blooms fill our eyes and minds.
Let's take pictures, keeping the sweet memories fresh and last forever.

This is a demonstration of employing Animoto in the language classroom. We went to the Garden Walk with a group of ESL students this summer in Buffalo.  I think this video could have been used as a writing prompt after they came back, which might strike a chord and offer certain inspirational sparks to them to retrieve the shared memories and synthesize something original. They may find themselves engaged and motivated in the writing process. Eventually, they can create something to share with others because they experienced it together in such a beautiful occasion.

A good writer should be a good observer and observation enables students to think about the life and the world around them. Hence, they can learn and get new ideas from what they see and what they experience. This animated slides show with music was design to create a relaxing learning environment for the students to be engaged in the thinking and writing process about the how they like the Garden Walk. Also, students would be required to create their own Animoto show by using the pictures they took.

I think observation-based learning makes it possible for students to discover and explore their life. Thus, they can think and build the connection with their existing schema to form new understanding about the world. Each individual has different perspective and angle to see the world; hence they may have different interpretation about the same topic. In other words, they may hold various opinions, draw different conclusions, have different findings. As teachers, we can let them to work together to contribute as a whole to create a much more comprehensive image about certain topic.

Similarly, we can also implement to create other video clips to introduce holiday traditions in certain country. Alternatively, they can introduce some cultural elements in their home countries, like clothes, food, etc. Also, we can make let students to write a memoir since they were young.

Using Voicethread in Teaching

(Note: Please click my icon to listen to the instruction first, and then listen to your classmates' comments. You need to come up with new ideas which are different from others. Thank you!)

This is a practice of using Voicethread in language classrooms.  I regarded it as a discussion forum for brainstorming, inviting students to contribute together to figure out an action plan to tackle the given problem. I think voice thread can be largely used in speaking class. For example, we can raise some hot topics or popular phenomena around the world, like globalization or study abroad, and let students to analyze the reasons of them. Likewise, we can let them to further evaluate the pros and cons of them.  We can also conduct a debating activity via it, in which we can raise certain controversial issues and let students to take a stand and defense themselves.

I also find my classmates' Voice Thread very interesting. In Julia's work, she initiated a book review seminar, where students can share their favorite characters in the books they have read. I like it, because I think her practice is extremely suitable for readers' workshop or reading conference when we teach reading. In Ning's work, she created a cultural workshop and opened a window for students to know Chinese culture, also enabling students to make a compare and contrast with their own culture. In Alicia's work, she also made us to be aware of the cultural differences on school settings between countries. I like Ning's and Alicia's works, because they can raise students' cultural awareness through talking about specific cultural elements. Following their teaching modes, we can employ and develop more cultural topics for students to examine and present. I think students would like it and learn a lot from this activity.

Since it is an audio-visual presentation recorded in advanced and retrievable with the access to the Internet regardless of the limitation of time and space, it can be used to a large extent both inside and outside language classrooms.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

A Practice of Storybook

I made this storybook by using Bookr and Flickr images to tell a funny story. I planned to present certain scenario with dialogues, which is funny. After having an idea of the story, I was trying to figure out how Bookr works but I found it difficult to find the pictures that I want when I made this storybook. I tried my best to search different key words and evaluate all the pictures I saw and selected the best relevant ones. Also, when I turned back and I lost my data, so I have to redo it again. Maybe what I learned is how to try new methods and do new things through error and trials and keep on trying and never give up.

I would like to ask my students to create storybooks to tell jokes from their culture, because humors are culturally-embeded. Other students can give feedbacks or comments to the story. Alternatively, they can tell a fable or illustrate an idiom or proverb. Hence, they can appreciate the values in other cultures or find the relevancy among cultures.  The linguistics objective is to enable students to describe a scenario by using a second language in a meaningful context. The pedagogical objective is to give students an opportunity to appreciate the humor and value in other culture by reading other students' jokes, fables and idioms.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Educational Implications of Digital Storylines

Since we were young, we have been fascinated in reading storybooks, because the engaging scenarios and characters are so vivid that offers us lots of enjoyable reading and unforgettable learning experience. Also, the well-illustrated pictures always have a magic to lead our thoughts to another world, making it possible for us to spread the wings of imagination. Hence, we can use story-lines in our teaching to enhance study language skills, especially digital story-lines, since computer sciences are booming to such a large extent that we can not avoid the trend involving techonolgies in any way in modern education. It is a practical avenue for L2 educators and learners to present their ideas and voices.

7 Things You Should Know About Digital Storytelling gives us a comprehensive view about the rationale of using digital story-lines, in which the author pointed out that "The storyteller then assembles rich media to support the ideas and emotions in that script, including music or other audio effects, personal or public-domain images, animations or video, and other electronic elements." Hence, compared with the traditional storybook, digital story telling can apply the element of multi-media, like pictures, musics, and other visual effects, enabling students to enjoy a verbal, visual and audio feast when reading digital stories. We also read The Educational Uses of Digital Storytelling in class. "Digital Storytelling is the practice of using computer-based tools to tell stories. " and the author gives us lots of inspiring ideas about the topics that can be used in the class room -  "historical events,  life in one's own community  or life in other corners of the universe."

As future L2 teachers, we can design a series of interactive activities and practical projects inside and outside the classrooms by using the digital story-lines. For example, we can let students to
1) describe a familiar place, like school or hometown
2) describe a person, like teacher, friend or family members.
3) describe an object that is special for you.
4) describe an unforgettable experience
5) tell a joke
6) tell a fable

Teaching Plan

Students Profile: International ESL adult learners / High Intermediate level

Topic: Describing a familiar place

Teaching objectives: 
1) Linguistic goal:
  • To be able to describe a place that is very familiar to the students, like hometown or school
  • Scrutinize specific cultural symbols or elements in that place, like buildings, transportation, people, signature products, etc.
2) Pedagogical goal:
  • Logical Chain: Expanding ideas and following a series of patterns to describe certain topics
  • Emotional factors: students will be motivated to describe something from their culture either school or the city they come from, because warm affection will be attached in it and the affective filter can be lowered down. 
3) Cultural goal:
  • Being aware of one's own culture 
  • Trying to appreciate others' cultures
Teaching procedure:
  • choosing a topic
  • initiating an outline 
  • selecting suitable pictures
  • creating a digital storybook
  • sharing it on class Twitter account
  • giving comments on classmates' works
  • The number of pages (Minimum: 6pages)
  • Pictures (quantity and quality)
  • Texts (quantity and quality)
  • Writing conventions and mechanics (grammar, spelling, capitalization, etc.)
  • Participation (posting on time and giving comments on others' work)