Remaining relevant: Skills for the 21st century student (and

Reflection, Technology

Wowzers! It’s been quite a while since I’ve taken the time to create a post. While my brain is constantly reflecting on my own teaching and different aspects of education, I have been preoccupied with specific educational endeavors, namely: my final Plan B paper and teaching portfolio to finish my degree. I still have some revisions to work on, but I hope to defend near the end of January. 🙂 I’m also between semesters right now, and I’ve kind of taken up non-teaching activities to relax and enjoy my time off. I started making a quilt, and it seems to be shaping up quite nicely!

Now, down to business. I came across this post by Tom Whitby in my RSS feed the other day, and I think he raises some interesting and salient points about the use of technology in education. Tom suggests:

It may be time to shift the discussions to what we need our kids to learn and how they will implement that learning in our culture, and continue to learn, as the life long learners, which we, as educators, supposedly strive to make them to be.

The discussion about whether instructors should use technology in their teaching has been happening as long as technology has been around. I imagine educators and administrators discussed whether it would be beneficial to use individual chalkboards with students when that was the cutting-edge of technology, and the discussion will undoubtedly continue as new technologies that can impact they way students learn is developed. However, Tom explains:

The skills that educators are emphasizing more and more are skills of: curating information, analyzing information, understanding information, communicating information in various forms, collaborating on information both locally and globally, ultimately, creating information for the purpose of publishing and sharing. These are the goals of 21st Century educators. These are also the today’s needs of industry, business, and banking. Many of these skills are also needs of artists, writers, and musicians. Even politicians could use these skills, which are apparently lacking in a majority of our current leaders.

Now that we have seen how the needs of society have structured the needs of skills for students, and now that we have seen how the needs of education have structured the changes in methodology to address those skills, we now need to consider the best way to deliver access to information for curation, analysis, understanding, communicating and creating.

This might be debatable, but it is my perspective that the role of teachers, in any discipline, to prepare students for the world they will be part of and communities they will live within after leaving our classrooms. It’s important to remember that students leaving our classrooms are not necessarily entering the same world that we entered when we left the classroom so many years ago. Which leads me to believe that instructors also need to remain connected to the outside world for themselves as well. How can instructors adequately prepare students for a world that they themselves do not understand or participate in? That’s not to say that teachers need to be experts in every field or realm of society, but to have a basic understanding of social and professional communities as they exist can only benefit instructors and students.

I think Tom sums it up nicely when he says:

If we are educating our children to live and thrive in their world, we cannot limit them to what we were limited to in our world. As things change and evolve, so must education. As educators we have a professional obligation to change as well.

This is also true for adult learners. It is my opinion that remaining relevant for our students (and ourselves!) should be a primary professional objective. Since our students will most likely be required to effectively employ skills related to technology (the abilities to curate, collaborate, communicate, critically think, and create), instructors should practice these skills as well. When considering the use of technology in your classroom, it could be useful to integrate these essential skills into the learning objectives and consider whether or not your lesson adequately prepares students to use these skills after they leave your classroom. Both teachers and students should be lifelong learners who critically evaluate new technologies and aren’t fearful of employing them to be more effective learners or members of professional or educational communities.

Thoughts on: Using Google Drive to facilitate writing workshops

Reflection

Over the last couple of weeks I have used Google Drive to facilitate writing activities during our day in the computer lab. We have one day per week in the lab, and the students always seem to have a little extra pep in their step when we use the computers in class. At the level I’m teaching, the students have just moved past writing simple sentences and are working on improving their basic paragraph writing. We have written paragraphs together in class and they’ve written paragraphs on their own as homework, but I thought it might be interesting to utilize Google Drive during our lab time to allow students to practice typing and formatting their paragraphs while also having the opportunity to interact with other students’ work by giving and receiving feedback online.

Allowing students to work on their paragraphs in real time while the teacher or other students provide feedback seems to have brought a larger awareness of their writing and each student’s writing process. It’s interesting, as the teacher, to watch students write their paragraphs in real time to see how which aspects they focus on first and which aspects of writing are sort of after-thoughts. One student I have likes to type all his sentences without capital letters and punctuation, and he goes back and adds them later. Other students type everything and then format the paragraph (double-spacing and indenting) at the very end of their process.

Google Drive

Google Drive (Photo credit: Doroty cielu)

Through Google Drive, I am able to highlight mistakes easily (usually in yellow) without necessarily divulging what kind of error they have made. The students are usually very apt to correct the mistakes immediately, and they often do not need further instruction. I just delete the highlighting once it’s corrected. There are occasions where students do not understand what kind of mistake they have made, and during these instances, either myself or another student is able to explain their ideas in the chat bar on the side of the document.

With regard to the chat bar, my students said they found it quite difficult to ask questions of other students via the chat. However, they seem to be improving, and I can’t help but wonder if that simple communication is helping their basic reading comprehension skills. All of these thoughts are based on my own intuition, not research, so I’m saying this with a hint of skepticism. Since engaging in the “no talking, use chat” method of feedback during these activities, my students seem to slow down and take their time reading the feedback that they receive, whether it’s from me or another student. While giving feedback on student writing, I was able to highlight mistakes or areas of interest and add comments on the side that give further explanation. For some of our activities, I asked students to type their paragraphs the day before we were in the lab so they could work with my feedback on our lab day. I’ve been rather amazed at how quickly they are picking up the language used in the feedback. Even if they don’t understand every word in the feedback, they are almost always able to understand and make the appropriate corrections.

In addition to typing full paragraphs and doing peer review online, we have done a few activities where the students have to work together to type simple sentences as well. Today we did an activity where students were asked to write sentences about someone’s schedule, answering the question, “What is she going to do?” We have been focusing on using the “be going to” construction to talk about the future tense, and this activity was meant to provide an opportunity for students to write sentences using that construction while reading information from a calendar. They were also supposed to focus on using the correct preposition before dates and times (at 4pm, on May 9th). The students were split into two groups of three students each (yes, my class only has six students this term). Each student had a copy of the same calendar, but each student had different events on different days of the month. Each student had to write three sentences (one for each even on their calendar) and then the students could work together to correct any mistakes they might have made.

From my perspective, students were more easily able to notice mistakes that others had made during this activity than they typically are when we work with pencil and paper. Once again this is based on my intuition and perceptions, but perhaps this is due to the fact that each student was working in the same document, and their own sentences were right next to those of the other students. If one student felt confident in his writing, and he saw another sentence that didn’t fit the construction pattern, he was likely to highlight the mistake. Once again, there were instances where mistakes were not noticed by the students and I highlighted them in the text.

After our Google Drive tasks, I had a brainstorming/discussion session with the class about how they feel about using Google Drive for these types of writing activities. I asked them to think of things they liked, things they didn’t like, things they thought were easy, and things they found difficult about using Google Drive. After the discussion, these are some of the ideas we came up with:

Good:

  • students can work together
  • students can help each other write
  • students can practice spelling
  • students can correct friends’ sentences
  • students can open Google at home
  • teacher can correct mistakes and answer questions via chat
  • students can joke between friends on chat
  • each student had his own color when typing
  • students can work together from hom

Bad:

  • writing changes quickly
  • we had to make a rule about waiting to edit until everyone was done typing (so students weren’t correcting unfinished sentences)
  • some students found it difficult to know where to save files & where to open them (navigating files)

Easy:

  • making sentences
  • asking questions

Difficult:

  • asking for help with spelling (How do you spell….?)
  • using chat was more difficult to communicate than using voice

My students all said they enjoyed the activity, and while I can see them getting bored with any activity implemented too often, their level of involvement and motivation did seem higher than more typical writing workshop activities.

I can’t help but feel that the students may also benefit from the exposure to Google Drive, as our particular university has recently adopted Google Apps quite extensively (from email to the cloud). It seems very likely that they will encounter such programs in their future education, whether that is at our current location or another American university.

Through these activities facilitated by Google Drive, I feel that my students have gained some valuable experience in giving and receiving feedback. Working on these activities has also focused our attention on the language being used and the language forms we’ve been covering in class. One of our class learning objectives for this term is to be able to read other students’ writing and respond (in a basic way with teacher support, and I think these activities have allowed us to achieve that learning objective.

Thoughts on: Using PB Works vs. using Google Drive to facilitate collaboration in the ESL classroom

Reflection

At the beginning of the semester I created a PB Works wiki for my current ESL students. My goal was to create a space where my students could collaborate and discuss topics in English in a less formal setting than the every-day classroom. Over the course of the term, I have come to realize that it can be quite difficult to get students to engage with the wiki on a regular basis on their own. The wiki has slowly turned into an extension of our class work where I post weekly topics that relate to what we have been studying for us to discuss. While I think there may still be some benefit to asking students to build and engage with the wiki, the benefit of facilitating less formal interaction in English seems to have disappeared (as of now).

In an effort to experiment and try to separate the formal writing we do from the informal topic writing I want the students to engage in on the wiki, I created a Google Drive folder in which my students can post their writing assignments (the formal ones). Today was the first day we used Google Drive, and while it went fairly smoothly, I’m left feeling like it’s not really creating anything that wasn’t already done in the wiki. Right now it feels like just another thing to keep track of.

However, had we used Google Drive (or some other tool, Dropbox perhaps) from the beginning of the semester, the outcome might be much different. I just imagine creating an online space for both formal and informal writing, in addition to our every-day pen-and-paper writing assignments/practice. Looking back at my impulse to separate the formal and informal written work we do in class, I think my goals could be summed up as follows:

  1. To create an online portfolio of student work that can be used to document student progress as the term goes on
  2. To create an easily accessible repository of written work to share with fellow teachers (my students’ other teachers)
  3. To build student confidence in using online tools (that will undoubtedly be encountered should they continue their education in an American university setting)

Using PB Works (as we have been using it) seems to address all of the goals, but I think Google Drive might address the first goal a bit more effectively. With Google Drive, I can give feedback on writing assignments right on the document. While this can also be done through a wiki, the formatting of the Google documents is closer to the formatting that would be expected of student writing at the university level (formally). Formatting documents/writing in a formal way in the wiki has proven to be more difficult.

My train of thought on this matter has fizzled out, but I’m sure I will continue to reflect on my experience using these tools in the classroom as the term progresses.