Even though things have been a lot quieter than I wanted them to be, I’ve been doing lots of thinking lately. There are many posts yet to come in response to other blog posts I’ve read, and a couple of extra material on the way. This semester’s been particularly busy as I’ve taken up some new responsibilities, and I’m still getting used to the new workload. It’s all falling into place, and I hope I’ll soon be able to resume my writing on the blog.
However, I’m writing this quick blog post as a call for collaboration. Last year I wrote a post asking for the same thing. A couple of teachers responded to it and we even started planning things, but it never took off. Regardless of this unsuccessful experience, I asked my students to create a wiki page on topics of their interest and, closer to the end of the year, I was joined by a teacher in Atlanta and we could actually put our students to work together. It was a wonderful experience for students, albeit short.
Nevertheless, it was enough to give me some practice and also to spot some problems that came up and think of strategies to solve them. This year, I again call for the collaboration of teachers interested in getting their EFL/ESL learners to collaborate with our class in Brazil. I’m trying to keep things simple, and they seem to be working all right. I’ll also introduce new tools for students to work with as time goes by and more people join in. The idea is for learners to practise using English in an authentic and meaningful environment.
Our learners are from all different levels – A1 to B2 in the CEF, or beginners to upper-intermediate – and they have been told they are to work together to get their message across. Anyway, in case you are interested in joining, pay a visit to our wiki: http://crossculturalelt.wikispaces.com and send me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or a message on FaceBook.
Teachers who join are free to work in any way that suits his or her needs, be it for assessing students or simply giving them a chance to talk to people from different cultures. They may also choose to help me with the organisation of the wiki and the tasks or not – no need to worry about extra work on our already over-worked lives!
Once you join, I’ll also ask you for the logo of your school to add to the main page.
There are two different kinds of PLNs, as I see it. First, there’s the virtual PLN, the one you create through your visits to other educators’ blogs and engaging conversations on Twitter, blogs, or Skype to name but a few. This is a PLN which is filled with teachers who are willing to share, grow, learn, and keep an open mind to all that’s new and everything that might enhance your students’ learning. It’s an active space, and it’s open 24/7. The second kind of PLN is your real one, made of teachers who work with you in your school. The good side of this PLN is that it shows you you that, sometimes, the world you live in is still not ready for all those changes that so many educators worldwide have been talking about. They understand your context, and they face exactly the same difficulties you have to face. That could even be called the ‘keeping-it-real PLN’.
However, one thing that usually strikes me as odd is how often I hear people from my virtual PLN complain about the lack of interest and willingness to change from those present in their real PLN. I’ve already heard a couple of times that it would be wonderful to have all of those people from your virtual PLN working together in the same school, aiming at providing their learners nothing but the very best. This would be a place where people wouldn’t fear making mistakes, and mistakes might as well happen. However, no mistake would be made owing to lack of action. Things would always be going forward.
If this ideal school existed, perhaps change in education would come at a much faster rate. If there are people who are also as committed as you are working with you, it’s always easier to make things happen. If, on the other hand, there is no one interested in joining you and helping you in your physical surroundings, things get much tougher. Fortunately, the distance between the virtual and the real PLN is getting smaller by the day. Thanks to technology, it’s now possible to get your students to interact with students whose teachers aren’t that afraid of attempting to get things done. Sometimes it’s easier to get two classes from two different continents to collaborate than to get two neighbouring classes to do so.
That’s one of the things that most people realise once they join the world of blogs and twitter, to begin with. They learn that there are other people who are also interested in bringing about change. There are other educators who are 100% sure they’ve still got a lot to learn, and they find other educators who think just the same way. Working alone is pretty hard, but the power of two has something magical about it. If you’re working together with people who also share your principles and, despite being snowed under with work, still manage to make time for sharing and learning, you know that’s the right place to be in.
Nevertheless, sometimes our co-workers and members of the keeping-it-real PLN need a little push. They’ve all got it inside themselves – this ideal towards learning and helping students thrive. It may have been forgotten somewhere because of the treatment that’s been dispensed to educators for many, many years, but it’s there. If we all work together and give this little push, we’ll find out we’re not alone anymore. The power of two will make it a lot easier for you to do what you want to do. Mind you, this doesn’t mean you all have got to agree on everything; it only means there are at least two people willing to shift gears and get things evolving at a faster pace.
A while ago, I wrote a post about what had brought me back to twitter. As we’re on this subject matter, another post I wrote was on the effect of PLNs on my professional growth. I’ve also written something about my fond memories of Braz-TESOL conventions and how much I treasured them. That’s all fine, and I do believe all those things, namely twitter, PLNs, and conventions do add a lot to my professional life. But how so? And, even more important than that, why bother?
How does being the member of a community help?
Even though this is not the most important question, the answers to this question are just too many to be written in a single blog post. Pretty much all posts you can find on this blog were the result of some sort of interaction I had with other teachers, students, or just people who weren’t even in the field of education. When you join a community and become an active member of it, you’re allowing yourself the chance to reflect on lots of things you believe in. However, you must always keep an open mind as this activity is bound to show you ways of thinking you couldn’t probably fathom before.
A lot comes from online communities, building your PLN, sharing and contributing with like-minded people as well as people who disagree with you, but know how to do so reasonably and also in attempt to get something out of the discussion. When we’re online, we also have the chance to interact with people from different countries a lot more easier than you can do face-to-face. However, I always feel there’s something missing in the online component of interaction.
Despite all the benefits that arose from Web 2.0, it’s still hard to beat the atmosphere from a face-to-face convention. Having had the chance to attend the last Braz-TESOL national convention with more than 1200 teachers from all over Brazil and all over the world, I can certainly assure you that the things you experience in such a convention are a lot more intense than what you usually get online. It’s like one thing complements the other.
Finally, joining a teachers association, online or face-to-face, is helpful because it puts you together with people who, just like you, believe that teaching means acknowledging you must constantly be learning. Teachers who are members of a teachers association are willing to share information, experiences, and anecdotes that might help other teachers. Members of these associations aren’t selfish and believe that the ones who benefit the most of such exchange of information are they themselves. Oh, really? But why is that?
Why should I join a teachers association?
I believe that sharing what I know with others and listening to what they’ve got to say, and trying out new things in class is done with the sole purpose of helping learners. I usually tell my students that teachers should care a lot less about their teaching and a lot more about their students’ learning. This means teachers should learn how to truly listen to their students. In language teaching, I very much agree with the idea of working with language that’s produced by learners themselves as this is more often than not a lot more personal and meaningful to learners than a pre-fabricated chunk of language used to show a point. If you’ve paid a visit to this blog before, you probably know what I mean by this.
That’s fine, but what’s this got to do with joining a teachers association? In a nutshell, the better the teachers are, the better students will be. If you believe you’re a fantastic teacher but you don’t share what you do in class, you’re likely to have to start from scratch every semester or year. I honestly can’t think of an educational setting in which students only have one teacher. This means that the better our peers are, the easier our job will be every new semester or year. Instead of having to teach students from scratch, you can just continue what had been done in previous semesters. Now, if that happens, and if you believe you’re such “a fantastic teacher, like, the best teacher in the world ever”, how much do you think you can accomplish if you haven’t got to worry about teaching your students the basics, or things they should have learned long before they were your students?
If we accept that teachers who join teachers associations as teachers who are always willing to seek what’s best for their learners, then it’s likely that students who have been the students of teachers who participate in such associations are better prepared than students whose teachers do not take part in such associations. And the better prepared our students are, the easier our job is. Would you agree with that?
Where to go now? Well, if you’re reading this and you’re an English teacher in Brazil, you could start by clicking here (or on the image below).
A while ago, I published a post asking for EFL/ESL teacher whether they’d like to join in a cross-cultural exchange project. We actually managed to get a good group of committed teachers who were willing to take it further. We moved from a wiki to a ning, and more and more teachers joined it. However, I believe there were just so many teachers involved that it was hard for me to keep track of it. Unfortunately, that didn’t really work out the way I thought it would when I wrote that post. You see, it outgrew the idea of a cross-cultural exchange project for students learning English and became a cross-cultural exchange project period. Wonderful, yes! But, again, not what I had in mind. Nevertheless, I haven’t given up on the idea – having a space for English Language Learners to collaborate and have another space to learn English in a more meaningful, authentic environment.
So, we’ve piloted a project on a wiki with some of of our students. You can check the results by clicking here or on the image below:
First of all, the students would be thrilled to see on the little globe in the main page that their work has been seen by people from different countries. If you could even send them a message on this wallwisher, I’d be very grateful.
Second, and I daresay most importantly, I’d like to invite teachers who may be willing to have this kind of project run in collaboration with our students. As I said, this has been piloted in the first semester, but now it’s time for it to become a tool for interaction instead of a “mere” tool for information sharing. I’ve already created a wiki called http://crossculturalelt.wikispaces.com, and there are some guidelines already on the other wiki, which had been created for teachers: http://crossculturalelt-teachers.wikispaces.com/
If anyone is interested in joining, please let me know by comments, tweets, or even by filling out this form. We have run the project with student from their very first semester studying English to students preparing to a CAE exam. All students from all levels are welcome.
I have to say that being mentioned by Jason Renshaw (English Raven) on his 10-blog list for the “It’s Worth Taking a Look at This Blog” movement (shall I call it that???) truly made me feel elated. His blog and all the ones he mentioned are part of my daily reading, which is why I was both surprised and very happy to be on his list.
But what is this all about? Well, to be honest, I couldn’t really put it any better than Jason, so I hope he doesn’t mind my borrowing of his words to explain this:
This is a new and really positive initiative sweeping the ELT blogosphere at the moment. Basically, if someone tags you in their list of 10 recommend teaching blogs, you then come up with your own list of 10 other blogs YOU’D be willing to recommend, paste the logo above into your post, link back to the person/blog that initially tagged you.
I’ve been thinking about which blogs I’d like to recommend on a post – all of the blogs on my blogroll are blogs I recommend, and also the ones on my Google Reader bundle. I guess sometimes I simply add a blog to my RSS reader and forget to add them to the blogroll list. Anyway, after spending a long time having a look at Jason’s list and some others, I thought of coming up with a list of blogs I enjoy reading which are about ELT and that hadn’t been mentioned that often. I found out that was going to be really hard to do, so I took another look at my Google Reader list and these are the blogs I chose to highlight:
- Karenne Sylvester - kalinagoenglish – For some reason, Karenne’s blog has motivated me to start my own blog and it was through her lists and comments that I discovered many of the bloggers and tweeps I now follow and learn from.
- Shelly Terrel – Teacher Reboot Camp – Just like Karenne, Shelly is also to blame for my starting this blog and coming back to twitter.
- Sean Banville – Sean Banville’s blog – Sean is the place to go if you’re looking for a nice read, and definitely the place to go if you’re looking for any kind of lesson you want. All of his blogs are great. I really wonder how he finds the time to do all that.
- Jim Burke – The English Teacher’s Companion – What can I say… I really enjoy his style and he’s alsways got something interesting to say.
- Teacher Training Unplugged – It’s no surprise to anyone who reads this blog that I’m a Dogme-ist. I thought going with Luke’s and/or Scott’s blogs would just be too obvious.
- Vicki Hollett – Learning to speak ‘Merican – I first visited Vicki’s blog because of the her posts on the differences between American and British English. I then realised how much I was missing out for not visiting it sooner.
- Nick Jaworski – Turkish TEFL – I started following Nick’s blog a while ago. I really like it that he speaks his mind and also soundly supports his views. Lots of interesting things there as well.
- Susi Pucci – Making Connections – I first visited her blog after a comment she made here and never stopped reading her stuff.
- Ms. Flecha – My Life Untranslated – Another blog I’ve only recently found out about due to Twitter. I haven’t got a lot to say but I’ve enjoyed all posts I’ve read so far.
- Jeffrey Hill – The English Blog – Lots and lots of ideas to adapt and use in the classroom.
This has been a nice experience and I found out I’ve been following way too many good blogs to come up wit a list of only ten. It’s taken me a long while to come up with this list, but I hope you also enjoy the blogs I mentioned. This is in no way a comprehensive list.
If you’ve been nominated anywhere, keep the ball rolling. I’ve started following many interesting people on Twitter because of #teachertuesday and #followfriday, so I’m curious to see where this project is headed. I’ll ‘plagiarise’ Jason again to explain the next steps (Jason, if you ever come to Brasília I’ll buy you a beer for having done that. Deal?):
If you are tagged by somebody as part of the project, here’s what you should do next:
1) Insert the picture above into your blog with a link back to the blog that nominated you;
2) Compile a list of ten blogs you feel are worth reading and;
3) Tell the bloggers you have nominated that you have tagged them.
I’ve been trying to set up an international project with my students for a long while now. I’ve always felt that they could benefit immensely from a project such as pen pals or any other exchange with students from other countries and cultures.
Recently I’ve had some nice conversations with some people from my PLN about cultural matters and I guess this is a nice topic for us to get our learners to participate in a global conversation as long as we can get them to join in. My hunch is that most learners tend to enjoy learning about certain cultural facts and enjoy hearing about the little cultural differences between countries. Who’s better to teach learners about these differences than other learners? I’m aware there are some groups already for classroom exchange on the web, so I’m aware this isn’t a unique and original idea, but my goal is to provide yet another chance for learners and teachers to collaborate and learn how to use a wiki.
The idea for the project came from lots of conversations I had with @bealup, who’s also helping me with the project, but all are welcome to participate and contribute. The more the merrier, right? I’ve just created a wiki and added a couple of suggestions of topics that would probably appeal to learners. The idea os for teachers to join in and share their own thoughts on each one of the topics so that we can have a feel of how this is going to be like for learners when we get the project going. There’s still a lot of work to be done on the wiki, such as finding the right pictures to illustrate it, come up with clear instructions, like Jim Burke did on his blogging project with students.
The idea is quite simple, as you’ll see if you visit the wiki. The aim is to have students from as many different nationalities and cultural background as possible. Teachers will have about two months to tweak the wiki before we kick off with the students. The intention is to officially start using it with students in March.
So, who wants to join?