Thursday, October 30, 2014

Week 4: Skill-building Websites for Reading/Writing Skills and Technology-enhanced Lesson Plans

Week 4 

 Skill-building Websites for Reading/Writing Skills and Technology-enhanced Lesson Plans

This week promises to be even more exciting than the previous ones. Why? Because is focused on reading, writing, lesson plans and our project task. Let´s see!

TASK 1: Reading/Writing Skill-Building Websites

As in previous weeks, we were asked to make comments on the weekly readings. This week, we focused our attention on building reading, writing and vocabulary skills. From the readings available, I chose "Weaving the Web into an EAP Reading Program" by Bonnie Ellinger, Simone Sandler, Debbie Chayen, Keren Goldfrad, and Jackie Yarosky (Israel) to make my reflections here. It is a must to mention that this article trapped all my attention from the very beginning. While reading, it seemed to be the authors were describing my own context. I have taught EAP for almost 18 years now, 16 of them at the School of Education of the UCV. During all these years, I have firmly thought that all teachers should work collaboratively, as a team, in order to join efforts and obtain the best results from their work; but, it is not an easy task. Teachers are always busy and it seems that the course design process is truly exhausting. However, academic experiences like this one, read in Ellinger et all (2001), are an inspiration to many teachers who are in the same track. This article describes, step by step, how English for Academic Purposes (EAP) is taught at Bar Ilan University in Israel and how they successfully designed an EAP program that could satisfy both teachers and students´ needs. 

Like us, the EFL Department at Bar Ilan University focuses EAP on reading academic texts:
This focus on reading has not allowed for a holistic approach in our curriculum, so the courses tend to lack variety. Even with carefully chosen materials, we often encounter low interest and motivation among both students and teachers when an entire course is based on teaching the skills needed for the comprehension of academic texts. (Ellinger et all, 2001; p.1). 
Based on this, they decided to design a new EAP program and explore the possibilities of combining English language learning with the use of Internet, both essential tools new citizens have to manage nowadays, They started dividing the content delivered in a year into several units. Each member of the EFL Department designed a unit based on several Internet sites and on a particular topic. They selected topics that could be appealing and relevant to the students and available on the Web. They finally integrated the new units into their EAP program and evaluated the implementation. 

During the implementation phase, the teachers faced two major problems. Firtsly, they did not have the possibility of using a lab with Internet access because it was shared with so many other subjects. Their classes were alotted every three weeks. Secondly, teachers discovered their students were not familiar with computers. They were totally shocked by the students´ lack of computer literacy, since "Israel is a technology-friendly society". That meant, teachers had to include another unit at the beginning of the program to develop computer skills.

At the end of all this process, teachers were pleased with the results. They observed an increased autonomy in the students. They gained expertise with the Internet and were enthusiatically engaged in the different tasks. Teachers attribute their success to the purposeful and autonomous nature of the tasks (Ehrman 1996 & McDevitt 1997, cited in Elliger et al, 2001). Students showed enjoyment when reading in English since the use of Internet gave them the freedom to choose what they like and provided access to topics relevant to them. Ellinger et al (2001) conclude that, when using the Internet as part of the teaching and learning process, it must be flexible process, adaptable to change.  
Good teachers regularly review and revise their materials, but the degree to which materials must be revamped once the Internet is routinely used may surprise even the most conscientious planner. Internet-related innovations appear regularly, and as we continue to learn more about this evolving medium, we will adapt our material accordingly. 
Ellinger, B., Sandler, S., Chayen, D., Goldfrad, K., & Yarosky, J. (2001, April). Weaving the web into an EAP reading program. In English teaching forum online (Vol. 39, No. 2).

Favorite websites

Regarding the favorite websites explored, I really liked three of them: 1) ESL Independent Study Lab by Mickael Krauss, 2) Dave ESL Cafe and 3) Activities for ESL Students.

Michael's website is one of my favorites. It is very complete. It offers exercises to develop the four basic skills (listening, speaking, reading and writing),  but also subskills like pronunciation, grammar and vocabulary. It also includes games, preparation for the TOEFL exam, and resources for teachers and young learners. I clicked on Reading and wow!!! I discovered this amazing site: Adult Learning Activities! There are tons of short readings that I can use with my university students, mainly those in English III. What I like the most is that all readings include the audio option.  Fantastic!

On Dave's site, I clicked on Grammar and it was amazing to see the enormous variety of exercises available for learners at all proficiency levels. This website is perfect for my distance education students. It offers tons of  explanations, exercises and quizzes to self-evaluate the language learning progress. I think I will use it with all the three reading courses I have.

Activities for ESL is also a great website where we can find resources for grammar and vocabulary. This website is aimed at beginner, intermediate and advanced learners. I think it can be used with adolescents and adults. I also consider it a great collection of exercises and quizzes I can use with English I and II.


TASK 2:  Preparing a Technology-Enhanced Lesson Plan

After reading about technology-enhanced lesson plans, we were asked to create a technology-enhanced lesson plan. 

Sample Lesson Plan with Technology

Your Name:    Evelyn Izquierdo         
Class name:            English III - EAP course
Type of student:       Adult
Duration of lesson:  Two sessions of 45 minutes each

Class description

1) Setting: Universidad Central de Venezuela, School of Education, Distance Education Program (EUS, Campus: Barcelona (VE)

2) Course: English for Academic Purposes (EAP III), focused on reading comprehension only

3) Course goals:
- Review the contents studied in English I and English II in relation to pre-reading, reading and post-reading activities
- Develop in the students the ability to extract the main ideas of a written text
- Develop the ability to produce a summary of an original written academic text

4) Modality:
Blended learning, four f2f encounters a semester. Course materials available online (Moodle)

5) Learners (Audience):
Undergraduate students majoring in Education, Based in Barcelona or surrounded areas located in the eastern part of the country, five (5) hours or more from the capital where the university main campus is.  Age: 30-50

6) Students' needs:
- Understanding academic texts related to Education, originally written in English
- Identifying the text topic and main ideas
- Summarizing main ideas in Spanish

7) Number of students: 18

ABCD objectives

Given an original academic text, written in English, (C) the students (A) will

1. identify the text topic and main ideas (B)

2. determine the main argument (B), and

3. write a 300-word summary, in Spanish, (B) containing the main argument and supportive ideas, and organized in five logic and coherent paragraphs. (D) 


MATERIALS:  Online and printed materials provided, YouTube, Screencast-O-matic, Blogger platforms

  • Computer lab in EUS Barcelona Campus, Universidad Central de Venezuela
  • Video beam
  • Internet access

OTHER MATERIAL: Readings available on the Moodle platform, dictionaries (hard copies or online)

The following lesson plan aims at enhancing the reading comprehension and summarizing skills that UCV distance education students have concerning original academic texts  written in the English language.

Objectives of the lesson:  

Session 1. After creating a blog on Blogger for the English III class, the students will do the activities assigned for Text 1 available on their Moodle course.

Session 2. Given the explanations on how to write the main argument of an academic text, the students will read the text No. 1 and will post on their class blog, in Spanish, the title and a three-sentence paragraph containing the text main argument.

TECHNOLOGY OBJECTIVES: Given the corresponding explanations on how to create a blogs and its uses, the students will use them for posting summaries and making reflections of their language learning progress.

PROCEDURES: Steps of the presentation of lesson
  1. Warming up by reviewing last lessons of English II
  2. Creating tutorials and upload them to YouTube
  3. Training the students on how to create and use a blog for academic purposes
  4. Teaching the students how to extract the main ideas of a text
  5. Summarizing practice
  6. Practicing summary skills
  7. Posting a summary and making reflections

  1. Watching the tutorial on how to create a blog and its uses in education
  2. Creating a class blog
  3. Read the explanations on how to extract the main argument of a written text.
  4. Reading Text 1
  5. Extracting the three most important ideas of the text, organize them in coherent and logic order
  6. Posting a three-sentence paragragh containing the main ideas of the text on the course blog.
  7. Making reflections on your language learning process and post them below your post.
  8. Leaving comments in at least two of your peers’ blogs.
  9. Doing homework

ASSESSMENT: Formal. Summative evaluation

BACK UP PLAN: In case the use of blogs cannot be possible, I would ask my students to create a document on Google docs and upload the summary. An option C would be to ask my students to create a word document and send it to me by email.

HOMEWORK / FOLLOW UP:  Repeat the process with Text 2.


TASK 3: Describe a class issue that technology might be able to help with.

In week 2, I described English III, one of my distance education EAP courses at the School of Education of Universidad Central de Venezuela. One of the main problems I face when delivering this course is the students' low ability to produce a summary of a written academic text. I think this issue is due to their lack in reading comprehension and low experience in writing. Most of these students are in the second year of their career and are not mature enough to produce well written texts.

Since this course is offered under a blended learning modality, I think I could plan online activities that can help them develop their writing skills. We have a small lab with Internet connection and the campus has wifi. At this level, most students have already been trained in the use of the computer and manage basic skills such as: web searching, emailing and the use of virtual environments like Moodle.

It is important to mention that this EAP course is focused on reading comprehension of academic texts written in "English", but the students have to write summaries in "Spanish". The course demands from the students:
- Understanding academic texts related to Education, originally written in English
- Identifying the text topic and main ideas
- Summarizing main ideas in Spanish  

Although you might think developing writing skills can be different in both English and Spanish, it seems to be more alike than thought. That is why we use almost the same strategies when teaching writing composition in English. The main reason is that most of our students do not have opportunities to develop their writing skills in English while pursuing their secondary school studies.

There are several web tools that I might use to enhance both the students' reading comprehension abilities and summarizing. One of them is a blog. I have never used blogs with my undergraduate students for time reasons, mainly. But I think it would be a good idea to try for the first time. Of course, a training session is needed before starting blogging, or I might create tutorials instead. Later, I would give them instructions on how to  write a summary and give them several opportunities to edit their work and evaluate their learning progress.

I am not sure if this has to be an individual or group work. I vote for individual, but thinking of time management, working with so many blogs at the same time might be hard for me. Well, I still need to think how I would deal with this because this is just one of the three course I work with.

Have you ever blogged? Do you use blogs with your students? How do you manage students' blogs? I would manage 18 blogs in this case.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Week 3: Skill-building Websites for Oral/Aural Skills and Saving Bookmarks with Delicious

Week 3


For this week, we were asked to read one article about CALL for listening, speaking, or pronunciation skills, and take a quick look at some of the lesson plans.

From the list provided, I chose the following article taken from the English Teaching Forum: "Using Original Video Sound Effects to Teach English", written by Shahla Yassaei (2012). In this article, the author suggests to teach grammar with audiovisual techniques as a motivating and engaging way to create a meaningful learning context.  According to Thoman (2003, cited in Yassaei 2012) media literacy plays a very important role in education nowadays; that includes second language learning. "Media can be integrated into language lessons in a variety of ways by developing activities based on radio programs, television shows, newspapers and videos". In this sense, Yassaei (2012) stands that well known TV series or radio programs can be integrated into the ESL/EFL lessons in order to provide opportunities for students to speak, share opinions and ideas. They offer authentic content to the classroom. Newspapers, for instance, are also available and affordable sources that can be used for relevant discussions. And videos, on the other side, help teachers to create an interactive and engaging environment. One of the main advantages of using these interactive and creative resources is that they can be adapted to any English level and age.

Concerning the lesson plans, I explored all sites recommended; however, there was one that I enjoyed the most: The Internet TESL Journal.  This site is amazing! ESL/EFL teachers can find any kind of teaching resources and unimaginable lessons plans. It is an enormous repository that includes articles, lessons, teaching techniques, questions, games, jokes, things for teachers, links and activities for ESL students and much more. I really recommend it.

I also found interesting lesson plans in One Stop English, Speaking Skills: Teaching Ideas. Here I did a search and found a useful lesson plan for the first day of class designed by Lindsay Clanfield called "First Day". There are several interesting activities there, but I selected one called "A good way to learn English is...". I think this activity is excellent for my English III class. The activity can be used with beginner and intermediate levels, and it is appropriate for my context since I teach adults in a distance program. The topic can be adapted to develop listening and speaking, but reading and writing as well. I would use it for reading and writing because that is what I teach. This lesson plan is a great starter for a discussion/forum in our Moodle course and will allow me to explore my students' target language abilities. We just started our new semester last Saturday.

We also had to look at two or more of the skill-building websites with an eye to what would work  in our context/class. 
a) which website we used, and which specific activity/web page
b) what English level/age of students could best use this site, and what skills it enhances,
c) my overall recommendation about the site.

Regarding the best site for listening, speaking, pronunciation and more, I would recommend the American English Website. It has tons of useful resources for ESL/EFL teachers and students, high quality articles and lesson plans that help us improve our daily teaching task. There are resources aimed at all English levels and ages. It is very difficult to choose one since all of them seem quite interesting; however I found this article: Reading to Speak: Integrating Oral Communications Skills. I think is perfect to what I want to do in my classroom, to use reading as a way to develop listening and speaking skills. This content is aimed at adult learners and it is oriented to develop reading and speaking skills mainly.

Another amazing Website where we can find a great variety of resources to develop listening, speaking, pronunciation and much more is Larry Lerlazzo's. There is no other website that can be more useful for English teachers like this one. It is a collection of the best websites for English teachers. One of the lists Larry Ferlazzo's offers is called  “The Best Sites For Learning English Pronunciation.” This list includes excellent web 2.0 tools to practice or improve the oral skills, among them:

Voice Thread

He also mentions screencasting as a way to create motivating and engaging videos by/for the students. A useful and free tool to create a screencast might be Screencast-O-Matic.Web-based recorders like Vocaroo, Podomatic, Audioboo, and Chirbit, among others, are also excellent means to produce voice messages or podcasts.

TASK 3. Delicious

Social Bookmarking is a new Web 2.0 technology that allows Internet users to read, store, classify, rate, comment on, organize by topic or category, mark by using tags and share with virtual communities or individuals with common interests search links to any Website (Izquierdo, E. & Verschoor, J., 2009). There are several bookmarking tools we can use to keep track of our favorite websites. Diigo and Delicious, for example,  are just two of the most popular ones. During this week, we were asked to create our account on Delicious and this is what I have: Enjoy it!

TASK 4. Sample project report

As a closing activity for week 3, we were asked to read one sample project reported from past Webskills classes and comment on that report. I read Project Report for Graduate Students in the Department of English Education, University Campus, Tribhuvan University, Nepal by Prem Bahadur Phyak from Tribhuvan University in Kathmandu, Nepal. The purpose of this project was to plan and conduct action research in a master program, offered by the Department of English Education. The research universe was formed by 300 students, but only 20 were under technology training and participated in the study.

The overall goal was to help students develop their academic writing and research
skills. Since the university has a low tech infrastructure and have no Internet access, and the university does not have an updated library and journals on language education either, the students are not able to read or explore new materials in the field, which limits their possibilities to conduct research. 

In virtue of this, the author designed online activities that intended to reach the following objectives:

a) Identifying the research problem
b) Specifying a research topic
c) Identifying and reviewing the literature
d) Designing appropriate research methodology and tools
e) Collecting and analyzing data 
f) Writing a thesis and
g) Preparing bibliography 
 In order to explore the students' needs a survey was administered. The main goal was to explore the students' opinions on technology integration for academic writing and research. The results showed that integrating technology in their academic writing and research process brought several benefits to the students. They felt highly motivated, as well as more confident in their research process and time management.

In a few words, I see this project was carefully designed and took into account almost all recommendations given by the Webskills course. I loved the project structure, organization, discourse fluency and all materials used with the students.