From a Teacher

Alessandra Nicolosi

alessandra

 

Blended learning – A new project for Italian Language classes in Metu

Third part: After the course

I was quite worried before starting to teach a Blended course. An approach to language learning that may appear unconventional.

I had lots of ideas packed in my mind, lots of readings to follow up and lots of technical issues to solve. I did it! And now that is the end, I would like to sum up the results and try to judge objectively my first-year trial.

Generally speaking,  I would unquestionably say that it was a tiring yet rewarding experience.

My opinion

Among the positive aspects, I would mention that, while studying in blended mode there was a better organization of time. In fact, ‘the anytime, anywhere’ became not only possible but also very practical.

My students started to get connected everywhere. I had them connected from the University library, from the Cafeteria and one student on his way home connected while on the train! The only inconvenient was that if they did not have the headset and the place was too crowded than they could not communicate properly. On the other hand, we were free to change our scheduling time according to our plans.

A second positive reason was that there was no need to have a classroom. In our Department, every year teachers face lots of problems to find a suitable room. For suitable, I mean not too far from the office and possible ‘one’ single room in the same building not to have to commute in between the hours of classes. Teachers also face parking problems and rushing moments to reach their classes on time. These kinds of difficulties may become daunting sometimes. Blended courses can solve them partially because by blending the class you will need just half of your time in presence. This means, less stress for the Administration, for the teachers and of course for the students who are not requested to attend classes on campus. Besides the overlapping and conflict of hours, experienced by many of our students, could partly be solved.

 

If we look at the delivery of the course itself, there were absolutely some striking and successful online tools and activities. For example, during the online classroom to avoid waiting I learned to share a ‘google sheet’ and make my students work in pairs. The activity could have been ‘collaborative writing’ ‘grammar exercise’ ‘completion of a sentence’ and so forth. In this way, the feedback was always straightforward and very effective! It was incredibly engaging to be able to follow all of my students at once and give feedback while they were working with their peer just as in class.

I increasingly opted for the chatting area provided in the platform. . Instead of talking over my students’ performance I learned to give feedback through the chat. This choice was of great effect.  Because it is easy to overlap students’ voices, during the online session they must be muted and they are supposed to answer only when asked. Alternatively, they may rise their ‘virtual’ hand to ask to speak. Chat solves the obstacles because it is a fast and straightforward place where to be able to speak without disturbing.

I notice that to write our own grammar was an amazing and surprisingly well-accepted activity. We created a file which in turns was filled up with the new notions we learned, not only grammar but also language functions and vocabulary. I was gratified to notice that by writing the grammar, students were forced to deepen into the subject and then learn it subsequently. Here is the file: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1fi-i8nW_MRukWnBvqLh2P4LurWehjICJswdY7PtUoRI/edit?usp=sharing

On the negative side, I must admit that because of the richness of the resources I used, sometimes my students were puzzled and did know how to follow. To avoid this problem, I myself organized an index but still, there was space for confusion because we had to work on multiple platforms and some duties were left unaccomplished.

I had also hard time with the listening activities online due to, mainly, bad internet connection. The solution to this annoyance was to share the listening beforehand or even during the lessons and ask students to listen to it individually and to do the exercises later together.

My students’ opinion

Because my point of view may have differed from my students’ opinion I created an anonymous survey to let them express their ideas and feeling about their experience.

I asked 19 questions. The results gave me a genuine insight into my effort to design the course.

Here are the questions:

Q1: Please indicate the importance you have placed on the following considerations.The convenience of not having to come to campus

Q2: Please indicate the importance you have placed on the following considerations: Flexibility of being able to complete assignments anyplace/anytime

Q3: how would you describe the amount of interaction experienced with the other students

Q4: how would you describe the amount of interaction experienced with the teacher

Q5: Overall, I am satisfied with this blended course

Q6: A blended course format helps me to manage my time better

Q7: Please indicate how helpful the following course components were for you: Online material

Q8: Please indicate how helpful the following course components were for you: In-class interaction

Q9: Please indicate how helpful the following course components were for you: online interaction

Q10: Please indicate how helpful the following course components were for you: quizzes

Q11: Please indicate how helpful the following course components were for you: the textbook

Q12: Please indicate how helpful the following course components were for you: the Videobook

Q13: What was the most effective aspect of this blended learning course?

Q14: What was the least effective aspect of this blended learning course

Q15: What advice would you give to a student considering a blended learning course for the first time?

Q16: Blended learning helps me better understand course materials

Q17: Social networking applications (e.g. Facebook, Metuclass) help me with learning

Q18: Generally, I am more engaged in my blended courses

Q19: Given a choice, would you enrol in another blended course?

Overall, my students were happy and satisfied. I was pleased to read that the course is ‘highly recommended’ to other students who are considering enrolling for the first time.

The survey line graph shows that almost all the questions were answered positively.

For obvious reasons, somebody said that the amount of interaction experienced with other students was the same. I must add that, because of the peculiar nature of the delivery of blended courses, students know perfectly each other and can interact very well with their peers and with the teacher. I feel that we did not luck that human approach which is sometimes cited as the cause of the failure of some online courses. In fact, I tried to put an extra effort into dealing with the interaction during the class hours through paring and group activities to help to create a warming environment.

As I expected, when I asked about the most effective aspects the answers were: ‘Fewer lesson hours in the classroom, and time management, having to study at home, therefore, maintaining better learning outcomes’

On the other hand, the complications met were: ‘Everything started to mix up after some time, it is a bit hard to follow the materials we used even though there is index’ and ‘technical problems’.

What next….

I am well aware of the difficulties.

I ought to reduce the number of sources we refer to. Not having a book may sometimes lead to bewilderment. Despite the index which I kept updating, I may ask next time to buy the book we used online. This will help us to stay more focused and organized.

Together with this, for next semester I want to increase the practice of ‘Flip’ grammar in order to reduce lecture time.

Blackboard is a very versatile tool and it has some amazing features, like the possibility to divide the students into private rooms for conversation or for independent work. This feature which I found out just at the end of the course, will help me next time to provide an extra opportunity for active and independent learning.

Eventually, I intend to make my students constantly aware of their learning acquisition skills by asking them to create their own quizzes. I am sure that this activity will force them to concentrate on important focal points in a spontaneous but guided way.

Following this train of thought, I am going to start a new semester and a new adventure with a larger group, in the hope to refine and improve my course further.

FEBRUARY-MARCH 2018

Blended learning – A new project for Italian Language classes in Metu

Second part: During the course

Despite all the difficulties, the course has finally started.

A project, of course, must be well planned and I tried to do my best to have everything ready but it felt to me an endless undertaking and lately I was so eager to start. I knew I was ready!

BEFORE THE COURSE

Before implementing the course I have studied and attended online MOOCS on ‘Blended learning’. I have inspectorated an impressive number of platforms, especially for Italian language, to be inspired. I have received lots of technical training from the IT Support Center at my University. I have forced my poor and patient assistant to review with me the platform and the webinar tools.

Then, I had to deal with the student’s reluctance and their fear to start with a new model of learning that they were not used to.

And last but not least, due bureaucracy reasons, I had to witness the withdrawal of the contribution aid for the Project offered by the The Italian Ministry of Education, Universities, and Research which could not be delivered.

Eventually, I designed the Syllabus and I structured the course which means I found an online book, an online video course and I prepared the material for lessons.

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1bwG9oRHeM_RmjKcsEjaeLpDhnWlWiV_8yJG9exk3dSs/edit?usp=sharing)

Once I was done I had to try to direct all this huge amount of informatıon in one single direction and I had to remind myself to keep it simple. Because I know I cannot embrace all at once and because this is a pilot course there should be a second iteration to improve.

When I think back I realized that I just was not ready for one challenge: the student’s reactions. In my mind, I imagined students getting excited and queuing behind my door to beg me for acceptance. In reality, students did not want to enrol! Novelty scared them and no matter how much I tried to develop an understanding of the new model and try to set high expectations, eventually just 5 students follow me.

I read a lot about the possibility of a resistance to changes but I must admit I completely underestimated it.

What scared them most was the idea of not be able to communicate to me directly and the fact that we were not going to use a real book but a video course instead. Most of them started speaking in terms of ‘Normal’ learning meaning that the Blended Learning was NOT normal/standard and it did not fit their learning styles.

The first week was entirely dedicated to orientation and support but the first online meeting was a great success.

Today I know that my five students are willing to follow me and they know very well what I expect from them: I expect them to own their learning and to be independent learners. This point, I believe, is critical, and will make a big difference. Students will be empowered with the responsibility to reach their expertise.

I divided my classes into face to face an online meetings. We meet once a week on Fridays for two hours in the Department and once a week for two hours on Thursdays online at 17:00 o’clock.

My aim is to show consistency between the two form of communications.

IN CLASS

In class my lessons serve one main aim: socializing and improving speaking skills. Our working time is largely used to build confidence in speaking skills. Speaking is definitely a skill which I intend to improve and focus on during my face to face lessons.

I aspire to create an upper course with in-class debates, presentations, and projects where students will be prompt to use their language skills actively.

Each students is asked to bring his laptop in class because we do not use a book and all the material is collected either on our platform ‘Metu Class’ or on our Facebook group page. Metu-class was a real revelation. I had a great help from a kind and patient university assistant Nergiz Gürel. She kindly accepted me into her office and she explained to me the potentiality of a platform I heard about but I undervalued for a long time.

Nergiz came also to my class to help my students with connectivities issue and so far she has been answered all my emails ! The benefit of having an institutionally supported platform is enormous. To found out an IT Assistance Centre and an expert like Nergiz in our University was a great surprise to me.

Contemporaneously, I opened a Facebook group, to stay in contact with my students.(https://goo.gl/p6GoXU). In fact, it is my habit to open Facebook pages for all my courses. I find very easy and straightforward to share comments and educational materials through this feasible platform which requires no skills on the students’ side and save me lots of energies.

I use Facebook for readings, video and listening, I make announcements and communicate with my students.

I also created an online depositary folder using Google Docs. I reveal it to the students session by sessions to get them prepare each time they come to class or attend an online meeting.

ONLINE

For online meetings, I used two platforms. In reality, I use ‘Blackboard Collaborate’ which is given without charge by the University. But in case of technical problems, I try always to be ready, this is why I have a B plan when I may switch to Zoom. Zoom is a Videoconference app which enables me and my students to go online at no cost for 40 minutes.

Blackboard Collaborate

 

Zoom

 The online webinars are exciting experiences and I and my students love them. Fortunately, the screen did not intimidate my students. On the contrary, we go online and take advantage to be at home in a relaxing environment at a time convenient to all of us.

I had some students connecting from their coach while sipping a cup of coffee!

Nevertheless, online meetings require a lot of planning and time. Actually, it is almost impossible to improvise and I must have all materials ready and open on my desktop.

The materials I chose must be of course shareable and reproducible.

Eventually, after class, I always provide my students with a list of all the resources used as well as with the full record of the lessons.

To ease this process, as I mentioned before, I created a sort of index with Google Doc. I divided the weeks and the number of lessons and I added the links (numbered) and the resources we used. (https://docs.google.com/document/d/1EgcQBQtI5EmxJs9zSnZxJPRTn8HAcEZ8EnJVA9GnO-Y/edit?usp=shari

Independent Learning

During their independent learning, students watch mini videos and do the comprehension exercises. They are also required to watch the flip videos grammar with exercises I provide them.

I could not be more clear and specific with my students on this point. According to me one of the most important aspects of Blended learning is the role of the student and his understanding of learner autonomy.  As I said many times, my purpose will not only teach Italian language, grammar and culture but also teach how to cope with their studying in an autonomous environment.

This means increase decision making, time planning, skills participation, organization, reflection, searching for material and getting organized and much more!

A skill which is missing is decision making. In general, students expect from me to tell all the time what to do and how to do it. My aim is to push them to actively risk and be aware of the consequence of their learning path.

In the Future

I have lots of ideas on how to improve and develop my Blended classes.

In the Future I will/might:

*ask students to get more involved in choosing educational materials.

*request students to prepare quizzes. As far as quizzes and exams are concerned I am determined to go paperless and do it through online assessment in a proctored environment.

*encourage students to fill up Reviews Forms

*guide students to build their own grammar. To do this I will create an online documents set which the students can edit all together and I will divide them into sections. For example, there will be the Grammar Section, the use of Language Section, the Vocabulary Section. This is an excellent idea I copied from a teacher I valued as one of the best Italian modern linguist ‘Paolo Balboni’ who I had the pleasure to meet and listen.

*enlight the fundamental role of Projects. Projects are important both for independent and group learning and cooperation. Each project will lead to creating something real that students can publish on our platform.

*make large use of presentations created by several students in cooperation. One of my favourite tool for this activity is Edpuzzle. Edpuzzle is an amazing interactive and attractive tool to allow students to use their skills with creativity. ( https://edpuzzle.com/)

Eventually, I must be prepared to change and reinvent myself continually. At the end of this pilot course, I should reflect, evaluate and learn from my mistakes so that I can make the next course better.

So far so good!

I am working with just 5 students and they are all willing to learn and experiment with me. To have a small group is beneficial because we can communicate faster and quicker with less misunderstanding.

We are already close and familiar with each other, which is a circumstance I missed in crowded groups.

Of course, to have a full picture I must wait until the end of the course. Only then I will be able to list the pros and cons.

DECEMBER 2017 – JANUARY 2018

Blended learning – A new project for Italian Language classes in Metu

Last year a letter of Contribution for Italian Language Chairs from MIUR (The Ministry of Education, Universities, and Research) arrived at our Department.

The contribution should have been used for the implementation of a new Italian language course. This is how I applied for the project called ‘Italian Blended classes’. In fact, I personally did not believe I would get an answer but to my surprise two months later the Cultural Attaché Emilio Sessa called me and told me that it was accepted.

The project found also a worm support by the Department of Modern Languages Chair Dr. Gökçe Vanlı, a very supportive teacher, who is always open to new proposals. Eventually, it was also discussed and welcomed by Assoc. Prof. Dr. (Advisor to the President) Bahar Gedikli.

On those days I remember to have felt both excited and a bit hesitant to notice such an enthusiasm. Of course, I felt proud of it! It took me not long to realize that both our University and our Department, in particular, were ready for such a digital ’switch’.

In fact, today the new learning trend, as Gökçe Hoca has well explained, attempts to jump on the technology fast-train which is changing not learning ‘per se‘ but the delivering of learning. And METU Language Department  (MLD) is late.

The new learning trend attempts to jump on the technology fast-train which is changing not learning ‘per se’ but the delivering of learning.

Of course, my contribution will be a tiny one but I feel gratified to work on a project that, if well planned, may grow to same an extension I cannot even foresee now.

The ‘Blended Learning Italian class’ should see its delivery in February. The task I undertook is not easy and I have a huge amount of details and materials to deal with. For this reason, I decided to launch a pilot project and work with a small class. I chose to proceed by small bits and to seek for the help of an assistant, my student Kardelen Doğuer, as well the support of Franziska Trepke a German teacher from our Department.

I must spend a few words about them. Kardelen is a student of my Italian 204 course. I know her since 2016, she took Italian 201, 202 and 203 with me. Kardelen apart from being an excellent student is also an excellent assistant. She is diligent and very fast in finding solutions. I am sure she will be vital in the future. She is also hardworking and curious about innovation. What could I ask for more?

Fransiska, on the other hand, will help me to develop my course from another perspective. She has accepted to run a Blended class course in February as part of the pilot project. I am so grateful for her help. I believe that if it was not for her thoughtful insights and warm pieces of advice as well as for her interest I would not have the will to continue.

With both of them, we determined to meet once a week to discuss the details and the progress we go through. This will help me a lot to attain the ‘far-sighted’ goal I planned to reach.

What is Blended learning?

As the Blended model get appreciation and attention its definition also becomes more familiar. Blended means a blend of face to face and (asynchronous as well as synchronous ) online classes.

The idea of a blended class sounds feasible to me and unless is not just an educational theory trend it looks challenging. In my class, the ‘blended model’ will be a balance between class-centered and individual-centered teaching. How? I will get rid of lectures and use flip-classroom videos to push the students to work autonomously, and then I will use the classroom and the video classroom time for connection and interaction.

The main goal of the course will be to enhance oral proficiency an encourage learner independence and reflection. Students must take care of their own learning and must proceed along.

I intend to divide my class into three sections which will be taught in a rotation during the week. Students will study at home and then come to class and do the ‘interactive‘ lessons. There will be also video conference time which will be used for research, discussion, reflection and project work.

I am not completely new to such a methodology. For years I have opted for the flipped classroom method. I know very well the benefits of it and how it works. The reorganization of ‘class inputs‘ has always been accepted and welcomed by my students because it helped them not to miss any grammar lessons, to review and find the material online every time needed.

But now I want something different. I would like to make my students experience learning unique! I mean that their learning must have an impact on their daily life in order to be classified from their brain as interesting and worth storing.

I hope, in other words, that blended may help me personalized the learning experience and make it worth remembering.

Why do I support the Blended Model?

There are many good reasons why ‘Blended’ may be useful.

  • Blended courses are learning-centered and they help students to become independent learners and stay focused on the ‘lifelong learning’ principle.
  • Blended learning may create opportunities for greater flexibility because it allows students to organize their working space. On the other hand, it improves access to learning material for studying and reviewing.
  • Thanks to the Forum and the one-on-one learning relationship feedback will be more immediate and transparent.
  • Blended learning may serve those students who for working reasons schedules would not be able to follow a classroom. It will also help the University to reach students without physically occupy a classroom in the Department.
  • Blended learning models harmonize the need for technology our society is experiencing.

To sum up

To sum up seems an impossible mission!

Sometimes I feel a bit desperate and it seems to me to have to deal with a huge amount of ideas but not be able to canalize them in one single direction. Time, of course, will show me how to do it and after the first attempt, I will definitely be able to sit down again and focus on the positive and negative sides and eventually try to change and adjust the first outline.

Now that I am starting I have a few assumptions to be checked during the experiment In no order of importance there you are my assumptions some are positive and refer to my confident on the projects other are the risks.

1: The students are going to like it

2: The students will work independently

3: This experiment will be followed by others in our Department

4: The most challenge part  will be to create collaboration

5: It will be difficult to get other teachers involved and to continue to support this project

6: It may fail due to lack of interest by the Department, university or students negative feedback.

7: The digital aspect will not be able to substitute the human factor created in the face-to-face classroom

  1. I will encounter many obstacles but I do not have enough people to be confronted with

I will close this article with one simple but fundamental self-analysis.

Being a class teacher for 17 years has shaped my way of teaching to such a degree that it is impossible to change it all at once. Even if I considered myself a ‘very open to new suggestions’ mind I am also, for some aspects, a traditional teacher. In fact, I believe in the human factor of teaching. For human factor, I mean that genuine human relationship among teacher and students made of smiles, posture, attitude and eyes contacts.                                   I cannot stop asking myself: How is it possible to reach it through a screen-computer? What about the role of the teacher-pupils? What about the special relationship you can build with that single student in class?.

I am a bit suspicious to go entirely online because in my regard it might somewhat make me lose an important aspect of my job. This is why I opted for a ‘bled model’. I am a big fan of the idea that to project a blended class well I should start with a solid learning plan and only then spend time on the digital and technological factor.

OCTOBER-NOVEMBER 2017

Do you like to dream the impossible? I do! And it was in one of this ‘Creative Thinking’ that I gave life to Daedalus University.

A joke, of course, there is not such an Institution and there will never be one. But, my imagination was so focused and organized that I jotted down a few notes and here I am to write about them.

‘Daedalus’ is the name of my imaginary new Higher Education Institution where I am the President. Its name reminds me of the story of the maze cunningly built by Daedalus, just as metaphorically a new Institution should be built.

The ‘Daedalus’ mission statement sounds like this :

‘Our University mission is to prepare students not for their present but for their future. In order to achieve this difficult task, students are taught how to acknowledge fundamental skills such as adaptability, changing of roles and ability to discern among an oversize amount of information.’

Standardization is not suitable for human beings. ‘Daedalus University’ measures every single student accordingly to what he is capable to do with a perspective of openness to his different abilities. Teachers in our University value and integrate alternative skills like being able to express oneself, craftiness, humour, creativity, leadership, and innovation. They also emphasize the concept of ‘ learning styles.’ On the other hand, teachers do not tell students what to do but encourage them to find their way before being addressed by the support of an expert.

The University judges positively students’ failures and mistakes and promotes a new concept of ‘taking a risk.’

The University applies the new concepts of teacherpreneur and studentpreneur. The idea behind is simple but explosive at the same time. What if teachers could come out from universities and became a full expert in their own field? We will have teachers who work in class, and write curriculum and take over the post of Principals and Chiefs of schools and then go outside and became a real employee in the real world.

This combination of roles is very intriguing and can be applied both to teachers and students alike. In Daedalus University students will be learners and teachers, they will attend classes and at the same time, they will teach what they learn to other students. Students will be connected with the real world and experience their skills in a real context outside the campus.

The Enrollment is not compulsory. Students work and study to supply the major costs of their education which is low and refundable. They are able to enroll for one semester and then leave and come back. In fact, the criteria for enrollment is very flexible and students with different backgrounds are accepted.

There are no grades and no exams, instead, students must prove their cognitive skills. Assessment is always formative and active and can be retaken as many times as needed.

According to what I said above, I will structure ‘Daedalus University’ in a multi-level Curriculum. This means no more subjects and discipline separated in boxes, no more physical separation of classes and hours. No separation of teachers’ roles. In ‘Daedalus University’ there will be a multi-subjects and multi-projects Curriculum which may include for example teachers switching from a lesson about American Geography to the History of its country to the Statistics of its population and so on.

Curriculum, materials and exams will be self-organized. For example, we will authorize students to decide what to study and how to do it. ‘Daedalus University’ will always insist on the importance of letting students be in charge with what is most meaningful for them.

Related to this, some  Educational Terms will be replaced.

‘Experiments’ instead of Exams.  An Exam is indeed an active way to show students’ skill.

‘Manipulative Syllabus’ instead of simply Syllabus.  A Syllabus is always negotiable. The Syllabus, in fact, will be analyzed every week and if it does not meet the students’ needs will be rewritten and reshaped accordingly.

‘Statements’ instead of Diplomas. Students will write their Statements and then ask the President to sign them.

Finally, in ‘Daedalus University‘, we will integrate as much as possible the use of technology.

*Use of gamification of learning as an educational approach to motivate students and to teach them how to gain information while winning a challenge. Games is a tool to connect with others, to discovery, to develop creative thinking and leadership. Collaborative games are used to carry on experiments and solve real-world problems. For example, tasks like how to fight a disease or how to classify the name and type of stars will be carried out through the use of interactive games.

*Use of virtual environments like ‘Second Life’ to give students the possibility to communicate visually and gain sensitivity in a virtual world with an avatar.

*Use of augmented reality to allow operating with objects. For example, just by focusing on an object with a tablet students will learn its history, its chemical substance, etc.

I might carry on and YOU might not agree with everything I said.

However, such a University is an impracticable project of a teacher who likes to close her eyes and imagine that, things one-day will-may change.

MAY-JUNE 2017

First of all, I would like to thank Elif Topuz for offering me this important opportunity to share my thoughts and teaching beliefs.

This time I will tell about a personal experience I had in the Department of Modern Languages. To do it, I will mention an email I sent to Seher Balbay just at the beginning of the Semester 2016-2017 when she was planning to start in-house Web 2.0 tools sessions.

Time ago I started a project in the Department of Elective Modern Languages but for many reasons, it failed. It was called TED for  Elective courses and its primary purpose was to share ideas among the teachers, to speak about how to implement technology during our lessons and eventually to get each other closer as colleagues. Unfortunately, lots of ideas, time and a bit of enthusiasm disappeared with it.

When I started I was sure I could grasp the interest of the teachers and fascinated them. But there was no interactivity with my colleges and one of my biggest mistakes was not to broaden my horizons and not to look for help. Trying to do everything alone was fatal. Because a project to grow must be discussed, criticized and supported with new ideas.

I have been using technology in my classes for the last 5 years or more and
I improved myself not only in class but also by being an eager reader of blogs and an attendee of many courses on the subject.

This year it was a halt for me.  Presumably due to this failure. And I had promised myself not to get involved ever again on ‘projects’ which requires time, experience and effort but not much in return.

But if it is true that every failure makes us stronger and teaches something, this is what happened to me. Analyzing the past, today I can perceive it was a big lesson.

In fact, now I know by experience that:

Blaming is not the solution.

Alone we are not strong enough.

Collaboration is the key to success.

And I am ‘almost’ ready to start again….

 

MARCH-APRIL 2017

Google  Sweet Google

The 2nd of October would have been a big day, I had been accepted to take part in an important conference and I was so excited! My speech would have been about the use of English language and in particular about students with language disorders.

But, I had just 2 months left and I had to get organized immediately. There were millions of articles to read, millions of texts to write but most important there were millions of researchers to do.  No time to lose. I sat down and I remembered that many years before I had attended a course called ‘Google search’. The course had enlightened me about one the tools I use most when looking for information on Internet; Google.

Thanks to it I had learned how to limit my search, save time by maximizing my results and go straight to the point. Just what I needed at that moment.

First of all, I remembered that there were a few general indications not to skip.

A. The results you get in a computer depend mainly on the previous searches you did. For example, if you often look for educational websites, Google will show you, as first, results related to education which it thinks it may interest you most.

B. If you put your search in speech marks (strings) you will have as a result, the same sentence in the same order of words you are looking for.

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C. When you search for something in Google you must get rid of all extra words. For example, if you try to learn why the English language is the most widely spoken language in the world and you type your search like this:

2

Google will find lots of results and some of them might not match your search! The reason why is that Google will look for all the words of your sentence and expand its search accordingly.

You should opt for a more concise sentence and avoid redundant words like prepositions, articles, verbs and use instead synonymous and keywords.

A more precise search would be: ‘Reason English popularity’.

With those general statements in mind, I started to do my searches. The first thing I wanted to read was an article about language disorder published by Oxford University.

My first search was: Oxford University language disorder research or article

3

I suddenly realised I could do much better. Oxford University website is a huge website and I knew that an easier way to find my article where I wanted it to be, was to specify the name of the website. I did it by simply write site:  

This little command tells Google to search within ‘that’ website.

My results search decreased consistently from 928.000 to 430. Moreover, as the first search Google gave me the very article I wanted to read.

4

My second search was a PowerPoint file on Dyslexia. What I did was to tell Google to check only PowerPoint file. The command was: filetype:ppt

5

6

The same could have been done with other file extensions. For example a  PDF file.

7

8

Good enough! I was still exploring Dyslexia but this time I wanted to be sure that the material I found would not regard Dyslexia for children. Again Google helped me. In fact, by inserting a minus sign Google knows that it should not show that word.

Filetype:ppt dyslexia -children

9

Days passed by and I was quite satisfied. At the moment I understood very well what kind of problems students with difficulty in reading went through.  But my second purpose was to investigate about another disorder which impedes students from writing coherently. It happened to be that the disorder was called Dysgraphia.

I wanted to have more information about this disorder in the same document as for Dyslexia and I knew that there was a way to inform Google of my will. The wonderful word ‘or served my purpose.

Filetype:docx dyslexia or dysgraphia

That little ‘or’ had made a huge difference and saved my day.  All my results were in some way a connection between the two disorders. Just as I wanted!

10

I did not finish yet and I hoped not to leave anything to the case. Time was my enemy and I had to collect still lots of information on the subject. This is why I needed to be as accurate as possible.

For example:

1: What was the situation of students with language disorder between 2014 and 2016? Google suggests using a time frame. That is three dots between the dates.

“students with language disorder” 2014…2016

11

2: What was the name of the other disorders starting with the prefix dys-? A little star was my solution.

language disorder Dys*

12

3: Which websites were similar to the ‘ The American Speech–Language–Hearing Association’ website which I enjoyed so much exploring? The word related and  two semicolons together with the name of the website would have told me

related:www.asha.org

13

 

 

That was it, just amazing. With the help of those little operators and a smart combination of them, I was able to prepare for my conference speech. Ready to go!

List of the operators and commands used in the article:

  • “Strings”
  • site:
  • Filetype:
  • -minus symbol
  • or
  • 2000…2015
  • star*
  • related:

DECEMBER 2016-JANUARY 2017

Unlearn an ability within oneself

I love the word ‘Unlearn’ it makes so much sense to me, but still, it is undoubtedly a difficult term to explain in words. In this article, I will try to clarify what it takes and what it took to ‘unlearn’ and ‘relearn’ in my learning life’s path.

I could summarize all process with one word ‘perseverance’ but still, I know that it would not be enough. Because there is not one single thing I can refer to but a series of changes all linked which have transformed the way I look at the learning and teaching process. It has been a painstaking and still undone readjustment of theories and a reinvention of new ones.

It is, in fact, a switch to a state of mind derived from the idea of what it means to be a learner/teacher. A self-adaptation to an ever-growing and ever-changing environment.

If I ought to do a rough enumeration I would say that today a learner/teacher ‘must’ be curious. He must be able to surf and skim the web and put together information from various sources instead of relying on one single source of authoritative information. He must read blogs and manuals, watch vblog, get involved in forums and have a PLN (Personal Learning Network). Ask lots of questions, take extra courses and MOOCs, attend on-line conferences and webinars. And finally he should explore, explore and explore.

A learner/teacher is a multitask person and someone who has developed a high sense of awareness. This means to know how to scaffold in between an avalanche of input in order to reach what he wants. It means to learn to adapt to new structures demanded by a new way of delivering information.

Eventually, he is a self-learner.

The above-mentioned changes were natural for me. Did I succeed ? Partially. Today I believe that not only me but my generation of ‘adapters’ to a new era of delivering the knowledge, has undergone such a metamorphosis without realizing it. In fact, you must either change or refuse it altogether.

The consequences of this huge exposure to a new way of learning and reaching knowledge have taught me to be myself in a way I could not imagine or crave before. In the past, I was never sure to do right and to speak right. I have never had the courage to speak out for fear of getting wrong and be ridiculed. In my simplistic yet well rooted believes I thought that just a few, the very élite, had the right and the authority to express themselves.

Today my life as a learner/teacher is an endless attempt to show that I can make a difference.

I am speaking about trust in myself. A feeling unknown in my previous learning experience. Trust is an extraordinary ability which allowed you to be. ‘To be’, in my opinion, means to ‘unlearn’ the idea that knowledge is not unidirectional but it is multidimensional, spreadable and  multiple. ‘To be’ means that I am in the flow and part of it or that I am actively collaborating with it. Success is hard and it comes with a slow motion not because of outside people, but because of ourselves. But if I had not been a 21st-century citizen I could have hardly made such a move.

As far as I am concerned, I learned the biggest lesson of the 21st-century. A lesson that will polarize our next years in an unpredictable way. ‘Learning’ is not confined to a building, university,  nor in a physical object like a book. Learning takes place inside us along the path. This is for me lifelong learning. This was my path to ‘unlearn’ an ability within myself.

OCTOBER-NOVEMBER 2016

I as a Student

I cannot just sit and start writing… it takes me a while to organize my ideas, to shape them, to express them and finally to put some of them aside. It happened again… I knew more or less what I wanted to write, but once I sat down, all my thoughts started crowding up.

Let’s try again! Few days ago I answered a mini-survey for this blog. It was one of that moment of self-introspection when you stop and look inside. The question I was asked sounded something like : ‘What does it means for you to be a teacher. Or, What is your philosophy as a teacher…?’ I do not remember the exact words. I tried to do a self-analysis and answered as honestly as I could. Then I asked myself ‘ Do you follow any pedagogical approach? A specific view of language acquisition ? Any blog’s guru? Any advice from teachers?  Your own experiences? The answer was ‘yes’ to all my questions, but still I was not satisfied. Why? What does it make me a teacher? Time to reflect! It took me some time to utter it out, but I finally did and I wrote: ‘ I teach the way I would like to be taught’ That’s it! I felt pleased. I was so glad to have found my teaching philosophy compacted in just one sentence. Thanks Elif for asking!

Now I would like to develop it in a ‘little’ more details. First of all, it is necessary to say that to reflect on my teaching practice has always contributed to make me aware of what goes around me. It is an exercise every teacher should do time to time. I advise it to do it and to write it down in order to work out the meaning of your reflections.

Not once, but many times I try to switch the roles between me and my students making an effort to see from their point of view. To play the role of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde it helps me ‘not’ to forget what it means to be behind a school desk. Consequently I will continue this post writing as a student who express her opinion on her ‘exemplary’ teacher.  In doing so, imagine a university student maybe a ‘Metu’ university student sitting in a crowded classroom. She is stressed because she has many lessons to follow, lots of projects to accomplish. Moreover, she is sometimes in distress because she thinks that teachers are ‘too’ much on her. Nevertheless this year she has met a very special one….

Her ‘special’ teacher knows all the students by names, and she struggles to build a relationship with them, she smiles all the time, she is kind and patient. There is more, she also believes in her students even if they do not believe in themselves. In fact, she succeeds to make them understand that learning just not happen and that there is not magic download. Learning , anything from math to music to sport, requires effort and practice, patience and believe. On the other hand, she makes her students aware that to be talent or ‘intelligence’ is not enough, in fact to succeed you will still need to work hard.

She is also an amazing talker, although what she teaches sometimes is hard and boring she tries to make information simple and appealing. Because she knows that unless she does students will not be able to learn. Then again she makes an effort to be creative so to make the time useful for students. She presents her content in an engaging way never forgetting that students want real life experience and not generalizations.

Speaking about her lessons she manages to create interactive lessons. She never  lectures. She allows max 10/15 minutes talk and then she listens. Eventually, she constantly looks for novelty, trying not to repeat herself. Because she understands that repetition produces mediocrity. Last but not least she is not scared of getting wrong. She laughs at herself and sometimes she does it together with her students. She loves her job and she is a happy teacher. As a matter of fact, she is so passionate and she makes every effort to achieve  a wider knowledge. She never ever gives up!

There was I,  as a student .

As a teacher in conclusion I can say that in these many years of teaching I learned  that no matter how quality your teaching may be, what it matters most is the impact you have on your students!

MAY 2016

An imaginary interview

With this article I will continue the interview ‘made by me to myself’ about some random language teaching and learning thoughts.

ales

Interviewer: According to you should language learners be exposed only to the forms they are taught?

Alessandra: Impossible mission! I definitely do not agree with the statement that ‘“Language learners should be exposed only to the forms they are taught.”

In fact, when my students get upset because they came across to new grammar structures or new vocabulary I keep reminding that language, unless other subjects, cannot be put in a box. What this means is that language is fluid and not framed. So if it is true that language materials should be chosen accordingly to the students’ level, it is also true that it is impossible to try to stick only with what you explained. A teacher who tries to narrow her students’ exposition to language, I think, will also narrow students’ creativity and willingness to risk.

How on earth can I expect to teach my students, for example, the relative pronoun ‘that’ hoping that they will not come upon the pronoun ‘which’ till I decide so?

It sounds quite unrealistic!

ales

Interviewer: What teacher’s burnout means to you?

Alessandra: Burnout was a new concept to me since a couple of years ago. I  had never heard of it since the day I attended a conference on the topic. I will never forget that day. There was a young, pretty and kind Egyptian teacher, who was speaking about the way she was coping with burnout and the negative feelings she had been experiencing.

I was shocked for two reasons: One, because I thought she was too young as a teacher to feel what she felt. And second, because she was using a terminology and some explanations that although I did not know about, I could presume that it was beyond her personal experience.

In fact, I found out later that ‘burnout’ was a well described phenomenon in academic research papers  from various disciplines: so it was true, it did exist but I did not know it!

At this point I would like to tell you  a story to make you understand how I feel today about burnout. When I arrived in Turkey it seemed to me that everybody was aware of the fact that walking barefoot would cause stomach-ache and bloated stomach. At the beginning, I mocked such a ‘ridiculous to me’ and ‘impossible to me ’ explanation. With time, the more conscious of it I became, the more it affected me psychologically to the point that today I cannot walk barefoot without thinking about a swollen belly.

Now it is the same for burnout. As a teacher, I never felt I could burn like a candle and irretrievably melt till the end. But, since I am aware of this possibility, I am also aware of myself. Am I depressed teacher? No!  But I am more conscious of my giving and my taking from students. Positive or negative? I leave to you to judge!

ales

Interviewer: What do you think about this metaphor ‘language is a cake’

Alessandra: The metaphor ‘language is a cake’ is strange and makes me reflect.

It may have many meanings and I will try to analyze them.

Language is a cake because:

1: It is rich and tasty. Everybody wants to learn a language (or have a piece of cake). So it is attractive.

2: Language is shareable and in the same way a cake can be sliced. You share a cake as you can share the multi-component of a language. So it is multi-facet.

3: It is appetizing .  But if a language is not well taught, or in the case of the cake if it is not well served, it becomes annoying and indigestible. And here comes the role of the teacher/server who should serve/teach in a proper way.

APRIL 2016

An imaginary interview

As a teacher, I have a few opinions about language teaching and learning. But nobody has ever asked me about it.  Why not to pretend  then?

Here, then, comes my imaginary interview and what I would love to answer if…..

ales

Interviewer:

Hello Alessandra! Today I will ask you random questions regarding some statements which ‘sometimes’ are believed to be true. Please give me your opinion, trying to refer to yourself as a teacher. Let’s start!

What do you think about this statement: ’Anyone who speaks the language can teach the language’.

Alessandra:

As a mother tongue teacher it would be convenient to me to say that ‘Yes!  To teach a language you just need to be a mother tongue….’  But what a lie it would be!

First of all, what is the point in having linguistics, books, university departments dedicated to modern foreign language? If  everybody is able to teach than no need to struggle at all.

The truth is, and I would say that this is valid for all the subjects taught and not just language, that to teach, you must be an expert, a passionate person, a theatre player, a psychologist, a tutor, a writer, a commentator.  You should also be sensitive, funny, patient, dedicated, strong. In one world you must be ‘a ‘teacher’

The only point in favour which comes to my mind about being a mother tongue is that you might struggle less at the beginning of your career. In fact, some structures, some idiomatic expressions, some cultural references may be, to you, more straightforward. The same, unfortunately, could turn out to be a disadvantage, because if you take things for granted then you end up making mistakes.

alesInterviewer:

Explain if the sentence “What is taught is what is learned.” is true for you.

Alessandra:

Of course not! It would just be foolish to believe such a statement.

Just to have fun let’s pretend for a while that whatever is taught is really learned. Could you imagine the consequences?  We would have many geniuses around us, people would be experts in many fields at once, knowledge would be as contagious as a disease. All the students  with a bit of effort would pass the exams brilliantly. But unfortunately, maybe, this is not the reality. On the contrary, it is just unrealistic.

I would like to give an example I learnt once I was attending a conference from a teacher with lots of experience. She called somebody from her audience and she told him : ’Listen, now I am going to give you a piece of paper‘. Then she got the paper and put it on his shoulders. Few seconds later the paper fell. Then she looked at us shrinking her shoulders and then she said’ But I gave it to him!’ The moral of the story is : Not all what you teach is learned.

alesInterviewer:

Do you believe that “People with high IQ’s are better language learners’?

Alessandra:

In my life I witnessed some strange behaviour from person knew as clever . Today as a teacher, I think I found an answer. Now I know that there are two kinds of intelligence: One is an ’analytical intelligence’ in the meaning of a high IQ, and the second is a ‘practical intelligence. Let’s analyze them both from the point of view of language learners.

The first is a student with a high IQ, or to say it differently, a very clever student. This particular student will soon distinguish himself in the class. He is the one who will learn before anybody else, whose assignments will be flawless, whose memory is strong so retention of vocabulary is superb. He is the one who follows the lessons smoothly and remembers even the smallest mistake you made on a day you were so tired!. He is a joy in academic terms. But, does he learn to speak the language before anybody else? Doubt it !

The second, instead, is the practical student. He is always in search of a shortcut, he does not get lost in a diffuse mode of learning, but cunningly he focus on practical rules which make him to hit the nail on the head. He does not study a lot, but he studies the right amount and at the right moment. Most probably he is also extroverted, funny and willing to risk and make mistakes when he speaks. Does he learn the language before? Yes he does.

Practical intelligence always wins, both in class and outside the class, because to be successful you do not have to be necessary incredibly clever’.

In the next article I will add three more questions from my imaginary interviewer….see you soon!

MARCH 2016

This corner was conceived with a purpose: a planned and permanent sharing .

This corner is a response to my desire to let to know other people what I believe, but on the other end to get responses and feedback from others.

But still this is not the only reason why I will write.

Once I read somewhere that:

“When you have a belief to pursue and you believe it is true then people will start trusting you and they will join your cause.

Students will join you, other teachers will join you, principals will agree with you…”

An assumption that I strongly agree with.


I belong to a chat group of language teachers who meet via Twitter to discuss about topics related to language teaching and learning. They use the  #LangChat hashtag.

You can read about them here:

http://langchat.pbworks.com/w/page/39343677/FrontPage

Interesting enough the January 11, 2016 chat was about: ‘Be an EPIC World Language Teacher in 2016!’

I thought about our MLD talks V, and I guessed you may be interested to hear about this subject from teachers around the world.

I will try then to list some contributions on this topic. The article I wrote is about the ideas, the goals, the proposal on personal growth , the planning and implementation of the teachers of Langchat.

P.S: Questions and comments are taken from an e-mail I received from Common Ground International which sponsors the Langchat summary.

Rory Foster is the person who wrote, collected and commented on the Langchat ‘Be an EPIC World Language Teacher in 2016!’.

Question 1: What goals do you ENVISION for 2016?

  • More student choice:

@jlynnhambrick “[giving] students more choice in their learning.”

  • ‘Real’ lessons:

@cadamsf1 said, “I envision lessons that connect to the real world and give students the power to communicate about real things in the real world.”

  • Quality over quantity:

@WHS_French_ wrote, “[I’m] trying to remember that I don’t need to do all the things. Focus on QUALITY over quantity.”

  • Fewer colleague comparisons and less pressure:

@WHS_French_ , “[Another goal that I envision is] not comparing myself to colleagues with more years of experience! I put too much pressure on myself.”

  • Guided goal-setting and reflection for students:

 @LisaShepard2 said, “I want to develop self-assessment strategies and goal-setting for my students.”

Question 2: How are you going to PLAN your route to your goal(s)?

  • Let students hold you accountable:

@jlynnhambrick said, “I lead a minute of mindfulness every morning over the loudspeaker […] I just announced my idea to my [students and] now I can’t back out. They will hold me accountable. It’s what they want for their class.”

  • Backwards plan:

@Marishawkins said, “I always think backwards planning is key- [I think about] where […] I want students to go and always remember that.”

  • Write out a plan:

@ProfeCochran said, “[One] of the new things I’m doing [to] streamline my teaching includes creating [slides for] every class, every day #scatterbrained!”

@CoLeeSensei added “I’ve actually gone back to a paper daybook/planner so I can ‘see’ where I’m going.”

Question 3: How will you IMPLEMENT a timeline for your goal(s)?

  • Surround yourself with like-minded instructors!

@K_Griffith wrote, “It helps me to do this with other people. I’d recommend getting with like-minded teachers, if at all possible.”

@CoLeeSensei confirmed that “[finding] those ‘like-minded’ [teachers] is key!,” adding, “I have [one] other in my school…a blessing!”

  • Break big goals down into manageable steps!

@TELLproject “[Think] of short-medium-long timelines to build in growth moments (accountability) for yourself. [What] about a 30-60-90 [day] plan?” and shared a resource an epic growth plan.

  • Keep revisiting the goals you set back in August!

@bjillmoore said, “I set my goals at the beginning of the school year and keep checking and reviewing [them].

Question 4: How will you COLLECT evidence of your growth?

  • Feedback from students:

@CoLeeSensei wrote, “[For] me, [to collect evidence I] ask students to ‘tell’ me about their growth over the term..” For @SraSpanglish is important to ask even when we feel successful: “[I also do a] survey on [students’] feelings about activities I *thought* [I] rocked.”

@CoLeeSensei agreed, “Absolutely – we learn a lot when we ask them how it went for them [or] according to them!” @virgilalligator suggested: “[Have you] ever tried @dotstorming? [Students] can comment on each others’ ideas as you solicit feedback [and] you can ask them to vote!” @RLavrencic added: “I usually show student sample projects [from a previous class] and ask [students] how they suggest to make it better. [This is a great] motivator.”

  • Feedback from colleagues:

@SrtaJohnsonEBHS wrote, “I’m part of a learning group of teachers, and we observe each other once per quarter [and] videotape [one another]. So that’s neat.”

  • Blogging:

@CoLeeSensei wants to write “more quick blog posts about [her] learning process.”

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