13 November 2019

Are You Writing Writefully?

Photo by Pixabay from Pexels

I still have the habit of carrying a notebook with me. In my bags, there will pens, worn out pencils, perhaps the odd rubber  (i.e. eraser), or even a pencil sharpener. In F2F classrooms the array of pencil cases, set out as name tags on students' desks always perks my curiosity - why did they choose that particular pencil case? How does it make them feel as learners? Are they demarcating their classroom space or reinforcing their individuality as a member of that particular learning group? 

Perhaps both. Or, even, perhaps neither. 

Which leaves me in silent guesses and assumptions of whether pencil cases matter at all. 

Even though there may be pencil cases in my classrooms, even though I myself still often jot down notes and reminders by hand, the truth is, that most writing is done digitally. Students at Higher Education are expected to submit word-processed work and very often they are more comfortable in using Word than actually writing by hand. 

From the 16 different skills which  Future Skills Report 2019, highlighted earlier this year, learner autonomy clearly takes a leading role:

 "A skill profile is an
array containing further subskills.

A. Subject-development related skills: 

(1)Autonomy (self-determination), 
(2) Self-initiative(initiative and performance competence), 
(3) Selfmanagement (decision competence) 
(4) Need/motivation for achievement (initiative and
performance competence), 
(5) Personal agility(self-competence), 
(6) Autonomous learning competence (learning literacy), 
(7) Self-efficacy,
(8) Tolerance for ambiguity (ambiguity,competence), 
9) Ability to reflect (reflective competence)

B. Object-related skills (Instrumental skills): 

(10) Agility (systems competence), 
(11) Creativity(innovation competence), 
(12) Digital literacy

C. Social world/ organization-related skills: 

(14) Future mindset (future and design competence), 
(15) Cooperation competence, 
(16) Communication competence"

So the question is, how can students become more autonomous when writing? Especially at more advanced levels of education?

Writefull is a recent app I came across and think it could be quite helpful for fostering learner autonomy in writing. You can see the different features it includes here below:

Writefull also offers a page with tutorials where you can find exactly what and how Writefull may help you when writing. 

Writing is never easy, especially with students whose first language is not necessarily English. Being an independent, autonomous learner is not easy either; both require a process of learning, of making mistakes (perhaps), dusting off the mistake/s and continuing to progress positively.

To help learners achieve the skills mentioned above, educators also need to share different ways in which students can indeed become more autonomous and self-efficient. Introducing them to digital tools such as Writefull makes sense  - their world is digital, complex and constantly evolving. Even if using such a tool does not abdicate the teacher from providing feedback on students' writing when required, it is a possible approach to fostering learner autonomy when writing. Besides, isn't one of the objectives of teaching to guide students to becoming more confident and self-sufficient in their learning tasks?

Do you use Writefull with your students?

Further Suggestions:

Ehlers, Ulf. -D., Kellermann, Sarah A. (2019): Future Skills. The future of Learning and Higher
education. Results of the International Future Skills Delphi Survey. Karlsruhe

Future Skills 2019 - Key Findings

Future Skills  Report 2019 - Future Skills 

Future Skills - The Future of Learning and College

November is for Writing

Writing with Linquix

What's that Scent?

Generating Stories with A.I.

Photo by Anthony from Pexels

Plastic for Christmas?

Photo by Engin Akyurt from Pexels

Not yet a month to Christmas, and already I feel that suffocating, drowning of plastic.

Not that the overuse of plastic is only at Christmas celebrations or other religious/cultural celebrations. Plastic has been strangling our world for years. 

At times of global celebrations, it just seems, to me, to get worse. Plastic is practically given a free, open hand from Christmas decorations to superfluous gift wrappings to throw away plastic toys. A feast for the Great Pacific Plastic Patch!

I don't mean to dampen the joy of Christmas giving and receiving. Quite the contrary - I wonder whether students (if given the opportunity) can come up with alternative ways for giving without over indulging in a plastic spree. For example, by having students brainstorm alternatives or by adding their own ideas to this infographic - what is feasible for them, what is less so:

@LessPlasticUK offers ideas and infographics on how to use less plastic in our lives. These are great to use/share with learners and have them contribute with their own solutions and ideas. Students can  easily create their own infographics with Canva, for instance, or other tools for creating infographics.

The National Geographic has different lessons on plastic pollution; these include texts which are great for ESL/EFL/CLIL too, as they include the meaning and reference of vocabulary as you can see in this example, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Lessons indicate which level they are designed for and often include videos. The National Geographic Resource Library covers plenty more too, with lessons and educational resources for different fields of study.

How can saying no to plastic and change our lives for the better (and the life of our planet)? Here is one example:

Students may also wish to focus on the positive steps towards re-using, refusing, reducing plastic in their hometowns and country - life does have beautiful news as well. Sharing a story, sharing a snap of life. Learning by sharing and collaborating.

Shared narratives may open change of attitudes and behaviours.

Changes take time.

Saying no to mindless, throw-away, single use of plastic,  is running out of time.

For all those who do celebrate Christmas, may you have a wonderful Christmas season in peace and warmth!

And as plastic free as possible.

Photo by Dark Indigo from Pexels

Further Suggestions: 

Where in the World? Awakening Geography

An Ecosystem for Learning

Because We are Connected - Breaking Free from Plastic

10 Ways You Can Help Save the Oceans

100 Steps to a Plastic-Free Life

10 tips for living with less plastic

Living with less plastic: it’s easier than you think

15 Practical Tips for Living with Less Plastic

8 Tips For Living With Less Plastic

Living without plastic

 Photo by Dark Indigo from Pexels

Visualise Anything You Want

Photo by Pixabay from Pexels

I confess - there are times when words elude me and a simple visual explanation would make everything so much clearer to understand.  If you or your learners have moments like I do, then there is a possible solution. 

Plectica is where you can create diagrams and maps of information. There are ready made templates to use, you can share the link or embed your diagram in a webpage/blog and also collaborate with peers:

From mind maps to flow charts, from SWOT analysis to a decision matrix and Cornell note-taking style, , there are options as to how to present information. 

Plectica has both free and subscription accounts, is simple to use, simple to share complex ideas. and really user-friendly for collaboration.  It's also a great tool to share with students on EAP courses. Students on EAP courses are often asked to describe charts and graphs - why not give them the opportunity to create their own charts and graphs and have their peers analyse and describe them? This makes the activity of describing charts and graphs much more personalised and student centred, while giving students practice of delivering information in a visual format.

Clarity of information,
clarity of expression,
clarity of instructions
and summaries.

Visuals create clearer paths

Photo by Pixabay from Pexels

Further suggestions:

Writing Skills, Diaries & Timelines

Visualizing Time with Timelines

Storytelling with Avatars and Timelines

 Apples and EdTech

Proverbs & Quotations with Visuals

Learning Visually with Themes

Do You Have Visual Swag?

How To Think Visually Using Visual Analogies – Infographic

12 November 2019

Reworking Storytelling and Universal Children's Day 2019


Stories, celebrations, narratives. All part of our days as educators and learners.

Whether one agrees or not, education should also means change - changing children's lives for the better, listening to their aspirations, improving their chances of success.

UNICEF is celebrating Universal Children's Day on 20th November and has a Safe to Learn Activity Pack free to download. UNICEF also has a whole page dedicated to resources for educators - from lesson plans, which focus on the global  Sustainable Development Goals,  to short, animated films and games. There's even a certificate for those who participate in learning about the Global Sustainable Development Goals  with their students. 

which creates great lessons for storytelling (Finding Meaning through Projects and Storytelling), has also offered a whole page dedicated to Universal Children's Day

Storytelling isn't restricted to fantasies and fictions.

Storytelling in classrooms is allowing learners to tell their stories in a way which they are happy to. It may be through an app, a web tool, or through images, a podcast, a video, or comic. Handwritten projects, crayons and plays are all welcomed too. 

Storytelling is not only about past events either. Nor is storytelling only about expressing dreams  and aspirations for the future. Consider this:

It's not only the right to learn and play; not only the right to live in a safe environment and have a healthy life. It's also about the environmental erosion of their worlds and what may be left from the effects of environmental damage. This too is their story. As an example, find out about children like Ranniel - The boy diving for plastic

Ironically, many of these children who are most in need may never have this information shared with them for all kinds of different reasons - lack of internet access, cultural reasons, geographical, political reasons and so forth. On the other hand, many children do have better learning facilities and may quite likely be taking part in events designed for Universal Children's Day.

Children, stories, narratives.

We could all endeavour to make every day a universal child's day.

How will you be going blue next 20th November?

Further Suggestions:

Finding Meaning through Projects and Storytelling

Supporting Sustainable Development

Building a Learning City

iEARN - Do You?

The Global Goals

Because We are Connected - Breaking Free from Plastic

There is something magical about bridges. They connect us. As well as possible threats, bridges bring communities closer, making each different community more accessible. And with accessibility, perhaps, less fearfulness of the other side. Less fear of the other. 

Connections. Whether online or off-line, we have never been as connected as today, with networks spreading through time and space/s. 

Nonetheless, though, living in these polarised times, disconnection abounds. From cyberbullying  among children and teens, to adults behaving more like irresponsible trolls and mis-information as easily spread as wildfires. At times I do wonder about just how truly "connected" we all are.

There is one issue that does connect us all, whether we agree or not, whether it affects or not (and it does) and that is the state of our planet. 

From keeping classrooms clean,  to recycling,  to being more conscious when shopping,  there are plenty of suggestions to give to learners. When it comes to recycling, however, not all places have recycling programmes and facilities set up for their communities.  What to do with all the plastic that fills our everyday lives?

Plastic is not an epidemic which affects certain countries - it affects every country. Everywhere.

In countries which have already suffered the consequences of industrial pollution and therefore became more acutely aware of the need to protect the environment, there has been a drive towards cleaner industries and cleaner living. Cleaner living means being more careful with the world around us, curbing the use of plastics, emphasising the need to recycle whether plastic and plastic or just stuff in general. Even a simple gesture such as using a textile bag/carrier instead of plastic bags helps towards the ruthless use of throw-away plastics, while buying second hand is not be scoffed or looked down at.

Break Free From Plastic  is a movement envisioning a world without the plastic pollution which is strangling our planet. Rather than only finger pointing at polluters, Break Free from Plastic supports bringing

"...  systemic change through a holistic approach tackling plastic pollution across the whole plastics value chain, focusing on prevention rather than cure, and providing effective solutions."

Break Free From Plastic has resources such as its Tool Kits,  and reports, as well as events where people can get involved. 

Fluentize is a video and lesson site which I recently came across through Nik Peachey. 

Like Nik, I have been really impressed by Fluentize and think that even if you are not teaching EFL/ESL, it is worth looking into and subscribing (or better still, having your institution subscribe if possible). 

Lessons are organised into different categories and include one category on The Environment and Science
(as you can see from the screen shot on the right). 

These are real world issues which, like plastic pollution, affect us all. 

It really is time to come out of the cave of shadows and to do more than only share a platitude on protecting our environment.

What projects can your students realistically get involved in when it comes to protecting our environment?

Further Suggestions:

Times for Tolerance

Political positions are not supposed to be embedded in classrooms. Or so some may say. 

Teaching, like so many other activities, is never neutral nor belief-free; there is always some degree of choice/s in one's teaching approaches, selection of teaching materials, class management and interaction with learners. 

As times become increasingly polarised and intolerant, classrooms should become the opposite - safer, more tolerant, fostering equality and equity. It's not only by instilling a sense of a learning community among students, but going a step further, raising awareness and the consequences of inaction towards intolerance. 

It's all very well to share and re-share words of comfort and solidarity when violent events occur and are broadcasted around the world in real-time; however, I do question the validity of this - mindlessly repeating words of digital comfort do not un-do the damage done. Rather than the predictable bandwagon of public outpours of grief and solidarity, wouldn't it be safer, healthier for all, if tolerance and understanding prevented these violent events in the first place?

Teaching Tolerance,( mentioned earlier here ), 
is a rich resource for reflecting on tolerance and tolerant practices. Classroom resources  include lesson plans, student texts and tasks, film kits, and downloadable posters.

Teaching Tolerance also has step by step suggestions on how to set up Reading Groups with
learners and highlight the following:

"Reading groups support children in processing current events and hard truths about the world around them. 

Reading groups help children situate present events within a larger historical context of social injustice.

Reading groups facilitate social emotional learning.

Reading groups develop critical thinking and literacy skills.

Reading groups build family and community engagement. 

Family engagement bolsters students’ academic performance."

Teaching Tolerance has more too - frameworks (including a rich resource for Digital Literacy), podcasts, webinars, and articles that support educators in their daily practices. 

If educators are responsible for education, if education means learning and the spreading of knowledge which in turn will stimulate and promote change, perhaps embedding tolerance in one's practices and teachings may not be a bad idea after all.

Perhaps, just perhaps, the light of tolerance may shine for all. 

Further Suggestions:

11 November 2019

The Creative Mix


Among the required skills that keep on appearing on listicles of what employers are looking for, creativity and innovation are two skills that keep on showing up as desirable for employment. Whether or not these attributes are actually valued in organisations is another issue though. 

Nevertheless, classrooms are spaces where there is a lot of creativity - from lessons which educators prepare, to digital tools introduced, to ideas and artifacts that learners produce. 

One source that is readily available for teachers and students to use is CC Commons. You can easily search for images which are in the public domain and under Creative Commons licenses - a great help for students when they are looking for images for their projects. 

You can also browse through other collections - from museums to animal diversity. 

CC Commons also has a style guide with great ideas when remixing and creating - 
"One goal of Creative Commons is to increase the amount of openly licensed creativity in “the commons” the body of work freely available for legal use, sharing, repurposing, and remixing. Through the use of CC licenses, millions of people around the world have made their photos, videos, writing, music, and other creative content available for any member of the public to use."

There is also a blog - definitely worth reading.

CC Commons is a great reference to have in a classroom's tool box for all kinds of different creative productions.

Is it possible to think outside the box/es which so often trap us in the name of education?

How do your students think outside the box?

Further References:

Drops of Creativity

Creative Prompts

A Space for Writing, A Space for Creative Practice

Learning, Creativity and Amy

Playing with Creativity

Creativity and Writing

The 10+ Most Important Job Skills Every Company Will Be Looking For In 2020

Future We