27 September 2012

Digital Bridges for Learners

Although I have always tried to reach out individually to students, whether through their preferred learning style, topics which related to their social environment and interests,  or with activities they enjoyed in class, never has there been a point in time when the emphasis of learning was so learner-centred as now.  With the increasing implementation of mobile tech, learning is revolving around the student: with their iPads, they can work calmly through their iBooks or create their own book with materials which they choose and are relevant to both themselves and their course work. 

In turn, this also has implications for the teacher - new roles in the classroom and often new approaches and patterns in teaching. However, with all the freedom of learning, there are hiccups which also occur. How willing are students to (initially) take on the responsibility for their learning, particularly when they have grown up in cultures where rote-learning was customary or where they were comfortable in shifting responsibility of their learning outcomes to teachers? 

All freedom demands responsibility and accountability - characteristics which students are not always ready to take on board. 

Freedom is also a learning process and bridges need to be built, put in place for both learners and teachers. 

It is far too simple to expect learners to take on mobile learning, (for instance) and begin being "creative" and "accountable". Often I have found that students do not read the screen. Bridges need to be built. Bridges to reading instructions on the screen, bridges to learner autonomy. On the one hand, a teacher may be fortunate when a learner is enthusiastic and brings suggestions to class - for instance, when a student uses an app to create a short movie without the teacher setting it as a task and then shares with the class how to use that app. On the other hand, these initiatives are not always ingrained in students and it is up to the teacher to introduce apps for tasks, explaining step by step how to use them.  From reading the screen, knowing where the information will be (for example, sign-up, register etc) to personal creation of content, students need learning bridges. Digital literacies may surround us, but to become literate, one needs practice, time and guidance. 

Pathbrite creates personal portfolios, and though it may seem more appropriate for anyone already with a career, I think it is good practice for students to use, as it provides valuable practice in screen reading. 

Pathbrite serves as an interesting personal card to share with others, but it also is a personal curation of an individual. Even if a student is 16 or 18 years old, they can practice creating these personal portfolios and as they mature and change, go back and edit their profile. Above all, the focus is on the learner, their interests and while they create, they are also learning basic digital skills. 

readImagine promises to be a ground breaking reading experience to encourage young learners to enjoy reading. 

Each reader will be given a tree house portal where they can select and collect books they are interested in. There is support for educators and parents as well, which helps the young reader. With the promise of collaboration among readers and interactive books, readImagine may become one of the most popular reading sites about to launch. 

Although the year 2012 is now heading towards its end, 21st Century Learning is still discussed and talked about as if something new. Many characteristics are not entirely new - the medium of using digital tools for learning, consuming content and creating content, however, is new. Because I began reflecting on learning bridges for learners, I'd like to share this chart by Terry Heick:

How do you foster these characteristics in your classrooms?

Further References:


I would like to thank @PeterVogel  for his permission to publish and share his personal photograph (bridge above). 

21 September 2012

Posters, Images and Metaphors

Images are a great way to inspire debates, help remember facts and overall, cheer up a classroom. We live in a visually colourful world; bringing in visuals to lessons and classrooms is only a question of choice.

The Image Language is great activity to start off a lesson or to use as revision. Instructions are easy and outcomes? Have a look at this example: 

For language teachers, this is fun to practice compound nouns; another approach would be to have students work in pairs, each taking turn to post the first word visually. Students could then share their visual work on their blog or with other members of the class. My first thought was nouns, but other parts of speech can be easily used as well. 

Venspired, by Krissy Venosdale,  has a wonderful selection of posters which you can download and also add to the collection. With motivating quotes, they will surely liven up school corridors and classrooms. 

Students too can learn from these examples and create their own for their class - why not have a mini-competition or display all of the students' work?

The British Council also has a set of posters which are free to download and share among all. 

If you would rather create your own poster, GlassGiant, offers fun ideas for posters. 

James Greenwood has an excellent offer of ICT Posters for the Classroom. Posters are grouped according to theme, making navigation very simple for readers. 

If you are wondering why some teachers may use more visuals and images than others, why not test yourself with What Kind of Teacher are You, a quiz shared by Ann Foreman who runs the award winning Teaching English  - British Council on Facebook, (and on Twitter @ann-f). 

Find out what kind of teacher you are!

For more sources on images and visuals, why not browse through Digital Delights-Image Editing, where you can find sources from Clip Art for Children, to an Animation Library and free images from sources such as Quick Picture Tools

Also included are Apps for editing images which are great to use on iPads. 

Further suggestions for images:

19 September 2012

A Box of Learning Treats

I have often perceived learning as a spiral experience, a living fractal in motion and movement. There have been times when one moment I have learnt, then forgotten or muddled what I thought I knew with something else. Occasionally, I despaired with myself, until the unexpected moment came when, like a puzzle snapping together, it all made sense to me. 

More recently, my have perceptions have drifted towards learning as a mind dance. With every step forward, the mind waltzes a step sideways, backwards, then forwards again. A constant rhythm, a constant motion in mind and knowing, until agility becomes a flow of  perfection, and knowledge is put into elegant practice. Despite my many years in classrooms, the precise moment of learning still escapes me, remaining as elusive as ever. Yet, after it has taken place, there is no doubt in the sparkle in the eye, the confidence in the mind dance, the enhanced smile, of the student. It's a priceless (and dare I say, addictive) experience to witness, one that any educator recognises. 

Achieving tasks is part of this learning dance and the above sites are all worth presenting and sharing with students. Many will know TED Talks, but have you ever dipped into TED-Ed? As the name suggests, TED-Ed is composed of videos ranging from Science & Technology, the Arts to Thinking and Learning. Topics are clearly displayed and easy to navigate. Learners can watch the video, answer a short quiz and are then offered further challenges with additional questions and resources. Undoubtedly one of my favourite video sites at the moment. 

Infographics have exploded everywhere and Good Labs  is a simple tool for learners to create their own infographics. They can create infographics for practically every subject and project they are engaged in and then display them in their blogs or in a class presentation. Other two options  to create infographics are easel.ly, should students be more design and visually orientated, and Stat Planet, which includes the steps to create interactive maps. 

Another current favourite treat of mine is Journal Jar. Click to shake the jar and....! you have your very own writing prompt! As with other writing prompts, once students have become accustomed to using a jar of prompts, they can also create their own for the class to share. The jar will become the class writing jar, with personalized prompts which teachers can use for other classes as well. 

Lastly, two references which are great  to use: Skimzee  is a search engine with a twist - you can search for news from Twitter to YouTube to Wikipedia, and by using the control button, also control how many items and summaries you wish to see displayed. An interesting resource for who needs current information on a topic or news item. Mission:DS106  is an anthology of digital media resources and assignments. It can be used in different ways, as class tasks, as self-study or learners can dip in and choose their favourite to present to class. Students love taking the role of the teacher, boosting their confidence while the others also learn how to listen - after all, team work skills do not come easily, and the classroom is a perfectly safe environment to foster them. 

Dancing -  an act of pleasure, an act of liberation, an expression of joy. So too should learning be an experience of joy, with liberating movements of knowing and knowledge. If one regards learners as butterflies, helping them to unravel themselves from their cocoon walls, letting them mind dance is only natural. 

How do you encourage mind dances?

16 September 2012

Behind the Grass - Digital Stories, Writing and Spelling

I spy with my little eye......

Windows with stories unwritten, lives waiting to be unravelled, untethered, unbound. 

I spy with my little eye.....

A child giggling with a kitten. 

Is it her kitten? A stray kitten? Does it have a name?

I walk the streets, with stories jumping out at me, stories waiting, longing to be told. 

And so again I turn to story-telling and writing. 

And writing and spelling - because the two come hand in hand. 

The Easy Storyboard Creator is exactly that - a simple storyboard for creating stories. You choose how many "cells" (or scenes) you want to create, choose the character, all other details and then save. Later, you can upload it to your blog or print your story to post on the class wall. 

It's not entirely free; you can create 3 stories a day for free but should you want added features, then you have the option of paying monthly or quarterly. At the moment Easy Storyboard Creator has a late summer/early autumn promotion, so it may be worth considering as prices are not that high. 

Writing implies grammar and spelling - two characteristics which are quite challenging in the English language. In my blog entry on plagiarism,  I offered several suggestions which may help learners not to plagiarize. Paper Rater is another tool against plagiarism as well as an online aid with grammar and vocabulary.  It also offers writing suggestions - something that most learners will certainly appreciate. 

There may be those who argue that if students use writing suggestions, they are not learning. Personally I don't see the difference between teachers giving out handouts with linking words or other writing items and students looking up suggestions to improve their writing on their own. Quite the contrary. 

There comes a time when learners need to learn how to become autonomous - autonomous in learning how to read a screen, how to search for information and how to use online tools in their advantage. They may not always achieve perfection in their writing, but are certainly using skills which enable them to learn and become autonomous as learners. 

But writing implies spelling....and how well English language  teachers know the challenges of English spelling!

Spelling City not only has recently released a free app, but also has a whole page dedicated to writing practice. Paragraph Writing Practice presents different writing topics and exercises; always a helpful resource for busy teachers to turn to. 

Although I usually have my students keep their own blog, I tend to keep an eye on publishing alternatives, as different platforms will serve different needs and purposes. Mightybell is a space where one can create on their own  or collaborate with others; it may be used, for example, when small groups are researching a specific topic or working on a project. 




Creating digital stories, whether with cartoons, comics, videos or a mash-up of visuals, sound and text, is an integral part of digital literacies. Motivating and original, learners take pride in sharing their work with classmates and their families. Often there is a trickle down effect as they will teach younger siblings who are not yet learning with digital tools. Classroom walls open, and learning is unleashed into the real world beyond school gates. 

What's your story today? 

Further references:

Digital Storytelling: A Tutorial in 10 Easy Steps

Digital Storytelling - A Tool for Teaching and Learning in the YouTube Generation

JakesOnline! - Digital Storytelling

What is a [Digital] Story?




Essay Writing Workstation

Comic Strip CS

Story Buddy 2 



Digital Storytelling with the iPad

15 September 2012

A Story for You, a Story for Me

Stories are the way one makes sense of  hopes, loves, fears and life.  Stories may be told, listened to, written, scribbled, drawn and re-drawn again. Although I live in the Middle East, it is uncommon to meet a student who has not heard of Cinderella or Snow White - fairy tales which are often more associated with Europe. Stories travel far. As times change, Manga has become  highly popular among the young population, motivating even the most reluctant language learner to learn Korean. 

Stories incite passions and dreams. Stories told by a parent at bedtime reassure children, bringing comfort and serenity to their busy day of boisterous learning.  Words soothe, words open up other worlds, other perceptions. 

"But - what are you doing here?"

And in answer he repeated, very slowly, as if he were speaking of a matter of great consequence:

"If you please - draw me a sheep ... "

When a mystery is too overpowering, one dare not disobey. Absurd as it might seem to me, a thousand miles from any human habitation and in danger of death, I took out of my pocket a sheet of paper and my fountain-pen.  But then I remembered how my studies had been concentrated on geography, history, arithmetic and grammar, and I told the little chap (a little crossly, too) that I did not know how to draw. 

He answered me:

"That doesn't matter. Draw me a sheep ... "

The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery

Just as the little prince was not interested in details which had no meaning to him, I often find that constantly reminding students of writing norms before they write, will diminish their pleasure in story-telling. 

Yes, appropriate writing norms certainly are important, however, if one only focuses on linguistic accuracy, what chances do students have in developing their creative imagination? Writing is a process, requiring drafting and re-drafting. Accuracy has its place in the drafting process. 

Below are some suggestions which may be used for story-telling. Whether in a time-line, through images or drawings, there are tools for every context and level of education. 

What is your favourite tool to tell stories?

Further reference:

The Little Prince - Sparknotes

To Raise a Generation of Creative Kids, Let Them Make Their Own Stories

Storyline Online 

Mission Impossible - Avoiding Plagiarism

My academic year has begun, and while the dust settles as I  learn about my new workplace, my new environment and the changes of teaching approach, I think about learning and my students. Learning is not a straight-forward process. It's non-linear, almost murky, haphazard and intangible. All kinds of events and factors may contribute or even block one's learning. Right now I too am learning; as my students now have iPads to use as their main learning resource, I am quickly learning how best to use Apps in the classroom. Hence, learning issues cross my mind quite often at the moment. 

As a language teacher, I have often found that writing is the most challenging skill for students. It is through writing that organisation skills, grammar, vocabulary and all other linguistic and cultural characteristics come into play.  It is also the skill that one most easily plagiarizes - to which I regularly say, if you were able to plagiarize, you are able to write. 

When I think back to my own language learning experiences, it was by reading that slowly I managed to express myself through writing. No simple task, yet the more I read, the easier it became to write. 

Plagiarism was alien to me and never crossed my mind. Having grown up in parts of the world where academic honesty and ethics were strictly drilled into young minds, I perceived  plagiarism as a useless and futile act. Nevertheless, this perception is not shared in many places. 

Getting students to write honestly, to avoid plagiarism is no mission impossible and here are some suggestions you may like to introduce in class or to students. 

Common Craft offers a wealth of resources to educators and learners, including a whole page with videos to use in class. Among the video list, there is a short video on plagiarism, accompanied by the transcript. 

You Quote It, You Note It, created by the Acadia University Library is a fun way to review why quotation is important in writing and how to avoid plagiarism. 

Three other sites worth looking into, and sharing with students are the following:


Copyscape which actually tracks writers' blogs.

OER for Digital Scholars also has an interesting compilation of suggestions for referencing and avoiding plagiarism , including tutorials, handouts and a game for learners, The Information Literacy Game. 

Mission impossible? Not in the least. As all else, writing and freeing students from plagiarism is a learning process, as well as an educator's responsibility.  In my mind, it is as necessary as the many other skills that are focused on when talking about 21st Century Learning skills. 

Speaking of missions, have you considered using Edmodo this academic year? Having been nominated an Edmodo Ambassador (though I haven't yet put badge on blog),  let me leave you with a new, fun, adventurous mission for your academic year: 

What other suggestions do you have for students to avoid plagiarism?

Curation - Why, Because and Then

Last week I was honoured to be invited by Vance Stevens (@VanceS) to participate on his Learning2Gether, a weekly space where educators meet up to discuss and debate issues related to educational practices. Throughout the talk, my mind was asking further questions about connections and curation, and why they are  so  significant in education. 

My focus  today, though,  is on curation.  Just as writing may be regarded as a talking cure, reflecting on the why-s and because-s of curation seems relevant in order to establish what real role curation may have in  todays' classrooms. 

Let's begin by understanding that curation is different to aggregation: aggregation is the process of collecting information and sources which are both external and internal resources, for example, in businesses and especially in the field of marketing. 

Curation is also collecting but it is much more personalized, becoming a process of discovery of sources and presenting them to a wider audience. 

As someone who curates, I would like to highlight the following characteristics of my experience and how curating is valuable to students:

1. Accepting the notion that curation is a personalized process of gathering information, it becomes relevant when content is in a context. In other words, for curation to be effective and meaningful (and not just mechanical aggregation), nuggets of information need to be in a context, the content should be specific to a certain topic or subject area.  This can range from sports to literary analysis to current affairs. It can be about the environment (a topic that so often is included in a syllabus) or any other topic that makes part of a learner's program. 

2. Because curation is a personal process with the individual searching for information to include in his/her curation, this adds to giving voice, a digital voice, to the curator. 

In an age of regular information overload, curating filters what is relevant to the individual; instead of being caught up in a spiral of never ending links, sites and references, one establishes one's very own points of references. One can then re-visit these references, re-evaluate them, deciding whether they are still relevant or not. 

 3. There are a number of curation platforms available; I happen to use Scoop.iT for several reasons: the magazine layout appeals to my visual  senses, it is simple to find past references by scrolling down the tags/filter and because of the visuals that I regularly add, remembering articles, tools, becomes much easier for me. From a spiral of information in which I lose myself, I slowly find what is indeed relevant to me and in the process, clarity and calm prevail. Whatever information I collect and share, is my personal choice - just as the visuals and backgrounds that I select. 

Personalization is important - students are not mere numbers in a classroom; they are individuals seeking their identity. Giving them the opportunity to search for information on a topic, they are also given the chance of expressing their individuality. 

4. So what else is involved in curation that makes it such a "big deal"? 

* The act of curating information requires critical thinking, the ability to evaluate and when necessary, summarize information;

* It requires reading and interpreting and the skill to evaluate if a certain article is related to the theme and context;

* It helps learners with organization and interacting with "the real world" as opposed to text books;

* Because there is an audience, the information goes beyond the life of a course, information is shared at any time in the future; 

* Participants are empowered by adding comments to others' curated references, thus also establishing a community of practice, not only sharing but contributing with comments, feedback and questions. 

* There is responsibility for the learner; not only for the reasons I mentioned above, but also in terms of collecting and sharing quality in regard to their theme and context;

* And there is reflection - I don't perceive learning without the space of reflecting, of looking back, of evaluating and re-evaluating. In the case of curation, perhaps what was relevant 6 months ago, no longer is relevant; perhaps a point of reference is no longer cutting edge or current. 

Personally, these are curation features which I have experienced and wish to share with my students. This past summer I took the opportunity to look back at some of my curations and in the process, deleted what was no longer of use to me. Individuals will curate for all kinds of reasons - whether to jump on a trend, to propose their name as a brand, to have/add a digital footprint; the motivations are endless. In my particular case, I began my curation with Scoop.iT as a public bookmarking tool - it was a means for me to recall, return to articles/sites which were meaningful to me and as I mentioned above, Scoop.iT 's user-friendly layout made it easy for me to remember and reach out to what I needed at any given time. 

Lastly, by curating I can be "on the go", using computers which are not mine,  include information I am interested in and stumble across,  but don't have enough time to read entirely, returning to them at the end of the day and deciding whether they are significant or not to me. 

The connection between Vance Stevens and myself is curious in itself.
I have been following Vance Stevens' work for many years now. For me, however, it was a surprise that he knew about my own digital world.  Connections happen. 

Connecting, curating, creating communities of practice in our digital world are significant to the world of classrooms today. Through my curations I have also met other professionals and have delighted in their interests which I also share, have learnt from them and with time, consider them people who I may reach out to in times of doubt and debate. 

How will you be sharing curation with your learners this academic year?


You may find other blog entries on curation in this blog, and if you are interested, you will find different articles on curation here,