31 October 2012

Blow Me Away with Images

Autumn lights, earthy scents, pumpkins and pies. Autumn was always a busy season in my home, friends coming and going, and a kitchen that was perpetually in motion. Looking back, I remember an era where there was more time - time to mix spices and sugars, crystalize fruits, bottling jam for the winter months ahead. A time to fill baskets with new wools, new textures and needles. 

Needless to say, I still love autumn to this day,  even though leaves do not fall where I live - they fall in the Spring when the heat is too overwhelming for them to cling onto branches. No tricks, no treats either. Ghosts and genies permeate stories from other traditions which have become part of my heritage in life. 

Perhaps more than any other season, it is Autumn that fills my mind and soul with images of colours and smells, a season of re-birth, a time for preparation and possibilities. Hence, my suggestions today centre around images. 

One of the most interesting tools for images which I have come across lately, is sizzlepig. Still currently in Beta, sizzlepig resizes multiple images without spending hours re-sizing. 

It also retouches images and works seamlessly with your Dropbox account. 

It is no secret that I also have a special fondness for digital stories and encourage students to blog. Both of these activities need images. I always find it worth the while to suggest other search engines instead of the well known Google images - an opportunity which also leads to talking about copyrights and Creative Commons.

I have already mentioned Photo Pin in another post, and would like to highlight MorgueFile and Alamy as two other search engines for images.

But what about those days when blogging is pointless and restlessness takes over?

Two of my favourite sites are Photo Prompts and Thought Questions . Both are inspirational for blog tasks, story-telling and even for discussions and short debates.


A special time of scents, smells, and stories.

(Photo Prompts - an example)

What do you like about Autumn?

28 October 2012

The Power of Quiet

As a student, I often felt the need for a quiet pause in classes; the quiet pause to reflect and consider what the teacher had been saying, to doodle my thoughts, making connections in my mind. As a teacher, I have always believed that lessons don't have to be all bells and whistles and chandelier swinging.  For every teaching context, there are moments when quiet is a welcoming break in the classroom. 

This also makes me consider quiet students. One of my best students this semester happens to also be the quietest. Yet this student is always ready to help peers, may seem absent minded but is following the lesson and activities, participating in her silent way. 

There is a difference between silence and quiet. Silent classrooms have an eeriness if stone silent. Quiet classrooms provide learners with an inner space for making connections. 

Along with quietude, I also have come to the point where, as much as I use digital technology in classrooms, I am constantly questioning myself:

*  How will the technology enhance learning or improve the lesson?

* Does there really need to be activities with digital tech when sitting on the floor or using the white board would suffice? 

Technology - digital or other - is a tool, not the learning itself (It's Not About The Tech. As much as digital technology may add value to the learning process, there is also the risk that one may fall into the trap of evaluating the look of technology rather than the content. For example, despite providing students with guidelines on blogging and how their blogs will be assessed, there may be thin lines at times between how an activity is presented (e.g. creating and embedding a popplet) and meaningful content that it may have. 

On the other hand, assessment is too often too silent - learners are given back their grades and marks, yet what is it that they are learning? Ideally, there would a quiet time scheduled in the semester/term, after exams so that teachers could confer with students on their assessment rather than rushing forward with fresh syllabus.  In this way, there would be enough time for both teachers and students to engage in an assessment dialogue, instead of being pinned down by numbers and statistics, which to me, don't particularly foster understanding nor learning.

Before ending, I'd like to share  Bloom's Digital Taxonomy Wheel & Knowledge Dimension  (posted previously in Digital Tech & Daily Practice), which is another reminder of how evaluating digital technology and incorporating activities in lessons may be done.

What power do you perceive in quiet?


The slide show above was first posted in Action, Beliefs and Inquiries

27 October 2012

Celebrating Writing in November

November approaches and so too a month of celebrating writing. For some it is the month of AcWriMo, while for many of my own undergraduate students, it is a time to be busy with projects and writing assignments.  

One thing I often find is how teachers will reluctantly share their real world learning with students. Even though teachers are already so busy with teaching, increasing loads of administration work and ever larger classrooms, it is by sharing their learning with students, that educators set examples and often leave students reflecting. Whether one is involved in academic studies, professional training, or other activities which serve as models, (e.g. doing sport, learning/playing a musical instrument and so forth) , I find it a positive attitude to share this with students; not in the sense of giving them details of the courses/training, but by letting them understand that learning is a constant journey, and does not end at the school gate or after graduation. 

It is within this context of sharing that the joyful rules of  AcWriMo may also be adapted to other classrooms. In a nutshell, these are AcWriMo's rules for this coming November:

1 - Set yourself some crazy goals;
2 - Publicly declare your participation and goals;
3 - Discuss what you are doing;
4 - Don't slack off;
5 - Publicly declare your results. 

This can be put into practice in writing classes (e.g. allowing students to write fiction or non-fiction, poetry or prose) and the teacher would participate for one month. There could be lessons where writing problems could be discussed (e.g. how to link ideas and narratives, developing characters). In brief, a special month dedicated to writing workshops where the focus is on the pleasures of writing. 

Literary Elements Mapping is an interactive map by Read Write Think, which helps learners focus as they prepare their plots. The Circle Plot Diagram  is another interactive task by Read Write Think, that helps learners focus on their writing process. 

If this seems too much, then there is always another alternative!

Lillie McFerrin has developed Home of Five Sentence Fiction, . Once a week McFerrin posts a word to inspire a story with five sentences. 

Teachers can easily adapt this example and have the whole class contribute. Stories can be written in students' blogs or simply put around the classroom for everyone to read how that particular word was used to inspire a short, very short, story. 

Language Virus  offers a treasure of resources for writing, from Creative Writing Games to Generating  Poetry . Definitely a site any writing teacher would be interested in exploring. 

Bitesize by the BBC has a page for sentence writing and one for paragraph writing, which in turn are followed up with an interactive task. The Children's University of Manchester, has a new site, which together with the above pages of Bitesize, are great for younger learners. 

Finally for today, I'd still like to highlight Quabel , a tool to help writers focus and set writing goals, and a new site by the Open University, which has an excellent page on Being Digital.   

Here you find interactive tasks covering plagiarism, filtering information quickly, and other online skills which college and university students need to develop.  

With so many different options to choose from, November will surely be a month of celebrating writing and unleashing creativity!

How will you be encouraging writing this November?


I'd like to thank Mariusz Les for having pointed out Five Sentence Fiction to me. 

Analysing Digital Media Literacies

Mid-semester and among different questions posed by current teaching, there are two which I find most immediate to reflect on : teaching students how to find information and guiding them to a clearer understanding of digital media literacies. Most language courses I have taught include a chapter on advertising and media, hence my concern with digital media literacies and how learners become more efficient in these literacies.  At the same time, I find myself as a possible bridge to learning, opening up new windows of thought and reflection, posing questions to trigger further analysis. 

Generally speaking, digital media literacy is the ability to critically analyze digital media, as well as creating information.  My Pop Studio is a site aimed at developing critical thinking about television, music, magazines and online media focusing on girls. 

At a time when girls risk so much of their health in consequence to constant media exposure, My Pop Studio , is a positive response for female learners to explore and reflect critically on how digital media may effect them. 

Another excellent resource is Critical Media Literacy , which offers lesson plans as well as follow up and extension activities. 

PBS Teachers offers a range of activities for Digital Media Literacy , including a quiz for learners (8 to 18 years of age), resources, and activities which integrate digital tools and content

There is much to choose from, so most educators may either use the given suggestions or tailor them to their context and learners' needs. 

A rich site for both students and educators is Media Education Lab, founded by Renee Hobbs.  As stated, Media Education Lab has two main priorities: 

1 - Providing public programs, educational services, community outreach, and multimedia curriculum resources targeted to the needs of educators and learners in school and after-school settings; and

2 - Developing and implementing a multidisciplinary research agenda to explore the educational impact of media and technology, with a focus on digital and media literacy education as an expanded conceptualization of literacy. 

As always, educators from different parts of the world may wish to adapt and contextualize examples for the needs and realities of their students. Nevertheless, I also think that educators need to find a balance as younger generations are often exposed to the same digital media, sharing the same problems and issues around the world.  Their points of reference are often closer and more similar than teachers may assume. By only focusing only on their immediate social environment, there is a risk that educators close windows upon the world and learning, instead of broadening minds and fostering bridges of thought. 

How do you encourage the analysis of digital media literacy?

Further References:

25 October 2012

Greetings, De-Motivators and Visual Searches

Perhaps it is the morning light which has become a crisp autumn tone, or simply the fact that as the semester hurdles towards mid term exams, the passing of time, festivities and greetings come to my mind.  Whether celebrations are religious or not, festivities are always a time to reconnect with friends and family, sending good wishes and sharing crops of good will towards others. 

Among all the variations of sending greetings, there are e-cards to create and share. 

3D Postcard Generator is one option to create your very own postcard; delivr ecards (licensed under Creative Commons) and Jacquie Lawson Greetings  are two other options. With LetterJames, you can personalize messages and create ecards as well. 

Sometimes one only wishes to personalize an image or message, or even a poem. Festisite  offers instant creativity with poems and visuals. 

Many may be familiar with creating motivational posters, but how about de-motivational posters? With a sense of humour, one can browse already made  posters or create one's own with Fake Posters in 3 simple clicks. 

JibJab is another source for humourous visuals, and which also offers different categories from  celebrations (e.g. birthdays, anniversaries) to holidays)

Speaking of cards and posters, I cannot ignore visuals. Photo Gallery  is where you easily find a rich assortment of images on the topic you are looking for. For instance, it offers topics which you may be interested in; in this example on the right I chose perspectives. 

Because I live in a desert region, I wondered what would appear if I typed in "desert", and immediately was shown a rich choice of images: 

Whether one uses the suggestions shown on Photo Gallery or types in their own topic, Photo Gallery is an interesting tool when searching for images. 

The Noun Project is my last suggestion for today. The Noun Project offers clusters of icons for a wide variety of topics. These may be used for all kinds of purposes but also incorporated into classrooms as learning games and for revisions.  

For example, learners can play in teams challenging each other on how a word is spelt or even use icons to write sentences.  (This came to my mind as I looked at SixWord.It - a challenge to write a story in six words. )

What other visual tools would you suggest for greetings, posters and searches?

20 October 2012

Reflections on Public Speaking

Before giving a presentation, many people go through a roller-coaster of emotions and fears, instead of feeling more secure with each rehearsal. Public speaking doesn't always come naturally, and that is why focusing on a good solid structure, knowing the audience and predicting what they will be expecting are good rules of practice. 

Among all the other characteristics which make up a good presentation, I also find that it is important to maintain one's cultural identity and style. Not a simple task, especially as increasingly presentation training becomes more and more global and in turn, more the same. Nevertheless, there are personal characteristics which one can use to one's advantage: the use of voice and body language. 

A presentation is a talk, not a lecture. It is a talk which may involve outcomes, decisions, further action and not only grades. It's also an excellent opportunity for language learners to transfer their voice to another language - and here come the risks: they will often memorize, read and babble their talk  as quickly as possible, without pausing, without connecting with the audience, without reaching out to the linguistic patterns of L2. 

One can help improve this with lots of practice, and also by showing examples. One example I'd like to share is this one below, where Dalton Sherman makes powerful use of pauses and language rhythms  to connect with audience:

Accepting that one has fragilities is another step towards strengthening one's confidence. Some speakers may feel their hands sticky, others may suddenly stutter. In both cases, acceptance of these fragilities is empowering. If you tend to have sticky palms when speaking publicly, have a tissue at hand. If you stutter or cough, a smile to the audience and a sip of water will do the trick. As long as the presentation has a good structure, as long as the audience feels that the speaker has rehearsed, is talking to them, is interested in them, audiences are often understanding of these fragile moments.

Though not directly speaking about public speaking, Amy Cuddy gave a TED Talk about body language which also calls one's attention about how body language is an important issue when speaking publicly:

Delivery mode is perhaps what many will want to consider - PPT, an animated story, a VuVox,  a Prezi? These are some further suggestions for presentations.

Presentation Tube

Google Presentations


What other features do you find relevant in public speaking?

Further suggestions:

Presentations with a Twist

Slide Your Show


The Importance of Speaking to your Slides

Speak Easy: Tips for Public Speaking like a Pro

6 Ways to Make Presentation Tasks Work in Your Classroom

Presentation Zen

Speaking About Presenting

17 October 2012

Connecting Homework

Does the word "homework" make your students feel like this?

Personally speaking, I don't give out much homework as my students already have such long busy days. As they are taking their degrees in a 2nd language, evening time is a time for family quality time as well as recovering from the constant switching of L1 to L2 back to L1. Anyone who has grown up studying in different languages is able to understand how tiring it can be to study at higher education in a second or third language. 

Nevertheless, homework does serve a purpose. Mostly to encourage revisions and to check what perhaps was not so clear in class. 

Homework may also be another way to connect with learners. One constantly reads how connecting with others is an important trait/characteristic of good leadership, and though educators don't always perceive themselves as "leaders" per se, they are "leaders" of their classes. 

Within that line of thought, these are two suggestions which may contribute to connecting learners to their class and teacher, through homework tasks. 

Should students have a mobile phone which takes pictures (and most of them do), they can take a picture with their mobile phone or iPad of their favourite place at school/learning institution. The teacher can then collect all the photos and create a slide show, with the class guessing whose picture it is. When the correct student is identified, he/she can briefly explain why that place is his/her favourite place and how he/she feels there. 

The same task can be set for homework, but instead, the learner uses the mobile or iPad to record his/her answers and then uploads both the image and recording to their blog. 

Homework is now centred on the individual, then shared, fostering connections among the class members. 

Another characteristic of homework tasks is the time to reflect. Learners need time to think through tasks which may not always be possible to do in class - so much is always going on!

If students have a persuasive essay or debate coming up, Persuasion Map offers simple, practical guidelines to focus. 

After going through all the steps, the learner can print or email their essay/debate map and revise their arguments. 

What other homework tasks can you suggest for learners to connect with their learning and others?

Further reference:

12 October 2012

What Have You Published Lately?

Reading, writing, writing, reading.


Autumn is a wonderful time to start students publishing their work  - who knows what Spring will bring?

Further Suggestions:


Digital Backpack for Teachers

Snap, Crackle, Pop!

Financial Literacy is a Learning Opportunity

Learning opportunities come in many shapes and forms. Perhaps it's the student who smears blood red lipstick in a lesson and needs to be reminded that putting on make-up in class is as inappropriate as brushing one's teeth; it could be that learners are curious about other religions and cultural habits. Having worked in the Middle East for many years now, I recall the urgency of one student who wanted to understand why Westerners drank alcohol - not to judge, but simply to understand. 

Increasingly I will pause my intended lesson plan to address learners' inquiries during class time. Not because I do not respect the curriculum and syllabus I am required to cover - as a member of a department those duties are naturally respected. On the other hand, when students have so many tools to aid their learning process, from printed books to e-publications, learning centres to the many tools, apps and sites which foster learning and offer revisions, it is classroom time which is still the centre of inquiry. It is in the classroom that students will feel more at ease to disagree, question, debate with each other. It is these learning opportunities that I am especially tuned in to, for they are what students want to learn rather than what they are told to learn. 

Does this imply a free wheeling classroom out of pedagogical control?

Not in the least. They are moments which surface in lessons. Moments when students want answers, want to understand. 

And then the lesson continues, as students are satisfied, or have been jolted into thinking more critically about life's realities. 

One reality that cannot be ignored is how the cost of living has increased tremendously as many economies falter and weaken around the world. Hence, financial literacy, always necessary, becomes even more urgent to be addressed in class. Habits are formed at an early age. Having an awareness of finances, no matter how simple, is part of learning, becoming autonomous and growing up. 

Agent Piggy is designed for children from 5 to 12, a virtual piggy bank for children to understand how to manage their pocket money, for instance. 

Agent Piggy Product Demo from Agent Piggy on Vimeo.

Here are other suggestions designed for young learners and teens to become more aware of finances. 

Piggy Bank by Disney is appealing as there are different games for young learners to engage in as they learn.

H.I.P. Pocket Change is another site which is great for young learners, offering different games to involve learners.

Rick KidSmartKid challenges learners to solve financial problems, while Sense and Dollars challenges teens' understanding of finances.

Cha-Ching includes games, quizzes and songs - all about finances, including the crucial question:

Personalize a character and proceed with a quest to spend money while saving money to achieve one's goals, Savings Quest is yet another activity which raises awareness and engages learners.

What other ways do you suggest for teaching financial literacy?

Further suggestions:

Banzai! Financial Literacy Online

Better Money Habits

Fool Proof Me - Real Consumer Education

Money Metropolis


Planet Orange

Resources and Lesson Plans for Financial Literacy

The Mint

Your Life, Your Money, Your World (Game)

(from: Your Life, Your Money )

Video - How to Make a Budget and Stick to It

The Great Piggy Bank Adventure

8 October 2012

How Does the Internet Work?

I balance analogue time, I balance digital time.

In perfect motions, in perfect movements throughout my days and nights.

Or so I wish I did. Despite never having enough hours in the day for all I would like to do, I would have no other world where I could not blend the analogue and digital. When I think about identity, I also include digital identity and how that too develops and changes with time. Being connected to a digital world is part of me. It has been ingrained in my daily motions for over half my lifetime. 

My students today were born with digital access at their finger tips. They know no other world where there were no mobile phones, no laptops, no digital connections. I sometimes wonder what digital environment will surround their children. 

However, having been born at a time when something exists, does not mean one knows how it actually works. Because one often takes one's environment for granted, there is no need to question, to prod for answers, to inquire.

And so I leave two questions for you:

1 - what can be done on the internet?

2 - how does the internet work?

Are your answers ready?

Analyse this infograph and compare!

Engineering The Internet

6 October 2012

Secret of Successful Learning?

Among all the clutter and clatter around digital technology and education, to use or not use mobile phones for learning, to individualize and personalize learning,  there is something nagging at the back of my mind: actual studying and making an effort to succeed. 

Over my 20+ years of teaching, teaching towards students' interests and needs was always a priority. Connecting the classroom with life beyond the walls of the institution, was a regular feature of my lessons. Regarding each student as an individual, finding ways to encourage each individual, understanding how each student learnt best, were all day-to-day practices of mine. I did not have digital technology at my finger tips. There were no IWB when I began teaching; no iPads, no online games to engage minds. 


Students learnt. Students succeeded. They went on to succeed in life and in their professions. 

Times and practices change, as they always have. I have seen the wonder and anxiety on teachers' faces when the Communicative Approach was mentioned. I have seen even more concern and eyebrow raising in regard to the  Humanistic  Approach. And I have smiled at the many reams of ink spilled over arguments between whether one should teach with the Communicative Approach or Task-Based Approach. 

Secrets of successful learning?

Effort. Dedication. Studying. Inner motivation to succeed and reach to the stars. 

Online games (which there are many mentions and references throughout this blog), IWBs, iPads and all digital devices are what they are - digital tools. Not the learning. With digital technology, there have been significant changes, namely the need to learn  and master digital literacies. Digital technology has brought enhancement in the learning process as well as responsibility. 


Learning itself remains to be done by the learner. 

The visual below, published by Edudemic, may refer to Americans and the Chinese, however, I would say that the points highlighted in the infographic refer to all those who are studying.

There are approaches in the article that I don't necessarily encourage - memorization, is one. Cutting out breaks is another. Nevetheless, when it comes to secrets of success, putting in time to study, investing time in practising what is presented in classes, training teachers with the best pedagogical models and approaches, and respect in educational institutions, are all features which I support - for any age and any time.

Success does not come at a whim.

Learning involves a process, even if one cannot always pin-point the exact moment of learning.

Stages of Learning
Browse more infographics.

Whether monetary recompensation (as referred to in the video below) or grades, (in an educational context), how do motivate students to succeed? 

Further Suggestions

If you like infographics, you can also browse here where there are many on different topics.

Create Your Own Infographic

Summer Delights

The Web-Generation: A Revisit

20 Infographics Sites to Enhance Your Classroom