Literal videos – the show goes on …

IMG_20170308_165728In my previous post, I wrote about the Erasmus+ project we had worked on in Diekirch, Luxembourg. I described the process of making literal videos and I announced I was planning to try this activity on a smaller scale with my own students. And I kept my promise.

This is what we’ve done so far: last Wednesday, I showed the results of the Erasmus+ project to a group of my B1 students and I suggested we could create something similar. They quite liked the idea so I asked them to look for suitable video clips they could work on.

The next day, we went to a PC room where the students worked in pairs (and a group of three). I handed out some headphones so that they didn’t disturb each other while listening to the videos.

When monitoring the class,  it struck me as surprising that two teams were describing the scenes in Czech. I implied that it was not a very good idea because then it might be too challenging and time-consuming to transfer the L1 lyrics to L2. Some of them agreed and switched into English.

One pair chose to take notes on paper while the others used a Word document. Needless to say, each team worked at a different pace and as we only had one lesson, I asked them to catch up at home if necessary.

We’ll continue on Monday and I think the products will be ready sometime next week. The most challenging part will definitely be the performance. Although this particular group of students is one of the most creative and enthusiastic bunches, singing live in front of the others is not an easy task for anybody.

Also, I’m not sure yet how we’ll present the results since we don’t have the equipment and software we had in Luxembourg. The students will probably have to find a karaoke version of the song and sing along with it, using their new lyrics, or we’ll mute the sound in the original video and they’ll sing a capella. We might also need to produce copies of the new lyrics so that we can follow easily. We don’t want to miss the jokes. I secretly count on the fact that my students are tech-savvy so hopefully, some of them may eventually come up with a way of inserting the new lyrics into the video.

There’s one more issue I’m a bit concerned about; I’m not sure how I will deal with students who are reluctant to share their results with the rest of the class. I’ll probably have to be tolerant and let them choose if they want to have a go or not. Well, it’s a process in progress so we’ll see.

 

 

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Literal Videos

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I’ve just returned from rainy Diekirch, Luxembourg, where four students and three teachers from our school took part in an Erasmus+ activity. This time the activity revolved around literal videos.

A literal music video, also called a literal video version, is a parody of an official music video clip in which the lyrics have been replaced with lyrics that describe the visuals in the video. Literal video versions are usually based on music videos in which the imagery appears illogical, disconnected with the lyrics, and more concerned with impressive visuals than actual meaning (Wikipedia).

I’d never heard the concept before and I found it very interesting. Total Eclipse of the Heart Literal Video Version is probably the most famous video of this kind and this is what the students were shown first to get an idea of what they were supposed to do.

IMG_20170308_081745As mentioned above, the trick is to describe the scenes disconnected from the actual lyrics. In this particular video, there seems to be no connection whatsoever between the meaning of the lyric and the visuals, which makes the outcome of the parody absolutely hilarious.

The team of the Lycée Classique Diekirch decided to focus mainly on music from the 1980s since it was a boom of video clips with crazy visuals. The students were given a range of songs to choose from and had three days to work on their piece. On Day 3, the results of their hard work were presented.

Needless to say, the students benefitted from this collaborative activity enormously, especially language-wise. They had to come up with a new lyric which would match the original music. They also needed to get the rhythm right. Some groups even managed to come up with a rhyming version of the lyric. And they finally had to perform it live. What a challenge!

This is an example of what one of the groups did. I recorded their live performance with my smartphone so the quality of the video is very low (it’s a little shaky and dark but for the sake of demo it will suffice, I believe).

I’m sharing this on my blog because I think this idea could be easily adapted for an English class as well. Even if you don’t have all the equipment available (special software and a high-tech recording studio), you can still work on literal videos with your students in regular classes. These are the steps I jotted down while watching students work in Diekirch. While taking notes, I already made some adjustments for the procedure to suit my teaching context. I think that steps 6 and 7 can be easily skipped if necessary.

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I think I’ll definitely try this with my students. I already have a particular group in mind – they are musical, creative and very enthusiastic. And I can’t wait to share the results here on my blog.

 

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I did it! My after-conference state of mind

img_20170304_112554This is a detailed account of what goes on in the mind of a newbie conference presenter.

3/3 (the day before the conference): I’m too busy getting ready for the Erasmus+ trip to Luxembourg so I have no time to think or worry about the Big Day. I feel well-prepared for my presentation anyway so there’s no need to panic.

3/3 (the night before the conference): I sleep well. No nightmares. The alarm clock wakes me up at 5:45 a.m.

4/3 (the morning before the conference): It’s a beautiful, warm day – ‘perfect’ for an indoor event. Haha. I feel surprisingly calm. On the bus to Brno, I order my first cup of coffee and I watch a couple of episodes of the Big Bang Theory. It’s enormously relaxing.

8:30: I’ve reached the IH Brno language school. The place is already filling up with attendees. I’m still relatively calm since everything looks as usual; Dave is welcoming the comers and the exhibition stands are ready. However, Dave tells me to go upstairs to the staff room to pick up my badge (this is a small deviation from the pattern I’m used to as I normally pick up my stuff at the registration desk).

8:45: My presentation starts after lunch (at 12:45) so I have plenty of time to get ready for my talk – by watching other people’s talks. I’m meeting Sandy Millin. She’s as energetic as always despite the fact she only slept for 3 hours.

10:15: I’m watching Sandy Millin’s presentation on blogging. Although I’m familiar with most of the stuff she talks about, it’s very useful to have it all summarised this way. Oh, and she mentions my blog and my name a few times throughout the talk. I would normally feel awkward or embarrassed in such a situation but I’m coping with all the attention very well. Hmm.

11:15: When Sandy finishes, she helps me get my PowerPoint ready. She suggests downloading the presentation as hers didn’t work properly.

11:20: I’m in the restroom when a lady suddenly asks me if I’m THE Hana who’s going to present. More attention. OK.

11:30: Before lunch, I decide to go for a walk with some friends. It’s sunny and warm outside and the centre of Brno is just amazing. Old memories popping up.

12:00: Delicious lunch at Jedna Báseň. I’m not really hungry, though. That’s suspicious because I’m always hungry.

12:35: The room where I’m going to present is filling up with people. OMG. More and more are coming. There are 23 seats at the moment but Dave needs to bring some extra chairs. That’s not enough, though. Some people are willing to sit on the floor!

12:44: I look out of the window and I breathe in and out a couple of times. I watch the passers-by and say to myself: Look. It’s not about you. Something’s going to happen THROUGH you. That helps. My hands are not shaking.

12:45: I should be starting already but more people are squeezing in. I close the door to indicate I’m about to kick off.

12:46: I introduce myself while sitting on the chair. It somehow feels appropriate. I ask the audience a few questions to break the ice.

12:48: I introduce the first activity. It seems people are a bit tired after lunch and they are not ready to jump up and mingle. Plus there are too many people in the room and it gets really loud and chaotic when they start mingling and talking. So I stop the activity earlier than I planned and I talk about its benefits and potential pitfalls. At this point, people start taking notes and nodding in agreement. They also ask questions. That’s good.

13:15: I’m halfway through my PowerPoint. Great. My timing works. I calm down and I start enjoying the talk. I’m not using my hand-written notes anymore.

13:45: The time’s up and there’s one more activity to share. I conveniently called it a bonus activity in case I finish too early. But the audience is very supportive. They want me to share the last one too. Then it’s over. Applause. People come to me and say: It was great! Somebody adds: ‘This is what a workshop should look like’.

14:50: I blend in with the attendees and become a member of the audience again to watch the last workshop of the day. I’m happy and grateful for the opportunity.

THANK YOU!

 

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Final preparations

presentation-1559937_960_720You know, I do have some nightmares every now and then but, surprisingly, none of them has concerned my upcoming presentation at the IH Brno conference. Not yet.

I’d say that I haven’t had the opportunity to feel worried about my first performance in front of a real audience because I started planning my workshop very early on. I actually started putting the presentation together right after I was offered the opportunity to give a talk, which was nearly three months ago.

Early in December, I started working on a Word document where I’ve been outlining the content of the talk. It’s now turned into a nice 10-page document containing a detailed summary of all the activities, which I’d later like to share with the participants of the conference through Edmodo.

So far so good. I’m quite confident about the content and the value of the workshop. The thing I’m a little worried about is the way I’ll present it. Unfortunately, I can’t have a proper rehearsal of my talk so I can only hope everything will go according to schedule. This is not a regular class or something and it’s my very first performance so I can only roughly estimate how much I’ll manage to squeeze in the given amount of time. One thing is certain; I’ll be as nervous as a cat. I might even be paralyzed or run away from the room. Who knows?

Anyway, a couple of days ago I turned the above-mentioned document into a PowerPoint presentation, which I’ve now uploaded on my Google disc so that it’s in a safe place and accessible when I need it. Honestly, I’m not a big fan of PowerPoint presentations but I came to a conclusion that it’ll be useful under the given circumstances. I believe the participants will find it easier to navigate through my talk if they see the bullet points displayed on the screen. I normally use the board but I don’t think I’ll have time (and the nerve) to jot things down if I want to talk to the audience and monitor the activities they’ll be engaged in. In addition, I’m afraid I wouldn’t be able to keep the board well-arranged and uncluttered. Finally, it’ll be a useful crutch for me as well; it’ll help me remember the main ideas I’ve planned to say.

presentation-36911_960_720As far as the PowerPoint presentation is concerned, I think it’s quite clear and concise. These are some of the basic rules I tried to stick to when making it:

1) Follow the 5/5/5 rule

Some experts suggest using the 5/5/5 rule: no more than five words per line of text, five lines of text per slide, or five text-heavy slides in a row. I think it’s fair enough and I had no problem abiding by this rule.

2) Don’t forget your audience

I think I know my audience quite well as I’ve been a regular conference attendee for some time now so I think I was able to tailor my presentation to their tastes and expectations. I’m well aware of the fact that everything needs to be clear and concise and, ideally, the ideas should be applicable to the audience’s teaching context.

3) Choose readable colors and fonts

I think my text is easy to read as I really didn’t play with fonts or colors. It’s all mostly black and with IH Brno theme, which I was recommended to use.

4) Don’t overload your presentation with animations

Apart from a couple of charts and diagrams, which are essential to my presentation, there are no animations or special effects whatsoever. Although I was tempted to use some of the exciting slide transitions, I finally avoided them as I knew that they can be irritating rather than useful.

5) Don’t read your presentation straight from the slides

I only included the main ideas, keywords, and talking points in my slide show text. I have printed out the presentation so that I don’t have to stare at the computer screen all the time. Plus I can take down some notes and questions beforehand as well as during the presentation if necessary. Also, if technology fails, I’ll have something tangible at my disposal. Finally, when you print stuff out, you can spot and fix mistakes or any discrepancies before you display them to your audience.

Well, wish me luck.

 

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To cheat or not to cheat

lying-1562272_960_720Cheating is something we teachers don’t like to see. And if we’re lucky, it doesn’t happen. But, is it a question of luck or bad luck? Well, I’m convinced that cheating happens only if it is allowed or encouraged.

Who would want to allow (or even encourage) cheating, you may ask now. Lazy teachers, gullible teachers, lenient teachers, merciless teachers, crazy teachers?

I mean, as the desire to cheat is quite understandable, the teacher’s job is to create conditions in which students can’t cheat at all or even think of cheating. I’d like to stress the difference between can’t and not allowed to here. By can’t I mean that it’s virtually impossible.

I once saw an image of a classroom packed with students taking a test (allegedly taken in a Japanese school). These students had large pieces of paper attached to their temples so that they couldn’t copy from their neighbor’s test. This is not what I meant when I said conditions in which they can’t cheat. What I had in mind were humane conditions, such as two versions of the same test, students sitting in a way that it’s impossible to peek in someone else’s test, designing a test which is useless to copy because every student’s answer is unique (such as describe your last holiday in 120 words). 

On the other hand, it’s a good idea to show that you trust your students. The higher-stakes exam, the fewer cheating opportunities students should get, but with low-stakes testing, it’s ok to offer the forbidden fruit from the Garden of Eden from time to time.

For example, my students often peer correct their tests, which definitely offers some space for cheating. Strangely enough, throughout my career, I only caught someone red-handed once. This particular boy wanted to help his partner by adding a few correct answers during the correction stage, in exchange for his reciprocal lenience, of course. He forgot to change his handwriting and offered me some irrefutable evidence … Anyway, we had a chat and it’s never happened again in this or another class.

However, some other types of incidents have happened. The other day, for example, a very good student showed his test answers to a friend sitting behind him and she willingly copied them all. When I caught them, I was really angry with the student who had shown the answers, rather than with the girl who had copied them. Anyhow, she had to take another test while he was made to feel properly guilty. However, it was partially my fault; I had arranged the seating in a way that enabled cheating plus I was not paying attention during the exam so the students just took advantage. They are only kids after all.

I’d like to say that I’m really grateful for all these learning moments – the moments when the cheaters learn that cheating doesn’t pay and when I learn I have to be more attentive. One way or another, it’s good to ask yourself the following question: what makes your students cheat? Is it a desire to easily achieve something they don’t deserve? Is it a temptation they simply can’t resist? Or is it just a hopeless attempt to escape the unbearable load of responsibility?

 

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Speaking intermezzos

classroom-824120_960_720I discovered a new way of approaching reading activities by breaking longer texts down into shorter units and intertwining speaking into reading.

In previous lessons, my 17-year-olds had discussed gender inequality, which, I think, is not an exactly light topic for a group of teenagers. I felt that at some point my students had lots of opinions to share but not enough vocabulary to do so.

I was lucky and I found a collection of suitable short texts on the topic (all in one handout). I estimated the language to be near the B2 level, which is slightly above my students’ current level of proficiency. Each text is followed by a couple of questions related to the topic. So a text about female equality in Hollywood is accompanied by questions such as How do you explain this gap in pay level? or What do you think should be done to reduce the salary gap?. I liked this because the questions didn’t just check comprehension but were a valuable follow-up to the reading.

Before the lesson, I placed the texts, which I had cut up, on desks around the classroom. Then I put students in pairs and got them to silently read the texts on the desk for about two minutes. When the time was up or when their heads were up, I told them to start discussing the questions. After some time (5 minutes?) I stopped them and asked each pair to move to another desk (with a new text). The procedure continued in the same vein. I went round the classroom and monitored.

dictionary-1619740_960_720When everybody had seen all the texts, I asked the students to go back to their seats (in a horseshoe). Then I gave each student a handout with all the texts on it. I asked them to highlight 3 vocab items (something they had to look up/ weren’t sure about) in each of the texts. Then we discussed the vocabulary as a whole class.

I asked them to circle one question they had found particularly interesting during the speaking stage. We discussed those together as a class. At this point, the students had a larger active vocabulary at their disposal than before.

I think such an activity could be done with every longer text if it’s desirable. The teacher can break it down into passages and insert questions after each passage for students to discuss. I applied this method because I found the handout too long and dense; the fast finishers would soon have had nothing to do while the weaker students would have struggled for ages before they could get down to speaking. Throughout the activity, I felt that the students concentrated on reading much better due to the reasonable length of the texts and because the reading was interrupted by speaking. In other words, I found the speaking intermezzos natural and refreshing.

 

 

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SWOT Analysis

 

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I’ve recently been asked to do a SWOT analysis as part of the action plan our school is currently working on. As such analyses are usually conducted in the field of business, I was a little confused as to why we should do something like this as a state school. Nevertheless, in the end, I found it quite useful as it gave me some food for thought.

SWOT Analysis is a way of summarizing the current state of a company and helping to devise a plan for the future. It is an acronym for strength, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Strengths and weaknesses are often internal, while opportunities and threats generally relate to external factors. For this reason, SWOT is sometimes called Internal-External Analysis.

SWOT Analysis can help you uncover opportunities which can later be exploited. And by understanding the weaknesses of your business, you can manage and eliminate some of the potential threats.

As part of the analysis, it’s helpful to ask a set of specific questions. I came across this template, which I adjusted to my needs by eliminating bits which are not relevant to my context (of an English teacher currently working in the State Sector of education).

Strengths: features which allow you to operate more effectively.  Identify skills and capabilities that you have. What can you do particularly well? What do you others consider to be your strengths? What resources do you have? Is your reputation strong?

Weaknesses: areas capable of improvement. Do other (types of) schools have better results/outcomes than you? What do you do poorly? What generates low test scores and bad learning outcomes? What processes and activities can you improve?

Opportunities: any interesting trends which you can take advantage of. Where can you apply your strengths? How are your students and their needs changing? How is technology changing your work? Are there new ways of delivering instruction?

Threats: external or internal and are anything which can adversely affect your work. Are students able to meet their needs with alternative ways of language acquisition/learning? Are students’ needs changing away from your instruction?  Is new technology making your teaching obsolete? Are teachers at your school satisfied? Is new way of acquisition/learning coming? Are the results and outcomes of learning lower than the average?

stock-photo-swot-swot-analysis-text-on-colorful-wooden-cubes-307033178When looking at the questions, it’s clear that this analysis doesn’t only relate to the strengths and weaknesses of one specific school, but it encompasses a much broader spectrum of the problems our current education systems face. By answering the questions, I’d probably speak on behalf of other educators here in the Czech Republic as well as many English teachers all around the word.

Here’s my train of thought: I’d like to believe that by understanding the weaknesses, you can eliminate the threats. One of the weaknesses is low test scores and insufficient learning outcomes: What generates low test scores and bad learning outcomes? Well, scores themselves are the problem, not what causes them. The culture of testing will always produce the low vs. high dichotomy. So asking what causes bad scores is somewhat irrelevant. After all, in our success-hungry environment, we need those who score low to distinguish the successful learners from the less successful ones. When we help our students improve the scores, the test will have to be made harder next time because we need to produce the winners and the losers, don’t we?

Are students able to meet their needs with alternative ways of language acquisition/learning? Are students’ needs changing away from your instruction? Yes, they are, but I wouldn’t see this as a threat. Our school is not a business and there are no real competitors out there. Our job is to help our students and wish them all the best no matter what. Anyway, it seems we language teachers are no longer capable to fully satisfying our students’ needs the way it worked in the past, so if they learn the language outside the classroom – through extensive reading, watching movies, listening to songs, using apps, traveling – we should be happy. So our biggest competitor is the autonomous learner, who, at the same time, is our partner and ally. The more autonomous the student, the less work we have but the more content we should feel as teachers.

Are there new ways of delivering instruction? Well, yes, there are (Dogme teaching, CLIL, TBL, to name a few that come to mind) but our hands are often tied by those who encourage us to do these SWOT analyses. We can’t change the way we deliver instruction before we change the way we are supposed to measure the outcomes.

How are your students and their needs changing? How is technology changing your work? Access to technology, I believe, is one of the biggest opportunities to be exploited. Technology enables learners to acquire L2 like never before. I’m not talking about high-tech, though. I don’t think it’s necessary for schools to invest in new technologies and buy expensive devices. It would suffice to learn how to exploit what they currently have at their disposal. But it is the qualified teacher whose job is to decide what technology to use and how, not the Apple Inc.

Is new technology making your teaching obsolete? I remember this issue was hotly debated after the plenary talk by Sugata Mitra at the IATEFL Harrogate conference a couple of years ago. As indicated in the previous paragraph, I don’t think technology can make teaching obsolete. Teachers should try to exploit the accessible and affordable technology to the full, keeping the basic principles of SLA research in mind. Someone ignorant of the way languages are learned can have the best technology at their disposal, but this doesn’t mean they will deliver good lessons. This applies to students themselves as well – if they have no idea how to self-study, they’ll only waste their precious time.

When writing up this post, it occurred to me that a SWOT analysis may also be conducted on a more personal level, as part of a teacher’s self-evaluation routine. Evaluating the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats individual teachers see in everyday teaching reality may provide useful information and valuable data for the education system as a whole. Well, it seems there’s some food for thought for another post.

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