Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Chris Babowal's First Challenge

Learning and Assessment Tools (March 11, 2009)

1. What is learning? Assimilating information in a way that one can use it at a different time

2. Which learning methods and approaches should we use for our 21st century classroom? As many as possible, people assimilate information differently thus it is important to provide a wide range of approaches and methods.

3. What kind of learning cultures do we need to create or adapt for our 21st century classroom?
We need to provide a culture that allows teachers and students to express themselves, all are part of the teaching system, provide opportunities for exploration and except new ways, cultures, ideas, etc.

4. How to encourage and support creativity, productivity, and performance in our classrooms?
I feel that one way to encourage and support creativity, productivity, and performance is to allow students opportunities to express themselves, provide information, and produce outcomes. I used to use stations for each learning objective in my ESL classes for the day. We would start class with an introduction of each person promoting interact, then an introduction to each station. I would ask for volunteers to be the assistant for each station. I used more than one so each person had an opportunity to visit all the stations. I found that this was a way for the students read and follow directions, provide oral support, write about what happened and listen and respond to each other. It also gave me the opportunity to provide assistance to students who really needed help or who was tackling a new opportunity and needed support.

5. What is informal learning? And does it really work in the EFL classroom? How do we implement it?
I am not sure what others think informal learning is, but I feel it is learning something that is not really part of the learning objective. I feel that my answer to (4) four is a really good example of ways to allow informal learning to happen.

Some may feel that (4) four is informal learning, however, I did agree. There is a formal outline of what is to be learned, an outcome that is expected and a way of assessing what was learned. I know I have given just an over view but the system was developed to promote learner interactions and decrease teacher lectures.

6. How to assess informal learning or e learning in general?

Assessment is not as hard as you may think. It takes having learning goals and objectives that are easily translated into the learning standards used by your institution. So for instance, if you are teaching ESL to beginning level students you may want the students to learn the a particular percentage of the 2000 most commonly used words. You might also want them to be able to use present tense verbs with confidence and competence.
Using a portfolio system you can record student progress by checking off words from the 2000 most commonly used words. This then can be compared to other in the class or you can have a set amount of words a student should be able to use set in benchmarks. You can do the same for use of present tense verbs by listing the most commonly used present tense verbs and leaving a fill in area for listing verbs not on your list.

To do this you need to record or tape the class on a regular bases. You will also need to keep a log of all the work submitted. This takes time, but is the easiest way of recording ESL progression.

There are lots of other ways to assess learning, but this way is probably the least used as it is very time consuming, which is a shame as it is the most accurate way of assessing progression.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

What's technology? How do you integrate technology in your EFL class?

Our dear Dennis Oliver from Phoenix, AZ was the first to accept Challenge 1. Here, we have what he shared with us and the world.

Question 1: What is learning?
Dennis: Learning is acquiring knowledge and skills that one didn't previously have. Pure learning is a beautiful thing in and of itslef, but it's even better, in my opinion, if it allows one to do something that he or she couldn't previously do.

Question 2: Which learning methods and approaches should we use for our 21st century classrooms?

Dennis: In my opinion, we should make use of classroom strategies which encourage co-teaching and co-learning—on "sharing the learning journey." I also feel that teachers must become facilitators rather than "dispensers of knowledge." I do not believe, however, that all learning methods and approaches from the past must be eliminated, just as I do not believe that all students learn in the same way or that there is only one teaching method/approach that "works."

Question 3: What kind of learning cultures do we need to create or adapt for our 21st century classroom?

Dennis: In my view, we need to create or adapt learning cultures which

— feature activities which are participative, interactive, and collaborative;
— are teacher-facilitated, not teacher-dominated;
— provide content which is relevant to participants' needs and lives;
— focus on participants' taking responsibility for their own learning;
— make active use of technology;
— are not limited to meeting at a specific time in a specific place;
— are not limited to a single learning style or presentation of content.

Question 4: How can we encourage and support creativity, productivity, and performance in our classrooms?

Dennis: In my view, we can best encourage and support creativity, productivity, and performance in our classrooms by

— modeling all of those qualities ourselves in our presentation/facilitation of learning activities;
— creating a sense of community within each class;
— giving regular feedback on what participants produce;
— focusing on active learning rather than passive reception of content;
— encouraging interpretive thinking rather than getting the "right" answer;
— focusing on learning which is meaning-driven;
— using a multi-modal (visual, textual, aural, oral)l approach for delivery of content;
— including both synchronous and asynchronous activities and project.

Question 5: What is informal learning? Does it really work in EFL/ESL classrooms? How do we implement it?

Dennis: Informal learning, as I understand it, occurs more often outside of class than during class—for example, on the job or in social settings. I also understand informal learning to be non-hierarchical, not organized according to a set curriculum, and not necessarily linear in presentation. Instead, I understand informal learning to be what happens when individuals find their own ways of applying bits of content knowledge and, in the process, "negotiating their own meaning." I do not understand informal learning to be "discovery learning" in its most limited sense. Neither do I understand informal learning to be learning which is only by means of fun activities such as playing games, singing, or watching videos.

I certainly think informal learning can work in EFL/ESL classrooms, but I also believe that a certain amount of structure is needed before informal learning can take place. If time and money were not issues, if a class were not given in an institutional setting, and if all the students in a class had identical or nearly identical needs and learning styles, learning could be entirely or almost entirely student-needs-driven, but in the "real world" this is not likely to be the case. I feel, therefore, that content should be introduced by the teacher/facilitator and students should be given sets of activities which are at first mostly controlled, narrowly curriculum-focused, and knowledge-based, but which then move gradually to activities which are less controlled, less narrowly curriculum based, and more skills-based. Another way of describing this progression of activities would be to say that each set of activities activity moves from being item-based learning to being project-based learning or social learning.

In my view, face-to-face class time would include more activities which are controlled and knowledge-based, while out-of-class time would include more activities which are less controlled and more skills- or project-based. In-class time would mostly be spent on learning about content, while out-of-class time would mostly be spent on understanding and applying content.

Question 6: How can we assess informal learning or e-learning in general?

Dennis: There are many ways to assess learning—whether it be formal or informal, or via e-learning or traditional means.

Two of the most useful means of assessing learning, it seems to me are task lists and rubrics.

Task lists are simply lists of things that students are expected to do in order to complete a class. Grades in a class could assigned on the basis of finishing all (or a given number or percentage) of a set of tasks, but grades could also be assigned on the basis of the extent of completion for each individual task (higher grades for more in-depth completion, lower grades for less in-depth completion).

Rubrics are a combination of rating scales and descriptions of what each rating involves. A rubric for a discussion forum might, for example, have five ratings—did not participate, inadequate participation, minimal participation, adequate participation, active participation. Each rating (except, in this case, "did not participate") would then have descriptors of how a rating is assigned for each category. Inadequate participation, for example, might be described as "responded 1 to 3 times per semester," minimal participation might be described as "responded 4-7 times per semester," adequate participation might be described as "responded 8-13 times per semester," and active participation might be described as "responded 14 or more times per semester."

Thanks so much Dennis.. Great ideas.