Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Illustrating a song with photos made by the students

I have revisited this old post, written two years ago, with some new stuff about illustrating songs by the students. I hope you like it 


Songs and music are great resources for English language classes, especially when teaching English as a second or third language.

Songs are the best way to practice the rhythm and phonics,but also by reading the lyrics you are improving in vocabulary and grammar. Some of my posts are full of different ways to exploit songs.

Every year I like to warm up the course with songs. Some of them are very appropriated for the beginning of the course. This year I wanted to exploit them by matching the sentences and the vocabulary of the lyrics with images.

In grade 5 (10 year olds) we develop a full project with the song “We’re going to be friends” by Jack Johnson (Originally from The White Stripes). It is a wonderful song to start the year because the lyrics are a full revision of school objects, rooms, feelings...

We did a review of the already known vocabulary and we introduced some new one.I prepared a filling the gaps activity just to work the song in deep.

Then, we translated, with the help of the dictionary (I use weather paper dictionaries or on line ones like some difficult word and sentences.

After that, when students understood all the grammar, they imagined images they could photograph in the school, in the class, in the hall, in the playground, objects, attitudes, feelings…. They made a complete “lay out” of the project.

Finally, with the photo camera they shot all the images and uploaded in Windows Movie Maker. And we uploaded the song in mp3, too.

With a little help of the teacher, they typed the lyrics, added titles and credits and changed the timing in the slides to match music-lyrics-images… and produced the video to be embeded in the school blog.

And this was the result. Hope you like it!

I did the same activity in grade 3 (7-8 year olds), taking advantage of a photography workshop the students made during the first quarter of the school year. The song is from a Year 3 Heinemann book Bugs called "It's School Again". 

And here it is the result.

Its school again from Enric Calvet on Vimeo.

And finally, another similar activity with grade 1 students (6 year olds). The song is an old one from the textbook Bingo! 1 (Longman Publisher) called "Knock, Knock!"

The process was pretty different. They only had to imagine and do the movements of each situation and I did the photos. But the result was good enough.

Hope I bring to you some new ideas!

Friday, January 25, 2013

Catalonia: two languages... no problem!

Right now everyone argues about if we have a language problem in Catalonia. So occasionally we get to discuss whether or not we need special cinema laws to protect Catalan language, whether Catalan should be a requirement to work in universities or whether or not should have language immersion at schools.

But make no mistake; we do not have a language problem. If you go down the street, if you step on our schools, visiting classrooms, you quickly realize that if there is any conflict is not exactly the language. We drag a political problem and (nowadays) a problem with Spanish laws.

Immersion is the backbone of a school system that works and it is also the backbone of a society that if something has been characterized so far is integration. But immersion has become a problem when politicians have sought to take center stage.

Again, make no mistake, the immersion is nothing. It is a sign of normality. Spain does Spanish language immersion in schools. France teaches French in public schools. They do the same as we do. The point is that they needn’t to say “immersion” because they have a national state behind. We do not. Not only we haven’t a state behind… We have one against us.

Today I would like to recommend you a very interesting article from one of the best Catalan University psycologists. 

Bilingualism is not a problem, is an advantage; plurinationalism and multilingualism are two key features of our modern society that help us to be more tolerant than other monolingual societies.


"Catalonia’s education system is based on bilingual education. One of its objectives is that all pupils get a good knowledge of the two official languages, Catalan and Spanish. Wallace Lambert points out that, when a society wants bilingual people, the socially weakest language needs to prevail in school education. According to his principle, public schools in Catalonia organise mainly two programmes: a programme to maintain the family language aimed at the Catalan-speaking students, and a programme of starting linguistic immersion aimed at Spanish-speaking children. Both are supported by very positive social attitudes towards the Catalan language. However, the law guarantees families the choice to decide their children’s school language during the entire initiation to reading and writing learning (8 years old). In practical terms, there are some 10 Spanish-speaking families as an average number that decide to school their children in Spanish. In the following years, the Spanish language is a school subject, both for the maintenance programmes and linguistic immersion programmes. Nevertheless, especially in the linguistic immersion programme, Spanish has an important presence in the student's informal relations as well as in the relations students keep to solve academic problems in Catalan. 

Since 1990, there has been a systematic evaluation of bilingual education results in Catalonia. Regarding linguistic knowledge, there are no differences between Catalan-speaking and Spanish-speaking students in their knowledge of the Spanish language. In addition, there are no differences regarding the knowledge of the Spanish language between students from Catalan schools and those from the rest of Spain. The differences exist in relation to the knowledge of the Catalan language. At the end of obligatory schooling, as it happens in the rest of linguistic immersion programmes around the world, the Spanish-speaking students have less Catalan oral skills than Catalan-speaking students. However, there are no differences regarding the writing language skills. In fact, the Spanish-speaking students have Catalan writing skills on a level with those of Catalan-speaking students along the obligatory secondary education, after nine or more years of schooling (pre-school education and primary education). The 2009 PISA evaluation on reading comprehension placed Catalonia seven points above the OCDE average and 12 points above the Spanish average. Regarding the acquisition of knowledge and skill development of other areas such as mathematics, natural sciences or social sciences, there are no differences between the Catalan-speaking students and Spanish-speaking students. 

Since 2000, Catalonia has incorporated thousands and thousands of foreign students to the education system who already represent around 14% of the population. Certainly, these pupils with very different languages are schooled in a programme of linguistic submersion because, among other reasons, the education system is not designed to develop their languages. Therefore, already since the beginning of this century, there is an important movement of educational innovation around these new students under the name of ‘new linguistic immersion’. It aims to eliminate the negative effects of obligatory schooling in a programme that does not contemplate the development of their own language. It is obvious that, among others, one of the characteristics of this movement consists of recognising all the languages, and their educative treatment independently of their knowledge by part of the teachers."

Dr. Jose Ignacio Vila Professor of Education Psychology at the Universitat de Girona (UdG) Published in Recerca i Acció(Fundació Catalana per a la Recerca i la Innovació)

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

School Camps and ESL

School Camps have become, over time, an essential activity into the teaching and learning process of children, in ways that often are not addressed either in school or within the family.

Even, we can truly say that some of the aspects that we work out in the school camps can hardly be treated either at school or within the family.

We all know the importance of school camps:

Group. In a more relaxed atmosphere, away from the routines of the class, students openly express emotions, their skills, and their knowledge. Two or three days of living and sharing together improve the cohesion of the groups.

Individual. School camps break the daily routine and this means that children acquire different responsibilities, they learn to organize themselves and they adapt to new situations. As the activities are not scheduled and they are acquired in a different environment, learning is more intense.

Curriculum. School camps reinforce school course work, they show “in situ” many of the things children have learned in the classroom, and they bring out children's experiences and knowledge that otherwise would be impossible.

Territory. One of the main goals in school camps is to know the country and a different environment out of the familiar one, to make transcend the educational project beyond the walls of the school.

Language. The school camp encourages the introverted and shy students to talk and interact with colleagues. They are a superb resource for socialization and language production in a free stressed environment.

The two main aspects of the school camps are "work and leisure". And although the teachers set a complete plan with objectives, methodology and evaluation, we always leave some room for the preparation of activities that arise spontaneously and are responding to the interest or motivation of the students.

This is where I wanted to be!

We can practice the English language (as a second or foreign language) in a free and secure environment just by preparing different games to fill the leisure moments. Let’s prepare a bank of games, with different proposals to engage children into oral production and free speaking. In this way, we will do English, as well as we will reinforce verbal interactions among students.

I have outlined in the following paper you can download for free, a good number of possible school camp games. They are quite generic, not specific to ESL, but I’m sure with a touch of creativity you can make them into something useful.

Here I leave you another great link where to find more stuff about School Camps:

Thursday, January 10, 2013

ICT in Education, Bloom’s revisited

If I said that Bloom’s Taxonomy has been revisited, you may think that this is another point of view of this famous taxonomy and not worth spending a minute on it.

But when the revision has been made by Andrew Churches, author of the nominated "Best Educational Wiki" 2012 Edublog Awards, things can be seen with other eyes.

Evaluating has moved down the hierarchy and Creating has replaced Synthesizing at the top level. Meanwhile, Knowledge has been replaced by Remembering at the bottom of the pyramid.   Bloom's Digital Taxonomy

You can find this revision and many other interesting reflections and thoughts about Bloom’s Taxonomy in Educational Origami’s blog or wiki. Both sites are about 21st Century Teaching and Learning and the “integration of technology” into the classroom.

Of course there are so many different pages with tips, activities and resources in the net about integrating new technologies in the classroom, but Educational Origami goes one step beyond as this is a “tough cookie” and certainly a critical area: “ it is about shifting our educational paradigm”.

I like the way Andrew Churches (Edorigami’s author) explains the paradigm:

“The world is not as simple as saying teachers are digital immigrants and students digital natives. In fact, we know that exposure to technology changes the brains of those exposed to it. The longer and stronger the exposure and the more intense the emotions the use of the technology or its content evokes, the more profound the change. This technology is increasingly ubiquitous. We have to change how we teach, how we assess, what we teach, when we teach it, where we are teaching it, and with what”. 

It’s a tall order, but these are exciting times.

21st Century teachers 

This is a great video that encourages finding solutions to help our education progress forward. We have to admit technology is coming whether we want it to come or not. The longer we wait on accepting this, the further our children fall.

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Chaos Theory in Education?

A teacher friend of mine said categorically that "no a unit plan supports classroom life". Teachers spend many hours and efforts to prepare, plan and program units, assessments and activities, in order to have a maximum control over the teaching and learning.

But, how many times it has happened that a so meticulously prepared unit plan has been ruined by tiny incidents that have nothing to do with school?

As I see it, the education system and teachers in general are wrong to not consider a fundamental fact: "an educational process does not repeat their past behavior NEVER even approximately so".

This means that an educational system is much closer to a chaotic system than it seems because:

  • It is not linear 
  • No cause and effect is proportional (irregular) 
  • It is sensitive to initial conditions (determinism) 
  • It is complex 
  • It is fractal 
  • Predictability is certainly limited 
  • It is impossible to specify exactly the initial conditions 

Chaos theory is basically a mathematical theory and cannot be qualitatively applied as it does the supposed Chaos theory in Education. What it can do is a metaphorically use of concepts of this theory to explain and understand dynamic aspects of school life.

This is what I found in the following article. It is an “old short paper” (as it says Michael Lorenzen, the author) but it is a hundred percent valid and up to date nowadays and it has given me a pretty good time to read and some reflections to be consider when planning my new units of work in the school.

Chaos Theory and Education
by Michael Lorenzen

The universe is a chaotic place. It is full of uncertainty and it can be difficult to predict exactly what is going to happen at any given time be it the present or the far future. Scientists and mathematicians have developed a theory to explain this phenomenon. It is called chaos theory and it is highly relevant to the field of teaching.

Education is an uncertain endeavour. Not only is it difficult to exactly predict what will happen in the class each day, it is nearly impossible to ascertain what the best course of education for any given person or class may be. The reasons for this are simple. Education is connected to the rest universe and as such is fully subject to the chaos that naturally exists in reality.

Chaos has been contemplated by mankind for several millennia. The concept can be seen in early religious philosophy (Hinduism has believed in chaos from its inception) to the Babylonian epic of Gilgamesh. Isaac Newton also considered the nature of chaos in the universe. A modern view of chaos theory was written by Gollub and Solomon. They wrote (282), "A chaotic system is defined as one that shows sensitivity to initial conditions. That is, any uncertainty in the initial state of the given system, no matter how small, will lead to rapidly growing errors in any effort to predict the future behaviour. In other words, the system is chaotic. Its behaviour can be predicted only if the initial conditions are known to an infinite degree of accuracy, which is impossible."

It is easy to see from this description that all work, be it professional or not, is subject to the whims of chaos. Any one in public service, be it a doctor or a cashier at Quality Dairy, deals with uncertainty while dealing with the public. It is impossible to predict with certain accuracy what is going to happen next. Even less public driven jobs have this uncertainty. The long term is even worse. How can any given action be used to explain why something happens later? Sometimes good guesses can be made. ("Hey, maybe I should have told that guy to stop smoking.") Still, it is difficult in to prove causality in most cases. There are usually several alternate explanations for every occurrence.

Education and teaching are forced to deal with chaos. The initial, and all subsequent conditions, are not know to an infinite degree of accuracy with any given student or class. Hence, chaos must ensue. This chaos can be seen in two ways. First, every class session is uncertain until it occurs. Despite the best developed lesson plans and class management techniques, the class will be subject to an infinite number of possible occurrences. Second, it is difficult to see the connection between teaching and learning. How can a teacher know what is taught is best for the student's learning in the short and long terms. Sometimes, good assumptions can be made by studying students. However, all students are subject to a variety of chaos in their lives at school and in the world. Which effect beyond teaching could have affected the result? Educators will always deal with uncertainty in both how and what they should teach.

Lampert describes several good examples of the first kind of chaos in education. Wrote Lampert (181, 182), "When I consider the conflicts that arise in the classroom for my perspective as a teacher, I do not see a choice between abstract social goals. What I see are tensions between individual students, or personal confrontations between myself and a particular group of boys or girls. When I think about rewarding Dennis's excellent, though boisterous, contributions to problem-solving discussions, while at the same time encouraging reticent Sandra to take an equal part in class activities, I cannot see my goals as a neat dichotomy and my job as making clear choices. My aims for any one particular student are tangled with my aims for each of the others in the class, and, more importantly, I am responsible for choosing a course of action in circumstances where choice leads to further conflict."

Lampert accurately describes the first form of educational uncertainty. She further makes it clear that not only do students add to uncertainty in the classroom, so does the teacher. The teacher is an agent of chaos in the classroom. Every decision a teacher makes leads to an infinite number of possible new class scenarios. Of all the people in the room, the teacher is the most chaotic element because the teacher makes the decisions that drive many of the reactions of the other agents in the room. And, the failure to make a decision, in and of itself, is a decision and this also contributes to chaos.

The connection between teaching and learning is also tenuous at best, which creates further uncertainty. Wrote Buchmann and Floden (213), "Students' behavioural, emotional, and cognitive responses are affected by the contexts in which they live, of which school is only one (albeit, for some, an important one). The child whose creative writing suddenly improves may have been inspired by a parent's comment, not the teacher's language arts unit. The student who has never completed her homework can turn in a carefully composed essay. The lesson that has always excited students can miscarry with this year's class. Although experienced teachers have some sense of how students will react to a lesson or assignment, some uncertainty remains."

How does thinking about chaos theory help teachers? It helps when you look at the way chaos theorists view uncertainty. Since you can not account for everything, approach each task ready to deal with anything. (You may think that your ship is unsinkable. However, if you sail it enough times, eventually, it will sink.) Since you can not ever be certain as to results, do what you think based on your education and experience when designing something. This is a wise view and one held by many educators who do not actively think of chaos. Actions must be taken in the classroom despite uncertainty caused by chaos. Wrote Buchmann and Floden (221), "Neverless, teaching and learning require decision, not helpless hesitation. Decisive action, however, may give the appearance of certitude. Indeed, it is this appearance that deceives novice teachers into thinking that their experienced colleagues are sure of their subjects, students, and efficacy. Brisk confidence can still be helpful." As long as uncertainty and chaos are awaited with acceptance and calmness, confidence is a good approach to chaos.

The good news about chaos is that it is natural. It is a key component of the universe. Chaos may cause uncertainty but it also creates the opportunities that create hope and change. Teachers need to prepare for chaos and accept uncertainty as a natural condition. Teachers cannot control the entire universe. But they can make impacts on the small slice of the universe they reside in despite all the chaos evident in it.

Works Cited
Floden, Robert E. and Buchmann, Margret (1993). Detachment and Concern: Conversations in the Philosophy of Teaching and Teacher Education. New York: Teachers College Press.
Gollub, Jerry and Solomon, Thomas (1996). "Chaos Theory." In K. Anne Ranson (Ed.), Academic American Encyclopedia , V. 4 (pp. 282, 283). Danbury, CT: Grolier Incorporated.
Lampert, Magdalene (1985). "How Do Teacher Manage to Teach?: Perspectives on Dilemmas in Practice." Harvard Educational Review (55): 178-94
Eduardo Alejandro Ibáñez. Universidad Católica de Santa Fe