Wednesday, June 26, 2013

6+1 Action Tips for Project Working

 I remember many years ago, my students turned our English classroom into a TV studio. In groups they decided the different TV programmes they wanted to perform: the weather forecast, News, some advertisements, an interview, and a cooking programme. Then, they did all of the research, decided what information was important to share, wrote the scripts, and practiced after school.

They decided together how to decorate the classroom and how to set the furniture. They invited a TV professional camera to videotape the “performances”. And after that, they showed to the younger in the school and to parents. The video was also viewed in a local TV.

The students still mention it to me when I see them. They are in college now.

Project based learning is learning in its truest form. 

I’ve been working with PBL in my ESL Primary classes for many years and I’ve done different projects at different levels and with different depths and purposes.

In order “to dress” my PBL teaching philosophy with a rationale, I did a little research on the net and some expert sources readings about project working methodology.

Eventually I’ve found these principles that offer me a frame with which I feel confident enough to pull together projects with the time and resources I have (*).

Action Tip 1: Develop a compelling topic that a) covers standards, b) connects to the local community, c) engages students in a complex thinking c) provides opportunities for every student to do meaningful and in depth research.

Action Tip 2: Design an all-inclusive final product that a) each student will have a specific role in order to cope with differentiation, b) includes quality writing and the use of ICT and Web 2.0 tools to report his or her findings, and c) requires representation models of the targeted content knowledge and language skills.

Action Tip 3: Involve experts or professionals from the community (parents, town organisations...) and then a) let students assume those professional roles during the project, and b) connect the project with the real world by being investigators, researchers, artists, or whatever job the project is involved on.

Action Tip 4: Identify and organize the learning resources beforehand and make sure they're available: a) think in shopping or designing the resources for all the students, b) map out the project from the beginning to the end imagining what sort of things we will need. If it is a very open project try to make sure things won’t run through our fingers and c) develop a complete plan to scaffold the required language for the project.

Action Tip 5: Coordinate calendars (this is probably the most difficult tip!): a) If the project is interdisciplinary, it requires a lot of planning among teachers involved, b) ensure students to get enough time, c) talk to experts to come in at the appropriate moment of the project, and d) think about the “publishing” final product date.

Action Tip 6: Plan a final experience or culminating event. Showcase student work to the public or outside of school (a show room or a general speech, publishing in the school blog or magazine, inviting local press or the participant experts ...)

Action Tip 7: Think very hard on how to judge “success” in a project with many learning objectives by determining a) how to assess what students have learned b) what to assess c) to what degree, and d) what assessment tools are we going to use.

 Some final advices about assessment.

Assessment is paramount in the process and Bloom’s Taxonomy is what it's all about. While in a traditional school students are taught to be experts in knowledge, comprehension and application, students in project-based learning models go beyond that by analyzing, synthesising and evaluating their learning.

To me, reflection is such an important form of assessment. It not only gives students ownership over their learning and effort but also helps them to process what they have learned. Observation of engagement is another of my favourite assessment forms as it gives me specific clues on effort, involvement and interest.

Sometimes I have found it helpful to have my elementary students participate in the creation of a rubric to be used for assessing the project. They feel validated in having a voice in the assessment criteria and there is no question about the levels of performance expected of them.

Once I heard someone saying that...

"As far as the teacher is concerned, it was certainly hard work to organize the students' writing and everything, but it was very rewarding to go into the classroom and hear "Oh, good. Today is our project lesson. I love English!"

So, try it yourself. You'll wonder how you ever managed without it!

(*) Adapted from “Expeditionary Learning at Helen King Middle School” by David Grant and King’s six-step rubric.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

My City, Project Based Learning or Content Based Learning in the ESL class

One of the most important topics in the Primary Social Science Curriculum at Cicle Mitjà and Cicle Superior is the city, the town or the village where the students live.

The city landscape of Vitebsk
Knowing the city is a way to know many aspects of the social, cultural and civic around us. But it is also a way to know about museums, interesting places, monuments, history, famous people, unique buildings and curiosities of the town.

In this project, students will conduct a research on one or more aspects of their city (or another one, if we consider it more appropriate). The main aim is to develop a graphic support with varied information to orally show in front of the class and to make a display in the school corridors.

These are just some examples of outputs produced within the project. Power Points and scaled models are probably the most used resources among primary students, but they also used Prezi, Glogster or Issuu.

And this is the complete Unit Plan.

If you want to know something else about this project, the proposal, the basic skills it covers, or to download a Rubric for the assessment of communication, a peer assessment or a self assessment grid, please visit ARC (Aplicació de Recursos al Currículum). The project is fully published in this link: My City.

This project has been developed by TLEinC. ICE UAB Teacher trainers group work, 2013. Authors: Núria Biosca Perich, Enric Calvet Tomàs, Ana M. Esteban Nieto, M. Emília Masdeu Chimeno, Manuela Moledo Nores, M. Carmen Pérez Martin, Antonio Orihuela Lechuga.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Learn English with Chip and Friends

Is it time to select new materials for the next school year? Are you thinking about some homework for summer? Are you going to do English language in Infantil? Do you want something new? 

New materials, books, activity books and other stuff for helping to teach English to Very Young Learners are always welcomed!

Recently one of my colleagues has published a series of activity books for children from 5 to 8 years old. Learn English with Chip and Friends is a 6 books of approaching method to the English language. From everyday issues and close contexts, students can complement learning English. Simple songs and very visual and intuitive exercises help integrate knowledge in a funny and autonomous way.

As the authors (Andrea Jiménez and Noemí Fernández) say: “Children learn languages playing. Therefore the books "Learn English with chip and Friends" are a great solution as a review or reinforcement of the English language. In the classroom teachers always seeks for the way children have contact to spoken language at all times. These activity books offer a paper support to reinforce the most familiar topics in these early ages”.

Worth to have a look!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013


If your school is planning to start a CLIL project next school year or you are trying to find reasons to convince your school staff to teach English through Content or Content through English, first of all you must answer yourself WHY CLIL?

Some days ago in a CLIL Facebook group, a teacher from Madrid suggested someone to visit the blog CLIL for Success as a way to get information on What, How and Why to do a Content and Language Integrated Learning programme. 

I had a deep look at this blog and it specially caught my interest the page about the reasons to do a CLIL project.

I like to transcript in here the reasons Willy, the author of the blog, gives anybody interested in running a project like this (hope you don't mind!)



1. Because Educational Systems must to be adapted to the new generations. 

The previous educational methods and techniques are not giving the right respond to our pupils and they are not able to see the reason to go to school. The educational systems were created and established two or three centuries ago ‘Our educational systems were conceived and designed in the intellectual culture of the Enlightenment and the economic circumstances of the Industrial Revolution...’ (Sir Ken Robinson) So if we do not use wigs, if we do not ride horses as the main mean of transport and if we do not use candles to allow us to see things; why do we have to use so old educational systems?.

A degree is not always the way to get a job, and get a job is not the main goal for our pupils. This is because year by year the number of people who got a degree has increased and it is demonstrated that you do not always need to be succeeded in academic terms, which are deductive reasoning and the knowledge of the classics, to get a good job. Apart from this there are other necessities in our society and it is demanded an integral education and not only focus on academic success. People need to feel important and well valued for what they are able to do and not for the number of degrees they have collected along their lives.

2. Because Children require a different encouragement

The way we were encouraged is different to the one our pupils demand. I am speaking about the fight that exists on pupils mind between teacher´s encouragement in the classroom and the video games encouragement. This is probably the most stimulating period of Earth´s history and pupils cannot be focused on only one simple and repetitive situation, a teacher telling them things besides a blackboard. How can we gain a battle against video games without a change?

3. Because learning is for everybody

We organize our educational processes by year ranges and by what it is expected to be known in a specific age. It is easier to control a group when all people have the same level of knowledge and when someone has a different level he is considered the ugly duck. All learning processes have a beginning but not an end and especially when we talk about languages. All of them depend on the person that of course, to make learning processes meaningful has to acquire them at his own pace taking baby steps and if we have done a good job they will never stop self-learning.

Pupil´s progress is controlled by a teacher which at the end of the term has a mathematical operation in which the result is the mark of the subject. Each person is responsible for his acts while not of his or her learning progress. Children need to know how they are doing and what they are doing at real time. Let them be part of their progress.

Learning progresses are evaluated through individual activities while great learning happens in groups. There is a common tendency for teachers to think that individual activities show what a person can do and it is partly wrong. We are preparing people to live in group but we do not take into consideration what they can do when they collaborate. Surprisingly, the growth of all cultures along history is based in a collaborative development.

4. Main reasons

Teachers are in charge of evaluating a production created by multiple repetitions instead of assessing a creative production in which the goals are to understand the values and reasons of what pupils do. There is still the idea of ‘An artist is somebody who produces things that people do not need to have’ (Andy Warhol) while we must think that if our pupils have an artist in, who is struggling to get out? Teachers are taught to ask and correct pupil’s answers while we should permit more questions from pupils, an oral interaction in which they could demand their willing and curiosities and take advantage of this, building investigators, people that do not think there is only a right answer for every question. And all this refers to our obsession of What, all academic terms that have to be taught in a year, instead of How.

At the beginning of the human kind we learnt from experiences and copying from others’ experiences but since the writing invention, we were taught by text in which experiences were told. This is requiring a mental process in which pupils need to imagine the situations whilst through direct observation the process is shorter and easier remembered. Our mental processes due to the technological advances and the stimulating situation we are living, call for learning visual moments. It is easy to remember an activity that you did with your body or what you have directly seen, than the last page you studied. Learning by doing mixed with emotions are the two ingredients every learning moment should have. Let’s make every learning process an unforgettable experience.

Pupils were supposed to be well seated, in front of a blackboard and listening carefully and with visual connection to what the teacher was saying and there were few moments in which something fun happened. Our pupils are requiring more participation and affection (Active Learning), so it is in the learning guides the possibility to make education a group of fun activities full of purposes and goals, in which pupils enjoy learning through that type of experiences, learning by laughing.


Although the blog has not been updated recently you can find some useful information about CLIL Unit Outline or School Organization. 

Hope you like it!

Comic strips made by Piñeiro.

Friday, June 07, 2013

English Summer Homework

School is nearly out for summer! But it also comes the time when parents become worried about summer homework, especially the ones related to English Language.

These are my suggestions to them.
“There are some “very good” websites to play, review and having fun at home. Some parents ask for English on Line methods for learning English for young children.... No way! (Even for adults, either!).

But there are sites where you can spend a good time while children learn vocabulary and simple structures.

  • We have a website here that is with many resources and games. I use it a lot in the school and I recommend it to my students, from Class 1 to Class 6 for working at home.

  • On this site you will find a lot of material to print, games and files for review. If you go camping and there is no good connection, print a few worksheets and that’s it! You’ll have hours of entertainment and fun!

  • This is a search engine of CLIC activities. Select the languages area, English language, Primary Level, and you’ll get 78 activities to do (which do not tell you if they are for initial, medium or high cycle).

  • And my last suggestion: This is the web page of the British Council in collaboration with the BBC for English Learners. I like this a lot and it is very complete. With patience you may be discovering fantastic activities and if your child is a little odd, sure to delight him or her.

I think you already have for quite a while. Hope this will help you”.

Have you got any other suggestions? Any other websites, materials or links? Please share!

Monday, June 03, 2013

Developing a Classroom Culture that Prioritises Communication

Theories about English Language Teaching have been prioritising different skills through the years, in order to find the best way to teach English as a Second or Foreign language.

Even Elementary and Secondary schools have a different view on how skills should be taught  or about the importance of grammar in second language teaching.

What linguists could not expect is that the solution was much closer to the classrooms that to the university or psychological researches.

Some time ago I read an article written by Professor Claire Kramsch who believed that “learners have some say in the classroom culture by assuming topic control and taking more responsibility for turn taking”.

Professor Kramsch hits on the nail when she mentions that by following some simple rules, we are not only promoting speaking skills but also promoting the development of the language overall, including its grammar and vocabulary. (Remember my post Who said that we cannot do PBL in ESL teaching? )

Let me give you some of her do’s (and some dont’s!) that make me improve my classroom management through the last two years:

  • Use the target language not only to deal with the subject matter but also to regulate the interaction in the classroom. You will thus offer a model of how to use interactional gambits in natural discourse. 
  • Keep the number of display questions (i.e. teacher questions that are aimed at getting learners to “display” their knowledge, such as “What’s the past of go?”) to a minimum. The more genuine requests for information, the more natural the discourse.
  • Build the topic at hand together with the students; assume that whatever they say contributes to the topic. Do not cut off arbitrarily a student’s utterance because you perceive it to be irrelevant. It might be very relevant to the student’s perception of the topic.
  • Tolerate silences; refrain from filling the gaps between turns. This will put pressure on students to initiate turns.
  • Encourage students to sustain their speech beyond one or two sentences and to take longer turns; do not use a student’s short utterance as a springboard for your own lengthy turn.
  • Extend your exchanges with individual students to include clarification of the speaker’s intentions and a negotiation of meanings; do not cut off too soon an exchange to pass on to another student.
  • Pay attention to the message of student’s utterance rather than to the form in which they are cast. Keep your comments for later.
  • Make extensive use of natural feedback (“hmmm”/”interesting”/”I think so”) rather than evaluating and judging every student utterance following its delivery (“fine”/”good”). Do not over praise.
  • Give students explicit credit by quoting them (just as X said…”); 

Of course this list is already in my teaching portfolio and I always keep it in mind when I start a new topic!