Celebrating Sabbath with the School Seasons


Image from CozyKitchenChats

We lived in Seattle for seven years.  One thing I thoroughly enjoyed while there was the way my neighbours celebrated the change in seasons.  When fall fell into winter, they cleared away the last of the leaves, put up their holiday lights, and enjoyed a white Christmas; when winter melted into spring, they freshened their interior decor, aerated their lawns and repainted the stoop and garage doors; when spring jumped into summer, they got out their barbecues and their deck furniture and celebrated their nationhood with their neighbours; and when summer edged into autumn, they got out their leaf blowers and jack-o-lanterns, had their chimneys swept and booked their flights home to family for Thanksgiving.  Every year.  And with each transition, they changed the wreath hanging on the front door.

I decided that this familar rhythm was something I wanted to continue celebrating so I carried my Seattle wreaths home with me to New Zealand.  But after the first year, it felt false, even twee, in this South Pacific environment.  To begin with, the change in seasonal weather is not that marked, and Kiwis are such independent souls that they do whatever they like whenever.  So my wreaths have remained stashed in the shed.

It has been wonderful being back home with family in these sea-circled islands in the south of the South Pacific.  It’s where I belong.  I have come to realise that, as a teacher, I do celebrate different seasons of the year.  I love the rhythm of the school calendar.  You work a twelve hour day for nine or ten weeks then you collapse into a well-deserved two week break.  February to March, then the Autumn April break; May to June then the July mid-winter break; August to September then the October Spring break; November to mid-December then the December-January Summer break.

Nearing retirement, I hope this rhythm of work and rest will continue long after the bells stop ringing in my ears.  It’s a seasonal beat that reminds me of Sabbath, which is perhaps why I find it so comforting.  Six days work, one day rest.  A season of labour followed by a season of restoration and renewal.  It’s a God-given gift for which I am very grateful.

Does ICT assist learning?

Source: Does ICT assist learning?

This article by Derek Wenmoth is an enlightening and challenging response to the OECD findings that ICT makes no difference at all in students’ achievement.  That’s no surprise really as a computer is just a tool like pen and paper.  If the majority of teachers are using technology in the same way they did pen and paper then of course there will be no change in achievement levels.  However, Derek points out that if technology is able to transform teaching and learning, perhaps that’s when change in achievement will occur.  He also reminds us that there is value in learning with the tools that students will need to become integrated members of today’s world.  No use teaching using slates and chunks of chalk anymore!

Question to self:  Has technology transformed teaching and learning in my classroom, or am just doing the same old things but with more expensive tools?

Webspiration for organising thinking

From July to October this year, I have been taking part in two online courses from the same team, 23 Things for Research and 23 Teaching Things.  Because some sessions overlapped, I decided to create a table that tracked what I did for each.  That has worked very well but I have been a little unclear as to what has been duplicated. I thought perhaps a Webspiration comparison diagram would be an ideal instrument to show me and a good way to reaquaint myself with a tool I was much enamoured with in the past, having used Inspiration before it went online and when it was cost-free.

What I have learned is that for some information, tables suit me much better.  I have also learned that although I did achieve discovering the overlap through the diagram, I was unable to export it in a readable manner either to Google or to Word in order to share it with others who don’t have access to Webspiration.

 Webspiration Diagram

The time it took to discover this information with Webspiration was also extremely wasteful.  I achieved the same information in much less time by simply colour coding my table.

Colour Coded Table

Webspiration, however, is a very useful tool for thinking and then transferring that thinking into an essay.  Being a linguist, my natural thinking tool, however, is a table in Word.

#23Research: A valuable course

On consideration, the 23 Things for Research course has been inspiring.  I enjoyed looking forward to each Monday’s new offering and getting my teeth into new tech programmes and tasks.

I discovered the pleasure of clarifying my thoughts through blogging, getting connected with colleagues and resources through Twitter, discovering OneNote for gathering together qualitative data from my four research sites and analysing it using tags, and I am looking forward to using Voyant corpus text analysis tools to analyse this data further.  Through it all I have also discovered Bitly, which I love.  I am pretty sure I will continue to blog and tweet but will try to connect them more consistently in order to increase my follower base.

What do I think CreATE should be exploring further?  Perhaps beginning the course with a diagnostic survey of those who are participating to see where they are at before they start and therefore what might be valuabe to include in the offerings.

Perhaps there could also be one #23Research Thing which is collaborative, where participants share some new techy thing they have found valuable for their research, or a forum where they share where they are at in their research and what they are getting stuck on, so others can suggest technologies that might help.

Overall, I have found this one of the best professional learning and development courses I have taken part in ever.  It equals my first ever collaborative action research experience.  Both will go down in my PLD book of greats.

Many multilingual thanks to Damon and the team at the University of Auckland’s CreATE.

Thank you

Blog Analytics: Naval gazing or essential decision making?

It is fascinating to review the data analytics related to this blog but it somehow feels  like naval gazing: too much interest in oneself and one’s status.  Never-the-less, if one is to analyse the worth of continuing with an activity, or consider making changes in order to make it more worthwhile, then data analytics are essential tools to underpin decision making.

However, the stats for my blog are underwhelming.

Blog Analytics

Since my blog’s inception in July 2015, the most popular viewing day was August 11th after posting about using Google Drive for Teaching and Learning.  The day after there were 24 views, three comments, and two reblogs.  So why was this my most popular entry?  Let’s look at the big picture.  There are 46 posts, with 284 views by 74 visitors but only 5 followers.  The blog’s peak readership times are Tuesdays (29%) at 10pm (18%).  What might have triggered that activity?

Comments Follwers and Tags

As part of the 23 Things for Research professional development programme, participants were asked to find an interesting article written by other participants to reblog.  They would have posted themselves on Monday and then started looking for posts to reblog on Tuesday.  They would have done this when they had time, that is, after work and dinner.  Two of those 23 Things for Research professionals must have found my article sufficiently interesting to reblog.  Two out of how many?

What I have found fascinating to discover from the analytics is where my readers are from and it has set me to wondering how they found my blog.  Tags?  Headings?  Interesting.

 Readers Origens

So overall, my stats are interesting, even if underwhelming.  However, I did say near the beginning of the journey, that the pleasure of blogging came not so much from being read as from having my thoughts clarified as I wrote.

So that returns me to naval gazing and decision making.  Am I happy not being read very much?  I think so.  If my career depended upon it maybe not so much but my career is nearing its end.  It would be nice to think, however, that after four decades of teaching, I might have something of interest to others to write about.  If I did, how would they know where to find it?  That is the real question.

Maybe I could start cross-posting from my Twitter account?  After all, at the moment I have only five followers for my blog but 11 for my Twitter account.  So here’s a start: To celebrate ending the #23research course, I have declared on Twitter that I am a computer person!

Connecting Educators: The French Language Teachers’ Listserv

Frenh Teacher

The 28th September to the 16th October is Core Education’s Connected Educator Month in New Zealand.

I realise its focus is professional learning and development, but it has led me to ponder what is the most effective connection I have with my colleagues around the country.  It has to be the good old French Teachers’ Listserv, which is run through TKI.  I believe there are more than 400 teachers of French in this network and it includes assessors, moderators and advisors.  All are regularly involved.  If you want to find out anything, share anything, it’s your one stop shop.

On this listserv, in the past week alone, we have shared resources, asked questions, found answers, gathered information on exchanges, offered information about jobs, discussed the digital pilot listening exam, congratulated award winners, and grieved for lost friends.

So why is this listserv so successful?  When I began it in 2000 on my old school server, very few people were involved, but I wasn’t discouraged because the literature told me that such communities of practice take approximately three years to gain momentum.  And that seems about right.  The French Teachers Listserv is now 15 years old and run from TKI.

Perhaps another reason for its success is that many French teachers up and down the country are the sole language teacher in their school and they need the support, encouragement , advice and plain old information that others offer via digital means.

It could also be successful because it is free and open.  Other languishing language teacher listservs require contributors to be fee-paying members of their  associations.  That is not the case for the thriving French one.  I suspect this is an important aspect in its popularity and in the lively discussion that occurs on a daily basis.  Occasionally someone will need to remind a passionate colleague about flaming, but I can recall only two or three instances in recent years when that has occurred.

The main reason I believe it is so successful is that its members all share a passion for teaching languages, in particular French language and culture, and they want to share that passion with their students.

The French Teachers’ Listserv is my professional lifeline.

Interaction, Communication and Deep Thinking


Rather than building activities for the collaboration typically encouraged in social science, English or Physical Education classrooms, secondary school foreign language teachers build activities to encourage interaction and meaningful communication.  Rather than group work, they engineer spontaneous partner conversations; instead of problem solving to inspire deeper thinking, they work through the steps of the SOLO taxonomy.  They first teach the discrete components of language, vocabulary and structures (uni and multi-structural), then they ask students to combine and practice those components in order to make meaningful communication (relational).  Finally they supply learners with activities that encourage them to combine newly acquired language in new and creative ways that they haven’t been taught (extended abstract).

Hattie and Yates (2013, p.26) defined learning as: “the process of developing sufficient surface knowledge to then move to deep or conceptual understanding.” This movement from surface to deep knowledge requires considerable effort on the part of the language learner and the teacher. It involves intentionality and reciprocity (Feuerstein & Feuerstein, 1999) where the teacher designs practice activities that are achievable but sufficiently challenging (Vygotsky, 1978) and the learner repeatedly and purposefully engages in the practice activities and responds to teacher feedback by refining language output.

It is really important, therefore, that as well as valuing the deep knowledge which is the goal of collaboration, education stakeholders also value the surface knowledge on which it is built (Hattie & Yates, 2013).  Often students bring that surface knowledge with them into the classroom, but in a foreign language context, this is not usually the case.  Surface knowledge has to be taught.

In the language classroom considerable time needs to also be spent on what Hattie and Yates (2013) insist is necessary in every classroom for learning to occur: “conscious monitoring… concentration and persistence such that there is stretching to take on new challenges until these challenges become automatic.” (Hattie & Yates, 2013, p.28).

If the teacher wants to flip the language lesson with Task-Based Language Teaching (TBLT), then this conscious monitoring and stretching occurs.  However, it only works where students have some prior language knowledge with which to work.  In a TBLT context, instead of the sequential process described above, learners are provided with a task to complete.  As they complete task, they might need to use language not necessary used or formally taught yet so they are stretched.  However, not without support , which might come from pre-tasks or from working on reception tasks (Listening or Reading) long before  production tasks (Speaking or Writing) (Nunan, 2004).

So, with TBLT, language learning occurs when learners notice new forms, rehearse those forms in working memory, and assign meaning to those forms.  As they do this, they notice the gap between their own language and the language they need to complete the task so they begin to formulate linguistic rules as a result of that comparison.  Finally, as they endeavour to complete the task, they integrate the new linguistic forms into their implicit memory (Nunan, 2004).

  • Biggs, J. & Collis, K. (1982).  Evaluating the Quality of Learning: the SOLO taxonomy.
  • Feuerstein, R., & Feuerstein, S. (1999). Mediated learning experience: A theoretical review.
  • Hattie, J., & Yates, G. (2013). Understanding learning: Lessons for learning, teaching and research.
  • Nunan, D. (2004). Task-Based Language Teaching.
  • Vygotsky, L. (1978). In Cole M., John-Steiner V., Scribner S. and Souberman E. (Eds.), Mind in society : The development of higher psychological processes (A. Luria Trans.).

Corpus Text Analysis with Voyant Tools

Voyant Tools is “a web-based reading and analysis environment for digital texts.” The creators believe that text analysis tools can contribute to digital research by confirming hunches and pushing the researcher in new and unanticipated directions, so they created their tools environment to be used ‘as is’ or to be customised to suit the research context.

The tools include those illustrated in the image below: a Cirrus word cloud, corpus word frequency data, type frequency graphs, collocation frequency grids, and many more:

Yoyant Tools - Sermons

Image from Lincoln Logarithms

A useful video by Tom Lynch that explains how to use them to teach literature is found at: https://www.youtube.com.

These digital discourse analysis corpus tools could prove useful to help analyse my qualitative data.  I’m looking forward to seeing what they reveal.

Web 2.0 Tools, Security, and Online exchanges for language learning

Most secondary schools have chosen and purchased a range of Web 2.0 tools that offer their staff and students many choices according to their teaching and learning needs.  When using these cloud-based tools, students and staff are protected by sign on and security systems.  These are necessary given a school’s duty of care.  However, this duty of care can run counter to the sharing features of web 2.0 tools.

One of the most exciting elements of web 2.0 for foreign language learners is the way they link learners with each other and with native speakers around the world for the purpose of asynchronous and synchronous communication.  This could be with old technologies that are still highly effective like email, or with newer technologies like Google Drive and MS OneDrive.

However, to reach outside the school’s safety systems and sign on protocols to use the newer web 2.0 tools doesn’t always work.  For example, some schools prevent access to Facebook and Youtube as they are seen as unsafe and a distraction to learning; and to coordinate several classrooms in more than one school is a nightmare.

Responses to this dilemma have been interesting.  One response has been the creation by companies of teachers of education-safe lookalikes that invite parent involvement, such as Edmodo, the Facebook lookalike.  Another response has been the addition by the web 2.0 companies themselves of dedicated education features, such as Youtube’s education channel and Google’s Classroom.  In both instances, teachers and students may have to go outside their school’s security systems to use them.

Over the past fifteen years, I have used several web 2.0 tools to facilitate genuine social interaction between language learners and with native speakers.  I remember in the late 1990s using the Hilites research project to facilitate a one-to-one email exchange between my Year 11 French class and a parallel class of learners in the United States. Then in the early 2000s I used The Internet Classroom Assistant (Nicenet) to teach my homeschool cooperative students on the four out of five days a week when I didn’t see them face-to-face.  They were able to access resources, post homework questions, email each other and me, and most importantly for me, use their new language learning in asynchronous threaded discussions using slo-mo text-talk.  In the past five years my students and I have enjoyed using Edmodo to communicate with native speakers in France, first with a bilingual French-Basque school in Bayonne, and then with one in Chauny, near the Somme, as part of our WW1 Commemoration project.  Some of the friendships begun on Edmodo have developed further as the students have gone on to share online and phone contact details with each other.  Last year I was delighted when a student excitedly showed me the texting conversation she was having with a new friend in our partner school in France.

I have to remind myself of the following tips when conducting online exchanges:

  1. Teachers need to organise up front realistic programmes and timelines when their students can communicate.  It’s surprising how little mutual in class time there is when you remove the weeks, even months for the  holiday and examination periods in southern and northern hemispheres, quite apart from time zone issues.  The Bayonne colleague and I first made contact in Skype for Teachers and continued our planning through Skype.  He would be getting up and chatting with me over his summer breakfast while I would be shutting down for the night after a winter dinner.
  2. In a foreign language learning context, it is important to have negotaited an agreement for the equal use of both languages being learned so both sets of students in the partnership have the opportunity to model native language and practise foreign language.  In Edmodo we set up English-only pages and French-only pages and students spend equal time discussing in both.
  3. Another essential is to remind students that although they are online, they are still at school and in a classroom and school and classroom rules still apply e.g. no suspect handles or seedy images or inappropriate language.  To this end, negotiating up-front netiquette documents is wise.
  4. Then there are intercultural as well as interlinguistic issues.  Students need to be reminded to think about what a student in the suburbs of Paris or in a little village on the banks of the Somme might find interesting about a student in the suburbs of Auckland or in a little seaside town on the Coromandel Peninsular.  They need to be taught how to enrich the online learning experience of their partners.

Can anybody else add to my list based on their use of web 2.0 tools for classroom exchanges?