Matching the needs of the learner with the expectations of the teacher (@teachpitch)

TeachPitch asks, @bnleez thank you for tweeting! We'd love to hear your take on how we best map & match the #learning needs of #teachers. Do let us know:)

Let's assume a formal educational context where course objectives are stipulated beforehand, based on curricular goals.  Create a learning map (e.g., Google sheet) that is shared by all students.  In it, course objectives and any other expectations the teach has can be included.  Then, set up column titles that students can fill out (one row per student): student name, interests, needs, goals, strengths, weaknesses, individuals or public websites students feel comfortable with for getting additional help, any social media contact information, etc.  Depending on the maturity level of the students, this information might be a public document or private, and teachers may wish to obtain this same information by having students respond individually.  But there should also be a way for students to periodically check in with the teacher about how the class is going: particular things students like, dislike, find easy, find difficult, and suggestions as to what students need or how they prefer to engage.  This allows the teacher to "check the pulse" of the class throughout so that changes to teaching practice and/or learner tactics can be made more promptly.  

This is one way to map and match learning needs with the expectations of the teacher.

English Language Teaching (ELT) Lesson Planning and Assessment (#eltlive, #keltchat)


I enjoyed today's #eltlive discussion on lesson planning.  The main takeaway for me was how to associate lesson planning around the idea of assessment.  One of the questions I posed was how can lesson plans be assessed, which shifted the conversation to the importance of assessing students during the implementation of the lesson plan (i.e., formative assessment).

Assessing students

Comments were made about how we receive feedback from students and how we typically reflect in action, to borrow from Schon (1983). The conversation included the dichotomy of covering content by strictly sticking to the lesson plan and being flexible with the lesson plan based on how students are performing in class.  And although this relates to assessing students indirectly, it doesn't exactly reveal how we plan lessons around the assessment of students.

I tend to think of lesson planning as being a backward design (Wiggins and McTighe, 2005; Popham 2008).  We plan our lessons around assessments first (presumably based on course objectives), then decide on the most appropriate learning sequence.  By deciding on assessments first, we prepare a "road map" that frames the journey students are to take in order to achieve particular outcomes (whether these outcomes are part of the curriculum or pre-determined by the language teacher and students).  This approach to assessment is the opposite of planning a lesson sequence first, then thinking later how to assess students on what was covered in prior classes.  In a backward design, the point is to "uncover" content and not merely cover it.

Assessing the lesson plan

Throughout today's discussion, I also kept thinking about how others might assess their lesson plans (I ask because I don't do nearly enough of this).  Assessing lesson plans can take on three forms: 1) assessing the lesson plan before implementing it, 2) assessing the lesson plan while implementing it, and 3) assessing the lesson plan after implementing it.  Assessing before the class might involve sharing and collaborating around a lesson plan with colleagues, students, admins., or any other education stakeholder around course objectives, materials or technologies used, among others.  Assessing during the class is not necessarily the same as assessing students as mentioned earlier, but rather would include reflection in action in terms of students' actual behavior and how one originally planned students would behave before class.  And finally, assessing after the class would not only be an individual reflection (reflection on action) on students' actual behavior vs. planned behavior, but could also be a shared experience with others (e.g., via social media).  All three ways to assess a lesson plan include distinguishing between intentional and incidental student behaviors that are either favorable or unfavorable.   

One idea I heard repeatedly was that many of us know when students are engaged, on task, etc. which we then can assume to mean that the lesson plan went well...and this quite often might be the case.  But I have oftentimes been surprised to finish a lesson, think that all went well, only to find out (after asking students) that it did not go quite as well as I had originally hoped.  It's not a stretch to acknowledge that misinterpretations can exist when it comes to the signals students provide in class and assumptions we place around those signals.

I always appreciate those who take part in these open, online discussions (like #eltlive), whether they are HOAs, Twitter feeds,  or through some other means because it gives me perspective and awareness that teaching in isolation does not have to be the norm and that professional learning opportunities continue to be at our fingertips.

Learning technologies for English for academic purposes (EAP) classes

Here's a rundown of learning technologies I plan to use next semester.


I'll be trying Schoology for the first time this semester for the three courses that I plan to teach this fall (2014): applied linguistics, composition (3rd semester), and composition (5th semester).  All of the resources for the three courses will reside both within Schoology as well as outside of Schoology: public websites, virtual library databases, etc.

Google Drive

Google Drive (documents) will be used within Schoology where learners will be able to create the written word as well as collaborate and cooperate with each other.  As their instructor, I will also be able to interact with their creations and ideas as well.

Google+ Hangouts and Communities

Most ad hoc videos created throughout the semester will be recordings of Google+ Hangouts on Air that will be posted as Google Events within the TILL Community.  Also, certain classes may also involve Google+ Hangouts on Air (such as poetry readings) so that learners have exposure to authentic audiences for their classroom performances.  All authentic performances will also be recorded so that learners can self-assess and use it potentially as a performance-based teacher portfolio.

Scrivener for Mac and Dropbox

Throughout the semester I will be putting together my thoughts and experiences together using Scrivener (for the applied linguistics course only).  Periodically, I will be compiling the data in Scrivener to a PDF file which will be shared to Dropbox (and accessible to learners via Schoology).  This will allow learners to not only have access to information for reviewing content covered in class, but also will give them the opportunity to provide feedback to the document itself.

These are the learning technologies that I plan to use next semester in order for my learners to be more engaged with the content and each other.  My intent is also to be as accessible  as possible as I anticipate using not only my MacBook Air but various mobile devices to access information and student communications related to the three courses.

What learning technologies are you currently using or that you plan to use in the future?  To what end?




How Do You Provide Affordances to The Nomad (Language) Learner?

From A is for Affordance « An A-Z of ELT. the following questions were presented:

How can you replicate [learning affordances] in a typical classroom? How can you turn the classroom into a hike through the snow, or a walk around the island? How can classroom talk achieve the degree of contingency that Crusoe and Friday achieved?

As a language teacher, I think in terms of how might I create cognitive, physical, and emotional affordances for each-as-every student.  The short answer in how to replicate affordances in the language classroom is by engaging students in opening up the content, process, and products in ways that allow them to make informed decisions and take responsibility for their own learning.  This requires constant feedback loops that stem not only from me (their teacher), but also the students themselves, their peers, and other experts that extend beyond the four walls of the classroom.  One example might be teaching an academic writing class.

Using a public wiki allows the writer to openly choose a topic and produce an essay, report, thesis, etc. where feedback loops emerge from anyone at any given time.  That is, public spaces used to complement face-to-face classes (i.e., blended learning) provide a key affordance: feedback loops that exist across time and space.  As a web tool, a wiki provides an affordance for more engaging, effective, and efficient feedback loops.  Since anyone can change the wiki, anyone can provide feedback.  And since each revision of the wiki is saved, the writing process is preserved and made explicit as well.  

In a learning ecology, the learner must adapt to the environment, and that adaptation is associating the potentialities that exist at any given moment.  Helping the nomad learner recognize learning potentialities also means recognizing that outcomes will vary.  In formal education, the challenge is reconciling the various outcomes to specific outcomes that are explicit or implicitly stated in the curriculum.  


At the end of the day, I attempt to promote understandings (Wiggins and Mctighe, 2005) and language so that each becomes both a means and an end.  Instead of following a task or problem-based approach, I guide the learner in helping to recognize personal adaptations made throughout the learning process and to problem-set along the way.  Very little is fixed when it comes to learning about something or learning a particular skill set, as in learning an additional language.


As a teacher, how do you go about designing a learning ecosystem?

Learning Preferences Emerge

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Do we need to adapt our teaching to suit the learning style of learners?

Instead, I would say that learning preferences emerge throughout the teaching and learning process, a process that is both iterative and reciprocal.

Designing an engaging and effective learning experience requires establishing desired results, various forms of assessment, and instruction, whether the educative experience is formal or informal. These three interrelated aspects of the learning experience evolve around a learner's interaction with conceptualizations, material, and people (i.e., PLN). In my view, the notion of a PLN is based less on one's socio-cultural background yet still depends highly on the choices an individual makes at any particular moment; it avoids isolating the individual from the material and concepts, isolating the material from the individual and concepts, and so on. The PLN is a context-rich ontological frame that connects the desired results of the individual, feedback loops (i.e., assessment and instruction via human interaction), conceptualizations, and material through open and ongoing negotiation.

Students experience a dynamic shift in learning preferences depending on the PLN and more specifically the learning experience at hand. Working with learning preferences by giving learners some level of choice leads to adapting the teaching and learning process at any given moment and not simply presuming that learners are visual, kinesthetic, etc. a priori (e.g., via curriculum, standard teaching methods, lesson plan, etc.).

Using the Community to Build the Curriculum

It would be interesting to set up a PLENK2010-like course but with no pre-determined content whatsoever.  This course has no center with regard to the spaces used to interact with others (and content), but there is a "center" when it comes to content.  Why not start with essential questions (that come from the participants and/or facilitators) and build a course around that.  Each participant brings in content and experiences to the mix and suddenly learning truly emerges.  Instead of front-loading content (e.g., recommended readings), facilitators could reference these same readings through forum discussions; in others words, as evidence to form an argument or point of view.  Other members would follow suit.

I'm sure Dave see's shortcomings to this approach but the thought just occurred to me once again as I participate in PLENK2010 simply by responding to questions posted by members (and related readings referenced by them), then seeing where the dialog takes me.