Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Trying to flap my wings and fly......Week Two of the Twitter Experiment

Trying to flap my wings and fly......

I have been using my own PLN (Personal Learning Network) to try and learn how to harness this Twitter business.

I still have more questions than I do answers, but I figure I will share my progress here, and hopefully pretty soon, will have both honed my expertise AND shared the process with you here.

My PLN is not a very organized one - but it works for me. The first thing I do, is I go to my mailing list of GTA (Google Teachers Academy) graduates - a source which invariably comes to my rescue with all of my Web 2 (not only Google) needs. I am in the middle of working through a thread which is providing lots of helpful hints!  My other sources are the English Teachers' Network of Israel (ETNI) list and the Facebook group we have "EFL Digital Pedagogy".

One of the emails from the GTA graduates, came from Carole Geneix (@CaroleGeneix), and this is what she wrote:
She uses Twitter as an "Exit ticket".

Her explanation: "Exit ticket = some kind of informal or formal survey at the end of class to check what they have retained from it, if they understood a particular concept you wanted them to teach, etc. (She) uses sometimes a GoogleForm, but Twitter is quick and personal, and fun so far."

I asked her how she deals with "creative spelling". I am an English teacher, and this is something that concerns me - since I work VERY hard teaching them NOT to be "creative" in their spelling. However since Twitter is limited to 140 characters (including punctuation, spaces, etc.) most tweeters out there DO use shortcuts such as "b" instead of "be" and "gr8" instead of "great". I know that when I am tweeting, I often leave out vowels (since we have all seen that email, I'm sure, that shows how we can understand something in English even though it is without vowels (if you aren't familiar with it, check this out). I had considered having a lesson teaching them accepted conventions of "creative spelling", however Carole suggests the following:  

"The 'no creative spelling' rule is actually very important for me. One of my goals is to teach them proper writing, so it's definitely something I will not compromise on. If they have several ideas they can tweet several times! Also, you realize pretty quickly when you get into the habit of tweeting how much useless things there are. The idea is to teach them to be analytical, concise and synthetical, and that really serves my purpose. They get really good at it pretty fast. I also want to start a competition about using ALL of the 140 characters. Could be fun." 

This actually makes sense to me. I have adopted her approach for now... if any of the readers here have a different opinion, I would love to hear it!

The final excellent tip she provided was about accounts:
"I do not use personal accounts. My students are high-schoolers, and they do have personal accounts, so if they did so then I would be able to see their stuff. Which I don't want to see. LOL. They use individual accounts that they created for school. I use an account that I created for all my classes (I also have a private account). Everybody follows everybody. My feed is posted on Moodle too. Note that I want their accounts to be public. You can make them private, but then it defies the purpose. It's a public, school account. It's out there, and it's a good experience. They know they are being watched and read."

So - I have followed her advice and opened a new twitter account for myself, as a teacher (@AdeleNHS) and plan to have the students do the same tomorrow. 

The final thing I needed to do in order to work with the tool in class tomorrow, was to find some way to project the Twitter feed in the class.  As I have mentioned before, I am lucky enough to teach in a school that has interactive whiteboards (IWB) in all the classes (don't be TOO jealous - we have them "thanks" to the fact that we got a new school built 5 years ago because we are in rocket range) and had been searching for a way to show the feed. I received a few recommendations, among them TweetBeam, which looks good but I wanted something more built-in for my class site. I then found a Googlesite, which has an explanation, as well as a webcast-tutorial for how to embed a Twitter feed into your Googlesite. (If you are interested in learning more about Goolgesites, he also has a TON of explanations for that in the other tabs). Like the author Tony Amsler (@TonyAmsler) writes, it's kind of "geeky" but with the tutorial and explanation that accompany it (as well as the fact that not being part of a GAfE, in this case, works to my advantage AND working with a PC, as opposed to a Mac also lets there be fewer steps) I actually found it doable! (Trust me - I got an even GEEKIER response than this one....)  

NOTE: After emailing with Tony, I realized that that the solution that is explained in his tutorial, is for showing ONLY the posts that _I_ write. (Thanks for that clarification, Tony.) It does not show the entire steam for #AdeleNHS, so, if anyone has a trick for embedding the stream of a conversation using a specific hashtag into a Googlesite, please do share it with me.

I also want to share with you two tutorials that one of the other GTA teachers,  Karen Mensing (@MsMensing) shared with me. The kids are significantly younger than my students, but they are cute, speak clearly and give some pretty succinct pointers! 

Another great resource I came accross (can't exactly remember how I stumbled upon it while mushing through the web) is the Livebinder "Educator's Guide to Twitter", the tip of which I have barely managed to scrape through, but is chock full of information about using Twitter in the classroom.

Here are some tasks I am thinking of assigning:

My students are doing their extensive reading (library books). I will have them tweet the following:

Stage One (just to get them tweeting):
1) The title of their book and their author.
2) The setting
3) A quote that they like.
4) Which character they would like to meet, and why.
5) What their impressions of their book are, as they read through it.

Stage Two (to get them interacting with each other):
1) Using our class hashtag (#AdeleNHS) and their friends' handles, each student will need to to ask someone a question about the book they are reading. (Especially if the asker has read the book before)
2) When they finish the book, they will be asked to write a short recommendation (without spoilers)

Stage Three:
They will be asked to record themselves doing an oral report about their library book when they finish it. They can post these on Twitter privately or publicly if they wish (alternatively, they will send it to me on What's App or Email). 

Stage Four:
After the vacation, this class will be going on a three day trip. I plan to ask them to report on interesting facts that they learn while on their trip (extra credit).

In general, I will suggest that students use twitter, with our class hashtag, to ask clarifying questions, whenever something is unclear. There are no stupid questions. All questions are legitimate, and if one student asks a question, others may be THINKING the same question, as well. 

I am really excited about the prospects here! What do you think of these ideas? Can any of you suggest how to harness Twitter for your EFL classrooms?

Digitally yours, 


Saturday, September 20, 2014

Call for Twitter Help

I know - I am usually here to give YOU ideas and solutions, but I am really flummoxed by this Twitter business,and hoping that someone out there in educational blogger land will read this and come to my rescue. 

As I stated in my previous blog, I am trying to find ways to use Twitter in my teaching, in order to help my students become familiar with it as a tool that they have at their disposal when needed. However I cannot for the life of me figure out how to harness its effectiveness.

This is what I WANT to be able to do:

* to notify my students of what they need for the upcoming lesson
* to conduct short interactions with them during and between lessons
* to be able to SHOW the interactions on the smartboard in my classroom
* to share things that I believe they will find of interest as English learners
* to teach them how to follow me
* to teach them how to sort through different postings and find what is relevant

I, personally, have started to use Twitter in order to do the following:

* share my blogs about digital pedagogy (as a teacher trainer)
* communicate with my students (as their teacher)
* advocate for Israel (as a Gaza-border resident)  

So my question is: what do I need to tell my students to do in order to follow my communications which are meant for them, and not have to get the communications meant for other educators or on the issue of advocacy for Israel?

And another question: would it help me if I opened a SEPARATE Twitter account just for my students?

I have brought a Twitter specialist to my classroom (and although he IS very good, he is NOT using it in the way _I_ want to use it - in the classroom. Hence, I still need help).  I have read and watched a gazillion tutorials online. But I have yet to find anything that helps me make sense out of the seeming chaos. 

When using Twitter at my computer, I use TweetDeck, which organizes things clearly for me. However, on my phone (and that is what my students will mostly use for tweeting in the classroom) it seems a mess!

I have told my students to use #AdeleNHS in order to send me a message (four of them did so) and I have suggested to teachers who want to work on me with developing activities for using Twitter for teaching EFL to communicate with #AdeleEFL (one teacher did so.. thanks Naomi ;-)  Others are welcomed to do so as well, and join in the discussion!

Any suggestions are welcomed. Please feel free to either add them, below, in the comments to the blog, or email me privately: If you feel it would be more efficient to talk to me on the phone, you can call me: 054 7916468. I promise to share what I learn with all of you (if I ever get to the point where I feel I have what to share on this front). 

Digitally yours, 

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Digital Warrior

Dear Readers,

This has been a very difficult summer. I apologize for neglecting this blog, but promise to try to get back into the rhythm of weekly posting, now that things have calmed down in my region.

When I look back to my last post, I clearly see that it was the last quiet weekend we were to have here for the summer. I live on a kibbutz on the border with the Gaza Strip, and my home was in a war zone. I remained in my home all summer, with a new purpose:  to help my country by granting interviews to foreign journalists, writing reports on CNN iReport. As part of this mission, I found myself dragged into the world of Twitter. 

We had NO summer - the war ended on August 26th, the day two of my friends were killed here on my kibbutz, and another lost his legs, all hit by the same mortar, as they were supporting electricians who were trying to restore electricity, which had been knocked out during the rocket barrage that morning - the same one that sent shards of mortar into my home. 

Before my first lesson of the year, I went to a psychologist for a chat, and explained my situation: I am an English teacher, who has functioned as a war correspondent for the past 2 1/2 months - and I cannot understand how I was going to make the metamorphosis back into teacher/teacher-trainer. His response was simple: "Bring the war correspondent into the classroom with you."

That is just what I did. I spoke to the students about what I did all summer, showed them CNN iReports (which is a place where ANYBODY can write or post photos of events, and let their stories be shared with the world. My iReport page is here.)  iReport can be used as an opportunity for encouraging descriptive writing, digitally. If I take this one step further, and have my students write and publish their descriptions, I will share them here. 

I also realized the potency of Twitter during this period of time. Through my interviews with Sky News, I had been approached to find a teenager who could respond on Twitter to questions, as they had done with Farah Baker, a 16 year old from Gaza who tweeted about the war. I contacted my students, and, although most of them either did not respond at all, or were simply not in the area, some of them were willing to try. The problem was, NONE of them had a Twitter account. In fact, I sent out a call via social networks to which I am connected, calling for teachers to help me find a student who could do this. None were found. Sky News then asked me to fill the slot - and I participated in a 30 minute Q&A session, that was promoted by Sky News live, internationally, using #AskAdele. I was warned that there would be people popping up saying horrible things, but that I should only address questions that I felt were appropriate. I was thrown into the deep end, and told to swim - with the help of a platform called TweetDeck (which I have found comfortable and continue to use, when I am on Twitter from my PC), communicating with people who had questions about the conflict, what it is like to live on the border, and other related issues. It was a fascinating experience! One of authentic use of digital tools and the English language. 

So as part of my "coming-back-to-school", I brought a Twitter expert from Tel Aviv (Hen Mazzig from @standwithus) into my classroom, to teach the students why Twitter has become so important as an international platform for conversation, and how to use it to their advantage. 

My aim in exposing the students to these platforms, is to attempt to encourage them to use English, and digital technology for purposes of advocacy.  It can be to advocate our situation here in Israel, on the border with the Gaza Strip - or anything else about which the students feel they have something to say. 

I plan to continue with this experiment during the year, and am looking for different ways to authentically engage my students on Twitter. 

Do any of you have experience with Twitter in the classroom? Setting hashtags, running conversations? If so, please share them here! You can be sure I will share mine, as well! Stay tuned!

Digitally yours,