I love books… and yes the tech geek that I am still reads paper books. Not that I have anything against reading online but before I make the switch, I have to finish reading the 100+ books that are waiting to be read. I pick up novels, professional development and personal development books mostly and they become this huge pile of books next to my bed. Every year, I set a goal to read a number of books. Last year, I did not reach my goal of 30 books but read 28… which is not that bad. One of those books was Ditch That Textbook by Matt Miller.
Funny anecdote about the book: I ordered this book over a year ago through Amazon. I bought it with two or three other interesting books that were most probably mentioned at a seminar or by friends and put them on my to-read pile next to my bed. When I finally got to it, I noticed that the book had a printing issue. Some pages were blank. I started reading thinking maybe this was a concept where we were meant to take notes but no… pages were missing. When I contacted Amazon, I was told it was too late to return the book for a year had passed… I was so sad. I contacted the author… and guess what? He sent me a free copy. A free signed copy and send some cool stickers along as well. What a great guy! I really wanted to mention it here so that you know what kind of person we are dealing with here. Made me want to read the book even more!
As a textbook author myself, I have to admit that the title kind of scared me. After all, since I wrote a few textbooks, I know that there is a lot of good stuff in there. The whole idea behind Ditch That Textbook is not to present an exposé against the material. It is also not about making sure your class become completely paperless and uses technology. It’s about embracing being a teacher, being creative, being innovative. For any motivated teacher, this is a: I am not alone kind of book.
As I read the book, it sometimes reaffirmed that what I was doing was good, sometimes gave me ideas, sometimes made me rethink things that were going on in my own classroom. Of course, some of the suggestions did not apply to me but the message always did. The author made me feel that it was absolutely OK to try things… but also to choose and not use some of the ideas presented. His reflections felt like talking to another motivated teacher and having someone understands what this passionate teaching is all about.
The Skype Mystery calls really intrigued me and I would love to try it in my classroom… The possible technical issues in my classroom(s) scare me a bit but innovation is all about getting over the fear, trying something new and adjusting. I will also check out how I can incorporate Twitter into my teaching as well. I already use it for professional development but could use ith with students so that they communicate with others and not just me or the other students in the class.
The suggestion to use the chatroom Today’s Meet during silent reading was the first thing I tried and it is just great. My students can ask questions and not be stuck because of a word or certain passages and yet, are still silently reading and not be a distraction to other students…not that my students are silently reading every class! I just hated those long classes where students read in silence and I was left out. What a great way to still communicate and guide them! Something that technology allows me to do and that I could not do before.
With Teaching Like a Pirate, it’s one of the other must reads that I will recommend to colleagues and to the student teachers I supervise! It’s a book that I will have to schedule to re-read from time to time as well!
I invite you to follow the author on his blog here, or follow him on Twitter. I also participated in the Ditch That Textbook Summit which was amazing! It was my second year and was such a valuable professional development opportunity.
In my last blog post I talked about using timers in class to organize activities and manage time effectively for students. As a teacher, there are a variety of tasks that we need to complete outside of the classroom as well. We do have time here and there to do it: during pedagogical days, during a scheduled ‘’work’’ period in our schedule and, let’s be honest, during our lunch hour and our breaks! We also work from home at night and during the weekend!
I often hear how overwhelmed teachers are with everything they need to do and it’s so easy to get sidetracked during those hours dedicated to administrative work. Ever had a pedagogical day where you left and said: ‘’I did nothing today’’? I’m sure you did a lot. You maybe just did not get everything done like you expected to because of distractions. And what about working from home! Between the husband, the kids and the motivational distraction (just one more episode of Stranger Things and I will correct those copies), it’s easy to feel like nothing ever gets done.
One thing that helps me focus is to use timers, yes, again.
Using timers work
I have some blocked time in my schedule here and there. For an hour and 15 minutes I can work on anything that needs to get done… but it rarely happens if I get distracted. Emails come in, colleagues talk to you… and then you realize that your to-do list never got done. So, I like to use a timer. I will decide on 2-3 or more tasks that absolutely need to get done and estimate how much time it will take to do them. Then, I put on my headphones (yes, I’m anti-social like that), turn on my focus playlist on Spotify (here’s one I really like), and then attack the actual task. The timer not only serves as a reminder to focus on the task but makes me work a little faster since I want to finish before it goes off.
Timers can be used for 10 minutes, 30 or even an hour. During pedagogical days, I like to separate my day into sections, look at my list and decide what I would be satisfied being done with at the end of the day. Then, I hide… I find an empty classroom or I use my headphone and attack. I make sure to count some break and socializing time for my day and I make sure to actually take my lunch hour and socialize. I used to work through lunch and I don’t anymore. I find that the actual break makes me more, not less, efficient! I can focus better when the timer is on.
Dealing With Distraction
One thing that distracts me big time when I am online is my email. That is why I always keep a little 10 minutes in my timers for checking my email. I answer what seems urgent and save the rest for later. 10 minutes, that’s it! Then I go back to the tasks at hand and ignore that email. What could one hour of work look like? Here is an idea:
Timer 1: 10 minutes: Check emails
Timer 2: 20 minutes: Correct essays for group 32
Timer 3: 10 minutes: Take a break and read some interesting articles
Timer 4: 20 minutes: Correct essays for group 32
I may not get all of my correction done, but at least for 40 minutes, I corrected and gave myself a break. I may repeat this same schedule later on and get the correction finish. The important thing is to choose the most urgent tasks and get them done. I will get more done in those 20 minutes than I will if I sit for an hour and procrastinate. Those breaks help me as well. I don’t get distracted during the set correction time because I know I will have time to do other stuff and it helps me not to be stuck in a correction pattern either. I find that if I correct for hours, I start to have similar grades for students, I get frustrated with their mistakes (but we saw that in class 3 times!!!!) and it just does not make me an efficient evaluator.
Using Timers at Home
I also use timers at home. There are so many tasks that I do not like… emptying the dishwasher, cleaning the litter box… Tasks that can easily be pushed to the bottom of the to-do list but actually need to get done. I will divide those tasks and set a timer: 30 minutes to do 3-4 things. I put on my favourite motivating playlist (here is one I really like on Spotify) and just go for it. It’s crazy how much faster things get done when you are working against the clock. This idea is something I have been doing for years and comes from a wonderful system by Flylady, which has nothing to do with teaching but helped me become someone with a clean house and helped me organize my life! When you sign up for the daily emails, you can take over the chaos in your home if that’s something you need.
Scheduling Time for Yourself
With all of the tasks and the endless to do on my list I have added to things to my getting things done philosophy: add some time for yourself and accept that not everything will get done. I schedule time for exercising, meditating, reading and can also not plan at all. One of my favourite vacations of all time was travelling with no reservations, nothing planned and using a quarter to decide of our next destination. It’s good to sometimes not use timers, not use a list, not use anything and just relax.
My other challenge was to accept that not everything on my list will get done and that it is absolutely OK! I prefer to look at my list and be proud of everything I have done rather than look at what is not done, it’s a lot more motivating!
So, what will you first timer be? What task will you give yourself 10 minutes for?
For the last 15 years, I have been juggling teaching full time, going to university and working part-time on writing contracts or giving conferences. Add to that raising a wonderful daughter as a single mom and you can see how time management had to become one of my strong skills.
Teaching requires lots of time management skills. From being able to juggle twenty questions per minutes from students to entering grades on time for the next report card, finding tools and strategies to help are essential. In my next blog posts, I thought I would share with you some the things that work for me and help me be efficient in life and in the classroom.
Time Management in the Classroom
It’s easy to lose track of time when managing 30 students in a class. I use timers a lot in my classroom for various purposes. One thing I like to do to help students stay on task and learn to manage their time is to use a timer that I project on the board. One of my favourite ones is the Online Stopwatch. It is simple to use and even has fun stopwatches like snails competing in a race. I found, however, that using the plain stopwatch was more efficient since some students became distracted by the cute and fun stopwatches. Be careful to set the volume at an appropriate level as well since the timer will make a loud sound when it is done. It will make students jump in surprise, but they usually find it funny.
I would not personally use an online timer during evaluations since I find it very stressful for students. I prefer to use it when students are working in groups. Like all human beings, it’s easy to get distracted when sitting with other humans. Admit it, if you sit with a team of colleagues, you will easily get distracted and talk about other things. It happens to students as well and it’s normal. When I use a timer, I’ve often seen students get back on task, by themselves, by watching how much time they have left and telling each other that they should hurry and get back to work. It’s always great to see them manage their time without reminders from me.
If the idea of projecting a timer on the board is too intense for you, asking a student to be your timer can also be somewhat efficient. Of course, you have to make sure you can trust this student. Simply ask him or her to tell you when the 5 minutes is up. It’s a little less efficient but is a good solution if you don’t have a timer at all or do not wish to project one. You could also assign someone in each team to be the time keeper. This way, you are teaching the students to manage time on their own. Students can use their watches or their phone (if your school allows it) or simply use the clock on the wall.
I also like to set timers for myself sometimes and not project it to students. If I am going to give students 5 minutes to reflect on something, I will set up a 5-minute timer on my watch or cellphone. I make sure the alarm does not ring and that’s why I prefer to use the vibrating mode instead of an alarm. I can then decide if students need a few more minutes or if it’s time to stop. It’s easy to get distracted while helping a student, for example, and give students double the intended time because you just did not see time fly.
5 minutes before the bell
When I first started teaching, I would often start an activity towards the end of the class, not realizing that the class was about to end. It’s a good thing to keep students engaged until the end of class but sometimes starting a new activity with only 5 minutes to go ruins the hook effect of the activity and means starting all over the following class, giving the students a boring sense of déjà vu. Timers can help if you set them on your watch or your phone to remind you that there are only 5 minutes left to class. Fill in that last 5 minutes with a wrap up activity instead. End with a fun exit ticket, a quick survey, a word cloud of today’s lesson or a quick game that helps to end your class on a positive and engaging note.
ICT Tip: for word clouds, I like to use Answer Garden since it is easy to use for students and can be set up quickly. If you do not have access to technology, you could have students create a word cloud on the board using dry erase markers or have them team up to create their own word clouds on paper. An easy activity that will also help review the vocabulary used in the lesson.
Although timers can be of great help, they should also be used with flexibility in mind. If you plan a lesson expecting everything to be timed perfectly and for the student to be done in a certain amount of time, you will surely create extra stress and pressure on yourself. Some groups will go faster than others, some students will be finished way ahead of time while some may need extra time to complete everything. I cannot stress enough how important it is to walk your classroom. Check on students, analyze their work, see what they’re struggling with and stop the whole class for further instructions or strategies if necessary. Timers can be changed, paused, started again… they are flexible and so should you be!
As teachers, we all know that including technology in our lessons is important. After all, technology is something that students will need in the future. Students like using technology, parents want us to include it and teach it, our bosses encourage it…but let’s be real. Technology is not as accessible as we would like. Computer labs need updating, we don’t have enough devices for a group of 30 students, paid apps and programs are often refused by administrator due to budget cuts… Teachers everywhere are achieving miracles with what they have and finding ways to integrate technology in very creative ways.
Recap has allowed me to integrate technology easily and best of all, for free! Students use their own devices or borrow one. The app works across platforms and on various devices. There are no lost videos since everything is shared between me and my students. The app is simple to use and setting up classes is a breeze.
So far, I have assigned students questions to complete as homework. They use their mobile device or computer at home to complete my assigned questions. I keep looking for ways to use Recap even more, however. I plan on having group discussions recorded by having one device per team. With 8 teams, students could be assigned a series of questions to discuss and the discussions would then be recorded. This way, discussions could even be evaluated. Since participating in a group discussion is a competency that is developed and evaluated in my ESL program, this will allow me to evaluate all of my students through videos. Usually, I am only able to evaluate one or two groups during a class but now, I can simply assist students in the discussion and evaluate them quietly, later on.
Now, this is just a thought 😉 I will try it out and see if it works. Integrating technology means trying new things and not waiting for things to be perfect. I teach my students that mistakes are ok to make and trying new things as a teacher also means not being afraid of what may not work.
What will you try with Recap? Assign your first reflection question? Record a group discussion? Use questions to activate prior knowledge? To check for understanding? I see so many possibilities with this tool! I’m sure you will too!
The number one excuse that students give for reverting to their mother tongue in an ESL classroom is not knowing the word they need in English. Having sufficient vocabulary to communicate is essential to students. That’s why, as teachers, we provide them with functional language when doing a communicative or writing activity, and that’s also why teaching vocabulary is so important. But what is the best way to teach vocabulary? After all, every learner is different.
When babies start to speak, their vocabulary is very limited. Then, little by little, babies start to use common words like mama or milk. These words are not only functional, they are the words children hear most often. I have never heard a young child use environment as his or her first word! (If you have, please send the video: we want to see this!) Babies use words that are constantly repeated by their parents and close family members. It is the same with students. After being repeated again and again, simple instructions like “open your books” are understood by students. Teachers repeat words, use gestures and provide visual clues until they don’t need to anymore.
As students hear the words and use them again and again, the words become part of their own vocabulary. I usually start the year by asking my students to introduce themselves. Every year, students struggle with the word achievement. Now, as a teacher, when students don’t know a word, we can translate it, explain it, illustrate it … but what really makes it stick is when they reuse it. That’s why after having them read a few texts on someone else’s achievements and use the word in conversations again and again, I can happily see my students use the word achievement in a writing production five months later … without any prompting!
Here are some ways to reuse vocabulary so that it sticks:
Use or reuse the words you want students to learn in your own stories and instructions. Tell them about your own accomplishment or reuse the word at the beginning of a class to talk about someone’s accomplishment that you heard about on the news. The trick is for them to hear that word—the one you are trying to teach them—as often as possible.
Have students use the words themselves. Challenge them to write a story using all of the newly introduced vocabulary words. Use short writing exercises like the ones in the It’s Your Turn sections of the On Track series and challenge students to use some of the new vocabulary words in the task.
Use or reuse the vocabulary words in discussion prompts for group conversations. Make sure the words are in the questions or necessary for the answers.
Find texts or news articles that include the vocabulary words you want to teach. Make sure students see the words in context as many times as possible.
Have students play games with the words. Have them play Hangman or use apps like Quizlet to have some fun with vocabulary. Play charades with the students and have them act out the words to one another or to the class.
The key to learning new vocabulary words is not to memorize a list of words but to live the words—to actually use and manipulate the language until the words become as familiar and as much a part of the students’ routine as “open your books” has surely become for your students.
I am reading an amazing book titled The Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros. The author has challenged readers and asks them, every week, to blog or post about their thoughts on the book.
Although I am a little behind, here are my thoughts for week 1. We were asked to reflect on the two following questions. So here are my thoughts. 🙂
What do you see as the purpose of education? Why might innovation be crucial in education?
I think our role as educators is to make students life-long learners. To make students curious to learn even more as they leave the classroom. It is impossible to prepare them fully for what will come later in their lives. We can only give them the tools to be able to find the solutions by themselves.
With technology, finding the answer to your question is so easy… Why not simply teach them strategies for finding the answer they are looking for instead of feeding them what WE think is the correct answer.
Innovation in education should be every teacher’s goal. I am amazed that teachers are able to teach the same way, with the same material, year after year! Life changes all the time. We evolve, we learn from our mistakes, we change… we innovate! Shouldn’t schools be the same way?
“Change is an opportunity to do something amazing.” How are you embracing change to spur innovation in your own context?
I try to be open to anything. I fight my own mind when my first reaction is: this would not work in my class… and try it! I let students show me new ways of doing things. I accept that their final product will not be exactly the same as what I intended in the beginning.
I am willing to have things crash and burn during a lesson and tell students that this is OK. That we tried something and it did not work. Using technology in the classroom has taught me that to innovate using those tools, it is possible that nothing will work… or that everything will be wonderful and that both options are OK. I am willing to learn and not just teach!
I discovered Plickers last year after attending a workshop and fell in love. What an easy way to add interaction to the classroom, to workshops or even to conferences. Here is an overview of what Plickers is. In the next few weeks, I will add tutorial videos, as well as ideas for using Plickers in the ESL classroom!
What is Plickers?
Plickers is an interactive tool that allows you to quickly survey a group or a classroom. It works with an app that you download to a mobile device. The app is free and works across platforms.
After downloading the app, you will need to print cards for your students. The cards can be downloaded for free in a PDF format and printed on cardboard paper or laminated. Be careful however, to laminate your cards with a matte finish, so that your mobile device is able to scan them. It is also possible to order the cards, already laminated, from Amazon.
The last thing you will need is to launch the Plickers website and project it either on your Interactive Whiteboard or a simple projector. The website and the app from your phone will ”talk to each other” and that’s where the magic starts to happen!
The Plickers app on your mobile device can easily scan 10-15 students at a time, maybe more! You do not need to individually scan each card (which would be way too long!). You will need to allow Plickers access to your camera and you are ready to start scanning.
Students or participants get to see a blue checkmark next to their names on the computer screen when their card is scanned and know that they can put down their cards. It’s that easy!
Building Your Questions
The questions you will ask your students can be created in advance. The site allows you to create folders to gather your questions together. It is also possible to ask questions without having created anything in advance and simply asking the question orally.
You can ask multiple choice questions or true or false questions. Great for grammar review, vocabulary review or even just checking how students are doing!
The greatest thing about Plickers, apart from the interaction and the fact that your students will get super excited, is that it allows you to collect data on the group or on individual students.
When you are done scanning your students, choosing the graph option will allow you to show the results of the survey. In your teacher account, you also have access to all of the statistics of your group or of individual students. Anonymously, you can find out if a student has been struggling with a concept or if your entire group needs extra help.
A great way to check if your students are ready to be evaluated or if they need an extra class to practice a particular concept.
I am very happy to announce that I will be a Plickers Ambassador this year. This means that not only will I spread the word on Plickers being an amazing tool, but I will also have access to information on new features coming up. I will regularly update you on what is coming for Plickers and share with you new ways of using it in the ESL classroom.
Readtheory is a reading comprehension website. It is totally free. So far, after using it for one year, I have not seen any publicity at all on the
website. You create your student accounts with your own email so students do not receive any spam or publicity either. Don’t worry, you don’t either. You do receive news about updates to the website but that’s it!
Your first step will be to click on sign up and create a teacher account.
Once this is done, the plus sign on your main page will allow you to create a new class. I have created 6-7 classes per year with no issue so you can go ahead and create multiple groups.
Importing Your Student Accounts
As mentioned before, your students do NOT create their own account. The website allows students to create an account for free, but if they do, you will not have access to all the amazing features that come with having a student associated with a class you created.
In the section Create New Student Accounts, enter the first and last name of your students. The website works with French accents, and I have never had any issue. The job of typing all of the names it a little long but you only need to do this once at the beginning of the year. The website has announced that it is working on an option to important the names from a file, but for right now, you will need to type. 😉
Every student will have a different username, but the password is the same for every student. You can decide to have a password per group or have the same one for all of your students. You can also delete classes, delete students or archive your groups and students to keep their data.
Data on Your Students
This is where things become reallllllyyyyyyy amazing. Readtheory gives you information on the number of quizzes taken by your entire class or individual student, the number of points earned (group or individual, which can be great for motivation), average grade levels of the texts assigned to your group or individual students and average Lexile level (group or individual)
You will find this information by clicking the progress report icon at the top. It is right next to the plus sign you used to create your classes. You will first see an overview of the group and can then scroll down to see the date in each category. To see information about a particular student, you can simply click on their names.
Optional Written Responses
Readtheory offers multiple choice questions for their reading passages. It is possible, however, to activate the written response section and allow students to type their answers to a question. The written responses, however, will need to be corrected by you. Students will only receive feedback for those particular questions when you are done correcting.
After giving every student their password, invite students to complete the pre
test. It is the first thing they will see after signing in anyway. The pretest takes about 20 minutes to complete. I always tell students not to panic about their levels after the pretest. After all, the website cannot determine for sure the level of a student after 20 multiple choice question. It is simply to get them started. After 10-15 quizzes, the student (and teacher) will have a better idea of their level. After all, there is an element of chance in multiple choice questions!
Very important: remember that the goal of this site is not to evaluate students. This tool should not be used to replace reinvestment tasks that you will use to evaluate your students. It is simply a website to help them practice their reading skills and reading comprehension and get them to read read read some more! I DO NOT recommend using this website to evaluate your students!
The Reading Passages
Once the pretest is done, the students will be presented with their results and then invited to move on to the next reading selection. They will be assigned a first reading passage according to the level identified in the pretest. Students read the passage, click on the question tab and answer the questions. The number of questions for each passage will be different for each text. Once a student has gotten 80% and up for a few passages, the site will give them a reading passage that is a level higher. The same is true if a student does not get the passing grade for a level. The website will automatically adjust the reading passages as the student progresses or will readjust if the level was too high.
Information and Options Tab
By clicking on the information tab, the student will see the information for this text. The reading difficulty of the passage and the Lexile level will be indicated.
The option tab at the top will allow students to make the text bigger.
How I use it in class
I start by assigning the password and username to students at the computer lab. In your teacher account, there are documents that can be printed to help you out. They also have a flyer for parents (in English only, however). Once I have given all the access and made sure everything works, students are invited to complete the pretest. I warn them not to use a dictionary or Google translation since the goal is to see what they can understand on their own.
Once they are done, I invite them to continue reading! It allows all of my students to read at their level which is great for differentiation. After 10-15 quizzes, I am able to identify who needs remedial in reading strategies and I invite them to remedial where I can sit with the students and see how they could improve their reading skills.
I also invite students to continue working on the site at home. I have some parents who actually created free accounts and are using the site themselves! Some parents told me that they sit and take quizzes as a family to improve their reading skills in English!
Throughout the year, I also sometimes use the written option to vary the type of questions.
Reading comprehensions like these help students to acquire vocabulary and most importantly, confidence. By seeing their individual progress go up and not comparing themselves to other students but to themselves, they become proud of their improvement. This site also allows amazing for differentiation. For example, most of my secondary 3 students will be assigned grade 2 to grade 4 texts, but some of my students get grade 8 and even 11. They can get the challenge they deserve and need (without asking them to do extra work! I can also see who is struggling and teach specific reading strategies to those students, which gives them what they deserve and need as well!
Last class I used the site… the bell rang and none of the students got up. I had to tell them to get out! (nicely, of course!). They love to see that they improved and went up a grade. I tell them that they have to set their own personal challenge for improvement and not challenge each other… and they do! After one week, some have already done more than 30 quizzes at home and improved by going up a grade and they are so proud!
Lexile and Book Selection
The Lexile section also gives you an idea of their vocabulary level. There are websites where you can search for book titles by Lexile. For example: https://lexile.com/fab/ or http://www.scholastic.com/bookwizard/
This will allow you to choose a class novel or suggest books for your students. Great for building a class library as well!
So far, readtheory.org seems to be better suited for the high school level since some of my students will get a Grade 1 level in secondary 3, and there are no levels before that one, but you may want to try it at the grade 6 levels maybe. They may all start at grade 1 but will surely go up. 🙂
Try it and please come back and comment if you did! I’d love to see what you think!
Psst…see a typo or a link or option is no longer working? Add a comment and I’ll fix it ASAP 🙂
Here is a quick activity that I did with my secondary 3 students this year. We had just finished a unit on success. We read about people who did not give up and discussed their opinion on what it really means to be successful.
One C1 activity had students analyse quotes on success and failure. They had to read the various quotes and then express their own opinion of it. The second part had students create their own quote about success from their opinion, the texts they read and the various discussions done in class. All of this was done collaboratively, in teams of four.
For weaker students, you could give them a list of words to work with. Stronger students can come up with the quote after reading a text about success.
After coming up with their quotes, students presented them to the class and I had the posters printed in colour, using www.recite.com. You could also decide to use any image and add text using Word or another software or website that allows adding text to an image. One more option would be to have the students create the posters themselves (if you have access to computers, of course).
I posted their posters around the class. The posters became nice, personalized decorations for the classroom! Bonus: students were proud to see their own quotes on the wall 🙂
Having students come up with quotes is a simple writing, speaking and collaborating activity that can be done with any subject. It takes only a few minutes and it is a great C1-C3 activity. Let me know if you tried it!E