Tuesday, 17 August 2010

So, you’re thinking about doing an MA, No. 1: Are you ready?

Following on from Karenne Sylvester’s suggestion in a comment on one of my previous posts, this is the first of a series of posts I plan to write about the process of applying for an MA in TESOL or a related subject. Hope you find it useful!
There are an ever-increasing number of options for EFL and ESL teachers out there for postgraduate study with a lot of the old obstacles disappearing: location is no longer an issue with more and more institutions offering distance programmes; access to resources is at your fingertips with the vast majority of major journals accessible online; and the plethora of web 2.0 communication tools mean, even though you are learning by distance, you can still have real-time, ‘live’ contact with your tutors and course mates. However, we are getting ahead of ourselves a little. First, there are some points to consider before the whole application process begins…

Plan ahead of time

“Hmmm,” you may be thinking. “What’s the point of a post about deciding whether or not to do an MA in mid-August with the new academic year fast approaching?” Well, obviously, you are unlikely to get a place on an MA course starting September 2010 now but the point is, now is the time to start thinking about whether or not you want to join one starting in the 2011/12 academic year. First, you’ll need to decide if you want to go ahead with it, then you’ll need to find institutions offering courses that fit your needs, then you’ll need all the information on how to apply, then you’ll actually have to apply and before you know it, the deadlines for applications are looming and… you get the picture. I’ll be writing more on those steps of the process later but planning ahead is a skill you’ll definitely need if you start an MA in the future so you might as well get some practice in now. ;)

Why do you want to do an MA?

This is an important question to ask yourself for two reasons: first of all, the question can be considered in terms of your motivation. Do you want to enhance your career prospects? Are you looking for a source professional development? Do you want to learn some new tricks? Or refresh some old ones? We all have different reasons for wanting to do these courses and these reasons are important because they are what will drive you through the inevitable hard work. For me, it was the fact that I’d been teaching for nearly ten years but still only had a CELTA qualification and felt I was just treading water. I believed the experience I had already could serve me well during my studies and I was also looking to expand my knowledge and ultimately become a better teacher.
Secondly, this question can be looked as a way of asking what area of expertise you have or wish to develop. This is important for deciding exactly what course you want to do. If you are working with young learners for example, and see yourself continuing on that path, you may want to look at MAs focusing on TEYL. Or if you see yourself moving back into teaching adults, you may consider a general MA in TESOL instead. There are programmes available for varying strands of ELT: general English, ESP, EdTech…. You need to look for a course that fits in with what you’re doing in your regular job as well as, and perhaps more importantly, what you want to do in the future. Because I work with young learners and will continue doing so for the foreseeable future, I first looked at TEYL courses but I later decided to pursue the EdTech and TESOL path as I believe technology is set to play an increasingly major role in education and I wanted to get ahead of the game. One year on, I can tell you I made the right choice. :)

have you got the time?

This is an really important one to consider. Doing these courses by distance is easier than it was in practical terms but the fact remains that you are planning to do a Masters degree and that will require a great commitment of time and effort. The tutor for my first semester course last September, Julian Edge, said in one discussion that a question he always asks new or prospective students is “What are you willing to give up?” Especially if you are working full-time and/or have family commitments, you will have to free up a number of hours for study time and something inevitably has to go. You may have to give up a hobby or private lessons or even cut back on trips to the gym! Personally, I always knew I could find time by breaking my mild (he says) addiction to computer games. Once a mighty warrior in the World of Warcraft, I have laid down my sword to pursue a more scholarly life!(I still fit the odd season in on Football Manager though :p ).
BUT at the same time, you also have to make sure you have time for yourself and those around you. It would be very easy to bury yourself in work but you should always make time to treat yourself as a reward for all that hard work and spent quality time with family and friends. Again, it all comes back to planning your time efficiently…
Well, I hope that has been useful as a starting point. Next time, I’ll be looking in more detail at making the right choice from the vast number of courses out there.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Guest blogspot on Prestwick Cafe

I'm happy to announce that, having been invited to write a guest blog post for Prestwick House, my piece on building positive relationships with young learners has now been added to the Prestwick Cafe blog. Please follow the link, read and leave your comments. :)

It was through my new favourite toy Twitter that I got in touch with Annie from Prestwick House about the blog, which goes to show how it works as a PLN tool. Thanks to Annie for giving me this opportunity as well as for providing an approachable, friendly face on the web rather than just another corporate promotion tool!

You can follow Prestwick House and Annie on Twitter @prestwickhouse

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Taking Action After RSCON10 : In-House Professional Development On-Line

Since the conclusion of the 2010 Reform Symposium, and with Steven Anderson’s message to tell our colleagues and out our thoughts into action ringing in my ears, I’ve been trying to think of how to get the message across about making good use of the resources available on the web and including them in our everyday teaching. How can the message that knowing how to use the tool is not enough, it’s what you use it for and why that’s important be effectively presented? Of course I had my ‘Archimedes moment’ not while pondering all of this (and not in the bath either!) but while turning down a request for me to come in early to do induction for new teachers. Just as I was explaining over the phone that I would be out of town at the end of August, it hit me – why do I have to be physically present to lead the induction? Why do the new teachers even have to be physically present? Why not set up an online resource with hints, tips and links to relevant information for the new teachers to consider and discuss? After all, I just spent a weekend listening to great ideas from great educators while I was sat in the comfort of my own home and they were in theirs. Advice on getting through the first few lessons, classroom management, using the class computer, setting up online projects and professional development through setting up a PLN or blogging could all be covered in one space.

My idea started to snowball from there. This year, it would have to be something the teachers see just before the academic year commences but in future years, the link could be sent to newly recruited foreign teachers as soon as they’ve accepted the job, months before they even come to Turkey. Why stop with the new teachers? This could be expanded to be a resource for current teachers to get them more engaged in using tech in class. One of the messages I took away from the Reform Symposium was that showing people examples of what can be done rather than telling them about it is more effective, so what better way to demonstrate the benefits of wikis, making podcasts, using video clips, posting glogs, photos and projects to a blog etc etc than getting the teachers to do it themselves for their own professional development?

The question now is 'how?'. 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th grades at my school have their own English wiki hosted by pbworks (4th grade should be following suit next year) so using the same host for a teachers’ wiki would be ideal (but not compulsory - I’m also open to ther suggestions if you have any). I think a combination of resources would be best – text, audio, video, discussion pages, external links and specific tools like Voicethread, Glogster, Garage Band and others…

These are all very much initial ideas so my question to all you educators out there is: have you done or used anything like this before? How did it work? What tips do you have for me to help me set it all up?

All suggestions welcome!

Monday, 2 August 2010

2010 Reform Symposium : My reflections

Shortly after writing about how useful Twitter has been in expanding my PLN, it threw me another marvellous feast: the 2010 Reform Symposium, an entirely online and entirely free conference held almost non-stop from July 30th to August 1st. Like many of the education community out there, I was extremely impressed by the whole event from the organisation to the presentations themselves to the fact that I could participate in it all from the comfort of my own home. In last night’s excellent closing keynote, Steve Anderson urged us all to talk, tweet, tell our colleagues and blog about what we had taken away from the event so, now that I have interrupted the holidays of my fellow teachers with emails and links to numerous presentations, here’s my post!

The need for change
A recurring message in the presentations I was able to join was that things need to change. Teacher attitudes, individual school and local authority policies and parental awareness of the role technology can play in education today must all be addressed. Mike Hogan’s talk covering the Digital Native/Digital Immigrant divide (to be viewable here from the archives) stressed the fact that the environment kids grow up in today is completely different to that of previous generations. At a younger and younger age, kids are exposed to all sorts of exciting and innovative technologies (like my 4 year-old son and his Wii!) which inevitably changes the way the think and connect. And yet, as was mentioned in a lot of the sessions I attended, classrooms are still trapped in the past with straight rows of desks, whiteboards and teacher at the front. This all needs to change to engage today’s learners in education, critical thinking and digital citizenship.

Ways of addressing the needs of digital natives and the concerns of non-natives were discussed and I wonder if the answer may lie in the technology itself. Taking the Wii as an example again, what has impressed me about it is not so much the way my little boy has mastered the controls but the fact that his tech-shy grandparents, who struggle to even send email or log in to Skype, were able to pick up and play after just some basic instructions. Things like the iPhone, iPad, Flip cameras etc are so easy and to use, they almost feel natural. I believe this will help debunk some of the lingering myths that specialist knowledge is needed to get the most out of electronic devices.

Selecting the right resources for the right reasons
But of course, technological devices, software and web apps themselves do not bring about change. The way they are introduced and the reason they are introduced must serve a purpose and this was the topic of another excellent talk by Mary Beth Hertz (already archived and available from here). This struck a chord with me as I have encountered many teachers who expect educational technology resources to do the lesson for them. In my school, I have given in-house seminars and workshops on effective use of PowerPoint and Movie Maker (we only have one computer with a projector per class) but the attendees always expect a ‘how-to’ instructional session plus some sample materials they can use directly in class whereas I try to get the point across that you have to consider what you are using the tools for and why. The video clip shown of two kids really getting into an audio recording and engaging the story they were reading was a gem and I’ll have to make sure I have my little video cam handy in class for similar episodes in my own classes in the future – showing people what you mean is always more effective than telling them!

Alexandra Francisco also touched upon similar point in her session (here) as she approached available tech tools by asking ‘What’s in it for my students?’ (a much better question than the one I’m used to hearing from teachers - ‘What’s in it for me?’). As Alex, like me, works in an EFL context, the tools she showed and the reasons she gave for using them were very useful and thought-provoking. I also liked the fact that she gave us six resources to look at rather than the usual one championed by the speaker or the impossible to follow long list given at other conferences I’ve attended. I shall certainly be making use of Domo Animate and Live Typing with my students next year!

Another presentation I had the pleasure to watch was given by Dorie Glynn concerning using Twitter in elementary classrooms (link to come here). It was good to hear about a working example of how Twitter can enable classrooms from around the world to connect and exchange information and knowledge. Such ‘social networking’ sites are locked at present in my school but showing examples such as these ones will hopefully help in persuading the powers that be that they have educational value if used in the right way.

Final Thoughts
All in all, an enlightening and engaging weekend. My favourite thing about the entire event is that it is not over yet! As all sessions were archived, I still have the chance to catch the ones I missed! (Available from the links on the Meet The Presenters page of the website). I shall now spend the weeks before we reconvene for Semester 1 prep readying my arguments for a more open and forward-looking approach to integrating technology into my school. I believe that practical examples of the work that has been done and can be done with the right resources chosen for the right reasons will help us achieve the necessary changes.

Oh, and my favourite quote from the event (courtesy of Alex’s presentation): “The future of teaching is learning” I couldn’t agree more!