Mr. Escobar

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Homepage: https://eddydavik.wordpress.com

Exploring a more active and student-centered approach to vocabulary

Vocabulary is in general not fun. It mainly deals with rote memorization of words with little context or use in everyday conversation. For learners of English as a second or other language, many of the vocabulary words presented for study, especially as they reach intermediate and advanced stages of L2 acquisition, have little to no relevance to their language use. This is especially true for students who participate in courses designed for test preparation. In my case, I am responsible for TOEIC test preparation for high school students looking to enroll into universities that use the test as a proficiency check.

Test of English for International Communication (TOEIC) is especially popular in Japan and South Korea, and focuses on context derived from business encounters. I have been particularly interested in the effects the class (and in some ways the test) has on students’ motivation towards the L2 as they move through the year-long course, but I have also taken interest in how to best study vocabulary. Many publications print out vocabulary lists based on levels students want to achieve. What I have found is that none of these authors can really tell you which vocabulary will be used on the test. ETS has a published book of common vocabulary that I rely on for my lists. The challenge now is what to engage the students (or rather to get the students to engage themselves) into not only studying these vocabulary, but also how to use and manipulate them.

icon180x180Two years ago I began experimenting with Quizlet, an online service that digitizes study cards for not only you to see wherever you go with your smartphone or tablet, but also to share with others, either within a class or with the world. Prior to trying Quizlet, students were assigned sections of a vocabulary list and assigned to fill out a form for each word, then copies of these forms were made for other students in the class. A lot of paper and very time consuming. Though the pair forms still exist, students can now transfer their work to Quizlet for others to see. For, that solved one problem of peer-to-peer collaboration, and also reduced my time at the photo copier. But now, how to engage with it?

This year I experimented with group game/activity. I brought in iPads, 1 for every 4 students, and engaged in a gameshow-like activity. On the board were categories:

  • Example sentence
  • Word families (changing the word into different parts of speech)
  • synonyms
  • antonyms
  • similar sounding words

Students as a class decided the point value of each category based on what they felt which categories were easier or more difficult than the others (more difficult gave higher point value). The iPads were used as an answer board using one of the many Whiteboard apps available. Each group took turns deciding a category while the teacher decided on the word. Students could use Quizlet on their smartphones to review the word that was chosen. The feedback on the activity was positive and provided a ‘fun’ time for the class.

Though this activity is one to hold on to, I still ponder on its effectiveness in vocabulary intake. Surely it allows students to converse on the chosen words, creating valuable dialog, but it is difficult to understand if these dialogs support vocabulary intake or not. What I do know is that Quizlet itself is a game-changer, with one student, in an evaluation she wrote for the class, stated that Quizlet was useful for her, but would like to see it used in class more.

So the search is on. In the meantime, promoting to take full advantage of Quizlet and its many study activities is a priority, with the iPads coming out more often for group dialog on individual words is on the table.

 

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IT or not IT?

If today is not an indicator of the importance of a stable IT infrastructure for classroom use, then I don’t know what is. Four teachers vying for what little equipment we have in order to present video activities to students, and myself running back and forth between them to make sure use of equipment is useable.

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Parent-Teacher conference via Skype

imageEven though we are a Japanese high school, we attract returning students who have grown up outside Japan. In the case of one student this year, her parents live in Australia as she is schooling in Japan.

To allow the home room teachers have a proper parent-teacher conference, we were able to take advantage of our limited Wi-Fi and iPads to make the conference work and connect the two sides with Skype.

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Preparing EFL students for an EFL Model United Nations

Last June, my school completed its 26th Model United Nations project with our 3rd year (Senior) students. Though our curriculum shows our students beginning the preparation process in January (third term of second year), the preparation spreads farther, at least 2 years, from when the students first entered the high school. The first 21 months can be seen as a pre-MUN curriculum, with the next 6 months as the MUN curriculum.

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A much need Google Sites update!

The Totally New Google Sites

We use Google Sites extensively for the Kansai High School Model United Nations (@KHSMUN). For as old as the technology is, it has been a juggernaut in our approach to collaboration between schools on working draft resolutions.

I am quite excited to hear the the service will finally be updated. Expect a review once the update rolls out.

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Calendar for syllabus sharing

I work in a team-teaching environment, with multiple teachers working with the same curriculum in different classes. As different teachers establish different styles of relationships with students, the pace of the classrooms can also change, and even more, teachers need to be given autonomy to teach how they philosophically feel teaching is best for them. Given all that, as a team we still need to share information and make sure that throughout the term we are in sync with the objectives of our course. With each of us working 15-17 class hours per week, finding the time to collaborate daily is a challenge. This is where Apple’s calendar app comes in.
We all use iPhones, so Apple’s calendar app was the simplest to setup; however, even Google’s calendar would work. Allowing to share multiple calendars within the app with notes gives all teachers easy access to needed information in an organized manner, and for non-tech savvy folks, not having to download and learn a classroom management app can be ideal, especially in an environment where I am trying express the usefulness of wireless devices in education.

All in all, if you’re looking for a way to collaborate with colleagues with as little complications as possible, then looking no further than your OS’s calendar and its sharing capabilities may be all you need.

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Government panel supports use of digital textbooks in Japan’s schools from 2020 | The Japan Times

An education ministry panel urges the government to allow schools to use digital textbooks from fiscal 2020.

Source: Government panel supports use of digital textbooks in Japan’s schools from 2020 | The Japan Times

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Benefit of wireless video connection in the classroom

Not all classrooms are designed to maximize the benefits of an electronic display, especially when the classroom itself was either not designed by a tech-savvy architect, or the it was modified to somehow accommodate electronic display functionality at the request of administration. In the case of one classroom, a little bit of both.

We have two flatscreen monitors on either end of a classroom, with a mobile rack (held down by the length of the cords connecting to the wall jacks) in the corner. For someone wanting to use video or a slideshow via computer, the task of using a computer while trying to engage with the students is a daunting task, unless you’re willing to walk through a floor of wires in what is already a tight space.

It’s a perfect storm to showcase the usefulness of a wireless connection; more specifically, the Apple TV. Using the Apple TV has allowed the teacher to remain in the ‘teaching zone’ of the classroom, rather than disappearing into the corner, or jump roping through wires during a lesson. The iPad is easy to hold, and the Apple TV gives the teacher full access to the wall displays.

In short, the Apple TV allows the classroom to used as it’s intended purpose without the distraction of its potential assets.

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Proof-editing photos

If we insist that our students proof-read their work before handing it in to the teacher, why should we not do the same with photos they use?

I had the pleasure of listening to ADE Mike Mural @the_muralman give a short presentation on simple photo editing techniques (remember: rule of thirds, leading lines, patterns, interruption, and symmetry) and options found on our smart phones using apps such as Apple Photos and Google Snapseed, followed by a short workshop of snapping, editing, and sharing.

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Six ‘useless’ things foreign language teachers do

Recasts Recasts are the most frequent form of feedback that teachers give students in the course of oral interactions. They consists of utterances by the teacher that repeat the student’s erroneous…

Source: Six ‘useless’ things foreign language teachers do

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