Monday, February 16, 2009

Wikis in collaborative writing

I haven’t created a wiki yet (hopefully will, as soon as possible) although  I have contributed to the wikis other people have done. According to all that I have seen so far, wikis are obviously a great tool which can really help students not only to learn, make progress and see the progress,  but in this way wikis can  assist  them to become more aware of their own learning. This is, I think, very important and in this regard  I see a huge role of wikis: it is their contribution to the process of enabling students to become independent learners.

However, I don’t believe that wikis alone will ‘push’ our learners into the deep sea of learning: in order for that to happen the content  should be good,  too. Wikis certainly will be more motivating a tool than a traditional text-book or work-book, for example, but in my opinion it is also very important to use the wikis for activities that are motivating, engaging and worthwhile. So, what matters, as much as the tool itself, would be  the  activities/tasks suggested, the topics suggested/chosen, the instructions/guidelines and help provided by useful references, etc  (apparently, the same as in a f2f classroom).

Having said that, I return to our weekly assignment in Collaborative writing workshop: adding up our sentences in order to make up five stories. They all turned out to be  a kind of “creative writing” pieces, deliberately or not, I don’t know. I agree that collaborative writing may have the potential to produce fantastic results in creative writing, and so have the wikis in providing the platform for collaboration. However,  I think that something was missing there.

I may be wrong and I would not like this to sound as criticism but rather as a lesson to learn from (at the end of the day, we are all learners, aren’t we?): I think that  we should have done something before we started adding our sentences. What kind of writing are we going to produce? What are our preferences (creative? formal/transactional? which topics would be interesting to explore in such a task? etc.)  Or, we could have been given pictures or a thought provoking article as a starting point.  These are just some suggestions (they can be suggestions for the use of wikis in a language class as well).

Creative writing is usually preceded by extensive brainstorming, and so is the formal essay writing. It may seem difficult to induce brainstorming among people in such a diverse  group from all different parts of the world, but wikis might be just an ideal tool for the kind of brainstorming needed in collaborative writing. So, this would be my suggestion for some future collaborative writing group task: use wikis to brainstorm the topics, ideas, negotiate them, select the best or the most inspirational ones, group them, decide on the ones suited to most participants, etc. And only then start the actual activity of  (collaborative) writing. I am quite sure that the results would be much more interesting and the activity itself enjoyable. 

Saturday, February 14, 2009

My class

We are now two weeks into the new school year and I'm just thinking of starting a blog with my French Year 11/12 class (that will be on  the School's web site since the blog feature has now been added to the School's 'my classes'. 
While I'm still getting to know my new, Year 9 students, and haven't learnt their names yet, I keep thinkig of my last year's  7th formers who left school in December. I really have fond memories of them and will never forget them as they were the first class who I took over when started teaching at Mount Albert Grammar. They were just a gorgeous bunch of kids who grew into young  adults in those couple of years. I hope they are all going to University, if not this year then next year - some of them, I already know  have been accepted to Uni - Congratulations! - and some have even chosen to study French! Unfortunately , we didn't manage to go to Paris last year as we'd thought we would, but we spent some wonderful time planning the trip together. 
I have received their external results and I am proud of them!
Well done, guys! Even if some of you haven't achieved the marks you were aiming at, don't be discouraged. You have done extremely well, you have achieved a lot in only a couple of years, in much shorter time than many other students who you were competing with at the externals. I am sincerely proud of you and wish you all the very best in the coming years. I know you are prepared to work hard to achieve your goals. And I know you are the kind of people who 'see large' and who will travel the world. Again, well done!
I am posting a photo from our small classroom party/shared lunch on the last day of school (Nov 2008). Take care and keep in touch!  

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Nadia-Veronica: collaborative writing task

In second language writing, as much as in second language teaching in general, any piece of practical advice, suggestion, idea or tip on “how to…” appears to be very important and, actually, indispensable for a language educator. Therefore I find these two articles useful and worthwhile reading even though many, or all, of these activities are updates of pre word-processing/computer lab activities that many of us have used in the classroom. In many cases, these papers seem to be “killing two birds with one stone”-- teaching keyboarding at the same time as language.

I have used these types of activities with my ESOL and Literacy (mainstream English) junior classes and now with my L2 French students. I use them in a traditional classroom f2f, simply because there is only one computer lab in our large secondary school, and I don’t get much chance to spend a decent amount of time in it (hopefully there will be more labs in future). In a pre-computer/no-computer f2f setting there are a number of variations on how these activities --minus the key-boarding skills--can be presented. However, my students do spend more hours in the lab in their Social Studies or English classes, and the students are generally highly literate in word processing (in most NZ schools it’s being introduced at primary level).

From my own experience I know that most of the activities mentioned in the two articles work well with the students and are very useful in developing their literacy skills. I presume that using a word processor would make these tasks even more attractive and desirable from a student perspective. However, in a larger classroom, it would be good to develop different levels of activities and have students work from lower to more demanding levels.

From the list of activities suggested by Renata Chylinski, I am particularly in favor of those that use highlighting to indicate different grammar structures, categories of words, or parts of a paragraph. So, my own example would be to give students a model paragraph (preferably, more than one) and ask them to identify the structure of the paragraph using different shades or some other method (underline, bold, italicize, etc). I usually teach paragraph structure to the formula: 1. topic sentence/or statement, 2. explanation, 3.example/or evidence. Having discussed the ideas, in relation to  the model paragraph, they can write their own on different topics and swap in pairs to highlight the peer’s work as a form of peer editing and pair work. 

Similarly, from the list of activities in Vance Stevens’ text, I have also used almost all of them in ‘pen and paper’ conditions. Some of these activities I use as speaking practice in my French classes, for example description of a picture or famous people, or cross-class interviews – with the only difference that instead of writing my students do all this orally. It’s usually quite fun. I have also tried and used different kinds of narrative based on pictures. They can easily be designed as ‘focused tasks’  in order to elicit the use of a particular grammar structure (very useful with verb tenses if there is a suitable picture-based story).

Since I am personally very much in favor of respecting the genre and register conventions, I like the type of tasks such as Writing a letter in Stevens’ article. I think it is very important for second language learners to master control over the differences between formal and informal registers in letters, speech, etc. Personal experience tells me that students at all levels usually enjoy such tasks.  

To wrap up, the two articles we have focused on this week, may give some ideas to those who teach at lower levels. Furthermore, they have helped me to revise my own ideas of collaborative writing. I have realized that actually my idea of collaborative writing has been rather limited – to the collaboration in writing essays, reports, academic papers or pieces of creative writing, but now I’ve seen that many of the ‘normal’ everyday activities I am practicing with my students are, in fact, some kind of collaborative writing. What a relief! It’s also interesting to see that these activities seem to be updates of the activities many of us used in the classroom in pre-computer days; they give a new twist to old ideas.


P.S. A bit off the track, or out of context, anyway, I’d like to comment on Renata Chylinski’s presentation of her text. I don’t know what others think but I suppose that all those “ums” are meant to be there for the sake of authenticity. (By the way, I usually use “ums” and “uhs” when transcribing a spoken text but in this article I cannot see anything else that would signal a spoken text.) To me it seems a contradiction with the content of the text – because we are still teaching our students to follow the conventional ‘rules’ of discourse, be it grammar, or genre, or pragmatics…if they are to succeed in life. Apparently, her text is exactly about that.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Nadia's Profile

I teach French at Mount Albert Grammar School in Auckland and occasionally have some ESOL students. I taught ESOL at Whangarei Girls High School a few years ago, and at some private language schools here in Auckland.  I was also teaching English part-time in Croatia where I come from and where I was a journalist in a daily paper for more than twenty years. I mainly wrote in the sections of arts and culture but was very interested in environmental issues too. Some 10-15 years ago I became actively involved in the green movement in Croatia and in the Mediterranean, took part in establishing  a network of environmental NGOs in the Mediterranean (MedForum) and was its vice-president in late '90s.

However, since moving to New Zealand I’ve completely shifted into languages, linguistics and language teaching. Currently I am working on my PhD research study in L2 acquisition at the University of Auckland.  Otherwise I have a B.A. in English and Comparative Literature, CELTA Cambridge, Postgrad Dipl. in Teaching and MA in TESOL/Applied Linguistics from the University of Auckland.  

The photo attached to this posting was taken  in very early morning hours, at sunrise  in Auckland 


A couple of days ago I was driving on the motor-way here in Auckland and there was such a beautiful rainbow in the sky, spreading its colors just over the motor-way. You have the feeling that you're going to drive exactly under the semi-circle but then, again, you can't catch it... Later, I was talking to my neighbor about it, and he emailed me these amazing photos he took himself.  
I wanted to share them with  you who read this blog and I hope you will like  the rainbow and Steven's photos. 

Fifty-word fun activity (topic 3)

Years ago, I had a class of rowdy boys who seemed to be unmanageable. Everyone, including me, complained about them. One day, a principal came in for evaluating purposes. Unexpectedly, the boys behaved themselves, were cooperative, engaged in all tasks. The principal was impressed: I even got a pay rise.

Readings on blogging

The readings on blogging suggested for this week have been really useful, particularly for the novices in blogging, such as I am. This is my start and I hope  I will establish regular blogging activities with my students (who are just coming in this week - it's the beginning of the school year here in NZ).
Now,  the readings in focus: Carla Arena's article gives us a succinct summary of advantages of blogging for educational purposes and the activities that can be done with the students. I take her points and am looking forward to trying at least some of them with my students. To me, the most powerful arguments for using blogging in class are those that stress the  importance of building a sense of community, encouraging the shy students to express their thoughts and opinions, developing fluency in L2 writing and, last but not least - I see blogging as a powerful motivational tool for students.
I found Graham Stanley's article on blogging for ELT  particularly helpful, with lots of information, explanation, definitions, suggestions - just excellent. All presented in a user-friendly way. I'm sure I will refer to this article and the web page in the future as well. 
Briefly, I am very pleased I have joined this Collaborative writing  group and in these three weeks I have already learnt a lot. Unfortunately, I haven't had enough time to explore all tools as much as I wanted to,  but I believe I can manage to do that later. I see all this as an exciting adventure!