Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Today's class: November 26, 2008

Hello students!
I am using my blog like a task card! The goal of today's lesson is to look into materials that can support testing and evaluation of children and to fill in the loose ends of some of the conversations on ILIAS. Therefore, I ask you to:
  • Try out a test or two from one of the Explorers Assessment Packs.
  • Go through the Lingualevel scavenger hunt.
  • Add a comment to our module's ILIAS pages to summarize something you've learned or something you found interesting that might help the person who's initiated the comment.
  • Go to the Explorers website and find the webquest and try out the CD ROM.
  • Go to Laura's website and figure out how to UPLOAD materials onto the materials bank.
  • Go to Laura's website and look at the links to webquests.
  • Discuss how children use computers and where they encounter English. How can you support their English-language learning through the use of the Internet?

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Just for fun!

Should there really be a unit in the Swiss textbooks about Halloween?? If other countries are going to do Halloween activities, shouldn't children learn the history of the celebration and not just about symbols that are meaningless until the history is known? It seems very strange to me that many Swiss embrace the symbols of Halloween and also spend goodness knows how much money on witches and spiderwebs without really knowing what it's about.
Here's a link to Unger's view on it!
Thanks for the picture, Kathleen! http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=6405989

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Random thoughts

So it's the third day of our PBL saga. And below I summarize my feelings:
1) Students should write the problems;
2) What we did in three days we should have done in two days;
3) We should be clearer in the fact that we had a concrete plan but that we are willing to change it - this is not meant to be confusing but rather accommodating.
I don't really know what's going on but I'm getting very strange mixed messages from the students and no real concrete feedback.

On the other hand, isn't it a chance to say "Well, since things are so vague, I can choose something that really interests me in terms of of strategies and go with it". Up to now, everyone always says what is necessary but here's a chance to define it yourself. When I think back to my studies, I remember horribly boring lectures and perhaps I'm now giving some of those. But at the same time, I think that this Lernfeld is a chance to really say "I will tolerate a few really boring lectures because I know I can individualize what comes next". And do the work :)

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Importance of spontaneous feedback

I was just thinking about how important it is to get and give spontaneous feedback - on every level! When I say to my five year old daughter "Hey, Ally, you wrote that word so well this morning - that was great" and she then shines! On the other hand, when I say "Maybe you should try it like this" she doesn't always look happy, but she does and then she "gets over it" and our conversation resumes - no one was hurt and she learned something and I learn each time how to formulate feedback into something constructive but hopefully not too critical.
So what made me think of the role of feedback was last week - after one course a student said "Actually, I find the topic really interesting, but I wasn't sure of the timing". And throughout that entire course, I was thinking about whether the others found it interesting or not. So her feedback was constructive - I knew we could more or less go on how were were with the main concept but we'd have to watch our timing a bit. And the second feedback somebody said that she really had a very good day despite having to come in on a Saturday.
So it can't be that at the end of every course, you get feedback from every person, however, if we would more open our mouths and let people know how we feel, then a lot of time would be saved in futile endeavours and in misunderstandings. And this feedback on a social level, on an interpersonal level, is just as important, if not more, as feedback at the end of a project or a course! And people shouldn't be afraid to give feedback though it is always an exercise in being diplomatic!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Problem based learning

Last night I was wondering about two things: working interdisciplinarily and also problem based learning.
About interdisciplinarity: On a superficial level, most things are interdisciplinary. If you teach English, you are also teaching things related to culture, to "self" and to many other topics. If you teach M&U, you are also teaching language, you are also teaching math, etc. However, if the school system is based on specific subjects having 45 minute blocks and there is this concept of teachers having a profile (some do English, some do art, some do French - but not all), on a feasibility level, this interdisciplinarity remains on this superficial level unless teachers really make an effort to network. So on the level of strategies, how do you have a strategy-based approach with the children in one subject and then ensure that they are transferring the strategies that they "train" to other subjects? Of course it's possible, but it's more complex due to these profiles. So I ask myself if it wouldn't be better to really get into subject-specific strategies in more depth and leave interdisciplinarity because perhaps if we start to look into depth in one subject, this makes us have another way of looking at things which then transfers to other subjects.

About Problem Based Learning: On the level of tertiary education or more concretely, when working with teacher trainees, I only wonder here if the problem shouldn't be written by the students themselves. Perhaps it's better to say: PBL is a great method but the first two weeks of the semester should be spent observing classes or reflecting upon classes previous seen so that in the third week, smaller but more relevant problems should be written and researched. PBL is supposed to be authentic and real - and this is subjective. Therefore more students would be more interested IF they could themselves decide what problem they want to solve. This is the reason we wrote our "dialogue" - we wanted everyone to find something that they're interested in but I have the feeling that like in any module, some people are really interested and the others don't see the relevance and just want to get through. And then some things stay on this superficial level. If students could write their own problems, then they would be forced to make them relevant.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Zoo visit

Zoo visit
A lot of planning went into our zoo visit and I was really nervous about it but all in all, I think it went okay! Of course, there were certain things we could do better like giving you a short overview of what we were doing with the zoo tasks and why we chose to do them BEFORE we let you on your own to do it. We didn't because we wanted to "just do it", but next time I think it'll start off a bit better if you know what the module is about beforehand! Other things we could have done better would be changing the weather or getting a room, but we won't mention that!!

It's so important to start off on the right foot - it doesn't have to be perfect, but it should be positive at least!

As the students were sharing their observations about what would help the teacher/student be able to do the task better, I was thinking that these students have a pretty great understanding of the terms and the general concepts behind identifying strategies - we can all speak "strategy speak"! So our next step will be to define what these really mean. What does "Ask if you're not sure" mean? What does "activate prior knowledge" mean? How do we guide these things and how do we ensure that we are training strategies and not just teaching things kids things they have already figured out?

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Looking Forward!

What's the difference between "forward-looking" and "looking forward"? An initial thought leads to time: are forward-looking things less probable because they take place in an undetermined point in the future? Are things you look forward to more concrete, in the shorter-term and thus more probable? Who knows - but it is sure fun to think about it!!

I am looking forward to this upcoming semester because:

Somehow it seems a bit simplistic, but isn't it these simple things that keep us happy?

Thursday, August 21, 2008


Patrick and I had a very long discussion last night about terminology:

I got really annoyed that people use specific terms without knowing what they really are about, especially people who should know what they're about. If an expert in a certain subject, say English didactics, uses the term "CLIL", then shouldn't they be talking about something more in-depth than just topic-based teaching? And Patrick gave the example of the use of the word AJAX in computer science - most people use the term when they mean SJAX. Although we shouldn't expect generalists to use precise terms correctly, should we expect experts to? And why should we simplify the ideas behind these terms?

Instead of having a general overview of what a term is about and then filling in the gaps slowly with aspects of the correct and precise definition, wouldn't it be better to get an understanding of one comonent of what is meant at a time and build up? Imagine a set of building blocks - you can have them thrown on the ground, all over the place and slowly bring order to them. Or else you can put one block down at a time in the right place. Is how we do something culturally-bound? Are we allowed to change the way we do it according to the task at hand? Is one way better than the other? I dunno!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Amish country

Today we're off to the beautiful Hershey Gardens! They've got a really cute scavenger hunt for kids, so Alison is really excited about it.

Last night Patrick and I went out to eat. It was a 45 minute walk to the restaurant and it was nice to walk at normal pace instead of kiddie pace! On the way there, we saw a groundhog or woodchuck.
We also saw some bird of prey, some rabbits, and Patrick kept threatening that he smelled a black bear, which are known to be in the area!
On Tuesday we had a history tour with Grandpa in upstate Pennsylvania. We must have visited about seven different graveyards and traced most of the Bohlayer ancestors back to the original brothers who came over from Laufen am Nekar, Germany. We went up Armenia Mountain and had a wonderful view and saw the family picnic site and where they used to keep the sheep in the summer. We stopped at Bohlayer Orchards and chatted with David and Heather. On the way home, we stopped and saw Jim's cabin and mansion - that impressed Patrick the most! We got home at about midnight after about fourteen hours in the car!! I sure hope I'll retain all that history!

Saturday, June 28, 2008


The big news in our family is that Zoe has the chicken pox! I've had to take off work, so life has been crazy this past week - what do you do when you have work to do, but not work where your presence is necessary? Then I suppose you have to make it up on the weekends, which is exactly what I'm doing!

I've updated the PHSH website and I've read through Reto's blog. I've tried to finish a lot of little pending things, too, but they never seem to end!!

The other big news is that Patrick had his last day of work - now he'll be home with the girls!

The third piece of big news is that Alison can finally ride her bike! Now she's in for a big one!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

On Monday and Tuesday I was at the KPH in Graz - it was an amazing trip! I had Schlagobers! I was treated like a queen by the staff of the KPH and can highly recommend any exchange with them.

Just a few thoughts about my trip:

  • English is an obligatory subject starting in the first grade in Austria. However, it is a low-pressure subject – writing is not required for the first two years and there is no assessment. This has the effect of secondary teachers starting their English teaching from the beginning. French and other foreign languages are not mandatory but are present in some schools.

  • Students at the KGPH have a personal coach who is responsible for their “Biografiearbeit”. This is a fascinating subject. Not only do the students have mentors who help them on a planning level, but also “coaches” who are responsible for getting students (pre-service teachers) to analyse their own school careers and “ways of being” and get them to find ways to overcome fixed ideas. A practical example of this is a student who comes and says “The children just don’t listen to me”. The coach takes it on a “meta-level” (not just on a lesson-analysis level) and gets them to figure out if this is a general thing, something related to their pre-concept of teaching methodologies and to break it.

  • It was amazing to be in a “Praxis Schule” – the kids were right there¨! And this school was a good school for more open types of learning. They have mixed-age classes (1st, 2nd and 3rd graders together), Montessori-style classes (Freiarbeit), and then more traditional classes (normal “Blockstunden”). It brings a lot to their institute to have these wonderful children and teachers at their fingertips!

  • Teaching Austrian PH students is NO different than teaching Swiss students!

Monday, May 26, 2008

Using technology

I was asked by Sarah to come share some ideas with you for integrating technology into the classroom, so I thought I'd do it in Blog form. I will read this blog aloud to you as you read it on the computer screen. This will give you a short American English pronunciation lesson and allow you to work a bit at your own pace as well! I will organize this presentation in order from the easiest ideas to implement to the more complex. Here you can find a table of ideas if you would like my outline.

Let's start with blogs! What are blogs? Who has used one before? Here are a few that I will now freely comment upon:

Blogs are easy to develop because they don't take an incredible amount of knowledge to set up, you can use them simply or in more complex ways and they help to foster informal communication outside the classroom.

Keywords: developing writing skills / peer or instructor corrections / low-pressure / individualization / on or off topic

Here's a mini-example for you. Work with the person next to you.
Give your partner the answer. This is simply a concept that can be used in a lesson or as homework. You can make it interactive by having everyone go to the same website and look for different information or you can make them find the same information, with nuances, from two different websites. A concrete example of this is from this example from our "Spezialwoche" in February.

In a less interactive way, but a way that lets each participant work at his or her own pace, you can give them a list of questions to find the answers to as in the Lingualevel search. This is a nice way of working with in-service teachers as there is a broader range of computer-literacy. The more computer-literate ones can be given a task of finding something relevant for their next lessons and the less computer-literate can focus on understanding the functionality.

One more concept is that if you only want participants to become familiar with a website or find resources, they should get lost a bit on the way. So if I resend you to http://www.abcteach.com/ and ask: "where can you find the word wall pictures and words for the autumn (or fall)" - you might find the answer to this question but a lot more along the way!

Keywords: interactive or individual work / skimming and scanning for information / filtering out unnecessary information


You see on my website a "Materials Bank". The idea is simple - students can upload materials onto this database that are then accessible to everyone. This is also my rule for absences: If you know you are going to miss a third lesson, you must create an activity and upload it for everyone. Moreover, for certain teaching points (eg. teaching listening skills), groups must create an activity and upload it. I started it on October 2007 and so far, so good, though encouraging people to use it more is quite a challenge. At this point I would also like to make a few comments that I don't want documented on paper.

Keywords: sharing / transparency / materials development


Just a few words on wikis. At some point with pre-service teachers in Z├╝rich, we had a scratchpad wiki going about language learning strategies. This acted as a means of peer-collaboration to develop language and concept together.

Another website I show (quickly in front of the class) is Simplewiki for language learners as well as how to look up a word in Wikipedia and find its equivelant in another language. Please keep in mind that a wiki is only as good as those people using it. So you have no right to use the information without being responsible for its correctness (language and content).

Keywords: developing writing skills / peer editing / consolidating knowledge

For Instructors Only

Well, in ILIAS, there are always Dozierendengruppe. We have also set one up for the English department with a few rules:
  • Old information be put in the archive section and not in the newest folders (folders by topic).
  • When somebody requests something from someone, put it on dozigruppe for everyone
Unfortunately, this is not working because there are few ILIAS freaks amongst us!

We have also used it for various work groups - e.g. for the Wissensbasis (click on the picture to enlarge it). We were given the task of illustrating aspects of cooperative learning. We then put our ideas on ILIAS and perhaps, one day, they will be elaborated upon!

For Inservice and Preservice Teachers
The next thing we have in the English department is what we call our "Toolbox". This is a means of sharing information with inservice and preservice teachers.

In Inservice Training
Finally, the most complex thing that could be done is an entire module on ILIAS (SPP 030 Allgemeine Fremdsprachendidaktik). I say this is complex because in all honesty, working with ILIAS is not always that user-friendly when you know other programs like WebCT or Dreamweaver. The main problem is that it's difficult to format pages and make tests. Once you've got the hang of it though, it can be a powerful tool.

The main tip I've learned over the past three courses is one concerning the forum work. Somehow, this has not come naturally to the students - they don't see it as contributing to a discussion but rather "I have to do it, so I will". So my new strategy is to work with groups of students who have to discuss the same video (and not just each share something they saw because they only present and not interact like this). Moreover, you've got to assign roles (summarizer, leader, question asker, etc..). It sounds like "duh, Laura, you should have known that" but I thought students would be so enthusiastic about working on the computer, that it would take off. This was the case on the Navajo Reservation when people lived five hours apart but not in ZH and SH where we see each other every day! So, as it is at times in in-person, small groups, role assignments can help a lot! Moreover, making your goals clear, for example saying that an obligatory part of the course is one presentation of something and two comments to others can "force" participation and up the chances that someone will become a real fan.

Keywords: blended learning / cooperative learning / that's enough keywords for today *************************************************************************
So now you've got it - the quick and dirty of how I use technology in the classroom. Using technology in the classroom does not neglect the more tactile things in life, like taking a POWER-WALK BRAINSTORM. So if you have 5 minutes now (probably not), get up out of your seat and walk up the hill behind the building and back and ask each other "How can I integrate technology into my teaching" or "Do I really want to do more in this regards than I am?"! Thank you for your patience and I hope that this has not exceeded my 15 minutes.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Hello! I am now in England visiting the PHSH teachers. They seem to be having a very good time and learning a lot. They've had an outing or two and a tour of the town of Norwich. They've now been in two different classes. The only negative comment I heard was: English schools are rather traditional. So I'm wondering what this means and also if we can really say Swiss schools are different or more 'modern'!

Right now I'm sitting here in a great workshop about using the Web. The possibilities are endless!!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Hello Hello at the PHSH!

How can you use this blog to document your trip to Norwich and to improve your English language skills? How could you use a blog in your own classroom, once you have one!
What do you think of my georgous family? Aren't they sweet?! Tell me about your own family - do you have any kids? Sisters? Brothers? This picture was taken during our vacation in Sorenberg in January. Ally (the oldest) learned to ski and Zoe just screamed the whole time because she didn't like the snow!