Colgan Goes Digital

A few months ago, I began a journey into the world of technology. I was extremely resistant at first; unsure of whether technology was a genuine necessity in the classroom, and reluctant to become part of a professional personal learning network. I mean, who really blogs anyway?

It wasn’t until I actually dove into these digital platforms and began engaging with them that I realized the power they hold. My Twitter began with me following a few education-related Twitter handles. As I gradually continued to follow more users, and began tweeting out some helpful information, I slowly began to make connections. I started responding to those I follow, tweeting out my blog, and participating in Tweet Chats. A few months later, educational Twitters are actually beginning to follow me.

Blogging was another obstacle I faced. However, as I began discussing topics that genuinely interest me (such as Bob Dylan in the classroom). As I became more comfortable with the foreign world of blogging, ELAted Education really began to feel like it was mine. As my Personal Learning Network grew along with my technology skills, I genuinely feel as though I am going somewhere with the educational field: I’m ready to make a difference. I have every intention to keep working with these platforms, and continue to expand my digital literacies as technology continues to evolve so I can remain up-to-date for my future students. My PLN has genuinely given me the confidence, skills, and resources needed to believe that I am prepared for my future as an English Educator.

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The Flippin’ English Classroom

I stumbled upon an interesting site today that grabbed my attention: “Thommasson and Morris Flip the English Classroom.” Intrigued, I explored the website. I discovered that Thomasson and Morris’ framework regarding the 21st Century English classroom embodies very much of what I have been studying lately: literacy, technology, and the student-centered learning environment.

“The Three Pillars” Needed to Create a “Flipped” English Class

    • Using social media and other outlets to connect and communicate with students.
    • Understand your students, and how to best use class time to meet their needs as learners.
    • Give them the chance to do work in class; this gives them the opportunity to ask the teacher questions and seek help from their peers.

2.) “The classroom uses student-centered pedagogy”

    • Students learn alongside the teacher.
    • Assignments value process over product.
    • Student collaboration instead of student competition.
    • Teachers serve as guides rather than “sage on the stage.”
    • Focus on technology and relevant coursework.

3.) “There is an intentional focus on higher-level thinking, rather than rote memorization.”

    • Focus on reaching the peak levels of Bloom’s taxonomy.

Why Should We Flip Our Classrooms?

By following these three pillars, teachers are creating a classroom that is both relevant and preparing students for their futures. This need for change in the current educational system and learning environment. The flipped classroom empowers students, as described by Will Richardson, the author of Learning on the Blog. Students need to be prepared for the future, and the flipped classroom provides an environment that does so.

Vive La Requirement!

Just a few weeks ago I found myself in the elevator of SUNY Cortland’s Old Main with my French professor, Marie Ponterio, after a long day at school. She asked me how I was doing. From behind a set of tired eyes, I explained that I was exhausted from juggling my classes, heavy course load, and commuting to and from my observation site. I told her that I wished I was still in her class learning how to speak French at a level I had never thought  I was capable of. She turned and said, through her French accent, “I wish everyone could hear you right now.” She then mentioned a meeting that she had to intend the next day, in which the foreign language requirement for students such as myself was being reconsidered.

Later that night, I sat next to my friend, Jen in the library as we both discussed our feelings about the potential lowering of our requirements. We decided to research the upcoming meeting, the views of our professors, and co-blog about the issue at hand. Jen targeted her research on the Spanish department, while I took up French.

My Interview with Madame Ponterio

In the beginning of the interview, my French professor began by explaining that the foreign language requriement for students obtaining BAs was under review. Instead of taking a foreign language up to the Intermediate level, the college students would only have to complete beginner courses at the 100 level. The main reasoning behind all of this was to make it easier for transfer students to graduate in four years, and to “free up resources” (cut funding, professors, and thus save money).

The foreign language department gathered their research that backed their programs, and worked with other colleagues to prove their case at this meeting. Thankfully, the “proposal had turned into a conversation” by the end of the meeting. Madame Ponterio expressed that the dean had been open-minded about the importance of foreign language, and was hopeful about the future of the reinforced importance of foreign language in education.

Why Study Foreign Language?

Especially at a school that is known for its education programs, students must be able to understand the relevance of foreign language. Marie described, in response to the potential removal of a genuine foreign language education: “You’re sending the wrong message, you’re telling students that foreign languages are not important. In this century, that is a big mistake.”

At SUNY Cortland, where many of the students are going to eventually become teachers one day, they must be able to understand that multiculturalism is a very real part of the educational system, and therefore, there will be English Language Learners in all classrooms.

When Marie Ponterio attended school in France, she had a particularly hard time learning English. Through her own intrinsic motivation, she traveled to America and learned both the language and culture. Since she admittedly struggled learning a foreign language, she understands the many difficulties that the students in her courses face. “I can honestly say that I have been successful as a teacher because I know where they are coming from,” she described.

In this same way, future teachers of America need to be able to empathize with their students in the same way Marie can. The only way in which they can do this is if they take a foreign language up to the intermediate level; getting down the basics is nothing compared to the battles that English Language Learners face in the American classroom on a daily basis.

Why French?

My French professor is full of statistics about the importance of French. She constantly reminded us that it was relevant: “50% of your language comes from French…there are 3,221 words that are identical in spelling and meaning…people who have never studied French already know 15,000 French words that are either identical or extremely close in spelling.” Since there is so much French in the English language, French students, on average, tend to do a better job on the SATs than students who study other foreign languages.

It is not just the French language and culture that students are learning in these classrooms: “We teach them English. They learn a lot in the foreign language class…I teach them spelling and punctuation,” Marie describes. Through learning French, students learn more about the English language and grammar.

As a French student and and English major, I could readily admit to Marie that I had no direct grammar instruction in my lifetime, and therefore, had no idea what a subject and a direct object was until I took her class, and I needed to know in order to correctly format French sentences. Through foreign language instruction, I simultaneously learned more about my own language as well.

I was shocked when I found out the foreign language requirement was being challenged by outside forces. In an increasingly multicultural society, and at a school that is teaching future teachers, it would be genuinely ironic if this requirement disappeared. We can’t expect our own students to learn how to speak English when we have no basis from which to empathize with them. As described by Marie Ponterio, the foreign language requirement for future teachers such as myself is not an obstacle, but an opportunity.

In my departure, Madame Ponterio said: “I think that because you have that exposure to French that it will make you a better English teacher.” I wholeheartedly embraced this compliment. Good teachers are able to connect with and understand their students, and when I have students in my own classroom struggling with the English language, I will be able to know where they’re coming from.

Let’s Start Networking!

As you can see from the Twitter widget to my left, I have joined an online educational network, which is commonly known as a Personal Learning Network (PLN). It is a sharing of education across a groups of people with similar interests. Since I am an English Education major at SUNY Cortland, my classmates and I are currently collaborating and sharing information through the use of a hashtag (#307ENG) that we all follow. 

Our Twitter network does not end with the similar hashtag. In addition, we follow and tweet out to other educators around the world. In 140 characters or less, we share bits of information with a vast array of individuals who are interested in what we are speaking of: education, and everything that goes along with it.

The network continues to expand with this blog, which is also followed by others interested in education. I also have a professional board on my Pinterest, on which I bookmark websites that may become useful one day.

Why Network?

So we can continue to collaborate! as the Cybrary Man once stated, “Teachers cannot know everything, so we must learn from one another.” The more we know, the more information we are able to equip our students with. When teachers are able to access the digital world through a Personal Learning Network, they are able to collaborate with one another and create increasingly relevant, tech-savvy, digitally-saturated classrooms that meet the needs and interests of their students, the 21st Century Learners.

To Technology…And Beyond!

When we were about three quarters of the way done with one of the most foreign projects I’ve ever tackled, one of my co-hosts looked up and stated: “I have a newly found respect for radio hosts.”

I could not agree more.

Over the past two weeks, I collaborated with two other SUNY Cortland students to create a radio show. It all began in the the shiny Mac Lab of Old Main, where the three of us sat down together for the first time to devise a plan. After listening to other examples, as students regularly would in any genre study, we decided to pick a theme that would be fun, give us room to play with interesting sound clips, and give us the the liberty to make things up. This resulted in a futuristic radio show set in outer space. We wrote out segment ideas, bullet-ing out lists of topics to mention in each one to keep the conversation alive and organic. We started to draft our commercials, and named our radio show after the class it was created for: ENG 30.7. We were ready for blast off!

3…2…1…Recording begins and I suddenly feel like I’m on another planet.

The first five minutes of radio time took us at least four hours to record our voices;  we had hardly even begun to incorporate music and sound clips! This project required a constant flow of multitasking and fighting with the Garageband App. All the while, as we slowly recorded seconds at a time, we were constantly asking ourselves: “What are we going to talk about next?”

When the recording was finally over, even before I went through the process of adding finishing touches and sound effects, I was genuinely amazed. This project was so difficult that I wasn’t sure when it would ever end. 

However, in the midst of our struggle, my teammates and I turned to laughter. I would say that we “lost it” about seven or eight minutes into the show. As recording progressed, our ideas became increasingly far-fetched, and our primary focus turned from completing the assignment to having fun while doing so.

Creating our radio show was a great experience, despite how goofy our set may seem. Together, we learned how to combat technology at the same level of our future students. ENG 30.7 is ready for the future of the American education, are you?

Thanks for tuning in with ENG 30.7!

 

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Sigh No More, Students, Sigh No More

The classroom that I’ve been observing has students reading Shakespeare’s Macbeth. There is actually a district-mandated requirement for all English classes to have a Shakespeare unit. The students’ comprehension of Shakespeare’s language is growing every day, and they have been following the plot with help from their teacher. However, the kids are bored. Educational practices need serious updating, as many educators and researchers have already established. The 21st Century Learner is struggling to maintain interest, and throwing Shakespeare into the mix makes it that much harder for the teacher to create a relevant classroom.

So, how can we get today’s students engaged with literature that was written 400 years ago?

Luckily, there are tons of resources and lessons that go beyond the traditional oral reading of Shakespearian plays in class.

PBS has a long list of interesting lessons that revolve around Shakespeare’s works. One of these lessons has students taking Shakespearian sonnets and translating them into 21st Century English, which is quite empowering.

This lesson has students recreating scenes from plays, with special attention to elements that are normally missed in the traditional reading-aloud of the text. They are not reading the play for plot, but as choreographers and directors. The students work together, considering factors such as props, casting, body language, and sound effects. As students re-read the text with these elements added, they have created a far more aesthetic experience than they would in the traditional classroom. Also, students are being equipped with the 21st Century learning skills to create. If this lesson were extended to actually have students producing, recording, and filming their presentations in groups, the relevancy would continue to increase. Students are then reflecting genuine understanding of the text, they are actively engaged, and working at the peak of Bloom’s Taxonomy. 

 

Cultural Relevance: The Bridge to Bilingualism

There is an ever-growing number of English language learners in the American educational system. The United States serves as a “melting pot” where many cultures and thus languages meet. Since we pride ourselves on democracy, diversity, and equality, why is it that so many English Language Learners are still being left at a disadvantage? The injustices being delivered to ELLs are widespread. One major issue is the placement of ELLs into special education programs due to a language barrier that wasn’t being properly addressed by teachers. Since the students can’t speak English, it is assumed that they are incompetent. This, of course, is not the case.

The number of ELLs entering U.S. schools is on the rise

English language learners are often told their language practices are “incorrect.” When a student is repeatedly corrected and it is displayed by authority figures that his language is unacceptable, he then suppresses this language and works towards acquiring the English. This is known as the ELL’s “silent period,” which can become a slippery slope. When a student separates herself from her native language, she is removed from that language’s culture. A part of her identity is wiped away as assimilation runs its course.

Assimilation has proven to be a destructive force in American society.  When Native Americans were forced to assimilate to American customs, they involuntarily left behind their cultures and languages. Today, historians don’t know nearly as much as they could if assimilation (and warfare) hadn’t taken its toll on various tribes.

In order to create a culturally-relevant environment, the secondary ELA teacher needs to provide culturally-relevant texts. Well-chosen texts will provide all students with an aesthetic reading experience, opening the gates to empathy. This is beneficial for all students: the ELL is reminded that his language is worthy of respect, and other students expand their understanding about a specific culture. This kind of ELA pedagogy values culture and unity, allowing ELLs to become bilingual instead of squelching their linguistic ties to their cultural identities.