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 Before and After Twitter: Personal  Learning Environments

There are fewer English learners using Twitter at the moment, but I believe teachers can help learners to help themselves through building their own PLE.

 Teachers  who tweet

In Malcolm Gladwell's book The Tipping Point (2000), the figure of 150 ( Dunbar's number' ) is given as representing  the maximum number of individuals with whom a person can have a genuine  social  relationship. Gladwell says, ' putting it another way, it's the number of people you would not feel embarrassed about joining uninvited for a drink if you happened to bump into them in a bar' ( page 179). Some people are now questioning whether this number is being changed by today's social media. The interesting thing about Twitter for teachers is that is brings people together who wouldn't normally ever meet online. Unlike previous specialist email groups and communities of practice, which are usually private and centre around groups of teachers with special interests or from specific countries or areas, the PLN that teachers build around the people  they know on Twitter is public and more general; the monitoring of keywords means that through serendipity your PLN can include  strangers  who provide  answers to questions and/or links to resources.

Appealing to teachers  in my PLN before my talk and asking them to describe changes they had experienced since Twitter, was illuminating. A wide range of responses were received; here is a selection:

  • * beforetwitter I didn't know your whole life story, * aftertwitter I know where you live, what car you drive and the colour of your socks.
  • * beforetwitter I had a limited network, * aftertwitter I have access to my network's network
  • * aftertwitter suddenly many opportunities have opened, resources are plenty
  • * beforetwitter I used to go on the web, * aftertwitter the web is brought to me
  • * beforetwitter  my staffroom consisted of 15 teachers, * aftertwitter it has spread across the globe with 100s of colleagues
  • With Twitter you get much quicker feedback, much more immediate than with blogging
  • * beforetwitter cold, boring, stressful * aftertwitter warm, reassuring, engaging, energizing, motivating, creative life
  • * aftertwitter means having a constantly updated global resource and a motivated staffroom.

 What became  clear from the many comments is that building a PLE with Twitter at the centre has given those teachers who have done so a very useful network of people they can turn to.

Students who tweet

 Can  the idea of using a PLN  with Twitter at its centre be used to support language learning as well as teacher development? I decided to ask some of my young adult students if they wanted to use Twitter. Making it optional meant that only 10 per cent of them decided to do so . Since then, however, I have seen the number grow to 20 per cent. A part from connecting to me and each other, they have found other people in their own networks who also use Twitter, and some of these are English speakers. How are they using the tool? Apart from tweeting in their own language, they are also using English. I have seen a number of them use Twitter in the following ways:

·         To help each other with grammatical questions,

·         To chat to each other in English in a light-hearted way,

·         To chat to English-speaking friends and contacts,

·         To ask me about information regarding English class and exams,

·         To respond to some of the things that I have been tweeting about.

 What conclusions can be drawn from this?

It's early days, but Twitter is being used for teacher development and this should continue to grow. Twitter also shows promise as a tool for informal learning with language learners.

 Email : graham.stanley@britishcouncil.es

Head , Hands and Hearts!       Jane Revell    

We all know by now that mind and body – HEAD and HANDS - are connected. Theories of Accelerated Learning and Neuro-Linguistic Programming have been emphasising their interdependence over the years and Eastern philosophies have been saying so for centuries.

Negative and positive thinking

We know, for example, that when our mind is not OK, when we are thinking ‘negatively’ and are distressed or anxious for long periods of time, that our body responds negatively: those are the times when we tend to get run down physically, are often bothered by various aches and pains and are sometimes ill. We also know that when our head is OK, when we are thinking ‘positively’ and are happy and at peace with ourselves, that our body responds positively: those are the times we tend to be in top physical condition and able to achieve lots of things.

 The whole idea of self-fulfilling prophecies fits in here: how we think about something (another person, a place, an event, a classroom activity … and, most crucially, ourself) influences how we behave and therefore what happens as a result.

We know that this works in reverse too. If our body is not OK, then our mind follows suit. If we sit for long stretches of time without moving, our mind slows down as well as our body. If we get up and move around, then the boost to our circulation sends more oxygen to our brain and our thinking improves.

 Application to the learning environment

Many of us have already applied these ideas to the learning environment. We help young learners to learn and perform to the best of their ability by encouraging them to think positively and to feel good about themselves. We have also introduced more and more physical activities into the classroom, either as a kinaesthetic part of the activity itself or else by ‘punctuating’ an otherwise static lesson with brief stretches or physical exercises. And those of us who practise Brain Gym ® know that when learners do certain movements and exercises with different parts of their body, they can get their brain to work even better. A good idea any time, and especially just before a test!

The emotional side of things

So what about HEART?!

‘Tell me and I forget. Involve me and I remember.’  We learn and remember best what we learn with emotion, what we take to heart.

Think back to your own school days for a moment. What are your strongest memories of those days? What events come to mind? Which teachers? Which subjects?

Most of you will probably recall events that sparked off strong emotions in you. The teachers you remember best will be the ones you really liked - who were enthusiastic or who made you laugh or with whom you  had a special relationship, and also the ones you really disliked - perhaps because they frightened you or bullied you in some way. (I have both sorts of memories.) And of course, your feelings about the teacher are likely to have affected your feelings about the subject and coloured what you subsequently learnt ….. or didn’t learn.

 This is all down to a naturally-occurring biochemical reaction in our body. Whenever we have an experience which is emotionally charged, our body produces hormones such as adrenaline and noradrenaline. These hormones (which are the hormones produced as part of the stress-response mechanism) seem to strengthen the memory’s storage capacity by leaving very vivid images in the brain.

So how can we engender emotion-arousing experiences (preferably positive ones!) in the classroom? Well, you’re probably doing so already, if you’re using songsand stories. These are both potentially exciting – and therefore memorable - for young learners, but – and it’s a big ‘but’ - a lot depends on both the material you useand the way you exploit it.

Choose your songs and stories with care, not just for their linguistic input but, more crucially, for their degree of interest and motivational impact for your age group.

Obviously you can’t expect your learners to cope with a text which is way beyond their L2 competence, but it’s surprising how much effort they will make to grasp asong or story they really like, even though it contains a fair amount of unknown grammar or vocabulary.

As for how you use your material, it’s easy to overdo it and  turn the experience from a magical moment into a boring question and answer session or a heavy piece of grammar practice, and kill it stone dead. We need to be careful to balance enjoyment (heart) and exploitation (head).

An additional problem for us is that today’s youngsters are exposed to lots of sophisticated and highly exciting songs and stories, mainly on screens of one sort or

another. If we can’t (or don’t want to) offer that in the classroom, then we need to make sure that what we dois emotionally engaging in other ways, at the same timeas providing a vehicle for language learning.

Interestingly, physical movement often provokes an emotional response - excitement and/or laughter – so one way is to ask for a physical response instead of - or

as well as - a verbal response. With songs, this might take the form of ‘action’ songs, where certain words are accompanied or replaced by movement or mime.

With stories, this could be a sort of TPR (total physical response) or acting out. At a very simple level, it could be asking the students to stand up or put their hand up every time they hear a certain word repeated in the story.

Another way of engendering emotion-arousing experiences in the classroom, of course, is to use games. Nothing new there. But what might be a new idea is the (very old) idea of using drills in a game-like way. Game-drills.

 Game -drills

A game-drill is a very simple way of doing a repetition drill to make it thought-provoking (head), physical (hands) and adrenaline-producing (heart). Now I knowdrills are not cool these days: every time I ask a group of teachers ‘How many of you use repetition drills?’ I get a very lukewarm response. But I think learners (and notjust highly auditory learners) can benefit a lot from drills – I certainly have in my own language-learning past. And drills don’t have to be boring and mechanical.

All you need is a picture to make statements about, using a particular structure. Any picture will do, as long as everybody can see it clearly: a small picture in theircourse book or a large picture held up or projected. Any structure will do, as long as it ties in with your picture.

 If what I say is true, then the students must immediately nod their heads, say ‘Yes!’ and repeat the statement. If what I say is false, then the students must immediatelyshake their heads and say ‘No! That’s not true!’ Even though this particular drill forces the students to count, it’s important to insist on a reasonably fast response to get the adrenaline flowing (though it’s a good idea to give them some time to look at the picture before you start.). I also insist on a wholehearted response rather than a tentative one and get them to practise this. What happens when they get it wrong sometimes (as they inevitably do)? Everyone bursts out laughing.

The drill for the picture above would go something like this (and because it’s lots of fun, it could go on for a whole lot longer than indicated here):

T: There are ten cakes on the table.

Ss: (nodding) Yes! There are ten cakes on the table.

T: There are two cakes on the chair.

Ss: (nodding) Yes! There are two cakes on the chair.

T: There’s a pear on the chair.

Ss (shaking..) No! That’s not true.

T: There are five pink cakes.

Ss (shaking..) No! That’s not true….. (and so on.)

In case you’re wondering why the students aren’t asked to correct the false statements instead of just to say ‘No! That’s not true!’ well they are sometimes. But in this instance there are several ways of correcting, so it could all get a bit ragged, as well as slow the pace down considerably. I find too that students enjoy shouting out ‘No! That’s not true!’ and do so with great gusto! After all, it’s not often that they get to say such things in the classroom!

Our mind is reflective, our body is active and our emotions are affective. These three things together make for learning which is highly effective. Head, hands and heart.

Jane Revell is a well-known teacher, trainer and course book writer with over 30 years experience in ELT. She is an NLP Master Practitioner and Trainer, co-author ofIn Your Hands and Handing Over and author of Success over Stress. She runsworkshops all over the world and teaches English and runs NLP summer coursesat her home in Brittany.



  http://www.freerice.com is a website where you can improve your grammar and vocabulary and at the same time make rice donation to the UN World Food Program; for each correct answer, the website donates 10 grains to the Program to help eliminate hunger around the world. The more often you play, the more often rice (in big quantities of course) is donated.   

Useful websites for teachers and students,        http://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/ar            http://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/  

Websites to improve speaking and listening:       http://www.esl-galaxy.com/speaking.html           http://www.englishclub.com/            http://www.education-world.com/          http://www.speaking24.com/ 

 Useful Websites to improve reading and writing:       http://www.breakingnewsenglish.com/           http://www.englishforeveryone.org/              http://www.onestopenglish.com/   

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