April 20, 2006

Teacher training gets podcasts - Glasgow Uni Cast

This morning was a brutal 5.30am return to work after a pretty brutal week of trauma. The PowerBook's contents have been rescued, at least, providing some good news. More good news came, though, at Glasgow University, where undergraduate and postgraduate teachers from both Primary and Secondary sectors put together their first podcast. Hopefully some will think of doing one now and then with their classes. The podcast file is below and can be subscribed to in iTunes using the search 'edublogs'.

Download glasgowunicast.mp3

As always, and especially as the brain ground into action this morning, I want to take this chance to point ou the three main points of the presentation that started off the day. To raise the motivation of students there are, in my humble opinion, three vital elements, all of which must be present in every task we do. The task might involve ICT, like podcast making does, or it might not, as writing a fairytale does not need to use any ICT at all to succeed.

  1. Audience
    Students like the be heard when they know something they are saying is good. In Modern Foreign Languages students are notoriously unconfident about speaking, especially speaking in a foreign tongue in public. This is partly down to exam systems with an over-importance spent on accuracy at the expense of communication. Communication, though, is all that matters to learners in schools, provided they know communication is achieved. In most cases, even those in the weakest classes, communication can be achieved even if the staging is inaccurate. This is worthy of an audience and can usually be really entertaining for the listeners or readers. Kids tell good stories and are experts on the things they love - let them be passionate, even if there is a mistake or two, and let them communicate with a real audience.
  2. Purpose
    If a student asks why (s)he has to do a task, 9 times out of 10 there is no real reason - not for them at least. If the reason does not lie within the next 10 minutes or period of study then a student does not see the point. So, if lessons are geared towards the creation of a class product - a radio show, a book, a guide, a film - then learners will be geared up to achieving the final product. They will know how well they are doing by seeing how where they are in their work stands in relation to the completion of something palpable. Give them a reason - one that is in proximity to their lives - and they will give the product everything they've got.
  3. Voice
    Students don't like repeating what their teachers tell them is correct. They crave 'fluency' in a language. What students often mean when they crave fluency is that they crave the ability to say what they want to say. So let them. If a student wants to be passionate about Hearts football club or about shopping in Edinburgh, let them. If they want to be passionate about the types of mobile phone they can buy, let them. It might not - will not - fit nicely into the unit-by-unit way that most MFL departments work. But it will engage them. And engaged learners learn. Disengaged learners will never learn. It's more up to the teacher, not the department, to make the choice. It doesn't need to happen all the time, either, but taking a look at a year's worth of study or, better still, four year's of study, a department could cover four times as much ground as they might do if they were to follow the traditional unit-by-unit approach and, instead, follow the passions of their learners. A risky but worthwhile choice or a folly?

Do you agree with these three ideas being key to increasing motivation?
What other elements are essential in the mix?


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I never followed units - I chose texts (I'm talking English teaching here) according to my passions and my perceptions of my customers. If I didn't feel passionate about my subject, why should they? And I tended to encourage them to write and talk about topics close to their hearts. I always felt it worked.

But then I've never liked doing as I was tellt!

I agree with you 100% but have great difficulty putting it into practice because it means crashing head on with years of tradition. The students I get expect to be asked to do grammar exercises and to read a certain number of pages of text since the Danish language exam system is based on having 'done' a certain number of pages of text from which a sample will be examined. So if I veer from expectations I have a lot of explaining to do.

But occasionally it works. In a non-exam class I had one lady who made a multimedia Powerpoint with overlaid commentary about Mallorca because she felt it was a hugely misunderstood holiday destination and she wanted to rehabilitate its reputation.

In another example I discovered that one of my adult students had a brother in Australia who could hardly write Danish anymore. Her mother had been the main link between brother and sister but had just died so writing emails in English to her brother became her main motivator to improving her English.

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