Sunday, May 6, 2012

How are social networks like carbon?

Among other things, the following video featuring Nicholas Christakis (Professor of Sociology, Medical Sociology and Medicine) in a presentation at Harvard University inspired me to write a cross-curricular yearly project about social networking.

Actually, I was supposed to plan a teaching sequence for an in-service teacher training course, but little by little the teaching sequence became four teaching sequences and so the whole thing had to be redesigned as a yearly project - just a bunch of short teaching sequences.

I implemented this project in two classes at a technical secondary school by the second week in May in 2012. In one class, the project was successfully completed with just few adjustments here and there. In the other class, the project had to be extensively adapted and I'm still wondering up to what extent students were able to learn something at all...

Well, what’s the video about?

I won’t tell you:-D

Let's watch the video and as you watch, think over these questions:

How many kinds of social networks are there? How do social networks form? How do they work? What do they look like?

When and where are social networks set?

What purposes do social networks serve? Why do people get involved in social networking services?

How do social network sevices affect our daily lives? Which aspects of our lives are affected? How?

What is the relationship between reciprocity/collaboration and social networks? What about social networking services?

What is the point of a ‘connected’ life? Is there any possible advantages/disadvantages? If so, which one(s)?

What is the relationship between social networks and social capital? what role(s) do social networking services play? 

What do you think about the way Prof. Christakis introduces the concept of capitalism and describes it? Which political stance underlies this part of the presentation? Do you agree with his point of view?

How does he connect education, social networks and human capital? Do you agree with his ideas and point of view? Is he speaking about social networks or social networking services? Is it important to know the difference? If so, why?

Prof. Christakis puts forwards a given specific use for social networks. Which one? Now, what other potential uses could social networking have?

Taking account of the fact that social networks are made up of people connecting to other people, do you think the analogy he uses (graphite vs diamond) to illustrate his ideas is appropriate/felicitous? Think about the properties of each material and try to match these properties to different social groups. Which social group is the diamond? Which one is the graphite?

Just before ending the presentation (10:07), Prof. Christakis goes back to the main idea of the whole talk and makes it explicit. What do you think? Do you agree with him? Why?
I hope you find this video as interesting, relevant and thought-provoking as I’ve found it. Enjoy!

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Assignment 2 Revisited

After getting some feedback from my tutor, I decided to post an improved version of the same teaching sequence. This time you’ll see I included labels for the different stages and some further suggestions for the actual implementation.

Some words of warning are needed here. I enhanced the teaching sequence planned by L. Simón & G. Rosetti applying the following criteria:

- I divided the teaching sequence into 4 main stages: prep stage, content-oriented activities, skills-oriented activities and focus stage. The prep stage is what Willis calls ‘The Pre-task Stage’. The content-oriented activities are activities in which the main aim is to work on the subject content; in this case, History. The skills-oriented activities are activities in which the main aim is to develop 1 or 2 language skills (i.e. listening/watching, reading, speaking and writing). Notice that both content oriented-activities and skills-oriented activities belong to what Willis calls ‘The Task Cycle’. Finally, the focus stage is what Willis called ‘The Language Focus Stage’. I chose a plain label for this stage because at this stage you can have Ss analysing and systematising not only language (lexis, grammar and phonology) but discourse, skills and strategies. I decided to focus on grammar, but I could have focused on discourse and had Ss analysing the genre, text types and information distribution patterns.

- I included an assessment stage here and there as well. This is my own attempt to apply the concepts I’ve recently learnt in an in-service teacher training course. For the sake of time and space, I won’t discuss ‘assessment’ here but if you want to know more about my assessment planning decisions, post your queries and I’ll reply.

- I used the word ‘activity’ because the word ‘task’ is biased towards thinking of TBL and/or CLIL, but I’ve noticed some teachers are not well acquainted with the difference between ‘task’ and ‘activity’ according to TBL and CLIL underlying theories.

- I labelled each group of interconnected activities as ‘assignment’ (A-K).

- I kept the label ‘task’ (1-6) to show the changes since the authors of the teaching sequence used the label ‘task’.

There are still some shortcomings in this teaching sequence:

- There isn’t balance between activities that require the use of ICT tools and activities that are more traditional. Hence, there’s a risk that students might get hooked on the tool and forget about the real aim of the activity. The ICT tool must be just a means to an end: learning the content, developing skills, and so on. For instance, as I modified the teaching sequence, my main aims were to introduce the use of e-portfolios in the English lesson, teach students how to use EVERNOTE and have them reflecting upon such an experience.

- Then, we should try to strike a balance among activities that focus on content (of a school subject other than English Lg), activities that focus on the use of English (i.e. features of discourse, communicative functions, lexicogrammatical aspects, phonological aspects and language skills development), and activities that foster the development of thinking skills and learning-to-learn skills. For example, in the section ‘Focus on Grammar’, Assignment G, Activities 5.1.-5.5., there is a dramatic shift in theme. That is, the online interactive activities aren’t related to the French Revolution, but to literary narrative texts (anecdotes and short stories). I could have used the HOT POTATOES software here to improve these activities. Obviously, this would have taken longer. That’s why for the sake of saving time, I took a short cut here.

- As I was making changes to the teaching sequence, I had a very particular class in mind. That is, a small group of student with a good command of the English language I taught at a state secondary school in the province of BA last year. As you can easily see, that teaching context was quite unusual. Otherwise, I don’t really think I’d ever teach such teaching sequence at all; not because of the complexity of the activities but because of the irrelevance of the theme. Sorry if this sounds rude to you, but this is my opinion. However, I can say no more because I don’t know a single thing about the teaching context in which the authors planned to implement their teaching sequence.

- Please, do notice that I haven’t included any indications at all about how I’d divide the teaching sequence into 60-minute lessons. Obviously, each 60-minute lesson should start with a prep stage in which Ss review the previous lesson contents, preview the lesson contents, and activate (or build up) prior knowledge (about the theme, contents, etc.). Hence, at the points we decide to divide the teaching sequence into 60-minute lessons, relevant prep stage activities should be planned. Then, each lesson should ideally finish with a short revision of what Ss have covered so far.

- Finally, I haven’t overcome some technical issues yet. For instance, I couldn’t find a way to enlarge the TIP BOXES and USEFUL LANGUAGE BOXES so that they can be easily read when posted. The thing is that this text boxes have to be uploaded as pictures and the pictures can be shown on the blog in 5 sizes by default (i.e. small, medium, large, X-large, original size). I used the X-large size in all the boxes, but they still look small when posted on the blog. I’ll keep trying…


I can't believe I'm back

Let me tell you a short story, a creepy one...

Assignment 2

What follows (Assignments A-K) is the way I changed the teaching sequence (TASKS 1-6) planned by L. Simón & G. Rosetti. I decided to keep the original number of each task to easily show how I modified the sequence. I did so having in mind a group of students I teach at a state secondary school in the province of BA.

Assignment 1

DISCLAIMER: By no means, this post implies a piece of criticism against the tutor.

Despite we were told that planning must be the umbrella term in our mindmaps, dare I suggest that that’s not? Why can’t education policy or foreign language education policy be the umbrella term instead? Why can’t either of them be included within the concept of culture? As a concept, culture is broader in scope.

I’ve got the strong impression that what we read was a sort of cut-and-paste collection of text bits drawn from different sources whose acknowledgement was either missing or inappropriately cited. If what we read is an academic paper, it doesn’t comply with features of the genre. It’s just a collection of 4 bits (i.e. What is content?, What is CLIL?, What is a task? and The 6T’s Approach) put somehow together. There are no introduction, no transitions from one section onto the following one and no conclusion. Even the whole reference section is missing at the end of this inconsiderate handout.

So under these conditions, how can any reader spot a given hierarchy in the whole thing? Obviously, the way the key concepts are arranged in my mindmap just reflects my own (selfish?) interpretation of the information by having recourse to my background knowledge. That is, the semantic hierarchy is not in the so-called text after all, but in my head; and thanks to that, the whole thing becomes coherent to me.

Maybe, under these conditions, any mindmap will do. Anyway, this is quite an interesting task to ‘see’ what the readers actually have in their heads.