Google+ Followers

Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Role, Importance, and Power of Words (by a guest)

I haven't posted an article for a while and this time I'm sharing an article one of my blog readers wrote. Some months ago I received an e-mail saying:

Hi Marisa,

I'm a researcher/writer for a resource covering the importance of English proficiency in today's workplace. I came across your blog as I was conducting research and I'm interested in contributing an article to your blog because I found the topics you cover very engaging.

I'm thinking about writing an article that looks at how the Internet has changed the way English is used today; not only has its syntax changed as a result of the Internet Revolution, but the amount of job opportunities has also shifted as a result of this shift. I'd be happy to work with you on the topic if you have any insights. Thanks, and I look forward to hearing from you soon.


And I thought it would be a good idea. Here it is:

Today’s post by Alexa Russell focuses on both the challenges and opportunities the Internet offers to teachers of the English language, particularly with the proliferation of social media sites. Alexa researches and writes about studying English in the 21st century, including articles on the availability of open courseware English classes and courses. Here, Alexa builds on the Linguistic Consultancy’s blog post about how to approach teaching English with flexibility and an eye toward motivating students, often by using the social media tools available on the Internet.

The Role of Teachers in The Complicated Relationship Between the English Language and the Internet

The Internet has proven most paradoxical as far as the English language is concerned. On one hand, the web is home to a wealth of English language education opportunities, many of which are free or low-cost; but at the same time, linguistic experts complain that ‘webspeak,’ or shorthand and morphed English used on the web and in text messages, is effectively ruining English spelling and grammar. Today, many experts agree that licensed English teachers can play a crucial role in providing positive learning opportunities for e-students without exposing them to the confusing influence of Internet shorthand.

As New York Times correspondent Eric A. Taub recently noted, there are many online resources free of charge to those who wish to learn English. They include:

  • BBC Learning These English lessons for children and adults use multimedia and an interactive format to improve speaking and writing skills.
  • These interactive English lessons include social networking opportunities and downloadable apps for smartphones and tablet devices.
  • Open Culture This forum-style site features links to various English lessons, as well as videos, eBooks and other supplementary materials.
But formal English courses are not the only resources that can aid web users in learning English. English mini-lessons (with titles like ‘How to Use Adjectives and Adverbs’ and ‘Writing for a North American Business Audience’) are available through the Purdue University Online Writing Lab (OWL). And since many teachers utilize newsprint during their lessons, the international Online Newspaper Index is a valuable resource that demonstrates the worldwide variances in English writing.

With the worldwide rise of social media, many education experts have touted various platforms as valuable English learning tools. For example, a recent article in ESchool News noted that Twitter, a platform with roughly 465 million accounts (as of January 2012), is useful to educators as an accurate gauge of current events, trends and pop culture. Furthermore, most ‘tweets’ are composed in English, and their content is indicative of contemporary language usage. 

While many educators tout the informative qualities of social media, many have spoken out against its detrimental effects on the English language.These complaints are bolstered by a recent study by the American Institutes for Research, which found English proficiency scores have noticeably worsened over the last decade – even as math proficiency has improved. Social media outlets like Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest – as well as the surge in text messaging – are largely blamed for this steady decline. If this is the effect social media has on native English speakers, critics argue, then Twitter and Facebook could not possibly benefit ESL learners.

However, many teachers have found considerable success by using social media to teach English. The San Marcos Unified School District of Northern California, for example, instituted a social media profile program two years. Sixth, seventh and eighth grade students use Facebook to upload finished essays, and then provide feedback and critiques to classmates for their work. Incidentally, the school’s standardized test scores rose from 64.6 percent to 80.3 percent in the year after the program was launched.

Ultimately, noted Guardian UK Contributor Ryan Owen Gibson last April, social media is not only a strong educational resource but also a relevant cultural phenomenon – and those who ignore it are “missing out on a world of opportunities.” He urges teachers to utilize Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest and blogging programs to build basic language skills with young people – and warns them not to underestimate the power of social media. “By refusing to engage with our children in the digital playground that is social media,” he noted, “we will never truly understand their needs and never fully realise its potential as a language learning tool.”

The English educators who find the most success with social media are those who teach it under well-established guidelines (i.e. no ‘webspeak’). This structure ensures that children will not only be able to build their skills in an interactive setting, but also that their grammar and spelling won’t suffer.

 Alexa Russell is a freelance writer who has primarily been working with an online, educational resource devoted to delivering information to students pursuing an English degree. Her primary interests are developing educational technology and the changing nature of communication. Feel free to drop her a line if you ever have any questions. 

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Are Students a Source of Inspiration for Teachers?

Throughout my teaching experience I've found out that even when a class is made up of individual students who have their own personality traits, the class as a whole adopts a certain character that makes it particular. For that reason, we teachers should be as flexible as it is possible so as to adapt our teaching practice to a certain class in order to be successful and aid our students in their skill developing process. 

Apart from having a certain character, a class as a whole varies as to its mood to which the way the students feel on a particular day contributes. 

I teach several groups of teenagers and even when they are almost the same age, their attitude towards their learning process varies. And these classes are a source of inspiration to me not only when I plan their lessons but also during the teaching-learning process. I do my best to be flexible enough so as to adapt what I have planned for them to their attitude. 

No matter how much I insist in person and via Internet, I sometimes find it hard to make teenagers aware of the importance of developing independent learners' skills. I make use of strategies in class to help students study and improve themselves.

One of the groups I teach is supposed to be reviewing two units of their coursebook for a test but the tasks they do in class show they are not studying outside the classroom. So I decided to implement a task I designed on the spot thanks to the inspiration I got from my students. I assigned two pages from the units of the coursebook they were supposed to be studying to each student. The aim of the activity was to make students read, remember the information and share it with their partners, which would also help them develop fluency skills. 

The task was successful and my students seemed to enjoy it. How do you make students aware of the need to practise outside the classroom? I'd like to hear about your strategies. 

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Brad Patterson´s latest post inspired me to write this post. In it Brad posed a challenge and, personally speaking, I like challenges in life. As to teaching itself, I consider motivating students is sometimes challenging as being successful requires creativity and versatility from teachers.

Returning to Brad's proposal, my metaphor is: "Teaching is like day-dreaming." As a teacher I isolate myself from the world around me when I'm teaching and create a new world. My mind is totally focused on the lesson and on my students. I can forget about everything that forms part of my non-teaching life.


As to the second challenge, the non-teaching experience that has brought more to my classroom than anything else has been travelling abroad. It's not that I have travelled that much but it has broadened my mind and made me interact with and meet all kinds of people. That's why it has contributed to my teaching practice.

If you feel like joining Brad's challenges, at the top you'll find the link to his post.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Interactive Practice for Beginners

I haven't written posts for a while due to lack of time. In January and in February I worked in London as an assistant to the supervisor of a firm that organises educational trips for adolescents. And in March I started teaching one-to-one and group classes. Among my one-to-one students, I have beginners who need to practise basic structures such as: verb to be, personal pronouns, possessive adjectives, questions. To this end, I've designed examples and opportunities for interaction so as to practise and remember those grammar points and vocabulary in context through pictures and data.

This material can be simple but I imagine it can be helpful for many of my colleagues who may need it.