Thursday, March 22, 2007

New Website Quizzes

I've added a few Beauty Therapy quizzes linked from the Quizzes page.

As might be guessed I wrote them for a particular student who is struggling with remembering the names of muscles and arteries. I try all sorts of things, especially mnemonics, so I am trying Hot Potatoes quizzes with her to see if it works. She enjoys doing them, but she hasn't learned the words yet. If I have them on the web, I am acting in accordance with the software licence and will have them there the next time I need them. They may be useful for someone else. I get this quite a lot with students I support, where they are asked to remember wonderful, impossible names for a level 2 NVQ; another example is where Horticulture students have to learn the Latin names of plants. I did Latin so the names of these muscles mean a little bit to me. They don't mean much to my Somali student.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Blogs and Wikis for Literacy

These thoughts come from reading Doug Belshaw's blog here. This post led me to his class wiki, the class blog roll, and a discussion of how this works in practice. Reading all three in conjunction is fruitful.

I can certainly see a literacy class, where the class materials are on one page - a wiki, and where the student writing is on a set of others - blogs. Moodle certainly has the set up to do this, but the wiki approach is more straightforward and more easily customisable, and the learners might prefer to be in a more public (and more neutral) space. I'll have a go in Moodle and see if I can make it look right. The problem Doug Belshaw has is where to store the blogs, but with a smaller literacy class each student could have a Blogger account.

I also liked Doug's recent post on Hitting the Wall, talking about wanting innovate as with elearning but finding a brick wall - cue nice illustrations. This is just as relevant in FE as in Secondary School. He doesn't talk about demotivated (and confused) staff though, maybe that only happens in FE.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Reflect 7

There is a new issue of Reflect out in pdf, which I always enjoy reading. One article I found interesting, another I'm afraid to say rather made my blood boil.

Firstly, positively, I enjoyed the piece on Page 17 entitled Bilingual Learners - literacy or ESOL? It's about class placement, what is the boundary between an ESOL class and a literacy class. Examples are given of learners ending up in what purported to be literacy classes when their real need was oral English. At a few stages of my career I've had a hand in placing bilingual learners, and it's never been a problem, but then I've always known the content of the classes and the skills of the teachers. The examples given here could mostly have been put right if the learner's needs had been adequately assessed. I cannot say whether these learners were asked whether their main need was to improve speaking or literacy, but it looks as if they were placed to meet institutional needs, group everyone together because the institution cannot fund two different classes. There may also be issues with non-specialist referral staff who are confused by the presence of Speaking and Listening in the Literacy Curriculum. Working in Southall in West London in the 1980s, I was responsible for setting up specific ESOL/Literacy classes, for learners who had poorish oral skills but little or no first language literacy. These were taught by literacy specialists with an interest in or experience of ESOL. Currently colleges may run Basic Skills courses within their ESOL provision for this group of learners, mostly I believe taught by ESOL specialists. I have always been more than happy to place bilingual learners in literacy classes, but only if I am convinced that is what they need and want, and that the teacher can cope with it. The article also makes reference in passing to the idea that British born literacy learners may have ESOL needs as well. It is good to see that research is being done into the issue.

On a more negative mode I was less happy to see a plug for the National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics (NCETM), under the guise of a review. There is a link between NRDC who publish Reflect and NCETM via the DFES - too many acronyms. The NCETM site worries me a lot, maybe because it does not seem to have a lot to do with excellence, although it should be a portal to so much. Sure there are links to resources, but in the world of mathematics, there are hundreds of sites with links to resources, some with just as strong moderation. However the site (and the "review")sets great store in its blogging. I fail to see what they mean by the word "blog"; I think they are confusing "blog" with "blog post". It's not easy to follow one person's posts, and there are no RSS feeds for "blogs" that I can discover. The only two blog posts with reference to post 16 consist of a starter entry and a single comment (from the same user) that he'll digest and get back. The biggest problem with the site at present from my perspective is that it's all about schools. The "review" says that we as practitioners should contribute, but I cannot see why we should as there is no evidence that this is the right forum. It also adds that Maths4Life is getting involved so that may change things. Maybe I'll look again next year and it will be wonderful. Unfortunately the burden of an unintuitive site may prove too much. Surely Reflect should distance itself more from NRDC projects.

Enough rant, back to preparing next week's teaching.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Mind Maps

Here is a new Web 2.0 tool from - quick and easy mind maps that you can edit collaboratively over the web. The product is at an early stage and there is not a lot of functionality, and maybe it will stay simple. As I see it you can only share to people you nominate as a friend with their email; you cannot post a link. You can however embed and I've put one below. I like to use mind maps to plan things with learners, especially dyslexic learners. I also use them to demonstrate things to be learned like this example. It's Flash based and takes time to load. It prints well, but really needs a colour printer. It's free of course and readily accessible.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Additions 9th March

I've added links for the following:
  • I found a link to on a blog I have been following - I Speak of Dreams, particularly the post on Theories on the Cause of Dyslexia. Both writers are what I would call sober on dyslexia; they are concerned that dyslexia should be understood in a way that includes a scientific understanding. Theories on the Cause of Dyslexia refers to the idea that we can expect that more than one cause of dyslexia will prove to be the case when we have full understanding. This page on refers to the myths of dyslexia and suggests that a lot of the problems that dyslexic people have are caused by bad teaching early on - this in a week when inspectors have criticized literacy standards in nursery education. A lot of misunderstanding is caused by focusing so much on the idea that dyslexia is poor reading skills, rather than that poor reading skills is one symptom of dyslexia, exacerbated in countries with difficult spelling patterns.
  • I have started to put resources I use to teach what I call underpinning numeracy skills for people to learn in preparation for the end tests in to one place. At the moment this is on a wiki page which I can update easily wherever I am. Eventually I will incorporate it on the site along with the Spellsheets page and other similar sets. At the moment it mainly includes my own resources (quizzes and pdfs) and stuff from Skillswise. Although the site is mainly about online learning, there are some points where I need to organise paper-based resources as well. At the moment this is linked from the End Tests page.
  • I have gone over the word lists in the spellsheets and changed fonts into sans serif ones for easier reading with my learners.