Friday, October 17, 2008

Job Interviews - Video Quizzes for Support

I've added some activities to the website around job interviews, in the context of travel and tourism, which I hope will be more generally interesting. This is only part of a larger project to create learning materials for support using video as the focus. Those materials are primarily for the college Moodle site; they have been written to run using a Flash player which allows better resolution and has a working slider bar.

This project has taken a lot of my time in the past few months. The idea was to create differentiated quizzes with video; video because it attracts and keeps the attention in class and quizzes because they are easy to make and so can easily be made at differing levels to aid differentiation. I wanted to demonstrate that differentiated learning materials was a good route to go for support. Many of the learners in the target classes have difficulty with both spoken and written English. The idea was to use the same videos with a range of quizzes at different levels. Learners not being supported can do a task with the video while those being supported can do different activities which will help them do the task eventually.

I was not prepared for the range of problems this would produce. Here are just some:
  • Videos already available on YouTube or some of the specialist videos for teaching sites were either not suitable or so tied up in copyright to make adaptation impossible
  • Shooting our own videos was a major undertaking. After writing scripts we had a shooting day with a semi-professional crew and serious amateur actors. I did not realise how active I would have to be as producer/director and so a lot of mistakes (going off script) have come through and we are stuck with them.
  • Putting video into quizzes was difficult but I got there in the end. I needed a lot of help from the support groups for Hot Potatoes and Hot Potatoes on Moodle. I grappled with file formats and free conversion programs. I learned a lot and it took a long time.
  • There is then the problem of getting things working on college servers where the staff have their own ideas about how things should run and may not have been happy with the solutions I found.
If I were to do it again I might well go down the road of using students as actors, shooting very short scripts and using my digital camera to film. The results would be very different and not so generally useful, but it would be less of an investment in time.

As always I find it a delight to work with Hot Potatoes. I enjoy finding new ways to get different sorts of learning materials out of the basic software and extensions.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

New Numeracy Quizzes

I've started adding some new quizzes to the Maths Quizzes page on the Skills for Life Website, and to Maths Activities. I've found I've needed some extra teaching materials for learners who are supposed to be working towards Level 1, but have real weaknesses with things like subtraction, tables and division. In an ideal world they'd work towards an E3 end test, but some are already at E3 in Initial Assessment.

I'm reflecting on why I've not felt a need to have these before. I suppose it's because I'm not able to work with these learners one to one this year and therefore cannot work with examples I hand-write off the cuff as the need presents itself. The published stuff is not much help: Maths the Basic Skills covers most of this need but progresses too quickly, Carol Roberts' Level 1 Numeracy assumes they've all got E3 well sorted and the examples are much too hard, and Skillswise also mixes harder examples on the same sheets, and the E3 part is not comprehensive enough. These learners, who frequently express that they do not like maths, quickly get too discouraged when they cannot do things.

Another direct issue is that multiplying and dividing by 10 and 100 does not enter into the curriculum until L1 (N1/L14 and N2/L1.6) , and you really have to be able to multiply and divide by 1000 as well in order to convert units in the same system (MSS1/L1.7). This makes the step up to L1 from E3 quite severe. Yet this skill underpins a lot else of Level 1.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Spelling and Predictive Text

I was struck when a student told me she used Predictive Text on her mobile to help her with her spelling. I've not come across this before, but it seemed like such a good idea. She added that a spellcheck on the computer was a better option but not so convenient. Of course, if you're trying to complete records at work then having a mobile in your hand is not too embarrassing. I remember when some students had Franklin-style hand-held "spellmasters," but spellchecks seem to have driven them away. I'm now trying to think of ways of using this in my teaching, but I'll have to learn how do it myself first.

Curiously, the only Google link I could quickly find for this idea was some report quoted in the Daily Record, which stated, I think, that predictive text was the favourite reason why people's spelling was poor. As if poor spelling was so recent.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Initial Assessment

For any support tutor, initial assessment is an important time. In my college we try to initially assess all full-time and important part-time courses during induction with the online bksb assessment. It's an intense and busy time, as you try to print out results and give at least a minimum feedback to sometimes anxious people. Then you try to analyse the results and see who might need support.

This year several curriculum and personal tutors have asked me what they are supposed to do with someone who scores E3 on bksb but got a C at GCSE - could be either English or Maths. Such anomalies are really rather common. I sometimes think that maybe as many as 10% of results are anomalies. I use the paper-based BSA Initial Assessment as well, and don't get quite the range of odd results, but some are still odd and it does not go above Level 1.

Initial assessment is a broad tool and bksb in particular is very broad. You quickly move on and judge the learner in a more person-centred way as you get to know them. And, yes, I do support generic basic skills initial assessment, because without that there would be much less support offered and taken up.