Long time!

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I’m back!

Mohamed El-Ashiry's Teaching Portfolio

It’s been a very long time since I have blogged! I have been focusing on building my library of IB Economics online videos and adjusting to a new school in a new country, as well as adjusting to being a teacher at a boarding school (which is a whole other ball-game).

However, THIS happened yesterday:

I had a swim meet and so had to assign my A-block American History class some work and leave for the swim meet. I come back the next day and I see this note on the board. After of course taking a photo of it and snapping it on both Instagram and Facebook so I can brag and show off, I realized I want to get back into blogging and sharing my journey and thoughts as a teacher, as well as my reflections.

It feels great that my students think of my classes as ‘therapeutic’…

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New journey, new blog!

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Hi ladies and gentlemen!

So, I’ve embarked on a journey to become an international educator! I’m currently teaching at an international IB school in Sharjah, UAE… And in a few months I’ll be teaching at an IB school in Maryland, USA!

So I decided to actually have a website documenting my journey and I’ll be moving my blog to that website!

If you’d like to follow my new blog, please do so, here is the link: http://mrmoteachingportfolio.com

I look forward to staying in touch with all of you!

eFeedback: ICT tools I use to give my students high-quality feedback

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A blogpost I wrote for the Oxford University Press ELT Blog about how I use different ICT tools to give quality feedback to students in my classroom.

Oxford University Press

Using Evernote on an iPhone Image courtesy of Heisenberg Media via Flickr

Mohamed El-Ashiry takes a look at four online tools that have helped him deliver high-quality feedback to his students.

Upon introducing tablets into my classroom, the biggest gains I have received have been in assessment and feedback. In my experience, ICT tools facilitate the process of giving timely, relevant and effective feedback to my students. Brown & Bull (1997) argued that feedback is:

… most effective when it is timely, perceived as relevant, meaningful and encouraging, and offers suggestions for improvement that are within a student’s grasp.”

Black & William (1999) wrote that:

… improving learning through assessment depends on five, deceptively simple, key factors:

  • the provision of effective feedback to pupils;
  • the active involvement of pupils in their own learning;
  • adjusting teaching to take account of the results of assessment;
  • a recognition of the profound influence assessment has on the motivation ​and…

View original post 715 more words

The Blipped Classroom… Or Flended Learning?

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Last year, I had major voice problems. A combination of poor breathing habits and too much coffee resulted in a very strained voice. I couldn’t be more thankful for those voice problems. They really pushed me to reconsider the way I teach. Around the same time, I bought an iPad. I also couldn’t be more thankful for my iPad, because that too helped me find alternative methods of teaching. I stumbled across ShowMe, an iPad screen-casting app. That was the beginning. To avoid delivering content to my students in the lecturing style of teaching, which strained my voice the most, I recorded all of them at home, in a quiet environment that did not require raising my voice. I would them post them to my ShowMe profile, give the students the URL and they would watch it at home. I later came to learn that this was the concept of the ‘flipped classroom’, which is becoming a huge trend now in education. It was funny that I was only driven to that way of teaching to preserve my voice and help it heal!

I also started using blogging with my students around the same time, as it was a ‘quieter’ discussion platform. I relied on the school’s intranet LMS for that. I did not have to conduct the same discussions in class, where I would have to use my voice often to facilitate the discussion. Basically, class-time was used to solve worksheets, for revision and for group projects, where my talking would be limited to one-on-one or to a small group (a much more manageable task when you have voice problems). I also set up a wiki on the school’s intranet LMS for creating revision notes. The students did not really make use of electronic devices in the class, partly because I was still learning about which apps to use and how, and partly because there was no clear policy at the school for BYOD device. Here are some screenshots of what we did in class through the intranet LMS system.

 

 

This changed with the beginning of this academic year in January. Year 7 students were all required to purchase iPads and I was one of the eLearning leaders (because I literally begged my principal to assign me that role). The school had drafted a BYOD policy and I had to help create a framework for using iPads and eLearning/mLearning in the school, and to train teachers through PD sessions so that they too can become more comfortable with the use of such devices. Of course, in my role as an eLearning leader, I was sent out to a lot of conferences and inservice sessions, and my learning was exponential.

I was only teaching drama for the first half of the academic year (as I was employed part-time to allow me to finish my masters). But during the second half of the year, I was asked to step in for two teachers that went on long-service leave, one after the other. I created a blog for my year 9 humanities class, which I primarily used as my teaching notes and a revision resource for them, should they need it. I tried to encourage them to blog more but I only had the class for four weeks and creating that culture of blogging takes much longer. Then I stepped in for a year 8 English class. I used the school’s intranet LMS to create a blog for discussions in the class. I also used the blog to teach them about effective ‘digital citizenship’ and how to create a positive ‘digital footprint’. Now, I am back to only teaching drama again, and I am using my drama subject blog more to document the student learning and to show what we are doing in the class.

Through this journey, I have learnt a lot, and I believe I have found the right mixture of Web 2.0 tools, a mixture that works for me. This is not to say that these tools are the best out there, but they work for me, and this is the main lesson I have learnt: it is all about what works for you and your students, there is no one-size-fits-all formula for using ICT in the class. ‘Flipped classrooms‘ and ‘blended learning‘ sound like very fancy terms, but at the end of the day, the teacher is the main driver behind student learning and student success. I do believe in the importance of blended learning, as we need to prepare students to become effective digital citizens and to possess the necessary ICT-literacies that are in very high demand in the modern workplace. I also believe that flipping the classroom has its merits: most of the lecturing can be done at home where students work at their own pace, and this frees up class time for doing the nitty-gritty learning stuff!

So, here is my Web 2.0 and ICT classroom framework, which I believe combines the two concepts (others are definitely allowed to disagree, in fact I would appreciate all feedback and suggestions for improvement):

  1. A class Edmodo page: this is the central LMS system. This is where I would post content: worksheets, videos, quizzes, polls, hyperlinks etc… This is also where I would make announcements, and maybe start discussions about class-related material. I love Edmodo because of its quizzing, polling and library tools, and because I love social networking!
  2. A class blog: possibly using the school’s intranet LMS as the class’ central portal for blogging. The advantage is that it is all internal, however our intranet LMS can be quite limiting. Additionally, students can not really author their own blogs on our school’s intranet LMS, but rather only respond to posts from the teacher. This class blog will be used to facilitate discussions and to coach students in the practices of effective digital citizens.
  3. Student blogs: Additionally, I might set up one blog per group of students (4-5 students in each group) using a school-provided google account. The students would alternate posting and commenting roles throughout the semester (maybe inform them that you expect them to post TWICE during the term and comment on at least FIVE different posts, for example).
  4. A class wiki: this could be set up using the intranet LMS and could be used to create revision notes or a class textbook, or a collection of resources about the topics studied in class. The students can create and embed material using VoiceThreads and screen-casting tools, so that the wiki consists of a variety of multimedia tools to cater for their different learning styles.
  5. Combining Google Forms with screen-casting: this can be used for formative assessment of student understanding. I could create a screencast every week for the theoretical material that needs to be covered, and embed it in the class blog, along with an embedded/hyperlinked Google Form to measure student learning. I rely mostly on my iPad to create screencasts, using apps such as ShowMe or ExplainEverything. I have used Google Forms more than once already, and I love this tool. I have used it to collect feedback on a unit of work from students, I have used it to facilitate peer evaluations in my drama classes and I have used it as a worksheet to help in defining slapstick comedy. I can see many more ways of using it and there are lots of ideas out there.
  6. Using Google Docs: in the event of having to submit an essay or a powerpoint presentation (which is required in a lot of Common Assessment Tasks at school), I prefer requesting that the students use Google Docs. The advantage of doing so is that I can be granted access to the document while it is being created and can be involved in the whole process, which can then be assessed, as opposed to assessing only the final product (a submitted essay or powerpoint presentation). Students can also share their documents with a classmate while they are working on it, and this is to make use of peer feedback. Google Docs also encourages collaborative learning, which I am a very big fan of.

To conclude, I believe this framework doesn’t really fully flip the classroom, and it also makes use of blended learning. So I am going to combine the two concepts in one term, which should it be: FLENDED LEARNING or BLIPPED CLASSROOM?

Student self-assessment: capitalizing on its benefits?

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Assessment is a recurring theme in my blogging. I think that is because it was my biggest challenge when I started teaching. I wrote before how I thought that teacher-training programs do not prepare us sufficiently for our role as assessors as they do for our role as teachers. This blogpost will focus more on self-assessment and how I came to use it in my classroom. I am now a lot more comfortable with my use of student self-assessment in class, but it didn’t start as such. I would also like to invite other educators to comment and suggest other ways to fully capitalize on the benefits of student self-assessment.

The context is a unit of work on improvisational theatre for my year 7 drama classes. I always post the main content on the board for every lesson (imagine writing this four times a week for about six weeks!). Below is a copy of the whiteboard with the main learning material posted on it. Basically it is a simplified list of the features of the best improvisations and what the best improvisers do. We refer constantly to those two lists when the students give each other feedback on their performances, and when the students assess and evaluate their own performances.

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After having practiced improvisational skills for about five or six weeks through playing various improv games and theatresports, the students are given this task sheet that will be used to assess Criterion B (Application). They are told that this MYP Arts criterion is used to assess ideas, skills, techniques and processes. The students are then given a prompt for their improvisation, and the performances are filmed. After all performances, the students watch the video of their improvisations and then use the checklist in the task sheet to assess their performance.

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The last step required of the student is to use the self-assessment column in the rubric below to give themselves a mark out of 10 for Criterion B (Application).

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Last year, this process was already in place for me. However, I didn’t really know what the next step should be. I didn’t know how to fully bridge the gap between the student’s self-assessment and my own teacher’s assessment of their work. I did a lot of reading and professional learning on assessment, and I finally came across a fantastic alternative assessment tool: conferencing with the students. It seems very common-sensical, but in actual fact it wasn’t for me.

What I learned to do after the students use the checklist and the rubric to assess their work, is to conference with each one of them. I use this 2-3 minute chat (which I build into class-time), to probe further reflection. I ask questions such as: “Why did you give yourself this mark? What suggestions for improvement do you have for yourself?”. I also constantly remind them to refer to the guidelines for successful improvisations/improvisers written on the whiteboard for their oral reflection during the conferencing. Students are often (though not always) quite capable of evaluating their own work and formulating their own feedback for improvement. Of course, you will come across the students that under-assess themselves and those that over-assess themselves. I always remind the ones that under-assess their work that they are being too hard on themselves and focus on highlighting the positive aspects of their work. I also probe further reflection from those that over-assess themselves and ask them to see how they can improve. Using their performance, checklist, rubric self-assessment and the conference, I finally arrive at my own teacher-assessment, which I add to their rubric in the teacher assessment column, reminding them to use this discussion in the conference as their feedback for improvement.

I am now much more comfortable with the way I administer the task and assess the students, and with the way I allow students to assess themselves and evaluate their own work. However, I believe there is always room for improvement. I would like to invite teachers and educators to share their thoughts, views and suggestions.

To drama or not to drama?

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Drama-icon

Drama is a very powerful learning tool. There is lots of academic research in education to back this statement up. I will not be presenting arguments to back it up in this post. What I will be discussing is how I made use of drama, as a learning tool, in the other subjects that I teach (other than drama).

I have always been passionate about theatre and drama. But one thing frustrated me: a lot of the theatre programs I participated in, whether as a teacher or a student, were more focused on the show than on the learning experience for the participants. My passion for drama was a lot more educational than it was artistic. Maybe that is why I did not really feel that a career in theatre is what I wanted (and I did experiment with that path for a short period of time).

Also, I wasn’t just satisfied with a career as a drama teacher. I wanted to bring the educational benefits of drama into other subject areas. I wanted to find ways of integrating drama more into other curricula. I set out on a quest to find out how, and I experimented with a lot of tools. This is a post I wrote to share my experiences.

Firstly, there are a lot of theatre or drama conventions/strategies that drama teachers generally use with their students to help them analyze text to build character and to understand motivations and objectives. My first experiment with taking these tools outside the drama classroom was with conscience alley in my year 10 humanities class in 2011. This technique or convention requires students to form two lines facing each other (i.e. an alley) and one student plays a character facing a dilemma or a difficult decision. The student-in-role then walks through that alley, whilst being bombarded with advice and conflicting arguments. I used this technique to explore the motivations the Muslims may have had for invading Spain in the Middle Ages. One student stepped into the role of the Caliph at the time, while the dilemma was ‘to invade Spain or not to invade Spain’. The students had to quickly read through the text and come up with arguments for and arguments against invading and bombard the Caliph with their arguments as he/she walked through the alley. This activity was then used as a basis for a reflective journal entry in which students had to weigh up the arguments and solve the dilemma. The students thoroughly enjoyed the activity and were very engaged, and I believe the activity improved their arguments in the journal entry. They even requested more similar activities being brought into the humanities classroom.

Later on, I experimented with hot-seating, where a student would step into the role of one of the historical figures studied, and be interviewed by the class in a sort-of press-conference-setting. This activity requires the students to have some good background information about the historical figures, but also there is a lot of room for creativity and just having fun with improvisations. Mantle-of-the-expert was yet another drama strategy that I used in the same unit of work about the ‘Islamic History of Spain’. The students studied the achievements of the Islamic world during the Golden Age of Islam, and so some students were assigned the role of a panel of experts from the various fields of achievements (astronomy, mathematics, geography, agriculture, poetry etc…). The class would then interview that panel of ‘experts’ about their contributions to the Golden Age of Islam.

This year, I used thought-tracking to explore the thoughts and feelings certain characters may be having during certain parts in a novel studied in my year 8 English classroom. A student would be asked to step in role and voice the thoughts and feelings of the assigned character at a certain stage in the novel. I also made use of the other drama strategies mentioned earlier, and I noticed a much higher level of engagement from the students and deeper reflections when these activities were used as a stimulus for journal-writing.

Earlier this year I designed an assessment framework (as part of my masters) that relies wholly on drama strategies as a stimulus for speaking and writing, and to assess reading and listening. This was when I came across this fantastic resource: Joe Winston’s book ‘Second Language Learning Through Drama’. I would highly recommend it for any teacher interested in integrating drama more into their classroom, even if they do not teach drama. I also found the Swansea Grid for Learning literacy resources to be very useful, especially this leaflet.

The advantages I observed of using drama as a learning tool in the classroom are:

  • Engagement: I noticed students were a lot more engaged and interested in the material studied, even if they did not necessarily want to participate in the drama activity, they were still keen to watch their classmates perform.
  • Kinaesthetic learning: these drama strategies require a lot of movement and can appeal more to students that get restless when sitting down and writing for too long.
  • Great stimulus or prompt for a writing task: as it allowed students to dig deeper into the text and actually step into the role of the characters or historical figures, which improved their understanding. This was in turn reflected in their writing.
  • A practical and authentic formative assessment tool: to see whether or not the class have understood the content or the text.

However, there are challenges that teachers should be aware of:

  • Not all students will be keen to participate at first: of course, not everyone likes to perform because they may be shy or self-conscious. I found that slowing introducing these activities and encouraging students to try their best eventually led to full participation. I told my students that trying something new for the first time is the hardest, like riding a bike for the first time, but the more you do it, the more confident you become at it.
  • It will often get noisier: I noticed that students get very excited when I apply these strategies in class and this can led to them being noisier. Moreover, the strategies themselves do encourage a lot of talking. Just relax at first and understand that while they are noisy, it does not mean they are not learning. Just be clear about your expectations and set up an easy class signal to get back their attention.
  • These activities are not a panacea: they are engaging strategies that can be added to a big repertoire of other teaching activities. Naturally, a teacher should have many diverse tools and tricks in their teaching arsenal to appeal to all learning styles, and ensure that everyone is learning.

I hope this reflection on my experiences with drama outside the drama classroom was helpful and that you may take at least one thing out of it. Now, it’s your decision: To Drama or Not to Drama? Maybe set up a conscience alley to help you decide 😉