Thursday, 25 October 2007

The world into my classroom

Checking my blog feeds today I came across Julie Lindsay's post ending with this question:

How are you bringing the world into your classroom?

Thank you for throwing the question in the air, Julie! This is exactly what I have been pondering about for a long time. Planning the Singapore-Finland wiki will be one of my first steps into this direction. I have done a couple of short online projects with my English groups before, but they have just been random experiments without any long-term pedogogical development. Any of the bigger projects I have been involved in through the years have been accomplished with our special 'international group' students who have chosen international project work as an optional extra course. This time, however, I feel quite enthusiastic about working on these ideas further - with the attempt of making them an integral part of my regular English classes from now on. As the tools are there, I want to try and harness them to invigorate the conventional classroom routines that often send both the students and the teacher to sleep - especially on the darker and darker autumn-winter mornings ;) More importantly, though, I want to introduce more students (ie. especially the reluctant and rather sullen Finnish boys!) to real English use and communication.

Unfortunately, there is no escaping the eternal problem of the Finnish language teachers' over-dependence on course books. They more or less dictate our curriculum, you see. It is so hard to break out of this tradition from fear of not preparing the students well enough for the dreaded and awe-inspiring national final exams.

So whenever the opportunity arises, as it has now (presenting your own country in English actually being one unit in our course book), I will jump at the chance of opening my classroom - and my students' minds - to the world.

Sunday, 21 October 2007

Asia-Europe communication

What a lazy blogger I have been since the beginning of this school year. Once back to the rat race of a Finnish high school year it seems that I get totally gulped by the never-ending exams, retakes, meetings and daily routines. Why can’t I seem to break out of it – even after 20 years’ experience?? Possibly because I never want to repeat, year after year, the same old stuff I have done before. I always want to try something new.

This school year I want to experiment with putting part of my classroom work online. I feel my students desperately need a genuine audience for their English work. Enough of the boring old essays only written to me for course credit! Luckily, we will have the unique chance to host a group of students and teachers from Singapore next March. I have set up a site on Wikispaces to share the planning of the visit. I thought this would be ideal as we are actually sharing the hosting with another Finnish school in another town. Important bits of information easily get lost if so many people keep emailing to and fro. To get my students involved, too, I am planning to have a group of students work on interesting and relevant background information about Finland, our school and our town for the wiki during one of my English courses. Finally a real project task with a purpose, a definite deadline and a chance to make use of the new technology in creative and imaginative ways. I hope! Can’t wait to see how students will react to this plan!

However, to foster some student collaboration and interaction I will still have to try to convince my Singaporean colleague that a wiki is a good idea. Actually, I am experiencing some baffling communication problems with this colleague. Anyone out there who could enlighten me why it seems that whenever I ask her any innocent enough question – she seems to totally evade answering???? I keep repeating the question – but still nothing but silence. I feel so stupid and helpless. So far I haven’t dared to touch this problem in my communication with her – I am too afraid that it will just lead to an even longer silence from her part (this has happened before with some other Asian colleagues when difficulties have arisen). I suspect this has something to do with our different communication patterns… But I am so clueless as to why this happens. What do I do wrong? How can you coordinate and plan a joint visit without asking any questions? Should I just go about it the way I see best without bothering her with my questions? I feel that the silence is an indication that there was something wrong with my question. Is it rude in Asia to ask questions? Should I somehow just guess what the answers might be and stop asking? I wish I understood… Am I generalising here, maybe this is to do with this particular teacher only and not 'Asians' in general as I am tempted to think?

Thursday, 4 October 2007

New projects

One fifth of our new school year is already over, and we are in the middle of our first hectic exam week. What's more, I have spent the beginning of the school year wrapping up last year's Asia-Europe projects, and now I can finally sigh with relief when both of them have their websites online. Pheww!
This is the phase that I don't particularly enjoy about school projects. It's been battle after battle with our ICT department to first get online platforms (eg. Moodle) that give non-ICT-expert teachers, like myself, the independence to manage a project online. But still, when it comes to publishing the results at the end, there is nobody at school to help poor me compile even a simple website. You could say that I should learn to do it myself - perhaps so, it has crossed my mind, but where to find the time???? Or others wonder why I don't make my students do it. If you don't know the Finnish school system, you can't understand how an English teacher simply can't use limited classtime for students to create webpages. And our students are too busy anyway to do anything like this in their own time - I simply haven't got the means to offer them tempting enough perks! Certainly it all boils down to money - Finnish schools don't employ anyone to be the all-round ICT person to allow teachers to do things. Instead, as someone once blurted out, many of them act like the matrons of Finnish farms 100 years ago with a big bundle of keys clinging from their belt that allowed only them access to anything valuable.
My solution to this irritating situation has been to bother ICT-skilled friends and relatives, who have been ever so helpful! Thanks to them our Mastering Media film project info is now on our school website. It's simply one front page and then the results of the project as a downloadable PowerPoint presentation. If I had the skills I would have done something different, but this will have to do. At least all our foreign partners can easily download the PowerPoint if they need to present the project anywhere.
The other AEC-NET project I coordinated last year together with my Malaysian colleague Noni, was the Peace Project. For its website I was totally left to my own devices, and then compiled the pages on Wikispaces. Hard work it was. as the wiki didn't want to perform what I thought I'd told it to perform. What frustration!!! But I persevered! Naturally, I now realize that the whole project should have been done cooperatively on Wikispaces by all the participants. Wish I'd known about Wikispaces a year ago!!
Now I'm working on Asia-Europe project ideas for this year, and will probably try a new wiki approach. Wish me luck and any good tips and ideas are more than welcome!