Thursday, 27 January 2011

A picture tells... how many words again?

In Teacher Challenge number 5 we were asked to reflect on the role images play in blogging. Now, that is very convenient because I am also attending Digital Storytelling and last week we did Flickr stories.

I keep saying that multitasking is useful. The fact that I am involved in multiple workshops right now means two things:

1. My head is expanding very fast and it might explode any minute.

2. All I need to do is sit back and enjoy and the workshops will take care of each other's homework.

Don't ask me how many workshops I am attending, never ask a lady about the number of her workshops.

Anyway, here is what we did in Digital Storytelling last week:

1. Object Stories
We were asked to post an image of an object that means a lot to us and to write a short story about it underneath a picture. This is what I shared:

My Grandmother's Earrings

My Grandmother's Earrings

These earrings belonged to my maternal grandmother. She got them from her maternal grandmother when she was a little girl. In a way, they are a link to my female relatives.
I know the picture is not very good and it is a pity. The craftsmanship is really beautiful. The earrings are flower-shaped and the blue petals are made of turquoise, which happens to be my favourite stone.
A long time ago I decided I was going to wear them. They were different from anything my friends had. I wore them constantly for 20 years. The clasp is very strong and it was hard to remove them even when I wanted to. Until about a week ago when I lost one of them. I was really unhappy, but two days later it was found.
I was under the impression that my female ancestors were trying to tell me something.
What could that be?

The response I got from other participants was the best part of this activity. No matter which part of the globe they came from, most ladies could feel the pain I felt when I lost my earring. They understood why the earrings were so important to me. My apologies for the picture - it is not easy to capture a pair of tiny earrings and I am not much of a photographer.

I read a lot of fascinating stories about ordinary everyday objects. It is easy to apply this in an EFL classroom. Everybody has a favourite object and everybody can tell stories about it.

2. Colour Stories
We were asked to post an image in which our favourite colour dominated and to write a short story about it. We were allowed to use Flickr Creative Commons images. This is what I came up with:

Red sun
Photo on Flickr by the Hidaway (Simon)

The Red Sun

His heart is red,
open for everyone to see.
He leaves red footprints
all over the sky
as he sinks into sleep.
One last flicker of fire
and he is gone,
invisible to us,
as he dreams his red dreams
at the bottom of the sea.
He wakes up, red,
the next morning.
He lights the sky
with his red love
and she stretches
her red-sleeved arms
to embrace him.

Images inspire us. If you don't know what to blog about, just find a beautiful image (with a CC licence), post it at the top of your blog, look at it and start writing. Words will come. I have done this exercise with some of my students who claimed they were bad at writing. I would put a photo cut out of a newspaper in front of them and asked them to describe how in made them feel. If words still wouldn't come, I asked them to describe the photo. I believe it helped. The trick is to use interesting images like the one above.

Before I move onto Activity Number 3, I have got something else to share with you. One of the tasks in Teacher Challenge was to use an Animoto video and I love Animoto, so I just had to make one. Here it is:


I swear, if I didn't know better, I would think that the Animoto people knew the secret of Artificial Intelligence. Animoto puts each image right where it should be and it is in sync with the music... I love it. And, instead of just sharing family photos, you can tell all sorts of stories with Animoto. It just takes a bit of imagination.

Finally, Task Number 3 in Digital Storytelling were Six Word Stories. We were asked to share an image (our own or a Creative Commons one) and to invent a six word story to go with it. Six word stories are addictive. People shared and shared. I made three, but only one of them is with the image of my own. That's the one I am going to share here:

Winter Love

Winter Love
The love will outlive the snow.

The great thing about images is that they can be reused. In the Teacher Challenge number 5 we were asked to create a five-word story. So, here it is, with the same image:

Winter Love
The sun will melt them.

And my question for you:

Which story do you prefer?

The one with the Hollywood ending...

or the other one.

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Monday, 24 January 2011

Week Two in Multiliteracies

Click on the image to enlarge






I am still struggling with the concept of multiliteracies. Or rather, I am struggling with putting what I instinctively "know' about multiliteracies into words. What does it take to be multiliterate? And how does a multiliterate person behave online? Words won't come (yet), which is why I have decided to create this mind map.

This is what learning in a MOOC (massive open online course) looks like to me:

1. First you need to find relevant information. You can search tags to find what other people are posting on the topic, or you can use RSS to pull the content you need from blogs. You might be puzzled by my use of the word 'serendipity', but I believe relevant information has a way of finding us. That's how I ended up in my first Becoming a Webhead session. We often cannot predict what we will come across online and we need to keep an open mind. I still do a lot of good old-fashioned surfing and Googling and I still subscribe to newsletters and I still read emails. Twitter is all about serendipity. Just spend one hour following the links shared on Twitter and you'll see what I mean.

2. Another thing you need to do is join the discussions. Any place is good - your blog (don't forget to tag), Twitter, the forums. As long as you are using all the right tags, others should be able to find you.

3. Apart from the reading texts provided in your MOOC, you should look at what others are sharing on Twitter or in their blogs.

4. Networking inside a MOOC never happens in a vacuum. Whatever I post here as my Multiliteracies homework will be read by different members of my PLN. The concept of personal learning network is complex. Is it one network, or are there many networks? If you look at the way I represented my network in the mind map, you will see that it also includes my students, members of my family and friends. These networks overlap and, with time, merge into one.

5. I have left reflecting for the end because reflecting is the most important part of the whole process for me. I am an introspective learner. I read and listen and then I have to go home and make sense of everything on my own. This blog is my home, so this is where I am sitting right now, trying to make sense of things. Another 'home' for me is my Netvibes eportfolio. It helps me organise what I have learnt and created into one place.

One of the objectives for week 2 is to create an eportfolio for this course. We should state our own objectives and goals in it and then add things to it as the course progresses. Once the course is over, we should check whether our goals have been met.

My plan is to write a post every week. Then I will organise all my posts, alongside with my objectives and any questions and problems I might come along into my eportfolio. I have started a new page in my Netvibes eportfolio for this purpose and it is right here. It is work in progress. I feel that it takes much longer than five weeks to grasp the concept of Multiliteracies.






Friday, 21 January 2011

The Faces Behind the Name

I am running late with my Teacher Challenge homework. There is a reason for that: my blog was three years old yesterday and I just had to celebrate it. It was also my birthday and my online friends threw me a little surprise party:


Then I read and answered all those messages posted to me elsewhere. It took me two hours.

I have a large PLN (Personal Learning Network). It is comprised of the people I follow on Twitter, people I connect with on Facebook, people I talk to in different forums, people I go to online workshops with and, of course, "my bloggers". Those are the people I blog with.

Blogging may look like a solitary activity, but it is not. Whenever you post a meaningful comment on someone's blog, a connection is formed. You will continue to learn from each other. You might even become blogging buddies, supporting each other along the way, giving each other blogging assignments, linking to each other's posts. It is networking in its best sense.

What has it got to do with Teacher Challenge Number 4? Apart from the "My dog ate my homework" bit. Sorry, teacher, I had to write 'thank you' notes to members of my PLN.

I believe this has everything to do with the Create Your Avatar task. Because your avatar is how other people will see you online, and I mean this literally.

The title of this post? Well, let's say you have been to my blog a couple of times. You have followed my tweets and read a couple of comments I posted in my forums in the rare occasions I went out of my usual lurking mode. You know who I am then. The more you connect to me, the more you will get to know me as a person. Except, you have never heard me laugh or seen me wave my hands when I speak. You don't know what I look like.

It is exactly the opposite from what happens offline. You get to see someone first or you hear their voice over the phone and that is your first impression of the person. Then you get to know them. That's why I think profile pictures and avatars are really important.

Natasa

This is what I look like on Twitter and in a lot of other online spaces. It is my default profile picture. It is three years old. A lot of people change their profile pictures periodically, but I am too lazy for that. Besides, those who know me will immediately recognise my picture precisely because I use the same one over and over. Or at least that's what I tell myself.

Sometimes I look like this:

SSL21379

That is the photo I use on Facebook, Blip and a few other places.

This is what I sound like:



Finally, what I call myself. My name, Nataša, is pronounced as Natasha. However, my usual profile name is lunas994. Whenever you see lunas994, it's got to be me. That is my Twitter name, for example. Back in the old days I was reluctant to share my real name or my photo, so I took the first letters of the names of my family members (Luka, Natasa, Srećko) and added 994 because 1994 was a good year for me. And it stuck. Like my profile picture, I am not going to change it because it is a part of my online personality.

So, should you use a real photograph as your avatar or something else? I prefer to use a real picture because it makes me look more like a real person, which, of course, I am. It is easier to relate to a 'real person' than a cartoon character. Of course, this shouldn't be a universal rule. If you are uncomfortable using your real picture, by all means post something else. Whatever you feel represents you the best.

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Thursday, 20 January 2011

My Birthday Special

Three.egg  on AviaryThree.egg on Aviary.

This blog was born three years ago on 22nd January. It happens to be my birthday too. I would like to celebrate this day by looking at my last year's posts. Starting with a post just like this one written on 22nd January 2010. Since I don't post so often, it shouldn't be such a difficult task.

Last year I attended three EVO sessions and the first couple of posts were about the workshops and what I learnt there. In the first post (EVO, HTML and the Voki Girl) I also boasted about how I managed to change the HTML in my Blogger template. I did this mostly by cheating, but I did it.

Let Me Tell You a Story is about using Mixbook to tell stories. I finished the post by a storytilling challenge for my readers. This is, I have to say, quite a good way to get comments...

Myna and the Sleeping Dragon is one of those posts that mean a lot to me, which means that it has got a poem inside. It also talks about Myna by Aviary which can be used to create short listening comprehension exercises.

In Which Came First - the Picture or the Caption I am musing about different ways to tell a digital story and the connection between the image and the written text.

If you are looking for EFL lesson plans, there is a free one in Trouble with the Mobile Phone.

Myrphy's Law for EFL Teachers is probably my most popular post so far. It is exactly what the title says it is - a collection of Murphy's laws. I am not sure, but it could easily be my favourite post as well.

Two posts that look at ways how (not) to cope with information overload are Swimming or Drowning and Back to the Future. Quite a few people related to them.

Jukeboxing the EFL Classroom contains some ideas about how to use music both in the classroom and as "homework".

Where I Stand on Dogme started like an answer to a Dogme challenge, but turned into a definition of my educational philosophy. Raised by NNESTs is the second 'Dogme post'. It also contains my observations on what it feels like to be a non-native English speaking teacher.

I Have to Be Who I Am is... I can't tell you exactly what it is. It was Christmas, you see. It is, in a way, a personal manifesto.

Birthday Cake
Photo on Flickr by Theresa Thompson

And here we are. Right now and right here. Right now I am using this blog to write my homework for my Multiliteracies class and for the Teacher Challenge. There is one Multiliteracies post (Information Is Everywhere) and two pieces of homework for the Teacher Challenge: My Life as a TEFL Blog (an "interview with my blog") and Five Steps to an Effective Blog Post.

I have skipped a couple of posts and, if you are like my students, you'll immediately go searching for them, but I have mentioned everything that was really important to me.

Thank you for travelling with me so far. It has been an exciting journey. As for what you might read here in the future and how often... Who knows? I am not making any promises. Blogging is like a journey, whatever happens - happens. One thing I can promise you is that I will keep posting. I love my little blog. After three years, it has really become a reflection of who I am as a person and as a teacher.

A toast to my readers. Because without you I wouldn't have made it this far.

Toasting Champagne
Photo on Flickr by Waldo Jaquith


Saturday, 15 January 2011

Five Steps to an Effective Blog Post

Salad Nicoise

Before I start, I guess I should warn you: I am not a very practical person. I blog because I love blogging. I blog about TEFL because teaching English is another thing I love. It is as simple as that.

So, this is what I have to say about how to write an effective blog post:

1. Choose a topic you are passionate about. You don't have to have all the answers. I would say that blogging works even better if you don't have all the answers when you start. A lot of bloggers will say that blogging helps them think and it is true. And you can always rely on your readers to provide some of the answers for you.

Don't think about what "your readers" might want to read. You are not running a restaurant, you are writing a blog. Besides, you don't know who "your readers" are. Sure, there are a couple of regulars, people who love all your dishes, sweet or savoury, hot or cold. But most people will land on your page either by accident (by clicking on somebody's blogroll or simply the Next Blog button) or because they Googled the topic.

Don't worry about whether someone else has already written about it, because each blogger looks at the topic through their own lense. And each blogger has their own unique style. For example, right now a lot of us are writing about Five Steps to an Effective Blog Post because we are all taking part in the Teacher Challenge. But I bet that each post is going to be different.

2. Choose an effective title. A lot of bloggers will tell you that a title should be informative. A good example of an informative title is the one you have at the top of this post. And it is great because everyone immediately knows what this post is about. But I am impractical, remember. If I had to choose between an informative title and an effective one, I would go for the effective one.

Still, it is not all impractical. Remember those people who landed on your page because they clicked the Next Blog button? They are only going to stay on your page for a couple of seconds... unless something stops them. An effective title could do the job.

However, don't mislead your readers. Don't promise the answers if all you have got are just a couple of questions. Me, I usually come up with the title before I start writing. I have an idea about what I am going to put into a blog and immediately after that I have an idea for the title. Sometimes I change it after I have written the post, but not often.

3. Use interesting images. No, I am not joking. Images are important in the digital world. They are easy to obtain (just make sure they have a Creative Commons licence and that you credit the original author) and they add so much to your blog. They make the blog look more beautiful, but it is not just that. Images are very powerful in their own right, they speak to our subconscious. Not only will they keep your new readers in your blog longer, but they might actually help you write.

Photo of Chocolate Cake

4. Be who you are. Your readers (your regular readers as well as new ones) will relate better to your writing if they get to know the real you. I use humour a lot here (I usually laugh at myself), but my readers claim that there is a certain melancholy in my blog. Never mind, that's me. You might create a lot of things on the internet, but nothing you create can represent the real you the way your blog will. Your blog is you.

5. Don't give all the answers. Leave something for your readers. You want comments, right? I have tried different things, from asking questions to giving my readers assignments, but nothing has worked quite so well as leaving the post slightly unfinished. Remember what I said at the beginning, about how it was OK not to have all the answers when you started a post? Well, it is quite OK not to have the answers by the time you have finished the post. Sometimes the real art is to ask the right questions.

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Friday, 14 January 2011

Information Is Everywhere

Information Overload

My first week at Multiliteracies. Like the nerd that I am, I did all my Week 1 readings last weekend. I visited all the platforms, introduced myself, even asked some questions. Now I should write a blog post on Week 1.

This is my fourth round of EVO sessions. Back in 2008, I attended BaW, graduated and became a Webhead. I wrote about it here. Since then, every year when I looked at the EVO Call for Participation page, my cursor hovered over the Multiliteracies session. I let it hover, but I didn't click on the link. For me the Multiliteracies course was "advanced BaW" and I didn't feel I was ready. In the meantime, I finished a lot of courses that focused on how to use different applications, I participated in forums, I created blog posts, I let my PLN grow.

This year I clicked on the link. I guess I am still not ready, but here I am. Here I am, because I want to make sense of things. I want to explain to myself why I have become addicted, not to the internet itself (as my mom claims), but to online learning.

I find this little video by Dave Cormier very helpful:


Cormier says information is everywhere. I agree. Information is everywhere and my head is going to explode. There were times when I had to stop all my online activities and go into hiding, refraining from blogging and tweeting, even from turning on my computer.

Because information is everywhere, I tend to overeat. I wrote about it here. It shouldn't be that way. There has got to be a method that will help us sift and filter the information so that it becomes manageable. I came to Multiliteracies to learn that.

Being multiliterate involves a lot of skills. It is much more complicated than knowing how to create wiki pages and use different Web 2.0 applications. It is knowing when to speak and when to refrain from speaking (in order to reduce the overall level of noise), knowing when to read what other people have said and when to switch off your computer and reflect on what you have learnt. You first become multiliterate by learning hands-on, practical things, by plunging in and playing with other children, but to acquire a higher level of multiliteracy, you have to add a little theory in. Finally, you have to organise all the knowledge that you acquired online into your own system. The process is quite different from learning in "regular" schools.

There is one other big difference between conventional education and learning online: I believe that very soon there will be no two individuals who will know exactly the same things. Your education will become as unique as your fingerprints. And every time you share what you know with others, the collective intelligence will change too. It is a fascinating new land and we are the pioneers.









Wednesday, 12 January 2011

My Life as a TEFL Blog

My name is Marlene. I am a reporter for The Blog's World, the magazine that looks at life through the eyes of the blog, not the blogger. As you know The Blog's World is taking part in the new Teacher Blogging Challenge and we are conducting a series of exclusive interviews with various educational blogs.Today I am interviewing Natasa's Blog.
M: How are you today?
NB: Lonely.
M: Lonely?
NB: Yes. See, I am lonely most of the time. Natasa blogs so rarely.
M: Why do you think this is the case?
NB: She says she is busy, with the classes and everything. She says blogging is her hobby, she would love to have more time for me, but...
M: But, you don't think that's the truth?
NB: No, see, I know the woman. Her main problem is the lack of ideas. She doesn't know what to write about. Or, rather, she does know, but she doesn't think her readers will find it useful.
M: She is a perfectionist?
NB: Dunno. I'm not a psychologist.
M: What does she blog about?
NB: Mostly TEFL and technology...
M: ... and the meaning of life?
NB: No. That's me. See, I am a poet. And a great storyteller. Every now and then I sneak something in when she is not looking. Something completely useless for other teachers, but fun.

My Story

M: Like this?
NB: Don't tell her.
M: You are almost three years old.
NB: Ah, yes, the rebellious years. Because one human year is like five bloggy years.
M: So that makes you fifteen?
NB: Aha.
M: How does it feel to be fifteen?
NB: I feel that the time has come for me to be who I am.
M: And who are you, really?
NB: Don't know. Still searching for answers.
M: Your birthday is next week.
NB: Yes. I was born the same day as Natasa. Won't tell you how old she will be or she'll shut me down.
M: Are you preparing anything special for that day.
NB: Yes. But it is a secret.
M: Let's keep it that way. Now, why should teachers blog in the first place? What advice would you give to new blogs?
NB: Blogging is good for you. We wrote about it here.
M: What's your favourite post?
NB: Oh, that's easy. Murphy's Law for EFL Teachers. It was my idea.
M: How would you describe your relationship with Natasa for the past three years?
NB: There were ups and downs. And times when she was "too busy to blog". But she loves me. I am very important to her. I know that and that's what really matters.

Wordle: Natasa's Blog

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Saturday, 8 January 2011

Welcome Readers Old and New

Coffee

At the moment I am attending a couple of EVO sessions, so there is a possibility that some of my EVO classmates have followed the link to my blog and found themselves here.

If you are reading this blog for the first time, welcome. You can find out more about me here. Or visit my e-portfolio here.

Coffee 2

This blog was born on 22nd January 2008 (which happens to be my birthday too) as a part of the Blogging4Educators course. I have done different things on the Internet since then (Twittered, created wikis, podcasts, slideshows and online exercises), but my favourite online activity is still blogging. It is hard to define why - maybe because I simply enjoy writing. It clears my mind and helps me think.

I mostly blog about TEFL and about Web 2.0. In the weeks to come I might write more about EVO and about the new things I am learning there.

Coffee 3

If you like what you see, please come back. Or you can subscribe to my blog via RSS or Email - whichever you prefer. And do leave a comment. I love comments and I will definitely write back.



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