Monthly Archives: February, 2013

TESMC – Module 1 – ESL Students and Learning in a Second Language

Yesterday I attended the first module of a professional development course called “Teaching ESL Students in Mainstream Classes.’ Click here for a more in depth explanation of the course’s aims and rationale.

The first module considered the social, emotional, economic, cultural and linguistic factors influencing student identities, particularly of those students who come to our classrooms from a language background other than English. Discussion was interesting and varied as all participants in the course come from a diverse range of schools. As a follow up to the session, we were asked to investigate the ‘funds of knowledge’ – or skills, knowledge and experiences – that an ESL student brings to one of our mainstream classrooms. Below is my reflection on how I went about the investigation and how it helped to enrich my own understanding of the class, as well as the students’ understanding of themselves and the content we are currently exploring.

I performed this activity with my Year 11 Italian class. This class consists of five students, two of whom come from homes where a language other than English is spoken. Only one of these students was present on the day of the lesson.

This task fit in very well with our new topic – Gli italiani ed il tempo libero (Italians and their free time) – which has a particular focus on youth and what shapes their identities in Australia and in Italy. We began by discussing what identity is and brainstorming factors that shape our identity. The students came up with a list including:

–       Location

–       Era

–       Age

–       Language

–       Culture and traditions

–       Gender

–       Religion

–       Family

–       Friends

I then modelled a diagram of factors that I believe shape my personal identity, before inviting students to privately create their own version. The three students present on the day were generous in their permission to use their data for the purpose of this course.

It was interesting to compare the three students’ diagrams. All of them identified as Australian English-speakers. The two girls perceived themselves as Italian ‘learners’ whilst the boy, whose relatives speak Italian at home, identified himself as an Italian ‘speaker’. Whilst he did not write it on his diagram, in conversation he speaks about himself as ‘Italian’. Upon reflection I wonder if what he means is ‘Italian-Australian’ but perhaps he uses the ‘Italian’ to distinguish himself from others. I also found it interesting that this boy goes by the Anglo-Saxon form of his name, yet on his identity diagram wrote his full Italian name. Perhaps this may subtly bring into question his perception of the acceptance of his peers and the broader community of linguistic and cultural differences?

All three students wrote about themselves as Gen Z and 00’s kids. They all alluded to their family and friendship groups and two of them pointed out their social media use (such as Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr) as forming a part of their identities.

Only one student spoke about religion as part of her identity.

This activity gave me great insight into the backgrounds and experiences all three of these students bring to our small, close-knit class and allowed us to start to make connections with how the identities of Italian youth may be shaped in similar or different ways. As a follow up activity, the class then worked together to create a short online survey to be completed by contacts in Italy. Overall, the activity was very useful, both for me in terms of finding out what each student brings to the classroom, and for the students as they make global connections and meaning through multiple languages.


3 apps that are changing the way I teach…and one honourable mention

This post is a follow up to one from a couple of weeks ago – 8 apps that are on my iPad for 2013.

Out of the eight apps that I summarised, there are three that are currently changing the way I teach.


Edmodo – this online learning platform allows teachers and students to connect with each other in private class groups. Notes, links, assignments and general administration can be posted and made immediately accessible. Parents can also access what their child (and only their child) is doing at school. As we become a 1:1 laptop school, Edmodo is quickly becoming a major form of communication between teachers, students and parents aside from email. It is a fantastic tool for the times a teacher wants to use the ‘Flipped Classroom’ strategy as video tutorials and tasks can be accessed by the students at home. I have used this technique with my Year 11s over the past couple of weeks – creating video tutorials for them on Educreations, posting them on Edmodo, and getting them to view them, take notes and jot down any questions for homework, ready to bring to class the following lesson for a group discussion. This has worked particularly well with a small senior class who can follow and note-take more independently. The students have given me positive feedback, and I have enjoyed the ease of making resources from home, and being able to check on Edmodo to see if they have, in fact, viewed the set task/video (the app lets you know when each individual student has done so!)


Educreations – I love, love, LOVE this app. It has allowed me to create video tutorials on my iPad, then upload them directly to Edmodo for students to access. So far I have prepared tutorials in advance and posted them, but I can see the potential for creating the video as I present to the class…I just need to get my hands on the hardware to connect my iPad to the projector – then away we go! Click here for a short example I created – a short explanation of the continuum of Italian verb tenses. Again, feedback from students has been extremely positive and we have had a lot more time in class for students to ask their individual questions and receive assistance with tasks, rather than spending valuable time listening to lectures. It also allows for ease of differentiation – students who understand concepts quickly may only need to watch the video once, others have the option of watching repeatedly and then spending more time getting individualised assistance from the teacher.

Good Notes

Finally, Good Notes – a PDF reader and document marker that has been excellent for cutting down on paper. I have created individual folders for each of my classes and for meetings. Within those folders I am able to create individual notebooks – for my Year 9 Italian class I have created notebooks for each student, and as they send me digital copies of their work (these can be in most common digital document forms including Word), I can add it to their personal notebook, mark it up, then send it back in PDF form either as a single page or a full notebook. So simple to keep digital copies of all of their work, with your feedback. Below is an example of a basic revision document my students accessed via Edmodo, worked on on their computers, emailed to me and have now received feedback for much quicker than if we were working off of paper.


The strategic use of these apps have meant that I am more engaged in my work, and with the changes in my delivery student engagement and attitude also seems to be improving. Although I acknowledge it is still early days!

teacher kit

Finally, an honourable mention to Teacher Kit. This app, whilst not changing my teaching as such, provides a great database for information about my classes, individual students and their progress and attendance, as well as parent contact details. Basically, what I would have handwritten in my brick of a teacher’s diary previously has been condensed into electronic form on my iPad and can be backed up to a PC. Makes life just that little easier!



I will post more updates as I continue to engage with, learn about and use these resources in my classrooms.

Why are kids put off reading?

I did a quick survey of my brand new Year 8 English class this year. Nice and simple: do you enjoy reading – any form of reading, including magazines, graphic novels, etc? The response – about 5 out of 30 put their hands up for the affirmative.

This is my fourth year teaching Year 8 English and each year I ask the same question. This year’s response is not an unusual one.

As somebody who has been exposed to books and encouraged to read for pleasure from an extremely early age I have always loved reading. My partner, on the other hand, was brought up with books but still hates reading.

It really saddens me when someone – particularly students – tell me they hate reading, because most of them can’t actually explain why. With the exception of those who genuinely have difficulties with reading and writing, of course. Most people enjoy a good narrative until they have to read it. So I wonder what causes this aversion?

Is it a lack of exposure to reading?
Is it indicative of a society that needs instant gratification and reading a book takes too much time?
Is it something else?

And how can I inspire my students to overcome that attitude?

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