This post deals with a short synopsis and experiences of participating an online teacher training course named Practical Applications for Listening and Speaking Skills (henceforth PALSS). It is written to share the willing teachers to help participating an online course in spite of the challenges like frequent power cuts and unstable networking.
The course was 10 week long, (started from January 7 to March 15, 2013 for me) offered through the University of Oregon, Linguistics Department, American English Institute (UO AEI) as one of the nine courses funded through the E-Teacher Scholarship Program. We spent at least 8 to 10 hours per week engaged in online studies and activities. We had to score 70% or above to pass the course.
It required us to have the Google email and Skype account which was used exclusively to communicate with the instructor. The course included weekly asynchronous readings and online Nicenet discussion, synchronous weekly small group Skype meetings with the course instructor, synchronous weekly small group Skype meeting with a conversation leader, weekly audio journals where we reflected on what we learned that week, and self-study materials to improve our listening and speaking skills using online resources among others. We had to keep a record of self-study along with reflective comments by the end of each week, in the self- study log (click here to view my self-study log). The course also included whole-group webinars at different times during the course. There were 7 webinars altogether and we were asked to attend and view at least 3 of the webinars and write synopsis and reflection. At the end of the course there was final project of preparing a long lesson plan integrating new methods and activities for teaching listening and speaking. We had to put the written assignment into the appropriate weekly folder in the Dropbox shared by the teacher.
We were expected to read the weekly readings and then post at least two times each week in the related Nicenet online discussion. We had to reflect about our activities during the week in an audio journal. I was much tempted to get acquainted with all the activities of the course and was hurried and impatient to know what I was going to achieve after I complete the course and become eligible to receive the certificate. A kind of storm was haunting inside me.
A glimpse of the course topics and the activities performed
The first week included introduction to the course, meet and interact with course participants, instructor, and conversation leader. The Nicenet discussion for the week was self-introduction. Everyone was asked to write the first post between 100 to 200 words and then post a reply to the post of at least one other participant. As the assignment was finished the obtained marks was immediately sent through the Jupiter Grades.
The second week brought the topics -listening and speaking, accuracy and comprehensibility, and learning objectives. The concept of weekly audio journal and synchronous Skype meetings were started from the week. We enjoyed both synchronous Skype meetings very much. I also prepared 5 minutes audio journal describing and reflecting everything done on that week as I was suggested and I posted it in the Drpobox week 2 folder.
Week 3 started with the topics: speaking, evaluation, teacher and peer evaluation with rubrics, and social bookmarking. The first webinar of the course was also scheduled for that week. The webinars were delivered via a program called Blackboard Collaborate. The webinar was on ‘Building Classroom Community’. Because of the unstable connection I could not attend the online webinar that week but I managed to view the recorded version the next day.
The fourth week was focused on listening and accuracy, lesson plans, and scaffolding with graphic organizers. The synchronous Skype conversation that week was on the use of social media for instruction and the teacher led Skype meeting on information gap drawing. Asynchronous Nicenet discussion was about lesson planning. I attended the webinar for the first time. The main agenda of the webinar were overview of PBL and its application to ELT illustrated by a real example of PBL for ELT. I found it very much interactive, interesting, encouraging, and fruitful.
Pronunciation, syllabus and word stress, and lesson plans were the topics for the fifth week. The asynchronous Nicenet discussion that week was based on correction and providing feedback while teaching speaking. Transcription of the first one minute speech of any of the journals earlier was an added assignment for that week that provided an opportunity to observe and evaluate my own speaking. The webinar that week was on ‘Integrating Pronunciation across the Curriculum’. I got familiar with different steps that we can consider while teaching pronunciation.
The sixth week dealt with listening, note taking, and final project. I explored the websites VOA learning English and BBC Learning English for more than two hours and thought how it can be helpful to me and my students. I thought about how I can make use of those websites in my class. I completed the self-study log and posted in the Dropbox. We studied the mechanics of note taking and found it new and impressive. I prepared the audio journal for the week and posted in the week 6 folder of the Dropbox.
Week 7 introduced the topics: speaking with focus on fluency and speed, using music in the classroom, and final project. Asynchronous Nicenet discussion that week was based on the importance of accuracy and fluency in language learning and which one should be focused at what time. I posted on the Nicenet about the topic and replied on the posts of other participants. I completed the first draft of final project plan and sent it to Mr. Salah Mohammad Ali, my feedback partner for necessary feedback. I also got his plan to suggest some feedback for him. I transcribed first one minute audio of my week 6 audio journal and listed the reflection of my speech. I posted it in the week 7 folder of my Dropbox and shared with my instructor. Synchronous Skype conversation was about role model and teacher led meeting was on songs and lyrics. I found that it was very easy to teach to speak/pronounce longer and complicated constructions using backward build-up technique. The webinar that week was on ‘Free Listening: Autonomous Extensive Listening for ELT’. It discussed about the three strands of listening instruction by Nation and Newton (2009): language focused listening; meaning focused listening, and fluency building listening. I learned that fluency building listening should consist of message focused activities; it should have easy task, and high level performance.
The eighth week was based on listening comprehension, using video in the classroom, saving audio and video online files, and copyright. I posted in the asynchronous Nicenet discussions about how to introduce and use video activities with our students. Synchronous Skype conversation group discussion that week was about music. Teacher led meeting was about the discussion on the TV news video and one of the best songs of Whitney Houston. I also attended on the webinar on ‘Independent Pronunciation Practice for Intermediate and Advanced Learners’. I worked on final project plan, read Salah’s plan thoroughly and completed the lesson plan feedback checklist and sent it to Salah and Donna (my instructor) both.
Pronunciation with the focus on suprasegmentals, fluency, using L1 in the L2 classroom, and lesson plans were the issues for discussion during the ninth week. I posted on asynchronous Nicenet discussion about teaching pronunciation: techniques and activities and replied the post of one of the colleagues. Then, I completed final project- preparing lesson plan and posted it in the Dropbox week nine folder. The synchronous teacher led Skype meeting was on suprasegmentals and mainly focused on the sentence stress. Our teacher taught us comprehensively that the content words, negative contractions, question words, possessive and demonstrative pronouns are generally stressed but function words like articles, auxiliary verbs, personal pronouns, prepositions, possessive and demonstrative adjectives are generally not stressed. We were illustrated that stress is based on the emphasis or the focus. I participated in conversation group discussion and we shared recipe of our best food. The seventh and final webinar was about ‘Jazz Chants for EFL Classrooms’ which taught the basic information about Jazz Chants. I knew that Crolyn Graham, the musician, writer, teacher, and teacher trainer, was the originator and creator of Jazz Chants and she has written many books on Jazz Chants. It is musical and it is loved by all learners: children and adults. It helps the learners to learn pronunciation, stress, and rhythms very easily and comfortably. It can be a great assistance in pronouncing the connected speech in natural speed. It helps to develop fluency of the learners. It can make the environment funny and really safe. Jazz Chants can be used with music or without music even in a crowded class.
The tenth week focused on course overview, dictation, post-course listening assessment, post-course survey, and teacher evaluation. It was the shortest week and the course ended on Friday, March 15. There were no readings and self-study log to do. Nicenet discussion, the last transcription task, course evaluations, an audio journal, and two synchronous Skype meetings were there as the assignments. Asynchronous Nicenet discussion was mainly focused on the course evaluation. Synchronous Skype conversation was about the concluding remarks of the course and any queries related to it. Teacher led Skype meeting was about dictation. I transcribed the first one minute audio of the week 9 audio journal. I also prepared the audio journal of the week as usual.
The course contents for every week along with the checklist, activity plan, and other links were sent by Gmail the day before the week started. I was so interested and busy during the course. I even left many of my regular duties. I never regret for that. As a whole it was much engaging.
I got opportunity to interact with many colleagues teaching English as second or foreign language at different location of this universe in different context, virtually. It also helped me to think critically and creatively to overcome the potential problems in teaching in general and in teaching listening and speaking in particular. I have realized that it has also helped me to evaluate my own learning and teaching English. I knew different new techniques much comprehensively than ever. Frequent speaking with the native and non-native speakers of English and the weekly audio journal helped to sharpen my spoken English. Transcription of the audio journal and different webinars not only added to the improvement of my listening and speaking English but also comprehensive teaching of these skills to my students. Readings and the self-study options expanded my horizon of English and broadened the creative faculty of my lesson preparation and presentation. I found the information gap activity, the backward build up activity, the illustrative description of old and revised version of Bloom’s Taxonomy of objectives, the rubrics, graphic organizers, word and sentence stress, and music and chants in EFL classroom really enlightened me. Synchronous teacher led meetings and conversation group discussion, and asynchronous Nicenet discussion among many participants built my confidence. I encourage novice ELT practitioners to try such online courses.
Course website PALSS course https://sites.google.com/site/uopalss2013winter/