Sunday, February 5, 2017

Re-initiate....Testing Grounds

There is as much power for the creative mind in knowing that no one will access the creation as there is in knowing that the creation is accessible for an indiscriminate number of viewers.

I revisit this space after 8 years, and I decide to give it another shot. My friend and I have been discussing developing each a blog and I have invited her to move this discussion to this space to give it the aspect of brainstorming and an actual search for a purpose. There are many reasons why I think this is a good idea:

1. The title of this space "Only Connect: Turn Mirrors into Windows" yields itself to a variety of topics and not only to educational matters which the blog was originally dedicated to.

2. In the past 8 years, that educator part of me grew and diminished until it has found a balance (I hope) and allowed for other facets to emerge and breathe (the activist, the foodie, the woman, the musician, the dreamer, the traveler, and many others I hope - not that I am fond of labels).  I still need to write about education, but also about places, food, relationships, loss, love, growth, fear, values, social media, etc. and naturally how all these intersect and overlap. In other words, I need this space to make sense of my experiences (as if I were writing with no one watching), and I need this space to connect with those of you out there who might find in my reflections something like a mirror into themselves or a window into a new way of thinking.

3. My friend is herself quite the curious / fascinated type. She has an array of interests related to culture, design, food, society, people, fashion, science, movies, music, etc. Her style is different and her tools more diverse. I will let her take care of the introduction if my suggestion finds a way into her heart :-) What matters is that we both need an outlet for expression, and we both enjoy engaging with the world around us hopefully in meaningful ways.

4. Finally, we both need to move to the next step, which is actually posting, even if experimentally, in order to define better what it will be like, what exactly we will write about, how we will write and why (keeping in mind that we might not rely on words as the only tool).

My suggestion is to use this very basic space to move to the next step, actually post entries, sign each her own, experimentally get the sense of it and eventually (within a month) move to other, more indicative, platforms.

I subscribe to the trial. And here I start...


Tuesday, August 25, 2009

One Last Reflection

“Building Teaching Skills through the Interactive Web” is a course that calls for change. It would have been great if all of my colleagues had the chance to take such a course, but then for the sake of a wider dissemination, it is my duty now to “spread the benefit” whenever it is possible. If I were to tell any of my colleagues what I have learned during the course, I would start by sharing with them how lucky we are to have technological tools at our disposal and how far yet close we are from making proper use of them. It is true that we haven't been using these tools to their full extent, but doing so is not that difficult. It is very much a matter of training.

In that context, I would also share with them that underlying any change is one essential and preliminary fact about our role as teachers. We teachers should always go through a learning process; we need to train ourselves to be autonomous, risk takers, up to date, and most of all reflect on our experiences. It is a willful process that is the result of personal effort and outside assistance. It is useful and fun to be learners!! Obviously, our choices affect our students: if we equip ourselves not only with the "what" but also with the "how" and the "why", we could make their learning process run more smoothly, and we could provide them with better opportunities to stand on their own, work to improve their skills, take risks, and reflect on their effort. One such excellent opportunity that has a comprehensive range of benefits is integrating digital tools in their learning process. It is about time we face that challenge and give our students such an overdue chance.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Summary Reflection - Beginning of the Journey

Now that the course is almost over, and that it has managed to open wide windows for us participants, it is time to reflect on the benefits and the difficulties and set a plan of action before we embark on the web 2.0 journey.

1) An overview of what I tried

I have had high expectations for this course since the minute I read the syllabus, and I am not disappointed though the kind of benefit I received is something I had not visualized. Above all, taking part in this course proved to me firsthand how helpful it is to create technology enhanced lesson plans. By implementing technology – when it brings in a real addition to the lesson – issues such as creating authentic contexts, motivating and involving the biggest number of students, catering to a variety of learning styles, fostering learner autonomy, and facilitating formative and alternative assessment are more easily addressed. These issues that are daily for every teacher seem to fall right into place. It has also become clearer to me how meticulously and extensively the teacher has to prepare beforehand. I know it should always be the case, but often relying on the textbook makes preparation easier; the risk is that it might lead to a one-sided lecture rather than an interactive class. Finally, I have come to understand more than ever that it is imperative that we teachers have faith in our students; in fact, this is as important as evolving professionally to be fully equipped to cater to their needs.

a. What was most useful:

- Creating an online discussion class using There, I have learned how important it is for a teacher to formulate a clear prompt with an indicative title and how essential it is for a participant to follow guidelines and detect keywords. In any case, a teacher / moderator has to be patient, flexible, and tolerant in guiding learners / participants but clear all throughout and non-compromising when it comes to certain standards. Finally, in that context, I learned the importance of creating a learning community of teachers who communicate about challenges and success stories and discuss the best ways to deal with one and benefit from the other. Along this line, I understood how valuable it is to have “intellectual generosity” instead of competition (here I am quoting a friend of mine with whom I was discussing this issue few weeks ago).

- Writing behavioral objectives: Although I have spent the past year experimenting with behavioral verbs in Bloom’s taxonomy and how to relate them to specific activities, now I feel I have a starting point – the ABCD model – that makes the task of writing an objective way easier. I am also surer than ever about the importance of sharing the objectives with students at the beginning of any lesson.

- Creating a blog and posting reflections have been a fascinating experience. The reflections were time consuming but helpful. I wonder if I can keep up such a habit, but knowing me, there has to be a purpose, an audience. Blogging is a very easy way to stay in touch and share, but one needs to have a group of people who rally around the same area of interest. I guess I still have to learn about the horizons that the web creates in terms of bookmarking and feeds and how people who do not necessarily know each other are connected. I will most probably create a different blog and consistently post in it about my various experiences in the coming year.

- Exploring new search engines: I was introduced to many search engines I had no knowledge of. Now I purposefully use one or the other from time to time instead of using Google. I also realized the importance of bookmarking the sites that proved to be useful. I imported them to and I still have quite some to sort out once and for all.

- Taking learning styles into consideration: I was reminded of the importance of getting to know my students’ learning styles and offer them the opportunities that would help them learn more effectively and easily.

- Providing opportunities for formative assessment: I think I gained a much better understanding of what formative assessment is than I did when I first read about it in the Shaping course or was introduced to it sporadically in the previous years. It seems one is readier to learn once the need arises for a certain gap to be bridged.

b. What was most interesting:

Creating WebQuests: I utterly fell in love with webquests. They offer a guided project-based space for students to create a variety of ways that prove they have understood the material and therefore a chance for alternative assessment. It is one component of the course I am sure was worth the time and effort. Although I haven’t tested it with students yet, I can’t wait to do so.

c. What was most challenging:

- Referring to skill-building websites: I still have difficulty in finding a website that I can rely on in teaching one skill or another. I think the main reason is that I need to find material that matches the objectives and the expectations. Whatever a website has to offer has to complement the textbook. Therefore, most of the time, a teacher has to modify, so the effort and time spent have to be justified. I prefer looking for separate activities and put them together. At this point, doing that makes more sense because these exercises can be posted on a wiki or combined in a sheet using the web poster wizard on I could also use the software (CD-ROMs & DVD-ROMs) provided with the textbook. Along the same line, referring to a website to prepare a class activity proved to be difficult again for the same reason. I needed a context to be able to prepare a certain sheet. I still have to explore that further as the templates offered are worth checking out once the content is ready. They promise to be a time saver.

- Creating rubrics has been a challenge and still is for they don’t stand on their own. They reflect the objectives and the instruction, and they are important tools to both learners and teachers.

2) How I will integrate what I have learned in this class into my teaching

a. The techniques and tools that I will try to use
- I will definitely use the WebQuest I have created or any other as needed.
- I have many options to integrate technology in my classes especially now that I know how to and that I can anticipate the benefit. Besides, I have suggested and worked on few ideas during our discussions that I would like to try out. I am referring in addition to the WebQuest to: the process writing lesson using or any other website; the project-based lesson on Lebanese musicians and innovators; creating a blog where students can post their reflections; more reliance on the software provided with the textbook with its interactive exercises and easily customized PPT presentations.
- I will make sure formative assessment is maintained along with a renewed reliance on rubrics.
- I will evaluate lesson plans and class instructions against the focus on learning styles and learner autonomy.

b. With whom I’ll use them

I will use them first in the classes I teach - grades 7, 8, & 9

c. How I will use them
I will make use of the technological facilities offered at school; I will explore the use of the e-room; I will discuss with the administration the possibility of equipping the division with more LCD projectors; I will also train my students to view the computer as a learning tool and to get used to access the web to view a blog or a class site for discussion, reflection, or assignment.

d. When I will try to use them

I will be working on implementing the above starting the coming scholastic year 2009-2010

3) How I will continue to learn about technology after this course is over
- I am already working on a dissemination plan to share what I have learned in this course with my colleagues. I will also, as mentioned above, test whatever I have worked on with my students. This process, I am sure, will necessitate that I modify, fix, and thus understand better the workings of wikis, sites, blogs, WebQuests, etc. It will be a period of experimentation.
- I plan to read more about the one-computer classroom to find learning tools that could be benefited from offline. I am also very much interested in learner autonomy. Already I can’t stop reading, and I find myself creating accounts everywhere!!!
- Finally, I am also very keen on becoming a member of any community of teachers who believe in the values of communicating and sharing, and definitely in the use of innovative tools in the classroom.

I will see which horizons or possibilities for improvement will present themselves along the way! Watch for my new blog!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Learner Autonomy, One-Computer Classroom, & Outing

This week was an unusual one: it seemed to me as a step backward yet a needed one; I was away from my screen yet very much thinking about my colleagues.

Learner autonomy is a most interesting topic which, I feel, should be at the basis of our work; it’s the underlying objective. Wondering about the difference between learner-centered class and learner-directed class, I had, a couple of weeks ago, come across a compilation of resources prepared by the U of Oregon It is an excellent overview, and it proved to be very helpful. The first two readings with links posted in the prompt of week 8's discusion were insightful, but it is the additional piece on learner and teacher autonomy that made me really think. I was urged to write a review of it only to see more clearly, and then I posted it in the discussion forum Maybe this piece, being in fact a conversation, is the most dialectical reference we’ve had on this course, and the conflict presented is so true! I personally wouldn’t want to uphold it as an excuse, but many teachers do and wouldn’t be in the wrong. I believe that any approach or strategy can be adopted and adapted according to the context as long as the teacher is aware of whatever is being modified, for what purpose, and is always ready to reshape and seek better application. If we cannot have a learner-directed class, our attitudes as teachers should at least be directed towards learner autonomy at all times. I think I could pride myself of having that kind of thinking. I’ve always thought that students learn better when their hands are dirty and when they know what made them do the task well and where they failed. For a long time, I was the one to provide them with such info. Gradually, they started to take over, and their feedback shaped my methods. I learnt to model for them: I would use fix-up reading strategies and brainstorm and edit with them. I would show them my confusion and how I would face it and where I fail – because I do – and where I succeed. This worked with so many students though gradually. Others still don’t see why it’s so important to know how we came to do something as long as we do it right.

I thought I was on the right track, and as I moved to reading about the one-computer classroom, I was thinking that nothing much could be done if you only have one computer. It is odd to worry about the one-computer classroom after having explored the interactive use of PPT, webquests, and PBL. Gradually, it became clear to me that, no matter how interested I am in promoting autonomy, still more awareness is needed: I have to be more alert to every opening or opportunity that can lead to more involvement on behalf of the students and more collaboration among them. Using one computer could be such an opportunity. It took me some time to understand how one computer could be helpful other than in presenting the material in an attractive and interactive way. I had read about the activities in the first two links, and I couldn’t relate to them. I was also confused with the number of unfamiliar terms such as “Global Shared Folder” and “ClarisWorks”. I wanted to understand more because I could see the possibility of creating a database of students’ work offline and that they could access. I didn’t have the time to delve further because I had to leave town for a couple of days. When I came back, I read some more and could see the potential especially that in our setting, there are many instances when we have to make do. Jeff Magoto’s straight-to-the-point post was quite helpful. Still, I felt I had left behind a part which is not clear to me.

I spent my weekend exploring the Chouf area with my friends – I live in a tiny country, yet there are many places I haven’t seen yet. We first paid the head of the Brevet Official Exams committee an informal visit. We found him gardening, and he spent more than one hour introducing us to his fruits and vegetables, the seeds of which were mostly brought from Eastern Europe. He also showed us his tiny winery and the language school he has established for villagers! It is nice to get to see the serene peaceful side of people whom, in other contexts, you see as a bundle of nerves! That was an instructive visit on so many levels. Then in the evening, we attended Kazem Al Saher’s concert. Kazem is Iraqi and all the Arab world should be proud of such a talented and committed artist. I had all of my colleagues in mind. I wished they were all with me especially when he sang about Baghdad. I wanted to post a clip on youtube, but my camera’s battery went completely dead, so I used the mobile phone which has a terrible resolution. I might post it anyway just to share the moment and perhaps experience uploading on youtube!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Personal Learning Process

The purpose of this post is to share the background of how grateful I am for the “learning opportunities” I’ve had lately. Since I got in connection with UO back in March, 2008, for the “Shaping” course, the way I view teaching has tremendously changed. I have to admit that a big part of my excitement back then was that I had access to the library, and I did my best to benefit. However, in the process, the benefit extended to “re-shape” an attitude I had kept for years.

I am a literature student, and I like to view myself as a “reader”. When people around me advised me to major in education or linguistics instead of literature, my response was that being an educator would be a natural result. I started teaching in 1997, and for many years after, I viewed teaching methodology as an innate gift that is shaped by personal effort – by the gift I meant how a teacher interacts with and relates to the students and by the effort I meant the time and commitment put in helping them. I got involved in many workshops and a couple of teacher training courses, one of them in Oxford, UK, but I always valued what is practical, and I assessed everything I would learn in relation to my classroom experience. Much of that experience was the result of intuition and commitment. I had never read an article on any educational issue, never thought theory was worth looking into. It wasn’t until the “Shaping” course that I realized that theory is not a separate component, that I am not on my own, and that many of the problems and challenges I face in my classes are in fact shared by educators around the world. Many experts have written about the same challenges and suggested valid and practical solutions. It sounds matter of fact, but to me at that time it was a major discovery. That discovery had an immediate impact on my teaching style and put most of my earlier methods in their right framework. Not only could I tell which method is better, but at this point I could explain why, and I could more accurately anticipate the results. I also realized how accessible information is, and I haven’t stopped reading since then. I realized I could find online a helpful article on whatever difficulty I could face in class or in the department: lesson planning, assessment, cooperative learning, coordination, learner-centered approaches, etc. Education has turned into a science for me. It’s never too late!

The “Technology” course came right on time to confirm the shift in my attitude. It was no longer just an attitude; it has become an ongoing learning process by itself, and its pillars are self-development and classroom application – that is where it all becomes meaningful for me. Despite the many limitations to the use of technology in the classroom – one of them being the hesitation of fellow teachers to venture in that dimension – I am determined to try and to prove the validity by showing.

I am still a “reader”, no doubt about that, but I have also a “narrative” in the making, and I’d like to believe that there would be other “constructive shifts” that would ensure that the process remains ongoing.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Formative Assessment + Rubrics + Learning Styles

I have been working in the past few days along more than one line. I need to 1) find an interesting, clear – not overwhelming – way to share whatever I am learning with my colleagues, 2) find practical ways to implement the most important pressing strategies into my teaching/learning context, and 3) study the feasibility of integrating / making use of technological tools as often as needed.

In “channel 2”, I find that formative assessment is essential for better instruction and better results. We should in fact make it at the basis of our lesson plans and not keep it a matter of oral feedback given by teachers to students. Rubrics are a must in this context so that gradually both teacher and student are aware of the latter’s learning strengths and weaknesses. It follows that these weaknesses have to be addressed and students have to be given the right contexts and guidance to work on them. That’s one place where getting to know students’ learning styles and helping them get to know what kind of learners they are is important. A variety of instructional strategies should be employed in class to cater to the various styles. However, having a learner-centered class that calls more for students’ engagement in lessons – which could be technology-enhanced – and focusing on enquiry, creativity, and problem solving in authentic situations does help teachers track their students’ performance and detect their learning style better than teacher-centered lessons that end in summative tests.
Last but not least, encouraging students’ reflections is an asset to the above. It helps them be more involved and aware and gives teachers an insight about their needs and how to account for them.

All of the above corrects one misconception I had concerning learning styles. My focus was solely on pace and on providing extra activities when needed. Now I am aware that these are integrated in the main lesson plans and that gives me a means of assessing these lesson plans.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Talking of Technology in the Classroom: Web 2.0

I am kind of overwhelmed this week. To be honest, if I had posted in my blog a few days ago, I would have mentioned that I was starting to feel the topics to be repetitive. I don’t mind reading more and more on learning styles, rubrics, and assessment. There is always some new insight or even reminder to get or some new idea to implement. However, the reference to technology everytime was getting redundant for me, especially that topics are interrelated and many times I find myself jumping to one issue and reflecting on it only to discover it is the topic for the following week. It does bring me satisfaction that I am putting issues in the correct framework and finding the right links, but I guess I was tired as the pressure of the whole year was starting to have its toll on me.

Then again it would not be me not to benefit from any opportunity for improvement, so I made a rough list of the new issues I have learned so far and highlighted what I needed to learn more about. One recurrent term was assessment as I wanted to implement it at school. Another was the creation of a wiki and the term web 2.0. which were totally new to me. So I embarked on a discovery journey. Gradually, my usual energy was regained as I started to discover how much of it all is so close at hand yet not explored. I started taking notes about the best way to implement formative assessment and turning them into suggestions to share with fellow teachers in the coming year. I emailed Leslie and Deborah seeking their feedback. Then I decided that the best way to start using a blog or a wiki or any site as a learning tool is to try it myself as a space for teachers first. Our interaction would give us a hands-on experience of what it would be like for students.

In the process, I understood more the concept of social bookmarking on and I created an account in where I viewed ppt presentations on web 2.0. and teaching English. I then created my own wiki, designed as a space for me and my colleagues to exchange ideas

I suggest the following links on youtube introducing wikis and social bookmarking

At the end of it all – it is barely the beginning in fact – I am definitely overwhelmed with excitement at the prospects. I shouldn’t have mistaken exhaustion for redundancy. It always takes a fresh perspective!!! After all, learning is a trial and error process, and in this case it is a well-guided process.