EdTech Basics: What ELT Teachers Should Know and Use
by Christel Broady
With the fast pace of developing technology, it's easy to feel disconnected and lost. What is the relevant educational technology that English language teachers need to be familiar with, and how should you be using it in your classroom, for your teaching, and with your students? Find out here.
The Issue of Disconnect
Let’s be honest. Many of us reading professional publications feel like encountering another language when reading about technology topics such as
- The cloud
- Flipped classrooms
- BYOD (bring your own device)
If you are an educator trained more than a few years ago, you may not feel connected to the topics. This disconnect may result in a widening gap between your professional practice and your learners.
Learner Background and Digital Literacy
As teachers, we are keenly aware that students learn more if teachers connect learning experiences and materials to students’ backgrounds. We also know that it is essential to know students, their life outlooks, their hobbies, and their preferences. However, in the area of technology, it can be extremely difficult for teachers to effectively connect with their learners.
Many of our students were born into a digital world where virtually all aspects of life are connected to technology. Here are some examples:
- Playing with toys (Webkinz)
- Gaming (Minecraft, Club Penguin, Poptropica)
- Creating things (3D printers, YouTube)
- Shopping (online stores worldwide such as Amazon and EBay)
- Searching for information (Google, Yahoo)
- Connecting socially with others (social media such as Snapchat and Instagram)
- Creating a reputation (social media, YouTube)
- Exchanging information (social media)
Our students perceive their digital and handheld devices as an extension of themselves, as the connection to others, and as the tool for learning. Our students are technology literate, and they enjoy their skill and the freedom to use it productively.
I would like to encourage all of us teachers to learn the “language of technology” and to connect with our students. Let us tap into the potential of creativity and infinite resources for authentic language activities while using technology to the fullest so we reach the highest degree of English language mastery in our students. Below are some key concepts I encourage teachers to research and use. With these, I hope to take the mystery out of some of the educational tech terms that may sound foreign.
The Digital Cloud or Cloud Computing
The digital cloud is an electronic way of storing and managing data. As teachers, we create and manage data: writing and speaking samples; tests; music recordings; authentic culture artifacts; program data; communication records with students, families, and colleagues; and so much more. We keep much of our data in the form of paper records in our file cabinets. Some of our data can be found on CDs, flash drives, or other portable data storage devices. Most of us have experienced problems with the traditional data storage procedures: Computer or flash drives fail, papers get lost or damaged. We can avoid data storage malfunction issues by storing our information on servers instead of or in addition to traditional storage methods. In addition to avoiding data loss by using server or hard drive space, we also open up many possibilities for our data use.
When using cloud storage, data, such as lesson plans and teaching materials, can easily be shared with students and families to access from outside of the classroom. Sharing our materials and lessons with students can be very beneficial. In fact, it can remove barriers to learning for many students. When accessing materials in their own time and for as long as they want to access it, students who need more processing time can extend their exposure. They can repeat lessons as many times as needed until they master the concepts. Parents can follow the curriculum and talk about it with their children.
When teachers also post voice recordings on cloud servers, students can do listening and pronunciation exercises as well. We can also extend the lessons to allow students to record their own speaking samples. This way, we don’t need to worry about collecting recording devices and can access student work anywhere. In addition, we can hear every student’s voice sample instead of those of the same few learners who tend to speak up in class. Using cloud servers can be a powerful tool to have a personal connection to our students and to get individual work samples. It also provides learners with another tool for success in English class.
It does not cost any money to use the cloud, and it is surprisingly easy to do. It is important to use a platform that allows for privacy and limited access to only those whom you would like to have access.
Many workplaces already provide server space for their employees; one example is Microsoft Office 365. Start by asking your employer what server space is available at your organization. Ask one of the technology support colleagues to show you how to use it or give it a try alone. (I promise you cannot break anything!)
Outside of the workplace server spaces, there are many wonderful platforms that are free to use.
Google Drive & Google Docs
I am a huge fan of all Google products for use in education. Specifically, Google Docs offers teachers unlimited possibilities for cloud-based teaching and storage. The difference from using your computer software is that all of the documents are created on a remote Google server where they are stored and backed up.
You can upload existing documents or entire folders to our Google drive for storage. You can create word documents, slide shows, spreadsheets, and more. This applies even to those who do not have access to Microsoft Office products otherwise. Likewise, you can let students do the same. They, too, can create and share all forms of documents and presentations with us teachers and/or their peers.
In addition, our products will not be lost. You can access them anywhere in the world, at any time, from any Internet-connected device, desktop computer, tablet, or smartphone. You can share individual documents or entire folders with individuals or groups. Sharing with others is as easy as writing an e-mail.
Another safe and private teacher resource is Edmodo. It is a cloud platform that allows you to share materials, post and receive assignments, and more. Edmodo is free of charge.
Versal is yet another platform, free of charge and offering many possibilities for teachers.
I encourage anyone to access one of the sites and to try using the cloud. Connect to your students outside of the classroom or even in your classes by posting assignments and resources for your learning activities that students can access with their devices during class. It will save much paper, and you can recycle and edit activities easily from school year to school year without re-creating them. In addition, your students will enjoy using electronic resources.
This acronym stands for “bring your own device,” and describes a formal policy that invites students to bring their own handheld and digital devices to school. Many of us are used to seeing students with their devices already, even without an official policy. And many of us try to find ways to keep such devices out of the hands of learners during our class times.
Instead of spending time getting devices out of students’ hands and spending funds on purchasing class tablets or maintaining computer labs, invite your learners to bring their own devices to class. BYOD policies make digital devices allies for our teaching.
As English teachers, we can use student devices for activities and access to materials on the cloud. This is also a great way of either supplementing or replacing textbooks that are old or not useful. Teachers can create their own lessons and resources for learners based on current cultural and professional developments. Students of all ages appreciate the opportunity to use their beloved electronic devices and utilize their digital knowledge to learn English. They are more motivated and learning will be maximized. I encourage you to consider a BYOD policy in your classroom.
The Flipped Classroom
The concept of the flipped classroom means outsourcing drilling and concept-exposure activities to time and space outside of the classroom. Doing this frees up valuable time in the classroom to actually apply concepts and to see how well learners are progressing.
In the world of English teaching, this is a powerful lesson-planning tool to consider. We can place our drilling, vocabulary practice, and other routine activities on the cloud. Students can access materials and activities at home and take as much time as needed to master the concepts before applying them in authentic and communicative activities in our classrooms. Also teachers can monitor their students’ learning activity records in the cloud to have a data-based insight into individual students’ learning. In a flipped classroom, everyone wins!
As teachers, we are life-long learners. Instead of questioning the way learners use their devices and technology, we should capitalize on the potential technology offers to increase our teaching effectiveness. Just like other professionals, such as doctors, we must learn new procedures and new techniques to be even more effective in the future.
I hope that after reading the above information, you will consider dipping your toes and then your feet into the water and trying out some new technology avenues on the cloud. Ask your learners for feedback, input, and even advice when you want to learn more. And, if you feel lost, know that you can find excellent YouTube videos on all of the discussed topics; please find some links to a selection of resources below. They can provide free training for you in the privacy of your home. Best of luck in flipping your English classroom!
Links and Resources
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Dr. Christel Broady is a professor of graduate education and ESL teacher education at Georgetown College, past president of the Kentucky TESOL, former chair of the TESOL EEIS, and current VDMIS steering board member. An NCATE program reviewer, she also represented TESOL at CAEP and on the national workgroup for the Seal of Bilinguality in K–12 schools. She is the manager of “Broadyesl,” a worldwide ELT Community of Practice on Facebook, WordPress (ESL and technology), LinkedIn, and Twitter.
Résumé Writing: Tips for English Language Teachers
by Mary Chang
Looking to change your job or apply for a different position? Then you'd better take a look at your résumé and cover letter. Read up on what you should include and in what order, what English language teacher employers are looking for, and what mistakes to avoid.
Most employers give each résumé or curriculum vitae (CV) a couple of minutes of review to see if the minimum requirements are included. In your search for the ideal teaching job, what elements are employers looking for in your application documents, namely your résumé, CV, and cover letter? There are some distinct features that you can include and adapt to be more competitive on paper.
Résumés & Curricula Vitae
Length & Detail
What is the difference between a résumé and a CV? Which one is most desired and effective when applying for a teaching position? Résumés traditionally do not exceed two pages of education and employment information, so only the highlights are included. CVs are more extensive, with fuller descriptions for each position as well as other details and sections, like
- Presentations & Publications
- Awards & Recognition
- Travel Experience
- Technology Experience
The last page of a CV should be dedicated only to listing your professional references (referees), typically four to six people.
As for which document to use when, let the job announcement guide your application. If there is no indication of which one is required, let the length be dictated by the number of responsibilities listed on the announcement. In other words, if you are applying for a teaching pool position (many positions are open), then submit a résumé so you can impress succinctly. However, if you are thinking of vying for a leadership position, don’t be modest—submit a CV that lists all of your talents and training.
On many European and some Asian résumés, applicants include an official professional photo, personal details like marital status, birthdate/age, sometimes religion, and occasionally hobbies/interests. Most American employers do not require or desire the personal information on résumés/CVs, because U.S. hiring practices do not legally allow hiring groups to consider this kind of information.
Order of Operations
Does it matter what is listed first—education or employment history? The short answer is “Yes.” Again, look to the job announcement for direction with this. If the announcement highlights training and education above the work experience, then supply this version of your résumé or CV. Be sure to include the level of training (bachelor’s, master’s, or doctorate degrees; certification; and endorsements), the name of the institutions, and the dates of completion. If the announcement has experience or a combination of experience and training as the leading requirement, then submit a résumé or CV leading with your teaching experience.
Importance of Presentation
Regardless of leading with education or with experience, it’s vitally important to make it easy to find and understand your key information. Pick a single font and a point size that is easy to read and fairly standard. To emphasize information, use bold, italics, or underlining of the same font.
Block related information together under a clear heading. For example, if you worked in several training programs in one institution, and your work for each was slightly different, list these under the institution’s information (organization name, city/state/province/region) and then the job title(s) and dates of work [month and year]. Under each position, provide the top three to five duties you completed using active verbs.
Dedicate most of your document space for field specific experience. If you are just getting started in the field of teaching, then list related experiences (tutoring, volunteering, or informal teaching). If you have any specialties that could enhance your bid for the position, include these as a category as well. Lead with your most recent and relevant experience. Usually, experience is listed in reverse chronological order (with the most recent first). However, if there are significant work experiences that highlight your talents, categorize these under a heading, such as “Program Management” or “Online Teaching,” toward the top of your documents.
“Measure Twice, Cut Once”—A Carpenter’s Saying
“Measure Twice, Cut Once.” Translation: Double-check before sending. Be sure your contact information is accurate. If you are in-between residences, list a “permanent address,” which can be that of a relative or good friend, and a “current address,” which is where you are gathering your correspondence now. This is a good way to still receive key postal mail while working internationally.
Often, job seekers include a line at the bottom of their résumé stating that “References are available upon request.” If the announcement says to provide a certain number of references or recommendation letters along with your application, then you should list the contact information for your referees (name, occupational title, organization, relationship to you, and current email and phone numbers) and include those letters in your application packet.
Dates of completion and employment can make or break your bid for a position. Most positions require that an applicant have the necessary degree and a certain amount of experience. If you omit these dates for fear of ageism or appearing less experienced, the omission will likely cause your application to be rejected by most American institutions due to insufficient information. Because there are different numeric ways to list the date, it’s clearer to spell (or abbreviate) the months and list the four-digit year to avoid any confusion.
What’s Covered in a Cover Letter?
For as much as your résumé or CV tries to highlight the totality of your training and experience, the cover letter is meant to give a fuller story of your specific experience as it aligns with the job announcement. This means that you should make a unique cover letter for each position.
The cover letter should be brief, typically only one and no more than two pages. It is common to first state which position you are seeking and how you learned about this position. Then provide details that address each of the requirements on the announcement. For instance, the job announcement describes the need for someone with teacher training experience. If your résumé or CV has only a line describing your teacher training experience, flesh this out more in your cover letter—who were the participants, what topics did you cover, and how long were they part of this training?
Obtain Documents: Can you place your hands on your academic transcripts right now? Do you know where your diplomas or certificates/endorsements are? If you are asked to provide lesson materials or an original exam that you developed, could you produce them? Start compiling a Professional Portfolio that has all of these items in one place. As you seriously enter the job-seeking arena, you will be asked for these and many other documents multiple times.
Many universities allow for alumni to request transcripts online. It is wise to order at least five copies at a time—one to open and make photocopies of for the impromptu application and four sealed ones for those employers who only want an original. If your diplomas are already mounted and on display on your wall, take a careful digital photograph (avoid glare) of it and send it out as an attachment or print out a few copies to have on hand.
Translate Where Necessary: If you received a degree in a non-English-speaking country, provide an official translation of the degree and courses completed. Most American institutions will ask for a copy of this translation to better understand which degree you received and if it is equivalent to the American standards.
Actively Get Recommendations: In every place you have worked for any substantial amount of time (more than 1 full month), ask your supervisor, colleague, and supervisee for a letter of recommendation. If you are a recent graduate, ask your professors, academic counselor, or department head for a letter as well. If certain individuals are reluctant to write a letter, ask if they wouldn’t mind being a referee.
Practice Interviewing: Practice for your interview by checking out the website for the organization you are applying to and being aware of what it values. Go online for general interview questions and practice giving your answers for each of them. Be able to answer questions about grammar, relevant standards, and other stressor situations (often given as scenarios where you need to describe what you would do).
How much is enough?: Remember, have enough copies of the different versions of your résumé and CV: Versions for a domestic position and others for international positions, versions that focus first on education and others that highlight experience at the start, as well as hardcopy and digital versions of all of these. Having at least four versions of your résumé and CV will allow you to have a good head-start on the employment application process.
How do you know if your résumé or CV is effective? First, have a trusted colleague or family member edit the surface features. As a teacher, I will leave you with some homework: Imagine you have the work and education history of your absolute favorite teacher of all time, and you were asked to design his or her résumé and CV. How would you describe this person and his or her duties? What words would you use to describe the essence of his or her teaching that compelled you to join the field of teaching? Now, look at your own résumé or CV. How does it stack up? Is there another draft in your future?
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Mary J. Chang received her MATESOL and Language Program Administration Certificate from the former Monterey Institute of International Studies in California. She has been teaching English in the United States and Japan for more than 20 years, with the last 10 years actively recruiting ESL teachers for the intensive English program at Arizona State University.
Do-It-Yourself ELT Professional Development
by Tomiko Breland
When the PD provided by your organization just isn't cutting it, use these 10 free resources to kickstart your own personal professional development plan.
Lifelong learning requires dedication and effort. For educators, this means continuing professional development (PD). Sometimes, the one-size-fits-all PD provided by schools or organizations just doesn’t cut it, and, sometimes, the PD is too brief, too superficial, or just irrelevant to your needs. So—what can you do?
Sometimes, you just have to do it yourself (DIY). Here are 10 free resources to get you started.
Create a Personal PD Plan
The first step to DIY PD is to develop your personal PD plan, which will serve as an aid and a guide as you pursue your development goals. Your personal PD plan can be as formal or as informal as you’d like; most plans include, at minimum:
- a self-assessment
- a list of resources available to you
- goals and actions
- a timeline
This guide from the New Jersey Department of Education offers a great template for getting started, including some excellent questions for you to ask yourself as you plan. Below are some resources and ideas to help you get started developing your English language teaching (ELT) personal PD plan.
DIY Professional Development Resources
Use these resources in your free time to improve your practice and keep up-to-date in the field.
1. Readingrockets.com: PD Webcasts
These free 45- or 60-minute webcasts cover a number of PD topics, though not all are ELT related. However, there are gems among them for whenever you have the time to watch, and they include recommended readings and discussion questions. Some topics covered are assessment of English language learners (ELLs), academic language and ELLs, and ELLs with learning disabilities.
2. British Council: Podcasts, Webinars, and Seminars
The British Council offers free podcasts consisting of interviews with ELT experts and covering various topics and news in ELT. Most touch on classroom practice, activities, and resources as well. The British Council also offers a monthly series of free webinars for continued PD. Watch recordings or attend live; past webinars include such topics as using ELT to raise social awareness about mobility disability, how to become an ELT materials writer, and how to move into language school management. Their free seminar series is intended to provide a forum for ELT professionals to discuss the latest developments in the field; some include training materials.
3. Stanford English Learner Library of Resources
This library hosts the course materials from Stanford University’s now defunct Crosscultural, Language, and Academic Development (CLAD) Program; it contains more than 100 videos to help train educators working with primary and secondary level ELLs. Videos include lectures, teacher reflections, and classroom practice examples, and cover a wide range of teaching topics, including vocabulary development, assessment, and content-based instruction.
Coursera is an education platform that partners with universities and organizations to offer free courses online. The site covers just about every topic and field, and though it has a small selection of courses on English language teaching, you will find courses on some of the less familiar aspects of language and on improving teaching effectiveness. Over a period of (usually 4 to 9) weeks, you’ll watch video lectures, take quizzes, and connect with your instructor and classmates. Look for courses such as “Shaping the Way We Teach English: The Landscape of English Language Teaching,” and “The Bilingual Brain.”
Sometimes, it’s easy to forget that reading is a form of PD. These free online publications offer myriad articles and resources to help English language teachers improve their practice and keep up-to-date in their field:
- TESOL Newsletters: TESOL International Association publishes a monthly e-newsletter, TESOL Connections, with practical feature articles and resources on all aspects of ELT. The association’s 21 interest sections also each publish newsletters specific to their topics, including intercultural communication, program administration, and CALL.
- The Internet TESL Journal: Previously an online journal, this resource is now a website that houses articles on research and teaching techniques, and offers lesson plans, handouts, and useful links.
- ELTWO: This online journal from ELTWorldOnline.com is published by the Centre for English Language Communication at the National University of Singapore.
- Blogs: There are countless blogs out there that provide excellent sources of PD for English language educators. A few worth checking out are
- The Colorín Colorado blog, “Common Core and ELLs” (Generally U.S.-focused but with many blog posts that are useful and relevant for international contexts)
- “Larry Ferlazzo’s Websites of the Day” (a site devoted primarily to discussing resources to help you teach ESL/EFL, with an excellent and extensive “best of” series)
- The TESOL Blog, which hosts a number of regular bloggers on topics such as teacher education, educational technology, and second language writing.
- The British Council TeachingEnglish blog, which hosts a number of bloggers on ELT topics each month.
- Education Week’s Learning the Language blog is an excellent resource for keeping up-to-date on ELL research and news.
6. Colorín Colorado: Webcasts
The Colorín Colorado webcast series, created in collaboration with the American Federation of Teachers, offers nine webcasts featuring experts in ELT. The 45-minute webcasts include recommended readings and discussion questions and cover such basics as academic language and ELLs and assessment of ELLs.
7. American TESOL Institute Free Friday Webinars
Friday webinars (4 pm EST), open to the public, are hosted by Shelly Terrell, online professor and instructional designer. Though hosted on the American TESOL Institute website, the webinars are mostly general professional development and mainly technology focused, for example, “Learn Collaboratively with Free Web Tools and Apps” and “Ways to Get Technology for Your Classes.” You can access her past presentations on her slideshare page.
DIY Professional Development Ideas: Take Action
Some of these ideas for DIY PD require collaboration and learning new technologies before you can begin—but they all require effort. The more you put into your PD, the more you’ll take from it. Get started!
8. Host an Edcamp (Unconference)
Edcamps are “unconferences” that are held and hosted by the participants; the attendees (teachers) set the agenda at the start of the event and offer to present/facilitate, and sessions are then posted on a board for others to view. Sessions are hands-on and formatted as discussions rather than lectures, and there are generally no sponsors, because it’s free to host. Check out resources for organizing an Edcamp, and consider hosting an ELT Edcamp at your school or organization to see what your peers have to share.
9. Build a PLN
PLNs, or personal/professional/personalized learning networks, are digital, global networks in which educators connect, share, collaborate, and learn. You can start your PLN in myriad ways, but the easiest is to dive into social media and other digital conversations: Start a Twitter account, read and write blog posts, begin a Pinterest board, build a circle of connected educators on Google+ . . . the list goes on. Edutopia offers a good primer on PLNs, and Edublogs Teacher Challenges hosts a great website for building your PLN. Also, check out this article in TESOL Connections with five easy steps to get you started.
10. Get Tech-Savvy
If building a PLN from the ground up sounds a bit too daunting, you could begin by familiarizing yourself with current technology. Choose at least one tech tool that would be useful in your teaching or in building a PLN, and assign yourself some goals. For example:
- Twitter: Open an account, find at least 10 other users to follow, tweet useful teaching advice at least three times a week, get at least 25 followers.
- Blog: Choose a blogging platform (e.g., Wordpress, Tumblr, Blogger); create a blog, complete with a mission and vision; blog at least once a week; get at least 20 subscribers.
- Google+: Familiarize yourself with at least five Google+ tools, host at least one educational podcast and one Google Hangout (with video), learn to use the Google+ mobile app, join at least two Google+ communities of interest.
- Pinterest: Open an account, create a private board for yourself of all your teaching resources and worksheets, create a collaborative board for other teachers to post their resources and get at least 10 teachers to post, create a collaborative board for your students to complete a specific project, read up on copyright and Creative Commons licensing for intellectual property.
Remember: Once you’ve achieved the goals you set for yourself in your PD plan, you’re not done. Continue to update your personal PD plan, and use it as a career-long tool for growth. A personal PD plan changes with your needs and your teaching context, and lifelong learning is never finished.
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Tomiko Breland is TESOL editor & publications project manager. She received her BA in English from Stanford University, her MA in writing from the Johns Hopkins University, and her certificate in TESOL from Anaheim University.
5 Easy Steps for Creating an Online PLN
by Amy Pascucci
A large part of professional development in today's world is connecting; learn how to create a professional learning network online with these easy steps.
Millennials often get mocked for being unwaveringly attached to their electronic devices, specifically their phones. This has caused concern about their interpersonal skills and their overall ability to have meaningful connections with other people. I am going to argue that we can take a cue from this form of connectedness and use it to our advantage in a professional capacity.
Part of who we are as teachers are advocates for access. We don’t only teach irregular past-tense verbs, bilabial fricatives, or vocabulary strategies. We advocate for our students on a daily basis. We help them negotiate the daily life struggles of something as easy as determining the difference between nickels and quarters to the more academic refinement of college personal statement essays and dissertations. We also advocate for their rights within the school, especially if dealing with a marginalized population. You may have even helped students advocate for themselves in their workplace against unfair employment practices. This all relates to access. Helping our students access not only language, but information and opportunity.
So why then, if we are so quick to advocate for our students, do we sometimes forget to advocate for each other? If I have access to helpful information, why would I not want to share it with the most people possible? Why would I not want to crowdsource information from my professional network to solve a professional, teaching-related problem?
Technology, and specifically web-based technology, seems like it might be both the answer and the problem to this collegial collaboration. It can be the one tool to equalize access, if of course access to the Internet is available. Yet, even those with access are sometimes overwhelmed, and therefore don’t utilize web-based technology to their benefit.
Think for a moment about the last teaching question you had. Maybe it was about grammar, communicative pronunciation activities, or even the flipped classroom. Now think about where you looked for information and support. Was it within your department? Your administration? A website or blog? Once you had this information, did you store it or share it in any capacity? Did you bookmark the site, add it to a folder on your computer, or make it a shortcut on your desktop? How did you share it and with whom? These are all questions that become important as our access to information increases. We want to devise a personally tailored system to organize, prioritize, and even disseminate good, helpful, and time-sensitive information and ideas in the most effective way.
This is where a professional learning network (PLN) can assist in organizing, prioritizing, and disseminating information and provide a platform from which collaboration can flourish. A PLN is not necessarily a tangible network. It’s more of an abstract term that we use to describe the medium through which we accomplish all of the things just mentioned.
How do you start a PLN?
Here are five easy steps. Steps one through three may happen sequentially or simultaneously, depending on your level of comfort with different applications and the amount of buy-in and interest your colleagues have in collaborating online.
1. Start with identifying an aspect of social media with which you are already comfortable using or are willing to spend some time exploring.
Platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Edmodo, and Google+ are all great for different reasons. It also depends on which platforms your prospective collaborators appear and participate. For example, many people in the United States have a Gmail email account, making Google+ easily accessible, but not everyone is as familiar with Google+ as they might be with Facebook. If colleagues are not on Facebook, Edmodo might be a great way to go, as its purpose is precisely in line with collaborative discussion and information sharing. You can start a group on Facebook or Edmodo, a circle on Google+, or a hashtag on any one of the sites. If you are working with a group of people less tech savvy, then put on your teacher hat and scaffold and model how to participate.
2. Invite a few colleagues to join or follow you.
Choose people that you admire and respect because you will value their ideas and input as your discussions grow and progress online. Keep it professional. Determine some of your own priorities for collaboration. Do you want diversity in experience or experts in a specific field? Do you want the group to focus on a specific teaching context, content area, proficiency level, or geographic location? These decisions will affect who you invite to participate.
3. Determine the goal of your group.
Do you want to share information, collaborate on a specific project, discuss and problem solve current concerns, or even just give each other the opportunity to reflect and receive feedback? Be transparent about your expectations. Many groups write guidelines that include dos and don’ts, and ask all new members to read the guidelines before participating. However, depending on the group members, you may be able to be looser with your guidelines. If it’s only a few colleagues whom you know well, then you will probably be able to make the group less formal and more spontaneous. Whereas if it is a large group of people who don’t necessarily know one another, you might want to make the parameters more defined. Also, encourage each member to either complete a profile or provide an introduction if there are multiple people who don’t know one another. This helps you create community online, especially for those who may not already have that community offline.
4. Make a commitment to yourself, or more publicly to the group, to post a resource or comment on a discussion on a regular basis.
This might be once a day or once or twice a week, but make it regular. This keeps the group and the purpose present in everyone’s mind, and maybe something you post will inspire someone else to post or comment. Content can help to drive collaboration. If, for example, you don’t have a question or something you personally have done that you want to share, then sharing an article or suggestion from somewhere else can ignite the conversation. It also encourages cross postings from or to other groups. If you see something in one group that has fostered great virtual conversations, why not share it with your group? If something produces great collaboration within your group, you could share it on your personal Facebook page for others to share with their networks. Be responsible for the access and dissemination of information.
5. Finally, reflect and change.
Be prepared to reflect at different points, such as 2–3 weeks into the collaboration and then every 2–3 months. Think about things like participation, types of content, and the effectiveness of the collaboration. Can you quantify any benefits or drawbacks? For example, the article I posted last week on my PLN sparked a conversation on synthesis writing and caused me to change the project I am about to start with my students. Ask the group members to weigh in as well. You can make it an informal discussion thread or a more formal survey. Determine what is working and what could be improved. Be open to change. This might mean changes in your goals, guidelines, or even platform. Applications are constantly being updated and modified to better fit the needs of users, and there is always a steady stream of new applications becoming available. If you start hearing of a platform that might be more effective, do some investigating, and ask your network what they think of making a change.
Creating a PLN will take time and effort. You need to be willing to make the commitment. However, the possibilities are endless and the benefits are limitless. Enjoy the journey.
Crowley, B. (2014, December 31). 3 steps for building a professional learning network. Education Week. Retrieved from http://www.edweek.org/tm/articles/2014/12/31/3-steps-for-building-a-professional-learning.html
Myer, E., Paul, P. A., Kirkland, D. E, & Dana, N. F. (2009). The power of teacher networks. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.
Litherland, C. (2011, October 24). Professional learning networks taking off. Education Week. Retrieved from http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/201110/26/09edtech-network.h31.html
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Amy Pascucci earned her BA in Middle Eastern studies from New York University and her MA in TESOL from American University. She has taught in the United States in secondary, postsecondary, adult education, intensive English programs, and teacher training programs. Amy was an English Language Fellow in Cairo at Al-Azhar University. She currently resides in California teaching in an IEP and an online certification program, and is the 2015 chair of the TESOL Employment Issues Committee.
Grant Writing: Show Me (How to Get) the Money!
by Barbara Gottschalk
School budgets are tighter than ever, but there is funding available! Learn how you can succeed in grant writing and help fund your classroom and school projects.
Numerous research studies from experts such as Marzano (2004) and less well-known online authors Greene, Kisida, and Bowen (2014) have pointed out the value of project-based activities and real-world experiences for all students, but especially our ELLs. How to get the extra money to pay for these extras that we know shouldn’t be extra at all? School budgets are tighter than ever. In addition, U.S. census statistics from the American Community Survey show children living in households where a language other than English is spoken are more likely to be poor than children in English-only households (Child Trends Databank, 2014). A successful grant application can fund activities that will benefit not only ELLs, but the rest of the student body as well. In this article, I’ll share some grant-writing lessons I’ve learned from my accepted applications and many rejections.
MONEY TALKS is an acronym I’ll use to help you remember my 10 tips. In the past 4 years, I’ve obtained more than US$30,000 of funding for my school through various mini-grant programs available to classroom teachers just like you. This has helped me expand my impact beyond my classroom and stealthily influence teachers to incorporate project-based learning, service learning, and the arts into their teaching, things that especially benefit ELLs. That’s money talking!
M: Measure Outcomes
Grant programs want to know the curriculum standards you are planning to meet with the money they give you and how you will measure whether students have met them. Depending on your particular situation, you’ll reference Common Core State Standards, Next Generation Science Standards, The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages, etc.
O: Obey the Application Rules
This seems like stating the obvious, but every tip sheet I've seen has mentioned this, so apparently it’s something many grant seekers overlook. I've had the opportunity to listen in remotely to webcast grant reviews and heard the reviewers say things like, "Well, this applicant submitted word documents instead of PDFs like they were supposed to.” Not obeying the rules is a great way to get your application eliminated.
N: Never Start New
If you already have something in place, grant funders will be more likely to give money to help you take it to the next level. For example, I successfully applied for a Target Arts grant to bring a group from our local symphony orchestra to my school. A key part of the application was that I was able to mention that the retired conductor and present conductor of the orchestra had visited the previous year to read to our 4th and 5th graders.
E: Everybody Involved
All other things being equal, grant funders look favorably on programs that can benefit large numbers of students. If you have a great idea for your classroom, can you somehow expand it to benefit all of the students in your program or school?
Y: Youth Input
Many programs emphasize this. It’s especially hard with young children, but it’s important to show that students are actively involved in your project’s planning and execution. It’s even better if the students can actually take part in preparing the application. What a great way for students to practice using authentic, relevant English!
T: Tell a Story
My first successful Target Field Trip grant was for students to attend a ballet performance of Aladdin. That was a pretty average idea, but when I added the fact that many of our students were from the Middle East and showed how we were going to build an entire study unit around the familiar story of Aladdin, it made a much more powerful request.
A: Ask for Action Items
Too often, people apply for grants to buy something, but instead they should think of their grant request in terms of what they, or better yet, their students, are going to do with the money. For example, instead of asking for an iPad, you should specifically say why you need an iPad to accomplish your objectives. I once submitted a grant application to buy inexpensive ukuleles for my students. It was rejected. Several years later, I submitted another application, with similar learning objectives, to buy materials to make metal tubular xylophones. This request was successful, I believe because the application explained how the students would be getting hands-on experience actually creating their musical instruments.
L: Learn What’s Funded
I’ve had proposals rejected by some grant programs—and then accepted by others. I’m convinced the whole process is a lot like a job search; you’ve got to find the right grant program for your idea. If you’re trying hard to tweak your idea to fit the program, it’s not going to make a strong application; better to find the program that’s a right fit. Here are some of my favorite sources of national grant information:
Just reading through the available grants listed on these websites will give you an idea of what’s getting funding at the moment. You'll soon find that you'll have more than enough grant sources; a bigger challenge is finding the time to write the applications.
K: Keep Trying
I’ve had many grant programs reject my applications, but accept my applications later. With experience, you’ll also learn which programs have higher rates of success and thus are worth your valuable time. Table 1 shows the number of applications I’ve written in the past 4 years and the success percentage rate. You can see that I’m submitting about the same number of applications every year, so I’m not working any harder, but I’m definitely getting smarter. You will, too, with practice!
Table 1. Application Success Rate
Grant funders like to know that the gift they give will keep on giving. The xylophones previously mentioned were still being used in a music class 4 years later. That sustainability helped me get another grant for the music teacher to make his own set of xylophones.
Finally, if you’re lucky enough to receive grant funding, remember to submit your final reports and thank your sponsors. Many different grant applications remind potential applicants that they need to complete final paperwork from previous years to be eligible to apply again, which indicates that some people don’t submit required final reports or thank their funders. That’s not a good idea if you want to ask for money in the future!
The photos below illustrate several of the grant-writing tips in this article. The letter (Figure 1) shows how even young ELLs can be involved in preparing a grant application. It also “tells a story” about an ELL student leading his classmates on the proposed field trip after having visited this farm before, as a newcomer. It indicates previous involvement, too, as it’s not proposing a completely new activity. The thank-you letter (Figure 2) from the student to the grant sponsors again shows youth involvement. This was included in the final report, and perhaps helped us successfully win another grant award from this same sponsor the following year!
Figure 1. Student Letter
Figure 2. Student Thank-You Letter
Example Application Text
The following paragraph is from a successful application for a National Education Association Learning and Leadership grant. The program summary of a grant application is an opportunity to explain your idea as clearly and succinctly as possible. Note how in just 100 words, I used some of the tips—sustainability, involving everybody, asking for action items, good program fit—I’ve just given you:
The lower elementary teachers at Susick Elementary will work together to help Susick’s youngest English language learners attain proficiency even more quickly than they do now. Kindergarten teacher Catherine Cushard will head the effort by attending a train the trainer institute at the Center for Applied Linguistics (CAL) in Washington, D. C. on "What's Different about Teaching Reading to English Language Learners." Back at Susick, she and Barbara Gottschalk, English language acquisition teacher, will lead a study group composed of their lower elementary colleagues, the teachers at Susick with the greatest numbers of English language learners in their classes.
In conclusion, I hope these tips have shown you that grant writing is easy to do. It gets even easier, too, once you start submitting applications and have a bank of previous applications you can reference. The biggest obstacle is simply getting started. I hope this article has motivated you to do so!
Greene, J., Kisida, B., & Bowen, D. (2014). The educational value of field trips. Education Next, 14(1), 78–86. Retrieved from http://educationnext.org/the-educational-value-of-field-trips/.
Marzano, R. J. (2004). Building background knowledge for academic achievement. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, Alexandria, VA.
Child Trends Databank. (2014). Dual language learners. Retrieved from http://www.childtrends.org/?indicators=dual-language-learners
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Barbara Gottschalk teaches English as a second language at Susick Elementary, Warren Consolidated Schools, in suburban Detroit, Michigan, USA. In addition to teaching English in Japan for a total of 4 years, she has taught English in K–12, higher education, and business settings in five different states in three very different parts of the United States.