Tool #2: MS Word: Track Changes

MS Word is kind of the standard for word processing (although I prefer a different one).

Teachers correct a lot of papers. They are worried about errors. Even though the research shows that correcting errors does little to improve student writing, teachers still do it. It makes them feel good, like they are doing something.

Instead of only giving feedback to one student, I collect all the written assignments in a Word Processor (students have to send their final version by email or similar). I erase all the names. I correct all the work, and hand it back to all the students. This works better if they have online access to the document, but usually, a first-year writing assignment you can fit about 5 or 6 onto one page.

Select Track Changes in tool menu
Select Track Changes in tool menu

By all means, though, leave the correction marks on their mistakes. To do this in MS Word, go to TOOLS menu, and choose Track Changes. (You should be sure the toolbar shows for this.) There are different options to show the corrections. I prefer to show them right in the document (not in balloons off the the right, or in a window at the bottom).

The best advantage of this method is that students can learn from each others mistakes. I often BOLD the common mistakes and teach a mini-lesson on that point. Timing is everything (do get the feedback in the next class, research shows it is most effective that way).

Review menu in Word 2003. The new version looks different.
Review menu in Word 2003. The new version looks different.

Tokyo: smelliest place on earth lets people warn others of smelly places lets people warn others of smelly places

According to the new Social Networking  website that relies on Google Maps to point out smelly places in the world, Tokyo must be the smelliest place on earth.

That is, until you realize that the site is in Japanese, and that it is almost brand new. Of course, those of us that live in Tokyo, and have good noses, would be the first to post sites. Each flag is color coded, depending on the type of smell.

Google Maps is being used for numerous applications. For example, in San Francisco, they link together the location of searches on mobile phones for key words like flu or disease to try to map out a progression of a breakout and where it might be headed.

Only would the Japanese think of applying it to avoid smells.

Tool #1: Cute PDF

I’m coming to hate paper more and more. You can’t search it, you can’t change it, and it gets lost so easily. I see teachers requiring students to print out online reports of their progress reports, instead of looking at the reports themselves. It seems odd. But some teachers just want to have a permanent record of some event.

So instead of printing it out on paper, why not print it out on a pdf file? PDF is the short name for Adobe Acrobat files. To print from Adobe, you have to pay money. But another software is free.

Cute PDF is a software you can download, and install just like any other printer. Instead of printing a page, it makes a file, an Adobe Acrobat file. You can save them all together. They are searchable. I use this now more than my paper printer. You can then send the documents by email. They are in color, and do not change.  It is as easy as printing a page.

Download the FREE version, not the Pro version
Download the FREE version, not the Pro version

If you have never installed software on your computer, tell the person that usually does it to SHOW you how to do it. After you install 3 or 4 programs, it becomes much easier. This is the first step to controlling your machine instead of it controlling you.

100 days 100 tools

I just realized we have exactly 100 days before April 1, the start of the new school (and financial) year in Japan. Since my department is requiring every new fresh(wo)man to get a laptop, there is a huge responsibility for the faculty of the department to use them in class and as part of the curriculum.

Mark Warschauer, in his book Laptops and Literacy, says that the people most crucial to the success of wireless programs and students using laptops are the faculty.

I’m the IT Committee in our department, and I’ve got a lot of experience in this area, but also realize that you can’t teach this kind of thing. You just have to show how important it is to upgrade from paper and lectures to technology, and allow students to interact more naturally and with a greater variety of “channels” of communication.

So I’ve set myself a challenge. 100 tools in 100 days.

These tools and their explanations are aimed at non-native speakers of English, and those without much computer experience. You would be a typical end-user, able to use email, a browser, and some kind of word processor.

These tools are aimed at language teachers. They should help you teach better. The focus here is on teaching, and adapting your style to what students and administrations are coming to expect. Sometimes they are software, or a web page, or a new technique.

They focus on helping students develop their own language skills, providing autonomy through example.

My next post will be tool #1.

Ministry of Education back tracks

On the backs of babes.

backpack200-bbIt seems since the scores are falling in international tests, and Japanese kids aren’t learning stuff you can test as much, there is a panic to find a solution.

About 10 years ago there was a move to restrict time at school because kids were not very well-rounded. They tend not to play together, or learn about cultural activities. To increase “humanity” among the kids, they were given most Saturdays off (yes, they used to go most Saturdays). The number of school days dropped from about 240 to 210 (the US has about 180).

The drop in scores on these international tests didn’t start appearing until about 5 years after the change. Of course, the first thought on the cause of the drop was the changed schedule. No solid indication of causation here, but everyone thought something must be done.

So what did the Ministry of Education come up with? Reinstate Saturdays, and double the page count of the textbooks. You see, the system here in Japan is incredibly centralized. There is a week-to-week curriculum that everyone in K-12 follows. So a kid could move from Hokkaido down to Kyushu over the weekend, and pick up exactly where he left off. (The textbooks might be different, the content is the same.)

So now the kids will be carrying much heavier backpacks, and the publishers fat and happy. There is a constant outcry when new textbooks are brought out, because of their (non) treatment of WW2 and things like the Rape of Nanjing. Now they will have twice as much room, but we can be fairly certain there won’t be twice as much content.