mLearning Using Smartphones in the EFL Classroom: It´s Possible!

Even though we live in the "mobile era", some educators are still reluctant to use mobile devices in the classroom. I cannot blame them: (fun) learning can happen without technology but, to be honest, I have never asked myself why I have to integrate some technology in my classes or if I will be competent enough to handle behavior while the students are logged in their devices, as I had already had my own personal experience back in 2001, when I had a Mac desktop computer in the classroom, a notebook provided by the district to exchange teachers, and my students had access to laptops either in the library or in a cart to take to our classroom. How can I not be aware that technology was there to stay, no matter the budget cuts or the change of administrators: language, science and even P.E. teachers used computers to teach back in those days!.

Since I came back to teach in my home country, I was told by my former american colleagues that those computers were left aside and replaced by Ipads, Chromebooks and/or Surface tablets pcs.

By 2009, my days in American classrooms were over so, since I re-started teaching in my home country, it did surprise me that the integration of tech tools in the English as a Foreign Language class was already explained in any Teacher´s Books in any coursebook at any level -CEFR A to C-, even though not many teachers knew how to do so or not doing anything at all. The truth is that they may know how to but Internet was not available in many places, and still is not. 

However, my innovative spirit told me to do something and that was in 2011 when I first asked my students to use their smartphones (mainly Blackberries) to look up for words in websites such as www.dictionary.com or practice any of the four skills in the Learn English British Council site, complete online quizzes for special days like April Fool´s Day or Halloween. It was obviously extra practice because we depended on the availability of the internet connection (3G data) at that time of day. 
Some smartphones´educational apps are not easy to spot unless you get to test them enough to be sure of what you will be doing or get instructed in the correct way. 
After some years of trying to do things right in my classes by taking every single course, attending several webinars, reading from the experts, having full control of my students´ work and behavior and support of my administrators,  I can say I am qualified to give some useful advice and recommend three of the many apps which made a big difference in students´ engagement in my classes. 

There were some students who obviously could not log in so easily, and that turned into one of the best moments. Students started to help each other, giving instructions in English and using the target language beyond the classroom context! Collaboration and willingness to help other was key to that success.

My most successful app for language and grammar practice is Socrative. You can either download easily on your phone or work on your computer. Socrative Teacher and Student are the two options. Once you create your log in user name, with the free version you can upload, create, re-create, build, re-build, copy any type of activity. I used to create them on my laptop and once they are finished under the Socrative Teacher website, you are given a code which you immediately change into a Classroom Name and Activity!. 
I got so used to it that I even added, deleted, reshaped, corrected most exercises on my phone app. 
Students download the Socrative Student app and log in with the Classroom Name and start solving the activity as easy as one, two, three. The great advantage here is that once they log in, you automatically see them in the "room" as well as their score and progress. 
You can even make them race with color rockets, which is an extremely fun activity!.

I am proud to say that these children responded wonderfully! Almost all of them worked hard all year and completed all of the activities in the class...if they could not do so due to high data usage, they would complete at home either with their phones or computers.

My second suggestion is Buncee which is  a fantastic free cloud-based tool to make amazing  presentations, tell and/or create stories or any other use like postcards or even posters with the possibility to add video, voice and many other features like stickers animated and non-animated stickers, labels, banners or whatever you may want or need. The app is only available for Apple phones, but it is still possible to use it on your smartphone if internet is available. Aww, Buncee!! You will love it!

Some of my favorite Buncees:






My third suggestion is Voki for computers or Android/IOS app, which helps shy or introvert students have a voice through an avatar customized by themselves. This is wonderful for language, grammar and fluency practice without talking in front of a camera.



A great way to compile all these wonderful works is my number one savior-tool which has been Padlet for many years now!. 


The app is as simple to use as the computer add on or the online version. I have completed many projects with teachers in the US and Canada using Padlet to upload Voxer messages. Amazing! The Voxer cultural exchange with Mrs Machala from Aurora Canada is all documented on a Padlet and in wonderful Jennifer Casa-Todd´s latest book "Social LEADIA" . 

Jennifer Casa-Todd presenting our Voxer work

The school I work at has its own website with protected username and passwords  for students, families and faculty for security reasons, so teachers are asked to share all online work through it. Teachers upload their work by sending it to the school´s facilitator who places it under the corresponding class and level. So this is my story for now, inspired by many amazing educators around the world.


IATEFL2017: Sarah Mercer' s Plenary Session: Connecting Minds: language learner and teacher psychologies

Thanks to IATEFLOnline I had the pleasure to watch Sarah Mercer's plenary, among other interesting talks and interviews. Sarah Mercer reminded us all that:

Made with Buncee by Fabiana Casella
Sarah Mercer's talk was a perfect compendium and combination of Shelly Terrell´s 30 Goals Challenge For Teachers webpage, book and educator´s radio podcasts, and Angela Maiers' #youmatter Manifesto and TEDxDesMoines´ talk. These two awesome educators, thought-provoking speakers and motivators, have changed my mindset since the moment I first listened to them.

Definitely Sarah, Shelly and Angela  have the same purpose: encourage us, educators, to look after ourselves to be better prepared to start our teaching day, avoid burnout and be physically, emotionally and mentally ready to face everyday challenges.

Made with Buncee by Fabiana Casella

-Sarah Mercer´s showed an extract of late Rita Pierson´s "Every Kid Needs a Champion" passionate and inspiring TedEd talk.

-Sir Ken Robinson´s: How to Escape Education's Death Valley

Made with Buncee by Fabiana Casella



IATEFL2017-GLASGOW Plenary Session Gabriel Díaz Maggioli: Empowering Teachers

When I met Judy Wong face to face, whom I had to pleasure to share our thoughts in Shelly Terrell´s 30Goals Online Conference, in New York last February, one of her first questions were: Are you going to TESOL? Are you going to Glasgow?. During the long, friendly talk we had on the subway headed to see a Bluegrass Concert, and as if we had known each other for a long time, she told me she strongly wanted to go to IATEFL2017 because one of the Plenary Speakers, Gabriel Díaz Maggioli, had been her TESOL trainer.

Gabriel Diaz Maggioli is a teacher who applies the lessons learned in the classroom to his roles as writer, researcher, administrator and teacher educator. 

During his plenary Díaz Maggioli talked mainly about teacher professional development, if it was worth the time, who needed to provide the training: the administrators, the districts or if educators had to look for their own path to evolve and keep up-to-date. He provided and compared several examples of how educators around the world started to look for their own professional development, for example: action research very common in the 1980´s and 1990´s. Then he mentioned the last trend: Coaching, which can be differented in mirror coaching: a colleague watches you teaching, co-teaching coaching: the less experienced teacher sees the senior one and expert coaching: the expert teaches to empower and reboot the teacher´s skills and feeling of confidence. 
Also, Mr Díaz Maggioli, enhanced the importance of teachers working together, sharing and showing what had worked for them in class. He encouraged the audience to join the Teacher´s Associations and SIGs.
How To Get More Involved?

All his brilliant ideas on this Plenary pdf.

His final thoughts inspired on wonderful Uruguayan writer, Eduardo Galeano´s Utopia:
"Keep Walking...Find Your Utopia", he said...

IATEFL Online: Online coverage of the Annual International IATEFL Conference & Exhibition

IATEFL President, Marjorie Rosenberg, welcomes you to our 11th IATEFL Online and thanks the British Council for their support in enabling teachers around the world to follow IATEFL Online for the 11th year in a row 


Nobody Told Me There´ll Be Days Like These...

Writing from the heart has always been my main passion, speaking from the heart, better said. It is obvious I am not THE writer I wish I were, either in my native Argentinian Spanish or in my second language, English. 

My source of inspiration are mostly songs lyrics and, in this case, "Nobody Told Me" ... which was written by John Lennon, but released after four years of his murder, fits perfectly into My Life. It is not the lyrics this time but the title of the song that resonates in my mind all the time, as I would have never expected to spend days like these...

These past two years have been rough, but, at the same time enriching, of permanent growth and positively challenging. I have crossed many bridges, swam in many lakes and rivers to the point I felt as if I were an athlete training for the Olympics, battling every moment of sorrow and desperation, killing feelings of abandonment and sadness, choking with my own tears, swallowing my pain, letting only some things go, getting over other things, praying quietly, but at least trying to do the best to keep the spirit up for my own children: and for somebody else´s children too: my students. Being a committed educator gives you headaches and rewards. I keep the rewards. Lord, I did make it meaningful!

If there is any educator who took many risks, innovated, made the class go global, took her/his students virtually outside the classroom walls and gave students voice, and show them they matter, that is ME!.


Why Go Global?

During 2015 many positive and negative things happened in my personal and professional life, but still, undoubtedly, I have preferred to #TrendThePositive no matter what. This feeling of positivity and this type of mindset have helped to keep going in the educational-connected world I have been part of, for the past fifteen years or so.

Right now, I am getting ready to present at the Global Education Conference 2016 for a fourth time: this time is special: my presentations will be in Spanish and English, something I have never done before.

Global Education Conference 2016: Online and Free

Sharing what I do in class has not only made me a much better educator but also my experience has been very rewarding: connecting my students with others around the world asynchronously has been exciting and very enriching for both sides.

Looking for pictures to include in my slides, I came across one of the most emotional ones I have taken lately, and that one was with Mr Mohamed Sidibay, a former child soldier from Sierra Leone, now a senior at George Washington University studying Peace and Conflict Resolution, who was one of the Keynote speakers at iEARN Brazil Brasilia 2015 and brought tears to my eyes, touched my heart with his unbelievable story and enlightened us with his peace speech.

Mr Mohamad Sidibay and me, Fabiana Casella at iEARN Brazil-Brasilia 2016

Mohamad´s life story, featured in the My Hero Project is one of the most striking ones anyone can hear, or anyone can survive. He is a full role model to follow by many young people and why not teenagers wasting their valuable time and lives not doing something positive for themselves and/or for the world. 


Adversity and Obstacles Made Me a More Resourceful Teacher

Back in the late 1980´s when I started teaching English as a Foreign Language at different places: at a Primary school, at a private language school for children, teens and adults, all the materials we had were a coursebook, workbook and cassettes to practice listening comprehension. We also included film watching for listening and speaking practice. Those tapes would stop working in the tape recorder/player from time to time because they had been used too many times, or just by rewinding and fast forwarding them to find the right lesson made them unplayable in a short time.

Times changed so we started to use CDs, and later usb flashdrives or pendrives, as they are called here in Argentina.(I really haven´t found what the difference between the two words is). Definitely, my first close encounter with technology was when I began to teach in the US in 2001. Having an Apple computer in the classroom, free access to many computers in the school library and laptops in a cart which I could book in advance to take to my classroom to make my students surf the web and see what we, Argentinians actually look like, was like a dream! The fact that I could email anyone, anytime really helped me to adapt myself being away from relatives and friends in my home country. So, almost everyday, since I was teaching in a completely different environment from the one I was used to, I was not only amazed at the use of technology in the classes, but also at the type of organization and simplification of school life in many aspects. 
Did all this advancement imply some training or rehearsing before each class in which I wanted to implement some of this revolutionary technological practice? It was a question of self-motivation, curiosity and self-assessment: I would sit at my desktop computer and start playing with the different tools to make, for example,  my own school webpage where I included background tango music, filled with Argentine websites, maps, places to visit, and also homework, classwork, extra practice, and much more. It goes without saying that anything related to technology was not such a big surprise to my students, as it was for me. Through SchoolNotes the District provided every teacher the possibility to have her/his own webpage! Amazing! I added all I could, tango music in the background, links to argentinian websites in Spanish and English, apart from the required today´s activities, weekly planning and homework/follow up practice at home.  
After all those years when my professional development happened to me almost accidentally every single day, the moment I landed in my former classroom in Argentina in 2010, the feeling of frustration and disappointment kept growing as time went by: it was not the school environment, or the unresponsive students, quite the opposite, students were fascinated to Tweet about World Peace Day (those that had internet in their personal phones), prepare lessons on segregation in the US, celebrate World Water Day or criticize the United Nations...they had a voice in my classes: I unconsciously started the #studentvoice trend.
The fact that I stayed in touch with my former colleagues in the US, I became aware that technology and global connections were being implemented very seriously in the classrooms no matter which one it was. I had experienced that myself: my ESOL students using Google Earth to locate their hometowns, or practicing pronunciation, studying Math, Science and Social Studies online. In 2011 in Argentina, Blackberry cellphones were already in the market so we were "Wow!! you have a Blackberry!". So, after checking how many of my students had a smartphone, I felt I had to do something new, innovative and creative: I could not sit still waiting for digital devices to be delivered to me: I had to look for a way to work with those phones my students had, although I did not have one myself. Soon after that, I decided to buy an LG cellphone with a built-in camera to take photos and record video: 2 gigs but not so good to connect to Internet. I NEEDED to innovate! I had to! I couldn´t accept I was in a classroom environment where books, cds and handouts were the only resources available. So what I did, was to start taking pictures and recording very bad quality videos of my students project works.

Later that same year, I enrolled on an online course offered by one of the most well-known technological universities and delivered by a very well-known specialist. So, after a couple of weeks my innovative-educator life began at the same moment I was invited to join the 30 Goals Challenge for Educators. 

Why did I mention adversity and obstacles if all I had written here were mainly successful events? 
All that glitters is not gold, oh yes! I had to face adversity and tackle or kicked obstacles out of my way! Several power outages, exams rescheduled due to different problems in the system, health problems, not being recognized for my teaching background and knowledge, low pay and low budget are enough reasons to quit...obstacles and more obstacles ...but my self-motivation and faith helped me see the light at the end of the dark tunnel...

Despite all the above mentioned, my students´motivation, enthusiasm and response kept my hope, my own enthusiasm and motivation alive.

Not being able to Skype with a computer or big screen and projector, has not stopped me to connect my students with classes in the US and Canadaasynchronous conversation and collaboration have become usual activity in our classes which are always focused on Grammar and Language practice for Cambridge Exams.
Instagram and Snapchat are making miracles nowadays: by just making our students upload an introduction of themselves and share their accounts on Padlet, ask and answer questions on Voxer, my colleagues abroad and myself have made global classrooms a reality in our lives as connected educators: adaptability, flexibility, resourcefulness, organization, creativity, brainstorming, willingness all key ingredients to make this dream come true: now we Tweet, "Scope", Periscope and Voxer many times a week.

Socrative and Buncee are common words in my students´daily conversation. I had to adapt my tech-integration in the EFL classes and my mindset to certain limitations: difficulty connecting to cellphone data, low batteries or broken screens.

Besides, being a mom who loves to be very present in my children´s lives makes me face challenges all the time!.