Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Project Work or Project-Based Learning?

As a contribution to what was said here and here, Prof. Stella Maris Saubidet Oyhamburu sent me this article: The Difference Between Projects And Project-Based Learning.

Photo Credit: via Compfight cc

After reading the article and reflecting on how I plan and go implementing projects, I think it’s quite difficult to say whether EITHER I’m doing projects as put in the article OR I’m applying a pure version of PBL (Project-Based Learning).

I feel there’s a continuum between both approaches and, depending on the contextual factors, at times I move closer to one conception or the other. I think the main issue at play in complex contexts (e.g. teaching at state schools) is that we should remain flexible enough to be able to adapt our teaching practices to meet the challenges imposed by the context.

That is, this kind of dichotomies imposes an artificial categorisation on us. In fact, sometimes it’ll be more appropriate to work in a certain way, whereas other times, it’ll be more adequate to do something else.

Besides, I’m well aware of the fact that I must be highly critical of the sources and resources (academic ones or else) I extract information from and draw conclusions on. Most of them are in English and hence they just reflect the points of view and ideologies held in the developed English-speaking countries.

That is, the context where these resources come from has nothing to do with the teaching context where I work. Even the materials in Spanish (in print or on the Internet) usually come from Spain and sometimes from Chile, Colombia or Uruguay. Again, though we share almost the same language, they have nothing to do with my teaching context.

So maybe, although the prescriptive curriculum design clearly states which teaching approach we must use, instead of thinking in terms of this dichotomy or any other, I believe we must be ready to apply the teaching approach that better helps us meet our students’ needs. Like in the photo above, we sometimes give our coins to students, but they need change…

What do you think?

Anyway, here you’ll find other types of Lesson plan templates.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Including Global Citizenship in Our Planning Framework

At our sixth meeting, we analysed Oxfam’s Global Citizenship Guides in order to determine how the key elements described in the guides fit into our planning framework based on TBLL and CLIL principles.

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We read two of these free guides. In the first one, Education for Global Citizenship: A Guide for Schools, the Oxfam’s Curriculum for Global Citizenship is outlined in terms of three key elements: the knowledge and understanding, the skills, and the values and attitudes which are believed to be needed in order for young people to develop as global citizens.

The guide suggests several participatory activities (e.g. discussion and debate, role-play, ranking exercises, and communities of enquiry) applying a global perspective to help students learn “how decisions made by people in other parts of the world affect our lives, just as our decisions affect the lives of others” (Oxfam Development Education Programme, 2006: 2). It also shows how the global citizenship syllabus can be implemented at different levels within the British education system in a progressive and cross-curricular fashion (ibid.: 4-7).

Next, we analysed what, what for and why can be borrowed from Getting Started with Global Citizenship (England). This guide is actually meant to be used by teachers working in England. So bearing in mind our particular teaching context(s), we suggested some relevant ways to adapt the materials. Then we thought of some possible activities to help our students foster intercultural communicative competence (ICC) in order to develop global citizenship (GC) as described in this previous post.

In a nutshell, the knowledge and understand element of the Oxfam’s Curriculum for Global Citizenship (OCGC) roughly matches the knowledge (savoirs) component in Byram’s ICC model (Byram et al., 2002: 11-13). The skills element in the OCGC roughly matches the skills of interpreting and relating (savoir comprendré) and discovery and interaction (savoir aprendre/faire) components in Byram’s ICC model (Ibid.). The values and attitudes element in the OCGC roughly matches the intercultural attitudes (savoir être) and cultural awareness (savoir s’engager) components in Byram’s ICC model (Ibid.).

It’s easy to notice that despite some overlapping, all these components have especially to do with the 4th C, Culture, in the 4 C’s Framework put forward by Coyle, Hood and Marsh (2010: 41-42, 53-55) as discussed in this previous post. That is, when planning a project along the lines discussed in this course, especially if you’re applying this framework for project planning, we should analyse contents and resources in terms of both Byram’s ICC components and the GC elements.

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To so doing, Baker (2008: 6) puts forward a framework for global learning that involves five elements in which students play an active role asking questions, making connections, exploring viewpoints and values, responding as active global citizens and assessing learning. Do you see how Baker’s framework can be integrated into the Culture component of the 4 C’s Framework? If you don’t, you can read more about this framework here.

Besides, Baker states that the only real difference between the global dimension (GD) and GC is that GD usually refers to a set of key concepts in education (e.g. social justice, human rights, conflict, diversity, values and perceptions, sustainable development and global citizenship), whereas GC is about the outcomes in the individual (Ibid.: 2).

Going back to the mindmap on this previous post, now I can expand on what I tried to say there. In the mindmap, GD is thought to be a means to an end. That is, in order to develop GC at the individual level, we should include the GD in our teaching practice at a social level.

Finally, I’d like to share the resources I got via Prof. Rubén Mazzei. Click on the links below. These resources are meant to help students (who are living in Buenos Aires Province) develop their ICC and eventually become global citizens.

You can find resources for year 4 of Primary Education here and here.
More resources (years 5 & 6 of PE, and years 2 to 6 of SE) might be published soon on cuadernos de trabajo.


Baker, R. (2008). Getting Started with Global Citizenship (England). Oxfam’s Education and Youth Programme. GB: Oxfam House. Available at retrieved 18.05.2013

Byram, M., B. Gribkova and H. Starkey. (2002). Developing the Intercultural Dimension in Language Teaching. A Practical Introduction for Teachers. Language Policy Division, Directorate of School, Out-of-School and Higher Education, DGIV. Strasbourg: Council of Europe. Available at retrieved 21.04.2013

Coyle, D., P. Hood and D. Marsh. (2010). CLIL. Content and language Integrated Learning. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Oxfam Development Education Programme. (2006). Education for Global Citizenship: A Guide for Schools. GB: Oxfam House. Available at retrieved 18.05.2013

Sunday, May 26, 2013

4xC + 3xA + 6xT = My way of doing project work

At the fifth meeting, we went on analysing some teaching sequences and talked about the factors influencing the choice of resources and the design of tasks in connection with fostering both critical thinking and intercultural awareness.

In my previous post, I described the main principles we should bear in mind when designing tasks for our projects. In this post, I’m sharing my own way of putting all these ideas into practice. Please, don’t go thinking I’m going to give you the solution for all your possible problems or something of the sort! The title of this post is just meant to be fun.

Anyway, I work at a technical secondary school with specialisms in electromechanics, computing and construction. I teach two year-6 classes; one with specialism in computing and the other one with specialism in construction.

The main constraints I always have to deal with are the serious shortage of ready-made teaching resources and the lack of prep-time at state schools (which means teachers are expected to use their free time for planning, correcting and marking). So I always do my best to kill two birds with one stone, if you see what I mean.

Photo Credit: heath_bar via Compfight cc

When planning a year-6 project along the lines of both TBLL and CLIL, these steps can be followed:

1. Take the technical secondary education curriculum design of years 4 and 5 to pick out the subjects that have to do with both computing and construction. That is, choose the subjects that both specialisms have in common.

2. Talk to the subject teachers that have been in charge of these subjects so as to find out about both the students’ learning needs (including their interests) and the subjects themselves (e.g. the cognitive load involved in different themes, the prior knowledge required, the more appropriate order to deal with the contents, the availability of resources, the activity types students are familiar with, etc.).

3. Bearing in mind what the subject teachers have told you and the curriculum design of year 6, choose four or five THEMES (1st T), which involve four or five sets of CONTENTS (1st C), and specify the learning and teaching objectives for each theme.

4. Do research in order to find appropriate, relevant authentic spoken, written and multimedia TEXTS (2nd T). Of course, the ideal situation would be to have students themselves choosing the themes, but in this particular teaching context, teachers always need to buy time.

5. Carefully analyse the texts to spot the TOPICS (3rd T) and the three types of language (2nd C: COMMUNICATION + 3A’s: Lg OF Learning + Lg FOR Learning + Lg THROUGH Learning) covered in each topic. Also spot the cultural issues embedded in the way each text deals with a given topic (4th C: CULTURE). This analysis will help you polish up the learning and teaching objectives (in terms of both the 4C’s and the 3 A’s), establish the THREADS (4th T) and be realistic when thinking of possible real-life FINAL TASKS.

Steps 1-4 are to be carried out during the examination period in February, when we aren’t teaching yet. These steps are highly time-consuming, so the idea is to make sure that you’re preselecting a relevant variety of THEMES (subject contents) and drafting the outlines of possible projects with real-life FINAL TASKS in order to offer students a limited selection at the first meeting in March. As you can see, you’re buying time that you’ll need when planning the project(s) in detail.

6. The very first lesson in March, show students a sample of the resources and elicit their opinions. Ask them to choose two or three themes and decide which theme they’d like to work with first. Then, give them a list of several possible final tasks for each theme and ask them to choose at least two final tasks a theme (so that you’ll have a spare one if they change their mind afterwards; remember interests, motivation, engagement and commitment are prone to change as the school year goes by).

At this stage, it’s important that the final tasks you’ve designed look like the kind of activities students will have to do in real life. These activities are likely to be mainly unfocused tasks, which may predispose learners to choose a range of linguistic forms but they are not designed to foster the use of a specific linguistic form (Ellis, 2003: 16-17).

Four years ago, none of the final tasks I showed students was chosen at this stage. So I had to design new ones for the following meeting. To customise the new proposal of final tasks, I asked some subject teachers for help. They shared some of their ideas with me and I was able to tailor the new set of final tasks in time.

On second thoughts, I realised the first set of final tasks involved mainly focused tasks (which were language-oriented and aimed to induce learners to process, receptively or productively, some particular linguistic form) and hence they were perceived as unauthentic (e.g. a computer repairman and a bricklayer don’t usually have to write an instructions manual or a user guide).

However, the second set of tasks involved unfocused tasks which were subject-content-oriented (e.g. a computer repairman and a bricklayer are more likely to need to read and understand an instructions manual, or watch and understand a video tutorial, in order to, respectively, assemble the parts of a desktop computer and apply some construction technique).
Anyway, this doesn’t mean you can’t design a project with a focused final task.

7. Once students have chosen the final tasks, start to plan the first project. I use this template.

During the first month (a total of eight sixty-minute periods; two running periods a week), I usually put a lot of energy into activating and building up the prior knowledge (esp. the linguistic one) that students will need to cope with the project. I give students the different types of tasks described in this post. My main focus is on developing the three C’s (CONTENT + COMMUNICATION + COGNITION) and the three A’s. At this point, I’m paving the way for successful project implementation later on.

This first month’s work enables me to get diagnostic data on the students’ specific learning needs and interests. That is, this data helps me further customise the TASKS (5th T) in the project (e.g. I double check I’ve planned activities that help students develop different critical thinking skills following Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy of Thinking Skills; the 3rd C: COGNITION). It’s important to notice that actually the planning stage is highly recursive. That is, as you go on planning, you’ll find yourself revisiting what you’ve already planned in order to do away with some activities, introduce new ones, change the activity sequence and polish up the TRANSITIONS (6th T). Moreover, a kind of feedback loop will be established once the project has been launched.

8. Draft the ASSESSMENT PLAN. Yes. Assessment must be planned. This plan should describe the assessment type (Assessment OF/FOR/AS Learning? Formal/Informal Assessment? Summative/Formative Assessment? Peer-/Self-Assessment?), assessment criteria (assessment purpose, construct definition, performance description and weighting) and assessment tools (oral/written test, e-portfolio, anecdotal notes, oral/written comments, quality questioning, peer feedback, reflective blog entry, etc).

Since all forms of assessment are socially constructed activities to achieve certain goals, our assessment decisions (what for/why, who, what, how, when and where is assessed) reflect both our beliefs and political stance. In other words, what we value most will be shown in our teaching and assessment decisions. It goes without saying that this will affect the way we understand and implement the prescriptive curriculum. We need to be aware of all this since there is likely to be a washback effect.

9. At the beginning of the second month, launch the project.
Whether I’ve finished planning the whole project, I launch the project all the same. I think if I finished planning the whole project, I wouldn’t be flexible enough to adapt it later on. Oh yes, I do usually have to introduce changes during the project implementation. But that’s another story; a story for another post.

This is the yearly project I planned for the two year-6 classes I’m teaching this school year. Notice that this version of the project still needs to be further polished up. For instance, at this school, I was asked to include all the learning objectives (not just the ones directly connected with the final task) as they appear in the curriculum design, together with all the possible cross-curricular links, but to leave out the teaching objectives (so they are all missing in this version). You can read Prof. Stella Maris Saubidet Oyhamburu’s feedback on this project here.

Some final thoughts

For the sake of space, I’m just focussing on only a few issues that are worth noticing if you decide to follow the steps above.

First, what I wrote above is my idiosyncratic way of planning a project in an attempt to meet a specific group of students’ educational needs within the specific teaching context where I work; it’s not a successful one-size-fits-all recipe. It seems to work with the classes I teach; that’s it.

Second, I usually plan the final task very carefully since this task gives both students and me a clear focus throughout the project. It helps us stay on the right track. That’s why I check the task design over and over again to improve it. Any change in this task will also affect the assessment plan.

Third, my notion of TBLL has been highly influenced by Ellis (2009), which is the latest paper I’ve read about this approach. There Ellis addresses a number of theoretical critiques arguing that they are based on misunderstandings of what advocates of TBLL actually propose. He emphasises that there is no single task-based teaching approach and goes on to compare three different approaches. Then, he examines several genuine problems with implementing this approach. Some of these problems are the kind of problems we are likely to come across when implementing TBLL at state schools in Buenos Aires Province.

Fourth, despite the definitions of washback refer to the impact that the use of a test has on individuals and institutions, I think no matter what assessment tool we use, there will always be a washback. Since this effect is brought about by the assessment decisions we make, the assessment tool we choose is just the way we operationalise those decisions. The assessment tool is just a means to an end. We must be aware of our assessment decisions. Anyway, this is just my opinion. If you’d like to learn more about washback, you should read Bailey (1999) and chapters 1 and 10 in Fulcher (2010).

What’s more, and this is something I’ve learnt when doing ETMOOC, we must ask ourselves and encourage students ask themselves: What have I learnt so far? / What did I learn today?, How am I making my learning visible (i.e. accountable, evident to others)? And how am I contributing to the learning process of others?

Finally, though I make my best to give students several opportunities to have a say during the project planning and implementation, and that I go back to my initial plans and introduce changes here and there; doing all this doesn’t mean the project will be 100% successful. Last year, due to non-teaching staff’s strikes, I had to trim some teaching sequences from the project in one of the classes. Some contents were left out. As a result, the final task had to be changed. So did the assessment tools.

Any suggestion, piece of constructive criticism? I’m all ears (and eyes). 


Bailey, K. M. (1999). TOEFL Monograph Series 15. Washback in Language Testing. RM-99-04. Princeton, New Jersey: ETS. Available at retrieved 18.05.2013

Ellis, R. (2003). Task-based Language Learning and Teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Ellis, R. (2009). Task-based language teaching: sorting out the misunderstandings. International Journal of Applied Linguistics, 19 (3), 221-246.

Fulcher, G. (2010). Practical Language Testing. UK: Hodder Education.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Task Design Principles: A mash-up of TBLL and CLIL

In my previous post, I reviewed some definitions of task within the field of Second Language Learning (SLL) and, more specifically, along the lines of both Task-Based Language Learning (TBLL) and Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL).

At the fourth meeting, we analysed some teaching sequences and talked about the factors influencing the choice of resources and the design of tasks. Among other things discussed, we came to the conclusion that we, as EFL teachers, need to make sure the subject content is relevant, interesting and cognitively challenging to learners through language input that is comprehensible and accessible.

In other words, we must customise tasks by meeting the students’ learning needs in terms of the ideational, interpersonal and textual metafunctions of language described by M. A. K. Halliday and in terms of Coyle, Hood and Marsh’s Language Triptych, a conceptual representation that analyses the connexions between cognitively demanding subject content, language learning and language using (2010: 36-38).

That is, tasks should exploit the language of learning (the language needed to access basic concepts and skills related to the theme; the language directly derived from the subject content), the language for learning (the language needed to operate in a foreign language environment; the language need to carry out tasks and communicate in the classroom, together with the language skills and metacognitive strategies to go on learning) and the language through learning (the language that emerges as the result of developing new knowledge and skills; continuously recycling and extending new language so that it becomes embedded in the learners’ repertoire).

Moreover, since there’s always a sociocultural component embedded in the resources chosen and the tasks designed, tasks must also help learners meet the challenges imposed by the features of our particular teaching context. When working at a state secondary school in Buenos Aires Province, among other aspects, we must take account of:

a) the learners’ representations of their culture and of their role as students,

b) the teachers’ representations of their culture and of their role as education professionals, c) the availability of educational resources (including graduate EFL teachers and graduate subject teachers),

d) the fact that we are teaching English as a foreign language at state secondary schools where CLIL is implemented as language-based projects (i.e. only English language teachers are in charge of these projects),

e) the fact that the curriculum design of secondary education is prescriptive and clearly establish the attainment goals, learning objectives, teaching objectives, contents, teaching methods, assessment tools and, in some subjects, the compulsory bibliography,

f) the fact that some students live in very poor conditions in shanty towns and have to work long hours before or after school,

g) the teachers’ working conditions (e.g. secondary teachers usually have to teach several large classes a week in order to make ends meet; sometimes they barely get to know and remember all the students they teach; there's not prep-time at state schools), and so on.

“… Task design needs to cater for scaffolded activity which engages and stimulates thinking in the learners, but which also offers opportunities for specific help to be available when needed from teachers, peers or support material (Coyle, Hood and Marsh, 2010: 99).”

Besides, we must make sure that the prior knowledge required by both the subject content and language is activated, or built up, and that enough cognitive/linguistic scaffolding is provided throughout the teaching sequences we plan. That is, in terms of language, there must be a balance between input-providing and output-prompting tasks because learners need to receive meaningful comprehensible input before they can be reasonably expected to produce anything (Krashen’s Comprehensible Input Hypothesis). Then, learners also need to have some control over their interlanguage to become aware of the gap between the target language and their own current production (Swain’s Comprehensible Output Hypothesis).

According to Coyle, Hood and Marsh (2010: 98-101), some issues that have to be addressed when planning tasks are:
  • What type of tasks is the most cognitively relevant / meaningful / appropriate / engaging / motivating at different stages within the teaching sequence?
  • What type of information is required by the task? What type of text type is required? What type of comprehension processes is involved? Does the task ask for interpretation / inference / summary / analysis / comparison / evaluation of information?
  • What type of interaction pattern is required by the task at different stages? Does the task involve students working on their own, in pairs, in small groups or class-as-a-whole?
  • What type of scaffolding does the task require at different stages?
  • To what extent does the task allow learners to show they have understood the concepts?
  • To what extent are the task output formats customised to meet the learners’ educational needs?
  • To what extent do the outputs produced by the learners allow the learners to revisit what they have learnt and how they have done so?

Coyle, Hood and Marsh (2010: 41-42, 53-55) put forward the 4 C’s Framework to map the integration of content and language learning in four contextualised building blocks: content (progression in learning subject matter knowledge and developing skills and understanding), communication (interaction together with progression in learning to use the language and using the language to learn), cognition (engagement in higher-order thinking, understanding, problem-solving, and accepting challenges and reflecting on them) and culture (developing self and other awareness, identity and progressing towards intercultural understanding and global citizenship).

According to Coyle (2005: 4-5), the content is the starting point of the planning process and determines the learning route. He goes on to state that while the 4C’s framework provides a useful guide for the overall planning of a unit of work, the 3A’s Tool can be used for more detailed lesson planning. There is clearly some overlap between the framework and the tool. However, their suggested use is significantly different. The 3A’s tool operates in three stages and is used with specific content.

Stage 1: Analyse content for the language of learning. This involves systematic content analysis to identify key words (including specialised contextualised vocabulary), phrases, grammatical functions for concept formation and comprehension.

Stage 2: Add to content language for learning. This involves adding language experiences to the lesson plan for specific attention which enable the learner to operate effectively in a CLIL setting (including strategies for information processing and understanding a difficult spoken/written text, metacognitive strategies, classroom talk and discussion, strategies to cope with task demands, considering ways in which the learning will be scaffolded and so on).

Stage 3: Apply to content language through learning. This involves building on the language which emerges through the learning context in order to make sure that there is cognitive and cultural capital. This stage involves exploring how thinking skills have been incorporated into the lesson plan in order to advance learning. It uses emergent knowledge and skills to apply thinking skills and high level questioning, which also demands cultural awareness. Since language and thinking are explicitly related, this stage is also necessary to ensure that a translated transmission model of learning won’t evolve.

When planning a project, we could combine the elements of the 4 C’s Framework and the 3 A’s Tool with those of the Six-T’s Approach to Content-Based instruction designed by Fredricka Stoller and William Grabe. Thus, in this approach, we follow these steps:

  • First, we determine the most relevant, meaningful and interesting themes (central ideas that organise major curricular units of subject content) for the students we’re going to teach.
  • Second, we look for the most appropriate authentic spoken/written/multimedia texts.
  • Third, we carefully analyse the texts collected to spot the topics (the subunits of subject content which explore more specific aspects of the theme) discussed in each text. At this stage, we should use the 3A’s Tool.
  • Fourth, we establish the abstract concepts that work as cross-curricular linkages or threads. That is, we determine how the theme and topics are linked to other themes in order to create greater curricular coherence. 
  • Fifth, bearing in mind the features of different task types and the learners’ needs, we design tasks to teach content and language in an integrated fashion.
  • Finally, we plan topic and task transitions. That is, we organise the topics creating links across them and providing constructive entries for new topics within the same theme unit. Then, we put the tasks into a given order that both creates links across them and provides constructive entries for follow-up tasks within the same topic.

On the video below, Dr. Fredricka Stoller talks about the possibilities and benefits of introducing Project-Based Learning (PBL) through a 7-step process as well as the potential challenges a teacher may face.

Well, so far so good. I’ve been applying in practice the main principles of CBI, TBLL and project work for fifteen year and CLIL for about 5 years. Lately, I’ve noticed I’ve been developing my own way of putting all these ideas into practice in the particular teaching context where I work. Maybe, I should share my own interpretation of these principles in the following post. In the meantime, what do you think about all these ideas? In your specific teaching context, are these ideas relevant/useful? Are they easy to apply in practice? Why (not)?


Coyle, D. (2005). CLIL. Planning Tools for Teachers. Nottingham: University of Nottingham. Available at retrieved 04.05.2013

Coyle, D., P. Hood and D. Marsh. (2010). CLIL. Content and language Integrated Learning. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Snow, M. A. and D. M. Brinton (1997). The Content Based Classroom: Perspectives on Integrating Language and Content. UK: Pearson Education.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Tasks and the (Revised) Bloom’s Taxonomy of Thinking Skills

In this previous post, there was a suggestion that the Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy of Thinking Skills should be used when planning activities. Another way to think of Bloom’s taxonomy of thinking skills is the wheel designed by Dr. Doug Belshaw. This graph seems to downplay the hierarchy implied in the other graphs and suggest a balanced between higher-order and lower-order thinking skills. In other words, when planning pedagogical language activities, all these thinking skills should be taken into account.

Photo Credit: dougbelshaw via Compfight cc

So at our third meeting, we talked about language learning activities and revisited the concept of task within the field of Second Language Learning (SLL) and, more specifically, along the lines of both Task-Based Language Learning (TBLL) and Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL). We got started by asking ourselves:

What is a task?

We reviewed several definitions and a bunch of task taxonomies in class. Later, at home I felt I needed to summarise what I think are the most important ones here.

The first thing I did was to google the term task and I got Lee’s definition (2000: 32). This definition is consistent with Nunan’s when he states that a pedagogical task is a communicative act in its own right with a beginning, a middle and an end; it is a piece of classroom work that involves learners in comprehending, manipulating, producing or interacting in the target language while their attention is focussed on mobilising their grammatical knowledge in order to express meaning and in which the intention is to convey meaning rather than to manipulate form (Nunan, 2004: 4).

Yet Bygate, Skehan and Swain (2001:11-12) put forward a broader definition. For them, a task is an activity which requires learners to use language, with emphasis on meaning, to attain an objective. Thus, the way tasks are defined depends on the purposes to which the tasks are used. That is, task will mean slightly different things to different stakeholders or groups of users (i.e. teachers, learners, examiners, researchers) and hence there is scope for misunderstanding between different groups.

In an attempt to address the shortcoming in Bygate, Skehan and Swain’s definition and provide a generalised definition, Ellis (2003: 9-16) describes the six critical features of a task (in italics) and states that a task is a workplan that requires learners to process language pragmatically in order to achieve an outcome that can be evaluated in terms of whether the correct or appropriate propositional content that has been conveyed. To this end, it requires the learners to give primary attention to meaning and to make use of their own linguistic resources, although the design of the task may predispose them to choose particular forms. A task is intended to result in language use that bears a resemblance, direct or indirect, to the way language is used in the real world. Like other language activities, a task can engage productive or receptive, and oral or written skills, and also various cognitive processes.

He goes on to describe two general types of tasks: unfocussed and focussed ones. The former may predispose learners to choose a range of linguistic forms but they are not designed to foster the use of a specific linguistic form, whereas the latter aims to induce learners to process, receptively or productively, some particular linguistic form (Ellis, 2003: 16-17). Focussed tasks can be designed as structured-based production tasks, comprehension tasks or consciousness-raising tasks (Ibid.: 151-167). Click on the links to find out more about these activities. Then, you can watch Dr. Rod Ellis' conference on Using Literature in Consciousness-raising Tasks. He also argues that tasks can be input-providing or output-prompting. Input-providing tasks engage learners in listening or reading, whereas output-prompting tasks engage learners in speaking or writing (Ellis, 2012: 200).

Based on required vs. optional information exchange, Ellis then describes one of the earliest task taxonomies, which appeared in the Bangalore Project directed by N. S. Prabhu in 1979. Tasks can involve an information-gap activity, opinion-gap activity or reasoning-gap activity. The first one involves a required information exchange in which the information is split, whereas the second one involves an optional information exchange in which learners have to provide their own ideas about shared information (Ellis, 2003: 86).

The third type involves a required information exchange in which the information to be conveyed is different from the one initially understood. This is so because it is derived through processes of inference, deduction, practical reasoning, or a perception of relationships or patterns (Nunan, 2004: 57). However, Ellis (2003: 102) points out that no research has examined interaction in relation to this type of task.

Elaborating on Ellis’ definition (five paragraphs above), Samuda and Bygate (2008: 69-70) argue that a task is a holistic activity which engages language use in order to achieve some non-linguistic outcome while meeting a linguistic challenge, with the overall aim of promoting language learning, through process or product or both.

Finally, Ribé and Vidal (1993: 2-3) distinguish three generations of tasks. First generation tasks focus mainly on the development of communicative abilities (e.g. problem-solving activities). Second generation tasks focus primarily on the development of the communicative competence and cognitive aspects of the learner (developing cognitive strategies that have to do with the handling, processing and organisation of information). Third generation tasks aim at developing the communicative competence, cognitive aspects and personality aspects in the learner through the attainment of wider educational objectives. They are thought to better address the issue of learners’ low motivation in state school systems.

Briefly, in other words, what a task involves can be  summarised in this mindmap:

All in all, I think the most useful definitions are the one made by Samuda and Bygate (2008: 69-70) and that by Bygate, Skehan and Swain (2001:11-12). The former explicitly addresses the holistic nature of tasks and the linguistic challenge the learners have to meet, while the latter makes us aware of the important roles the task purpose and the stakeholders play in task design. Yet, since the term task seems to be quite biased in favour of certain approaches to second/foreign language teaching, I think I’ll keep using the hypernym activity – even though it may also be ambiguous and vague.

By the way, when planning speaking activities, I’ve found it quite useful to consult this resource by Dr. Carl Blyth, Professor of French Linguistics in the Department of French and Italian and Director of the Texas Language Technology Center (TLTC), University of Texas.


Bygate, M., P. Skehan and M. Swain. (2001). Researching Pedagogic Tasks. Second language learning, teaching and testing. Essex: Pearson Education Ltd.

Ellis, R. (2003). Task-based Language Learning and Teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Ellis, R. (2012). Language Teaching Research and Language Pedagogy. UK: Wiley - Blackwell.

Lee, J. (2000). Tasks and Communicating in Language Classrooms. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Nunan, D. (2004). Task-Based Language Teaching. A Comprehensively revised edition of Designing Tasks for the Communicative Classroom. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Ribé, R. and N. Vidal. (1993). Project Work. Step by Step. Scotland: Heinemann.

Samuda, V. and M. Bygate. (2008). Tasks in Second Language Learning. Research and Practice in Applied Linguistics. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Connecting Global Dimension with Global Citizenship, Culture and Interculturality

Photo Credit: lumaxart via Compfight cc

In my previous post, I drafted an inaccurate definition of global dimension. Actually, that definition was construed by talking about the concept with Natalia Iglesias and Sabina Bora in the first meeting. It’s interesting to notice that so far I haven’t found any relevant result in Spanish by googling La Dimensión Global. You can find more information about this concept on Prof. David Hicks’ Teaching For A Better World website, however.

At our second meeting, we were asked to relate global dimension, global citizenship (more about this concept on Oxfam Education website and in Global Citizenship – What Are We Talking About and Why Does It Matter?), culture (more definitions of this concept on Texas A&M University) and interculturality by drawing a mindmap. Here’s my first draft:

Notice that though global citizenship is thought to be one of the eight elements through which the global dimension is understood, I suggest that global citizenship is developed through global dimension since the latter is an approach to education.

Then, following Prof. Michael Byram‘s ideas (Byram et al., 2002: 11-13), we explored the concept of intercultural communicative competence (ICC) as a set of attitudes, knowledge and skills which are complemented by the set of values one holds.

To be more precise, ICC consists of…

a) Attitudes (savoir être) that involve
- curiosity
- openness
- readiness to suspend disbelief about other cultures and belief about one’s culture
- willingness to relativise one’s own values, beliefs and behaviours;

b) Knowledge (savoirs) of
- social groups (including their identities, practices and products) and
- illustrations of those groups (including their identities, practices and products);

c) Skills of
(savoir comprendre)
- comparing new knowledge from another culture
- interpreting new knowledge from another culture
- relating new knowledge from another culture to one’s own
(savoir apprendre/faire)
- finding out and integrating new knowledge from another culture, and
- interacting appropriately in real-time communication; and

d) Critical cultural awareness (savoir s’engager) or the ability to evaluate, critically and on the basis of explicit criteria, perspectives, practices and products in one’s own and other cultures.

To develop ICC in our classrooms, we should move from the traditional communicative language teaching approaches in which the native speaker’s language variety is the target language towards a conception of English as a Lingua Franca (ELF) in which interlanguage or the learner language is now accepted as a valid language.

We should choose appropriate materials and resources and plan activities in which students are given the opportunity to explore cultural issues from different perspectives. The materials and resources should be chosen taking account of the pros and cons involved when dealing with the target culture vs. the source culture vs. the international culture.

That is, we should ask ourselves:
  • Up to what extent are the materials and resources relevant to students?
  • Up to what extent are the materials and resources interesting to students?
  • Up to what extent may the materials and resources cause cultural conflict?
  • Up to what extent will the materials and resources help students learn more about their own culture? Do the materials and resources have any potential for fostering interculturality?
  • Up to what extent are cultural references explicit in the materials and resources?
  • Up to what extent are diverse contexts illustrated in the materials and resources?
  • If the materials and resources are somehow biased, to what extent do the activities help student to identify different points of view, stereotypes and prejudices?

By the way, why is it that Compfight keeps on turning out photos of Mardi Gras parades or people wearing traditional outfits when I type cultural diversity in the search box? Is that the only way cultural diversity can be shown by this searching tool? (See the screenshot below or click on the links above)


Byram, M., B. Gribkova and H. Starkey. (2002). Developing the Intercultural Dimension in Language Teaching. A Practical Introduction for Teachers. Language Policy Division, Directorate of School, Out-of-School and Higher Education, DGIV. Strasbourg: Council of Europe. Available at [retrieved 21.04.2013]

Byram, M. (2009). Plurilingual and intercultural competences; two elements of a single European language policy. Available at [retrieved 20.04.2013]

Friday, April 19, 2013

The beginning of a new journey: exploring the Global Dimension in the English lesson

Photo Credit: vpickering via Compfight cc

At our first meeting, we talked about the Global Dimension. The following questions led our discussion.

What is the Global Dimension (GD)?

GD has to do with interacting, communicating, getting to know people from different cultures. It involves working with materials and resources moving from an egocentric point of view towards a world-centric perspective. Along these lines, the responsible and adequate use of ICT can enhance the impact of the aims of GD within each community.

Here an interesting website in which you can find some useful resources: Global Dimension … the world in your classroom run by Moira Jenkins.

How can you introduce GD in your classes?

We can have students reading articles (from magazines, newspapers, blogs, etc.) or listening to radio interviews or watching TV documentaries about cultural issues such as typical lifestyles, traditions and celebrations, jobs and trades, fashion, music, clothes, food and dishes, social justice, diversity and inclusion, equality, racism, participation, values, interdependence, etc in our culture and in other cultures.

We could encourage students to spot similarities and differences in order to get a deeper and better knowledge of our culture and that of others’.

Are there any examples/samples of GD in course books?

In Buenos Aires Province, secondary school libraries were given the course book series: New Headway (only Beginner and Pre-intermediate), Opportunities (only Elementary and Pre-intermediate), Up Close and Your Choice Next in 2004. Later in 2011, they were given Engage (only Starter and Level 2), For Teens (only levels 1 to 3) and What’s Up? (only levels 1 and 2).

Generally speaking, these are the typical course books you can find in the Argentinian ELT market. They just tend to deal with cultural issues from an ethnocentric perspective. Though they include materials (written/oral texts and mainly pictures and photos), the materials aren’t exploited through the activities.

That is, these books don’t include activities that help students explore the issue in a deeper way. Most of the activities are aimed at fostering global comprehension, specific comprehension and recognition of a grammatical structure. There’s not reflection on the cultural aspects presented. The visual materials used tend to show stereotyped images (like the ones on this post), or sometimes, what is shown is presented as unusual.

The main issue in all of these books is that the lack of awareness and reflection on cultural issues may result in legitimising the values underlying these materials. This doesn’t mean these books shouldn’t be used. Actually, this is a good opportunity for teachers to plan activities that help students develop their intercultural competence.

We could give students texts about the same issues discussed in these course books but from an opposing/different perspective and have students comparing and contrasting the underlying views. We could plan activities following Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy of Thinking Skills so that we ensure that students explore the cultural issues in depth. You can find some more ideas here: Ten Takeaway Tips for Teaching Critical Thinking. Anyway, maybe, we, teacher, should first ask ourselves: how can we become global citizens and expand our horizons?

Photo Credit: vpickering via Compfight cc


Corradi, L., A. Rabinovich, C. Echevarría, E. Trelles and E. Menéndez. (2005). For Teens 1 and 2. Student’s Book + Workbook. Buenos Aires: Pearson Education S. A.

Corradi, L. and A. Rabinovich, (2006). For Teens 3. Student’s Book + Workbook. Buenos Aires: Pearson Education S. A.

Downie, M., S. Taylor and J. M. Jiménez. (2004). Your Choice Next 1, 2 and 3. Student’s Book plus integrated activities with audio CD. Argentina: Richmond Publishing – Ediciones Santillana S. A.

Harris, M, D. Mower y A. Sikorzyńska. (2004). Opportunities. Elementary and Pre-Intermediate. Students’ Book. Argentina: Pearson Education Ltd.

Manin, G. J. and A. Artusi. (2008). Engage. Starter and Level 2. Student Book. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Myers, C., S. Jackson, D. Lynam and S. C. Tiberio. (2007). What’s Up? 1 and 2. Student’s Book + Workbook, Workbook CD, Extra practice and Fast Finishers’ activities. Argentina: Pearson Education S. A.

Soars, J. y L. Soars. (2000). New Headway English Course. Beginner and Pre-Intermediate. Student’s Book. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Uhl Chamot, A., I. Rainey de Díaz, J. Baker-González, D. Gordon y N. Weinstein. (2002). Up Close 1, 2 and 3. English for Global Communication. Student’s Book. USA: Thompson-Heinle.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Developing digital literacies through digital storytelling tools

This post is organised in this way:

Information, Media and Digital Literacies
Photo Credit: karindalziel via Compfight cc

A word of warning: this is a long post

Dear Audience, I warn you: this is going to be quite a wordy blog entry. It’s going to be insightful and helpful as well; you’ll see. Please, go on reading. In this post, I’m reflecting on the knowledge I gained and the skills I developed as I used web 2.0 tools to carry out five storytelling activities.

In order to capture my thoughts and feelings as I was trying out each tool during the storytelling fortnight, I wrote the different sections of this post in instalments following a series of steps (process writing). But I decided to put off publishing the whole entry until the digital literacy fortnight was over.

I wanted to connect digital storytelling with thinking skills (as described in Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy of Thinking Skills – my own agenda) and digital literacies (as discussed by Howard Rheingold and Doug Belshaw – last fortnight’s topic). My ultimate goal was to make sure new knowledge get well connected to prior one. I also revisited several semiotics sources. In the final section below, you’ll also find some ideas for activities and my unanswered queries about the topics.

Bloom's Revised Taxonomy of Thinking Skills
Photo Credit: dkuropatwa via Compfight cc

Six word stories: complexity in simplicity

Writing six word stories is not as simple as it seems. Obviously, first of all, you’ve got to have the topic and the plot of your story. I think the most demanding stage in the process is to find the six key words that convey the intended message in your story.

These words can’t be chosen at random. Unless you’re very witty, you’ll need to have a thesaurus at hand and… plenty of time to think! You can use the RAFTS below. All in all, a six word story is a very interesting activity that helps you develop HOTS (higher-order thinking skills). Basically, you have to synthesise your focal idea in six words that trigger off a given interpretation and evaluation on the reader (Visit Educational Origami and learn more about Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy & ICT Tools here).

Photo Credit: Enokson via Compfight cc

A little trick: use visuals. These will lead the reader to understand the text in the intended way. But be careful with the photos you choose; the visual semiotic mode has its own grammar (i.e. roughly how what is depicted in images is combined into a coherent, meaningful whole). If you are interested in how to read images, check out this untitled paper here, this review of Roland Barthes’ Image, Music, Text. "The Photographic Message" here and Daniel Chandler’s Semiotics for Beginners: Modes of Address here.

I posted my two six word stories on my blog and on Six Word Stories site. Besides, the stories can be posted on Twitter and collected to be remixed on Storify, which can make the writing process more collaborative and creative.

Making an animated GIF: you don’t need to be GIFted

In this activity, I explored how the non-stop iteration of a carefully chosen scene helps you emphasise the message conveyed through a given action. That is, you draw the reader/viewer’s attention to that action and the repetition of that action adds something to the original meaning. So the animated GIF enables you to somehow change the point of view in the original story.

Another GIF from Fembots in Las Vegas part 2 (Bionic Woman, Season 3, Episode 4, 01.10.1977)

This is the video clip out of which I made the animated GIFs. I picked out two related scenes from a late-‘70s TV series in which physical and psychological violence is shown. The fast iterative movements in the animated GIFs make violence even more salient. Maybe, this is so because the scenes were de-contextualised from the video and re-contextualised into another setting (my blog post) to fulfil my purposes.

You’ll find more relevant information about reading images on TV shows in Stefan Herrmann’s Do we learn to ‘read’ television like a kind of ‘language’? (2000) and in Daniel Chandler’s The 'Grammar' of Television and Film. Then I suggest you should watch Marshall McLuhan’s lecture: The Medium is the Message (1977, part 1, 2 and 3). Among other issues, he talks about the relationship between literacy and media. He also talks about the search of identity through violence and suggests dialogue as an alternative quest for identity.

Apparently, in the ideal GIF, you can’t tell the beginning of the loop from its end. Well, in these animated GIFs, you can easily distinguish the beginning and the end. Yet I think they fulfil my goal: to pass negative judgement on the repeated actions. You’ll see that, in a way, the two animated GIFs summarise the main events in the video.

Now, as regards the technical stuff, these are the requirements you need to meet and the steps you can follow:

1. Download Squared 5 MPEG Streamclip (choose the Beta version, which is compatible with YouTube) and GIMP and install them on your desktop.

2. Download the video of your choice from YouTube or Vimeo in MP4 format (make sure you select this format) using keepvid or PwnYouTube. If you’re in doubt, check out this tutorial for details on how to download videos from YouTube: Downloading YouTube Videos.

3. Create an animated GIF following the instructions in this tutorial: Creating Animated GIFs with MPEG Streamclip and GIMP.

Some tips: according to Jim Groom, the animated GIF should be smaller than 1Mb. So check that you’re not choosing more than 10 layers and that the size of the image is appropriate (the bigger, the heavier!). Try out different settings till you find the one that suits your needs best. I did so and it worked! I know it takes time but you can’t have your cake and eat it.

Credit: the technical stuff and links within this section were borrowed from Jim Groom and Alan Levine’s DS106 Participant Handbook.

I strongly recommend you take some time and navigate Jim Groom and Alan Levine’s DS106. If you don’t like literature, you’ll get to like it. If you already like literature, you’ll get crazy about it! What’s more, the ideas and tools can be applied to the field of Knowledge Management (in education, health, business, etc.). For further ideas and resources about Knowledge Management, check out David Snowden’s site.

Five Card Flickr Story: non-stop writing as the ideas flicker through your mind

What makes this activity particularly challenging is that you’ve got to establish meaningful, relevant connexions among 5 seemingly unrelated photos you’re randomly dealt out. To be honest, I’m not very creative. Some people can start writing about anything from scratch. I’ve never been able to do such a thing.

At my first attempt on Five Card Stories, I tried to connect the most relevant ideas chronologically every time I picked out a photo. But this method didn’t work for me; I got stuck at the third turn. At this point, you might be interested in snapshot semiotics, so I suggest you should navigate this site: A Visual Cultural Study of Snapshot Photography, Landscape, and Tourism in the Contemporary American West.

Learning Perspective by Yelnoc
Learning Perspective
Photo Credit: Yelnoc via Flickr cc

I tried again. This time, I started to jot down my ideas once I got all the photos and followed an abridged version of the typical process writing steps. Here they are:

1. Brainstorm ideas about the sequence of 5 photos as a whole (in the order they were given to you). Use these questions as guidelines: What’s the setting? When and where does the story take place? Who are the characters? What’s the turning point (problem, conflict or complicating event)? How can the problem be dealt with? What are the alternative solutions? What are the constraints on each possible solution? How does who affect what? Why does who affect what? Why is what affected by whom? Which solution is the most appropriate according to what you want to convey? Why? Taking the story as a whole piece of writing, what’s your point of view? What attitude is conveyed throughout the story?

2. Discover your focal idea and point of view by non-stop writing the answers to the questions above. Get rid of what is not relevant.

3. Structure your story carefully. Sure, there are stories that have a complex structure which may include flashbacks, flashforwards, stream of consciousness and other devices that subvert chronological progression. Yet according to Labov (1972 as cited in McCarthy, 1997: 137-138 and Toolan, 2009: 137-140), a story with a simple narrative pattern has this structure:

(Abstract à) Orientation à Complicating Event à Resolution (à Coda)
ß-------------------------------------- Evaluation ------------------------------------à

The abstract is an optional element and consists of short statements that briefly summarise the whole story without revealing the ending; e.g. ‘This story is about…’ (I left out this element in my story)

The orientation sets out the place, time, characters and the activities or situations; e.g. ‘It was my 18th birthday and my dad gave me this watch as a present.’

The complicating event is the main event of the story where a major change takes place (i.e. the turning point); e.g. ‘On our way back home, we had a car accident.’ ‘I didn’t even notice that my watch was missing.’

The resolution is how the complicating event is overcome (or not); e.g. ‘…I started to think how to go down the ditch and recover my precious gift.’

The coda is an optional element and consists of short statements that signal that the story is finished and help us connect what happened in the story to the moment of telling the story. The coda brings the storyteller and the audience back to point at which they entered the story; e.g. ‘… and ever since, I’ve not come back to that place.’ (I left out this element in my story)

The evaluation is the element that indicates the point of the story; its raison d’être (i.e. why the story is told and what the storyteller is getting at). It is an element that constantly weaves in and out of the story, making the story worth listening to (or reading or watching), either by directly telling the audience how positive (or negative) the events are or by using figures of speech such as hyperboles, litotes, etc. ; e.g. ‘It was a very special watch.’ ‘…the clockwork – the heart and soul of the watch – was made in Switzerland and it remained untouched.’ ‘Yet great fun is never meant to last.’ ‘I knew I would be ticked off.’

4. Write the first draft.

5. Revise the content (check out that the whole piece of writing is coherent and cohesive) and re-draft if necessary.

6. Edit the draft (check out use of lexis, collocations, syntax, spelling, punctuation, etc)

7. Publish and share.

Just in case you haven’t realised, these writing steps are not part of a close linear process. They are meant to be followed in a spiral fashion in which as you make judgements about what you’ve written, you make adjustments to improve your piece of writing. It’s an open-ended (iterative) process.

Well, you can see the outcome here and on Five Card Story: My Precious Gift.

Bionic Woman Remixed: Fembot Flashback (a pop-up video)

In this activity, I tried out Mozilla Popcorn Maker to superchange (i.e. enhance) a web video. Basically, you choose a video from YouTube or Vimeo and you add events (i.e. pop-ups) to it. The tool is actually quite easy to use, and on the website, there are some interactive tutorials, which I recommend doing before you have a go at this tool. By interacting with the tutorials, you’ll learn the basics. You can watch my pop-up video here and here.

All this sounds very simple, but again, it’s not. As usual, seemingly simple things tend to be rather complex… I realised I’d made some mistakes when I read Susan Campo’s comments on Google+.

Thanks to Susan Campo’s feedback, I became aware of three key issues, which can be overcome if you follow these simple rules of thumb:

1. Carefully choose the video you want to remix and/or mash up according to your aims and your target audience.

2. Carefully choose the scenes where you’ll add the events; “Less is more.”

3. Carefully choose the type of event (e.g. comment, speech bubble, thought, information, Wikipedia, photo, Twitter search, etc) you’ll add; “Variety is the spice of life.” If the audience have to read a long piece of writing, you should consider inserting a timed pause. You should also consider warning your audience that they’ll have to pause the video at different times.

Then, Laura Hilliger suggested that I should watch ‘Buffy vs Edward: Twilight Remixed’, a video remixed by Jonathan McIntosh. I recommend watching the ‘original’ version of the video first. Basically, it’s a kind of argumentative essay (thesis + antithesis) in dialogue format and synchronised actions. There’s a lot of food for thought on those videos. I’ll say no more; just watch the videos and draw your own conclusions. They’re simply awesome.

Finally, as I was revising this post, an interesting video by Amy Burvall came out. I couldn’t help noticing how careful Amy was about crafting the mise-en-scène. Some days later, Amy decided to superchange her video into this pop-up video. As I was watching the enhanced version, I realised that in order to create a multimodal text, you need to be aware of the grammar that governs each semiotic mode and how these rules can be successfully flouted in order to create a new shade of meaning in a remix or mash-up.

Undoubtedly, this is a digital literacy that needs to be developed. In connexion with this, these resources based on films can be useful to design storytelling activities that help to develop digital literacies (More resources here). As regards Marshall McLuhan’s quote “We shape our tools… and then our tools shape us” and Amy’s cyborg style on her video, watch these videos about real bionics (Human Prosthetics for Paralysis: Richard Andersen at TEDxCaltech & Human Prosthetics for Paralysis: Joel Burdick at TEDxCaltech). Now, what do you think? How do our tools shape us?

By the way, does anyone know how to download the pop-up video on your desktop? I tried to do so several times but I just managed to download the video without the pop-ups. :(

¨thinglink..: linking thoughts, opinions, facts and much more…

 "Photographs are as much an interpretation of the world as paintings and drawings are" (Susan Sontag).

¨thinglink.. is a web 2.0 tool that allows you to enhance a photo by adding links to it. In this activity, I chose a photo of a historical building from Compfight (you can also do so from Flickr or Wikimedia Commons) and added links to relevant information on Wikipedia, videos on YouTube and other photos on Flickr.

Basically, the idea is to add more information about the represented participants (i.e. the people, places, things depicted in images). Thus, the story behind the image (what was hidden in the photo) becomes visible and public in the enhanced version. The tool is very easy to use. You can read the post with the photo I enhanced here or go directly to the photo here.

Almost the same three rules of thumb I put forward for using Mozilla Popcorn Maker apply to this tool:

1. Carefully choose the photo you want to enhance according to your aims and your target audience. At this point, you might need to read Daniel Chandler’s Notes on 'The Gaze', Kress & van Leeuwen’s Chapter 4 Representation and Interaction: Designing the Position of the Viewer (2006: 114-153) and George Carey SimosAre Photographs Copies of the World?

2. Carefully choose the information sources you’ll link to the photo. If it’s meant to be historical, scientific or factual, do your best to strike a balance (among type of sources and points of views). “Less is more.” + “Variety is the spice of life.” At this point, you might need to read Daniel Chandler’s Semiotics for Beginners: Intertextuality here.

3. Carefully choose the type of link (Wikipedia, photo, video, comment, questions, etc) you’ll add carefully. “Less is more.” + “Variety is the spice of life.”

However, you’ll easily notice that I didn’t follow these rules to the letter in the photo I enhanced. The first problem I came across was that I had to heavily rely on Wikipedia because the more academic resources (books) about Remedios de Escalada (the place), Remedios de Escalada (the person) and Edward Banfield are copyright materials and can’t be used.

The same thing holds true about the photos of Remedios de Escalada published on Flickr; most of them are copyright. I chose a photo that was taken from the footbridge at one end of the railway station; the only place where you can take a photo of the building. This choice of location affected the horizontal angle, which conveys the degree of alignment between the interactive participants (i.e. the producer of the image and hence also the viewer) and the represented participants (in this case, the building and the carriages), and the vertical angle, which conveys the power relationship between the interactive participants and the represented participants.

Notice how the oblique angle conveys detachment from the represented participants, while the vertical angle is interpreted in two ways. The high angle conveys that the interactive participants have power over the carriages but the eye level angel conveys that there is no power difference between the interactive participants and the building.

Another problem was that I had to leave out some interesting videos (Historia de los Ferrocarriles Argentinos 1, 2 & 3, in Spanish) because they were strongly biased and were of very low quality. I added a link to an educational resource with seven 28-minute videos. But mind you, these videos are strongly biased.

I also added links to a documentary video in which a railway worker talks about his job passionately (it’s in Spanish) and videos about the local interactive railway museum, library and club. I think this type of information gives us a quick glimpse into the people that live in this city. In a way, these people now become part of the represented participants in the enhanced image.

To sum up, the main problem in this case was not the tool, but the topic itself. It’s unfortunate but some parts of the history of my country are highly controversial. Sometimes, it’s extremely difficult to tell what was real and what was just made up to be published as the official history textbook.

As a teacher, I must be aware of how the choice and use of the sources and tools help to convey certain political messages. The choice of sources and the way information is presented overstate some issues and understate others, conveying certain ideology. Anyway, this has been a good opportunity to develop critical thinking skills (esp. analysing and evaluating).

Digital literacies in context: making connexions and posing some questions

The first week of digital literacies was quite thought-provoking. According to Howard Rheingold in Attention, and Other 21st-Century Social Media Literacies,

“Access to many media empowers only those who know how to use them. We need to go beyond skills and technologies. We need to think in terms of literacies (My emphasis).

He goes onto describing five interconnected literacies (i.e. attention, participation, collaboration, network awareness and critical consumption) that must be developed in an integrated way (For a description of each literacy, go to Attention, and Other 21st-Century Social Media Literacies. For further discussion, watch this Blackboard Collaborate presentation: T3S2 – Literacies of Attention, Crap Detection, Participation, Collaboration & Network Know-How).

For the sake of space, I’ll just focus on how these literacies were developed in the storytelling activities I did by picking out some relevant examples. I’ll also suggest some activities that can be designed to cultivate these literacies. Attention becomes an issue when watching a pop-up video and ‘reading’ the enhanced photo. The viewer/reader has to decide what to pay attention to and what to (momentarily) block out.

So attention could be developed by designing an activity (based on these resources) in which the viewer/reader has to find (global) information (skimming different semiotic modes) during the first watching/reading, within certain time limit. Another activity could involve finding specific information in the pop-ups/links so that the viewer/reader has to choose the type of pop-up/link which they will scan beforehand. Finding detailed information in the pop-ups will imply flouting some grammar rules of this particular visual semiotic mode; that is, the video will have to be paused, rewound and or fast-forwarded (Cf. a film/video is meant to be continuously moving forward, from the beginning to the end).

Then, by asking the viewer/reader to make a pop-up video and/or enhanced photo, critical consumption, participation and network awareness can be developed. To ensure this activity is successful, a set of criteria about the relevance of the theme chosen and the validity/reliability of the sources should be agreed upon beforehand.

For instance, if the pop-up video or enhanced photo is about a historical monument, which monument should be chosen? Taking account of the gaze, the size of frame, the horizontal and vertical angles, which photo should be chosen? Why? What for? How will this enhanced video/photo contribute to the learning experience of others? Then, there should be some balance between primary and secondary sources of information, and between facts, points of view and opinions.

If these activities are carried out applying appropriate techniques of group dynamics (e.g. each member of the group has a well define role to play and they are expected to swap roles at certain times), participation and collaboration are also developed. The remix button in both Mozilla Popcorn Maker and ¨thinglink.. seem to be useful to encourage these literacies.

Yet one key issue here is how successfully we can set relevant, meaningful purposes that help to contextualise each activity. That is, ideally the activities should have a real-life purpose to have face value. We must consider what people usually do in real life (i.e. both in the analogical and digital world) and how the development of digital literacies by deploying digital technologies can enhance those practices. Otherwise, we’ll be just practising (i.e. in the sense of meaningless drilling). We’ll run the risk of, in Marshall McLuhan‘s words, letting the tools shape us without even noticing potentially negative side effects.

Photo Credit: stefan.erschwendner via Compfight cc

For instance, as a real life application in professional development programmes, digital storytelling activities can be used to help professionals identify what they know and reflect upon their decision-making procedures in their own (complex) context (For further ideas, read: Storytelling: An Old Skill in a New Context). These activities can also be used to help professionals revise and (re-)conceptualise their own cognitions/representations of learning in a digital age (For further ideas, watch Las Narrativas Docentes en Entornos Digitales) and they can make the learning process open, public and transparent.

However, the issues raised by the questions Audrey Watters poses in this Blackboard Collaborate presentation T3S4 Who Owns Your Education Data? (and Why Does It Matter?) need to be considered at this point. Who owns the reflections posted on our blogs? Us? The software providers (Blogger, Mozilla Popcorn Maker, YouTube, Google)? The government? Which government: the local gov or the US Gov (since the server is located in the US) or both? How is the data on our blogs being used? (learning analytics) By whom? What will happen with all the data once we die? It seems these questions will remain unanswered for a long while…

Another important issue raised by digital literacies, as discussed by Dr. Doug Belshaw, has to do with the features of these literacies; they are subjective (i.e. ideological; temporarily constructed in an active relationship with the socio-cultural world) and highly context-dependent (i.e. they are developed in response to changes in the context, so they are defined and redefined as the context changes over time).

Belshaw's eight essential elements of digital literacies
Photo Credit: Leif (Bryne) via Compfight cc

Belshaw argues that these characteristics, together with academics’ taste for umbrella terms (i.e. vague general terms used as superordinate terms), explain the pervasive ambiguity in the use of the concept (either in singular or plural) to mean different things. In his doctoral thesis, he suggests that these problems can be overcome if we start to conceptualise digital literacies (plural) as a heuristic or matrix (i.e. in the sense of a womb; not in the mathematical sense) of eight essential elements (i.e. cultural, cognitive, constructive, communicative, confident, creative, critical & civic) applying a continuum of ambiguity to avoid circular discussions about umbrella terms and applying third-party definitions to specific contexts (Belshaw, 2011: 95-112, 206-219 & 221-224).

Based on Quine’s web of beliefs (i.e. all our beliefs, which are always subject to potential revision, are arranged in a web in which the ones firmly anchored at the centre are mistakenly taken for granted), Belshaw claims that some of the eight essential elements of digital literacies are more central than others in certain contexts and that, since we operate in different semiotic domains within the digital sphere, it may be more appropriate to apply McLuhan’s tetrad of media effects to these semiotic domains and affinity spaces (ibid.: 139-143, 201-203).

Tetrad of Media Effects
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That is, the tetrad can help us determine which of the eight essential elements of digital literacies are more salient in a given context, leading to a more accurate definition of digital literacies. I must confess that I was tempted to apply the tetrad to the semiotic domains involved in the use of the digital storytelling tools above. It would have been interesting to see what patterns emerge… and it would have rendered even a much longer post.

Anyway, to finish off this post, I’d like to suggest that any emerging patterns should be analysed by trying to answer the questions Belshaw poses on the slides 17-33 of his presentation Getting Started with Digital Literacies. To those queries, I’ll add my own concerns:

Digital Literacies Peacock
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The cultural element

Context and culture are two notions that are quite pervasive in the sources we’ve been working with in #ETMOOC. However, I haven’t come across a single explicit definition of any of these terms. Every time I come across these concepts, I wonder what context we’re talking about and what conceptualisation of culture is implied.

Are we talking about the environment or the circumstances, in a broad or narrow sense? That is, are we referring to a concept akin to the context of situation [i.e. the immediate physical, spatial, temporal, social environment in which verbal exchanges take place (Kramsch, 2000: 25-26, 126)] – a narrow sense – or the context of culture [i.e. the members of a social group that has a broadly agreed set of common public goals and purposes in its use of language share a set of historical knowledge, beliefs, attitudes and values that that contribute to the meaning of their verbal exchanges (ibid.)] – a broader sense – as defined by Bronislaw Malinowski? I’m not suggesting that we should use these concepts and definitions (which have to do with language studies); I’m just pointing out that we should consider that each context has specific features that define it.

In other words, when we’re referring to the digital sphere or the digital world as a context, which are the features that define this digital context? Does this digital context include culture (a kind of context of culture)? Or does culture include the digital context? What is the role of the digital context? Is it a variable or a category of analysis? Both?

In La Importancia del Contexto, Diego Leal discusses how individual factors (e.g. an individual’s background and mindset) could affectmuch more than we think aboutwhat we do and think. He suggests that we should learn about ourselves through introspection and include these individual factors in what we call context. What do you think?

The following questions contain the highly vague and ambiguous term context.

The cognitive element

As digital literacies develop, which cognitions (i.e. ideas, beliefs, values or emotional reactions) or social representations are at play in each context?

The constructive element

Which artefacts are considered valid in each context? By whom? Why?

The communicative element

To what extent communication technologies and devices are fairly distributed in each context? Who has open/free access to all of them? To what extent is the how-to knowledge accessible to everybody?

The confident element

What status is given to learning by making mistakes in each context? To what extent is this way of learning considered valid? Why? How is this way of learning validated? By whom?

The creative element

To what extent are creativity and its development taken into account in the curriculum of each context? To what extent is the learner allowed to push the boundaries?

The critical element

To what extent do teachers reflect upon their own decision-making procedures? To what extent are they encouraged to do so? How does their context (e.g. working conditions, available resources, hidden curriculum, school community ethos, interaction with authorities, peers and students, etc.) affect their practice?

The civic element

To what extent do educational policies encourage or sustain the emergence of opportunities to innovate?


Belshaw, D. A. J. (2011). What is 'digital literacy'? A Pragmatic Investigation. Durham theses, Durham University. Available at Durham E-Theses Online: or doctoral thesis.
Chandler, D. (n.d.). Semiotics for Beginners. Available at:

Kramsch, C. (2000). Language and Culture. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Kress, G. & T. van Leeuwen (2006). Reading Images. The Grammar of Visual Design. 2nd edition. London: Routledge.

Labov, W. (1972). Language in the Inner City. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

McCarthy, M. (1997). Discourse Analysis for Language Teachers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Toolan, M. (2009). Language in Literature. An Introduction to Stylistics. London: Hodder Education.