Saturday, 30 January 2010

EVO, HTML and the Voki Girl (Yes, she's back)

If you haven't been here for a while, the first thing you will notice is how beautiful my blog looks. This is all thanks to the Simply Fabulous Blogger Templates. The template was easy to install and all my widgets clicked into place. The only problem was the size of the font (some people complained that the letters were too small and I agree). So, I decided to change the size of the font, only to realise that the Fonts and Colours option was gone from my Blog Layout screen. I had to do something about the size of the font, so I decided to tackle the HTML.
I clicked the HTML button. I stared at it for a long time. It stared back at me.
It looked a little like this:

Women workers install fixtures and assemblies to a tail fuselage section of a B-17 bomber at the Douglas Aircraft Company plant, Long Beach, Calif. Better known as the "Flying Fortress," the B-17F is a later model of the B-17, which distinguished itself i
Photo on Flickr by the Library of Congress

I had no clue what I was supposed to do.
However, after I had stared at the code for half an hour, it started to make sense. It is, after all, in English. Sort of. I wanted to change the font size, right. I managed to locate the word Font somewhere in the code. Next to it was a number so I changed it. Once I knew I was changing the right number, I just continued doing it until I was happy with the result. Then I changed the colour of my links. The original colour made the links hardly visible. I learnt that each colour had its code and that you just needed to copy the colour code and that was it. There are a lot of places where you can find the colour codes and this is just one of them. I also found this page really useful.

Then I changed the tagline. The tagline is the short phrase you put under the name of your blog - like a subtitle. Now, Karenne gave us this challenge in BELTFree - she asked us whether our tagline corresponded to what we blog about. My tagline didn't pass the test. It used to be "A teacher's journey through the world of Web 2.0". While this was true two years ago, it isn't quite true any more. I mean, you expect someone who writes only about Web 2.0 to post more links to different applications, while I write... Let's see, what do I write about? I slept on it and came up with: "TEFL, Technology and the Meaning of Life." That's it, take it of leave it.

Then I brought her back. The Voki Girl. I removed her about a year ago and wrote about it here. One of my readers, Gregory Louie, posted a lovely comment. He said:

Giving a voice to a webpage adds a dimension that is simply not possible with the written word.
That is especially true for a foreign language teacher. Students need to hear the target language being spoken as they read the text.
Quite a bit of research on language comprehension reveals that sub-vocalization improves comprehension in individual's struggling to read.
Beyond the research, I would also argue that subtle intonations and pauses in the text lead to natural speech, which is critical for students who seek to use their language abroad and be comprehended by others.
Finally, cognitive scientists are busy uncovering natural differences among learners, a fully differentiated blog will take into consideration that aural dominant learners learn best with sound.

We did Vokis both in DMPT and in BaW this week. That's why I decided to bring the Voki back, this week of all weeks, but to give her my voice. The previous version had one of those computer generated voices. But wouldn't my readers like to hear me speak? Personally, I don't like listening to my own voice and I really hate the way you have to say a simple sentence over and over again before you get the version that is decent enough to post. Still, now having a Voki in my sidebar makes sense. And now I see how it could be used in education. If you want to create listening comprehension exercises, then maybe computer generated voices would be a better idea. If you want your students to hear themselves speak, then let them record themselves and listen to their own voices. And you can bring all those funny avatars to life. You can have dogs talking, cats responding... Anything you like.

Friday, 22 January 2010

My blog is Two Years Old

I have gained certain wisdom with years. I have a few grays and I have started spending more money on face creams, but at least I have gained wisdom.

Together with my wisdom came this uncontrollable urge to share it with other people. My wisdom, that is.

Which is why I started a blog in the first place.

Two years ago I didn't know what exactly I was going to blog about and I believed it didn't matter. Because, my wisdom would shine through whatever I wrote about. And so the first year passed.

Now my hair was even grayer and I was even wiser. Which I wanted to share with others.

In the meantime I learnt something about blogging and now I didn't want to blog about just anything that crossed my mind. I decided I was going to blog about TEFL.

And so another year passed.

And that day has come again. My blog's birthday. Which happens to be my birthday too. Because, conveniently, my blog and I were born the same day. I am a little older, that's all.

I've reached a certain mature age when I might want to redefine things (my life, my choices, my dreams, my face cream). The right thing to do in such cases is to go back to the beginning.

Which is where the Images4Education Week 2 task 1 came in handy.

If you are too lazy to follow the link I gave you above, the task is called Where I am From. The participants post a picture which symbolizes the place they are from and write a little poem underneath.

And, here is the result:


I am from the fields
I am from the whisper in the grass
I am from the earth
From the dirt
Under your fingernails
I am from the boy
Who went to war
When he was 12
I am from the tiny woman
Who raised four children
All by herself
I am from the lawyers
And the peasants
From the teachers
And the doctors
From the nameless housewives
Who told beautiful stories
I am from the singers
And the dancers
I am from the morning mist
Above Kalemegdan park
I am from burnt lunches
And overcooked vegetables
I am from a room
Where pigeons nested
On the window-sill
I am from a dream
Hidden inside a notebook
I am from this very day
Forty-three years ago.

If you have read this far, you know that ocassionally I still give in to my desire to write about non-TEFL-related topics.

Thank you for being such patient readers so far.

P.S. If you are really, really patient, you can read the poem I wrote last year for Images4Education.

Monday, 18 January 2010

EVO Sessions - Week 1

Reconstructed trench – Vimy Ridge

This is Natasa Bozic Grojic, reporting for you from the trenches of this year's EVO. In order to be able to inform you better, I am attending 4 (yes, four) EVO sessions. Yes, I am crazy. If you still believe I am a sane person, look at my last year's post Multitasking.

I have got a lot of homework and really shouldn't be here at all. So, just a brief tour through Week 1 in the 4 (yes, four) sessions I am attending.

BaW is as hectic and as exciting as ever. I don't participate much these days, but I do love the friendliness and the excitement and the positive energy. The BaW Yahoo Group is like a room full of people all talking at the same time. During Week 1 the participants have signed in and edited the wiki (ah, that dreaded wiki! Everyone who has managed to post their picture and edit their data there has already graduated as a Webhead - all the other tasks are much easier).

In Images4Education you introduce yourself by posting the photo of the view from your window. Since they are working on the playground in front of my building and everything is muddy and not very pleasing to the eye, I thought I would cheat by posting last year's photo. I couldn't fool Carla Arena. She insisted that I should "look through the lens and find a new angle". So, I did. I looked into my room from the outside and here is the result:

A view into my room

It is good that we learnt about Picnik at DMPT, which is what gave me the idea for this photo. DMPT is really interesting, lots of great links and resources. Apart from Picnik, we learnt about other image editing tools, such as Fun Photo Box, Image Chef, PhotoShop Express, Photo505 and Photofunia.

Finally, in EVO Video we have been introduced to some incredibly cool resources, such as English Meeting, JenniferESL, The Daily English Show and Real English.

Finally, to show you just how cool these resources are, I will share with you Jennifer's New Year's Resolutions:

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Welcome Readers Old and New


At the moment I am attending a couple of EVO sessions, so there is a possibility that some of my EVO classmates have followed the link to my blog and found themselves here.

If you are reading this blog for the first time, welcome. You can find out more about me here.

This blog was born on 22nd January 2008 (which happens to be my birthday too) as a part of the Blogging4Educators course. I have done different things on the Internet since then (Twittered, created wikis, podcasts, slideshows and online exercises), but my favourite online activity is still blogging. It is hard to define why - maybe because I simply enjoy writing. It clears my mind and helps me think.

I mostly blog about TEFL and about Web 2.0. In the weeks to come I might write more about EVO and about the new things I am learning there.

If you like what you see, please come back. Or you can subscribe to my blog via RSS or Email - whichever you prefer. And do leave a comment. I love comments and I will definitely write back.

If you have been here before and like my blog, please don't leave yet. I would like to make a couple of changes here in 2010 and I could really use your help to improve this blog. If you can spare a minute, please leave a comment and answer some of these questions:

What do you like about my blog?
What should I do to improve it?
What, according to you, was my best post in 2009?
Is there something you would like me to write about?

I am thinking about uploading some lesson plans here in the future. I believe it is a logical step I should take in 2010.

I was also thinking about posting or uploading some short stories that would be suitable for students, but I am still thinking about the best way to do that. My inspiration for this idea was Jeremy Taylor. My students love his short stories.

As you can see, I am still working on my resolutions (see the previous post). Your comments and ideas are most welcome.

You might also like:

Picture on Flickr by jackrook

Friday, 8 January 2010


Olympische Spelen 1928 Amsterdam

It is that time of the year. People are summing up what they did in 2009, making plans for 2010, making resolutions...

I think I became rather good at making resolutions last year. The trick is to set that bar just high enough for it to be a challenge, but not too high. You don't want to fail too often, because it's bad for your health. One day you are going to break that record, maybe in 2020 (what a lovely, symmetrical year!), but probably not yet. It is important to do something about it now.

I sound like one of those self-help books, don't I? Probably because I am trying to justify my irregular blogging habits. No, don't look at how often I post. Don't look at the date of my previous post. Or the one before that. Please.

Still, I am not unhappy with what I have achieved here. When I started blogging two years ago I didn't bother to define my niche. I wrote about whatever came to my mind. I didn't know anything about SEO or Google Analytics, I didn't know who my readers were or what they wanted to read about. All I knew was that I wanted to go on blogging.

I used to sit down every Christmas and write a new set of resolutions. Except that they wouldn't really be new, they would be the same as the ones I wrote the year before. Last year I changed something. Instead of "I am going to write a novel" I put "I am going to sit down every day and write something".

Did I sit down every day and write something? Er, not every day. But I did establish a blogging routine. And call it a coincidence, but I stumbled upon a blogging challenge in January. And another one in April. During which I wrote 25 Ways to Keep Your EFL Students Motivated (that day's challenge was to write a list). Suddenly I had readers (i.e. other teachers of English) who wanted me to go on writing posts like that one. My readers wanted me to write about TEFL and I found out that I enjoyed writing about TEFL.

Again, call it a coincidence, but around that time I joined BELTFree. I became a part of a caring and inspiring community of people who blogged about TEFL. They supported me every step of the way. I don't think I'll ever be able to thank them enough.

Somewhere along the way I made a rash promise that I was going to blog once a week. Then twice a month. Then I stopped making promises.

I can't tell you how often I will write in 2010. Making such a promise would be irresponsible to my readers, because I will probably break it at some point. There are things in my life that I can't control. Blogging is still just something I do in my free time.

I will not make that promise. But I do promise that I'll be here as often as I can. And if I am absent for a while, don't worry. I'll be back. That I can promise.

Happy New Year everyone and thank you for travelling with me this far.


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