Saturday, February 7, 2015

The Value of VoiceThread

Recently our district purchased a district VoiceThread account, and thus there is a push for teachers to use VoiceThread with their students.  VoiceThread has some valuable features.  Students can improve communication skills by recording ideas pertaining to an image, much like students can do with PhotoStory.  What makes VoiceThread a great tool is that others can comment on the image by text, web cam or audio. Due to the fact that our district has a district account, VoiceThread projects are kept secure and are supposed to be easy to access by me.

Our district PLC devised a VoiceThread assignment with the intention of using the assignment as an opportunity for students to provide peer feedback.  As is the case for many projects, the first "go-around" left me learning what to do and what not to do in the future.

Five Things that I Learned From this Project:

1.  I should not have used this activity as their first exposure to VoiceThread.  I should have done a quick introduction to this tech tool by creating my own VoiceThread and having students comment on my project early in the learning unit. In doing this, they would have learned how to comment on another project. My mistake was that I assigned students to make a project and provide feedback all at once.  Whew, too much!

2.  They needed to SEE a demonstration. We should have started this project in the computer lab with me demonstrating on the Smart Board.  I gave students instructions for accessing the unique link for their class period, and gave them time with their devices or IPads to access the link and add pictures.  I soon learned that VoiceThread is not IPad friendly.  They have an IPad app that they are quite proud of, however, VoiceThread cannot be accessed through the web on a mobile device.  The app must be used.  This ends up being frustrating, especially in the initial stages of the project.  The program works great on a PC, but had some hiccups with IPads.  Next time I will take away the frustration and just use computers.  However, those computers must have access to a microphone, and in our building there aren't too many of those available.  Commenting was a breeze with IPads, but the creation step is best with computers.

3.  Sharing must be done right.  Even after fighting with this program for an entire week, I am not sure I quite get the best, most efficient way to access students' projects.  Even after students log into VoiceThread through the unique link for their class, they still had to share their project with me, specifically, in order for me to see their project in our group.  If you have worked with secondary students, you know that the fewer steps for students to complete an assignment, the better.  This step was repeatedly left out.  I had near 60 students completing this assignment; there was no way that I could find each student's project.

I worked around the sharing issue by having students copy the link to their project onto Edmodo.  I would recommend this step to anyone who is doing a similar assignment.   I wanted their assignments to be accessible by our buddy class in France, which is why I had them post their link.  Little did I know that having them do that step was the only way that I was able to find most of the projects.

4.  Use the tag option.  Again, when working with high school students, if there are too many steps, many steps get left out.  However, naming the projects and using the tag feature makes finding projects on VoiceThread easier.  I would suggest that they name their project Last Name_Project Title, and put that in the tag. When I look at the VoiceThread projects shared with me in my groups, I have a bunch of projects named "Les Saisons".  I have no idea whose project I am looking at until I click on the project." Ugh! What a headache.

5.  Commenting is awesome, but hard to manage.  Our project requirements consisted of having students make peer editing comments, as well as make comments in French.  What a great way to have students use their communication skills!  However, I didn't realize how hard it would be to grade students' comments.  I created a scoring guide to help me check off the comments and peer edits made by each student, by after searching through Edmodo, I found myself viewing the same projects over and over again in order to find the comments made by each student.  What a tedious (and not fun) task!  Not to mention the students who couldn't follow all of the instructions because they simply didn't understand how to comment.

There is no doubt that I will use VoiceThread again.  In fact, I am in the process of creating another project for my level 2 students!  However, I have learned from the frustrations of this project, and I know better how to make the project more successful for the students and myself.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Tense Times with Past Tenses

One of the things that my level 2 students (and I) struggle with second semester is the usage rules for the two past tenses.  I have struggled for the best way to assess students' understanding.  For the past several years, I have attempted the same type of project, but I have been going about it all wrong.  I have never been happy with each step of this project, and the end result was never exactly what I wanted my students to show.  Finally, this year, I think I have it.

Let's take a stroll
This is a multi-step project, where students complete a different component as we learn new things.  Next week, we will start with part one.  Since we are learning vocabulary for childhood memories, we will start with our own stroll down memory lane.  Students will construct a type of "foldable" where the middle will illustrate the "lane" and the sides to the right and left will illustrate the memories.  The left side will list things that they did often at different stages of their childhood, while the right will illustrate certain memories of "one time" events at those same stages.

I created a Smart Notebook file to help instruct them for our "foldable". Here it is as a .pdf

This is how we will introduce our learning unit which focuses on childhood memories with the grammar point of past tense versus imperfect tense.  Since we are starting, we will only list activities in the infinitive form on our Memory Road.  Later, we will look at how to conjugate each of these actions, which will be part of the lesson on past tense v. imperfect tense.

Picture This
Since we will eventually be talking about our memories using VoiceThread, the students' next task will be to find pictures of themselves or that represent those memories.  Using their Google Drive, they will upload electronic versions of their images, which we will use later.

Stay tuned as we move down this "road".  I will let you know where it takes us.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Google Forms and Infographs in the same activity

Whew!  This has been a crazy semester.  While I have been using great collaboration tools such as Padlet to  have students create and share, I have, for the first time in years, recycled some of my plans from last year.  I haven't had much to blog about.

PBL Update
Just recently, we started my PBL for this year.  This week students are posting questions on Edmodo for our buddies to answer over in France.  The only thing that I did differently this year was a team contract.  I felt that this was a great way to have students buy in to the project, so that they all realized that they were in important part of the team.  I also gave each group a folder.  In this folder they will keep their team contract, and other documents.  This is always a fun, but crazy couple of weeks.  We'll see where the journey takes us this year.

Google Forms 
This semester I am taking a grad class that is teaching and encouraging collaboration in the classroom.  For our final assignment of the course, I am faced with the task of creating a learning activity which involves collaboration with the use of technology.  What better way to have students collaborate than with Google Docs.  Our school this year went Google.  Each student has a Google Drive, which makes collaboration with Google even easier. While this assignment would be fine without a school wide Google domain, it's not essential.

It's always a goal for students to use the target language in authentic situations, but that is often one of the greatest challenges of a WL class.  How to get students to use the language outside of those four walls?

We created a Google Form!  The idea was to poll students world-wide on their thoughts and habits regarding school. (Our unit was wrapped around school, school supplies, telling time, etc.)  Here are the steps that we followed:

1. Students came to groups with one question about school/ school habits/ school opinions.
2. Students shared their question and the groups decided on one question that they would like to ask.
3. I created a Google Form, as a class we titled it and I added the first two questions in order to show them how to create a Google Form.  (We started with What is your age? and Where do you live?)
4. Each group accessed the link to our Google Form (which I posted onto our class group of Edmodo). Then, added their question.
   -I had the Form on my Smart board and as questions were being posted we could make sure that there weren't any repeats and we could look at and correct grammar errors.
5.  I posted the link on my website and sent it to as many teacher friends as I could in hopes that they could get their students to answer. --This is why having a broad PLN is important.  I have French teacher connections around the world, and I contacted everyone one of them.
  -I had wanted to post it as a project on, but they aren't starting any new projects right now.  (That's a bummer!)

If you haven't noticed, Infographs are the THING right now.  They are the preferred method of getting information out there. They allow data to easily be presented through images. I decided that an extension of our Google Form would be for students to look at the data from our survey and use that information to create an infograph.

This part of our project will be done later next week.  But, students will use to create an infograph that measures the responses to the survey.  They will pick five areas to showcase.

Here's the plan:
1. Students will access the link to the responses of the Google Form through an link on Edmodo.
2. Working with partners, students will determine 5 areas of the survey that they want to represent.
3. Students will create graphs or use other images available to visually represent the findings of our survey.
4. To submit their final Infograph, students will post the link on or class Edmodo page.

I'm still in the process of creating the Scoring Guide for the infograph of this assignment, but I will post it when I finish it.

I think this assignment will be great in order to reinforce learning.  Students are using learning in an authentic way, plus they must read and make inferences with the results of the survey.  What a great way for students to take their learning to the next level. I'm excited to see how it turns out.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

The Tech Find of the Year!

Thanks to an Art teacher at my school, I have found a classroom changing application that I have to share:  AirServer.

AirServer is a program that gets downloaded to your computer.  Via AirPlay, which is on all IPads except 1st generation, the image on the screen of the IPad is projected onto the computer's monitor, which, in most classrooms, is projected on the Interactive White Board. Simply install AirServer, on the Apple device, turn on AirPlay.  Find the computer that has AirServer registered, then select "Mirroring". Apple TV does this same thing, but Apple TV costs $99.  AirServer costs $11.99 for the educator license.  AirServer offers a 7 Day free trial.  If you use iOS devices in your classroom, I suggest you try it out.  You will be glad that you did.

Here is how I used AirServer this week:
If you have read any of my previous posts, you know that I love cooperative learning.  Cooperative learning structures are a daily event in my classroom.  I do not teach in a 1:1 school, but we use BYOD often and I regularly pull our school's IPad cart into my room.  IPads are great for many reasons, but I am often looking for a way for students to "publish" what they create on these devices.

This week we were working on Pre-Writing strategies.  My level 2 students are preparing for their first "timed-write" which is an AP style writing.  For our first writing assessment, I like to give them a heads up on what they will be writing about in order to give them an opportunity to prepare.  We base our writing on a silly picture or two.  In groups, they create a list of words that would be used in a story about the image that I show them.  Then, they create an introductory sentence for the paragraph.  I like to have groups share out and usually I resort to having student write on the limited space on my classroom white boards, but the IPads offer much more of a interesting way to do this activity.

The IPad gets passed around the group and each student adds to the list, when the group is finished their list (which we just created on the Notepad App) gets projected on my Interactive Whiteboard via Airserver.  If a previous group took one of their words, they then have to replace it with another word.  We end up with a great word wall to help with their writing.

Then groups brain-stormed and came up with an opening sentence for a story about this picture.  We added each group's sentence to Padlet and voted on our favorite.  That sentence will be each person's first sentence in their timed write.  In doing this each student at least has a starting point for their writing, where they go from their is up to them.

I am so excited about this program.  I regularly use my IPad in my classroom.  All of my documents are in my OneDrive account which now I can effortlessly project in my room.  The possibilities are endless...

One caution that I would like to lay out there, students love the fact that they can simply project what is on their IPad onto the Interactive White Board.  We did have to have a discussion with some of the less mature classes on proper etiquette.  And, ANY student with an iOS device can project.  In the settings you can lock it down so that a password is necessary to project, then you, as the teacher, can decide whether or not to release the password. It's easy to change the password, so that a different class period could have a different password.

If you use an Apple Device, try it out.  There is so much that can be done with this program!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Keys to making your flipped classroom a success!

By now most of us are back into the swing of things for the new school year.  I love all of what a new year represents.  I love the chance to start over!

I am starting my third full year as a teacher who uses the flipped method for instruction.  Each year, I get better at this way of teaching.  This year, I finally feel as if I have full command of what works best for me and my classroom.  As I have started this school year, I have had near 100% of my students watching video lessons.  I often hear of teachers who just decide to quit because they don't have "buy-in" from their students and they don't receive support from their parents.   It takes patience for this culture change to occur, but stick it out!  It's worth it.

Here are five things that account for a successful flipped classroom.  
1. Involve parents from the beginning.  On the first day of school, I send a letter home to parents to explain what a flipped classroom is, and why I choose to teach through videos at home instead of lectures in the classroom.  I also post a video of me explaining this method (check my video out), so that parents can virtually "meet" me. When parents are intimidated about this learning method, I explain to them how I understand that it is vastly different than how we learned, but I assure them that this is a method that works because lessons are more accessible this way.

2. Teach kids how to watch a video for instruction.  So often kids don't know how to take notes unless notes are given to them. But, when notes are given to them, they aren't really taking the notes.  As I have said before, the KEY to kids learning better through flipped videos is Cornell Notes.  Through the use of Cornell Notes, my students learn how to organize their notes, and how to figure out what is useful in their own notes.  I always model video notes for them.  We watch a video together in class, and I take notes as they take notes. Then, we compare. We talk about the point of taking notes. They look at what their partner has written and they look at what I wrote.  We talk about different ways of organizing notes so that we can find the information that we need later on.

3. Give them time.  When I first started to flip my classroom, I gave them two nights to get the notes done.  Now, I give them at least four nights, often a week.  By giving them this much time, I can remind them each day that they have notes due.  I usually start with a quick reminder at the beginning of the class period, and I allude to the information that is presented in the upcoming notes.  For example, if the grammar point is used in something that we read, I will explain to the students that they will get more information on that topic through the video.  Or, I will plead, "You won't understand this topic until you see the video that is due. You really must take good notes on this topic before Thursday!!"  Let's face it, students need to be reminded!  Because I give them more time to complete the notes, I have few students who don't get the notes completed on time.

4.  Use Social Media.  You have to get the word out.  Kids forget. We all forget things from time to time.  We need to be reminded.  I use three methods to remind students when videos are due.  I send out a text via Remind (formerly Remind 101).  Students and parents can sign up for this and it is super simple to use.  I also send out a Tweet on Twitter (You can follow me: @mmeburton).  Thirdly, I send out a reminder on Edmodo. All three messages are the same, and they all contain a link to the video hosted on Wistia or SchoolTube.

5.  Stress the importance.  We all want to be successful.  We all want to get a handle on what we are learning.  With every video, I stress how important it is that they view the video so that they will understand the concept.  I stress to them that by not watching the video, they are choosing to be confused and lost in the class.  I praise each and everyone of them for watching the videos and completing the notes and I have a discussion with each of those students who didn't watch the video. When we take our notes quiz, I write little notes on the quizzes of those students who didn't watch the video to remind them of the importance of watching the video.  And, if someone forgets to take the notes, the next time a video is due, you better bet I am constantly nagging them to get it completed.

As the flipped classroom becomes more of a regular practice in classrooms across the globe, there is more support out there for those teachers who are beginning to get their feet wet.  This summer a great book came out to further help teachers. If you are new to this, thinking about getting started or even a seasoned flipped teacher, I suggest that you spend some time with this book.  And, I was fortunate enough to contribute one of my ideas to the book!

Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Vocabulary Cundundrum

Every now and then, I come across something awesome from Twitter, Edmodo or some other social media site and I quickly adapt it to my classroom.  I absolutely love when I can read about exciting things that other teachers are doing in their classroom and gain inspiration to do something similar.  A few months ago, I came across a World Language teacher's goldmine.  Amy Lenord's website is amazing; she has so many ready-to-use activities that I spent hours one Saturday morning reading her blog entries and adapting her Spanish activities for use in my French classroom.  But what brought me to her website was a re-tweet about a post that had to do with teaching vocabulary in the World Language classroom.

Vocabulary Lists are Not the Way to Go
Yep, she said it, not me.  Well, she said it in not so many words.  She wrote a fantastic post on how to go "list-less".  It really got me to thinking.  I learned with vocabulary lists, I have always taught with vocabulary lists, so how do I introduce the necessary vocabulary without a vocabulary list. do I do that in level 1, where the students have such limited knowledge. I have always given the English words that I wanted students to learn and I have had them use their textbook to find the French equivelants and complete the lists themselves.  I have seen value in this, and students like the lists, right?

Pictures Speak Louder Than Words
I decided that I would try it.  As I started a unit on clothing, I decided I would begin without The List. I started with a class discussion, which, honestly, made me nervous because as a flip-teacher, I am rarely "all eyes on me".  My students aren't used to taking notes when I talk and I wasn't sure how engaged students would be with me in front of them.

I prepared a notebook file ahead of time.

I introduced the topic with the words "Les Vêtements" and a picture of a bunch of clothes.  I asked if anyone could figure out what we would be talking about next.  I explained that we would be creating a list for the words that we would need for this unit, and suggested they they write things down as we continue.

First, we created a short list of words that we already knew that pertained to clothing.  (We had learned tee-shirt, tennis shoes, etc--things needed for PE, in an earlier unit.)

Next, I had 5-7 pictures of clothing and words at the bottom on the notebook page.  I gave students one minute with their partners to see if they could figure out which word went with each item of clothing.  This part was great because I could hear awesome conversations going on.  They were using prior knowledge, comparing words to English, and drawing some great conclusions.  Then, I chose one pair to go to the Smart Board and move the words under the corresponding picture. When done, I would tell them how many they got correct, but not specifically which ones. Then I would have another pair come up and correct.  I loved this because they were hearing the words from me immediately.  Before they set out to work with their partners, I had them repeat the words, and after going over the information on the board, they would hear it again, several times.  The students were absolutely engaged!!  They loved seeing if they were correct or not.

I repeated this same routine several times. Each time, I used 5-7 words, until all of the words that the text was introducing were covered.  We stopped after this, and continued with part 2 on the next day, which worked out great because I was able to review at the beginning of the next class period. This allowed the students to hear and see these words, again.

In our textbook, students are taught many expressions, and I always struggle with they best way to have students memorize these expressions.  For this unit, I let the students decide the expressions to learn.  In my Notebook file, I created the headings "Au Magasin", "Questions de la cliente", "Les Adjectifs".  We walked through a shopping experience, where I had students tell me what would be necessary to say if shopping in a boutique in Paris.  They would tell me the expression in English, and I would write the equivalent in French.  I was able to stay in the target language, so that they were constantly hearing the words.

I was amazed at the level of engagement from the students.  I was also amazed at how they were able to cover all of the expressions that I wanted them to learn.  Because I want students to have a list of words that they "own", I had students create their own list which they kept in their binder.  However, I gave them the choice, they could organize these new words into their own categories or they could label pictures.

While this took quite a bit longer then the traditional list, which I can usually send home for homework, the learning that took place was very meaningful.  My kids know these words.  I mean...they KNOW these words.  And, they can correctly pronounce these words, which is a huge plus.

I have continued to use pictures to teach vocabulary with both level 1 and level 2, and I can see an improvement in vocabulary retention, but even more with pronunciation.  Going "list-less" gets a huge HOORAY from me!

Monday, April 7, 2014

Cooperative Learning for....Learning??

So often as teachers we use the term "Cooperative Learning" to describe what is actually "Cooperative Practicing" or "Cooperative Reviewing", and while I am convinced that some learning does actually take place in those situations, they aren't often used to learn NEW information.  I am here to tell you that new information can be learned through cooperative learning.

I don't know if it  is the "flipped teacher" in me or if it is just how I am.  I do not subscribe to the "Sage on the Stage" type of teaching.  My students RARELY (almost never) sit and get from me.  I feel like it doesn't mean anything to them if they are just taking notes while I am jabbering on.  I want my students to really "get" the content, and I find that traditional classroom lectures just don't do that.  Typically, my students learn information from videos that I create and that they watch at home.  That way they can stop and rewind, they can watch where ever and when ever it works for them, and they don't have to deal with the interruptions that typically occur with students in a typical high school classroom.

Sometimes, though, I want students to actually learn the information with my presence.  For example, today, my students were learning Interrogative Adjectives (the ways of saying "which").  We had already learned the demonstrative adjectives (they ways of saying "this/that/these/those").  I chose an engaging way for them to use deductive reasoning to figure out the usage rules for this grammar point.

Here goes:
Step 1: Students are in groups and each group gets a stack of little pieces of paper and a basket for the middle of the group.  Each student takes several of the pieces of paper.

Step 2: I created a slideshow of the grammar point being used.  For this grammar point, it was a story of a family at the mall shopping for Grandma's birthday.  Each slide had a question and answer part of the conversation.  For example, one slide might say "WHICH scarves would Grandma prefer?  --I think she would like these scarves".  I had the words that I wanted them to focus on in a different color.

Step 3: I went slide by slide and for each slide and had them write a comment about the word that I had in a different color.  I coached them by saying it can be what comes to mind.  What does this mean in English, how is it used, what do you notice about pronunciation?  Each student (without talking) writes their comment on a piece of paper, then puts it in the basket.

Step 4: We did this for each page of the slide show.

Step 5: I had one person be the "authority". This person grabbed their textbook and turned to the page that explained the grammar point.

Step 6:  When we finish with the slides.  I have them mix up the papers.  Then, students take turns reading one paper at a time.  The "authority" decides if the statement on the paper was supported by the textbook or not and the students create two stacks of paper.  One stack for the statements that agree with the book, another stack for those that do not.

Step 7: Using Padlet I have each group post something from their "Good Stack".  Padlet allows the class to see sentences on the SmartBoard, so as students are writing, I would say No Repeats, so that they would have to come up with a list of usage rules.

Step 8: Students wrote down what showed up on the board onto notes.  I had them discuss with their groups what would be good things to write down.

Step 9: As a final step, I had the "Authority"  read through the information from the book and make sure that everyone covered all of what was important about this topic.

I had one class that had a little extra time, so I as an additional step, I had them post an example sentence that wasn't from the textbook or from my examples, to show that they could use the grammar point.

This is a great way to put students in charge of their own learning.