Saturday, 11 March 2017

Quizlet Learn - effective learning.

Just a few months ago I was writing about Quizlet Live.  A fantastic tool that encourages classroom collaboration and discussion and further enhances pupil learning of key facts, terms, vocabulary, dates (take your pick, depending on your subject). You can read about it here.  
Recently, I have had the opportunity to try out Quizlet Learn; a new feature that the Quizlet team have worked on with students' progress right at the heart of their creation.  The feature takes on board study and research on how learning occurs most effectively.  Simply set the test date and let the tool create a study programme that is fun and engaging and gives you reminders of what remains to be studied or revisited in order to progress.   The tool provides practice via a variety of quizzes that adapt to the students' progress (or lack of!).  As the student improves so the questions become more taxing getting the student match fit. 


I am a big fan of Quizlet.  Like a good teacher, it is always thinking about how they can improve, what they can do to further the learning of their students.  This new feature, Quizlet Learn, is a response to these questions and taps right into students' needs, thinking about how they can be 'match ready' and well versed in their studies.  I will certainly be encouraging my students to make the most of this tool.  
For more information simply watch here.   Let me know your thoughts in the comments box below.  

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Vidra - creating videos has never been easier.

A while ago I was thinking about how each student I teach is an individual and has such different ways of viewing the world, approaching their lessons, focusing on their studies and indeed learning.  I am always thinking about how I can ensure that I provide a variety of ways to tap into students individual learning needs.  Some of my students like the power of the pen, some prefer typing out notes and others might create a mind map. If they have access to their own device, I would point them in the direction of Vidra.  The tool has a variety of great, simple images to use and providing voice over is achieved simply by clicking the microphone icon.  You can add background music and you may have as many or as few slides as you wish.  That old history project, explanation of weather patterns in geography or project on Jewish festivals in RS can now easily be undertaken by creating an explainer video.  And why not? After all, we are all unique and redefining a task in this way taps into a student's need to work in their own, unique way.

Here's a video I created using Vidra that focuses on students' individuality.   What's your preferred way of learning? 

Monday, 19 December 2016

Active Vocab Learning Challenges

This term has been hectic and has not quite turned out as I expected.  Nonetheless, despite all the unknowns and all the work the one constant and the one pleasing aspect to my role has been what has been going on in my classroom.  I make no bones about the fact that this article is going to have very little link to technology.  This does not mean that I have left technology behind.  On the contrary, I am still very much in favour of harnessing tools to enhance learning and marrying this with the most pertinent teaching methodology.  

In fact, methodology is where this blogpost begins.  With the demands of the new GCSE in mind I wanted and indeed, needed, to consider how best to enable my students to enlarge their vocabulary so that they could put it to use in writing and translation.  With Daniel Willingham’s Why Don't Students Like School in mind, I have worked hard to ensure that students have a large bank of words at their disposal so that they can build on this and apply it more critically in all sorts of ways.  Rote learning has come to the fore.  MOTs (more of the same) has been key so that HOTs (higher order thinking skills) can be more readily achieved.

Thus, lessons at the start of a topic have often centred around activities that allow for building vocabulary.  I am indebted to Fun Learning Activities for MFL by Jake Hunton for many ideas that have been implemented in class or for the basis of activities.  Who knew how a simple activity such as Jake's Bob-Up Classic which requires students to repeat vocabulary first in the TL, then in the English would be so well received by students, even those in Year 12 or 13?  Perhaps making them stand up before they respond and bringing in an element of competition (first person to bob up wins) has made the activity so popular.  Or, perhaps the very fact that they know that they are remembering these new words means that they are enjoying the activities.  They understand the purpose of the the activities and thus focus well on them.  Other activities from Jake's treasure trove of ideas include the marvellous Vocab Piler, where students write down six of their favourite words in the TL and in English. Then over the next 5-10 minutes they go round the room and listen to other students' six words,writing down any new ones they hear.  The students are always amazed at how many words they can recall after this process.

Key to success when embedding basic vocabulary is giving students as many opportunities as possible to learn and use the words. I like to create activities that use these new words in different ways.  Ultimately, I am aiming for students to be able to use the words in translation activities or a comprehension and speaking.  To this end, well-known games fit the bell really well.  Tabou is a particular favourite with my students.  The opportunity to explain a word without actually saying it and insisting that students do this within a time limit always goes down well. Students of all ages love this.  Pictionary has the same effect and if the words allow and time permits, then creating a game of Balderdash using recently acquired vocabulary could also be considered. 

I firmly believe in a variety of activities so that students don't become numb to the same old tasks. Amazingly, students enjoy old classics such as cover, write, repeat.  In fact, often when my students do this activity I give them the option to learn the vocab using Quizlet, or doing physical matching exercises with the print outs from Quizlet.  In this way, I am accounting for different learning needs.  In addition, I am also keen to get students moving.  The aforementioned Vocab Piler allows for plenty of movement as students collect info from their friends around the room.  Another activity that gets them moving and is loved by all age groups is what I call the Word Investigation.  The object is to collect new vocabulary that I have hidden around the room.  This activity can be set at different levels.  It could be a simple matching task where students have a set of English words and need to find the TL words, or they have some TL sentences and they have to explore the room to find the missing words which could be in the correct form, or in need of conjugating or agreement.  The options with this task are limitless and can be manipulated as the teacher sees fit.  

These are just some of the vocab activities I have undertaken this term, there are many more but just too many to mention here. The effort to be creative with these activities is beginning to pay dividends. Watching my Year 12 with another teacher recently, I was aware just how successful these tasks had been as my students accessed so many topic-specific words and even recalled the activity where they had first learnt them.  Their confidence has improved because they feel more able to contribute orally given that they had a variety of vocab to make use of.  Spending time helping students to learn vocabulary is not wasted; it is so much more important now give the new qualifications.  I shall certainly be continuing my drive to build knowledge in this way and I am very keen to hear how you do this in your classroom.  Let me know in the comments box below.

Thursday, 4 August 2016

It's Quizlet - but not as we know it.

This past academic year I did not use my iPad in lessons as much as I would have liked.  Previously I have given out my one iPad and let students use it to create little digital postcards or books using the book creator app or using tellagami they made spoken presentations hiding their anxiety behind an avatar of their making.  Each student has then shown the next student how to make such a presentation using the prescribed tools.  This has been a system that has worked well and given all the students a chance to be creative and enhance their learning and demonstrate their knowledge.
However, this year, just past, I have focused more on a few tools such as google classroom, which you can read about here and here. I have also used Edmodo a great deal as my students have been involved in a collaborative project with students in France.  Edmodo is an excellent and safe platform for a project such as this. Both Google Classroom and Edmodo allow for collaboration and give opportunities too for fast and effective feedback.  Another tool that has given my students similar opportunities is Quizlet Live and it is this tool that I want to focus on now.  I have always used Quizlet over the years and created quizzes and classes and groups for my students to join.  Quizlet, which can be accessed via iPad, tablet, iPhone or a computer is clearly easily accessible and students themselves can also set up classes and add their own vocabulary.  The power of Quizlet Live lies in its ability to get students to collaborate. 

The premise is the same - vocabulary is tested and the goal is to learn new vocabulary, dates, important facts (insert here what suits your needs best) but the difference is that students work in groups to figure out what the right answer should be.  Using their own devices Quizlet Live invites students in to the game with a code and then organises them into groups. I have played this with French and Spanish classes and the group are named after animals in the target language.  In their groups students have to collaborate to find out which of their number has the correct answer.  The focus is excellent, as you would imagine (check out the picture for further proof) and the students love it.  Indeed, there are often calls to play again and one neat feature is that you can play again in the same groups or shuffle the teams up.
I often play a Quizlet Live at the start of a new topic and then at the end to see what vocabulary or grammar has been picked up properly and what is still shaky. As with all these excellent tools there is a lot of data to help you how to move the learning on. 
If Quizlet Live is not yet on your radar then do check it out and let me know what you think in the comments section below.  Remember this is a game for all ages - so once you've discovered it play a game with your colleagues and let them into the secret too! 

Friday, 15 July 2016

Twitter - how to make it work for you.

As you may know, I am a huge fan of Twitter.  I post something almost everyday and invariably it is to do with teaching and learning, although of late, since the EU referendum, I have become quite an angry political tweeter!  Of course, I also post tweets of encouragement and support for my fellow colleagues and I am always grateful when they do the same for me.  Indeed, supportive tweets can help you through those dark days that sometimes get you down.
The reason, therefore, for writing this post is that I now have some colleagues who started to show an interest in Twitter but who clearly need some direction.  They have got as far as signing up and following a few people but they just don't get the point and more worryingly for me, as a staunch supporter of and believer in Twitter I want them to understand how to the make the most of this fabulous resource.
So how should I encourage them to stay on Twitter? What can I tell my colleagues that will help them to see the value in this tool? 
think to start with, you need patience. You need to give Twitter a chance.  Log on, change your avatar and invest a little time in your profile.  Your profile tells others about you, about your interests and what your intentions on Twitter are. Once this is set up then choose a few relevant people to follow.  If using technology in education is your thing then it makes sense to follow these Twitter folk:
1. @ictevangelist 
2. @eduwells
3. @lancslassrach
If it's pure education that you are after then consider these Tweeters
1. @TeacherToolkit
2. @shaun_allison
3. @johntomsett 
Follow many more too as these few will not be enough to fill your timeline with interesting and relevant tweets.  For more ideas see the list of 101 tweeters to follow created by @TeacherToolkit. There are also links there to posts on how to get started with Twitter.
I think at this juncture it is important to highlight that tweeters may also tweet items that do not interest you. This does not mean that you should stop following.  Key to getting the most out of Twitter is to persevere.  The more you stick with it the more you will get out of it. Educational Tweeters often post links to interesting articles in the press or to their own blogposts which highlight what they have been doing in the classroom. You may not find all the posts of value and you may find that you only skim read some but it is normally possible to pick up some good ideas for use in your own work situation. 
You do not always have to read blogposts to get ideas. Indeed, you can start interacting with others. Here's a simple guide:
1. like a tweet that you might want to go back to
2. retweet something you agree with and think others should read
3. quote a tweet that might spark a conversation with others
4. reply to something that interests you and engage with others
Once you start engaging in this way you will find that you will start following more people and in turn you will build your own followers. You will have a community of fellow, like-minded educational professionals who you can turn to for advice.  If you are looking for advice, a resource or an idea then tweet out your question and see what response you get. Often these responses lead you to find more useful contacts and often lead to new real-life connections.  Of course, on occasion you might not get a response, but most times you will. Indeed, a response is more likely if you include a hashtag. For example, the #mfltwitterati has been incredibly useful to me as an MFL teacher and I also find #CPD helpful too. 
Twitter requires patience and an open-mind.  Do not brush it off as useless if you have not given it a fair chance. Twitter has heightened my awareness of what others are doing in their classrooms which has certainly impacted positively on what I do in mine. It has lead me to my MA (now completed) and it has introduced me to like-minded colleagues - some of whom now work with me helping me develop a team that has similar values and visions for the team. Thank you Twitter.

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Google classroom - using the question feature

I have in previous posts shared my enthusiasm for Google classroom.  It is a perfect tool to enable collaboration amongst students, to ensure fast and effective feedback and at the very least to keep tabs on the work your students have and haven't done.

Google Classroom allows you to post an announcement or set an assignment attaching any kind of document you want, be it spreadsheet, document, picture or presentation. The attachment can be copied for each individual student in your class and they can then work on the document whilst you are able to keep tabs on the work they are doing.  Furthermore you can make comments on their work, having highlighted any particular issues and talk to them directly via the chat tool. Other options allow you to reuse any previous post if so desired. However, one element that I like but I have not really made the most of is the question feature. 

This is a very simple tool where you simply post a question,  set a due date (or not, as you wish) and let your students respond.  I have used this tool to 'crowd source' some good ideas from my year 10s and to help students get some ideas for creative pieces of writing. 

Here's a good example of how the question feature can work for you and your students. 

I posed this question and received the following answers. 

Not a bad array of answers and these were just a few of them.  The students found it useful to see each other's responses and have asked me to pose some other questions that will help them and give them some ideas on a variety of topics such as how best to start an essay, idioms, how to make their responses to some topics more interesting.  

I think this is an invaluable tool and certainly one worth exploring if you haven't already.

Let me know how you get on.

Friday, 3 June 2016

Post-it notes for the tech classroom

YI love using post-it notes in my classroom.  They are the perfect place to jot down 'one thing you have learnt today', or 'one thing you wish you knew better'. You know the sort of thing I mean - a plenary tool that you can keep and peruse to guide you for your next lesson.  On occasion, I pull out the post-it notes a week or so later and challenge my students to tell me if they now know 'how to form.....?'.  In terms of AFL and a type of exit ticket, post-it notes do a great job.
Why then, if this lovely paper tool works well, do we need to do anything else.  Why do we need to 'techify' it? 

For me, it's simple and this list might help you share my enthusiasm.
1. The ability to save the post-it notes electronically.
2. Order and re-order them
3. Re-organise them so as to highlight better a particular point.

4. Share the post-it's with the class as a PowerPoint or PDF via email (or google classroom if you have it). 

5. Highlight a particular issue on one of the post-its to share with the rest of the class. 

6. Start your next lesson with the best/most-interesting/thought-provoking post-it note.
7. End your next lesson with best/most interesting/thought-provoking post-it note.
8. Embed one or more of the post-its in a PowerPoint for the following lesson. Students love to see their work on the board and this is a really powerful way to share their work.  

In addition, it is so easy to use.  Once the post-it notes are on the board you simple open up the post-it app and snap a photo of them post-its.  It's a simple open and click.

So, if you fancy having a go, download the app (for free) and let me know how you get on in the comments box below.