Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Sharing and collaborating is not that bad – honest!

It seems that there are still teachers out there who equate sharing and collaborating with previous, bad experiences. Sharing and collaborating for them means opening their classroom doors to others and that in turn must mean the dreaded inspection and lesson observation both of which are necessarily bad.  Even sharing their fabulous documents in a shared area is seen as a way to check up on them.
However, thankfully, times have changed and there are a growing number of teachers out there who are trusting of such open approaches.  Sharing and collaborating is, in its simplest form, a way to avoid re-inventing the wheel.  At its very best it is a way to enhance what is happening in the classroom, in our departments, across departments and in our schools as a whole.  The moment I joined Twitter on Friday 14th June 2013 I became aware of the power of collaboration and I realised how much good work was going on not just within schools but across schools all over the world.Take one good tweet, with a fabulous idea – use it or upuse it (my new term for taking a resource and making it fit for purpose in my working environment with a small tweak or two) and then retweet as it is not just about taking but giving too.
The sharing and collaborating is not restricted to lesson ideas but also plays a part in our thought processes and the way we approach our teaching.  It is a useful reminder of teaching methodologies that we may have forgotten – and in the busy life of a teacher it’s easy to see why and how we forget.  Sharing and collaborating is best for us and most importantly, it is best for our pupils; they will be the ones who benefit the most from such an embracing culture.
The job of those who do collaborate and share is to teach those who do not to see how invigorating such openness and such an approach can be.  The sharers and collaborators need to get out, convert and welcome some new members to this large, helpful, like-minded – but diverse in so many ways - group of individuals.

Monday, 21 April 2014

What tools for speaking?

In a recent post about student anxiety in the languages' classroom I scribed that "anxiety is thus disappearing".  I was being positive about the technological tools that are available to enable pupils to speak more freely and perhaps lose some of their inhibitions.  I did not mean to be in any way rash and dismissive of what remains a difficult situation for many in the classroom. However, it is clear that an avatar is just one of the many ways that we, as teachers, can encourage our pupils to speak free of anxiety and negative evaluation anxiety; nothing worse than feeling as if someone might laugh at your efforts to communicate in a foreign language.
This post will thus look at apps and tools that focus exclusively on speaking.  The following selection is just my choice and there are, of course, many others that are equally as good.  

I think one of my favourites is Tellagami "animate your life". Simply, you create a gami that you can adapt as you wish (emotions, physical description, clothing and so on). You can use a set of background pictures provided by the app or you can input one of your own.  Once your character is created you can go ahead and record your message. There is a limit of 30 seconds for your voice recording but if your pupils are really keen with a little bit of app synergy (appsmashing) they can save their gami in iMovie and create more than one to build up a longer presentation.  In true Blue Peter tradition here's one I made earlier....

Another fantastic app that is truly motivating and engaging for pupils and helps take the edge out of speaking activities for the most anxious is Yakit "make any photo talk".  My example below is just a bit of fun but the potential is clear to see.  Photos of town can come alive as a cinema talks or the supermarket details it's whereabouts in the town.  Again, as with Tellagami, there is a time limit on each Yakit but it can be saved to iMovie and another one added to it.  Check out @Joe Dale for some further details about Yakit (Yakit trial).

Audioboo is my final choice.  It can be downloaded as an app or used as an online tool.  Take a picture and add your recording to it or record without a picture.  It is perfect for preparation for I/GCSE oral as the time limit of a recording under the free plan is three minutes. Combine this with Visioprompt which is like your very own autocue for whatever you want to say then you can really help your pupils speak more freely.  You will have created a safe, engaging environment in which pupils can voice their opinions and speak out.

I know that these are just some of the tools available and that there are many others out there.  In my opinion though, these, are a good place to start as they are easy to understand and use.  I would be interested to know what your thoughts are?  Feel free to share your thoughts in the comment box below.


Thursday, 17 April 2014

What apps and tools for reading practice?

It is not always easy to split all the skills into separate entities and practise them individually but you can build up a catalogue of tools and apps that you regularly turn to for specific tools.  In my recent blog post I summed up a few useful tools for listening and I would also turn to these for reading practice.  

Now, with a more direct focus on the skill of reading and comprehension here's a summary of some of the tools and apps that I might turn to.  Quizlet would be my first port of call if I want to start building up a foundation of vocabulary knowledge.  Quizlet is available as a web-based tool and as an app and can be embedded into a VLE such as Wikispaces. The flexibility of this site is such that you can include pictures, use lists created by others or create your own lists.  For instance, it is quite easy to find long lists of examination vocabulary at every level and every exam board and these can be accessed by anyone (try this link for I/GCSE vocabulary) Obviously this is excellent for revision purposes or preparation for a particular practice paper. This tool is not restricted only to vocabulary for reading comprehension; it works as well for listening comprehension too.  As mentioned all levels can make use of this excellent tool and it would be possible for students to input their own vocabulary as well which would provide a further challenge for some.

Duolingo available on the web and as an app is very versatile offering translation exercises and transliteration of spoken text to written text which requires a grammatical understanding and it provides excellent online reading practice.  There are a vast array of texts in many languages that can simply be read or translated.  An added benefit of this site is the ability to upload your own text from the internet and discuss any issues concerning the text or language with other interested parties and translators. 

My final suggestion is Metro News.  Many of us have seen these newspapers clogging up the gutters outside stations at the end of a busy day. However, the papers are available online (and as apps) around the world in a variety of languages (the main page has link to all the other portals) and the language is accessible to students in years 12 & 13.  As a newspaper, of course, there are not any specific exercises, these are for us to create but we can then tailor them directly to suit the needs of our students.  Each country has a regional version of the paper and within these articles can be found on the usual topic areas (headline news, economy, sport, health and so on).  
These are just some of what is available - there are plenty more.  What's your favourite?

Monday, 14 April 2014

What apps and tools for listening practice?

With so many apps and technological tools out there it can be difficult to know where to start.  With my MFL hat on I thought it would be good to take a moment and list a few useful apps and tools that I like to use.

For listening you would do well to start with Edmodo.  Sound files or video clips can be easily uploaded and quizzes and tasks assigned through the online classroom.  The added benefit of course is the immediate feedback that the students will get.  Such benefit is well documented and is essential if it is to impact positively on student learning.  

This is Language will offer similar instant feedback which is all too the good but in this instance the sound files are provided for you and are in the form of short video clips.  Local people answer typical GCSE questions in French, German, Spanish and Arabic and these are already categorised into the classic topic areas of My Area, Education & Work, Holidays & Travel and so on.  There are varying degrees of question level and the responses also differ in level providing something for everyone.  Unlike Edmodo, which is web based and available as an app and free, This is Language is web based only and requires a subscription. However, it is well worth it as it has been created with a particular market in mind by a former teacher who knows what is required at this level.  Furthermore, new features are regularly added and subscribers can be involved in this process as there is frequent consultation (recent additions include a set of GCSE vocabulary games). Videos have transcripts and worksheets can be created and printed out of each video at the click of a button.  The website allows for competition too as you can set up your classes and see how they fare against each other and against other schools - simply check out the leaderboard.  The ability to set them a video or two for completion out of class is a real bonus especially as it is easy to see how your students have coped and check out their scores.  Setting a listening task has never been so easy.

If it is authenticity you require but at a higher level then of course you could look at the wonderful
collection on Frenchteacher.net. Yes, there is a subscription to pay for all the resources (every skill is considered and all levels too) however it is a worth every penny!  @spsmith45 has done and continues to do, a very thorough job and provides brilliant resources for some very lucky French teachers. 

Frenchplease.com is a web-based application that has a wide selection of grammar quizzes to complete online and an ever growing collection of listening exercises (some as videos, some as sound-files) that are fabulously varied. A quick glance reveals items as varied as Les Bidonvilles de Nanterre, L'affaire Dreyfus and Le Pouvoir d'Achat.  There really is something there for everyone and it's free!

News in Slow French, German, Italian, Spanish and Spanish (Latino) does exactly what it says and more for a variety of levels.  There is a subscription for this but would be worth the money for a few students each year and comes at a discounted rate for those in education.  There are useful quizzes,
grammar exercises, pronunciation exercises and of course the obvious news reports to listen to with
transcripts and a translation feature. There is a tortoise and hare feature which allows, at a click of a button, to change the pace of the news report.   This is an a web based tool with an app that allows you to log on and listen to the weekly news report.  It is a tool which is well worth looking into and seems to have some potential.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Anxiety is dead ... long live the avatar!

When I was a pupil in the MFL classroom many moons ago I did have issues of self-worth and my sense of self-efficacy was not strong at all.   Not only that my self-perception was probably low.  My need for self-acceptance was high and I undoubtedly then needed some kind of self-protecting excuse to ensure that I could provide some good reason as to why I did not like to contribute orally in the classroom and produce good work on paper. 
"Self-perception can destroy one's motivation"  (Dörnyei 1998)
Indeed, all of these issues (the self-worth, self-acceptance, self-efficacy) impacted negatively on my motivation and certainly influenced my performance.  I was lucky that I had a teacher who somehow was able to motivate me extrinsically through his approach to teaching and made classes more inspiring.  He provided me with the incentive I needed to overcome my anxiety so that my motivation was not purely about grades but about getting to know the target language culture.  My motivation was both instrumental and integrative and these enabled me ultimately to achieve decent grades in my exams and pushed me to go on and study languages at University.
"The prime determining factor [in language learning success] is motivation" (Gardner, 1985)
Nowadays as a MFL teacher I am able to take some of what I experienced as a language learner and blend it with some fantastic new technologies to enable my students to be motivated in other ways to contribute orally in class.  A variety of teaching methods is always good and influences my students' learning strategies.  We do enjoy playing games (battleships is always a favourite) and completing pair work, of course.  In addition, we also have some wonderful tech tools and we can easily make the most of these in class and even for homework.  The choice of tools is fantastic (maybe I need to put a post together on these at some point).  The best thing about these tools is that they are motivating, engaging, easy to use and fun.

Thanks to the avatar.... student anxiety is thus disappearing...

Zolt'n Dörnyei (1998) Motivation in second and foreign language learning. Language Teaching, 31, pp 117-135

Gardner, R. (1985) Social Psychological Aspects of Language Learning: the Role of Attitudes and Motivation.

Monday, 7 April 2014

Who's going SOLO and with what?

It really is interesting the conversations that you can have on the twittersphere.  I recently posted a blog about Going Solo using SOLO taxonomy in my teaching and applying it to my own learning and work for my MA. I then posted a blog about technology tools and how they can be used for formative assessment and learning-oriented assessment.   Then a question was put to me that really got me thinking. 

"What technology tools are available that would incorporate the principles of SOLO taxonomy into them, in particular when assessing pupils' work?"
If an answer exists it certainly did not come to me.   Does such a technological tool exist?  Is there an app that could do this?  I immediately thought of how tools such as Nearpod,  Edmodo or ProProfs could provide fantastic opportunities for students to complete work at the extended abstract level that could be assessed by a teacher.  Engaging web-based applications such as  GetKahoot can be used at a very simple level and are very motivating for students of all levels.   The questions set in this application, as in the ones already mentioned, can be at a relational level and there is room for discussion too thus, depending on the answer, accessing the extended abstract.  I suppose with such tools the extended abstract also lies in getting the students to create the test themselves. 

So - going back to my question - I could see how such digital tools provide opportunities for students to push themselves beyond the relational but struggled more when it came to envisaging a digital assessment tool that would allow for online assessment of higher-order thinking skills.  Notability and similar apps and web-based applications such as Explain Everything or Educreations are flexible in that students' work can be marked and annotated by a teacher giving detailed written and voice feedback.  Hence opportunities for feedforward are extensive and the feedback can be rapid as work can be returned electronically.  However, I digress.  To return to my question relating to the affordances of digital technology, online assessment and the principles of SOLO taxonomy and whether the three can be intertwined and meshed together effectively I came to a realisation.  There was a key element missing. 

  1. digital technology
  2. online assessment
  3. principles of SOLO taxonomy
What brings these three elements together?  There are no prizes for guessing that it is the teacher.  It is the teacher who must know what tools are available.  It is the teacher who must know how these tools work and who must think creatively in how to use these tools and it is the teacher who must understand the principles of SOLO taxonomy. 

"A tool is only limited by its user."
Below is a table listing some apps and how I might use them in relation to the four levels described in SOLO taxonomy.  To be honest, I could imagine using the apps at every level. However, that's my list.  What would yours look like?  If you have any thoughts  on this topic. I would love to hear them.

Here they are with links to the iPad.  They are also available on other tablets, devices and on the web.

Extended abstract: iMoviethinglink, VideoScribe, Voice Record Pro,  iMindMap

Relational: Twitter, Wordpress, diigo, lino, explain everything

Multistructural: Prezi, Doceri, Mindmeister, Notability, scoop it!

Uni-structural: Memrise, Infinote, Skitch, Quizlet, Cloudart

For my choice of apps that would be suitable for Bloom's Taxonomy click here.