Sunday, August 24, 2014

Celebrating Learning : The Return to Campus & Community

Welcome back to school! Bonne rentrée !  If you haven't returned to school yet, I wish you a happy return to campus when you get there! In either scenario, I hope you will find some inspiration from this post.  Below are some thoughts I have on what we should include on the agenda during those first days with our learning community. Of course, the wonderful thing about life as an educator is that we can achieve these types of goals in numerous ways.

1. Determine what you want your learners to be able to do at the end of the course and create an opportunity to work towards that goal on Day One.

On the first day of school, my main objective is to engage my learners in a little bit of conversation in French since we speak the language 90% of the class period on most days. Even students who are brand new learners of French practiced greetings, small talk, and farewells first thing after the tardy bell rang. As a world language educator, I feel that the expectation regarding spoken language should be expressed through immediate use before we do anything else in the classroom. I want them to leave their French studies with a practical skill that can be transferred to real life.

2. Celebrate learning in an intentional way.

The day before students came through the threshold of my classroom, I got out three boxes of cake mix (I bought them on sale along with the icing!) and made two 13x9 and two 8x8 cakes in disposable foil pans. Then, I topped them with cream cheese icing and used a red one to write "Welcome Back!" in French. I hadn't baked box cakes since I was either a teenager or undergrad!  Anyhow, cursive writing came in handy when writing on the cake -- just a practical tip that I learned the hard way.

After we spoke to each other in French in groups for a while, it was time to celebrate the happy reunion (or first meeting) as well as the learning opportunities that we are going to have over the course of the year. At my school, we are free to incorporate food into our classroom experience as much as we like, and let me tell you how fortunate I feel because I know that there are hoops to go through or no-eating-allowed policies at many schools. If you can't, or don't want to, celebrate learning with cakes or other goodies, find another way to recognize the importance of what you will be doing together over the course of the semester or year.

3. Build community from the start through team-building tasks. 

This year, my dear friend, MaryAnn (@maryannsw,) advised me on maker faire ideas for my classroom.  In her role as a district technology learning specialist here in our city, she put together a maker faire for educator participants during one of their professional learning days. (Here's her blog post on it: ) I loved what I saw and thought that I should call her up and see what she would suggest.  Side note: It is a good idea to seek inspiration from colleagues and friends who aren't members of your own department, and vise versa. We can learn so much from our friends in other disciplines! Thank you, MaryAnn!

It must be noted that this was not conducted in the target language on the second day of school, but I felt that it was a worthy team-building task that could not be done with deeper understanding if attempted entirely in French. Our national association recommends 90% target language on a daily basis with the other 10% being reserved for tasks that cannot be completed in the language. We certainly could have tried to do it in French in the upper-level classes, but it would have been more about language barriers than the real objective.

Back to the task at hand! MaryAnn suggested that my French learners build a Solo cup tower in small groups. I loved this idea because it's quick and I had a feeling that this would appeal to teenage groups. For the most part, I do not bring competitions (or games) to the classroom because it promotes behaviors that I like to leave out of the equation, but I thought it would be okay to have a little friendly competition in this case. In fact, I told each class that there would be a prize for the highest tower and that the winners could decide what they would do with the prize. I poured enough Jolly Ranchers for an entire class into a sandwich bag so that each student could have one if the winning team shared. Luckily, each group of champions gave candy to all of their peers. I mean, I would've forced them to do so if they hadn't. Hehe.

To get started, I projected brief directions on the Smart Board:
       1. Get in groups of 2 or 3.
       2. Build a tower with as many cups as you can. You have 100 of them.
       3. You have 5 minutes!
       4. The highest tower wins! A prize will be awarded.
       5. Keep your structure standing until a photo is taken at the end of the competition.

After the timer went off, I quickly went around the room to take a photo of each tower. Sometimes, students took photos of themselves standing by their work. Then, I asked them to stack their cups and place them in the jumbo zip-lock bags I gave them. Next, they had to talk about the following questions in their groups and record their answers, using markers and poster paper. When they finished, I taped their work on the white board so that we could see their responses for discussion.

Post Maker Task Questions:

1.  Were you risk takers? Or did you play it safe? Why?
2.  How did your communication with other group members help you build the tower? If it fell, why?
3.  What could you have done differently?

The overall discussion in each class was enlightening to some and interesting to all. If ALL teenage learners are listening and/or contributing to a discussion on the importance of collaboration, risk-taking, creativity, learning from failure, and the need to stand out among our peers, I call that a win-win!

Here's the highest tower of all of them throughout the day! I teach 9th through 12th grade students, and this was done by young ladies in the 9th grade. Impressive!

What do you do to both celebrate learning and build community during the first days of school?

Monday, July 14, 2014

Today's Share: My World Language Unit Planning Template

This is just a quick post in order to share the unit planning template I created for my world language classroom and explain a little bit about it.

1.  A thank-you and shout-out to Toni Theisen and ACTFL for their work on curriculum design! This template was inspired by both the one Toni prepared and published on her wiki and the one that can be found in the ACTFL publication, Implementing Integrated Performance Assessment.

                                                                                            Photo Credit: C. Vogel

2.  This template is also inspired by the Understanding by Design authors/gurus, Wiggins & McTighe.

3.  There's not much in this template that is different from what's out there. Mostly, I just changed up some of the wording.

4. As of 2013, South Carolina offers one World Language standard with a bunch of benchmarks under each mode/level of proficiency. Click here to view the document, if you're interested.

5.  To view the template, click here to go to my professional site. Once there, scroll down and click on the link to my Scribd account. Feel free to download the template and adapt it to suit your needs.

As always, comments are welcome!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Reflections on Year One : Standards-Based Learning

Over the past year, my classroom has been under transition from one where learning was assessed in a more traditional manner with deadlines, point penalties, and a certain amount of performance finality, to one that can be described as a hybrid standards-based system. Some readers might ask why I went with a blend of older and newer methods, so I'd like to go ahead and mention that we all need to embrace new concepts and ideas at our own pace, but with change happening. To that end, we must experiment and risk failure in the classroom in order to reach our learners where they stand. I prefer to take small steps rather than huge leaps when trying out new ideas, mostly because I believe in maintaining a balance between my personal life and work. Anyhow, as you read this post, I hope you will be inspired, whether it be to fully embrace the standards-based learning (SBL) model or to move a little bit in that direction. If you've already made changes in this regard, I hope that you will share your insights and tips in the comments below.

Our Learning Model

Essentially, learners have the opportunity to retake or redo most any task after a series of one-on-one visits with me outside of class time. Here's how it works:

  • What type of task may I redo/retake?
    • Most any task. (In year one, learners could not make up interpretive (listening, reading, viewing) tasks because I didn't take the time to create a new task. This year, students will have the opportunity to redo such tasks. Stay tuned for a decision on how I'll make this feasible.)
  • When may I redo or retake something?
    • I'm available at lunch or after school. (In year one, I was available during break, lunch, my study hall period, and after school. That may change this year, depending on my schedule.)
    • You must schedule a series of one-on-one visits outside of class time in order to qualify for a redo/retake. Additionally, you will qualify for a redo/retake if and when you have demonstrated a better understanding of the concepts and/or skills in question.
    • During the first visit, we will determine your areas of weakness and, then, practice together. During the second visit, I will informally quiz you to see if you're ready to redo a task or retake an assessment. During the third visit, you may redo/retake the task or assessment. 
    • You may choose to have more than one visit before advancing to the step where I informally quiz you.You may also come back for me to informally quiz you more than once, if necessary.
    • There can only be one visit per school day. The point of this type of learning is NOT for you to cram and forget the concepts/skills.  
    •  You must complete at least one step before the last week of each quarter. 
  • What happens if an assessment is near the end of a quarter?
    • Unfortunately, you won't be able reassess if we run into the end of the nine weeks.
  • What should I do to get the most out of standards-based learning opportunities?
    • Keep any feedback you receive on tasks/assessments because it can guide us when we meet for a redo/retake.
    • As soon as you know that you need more practice and want a chance to relearn any concepts/skills, take a proactive approach. See me before or after class to make an initial appointment. 
    • Keep in mind that the grade is not the end goal. The end goal is learning. Grades will look more like you had hoped when the learning happens. 

Reflections on Year One
  • The evidence of deeper learning is remarkable! 
  • The learning doesn't stop after a grade is posted. 
  • In the first year, it took students a while to understand how beneficial it was to relearn the material, not just in terms of their grade for a given assignment, but for (lasting) skill development. 
  • Once I stopped allowing students to come in for two visits in one day, the learner desire to cram (and therefore defeat the purpose of SBL) was lessened.
  • Initially, I was nervous about inviting students to redo/retake tasks/assessments for the possibility of full credit, but the ones who earned full credit the second time around deserved it. If students learn the material, with or without a ton of effort, they deserve the grade they earn because they demonstrated understanding. People have bad days or just need a second chance, ya know?
  • Now that I don't take points off for late work, you would think that deadlines would have no meaning in my classroom, but the fact is most students complete their tasks on time. In most cases, the repeat, late offenders caught on quickly that they were only hurting themselves, especially since I don't continuously harass them to turn in work that I have not received. 
  • As for behavior reporting, I must do a better job of it, moving forward. If I told a parent or wrote about a behavior on the report card, it was an extreme case. I'm going to try the TeacherKit app for the sole purpose of behavior reporting, but if I can't seem to keep up with it on the iPad, I'll just create a paper log and attach it to a clipboard, like I do for most data that needs to be tracked. 
  • The redo/retake log of learner visits, as seen in the sample photo above, worked quite well, so I will continue to use that template. 
  • The scheduled extra help sessions are much more meaningful now.  Sometimes, parents (or students) force extra help sessions because of low scores, but it didn't make much of a difference usually in the level of understanding. Now that students know that they are working towards something, that there's a possible pay off in both learning and the grade, the time together is very well spent. 
  • My school days are longer than they were in the past, but I'm OK with that change because there is real learning going on. I usually leave campus around 4:30 p.m. if I have several students show up after school. (The last bell of the day is at 3:20 p.m.)
  • Based on the interactions with and comments from learners regarding SBL, I could see, more than ever before, that they knew I was on their team. 
  • The response from parents has been positive. In fact, there hasn't been a single negative comment about SBL...except by a colleague or two, but I'm not concerned about those opinions.
  • Bottom Line: I will never go back to the old way of assessing learners. I will definitely revise this policy as I move along, but I have no intention of ever penalizing late work again. 
So, what do you think? Do you have any ideas or comments to share? I'd love to hear from you!


Thursday, July 3, 2014

Third Annual App List for the 1:1 iPad Classroom

Good afternoon!

Now that we're moving into year three as a 1:1 iPad school, it has become a tradition to write a post on the tools with which we will start the year. Over the past two years, students had access to the App Store and downloaded anything they liked. As of June, the administration has decided to put the purchasing/downloading in the hands of the IT department, therefore, teachers were tasked to turn in their list of required apps for each class. Our deadline was a couple of days ago, so I'd like to share with you the apps that the French community of learners will be using in 2014-15. This year, I wanted to mention that I'm adding Duolinguo and Memrise -- two language games -- because there won't be as much competition with Flappy Bird and other such favorites, at least not on the tablets. Ha!

2014-2015 Required Apps :

Fee-Based Apps:
Explain Everything (New)
Quick Voice

Free Apps:
Duolinguo (New)
Google Docs
Google Drive
Haiku Deck (New)
Memrise (New)
Pic Collage
Shadow Puppet Edu (New)
Skype (New)
ThingLink (New)
WordReference Dictionary

Course-Specific Apps:
StoryKit (French 2)
Twitter (French 2 and 3)
Pearson's eText (AP French)

Pre-Loaded Apps on All Devices:

What are your top tools for the classroom in 2014-15?

As always, I can have free apps pushed to the devices as I discover them over the course of the year, so please let me know if you use (a preferably versatile) one that is a must-have in your classroom.

Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

Appy July, by the way!  (Haha. I couldn't help myself.)

Saturday, May 31, 2014

AP World Language & Culture: Pre-AP Summer Practice

Good afternoon!

After a two-month break from blogging, I'm back! It's important to maintain a balance between life and work, so that makes blogging a back burner item on the to-do list at times. While it's important to share what we do with other educators so that we can learn from each other, my learners' needs come before the blog. That said, I did write a post for an educator (@eddiekayshun ) in the UK recently. Here's the link if you'd like to see what I have to say about my duty to teach tolerance and global competency:  Who I Am 

Today, I'll share my latest plan for Pre-AP French Language and Culture summer practice. This can be adapted to any world language classroom, so please feel free to make it your own if it could work for your learners. 

Why summer practice? 
For the most part, my students are not required to complete any graded practice outside of the classroom, but they do have to study for assessments and finish tasks that weren't completed in the allotted class time. Even AP learners do most of the learning during class time, however, they do have more outside practice to do because of the looming exam expectations.  The summer before students take the AP course, I choose to require practice because my learners do not have the option to take a fourth year of French BEFORE the AP course. This summer practice simply adds a little extra time for preparation provided that learners pace themselves over the entire summer, of course. 

A Little History on Summer Practice
Over the past four summers, I have asked learners to read a novel (Oscar et la Dame Rose (1 time) and Le Petit Prince (3 times), take a quick quiz and complete various tasks related to the novel, and complete thirty minutes of practice per week over the course of the summer. Overall, students did two things: 1. Read the English version of the novel and/or didn't finish it; and 2. Completed the weekly practice (30mn) during the week before school resumed, therefore, fudging the time spent. At our school, students are already required to read a book for English class and two books for a summer reading group. I've decided to stop adding books to that list, especially since Novice High/Advanced Low language learners generally need immediate guidance when taking on a novel.

Focus on the Interpretive Texts
While all areas of the AP French exam, including the communicative performance sections, present challenges, the most difficult one for my learners has been the interpretive sections with multiple-choice questions. This year, I decided to focus the summer practice on that task and have done so with a personalized approach. As you'll see on the document, readers are asked to choose articles of interest from various news sources and complete the related task with answers in English. Students must seek the answer to the 5Ws while also considering cultural information. My hope is that it will become more automatic to seek out this type of information by the time we see each other again in August. If you're wondering why they are writing in English, it's because the goal is for students to interpret what they read -- not produce more language and possibly not interpret the material adequately due to the proficiency level or other factors.  

A Little More Practice
Learners are also asked to watch a French film for fun and be ready to discuss it in an informal manner.  The listening component of the exam is challenging, to say the least, so even if students read subtitles via Netflix's streaming movies, they are still listening to native speakers. In fact, students often tell me that they try to compare the subtitles to the spoken French. 

Lastly, I ask students to listen to French music on their phones, but it is an optional task. Fingers crossed that I will hear about some newly discovered, Francophone bands when we meet in the classroom again!

The Resource
EDIT: For some reason, it's not showing up at the link below, so click here to be take directly to the page.
Click here to go to the "My Digital Footprint" page of my professional website. Once there, scroll down to the link to my (rather new) Scribd account and click on it. You'll have access to my downloads there. 

Final Questions for Readers
If you teach, or are preparing to teach, an AP world language course, what type of summer practice do your pre-APs complete? Which task proves to be the most helpful?

Please share your ideas and thoughts in the comments section of this post. Let's help each other improve our craft!

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Stop, Collaborate, Create, & Listen! Or How to Bring Creativity to the Classroom With Stop-Motion Animation Videos


If you're a nineties music lover, you might have understood the reference to Vanilla Ice's super hit, Ice Ice Baby, in this post's title. I'm not sure why that song came to mind, but it speaks to me as I think about the project my learners completed last week. By the way, if you aren't familiar with this song, you can listen to it here.

The first lines of Vanilla Ice's one-hit wonder remind me of the general routine steps that are taken to begin a new, collaborative task in the classroom. So, here we go:  Students have to stop for a minute and learn more about the task, collaborate with a classmate to design an agreed upon product, create with their chosen tools, and listen to each other and folks outside of their team as they work. (Let's see, how can we add 'Shave cool designs in your eyebrows for the ultimate Vanilla Ice look?'  OK, I think I'm getting carried away. Moving on.)

All of the talk that has been going on about bringing creativity back to schools and fostering a spirit of innovation has been of particular interest to me. This would not be the first time I've asked students to create, for sure, but I'm challenging myself to bring new life to the projects we do and allow for more hands-on creativity while actively using the target language. Therefore, I decided to introduce the stop-motion animation technique and learn alongside my students of the French language and cultures. 

As a world language educator, I must mention the fact that we have a special challenge when trying to engage our students in tasks that students in other content areas are more linguistically prepared to complete.  In fact, one of our most important responsibilities is to facilitate authentic experiences that push our students to higher levels of proficiency while preparing them for the realities of today's world. This is no small task, especially when working with novices who can only communicate at low levels. What does this all mean? World language educators, like me, can make room for creativity in the classroom, but it might just look a little different from what learners are doing in another classroom.

So, here's a breakdown of how this project unfolded in French class last week :

Project duration:
We spent three days on this project. Some students have to finish upon our return from Spring Break due to absent team members.

Reason for this project at this point in the year:
It was the week before spring break. Sophomores were out on college trip for much of the week, and the juniors left for Costa Rica that Friday. I did not want to start a new unit, but wanted to experiment with an opportunity for creative expression while using the target language.Students who were absent are not required to make up this project unless they want to do it.

Project Resources:
The directions were posted on slides and displayed on the SmartBoard. The document was also uploaded to DropBox. The work will be assessed with a modified presentational speaking rubric (original doc came from Toni Theisen and her district colleagues) -- one for novice high and one for intermediate low learners. (See below for the link to the downloadable documents.)

-This task allowed students with various strengths to develop their team-building skills in small groups.
-Learners thought intentionally about ways to have a global impact through the small organization they envisioned.
-Groups worked together to write the commercial in French. They learned new vocabulary that was particular to their product.
-Along with the language component, students became creators. Although these organizations/commercials were imaginary, this type of task could inspire learners to take more risks and consider not only the needs of the local community, but that of villages in remote areas of the world.
-ALL students actively contributed to the project. In fact, learners in other classes expressed interest in doing a similar project in the near future. Yay!

-This task requires more than three 50-minute days. Students could have used some guided small group pronunciation practice.
-Spend time doing a demo on any new apps and basic stop-motion animation techniques before beginning the creation stage of the project.
-Stress that the background is important, therefore, desktops might not be very appealing.
-Stress that photos need to be taken in the Camera Roll rather than the stop-motion app for best results. (Can move to iMovie and add music, etc that way.)
-Include time for tool (re)exploration, even if students already have experience with the tool. We all (re)learned some iMovie editing tricks that we hadn't really needed or explored before that point.

Looking to the Future:
Since our young learners are not always thinking about what lies ahead, it's a good idea to remind them to think about how projects and other learning experiences in the classroom could add value to their resume. While circulating and helping each group, I explained that they could share this stop-motion design experience with college admissions reps or potential employers. There are always ways to make oneself stand out in a crowd! Of course, this tip to keep track of interesting classroom tasks doesn't have anything to do with their mission to become proficient speakers of French, but it does prepare them for the future. That's part of my job, too.

Educator Materials for Download:
Click here for access to the directions, rubrics, and sample student products. Stay tuned for more videos later this week.

Further Discussion:
How might you use stop-motion animation in your classroom?
If you're a world language educator, how might you use this technique while making the target language an integral part of the task?

Please share your feedback and ideas in the comments.

Hope you enjoyed this post! At the very least, I hope you were inspired to listen to some nineties fun music. Vanilla Ice will rock the mic like a vandal!

Saturday, February 22, 2014

The 7 Key Areas of My Learning & Teaching Philosophy

Recently, it dawned on me that the last time I wrote about my philosophy on learning and teaching, I had not yet stepped foot in an American high school. In fact, my views at that time were shaped by my work as a high school teaching assistant for two years in France, followed by two years as a teaching assistant in grad school, and, then, as an adjunct faculty member for a little over a year at the local university and technical college. Those experiences provided me with new insights, and have definitely impacted my views, but my philosophy has really been shaped by time spent in the high school classroom. 

It would be interesting to read my first statement, and compare it to my current philosophy, so I’m sure I’ll locate it on an old flash drive at some point. In the meantime, here is an updated look at some of my views on this noble profession. How would your list look if someone asked you to share your philosophy?

1. Learning & Teaching
-Model what it is to be a lifelong learner, and share your passions outside of the content area.
-Make both mistakes and recovery an important and vital part of the discussion, and share specific examples of how this process contributes to growth.
-Keep direct instruction to a minimum.
-Make small group instruction the norm.
-Guide students through their learning rather than talk at them.
-Move around the room. Get on the floor with your learners. Be present.
-Engage learners in collaborative tasks that allow them to problem solve and make decisions.
-Make learning authentic.
-Take risks. Then, share successes and failures with everyone.
-Vary the learning experiences.

2. World Language
-Maximize use of class time for practice in the target language.
-Make culture an everyday part of the learning; not a special, separate lesson.
-Provide learners with authentic learning experiences. In the world language classroom, this means using resources that are created by native speakers for native speakers.
-Connect with language learners in target cultures for purposeful learning experiences.
-Lead trips to target language countries from time to time.

3. Assessment
-Develop assessments that require learners to demonstrate deeper understanding and meet the standards.
-Give students the chance to redo both formative and summative tasks, but require extra practice beforehand.
-Evaluate behavior and learning separately.

4. Relationships
-Model the social skills you want to see in your learners. Positive energy and empathy go a long way.
-Remember that we do not always know what our students’ must face after that last bell of the day.
-Communicate your standards, and stick to what you believe, but be human.
-Find a way to get to know each one of your students.
-Write each student a note to tell him/her that you notice his/her strengths.
-Show parents/guardians that you care about the success of their child.
-Involve parents/guardians in the learning, when possible. Send updates, photos, event recaps, and anything else that is happening in the class.
-Attend events that allow you to see/support your students in their element, whether it be basketball games, piano or dance recitals, or chess tournaments.

5. Student Voice
-Empower your learners to use their voice effectively by sharing examples of constructive criticism.
-Conduct surveys (e.g. quick exit slips or formal course evaluations) on a regular basis.
-Reflect on learner feedback.
-Share thoughts and any plans for change as a result of feedback.
-Show learners that you care about their input.
-Allow students to choose what they’re learning and methods to accomplish tasks.

6. Personalization
-Engage learners in decision-making discussions about their learning.
-Invite students to choose their presentation tool as long as they can produce the end results as defined by the task.
-Give learners opportunities to explore/research topics that interest them personally.
-Choose your own professional learning experiences that allow for a personalized experience.
-Become an active learner by attending more than just required professional development sessions at your school and/or district.

7. Technology
-Use technology to enhance learning. Otherwise, tech-related tasks might be identified as busy work and/or learners will not see the immense value in it.
-Make discussions regarding the digital footprint an everyday occurrence – not a separate lesson.
-Show learners how tech can enrich their lives. 


Saturday, February 15, 2014

In the 1:1 iPad Classroom : Using Interactive Whiteboards for Presentations

When a school goes 1:1 with iPads, or any other device, it can feel like it happened overnight even if the reality is quite the opposite. In fact, it can be compared to the experience of a first year teacher who learned all sorts of good techniques for magic in the classroom, but then reality sets in on day two or three. No matter how much time educators are given to research, plan, and explore projects and cool apps, it's never enough. That's good and bad. As education professionals, we are lifelong learners by default so we are thirsty for new challenges (Get on board, if you're cruising. It's never too late to make positive change! Wait, you're reading my post. I'm preaching to the choir...) It doesn't feel cool, though, to put so much time in what we think is great preparation only to find out that our efforts don't always produce the best (or, sometimes, most effective) outcomes. C'est la vie, non?

Here's a prime example. I did tons of research during the summer before the iPads debuted in the classroom, throughout the year, and then again during the summer after that initial year. Guess what. It's been 1.5 years since iPads were distributed to everyone, and it's only been in the past month that I have realized the power of interactive whiteboard applications. This is due, in part, to the fact that it was completely overwhelming to revolutionize the way we utilized our learning space. As it is the case with most examples of change, I found a meaningful purpose for this app in my unique learning environment at the moment that inspiration hit me. Just as new teachers discover ways to effectively use class time as they make their way through the first years in the profession, I have been reliving that feeling, in a sense, as I discover ways to enhance the learning experience without making tablets seem like fluffy, entertainment contraptions. It has been so exciting!

My most recent inspiring moment occurred after a refreshing, mini brain break in December. Imagine that?! I started thinking that it would make sense to ask students to record and submit their presentations electronically from time to time since it takes up so much precious class time for each student to present en direct. As a result, I installed the ShowMe app, made a demo, and, finally, introduced it to my learners a few weeks ago. (I chose it because it's free, which allows me to avoid asking parents to make any more purchases at this point in the year.)

In the future, I will ask students to publish their work (rather than submit it to me directly.) Then, I will ask them to pick several presentations to watch while completing a follow-up task. In the meantime, here are some examples of student use of the interactive whiteboard app:

French - Level Two (Novice)
To begin a unit on travel and exploration, learners were asked to choose a research topic and ascertain interesting facts about Sénégal, a Francophone African nation. They used the app of their choice to first post photos that would illustrate their research. Then, they moved it to the ShowMe app where they recorded their presentations in French. (They could use one note card with a list of key words.)

Sample 1:  (Keep watching. Her photos appear around 25 seconds in.)
Sample 2:  (Lesson learned: Make sure students take a screenshot of the presentation view of their photos.)

French - Level One (Novice)
In the middle of a unit on communities, learners shared their personal thoughts on local seasons/weather and what s/he likes to do. Students used the Popplet app ($4.99) to create a mind map of their ideas and then transferred them to the ShowMe app where they recorded their presentations.

Sample 1:

Sample 2:

How do you (or would you) enhance learning with interactive whiteboard apps? Please share your ideas in the comments below.

Friday, January 31, 2014

On Course Evaluations: High School French

Bonjour! Hello!

Before January ends, I must share more about my year-long focus on student voice in the high school French classroom. If you’d like to read my first entry on this topic, CLICK HERE.  Eric Sheninger (@NMHS_Principal), Principal at New Milford High School in New Jersey, invited me to write my first guest post for his blog in October. Thanks again, Eric!

In my guest post, I shared ways to help adolescent learners understand how empowering it can be to use their voice in the classroom. Last December, one of our Math teachers prepared an editable student evaluation form and emailed it to all faculty in the high school. He instructed us to make it our own and share it with our students during one of the last days of class before midterm exams. A few days later, I sent it out during each class after reminding students of the importance of one’s individual voice.  They have been told time and again that their voice matters and that we learn better if we learn together.  When a student makes a suggestion, I reflect on it for a little while before sharing my thoughts with the entire class, and then I solicit feedback. This part of the process is essential, and I try to prove how serious I am about their thoughts whenever I have an opportunity.

On the evaluation form, students were asked to agree or disagree with a series of statements about the teacher, the course, and themselves as learners.  The good news is that the lowest average score was a 3, or “neutral.”  All of the neutral ratings were related to the teacher’s performance and the course.  For example, I received a “neutral” score for my ability to return work with feedback in a timely manner. I continuously struggle with this for one main reason: most of the work I assess requires somewhat detailed feedback. There is very little, if any, work that requires students to answer in the T/F, multiple-choice, or matching format.

According to the data I gathered, students agreed with most statements overall.  I was most surprised by the following example in which students agreed: “The teacher uses technology effectively to advance my learning.”  In fact, the average score for that one was rather high as compared to others in that range.  My learners tend to resist learning the standards, such as ISTE NET-S, but I march on while continuously explaining why they need to become better prepared to succeed in this increasingly digital world.  At any rate, I am happy to learn that they do actually see value in what we’re doing.  This also tells me that they’re aware of both the benefits of tech when learning a world language and the fact that the tech skills that they acquire are applicable in so many aspects of their lives.

In the final section of the evaluation, students were asked to tell me how I could better help them learn.  Of course, there were a couple students who thought they would learn better if we had parties and ate sandwiches that I prepared just for them. (I’m going to interpret those remarks as a desire to sample more foods from France and Francophone nations, moving forward.) 

Below is a list of learner recommendations upon which I have been reflecting.  If you have ideas, please share them in the comments.  I would love to hear what other educators might do.

Student Comments:

-She could give more detailed notes... (I need to find out what the student meant…)

-Be available for longer periods after school. Available for retakes before school upon request. (OK, I’m under the impression that this student stopped by on a day when I couldn’t stay after school because I’m typically available for as long as needed. However, I will say that I’m unwilling to change my extra help schedule to accommodate the early riser(s) because I prepare for the day in the morning.  The fact is, I’m available any other time throughout the day (e.g. break, lunch, and after school.)

-Listening [exercices] are sometimes too hard. More practice with listening and reading. (I’m always working to find suitable authentic audio and task ideas, but l am continously working to accommodate this request.)

-Do more speaking and listening [tasks] before tests so that we are better prepared. (I plan to allot more time to video/audio recording opportunities for peer review. Also, I’m now sending audio links to students and allowing them to listen as often as they like when doing formative assessments. )

-Review more. (I’m going to engage each class in discussion on this topic. Not sure what this person meant…)

-Be more clear with deadlines and post all assignments in the same place. (Announcements, upcoming assessments, and other important news is posted on the board and Twitter. I used to do a Google Calendar post on my class website, and may bring that back.  That said, we are having ongoing discussions regarding responsibility and ownership.)

-Work on communication. (I will be asking for clarification/discussion in class, but this comment might be related to the fact that we speak French for 90% + of the class period.)

-SLOW DOWN. Less projects. (I have learned that a task versus a project is not always clear to the learner.  As for slowing down, I will be more cognizant of this request, moving forward.)

-If she could tell us what is important for every quiz and test. Help us pronounce sentences and words every class period so we can speak….fluently. (We do not use a textbook…..but even back in the day when we did, learners struggled with organization of material. While chatting with a student today, I came up with the idea to ask each class to make a separate folder in the GoodNotes app for all verbs they learn. As for pronunciation, I made a Quizlet account last summer, and just need to keep up with it.)

-Slow down, please, when taking notes because I don’t like taking pictures. (Notes are now available in Dropbox. Students must just listen and fill/add notes where needed. Learners who prefer to write their notes on notebook paper may do so, but they have to refer to the notes in DropBox, and continue writing them from there, if they can’t keep up. There is no longer a need for photos.)

-Not so many…required apps that we don’t use very much or at all. (I took inventory. There was one (free) app that we didn’t end up using because the free version only allows users to record one interview. Some apps are used more than others, but the only purchases my students made were for Quick Voice ($2.99) and Popplet ($4.99.)

-… was a terrible website. (Students are still using their Weebly sites, but we will go to the lab and use the desktop PCs anytime they need to add content. Weebly has a lot of glitches on the iPad, and that requires more patience than folks seem to have.)


My learners used their voices for the purpose of positive change, and I am SO very proud of them for it. I will continue to discuss these evaluations with students in the coming weeks, and look forward to hearing from my PLN as well.

How would you respond to these voices?