Sunday, September 29, 2013

Just Some "Tools" of the Trade

Last year was all about weaving the old in with the new and the traditional with the "innovative" while continuing to build a program that encouraged students to communicate in the target language with courage, confidence and laughter.  Some of what seemed "old" or "traditional" to me seemed quite innovative or forward thinking to another - this is technology moving at rapid speeds!  I first used "technology" in 1987 during my second year teaching (yeah, I'm old!).  I put a small disk into a funky little box and it saved all of my written work so that I could print it out and edit it without having to do it over again by hand - amazing to someone who had hand-written or used one of those ancient machines called a typewriter all the way through college!  Later, in 1990, I was teaching with laser discs (the old, but wonderful Annenberg Destinos series) and was one of the first to do student projects in a brand new mac lab using HyperCard (we had to write the scripts ourselves back then)!  Later, I also used the templates of a friend, colleague and teacher to do close exercises with songs in Spanish, and had my students record their voices into their projects in another decked out mac lab. Over the years I came to learn that these - often viewed as flashy methods- were simply modern, useful tools that allowed me to communicate in another language - technology-  to teach the second (or third or fourth...) language, Spanish, to my students.  The teaching and learning was lively, interactive and creative in ways that I could not do as well alone at a blackboard, with film strips, videos and an occasional (native) guest speaker (but remember, none of that completely disappeared, except maybe the film strips!).  This technology stuff was never meant to replace human contact, it was just what it is today, a set of remarkable tools that allowed me to enhance my lessons and improve my (pedagogical) goals while enabling students to interact, practice and review in the target language more often with me, each other and the outside world - a virtual language lab and more!  These tools have been refined over the years, but they still allow me and my students to communicate, create and collaborate more efficiently and globally in the target language.  Still not convinced?  Here are some examples (please click on the links to view/hear examples of student work) :

Spanish I (8 students): ipad pilot 2013-2014.  In the beginning of the year, I  regretted having the ipads because they were simply not needed, except to take notes, take photos, record our voices in short dialogues, communicate over email and occasionally visit our vhl supersite ( a really useful site that accompanies our text) and class google site.  Useful, I suppose, but I was not ready to tap into some of the more collaborative apps and neither were they.   However, we have really  used some tools well.  Most notably, Notability.  Here are some snapshots of their latest work done:

• Travel Brochures:

• Letters to real Nicaraguan Pen Pals (sent and recieved via gmail):

Cine (10 students) - A 21st Century Film Elective:  Our curriculum was live on Google Sites:

El cine español

Student Final Project on Voicethread

Spanish 8: (15 Students)  These students did Explain Everything Projects throughout the year and wonderful iMovie commercials for their 8th Grade Final Project:

Class web page (for outside practice and review)

Las botas de Bean

La efervescencia

This year, my 28th teaching with technology (even if it was a little clunky), my goals are not so different.  I hope to continue to learn and collaborate with my students and to connect with others beyond our classroom. The one brand new addition is Schoology.  I have to admit that I was skeptical at first because it looked way too much like Facebook.  I, have, however, dived in full force and I am using it in all of my classes as the class site (still linking out to my already designed class google sites/ textbooks for supplementary material).  I am currently in the love affair stage with this platform especially because I can now communicate with my MS students daily (they do not have school email, yet!).  I have made the following observations so far:

1.  Posting homework keeps me more organized and the students and parents love that they can check an assignment from home, especially when they are absent from school.

2.  I can be very, very specific about an assignment, including all of the steps and links to support their studies.  So much so, that I was able to have a virtual oral, aural and written connection with the students in my elective before we even met for the first class - ¡qué fenomenal! Below is an example of a quiz homework.  Instead of just saying, "study for a quiz on blah, blah, blah," I can actually lists the steps with direct (previously researched) links!  Pretty amazing!

3.  I have to be very careful with dates and wording.  If you make a mistake, students will miss important steps.  For example on a current assignment discussion, I posed some questions along with a photo.  I forgot to say, "please respond in a paragraph/narrative," so 2 of 13 students bulleted their responses.  Not bad, but something to remember for next time.

4.  Students can turn in work through Google Docs.  I can correct, edit and return.

5.  Be careful to have very specific guidelines about how you want students to use the UPDATE section.  Remind them that this is NOT a social network.  My students can suggest links, comment (in Spanish only!) and pose questions related to our subject.

That's it for now. I would love to hear how it is working for others!

Many thanks to Page for providing a classroom set of iPads, too - I'm looking forward to using them spontaneously and frequently to enhance our lessons.  I'll post again once we get up and rolling.

¡Gracias por leer y hasta pronto!

Monday, September 9, 2013

Summer of Development

I do not know where I picked it up.  Perhaps it was from my passionate professors, Dr. Michael James and Charles "Bud" Church?  Maybe my mentor teacher at Claude Chester Elementary instilled it in me?  It could have been engrained in me by the expectations of my first principal at Jeffrey Elementary? Whomever it was, I thank them for instilling in me a desire to continually refine and reflect on my practice, and to grow as an educator even during the summer months.

This summer has been no different, and I have grown tremendously.  From conferences, team meetings, and readings, to participation in numerous conversations virtually and face-to-face, I have found voices that have challenged and reinforced my practice, and have energized me to explore new ideas.

My biggest takeaways from this summer are ideas that have energized me and have transformed themselves into some of my professional goals for the coming school year.

To hear my students' voices: Sparked by Stephanie Harmon's talk at the iPad Summit in Atlanta, GA, I continue to investigate ways to foster student voice.  This year, I hope to provide a teaching space that will provide a number of tools, both traditional and technological, for students to share their own personal understandings of the content we study together. I also hope to provide a collaborative and creative atmosphere where students are challenged to generate their own ideas as I facilitate learning and guide discovery. Learners will take more ownership of their learning and spark curiosity in their peers.  With support from my PLN (Greg Kulowiec and Shawn McCusker from afar and Page Lennig and Jonathan Werner locally), I will continue to refine and reflect on my strategies throughout the year.

To develop an individualized experience for each unique learner: With our grade level moving to a one-to-one iPad format, I am working towards a deeper and more individualized curriculum.  We have always aimed to do this and have seen successes, but adding the iPad as another tool will make a tremendous difference. Not only will we be better able to connect to students' passions and interests, but we will also be able to better monitor and assess learning.  We will also be able to document student work at every step of the process.  We will be able to show brainstorming sessions, revisions, and final presentations in a number of different ways.  To better utilize the new tool, I have created a learning space that is flexible in facilitating whole class instruction while also providing quiet spaces for small groups to work.  The new space will also promote a culture of meaningful conversation of which I will be an active participant.  I hope that my conversations will look more like a spider web rather than a game of tennis, always returning to the teacher.

To honor the true pace of learning: It is easy to add more to the plate, but it is hard to take things off. This year I hope to maintain a pace that encourage investigation, reflection, respect, and community.  
I revisited one of my favorite books, Time to Teach, Time to Learn by Chip Wood and was once again struck by how many times we interfere with children's natural tendencies to learn through investigation, exploration, and play.  As I plan units with my students, I hope to keep in mind that our journey should be a relaxing one filled with wonder and excitement.  

I am about to start my 16th year in the classroom.  To be honest, I still get butterflies.  However, I know that I have a strong Professional Learning Network to support me, and familiar faces near and far who can help me grow as an educator.  I am also lucky to say I have eager and curious learners as part of my network, and together we will do amazing things.  Have a great year!