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!


  1. Great post Janice. Perfect example of how our curriculum can never be static - we, as teachers, are always learning. I'm glad to hear that you are finding real value in Schoology. I have heard that students are enjoying the platform as well - they seem to like the structure it gives to their class. I think it's a great place to have your students communicate in spanish as well as english. Keep us posted!

  2. Yes, Page! I have already posted a couple of "discussions." It is great to give direct and quick feedback and to collaborate. So far, most of my students seemed pleased with the ease of use and the organization features it offers.