And the single best tool I recommend to other teachers is….?

Is the phone? a pencil? the paper? the act of collaboration? all of these?

Where is the tool? Is it an app on the phone? the pencil? the paper? the act of collaboration? all of these? none of these?

I’m often asked what my favorite educational technology tools are. The question usually goes something like this: “With all of this emphasis on education technology and 21st century teaching and learning, what is one tool you would recommend to other teachers?” My response?

Selectivity

Before you rush off to the app store or to your computer to try selectivity.com (which is NOT a site, by the way), remember that a tool doesn’t have to be technology. In fact, according to webster.com, the origin of the word “tool” actually comes “from Old English tōl; akin to Old English tawian to prepare for use.”

Although I have a fairly well developed list of great tools for teachers and students, none would make the grade as “one tool I would recommend.” The single best tool in the teacher’s belt is the ability to be selective: there is no ONE best tool; only the ability to evaluate all the available tools and thoughtfully select the right tool for this group of students at this time to accomplish this task–and to do so in a way better than it could be accomplished without the tool.

Let’s go back to Webster’s explanations of the origins of the word “tool.” I find that this etymology is particularly appropriate for education.  As teachers, our work is not to teach students facts, figures, dates, or even words in a new language. All of these can be looked up with a device they carry with them in their pockets. Our role is to facilitate their preparation to use information, knowledge, creativity, collaborative and interpersonal skills for life, work and citizenship. When researching content for history, science, or other classes, they need practice creating effective search terms to narrow the otherwise potentially overwhelming tidal wave of search results provided by Google. Then they need practice critically evaluating those refined search results to determine authenticity, validity and bias. They need to be selective.  When choosing how to prepare their next class presentation, students need practice navigating the dozens of available tools, ultimately selecting the best one for the job and then figuring out how to use it effectively.  Therefore, selectivity isn’t just for teachers. We must endow students with this as well. Selectivity could become the most important tool they take with them after high school to allow them thrive purposefully and conscientiously in a society inundated with information and misinformation; a society replete with great tools they want to use today being replaced by even better tools tomorrow.

Rich, Relevant, Rigorous….and completely redesigned

I have always been passionate about providing a rich, relevant and rigorous education for all learners. In addition to always practice what I teach in my work with students in my French classes, I also try to help other teachers reshape their approaches to education through my blog and through my professional learning programs at conferences and institutes by reframing the traditional view of teaching to emphasize designing more for teaching than for “covering” and more for learning than for teaching.

Through extensive work with thematic instruction centered on authentic materials and equally authentic assessment, my students have made significant gains in proficiency compared to their performance in my tentative first years as a teacher, going back to when I began teaching in 1993.

But the past two years, I have noticed a lot of talk about “learning targets” throughout the education community. And a lot more talk about assessment and grading practices. And I finally started seeing the “Can-do” statements and “Integrated Performance Assessments” (“IPAs”) from the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages and many other organizations devoted to world language education everywhere.  It turns out they had been around for a while and I was just oblivious.  I realized that while I was doing “well” by most measures, and had even started on the road to reforming my grading and assessment practices, I had fallen behind. I wasn’t using “can-do” statements to guide my instruction. Until last year, I had never even seen an “Integrated Performance Assessment”, let alone designed one (I did both last year).

Over the years, I have done a lot of “teaching” both in class and at conferences, but it was time for me to learn. I went to Pearson’s Assessment Training Institute in Oregon this past summer (see many of the notes shared by myself and others on Twitter). I bought many books on assessment and grading and began reading like a teacher about to start her first semester with her own rostered class. I sought and devoured information online about IPAs and Can-do statements.

So right at the end of summer, when my week-after-week of travel finally came to an end (fun as it was, I got very little done), I did it. I changed every thing. I changed my grading, assessment and lesson design to start with the Can-do statements, not with the first unit in my textbook. To be clear, my textbook helped me sequence (although I often changed their sequence to better suit my students’ learning needs) and it provides a fair amount of well-designed practice, but the book never taught my class. I designed EVERY lesson we learn; students are never told to “turn to page 54 and study the verb chart.” Or, “turn to page 122 and copy the vocab list.” Nevertheless, I came to the realization that I could do better for my students.

I made our online student information (and grading) system do my bidding to allow all grades to be proficiency-based on not on the traditional 0-100% scale. This allows my grading to match what I’ve always wanted to do with my rubrics, but couldn’t because a 1-2-3-4 rubric ends up skewed. Why? because, by the “traditional” math the traditional teaching scale (and online gradebook) understands, a 1 is an F, a 2 is an F, a 3 is a C and a 4 is an A. Here is the document I now give students with some basic info about the class (I call it the “Path to Success”) on the front page and the grading information on the back.  I laid out year-end proficiency benchmarks for each mode of communication in each level of French and also identified the supporting Can-do statements we would develop along the way so the students achieve the benchmarks.

Last week, I began designing my first units starting with the Can-do statements, including exactly which words and structures students will need and precisely how students’ proficiency would be assessed so that I could provide that information to students and parents before the units even begin. There is a LOT of work ahead for me in order to even come close to what other teachers around the country are doing, but a journey must start with its first steps, and this is one of mine.

I don’t have any French 1 this year, and I still have to do French 4/AP

For the first time in years, my instruction is rich, relevant, rigorous. And completely redesigned. It’s an exciting journey. I’m sure that at points, I will exit the main highway. The detours may be valuable, or I may just get lost along the way. Either way, I’ll post here so you can come along for the ride.

Some of the first documents to come from my journey towards truly proficiency-driven instruction and grading

Some of the first documents to come from my journey towards truly proficiency-driven instruction and grading

 

P.S., if you’d like to see some of the resources and great thinkers that are informing my journey, check out the links below:

  • Interactive, online version of ACTFL-NCSSFL Global Benchmarks (and can-do statements)
  • Ohio Foreign Language Association IPA resources
  • Teacher Effectiveness for Language Learning (TELL) Project resources
  • Great thinkers in world language education: Tom Welch, Thomas Sauer, Linda Egnatz, Toni Theisen (search them on Google and on Twitter!)
  • Great thinkers in assessment and grading (search form them–and their books–on Google and Twitter):
    • Ken O’Connor (A Repair Kit for Grading: 15 Fixes for Broken Grades, Second Edition, 2011);
    • Jan Chappuis (Seven Strategies of Assessment for Learning, 2009, and Creating and Recognizing Quality Rubrics, with Judith A. Arter, 2006)
    • Rick Stiggins (Revolutionize Assessment: Embpower Students, Inspire Learning, 2014)
    • Tom Schimmer (Ten Things that Matter, From Assessment to Grading, 2014)
    • Myron Dueck (Grade Smarter, Not Harder, 2014)
    • Ken Mattingly doesn’t have a book yet, but he is a great teacher, great speaker, and said one thing that I now say to my students: “Today is a great day to make a mistake.” Because unless we’re administering an assessment, any day should be a safe day for students to make a mistake. Find him on Twitter!

UPDATED: 2 tools are better than one: comparing Socrative and Kahoot

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(Updated September 7, 2015 to reflect new features in Socrative 2.0).

Sometimes we want a quick check to see how our students are doing with a topic. We want to ask a few questions and know right away if the students were right or wrong. We want to be able to discuss questions students got wrong in the moment, so they can learn from their mistakes and deepen their understanding. 

Many tools exist that allow us to “poll” and “quiz” students on computers, tablets, or smartphones. This updated post looks at two such tools. 

Kahoot is a free, Web-based tool that allows you to survey students, ask formative assessment questions, or facilitate an online discussion on computers or mobile devices. So far, that is very similar to Socrative, which I have successfully used numerous times. For this post, I will be discussing only Kahoot’s “quiz” features. Their discussion platform is content for another post.

When I first found Kahoot, I was most immediately drawn to the feature that shows a bar graph after each question; this was a feature that was lacking in the first version of Socrative. Fortunately, since being acquired by MasteryConnect, quite a few enhancements have been added to Socrative. One of my favorites is when you choose a “teacher run” quiz, it now lets you press a button called “How are we doing?” after all students have responded. The result is the bar graph showing how many students chose each answer. This feature is critical in classes that are serious about formative assessment, or assessment for learning. With the bar graphs, I can have my students engage in conversations about what made one answer right and the others wrong. Or students can discuss what would have to be different about the other responses in order for them to be correcct. Now that both Kahoot and Socrative provide this feature, Socrative will return to my menu of  formative assessment tools I use regularly in class.

Perhaps my favorite new feature in Socrative is the “student-paced, student-navigated” quiz. There was a “student-paced” version before, but now, teachers can also opt to have students complete a version in which students can freely navigate quiz, including skipping questions and coming back to them later. They can also edit their responses. This can be useful for formative assessment, but there is another potential use for this particular quiz tool: Since you can add photos to Socrative (and Kahoot) and ask questions based on the photos, teachers can now develop quizzes in which some information is provided via photo (which could even be a screen shot of text on a Web page) for them to evaluate in one question and then a different viewpoint or a photo with additional information is provided in a subsequent question. Since students can navigate freely, they are also free to change their minds as they are exposed to new sets of information, data (such as charts/graphs used as photo prompts for questions), or perspectives. This is a valuable skill that teachers are (or should be) developing across the curriculum. Students must leave our educational programs able to not only form an opinion and justify it, but to form an opinion and re-evaluate their own beliefs in the face of new information…perhaps even leading to changing their minds. Socrative’s “student-paced, student-navigated” quiz could be one way to provide practice in exactly that kind of evaluation and re-evaluation of points of view.

Gamifying formative assessment

space_race_3

Two teams competing in Socrative’s Space Race. They receive feedback on their devices as to whether their answers were right or wrong.

Kahoot "quiz" screen durin gcompetition. Students' devices only show colors and shapes for answer choices. All text is on the front screen.

Kahoot “quiz” screen durin gcompetition. Students’ devices only show colors and shapes for answer choices. All text is on the front screen.

In the area of engagement, Socrative’s Space Race is still quite good, but I have to say that when it comes to student engagement, Kahoot still comes out on top for me if we are doing checks-for-understanding or very concrete formative assessments.  
 
Space Race shows them questions, and uses team rockets (by color) to show which team is making progress the fastest, but my students are even more engaged when the “quiz” starts on Kahoot. In fact, I can hear their engagement. Why? Because it uses a valuable instructional strategy: it builds in thinking time. Kahoot does this by initially showing the question and then waiting several seconds before the response choices are visible and before they can be selected on student devices. As a result, I can hear the student teams discussing the question and formulating answers before the choices even appear. Once the choices are visible, I can also hear my students discussing why their choice wasn’t there, or I can hear their validation when their correct choice was present.
 
In both Socrative’s Space Race and in Kahoot, students receive immediate feedback on their devices regarding their responses. Here are some feedback screens students see in Socrative and Kahoot.
 
Student screen after a correct response (this version had no written "feedback" about the responses)

Student screen after a correct response (this version had no written “feedback” about the responses)

 
Incorrect response, as seen on student's device. When not playing "space race" students can also receive comments about why they answer was incorrect (you must create the comments when you create the quiz).

Incorrect response, as seen on student’s device. When not playing “space race” students can also receive comments about why they answer was incorrect (you must create the comments when you create the quiz).

Here's what the student sees when he/she selects an incorrect response in Kahoot.

Here’s what the student sees when he/she selects an incorrect response.

At the end of the Kahoot  game, students receive an overall score and ranking and can share on social media.

At the end of the Kahoot game, students receive an overall score and ranking and can share on social media.

Additionally, my students–who are studying French in grades 9-12–also seem to prefer the competition style used in Kahoot to Socrative’s “Space Race”.  They like the fact that each question is timed, They also really like the “leaderboard”. After each question, and after showing the bar graph of the responses, Kahoot shows which teams are in the lead. Teams get more points for providing a correct response quickly, so leaderboard can change drastically after just one question.
 
It should be noted that my students work in teams when we use personal devices in class for two reasons: the first is that our district’s bandwidth isn’t sufficient for all of them to be on their devices at once (which led to a lot of crash-and-burn frustrations with technology when I first started using tools like Socrative, InfuseLearning and Kahoot in class since the students’ devices would be randomly dropped from the school’s wifi). The second reason we do teams is because not all students are able to bring a device to school. As a result, I do not “grade” the students with these formative assessment tools. I have other ways (and other times) to assign a grade for their proficiency with a given topic (see my post on grading and assessment).
 
Getting back to the topic, in my classes, with its use of think time and the leaderboard, student engagement appears to be enhanced with Kahoot. But, I mentioned earlier that another key factor in choosing an online formative assessment tool is real-time data. This is really where Kahoot and Socrative both shine, in slightly different ways. Both tools have the capacity to show bar graphs with data regarding how many teams chose each response. In Socrative, the best type of quiz for this appears to be “teacher-paced”. This version of your quizzes will allow to you choose to display a bar graph after any question. It is not automatically displayed as it is in Kahoot. As mentioned above, in Socrative, you have to click the button called “how are we doing?” in order for the bar graph to appear, but once you click on it, the graph is very clear and each option is easy to see and discuss. Socrative has another great feature that is not available in Kahoot: it allows you to also toggle on or off the display of feedback regrading their answers to the students on their devices. This is defaulted to “off” in the teacher-paced quizzes, probably to facilitate the discussions you would want to have after the bar graphs are displayed. However, in student-paced quizzes, you can opt to turn on the feedback. If you typed in any information about why a certain answer was right or wrong, that information will be provided to the students after they submit each response. This is not an option in Kahoot (they are told the right answer, but there is no way to push information to their devices that tells them why it is the right answer or what makes the other answers wrong). It is also easier to have students complete a quiz anytime, anywhere in Socrative: as a teacher you can just open a quiz and leave it running…any student who joins your “room” will see that quiz after they sign in. However, you can only run one quiz at a time, so if you teach several different classes, like me, you will have to be sure to “finish” a quiz that is running before you can start another one.
 
When doing the quizzes In Kahoot, the bar graph automatically displays after all responses have been received or after the time runs out for the question. In the bar graph, the incorrect responses are washed out and the correct response is still in full color. I do wish Kahoot would NOT wash out the incorrect choices, because we actually do the most important part of the formative assessment once all the students’ responses are visible. But, at least can immediately see how many teams selected each response and I can facilitate the discussion from there.Whether we’re looking at the bar graph from Socrative or the one from Kahoot, our follow-up conversation in class typically goes something like this:
 
“I see that two teams selected choice B [normally I will state the actual language in the choice] and another team selected choice A. Turn to your partners and discuss what makes choice C correct and what specifically is wrong with A and B.”
 
Or sometimes, I might ask them “what would have to be different/true to make choice A correct.” Either way, the point is that we have a conversation after each question, unless no teams got the answer wrong. This is how we can help students learn from formative assessment. Using the “teacher-paced” quiz in Socrative or the regular quiz format in Kahoot both allow us to have those important conversations.
 
What about when the quiz is over? What data is available to to the teacher? Both Socrative and Kahoot provide a variety of data reports teachers can analyze, including whole-class response graphs for all the questions, and data on individual students or even how the whole class responded to individual questions. Here are some screens of the data reports you can look at in both tools:
 
Socrative report request screen (note the many ways you can get the report: email, download, GoogleDrive, etc.)
Socrative's report request screen. You can request individual student data, individual question data and/or an overall report.

Socrative’s report request screen. You can request individual student data, individual question data and/or an overall report.

Kahoot’s spreadsheets:
You can see data about one question from this Kahoot screen, including how many got it right or wrong, how each student answered, and even how long each student took to arrive at a response.

You can see data about one question from this Kahoot screen, including how many got it right or wrong, how each student answered, and even how long each student took to arrive at a response.

 
Kahoot provides one other type of data for teachers: students can actually evaluate the quiz after completing it. They can rate it 0-5 stars for how “fun” it is, indicate if they felt they actually learned from participating, whether or not they liked it and whether or not they would recommend it. This screen was not from an actual class, but rather me taking the quiz as two students and I forgot to click on the stars…
Getting feedback from the students regarding their perceptions and feelings after participating in Kahoot.

Getting feedback from the students regarding their perceptions and feelings after participating in Kahoot.

 
So, where does all this leave us? Since it is important to have a variety of tools (both for student interest and because we must always select the right tool for the right situation), Socrative will remain in my tool box and Kahoot has become the newest permanent member of the box. Socrative one additional advantage over Kahoot in one situation in particular: if I have the computer carts available–or are giving students time to access from home or a library (so all students can answer individually, in a non-competitive, more “serious” format), Socrative trumps Kahoot. It presents questions and answers very clearly and “cleanly” on the student’s device.  Kahoot requires that students be able to see the questions projected at the front, because only the answer choices  appear on their devices–and even then they only appear as colors and shapes–the text of the answers is also only available on the front screen. This makes Kahoot great for doing formative assessment as a whole class, but not so much for assessments they are intended to complete individually or that might even be graded by the teacher. Again, having a variety of tools in the tool box is important. It’s also important to remember that life isn’t multiple choice, so as often as my students ask if we can “play Kahoot again”, I use all such tools very selectively and far less frequently than they would like.
 
And because we all need a toolbox with more than one tool, here is a list of formative assessment tools I use with my students:
  1. Kahoot: Create your account at https://getkahoot.com/. Students participate at https://kahoot.it
  2. Socrative: teachers create at t.socrative.com. Students access and participate at m.socrative.com
  3. Google forms (with Flubaroo script to grade and email feedback if the answers are multiple choice). Here is some information and tutorials: Forms: https://sites.google.com/site/classinthecloud/google-docs Flubaroo: https://sites.google.com/site/classinthecloud/scripts-for-ed 
  4. InfuseLearning: In addition to the usual multiple choice and open-ended quiz formats, this tool has two really great features for use on students’ mobile devices the others don’t have. The first is “draw”: so students can draw a response on their screens and submit it. Then we can discuss the drawings. This is great for vocabulary practice, especially if you have them draw a “symbol” to represent abstract vocabulary. Then, on your screen at the front, you can project the results with all of their symbols and students can try to identify which words/phrases the symbols represent. The other nice feature in InfuseLearning is the ability for the teacher to “push” a URL to the students’ devices. So you can send them a Web page you want them to view, or a video, or any other item that has a URL. For example, I record some of my lessons so students can review them later. They are housed online, some on YouTube and some in other places, depending on the tools I used. With “push”, I can send all of my students the video lesson. Create your account at http://teacher.infuselearning.com/. Students participate at http://student.infuselearning.com/

Also, remember that learning management systems such as Edmodo and Schoology have built-in quizzing and polling features you can also use, as well as providing a classroom community where students and teachers can communicate and a one-stop shop where you can upload, link and store all resources for each of your lessons. And there is now a whole suite of tools hitting the Web that allow you to build questions around video content. Sounds like the topic of a separate post!

Link

Using Google Art Project, Google Cultural Institute to build proficiency in CCSS speaking and writing

Using Google Art Project, Google Cultural Institute to build proficiency in CCSS speaking and writing

Check out my guest post on the EdTechTeam blog about annotation tools I found in Google Art Project that give students more practice in speaking and writing for specific purposes and audiences.

Three reasons why I blend but don’t completely flip

A review provided via video as a homework assignment

A review provided via video as a homework assignment

After having spent a couple of years reading numerous blogs on “flipped” learning, seeing posts all over social media espousing the benefits of flipped learning, and watching a few videos of how other teachers in all subjects are flipping their instruction, I decided to at least start experimenting.

But before I could flip or blend, I had to give some serious thought to the concept. I had some very basic questions first:

  • What does it mean to “flip” instruction?
  • How does “flipping” compare to “blending”

After having a bit read more, I came up with definitions that worked for me (but may not be the “official” definitions…if there are official definitions).

  • Flipped instruction means that instructors use technological tools, often videos on the Internet, for their direct instruction of content-specific concepts. Homework is now redefined as watching the videos (or completing other technologically designed lessons) and what used to be homework is now done in class, where the students can benefit from the help and interaction of teacher and peers. There may also be additional resources for extra practice, continued instruction, formative assessment, or enrichment provided online.
  • Blended learning means that instructors use technological tools, especially those available online, to provide a variety of resources to their students so that learning can continue and/or be reinforced beyond the school day. Some of these resources may include instructional videos, but not all instruction is delivered via video. Blended programs provide some instruction in class and some via video and supplement the in-class learning with extensive access to online resources for review, practice or enrichment.

For my own instruction, I came to the conclusion that blended would be more effective and more appropriate. Although I am naturally drawn to the concept of dedicating almost 100% of class time to rich, interactive application of concepts and vocabulary learned, I know my own limitations. I cannot truly flip my instruction. You may wonder why not. Especially if you know me. I’m certainly not afraid of the technology! So let me outline three reasons why I purposefully only deliver a small percentage of my lessons on video, but supplement their learning with extensive access to online practice, additional videos by other teachers on the topics we’re studying, and most importantly, numerous links to authentic documents addressing the topics about which we are speaking in class.

  1. True flipping requires that instructional content be delivered via video. To do all of my content this way goes against everything I believe about student-centered instruction: I don’t know how to do videos that aren’t basically teacher-centered “lectures” that students watch. Yes, they can watch at their own pace. Yes, they can stop, rewind, rewatch the video or even just a portion of the video that caused them difficulty. Yes, I can (and do) craft checks for understanding that are part of my video lessons so students know if they are understanding the material. But ultimately, my video lessons are still less student-centered than my in-person lessons.
  2. The ideal video lesson is short, preferably around five minutes. The material should be almost impossible for students to misunderstand. One of the main reasons  I don’t flip all of my instruction is because I am not convinced that I have the skill necessary to teach every one of my concepts in a way that is unmistakably clear and also concise enough to fit in five minutes of video. So I select only the topics that I know students will readily understand and that are easy to deliver quickly…although I still tend to take closer to 10 minutes per video. Definitely still have work to do here!
  3. Finally, we must address the issue that is unique to language classes: the content must be delivered entirely in the target language both in class and online.  When I look for related videos to add to my students’ resource pages, I am so frequently disappointed to find that the majority of videos posted online explain the language in English. This defeats the purpose of target language instruction and results in lower proficiency outcomes (research shows that students achieve higher proficiency when at least 90% of all instructional time is in the target language). For me, some topics are easier to do online in the target language than others. For year one students, thematic vocabulary works well. Most first-year courses feature vocabulary that is very concrete and for which one can find pictures that make it virtually impossible for students to misunderstand. As the students develop higher levels of proficiency, there are more options for teaching new material in the target language, but I still don’t find all topics suited to flipping. For some topics I prefer to see my students’ faces as I teach and during checks for understanding so I can modify instruction on the spot and ensure the lesson meets all of their needs. Other topics are not suited to flipped instruction because they are actually better taught in an interactive setting rather than via videos watched at home.

Ultimately, flipping (and blending) are like so many other approaches and materials available to educators: they are tools. We need to remember that no single approach is every going to be the most appropriate approach for every lesson or every class of students. We must choose from all of the tools at our disposal to craft the most engaging, productive and relevant lessons for our students. Sometimes, this means that delivering a lesson online will be the best method to address our students’ needs and our instructional goals. Other times, we know that our target objectives simply can’t be met by students viewing a video in isolation: they need to the contact and interaction with others in order to fully understand the concept and to be able to internalize it and make it part of their working language and cultural knowledge.

In spite my own limitations in terms of creating excellent learning via video, I am consistently working on increasing the number of my lessons that are available on video, adding a few videos a year across four levels of French. Why? In order to address the needs of students who were absent or who just find themselves in need of reviewing a topic. Throughout the year, I pick occasional topics for which I record additional lessons so that over the period of several years, I will have built a substantial bank of video lessons my students can consult online if they choose. Of course, this matches my definition of “blended” rather than “flipped” instruction. The videos are there as a resource, but they are not the sole source of content instruction in my classes. They also aren’t fancy. One area of improvement would be for me to include video of me talking in a window in the corner because research shows students have slightly higher outcomes if they can see the teacher in addition to hearing him/her. Another improvement would be for me to have fun with my videos. They are very straightforward and to the point right now. Almost to a fault.

I have found one more great use for blended learning: teacher absences. Don’t get me wrong: I don’t expect teachers to design flipped instruction when they are sick. But I am frequently absent for presentations, accreditation visits of other schools and other professional needs. Because I am absent significantly more than average, I need my students to be able to continue learning even if I am not in the room to teach them and even if they have a substitute who speaks no French. Bring on the flipped lessons. I don’t use them every time I’m absent, but I made great use of them on a recent two-day absence to film a promotional video for National Geographic’s Geo-Educator community. I was absent Friday and the following Tuesday for the flights to and from Washington D.C. (Monday was a holiday). For French 1, I designed a video lesson with built-in checks for understanding regarding personal possessions. My substitute is a retired teacher from my department and knows my technology, so she ran the lesson from my computer and LCD projector. That lesson was delivered on the first day of a two-day absence and it ensured that students were prepared to engage in even more practice activities the second day. Additionally, I purchased in-air wi-fi and I was available to answer students’ questions during my flight to Washington D.C. I only received one question, but I was so happy to be able to be in contact with the class even if I couldn’t be there physically. Students could reach me through the messaging portal of our class network on Schoology (a free tool similar to Edmoto). On the second day of my absence (which was the day of my flight home), I had a different type of flipped learning event ready for my French 4/AP students: I organized a series of authentic documents (video and print media) about important inventions into a folder in Schoology. Students started the lesson by viewing the documents and noting the different inventions as well as their opinions of the inventions. Once they had reviewed the documents, they were instructed to participate in an online discussion (like a forum) I had set up in Schoology. This proved to be very effective. I was online with them in real time for the entire lesson, interacting with them in the discussion from my seat on the plane. I could see how well they understood the documents and could also observe their facility or difficulties with French as they discussed the various inventions in French.

Blending or flipping…or neither. The approach is up to you as long as your decision is always grounded in the approach that will result in the best learning experiences and highest proficiency for your students. If you would like to get started, here are just some of the free tools you can use to record (Google any of these tools to find more information and even tutorials).

On computers

  • Jing by Techsmith. Limited to five minutes. Also does great screenshots.
  • MyBrainshark is an online tool that allows you to add narration to PowerPoints with a microphone or even a telephone. The result is then converted to a movie that anyone can watch on almost any device. This is great for teachers who already use PowerPoint to design lessons and therefore have a lot of material already in that format. Here is a sample for French 1 with the numbers 60-79 taught with photos of the numbers being used in authentic ways (such as highway signs) around the French-speaking world.

On tablets

  • Educreations (iPad) gives you a whiteboard with a voice record feature.
  • Touchcast (app and desktop versions)

You’ll also want to explore ways to check for understanding, especially ways that you can embed into your videos. One of the easiest is to create a quick formative assessment in Google Forms. Another option, is to use the quiz features in many learning platforms, including Edmodo and Schoology. Such a learning platform will probably become a necessity if you begin to flip or blend anyway because you will need a robust Web space to organize and share all of your content.

A third option for building in checks for understanding is to create a lesson series that includes your video and other content. You can then sequence all of the material in an online tool such as LessonPaths (formerly Mentormob) or BlendSpace (formerly EdCanvas), both of which allow you include quiz features and/or other activities. It should be noted that the conversion from Mentormob to LessonPaths is not complete yet and new users cannot use it yet. If you have an existing Mentormob account, you can still use that.

Blending provides our students with 24/7 access to instructional content, tutorials, extra practice and enrichment. It is not really an instructional strategy as much as it is a complex system of instructional resources organized for use in class or out of class, during the school day or after hours. Blending may (and often does) include some flipped lessons (meaning they were never delivered in class, only online). Students and parents have responded very favorably, particularly regarding the accessibility of resources. When students have been absent, they have always appreciated it when video lessons were available.

I’ve already crossed the bridge from delivering all content in class to delivering some content online. There really is no going back: over time, more and more of my lessons will be available online and some of those will only be delivered online. In addition, the bank of additional resources available to students will also become more diverse. Maybe I’ll see you occasionally appearing on the flip side as well.

Tips for working with large (language) classes

The other day, a friend wrote me and some other French teacher colleagues on Facebook asking how to handle large classes in the lower levels. Over the course of my Facebook conversation with her, I realized I was sharing some tips that could be appropriate to a lot of teachers’ situations. Not all of the tips are uniquely mine. They come from years of experience, talking to colleagues, a lot of reading, and more than a few presentations I’ve attended that inspired me while I learned from others.

Here is my reply to her:

I’m sure you actually know all this, but coming from someone who routinely has 35+ in the lower levels, I recommend routines: seat them in partners; give them a warm up every day (it doesn’t have to be written–they can warm up with short question-answer segments related to previous teaching). They do this while you take roll. Try to do at least one out-of-seat mingle activity in the language every couple of days. Design board games they can play in groups of four for vocabulary and grammar practice. Also effective are dice games, index card games, versions of tic-tac-toe and battleship to practice language.

To meet students’ need for resources and help away from the classroom, try to provide to provide reteaching, review and formative assessment resources online so that if they had questions and you weren’t able to answer (or they didn’t feel comfortable asking) or if they were absent, they can still catch up or keep up. And of course, target language immersion with lots of gestures, visual support and modeling will actually help with classroom management.

If you are allowed to use phones and other devices, I highly recommend designing some practice and formative assessment using online tools such as PollEverywhere, Socrative, InfuseLearning, and Google forms. This way, you and the students can efficiently get (and discuss) a lot of data about their understanding and progress. Socrative and InfuseLearning provide multiple, interesting ways for your students to respond.

To get speaking samples from all of your students quickly, set up a Google Voice phone number and they can leave you a voice message in French. They can even do it all at the same time from your room (turn off the feature that forwards Google voice to your cell phone first otherwise they cannot all leave a message at the same time). Within five minutes, you can have an audio response from each of your students that you can later listen to in order to give feedback—this is great in large classes! But, be sure to remind them to state their names in their messages if you wish to give individual feedback.

If you have the whole class preparing a presentation, consider having the students use an online presentation creator such as SlideRocket, Google presentation, or Prezi.  When the students are ready to submit their presentations, create a Google form with just two questions:

  1. What is your name? and
  2. Paste the link to your presentation here. Be sure your presentation is “public”.

When the students complete the form, it will automatically create a spreadsheet for all of the responses. When you want students to give their presentations to the class, you won’t lose time opening, closing and ejecting hard drives; you will merely open the spreadsheet from your Google Drive and you can click seamlessly and efficiently from one presentation to the next. This saves enormous amounts of class time. The larger the class, the more time it saves. You can also easily access their presentations later from any computer with Internet for more detailed grading.

To manage the task of answering numerous students’ questions in a large class, start an “ask three then me” system to make it easier to address student questions during independent and group work.  In this system, before they can raise their hands for your help, they must have first sought help from three different students. If none of them know the answer, chances are it is a question you should address with the class anyway.

Do you have tips for maximizing instructional time with large classes? Post them in the comments!

Check out teaching activities created in MentorMob and EdCanvas

UPDATE: since publication, both tools have changed their name and also their Web addresses.  MentorMob is now LessonPaths and can be found at http://www.lessonpaths.com. EdCanvas is now Blendspace and is found at http://www.blendspace.com.

After completing my “Side-by-Side” post comparing online thematic content curation on MentorMob and EdCanvas, I ultimately chose to create student learning experiences using both tools.

As noted in the original post, I used MentorMob to create a multi-media introduction in to hunger in the world for my French 2 students to set the stage for an article from the United Nations that they would be reading. Students are exposed to statistics in the form of videos, infographics, running counters and other online resources, all of which are organized into “steps” in the MentorMob playlist.

For my French 4/AP class, I needed something different. With the Peace Corps’ World Wise Schools program, they have been corresponding with a Peace Corps volunteer in Bénin (a French-speaking country in West Africa) since the beginning of the year, but I’ve found that they have struggled to craft thoughtful, detailed responses to her letters to us. So, I decided to use EdCanvas as the platform take her last two letters (yes, we did fall behind!) and chunk them into smaller pieces, including some additional Internet content along the way. And of course, there are activities and other prompts for students to compare, analyze, reflect and respond to what they are seeing in both her letters and in the related content I put at their disposal.

In order to provide the most fair comparison for readers about the two tools, you should see finished activities created for student use. Both MentorMob and EdCanvas provide excellent options for teachers to lay out a rich, multi-media presentation that includes interactivity and is sequenced to enhance student understanding. You can see both the French 2 and French 4/AP activities at the top of the home page of my class Web site.
Class Web Site

Feel free to try the activities out for yourselves…of course, they are all in French :-) In my classes, both of these learning experiences are leading directly to a more focused student language production activity. After doing the activities on MentorMob, French 2 students will work in groups to read a chunk of the the U.N. article, write a summary of their section and create a visual representation of the statistics in their section. Then, all the groups will circulate to examine the work of the other groups and rank the different statistics in order of importance. Ultimately, they will create their own infographics using the statistics in the entire article and they will have the option to also include information from the content they will have viewed on MentorMob.
The French 4/AP students will reply to Megan, write introductory letters to the students in the village school, and begin a collection drive for the art and school supplies our Peace Corps volunteer had earlier indicated were lacking in the school.

Side by Side: comparing EdCanvas and MentorMob for curating online content for students

This week, my students in French 2 are continuing their study of food and nutrition. In order to further their study and take it beyond lists of foods to memorize, I wanted to use an article I tried with French 2 last year. The article, Ten Things You Need to Know About Hunger, 2013 comes from the World Food Program (funded by the United Nations)– and is available in French and English  as well as in other languages. The article is redone every year with new statistics. Those statistics that haven’t changed are used again the following year. The article is broken into 10 small chunks, making it very easy to work with in a world language class, although the students do need some vocabulary support.

Last year, I had students work in groups with just one “chunk” from the article. They read and discussed their assigned part and then converted the statistics printed in that part into some kind of visual representation for the rest of the class: a bar graph, pie chart or other representations. They also wrote a summary sentence about their statistics in simpler French. Students then circulated, visited all the groups and ranked the different statistics in order of importance (based on their own opinions. The activity went quite well, but I wanted to expand on it for this year, so I decided to provide an introduction to the article by first having students examine online, multi-media information about hunger in the world (some of which is the same information in the article they will see). I needed tools that would allow me to organize and annotate the resources so that the students can progress meaningfully through the various photos, videos and infographics I had found.

I chose two tools that are both designed for education for this purpose and created essentially the same curated site of online documents and activities in both tools. The first tool I tried was EdCanvas and the second tool in which I organized the same resources was MentorMob.  And the idea for a side-by-side comparison was born. So, here is my first side-by-side tool review: MentorMob and EdCanvas.

What they do

Both tools allow you to select web content, images, and files you want your students to examine and experience. Both tools also help you to put those resources in order so that students see them in the order you would want them to experience them, even if you are not the one clicking “next”. This allows them to view the content anytime, anywhere and still experience it in the order you intended.

Here are images of the two home screens (what you see when you sign in). You will see any items you have created using the tools in a list.

Ease of use from a desktop or laptop computer

MentorMob is very intuitive for both teachers and students, especially if users have experience with Web 2.0 tools that allow online editing. Content you add to MentorMob is organized in a playlist. Each item in the playlist is called a step. Students click “Next” in order to proceed to the next item in the playlist. Once they have moved to step 2 or beyond, students can also click on “previous” to revisit content they have already seen. EdCanvas is also very intuitive, especially if users have experience with Web 2.0 tools that allow online editing.    The content you add to EdCanvas is organized into “tiles” and the students will view the tiles in the order you have prescribed when creating the canvas. Students click on the left or right arrows that appear on the sides of the content to navigate to additional items.

Ease of use on phones and tablets

Here, there is a distinct difference between the two products. I tested them on an iPhone and an iPad, knowing that Flash objects are usually problematic with that operating system. MentorMob definitely came out on top in that regard. MentorMob (below, left) does a better job optimizing the pages for viewing on the mobile devices. In EdCanvas, the user has to move the image around in order to see the whole thing, as displayed in the two images on the right, below.

One issue that did come up with MentorMob on iPhone and iPad deals with “challenge questions” and “pop quizzes”. These will be discussed in more detail below, but users need to know that neither option currently works on mobile devices. I contacted MentorMob and they are working on making this available for mobile. For now, students need to be on desktops or laptops to respond to these activities.

Ease of creating and editing content for one’s project

MentorMob has an easy interface for adding content, but you have to have already identified any online content you wish to add. You can’t search from within MentorMob (although you can always open a new window/tab and search from there). You will notice that you can create a “step” that is a “quiz”. This feature is discusse da bit later. You can add links, upload files, write new content directly into a MentorMob step (as an “article”) or create a “pop quiz”, as shown in the image on the left.  In addition to adding your own documents (as in MentorMob), EdCanvas allows you to search for content for your project from within EdCanvas and the results appear in a window on the right of your current EdCanvas project (see below, right). You can also preview videos from within this search.  The Google button has a toggle switch to choose to search Google Images or Web search.  You can also upload documents from your Dropbox and Google Drive accounts.

Annotating your content

MentorMob gives you two ways to annotate your content: you can “write an article”, which becomes its own step (see the photo above), or you can edit the “details” for a step and those details are available as students look at the content for a step.

EdCanvas also has two ways to annotate content: you can create a description or add a comment. If you create a description in advance, it will appear as the first comment, to the right of the “canvas” when students are viewing it.If you choose to add a comment while watching an EdCanvas presentation, you may record 30 seconds of audio by clicking on the microphone, or you may type a comment, as indicated in the photo. The comment that is already there was added by creating the description of the tile in advance.

Creating student response activities

MentorMob has a clear advantage here if students will be viewing the playlist on a desktop or laptop computer rather than on a mobile device. You can create a “challenge question” for any step in the playlist. Challenge questions will pop up when the student clicks to go to the next step after viewing a step with the content on which the challenge question was based.

MentorMobChallengeQuestion

You can also create a “pop quiz” or “test”. These are actually the same thing, but the name changes depending on how you access it within MentorMob. When you want to create one, you choose “pop quiz” as the type of content you wish to add. When you’re actually editing/creating it, it is called a “test,” as you’ll see here:
MentorMobEditTest

One downside is that tests and challenge questions can only have multiple choice or true-false options in MentorMob. However, users can get around this by also using other online tools, such as Google Forms, PollEverywhere or Socrative to create an activity, and then they could make a new “step” with a link to that activity. Another downside, as mentioned earlier, is that neither quizzes nor challenge questions will appear if students are using mobile devices. If teachers know that students will be using mobile devices, they should plan to include these types of activities using other online tools such as Google forms, PollEverywhere or Socrative and inserting the links.

When it comes to creating activities for students to do as they view your curated content,  EdCanvas is at a clear disadvantage. There are no built-in options for student interaction with the content. Teachers using EdCanvas have the following options:

  • to type directions for some kind of activity either in the description or the comments (see above),
  • to provide an activity on paper,
  • or to use another online tool, such as Google Forms, PollEverywhere or Socrative to create an activity and then they could insert the link to that activity as a new tile. This can also be done in MentorMob and  is discussed further below.

Adding other types of content from online tools

MentorMob and EdCanvas both do this very easily. In MentorMob, you find (or create) the online content you want and then choose “Paste link” to put the URL for that content into your play list. In EdCanvas, you find or create your online content and then choose the “Web search” icon to put the URL for that content into your playlist.

Adding content while browsing the Web

If you use Chrome as your browser, you can install an extension for MentorMob that will allow you to add an online resource to any playlist you have already created just by clicking the MentorMob extension. EdCanvas has a “bookmark this” snippet so that you can bookmark any Web document to EdCanvas while you are browsing.  Simply drag it from the bookmarked resources onto the new tile. It does not require you to specify which canvas you wish to add the bookmark to. Instead, you will later select that bookmarked item while you edit the canvas in which you would like to place the item as a new tile.

The nitty gritty….MentorMob or EdCanvas?

So after all of this, which one did I choose for my students? Both were easy to use. Both are free. Both are promising in terms of curating content for students and guiding them in their interactions with the content. Both also have glitches and quirks. But in the end, although I was impressed with the in-program search, drag and drop features of EdCanvas, I ultimately chose MentorMob for the following reasons:

  1. With “challenge questions” and “test/pop quiz” features, MentorMob allows for more fluid and intuitive creation of student activities to help them process the content you’ve curated and interact with that conten. In fact, just having these features present reminds teachers to engage their students with the content rather than have them passively view it. Admittedly, this will be an even bigger selling point when it works on mobile devices, given how many schools (including mine) depend on student devices in order to increase students’ access to the Internet at school. Our one computer lab form 2,000 students is almost always reserved and we do many of our online activities using students’ phones and tablets.
  2. With both EdCanvas and MentorMob, when students explore links you’ve provided, they also have access to all other hyperlinks on those pages, which merits a cautionary note by itself: those links may lead to content you did not intend for your students to see. I highly recommend that teachers “play student” and click around on the pages they are linking to their MentorMob and/or EdCanvas activities. That said, MentorMob has a helpful feature that is missing in EdCanvas: when students click on a link within a page in MentorMob, a message pops up at the top of the page letting them know they have left the original page and giving them a hyperlink back to the original page. Better still, this message appears even if the students click on two, three or several links that appear on a page.
  3. With mobile devices, the page layouts were typically more correct on mobile devices with MentorMob than they were were with EdCanvas.
  4. The interface of MentorMob is generally more attractive (this is opinion, but then again, a lot of decisions we make are at least partially driven by opinion). For example, the “Double Click to Add Text” feature in EdCanvas doesn’t have any formatting options for that text. I only wanted to type a small description, but a full-screen white page appears in the student view with tiny type at the top.  There is no way to designate a header or do any other formatting.

EdCanvasTextOption

In MentorMob, this same option is achieved by inserting an “Article”. When you do, you are prompted for a title, description and then content. Although you may still have a lot of white space on the page if the content is not long, the ability to designate separate titles, headers and descriptions provides students a more authentic and natural way to receive content in a format that is generally more attractive.

MentorMobArticleOption

Unfortunately, in the mobile version, the “article” view in MentorMob would benefit from a programming adjustment: it currently places the article too high on the page so the title of the article is difficult to read.That said, it does still possess more formatting than is present in EdCanvas mobile or desktop, making it easier for students to process the information presented. But, there is a lot of white space…scroll down to see the rest of the article.

MentorMobArticleViewSquished
Stay tuned for the next article in my “Side By Side” series: Using PollEveryWhere and Socrative to create engaging student activities and formative assessments they can access on their mobile devices.

Rigor without homework? Five good reasons

I’ve been experimenting with a monumental shift in my homework policy. My original policy had been in place since I started teaching in 1993: students typically had homework Monday – Thursday nights with occasional long-term projects. When choosing and deisgining homework activities, I did almost everything right, according to the research that does exist about best practices in homework: it was not busy work; it was clearly related to both the content of the lesson in class and the objectives on which students would be assessed later; it was not excessively long; and students had access to a variety of resources to help them complete it. Everything was right…except that there is mounting research that homework has no effect on student achievement.

In mid-fall, I made a paradigm shift and did away with virtually all of my homework assignments (see earlier post). Now that I have been working without regular homework for several months, it is time to analyze, reflect and decide if this approach is proving valuable for teaching and learning. And the answer is a resounding yes–yes it is valuable.

That is not to say that there haven’t been some difficulties along the way. The biggest issue is that it now takes me longer to complete the teaching, practice, reflection cycle with my students because almost all of the practice now has to fit into classtime (and because I’m still not ready to completely “flip” my instruction and have my students try to teach themselves at home….more on that in a separate post). So it appears we are going much slower than in the past.

But that is it. The only negative. The only “con” to this approach. Are there benefits? Absolutely.

  1. Students are completing almost 100% of the practice activities now. Before, some students (the “best” students) did all of the practice. Now ALL students are doing  ALL of the practice. Research shows that the majority of students don’t choose to “neglect” homework, but rather that they don’t complete it because they don’t think they understand the material well enough to bother trying. By doing the work in class students can get immediate assistance from their peers or from me. This minimizes their mistakes in general, it almost eliminates fossilization of errors, and it maximizes quality practice that reinforces correct usage/application of the content in their brains.
  2. Assessment scores have increased across the board. My current students are scoring higher than ever on their various assessments (and I’ve been teaching for 23 years). Although this is not a scientific study, I do have some basis for comparison since I actually teach the same students year after year. This is one of the joys and benefits of teaching French: I love how well I know my students and the community that develops within our room as relationships are given the opportunity to grow over several years.
  3. Students are asking for help more often and students are also serving as in-class resources, helping each other. I’ve always had my students sit in groups. This is a language class after all, and I would like their speaking environment to be as natural as possible. I always thought the students would help each other and that would be a side benefit of seating them in groups, but this is the first year that such peer-to-peer assistance has been commonplace. Better still, the students are learning about each others’ strengths, and I’ve heard all of my students contribute positively to the success of at least one other student by helping–no matter how “low” the student may appear to be.
  4. When students complete independent practice, they are ready to do it at home, without their peers or teacher nearby–and they are still getting it right! I don’t assign as much of this as perhaps I should, and this will be an area of growth for me as I continue to work with this new approach.
  5. Students are generally more confident in class. In fact, French 3 is handling authentic literature with a degree of comfort and enthusiasm I have never seen before!

Too often, the homework assigned is busy work or it is students being expected to teach themselves. And even when the homework is relevant, it is often assigned too early in the learning process, which leads to many students feeling like it is pointless to even try the activity. Students need “guided practice”, which means that they need opportunities to practice (and play) with new material with the support of teachers, aides and peers before they can progress to “independent practice.” Guided pracitce is typically what is assigned for homework, often in a worksheet format. Most guided practice activities have only one right answer. We know that we need to move students away from this and towards open-ended, independent practice. But that doesn’t mean we skip guided practice: it is an essential part of the learning process. The students’ success with guided practice activities are the barometer by which we (and the students themselves) judge whether or not they are ready to work more actively and deeply with the material outside of the confines of our rooms and the support structures of our presence.

Still so far to go

For this post, I think my recent communications with a colleague and subsequent posts (and related comments) on social media will speak for themselves.

Let’s begin at the beginning with this email thread….names removed (except my own), of course.

From: Teacher A
Sent: Thursday, January 24, 2013 3:28 PM
To: Nicole Naditz; Teacher B
Subject: Foreign language required for graduation

Hi, Teacher B and Nicole:

Our district is in the process of writing new graduation requirements.  Our school would like to know if you are in favor of making foreign language a requirement for graduation.

Thanks,
Teacher A

From: Nicole Naditz
Sent: Thursday, January 24, 2013 5:55 p.m.
To: Teacher A, Teacher B
Absolutely!!! If we are serious about preparing students for work and citizenship after high school, language and cultural studies must become a part of the curriculum. And if our district is serious about the 21st century skills as adopted in our strategic plan, then graduation requirements should be established that provide students with the curriculum necessary to meet those skills (world languages are listed as second, only behind English, in terms of core subjects in the 21st century skills adopted in our district. Additionally, those skills documents call out cross-cultural awareness as a key skill needed by our business and industry and world language classes are one of the only places this happens).  I have plenty of data and research to back this up.

I sent a follow-up almost immediately…

_______________________________________
From: Nicole Naditz
Sent: Thursday, January 24, 2013 5:57 PM
To: Teacher A, Teacher B
Subject: RE: Foreign language required for graduation

However, if we actually establish a requirement for two years, for example, we need to honor and recognize those  students who are already bilingual. While we should encourage them to start on the road to multilingualism, they should not end up feeling “punished” because they are already fluent in English and another language.
Nicole Naditz, M.Ed
National Board Certified Teacher of French
Google Certified Teacher
Bella Vista High School
http://www.sanjuan.edu/webpages/nnaditz

And now, the “debate” on the issue begins. Except, my colleague doesn’t really debate the issue. Her arguments revolve solely around the fact that she (and she is not the only one, unfortunately) simply does NOT want to have to teach everyone. As long as world languages aren’t required, she and others will keep having a fairly select group of students. Hmmm. I didn’t think that’s what we were talking about, but I’ll let you decide for yourselves. Here is the thread of our “debate.”

_________________________________________________________________________________

From:Teacher B
Sent: Thursday, January 24, 2013 9:47 PM
To: Nicole Naditz; Teacher A
Subject: RE: Foreign language required for graduation

We have discussed this many times in the past. Although it seems to be a good idea for our job security it may be disastrous for our classes. Can you imagine all students having to take a language?  I don’t know about your school but it seems like we are already lowering our standards and rigor to accommodate different levels of students. I think we would have to add lower academic Conversational classes in the mix and possibly Honors level for university bound. Would love to join in on any meetings you may have concerning this.

________________________________________

Hi Teacher B,

I knew we would disagree on this, and we both feel equally strongly.

I’m not thinking about my job security (I probably wouldn’t be a French teacher at all if I was). I’m also not thinking about lowering my standards or anyone else’s. I’m thinking about our students and our role to prepare them for work and citizenship. Business leaders have been quite clear: schools are NOT providing them with employees who have language and cultural skills and they are not equipped to do that; they count on schools to do that, including K-12 because not all jobs/fields require a college degree. We still have a large percentage of students who go from HS to work. Literally 200,000 Americans are denied jobs every year because they lack the language skills the company seeks and those jobs are across sectors and education levels. The companies are then forced to give the jobs to native speakers and pay for them to be relocated to the U.S.

World languages already ARE a requirement in many, many districts, many of which have a much higher “at-risk” population, including the district of our national language teacher of the year 2007 (from Natomas). She and her colleagues in Spanish don’t lower their standards–they teach for proficiency and give students the tools to be successful.

We in SJUSD do the same for our students now. Why are we thinking we can’t teach students? We have all answered a calling to teach students and prepare them for the future–not just teach the cream of the crop or just the ones who select our classes. I think our district language teachers are quite skilled. I encourage anyone to visit my class. Differentiating to meet the needs of learners does NOT mean lowering standards.

Nicole Naditz, M.Ed
National Board Certified Teacher of French
Google Certified Teacher
Bella Vista High School
http://www.sanjuan.edu/webpages/nnaditz
________________________________________

Then, Teacher B decided to provide “data” to prove her point that world languages are not appropriate as a graduation requirement. By the way, Teacher A and B are also both language teachers. In the email thread she sent me as proof, I do have to give her credit for attempting a bit of advocacy for world language education. But only a little bit!

Here goes….

From: Counselor
Date: Friday, January 25, 2013 8:15 AM
ta spot first period

I have a sophomore, (name removed) who injured himself and is unable to remain in P.E. first period. Does anyone have a need for a ta? Please let me know if you could utilize some help.

Thanks,
Counselor

From: Teacher B
Sent: Friday, January 25, 2013 8:57 AM
To: Counselor
Subject: Re: student in need of ta spot first period

How about a real class like Spanish 1, 1st period.

[Thank you, teacher B for suggesting a valuable option that will provide him with more learning experiences than being a TA]

From: counselor
Date: Friday, January 25, 2013 9:33 AM
To:Teacher B
Subject: RE: student in need of ta spot first period

Sure. But, not sure that this student is up for that. I can suggest it to him though!

[It should be noted that this is a block school, so although the date is January, the Spanish one class to which the teacher refers just started three weeks ago.]

And then, her coup de grace, the whole reason she feels she has proven her case. This message to me about why she forwarded this thread.

From: Teacher B
Sent: Friday, January 25, 2013 10:32 AM
To: Nicole Naditz; Teacher A
Subject: FW: student in need of ta spot first period

Hi Nicole,
Interesting that I just received this e-mail from the counselor.  Please read from bottom to
top. [Note to reader: I have already fixed the order.] I always promote Spanish, but even the counselors would not put just everyone in
a language.
Teacher B

And, finally. My reply to Teacher B:

Hi Teacher B.

Thank you for giving this serious consideration. The dialog is good for all of us.

I still believe students should be given the opportunity to meet the gamut of standards we have in place for success after high school. That doesn’t mean I’ve never had a student fail at semester. I had two students drop F at semester, but that was after substantial effort on my part to work with them and their counselors and parents to meet their needs–the students themselves did not reciprocate. That said, this is the first year I’ve had drop Fs.

On the other hand, I can give several counter examples for every year that I have taught of students whom the counselors actually fought to keep out of language (but parents and myself prevailed and got them enrolled in language classes). They were being denied access because of their grades in other classes and now, they are A or B students in French. No one should be making generalizations about a students’ aptitude. I prefer to their work in the actual course speak for itself.

I still feel we are doing the a disservice if we refuse to even try. And, we have many, many examples of districts and schools who have for years required language for graduation. We can look at their practices and their results. I don’t believe “disastrous” is used by their teachers to describe their situation or they would have abandoned the practice. I would encourage you to talk to Christine Lanphere about how it works in Natomas–almost 95% free-reduced lunch, majority non-white, and yet the expectation to receive a high school diploma is (and has been) two years of language. [I must insert a correction here: I later found out that Natomas requires one year of language, not two; however it is a graduation requirement]. In fact, I share your concern about rigor and standards; we have the lowest standards for graduation now (compared to Natomas, Sac City, Elk Grove and others) because WE don’t have language requirement. Who’s watering down?

Nicole Naditz, M.Ed
National Board Certified Teacher of French
Google Certified Teacher
Bella Vista High School
http://www.sanjuan.edu/webpages/nnaditz

This email conversation made me so sad…are we still so naive and self-centered in our thinking when it comes to discussing educational issues. Well…rather than compose my thoughts again, I’ll let my social media feed save me a bit of time…

Post 1:

So in response to whether or world languages should be required for graduation in our district (as is already the case in most districts near us, including the two comparably-sized/population status districts), this is what one teacher wrote: ” Although it seems to be a good idea for our job security it may be disastrous for our classes. Can you imagine all students having to take a language? I don’t know about your school but it seems like we are already lowering our standards and rigor to accommodate different levels of students.” Really??? We shouldn’t consider it because you don’t want to teach everyone? Or because you don’t want to learn how to truly differentiate (the definition of which is in fact to NOT lower standards, but to design instruction that allows all students to meet and even exceed the standards)? Really? So you want to base our curriculum and our requirements on what’s easy for you and not what’s best for students? *sigh

Follow up:  In other words you want the conversation to be about your needs and not the students’. And not at all a reasoned dialog about the pros and cons of language and cultural study and the relationship between that and students’ (and employers’/communities’) needs post high school.

And another follow up:

And I see the need for debate and there a lot of factors to consider. For example, students already fluent in English and another shouldn’t feel “punished” by a language policy. But the discussion should center around data helping us make an informed decision on the issue and its impact on and/or benefit to students.
One of the great comments to this came from a former student who just arrived for a year in Paris:
 I agree. I think that is important for students to be bilingual and prepared for the professional work. Although it may seem intimidating to high schoolers, it will pay off in the long run and teachers must understand and sacrifice some time to better the future for the student. (like you Madame)! If it werent for you and Sr. Teacher [name removed], I wouldn’t have been accepted into my school abroad where everyone is bilingual and 80% trilingual. I also think some of the teachers have to consider that most countries require students to learn a foreign language at younger ages which is an even more rigorous task. A lot of selfish souls. :-(
My reply back to my lovely student:
Actually, it’s easier for young children to learn language. So, ideally, we should start younger, and have well-articulated language program that provide students really long sequences of language instruction so they achieve really high levels of achievement. And we need to consider scheduling issues: currently, with our inflexible, traditional high school schedules, students don’t have room for one more requirement. But I’m on the blended learning task force. We may one day fairly soon have options to take some classes online. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend world languages for that, but if classes that are more suited to it are offered online, students will have more flexibility in their traditional school day for others. Or …. Wait for it…. We could schedule for learning rather than convenience and really make a difference in what students can do during their education.
And so it goes. #stillsofartogo