Yes, they CAN understand native speakers!

I often hear teachers say that authentic videos featuring native speakers (and intended for viewing by other native speakers) are too difficult for our language learners to use as listening practice, let alone listening assessment. And yet, I think we can all agree that we would like to have our students listen to “real” products that are authentic, meaning that they were created and published by native speakers for native speakers. In addition to providing real examples of the language the students are learning, authentic videos place that language within culturally authentic contexts, thereby providing our students with windows into the cultures that speak the language and the way the cultures are reflected in the use of the language.

One approach I have found to help students better work with authentic video is to ensure we apply what we know about best practices pedagogy in general to the way we present videos and the ways in which we have students interact with the videos.

So what do we know? We know that adolescent brains benefit from multiple opportunities to pause, reflect and apply knowledge at intervals throughout their work with a written or multi-media document, rather than requiring them to read/listen through the entire document before providing them with opportunities to discuss, ask and answer questions, analyze the content, and make comparisons within the language and culture and also to their home languages and cultures. In circles of experts in reading development (even in L1), we often see the reminder for teachers to design a variety of activities for “into, through, and beyond” the reading. I believe this applies just as much to videos: hook them and prepare them to listen (into); help them process what they are hearing and respond to it at multiple intervals during the video (through) and then provide students with opportunities to personalize and extend the video by creating their own responses and products after listening and successfully completing the activities to demonstrate their comprehension of the targeted language and cultural knowledge from the video (beyond).  Today’s post deals mostly with the “through” portion of this cycle. And with another important concept in world language circles (that I cannot take credit for): Modify the TASK, not the content. In other words, provide students with real content (such as authentic videos), but design tasks that are appropriate for their stage of proficiency. In this way, their listening–and their responses–are focused on what they do know and can understand.

Before we look at one of my favorite “high” tech ways to provide this kind of ongoing interaction throughout an authentic video, it’s worth remembering that a lower-tech way to do this is to simply pause the video at various points to engage the students in conversations, personalization tasks or other work that allows them to process what they have heard, connect it to what they know and understand, and use the video as a springboard for their own communication in the target language.

I had already created three Zaption “tours” in preparation for upcoming lessons, but a few weeks ago, I finally tried one of my Zaption tours with my French 2 class. Zaption is one of MANY tools that allow you to edit existing YouTube videos and add student response activities, such as open-ended or multiple choice responses to questions you ask during the video (they automatically appear during video playback), a drawing response, and a discussion thread possibility. In this particular case, it proved to be a very effective and engaging lesson for students when I was absent (which can be the subject of a separate post and is a key concept for me: ensuring students are at least as engaged when I am absent as when I am present).

All of the tools that provide teachers with video editing and student response options differ a bit in their setup and their exact functionality in terms of what you can do with the videos and what kinds of questions we can ask. Currently, I like Zaption best for several reasons.

  1.  It allows me to crop existing YouTube videos without having to go to another program first to crop it. This is really key for language teachers because many videos are either simply too long or they only have a chunk that is usable at the students’ current level of proficiency.
  2. It allows me to make a “tour” of multiple videos on the same topic. Or…multiple crops of the same video (which is how I did it with French 2).*
  3. It has a variety of response/question types, including mulitple choice, open-ended and draw a response.*
  4. It provides me a report with overall success on each question and also with individual student responses.

*The downside is that these two items of functionality are only applicable to their paid version, which I happen to have this year. That said, I like it so much that it will become one of the very few tools I pay for!

So, I will share three samples here: two for French 2 (one we didn’t get to use this year, but I’m looking forward to using next year) and one for French 4/AP. In all cases, the process is as follows:

  1. Create your teacher account at
  2. In your dashboard, select “New Tour”
  3. It will prompt you to add the Youtube URL for the video(s) you want to add.
  4. Click on “add video” above the video frame to add next clip. If you want to make multiple edits of the same video, just when you click on “add video”, the first video you added will automatically appear in the new window. Just click on it again to add another copy of it so that you can make multiple crops of the same video. So to make a “tour” of three clips from the same video, I copy it as many times as the number of clips I want to use from that video. Then I crop each of the copies to be a different chunk. They will all play together as one video activity when finished.
  5. Now you can crop your video clips. You do this by clicking on “trim”, which appears within the video window, in the upper left.

    Zaption edit screen

    Zaption edit screen

  6. In the same screenshot above, you can also see the tools for adding student responses. Just play your video to the point where you want to add your first question/activity. Pause the video and click on the question type you would like to use from the buttons at the top. Fill in the fields and then submit. Continue for the rest of the clip and then the rest of the tour. It is recommended that you have the video stop playing while students respond, but note that for the “discussion” feature, this doesn’t appear as an option. The students have to begin typing in order to stop the video. Also, you have the option for multiple choice responses to send them back to an earlier point in the video if they get an answer wrong, thus requiring them to listen again.
  7. As students complete the activities in the video, their responses are being saved for you to view. You can see an overall summary as well as individual student results. See screenshots below:Zaption_analytics Zaption_indiv_data

Here are some samples of Zaptions I have made for my classes.

Zaption’s YouTube channel: lots of tutorials here.

And here are some additional, very popular video editing and response tools to explore. Because ultimately, everyone has different styles and preferences. To me, it is less important which tool you choose. I happen to love Zaption. You may love Educanon. Do what you love. The key here is to ensure that authentic videos are not a passive experience for our learners, but rather one that engages them in active listening with multiple opportunities to demonstrate understanding and provide personal responses.


Harnessing the REAL power of technology

I started teaching French in 1993. At that time, the technology to which I had access consisted of a Brother word processor I shared with my husband at home, a high-speed duplicating machine that used a drum and pushed out volumes of paper with blue ink that smeared and faded, a slide projector with carousel for showing dozens of slides, an overhead projector with plenty of overhead sheets and wet-erase markers, a tape player in the classroom (not even a CD player in the classroom yet), and …wait for it….a reel-to-reel film projector.

reel to reel

Photo credit: accessed on “Classic Technnology” Flikr page:

So when the Internet first became available to me in 1995, to say it transformed my practice would be an understatement. For the first time, I could log onto a computer and within a few keystrokes and clicks, I could see what native speakers around the world were reading in real time, at the same time that they could be reading it. My students didn’t yet have access to a computer lab connected to the Internet at school, but I could print out the documents to share with students. I was ecstatic and took long virtual (and largely text-based) journeys nightly from my AOL account. And this was with static Web pages: text and a few images, no interaction within and among the creators and the users of the content. But I could see the potential.

Fast forward 10 years. By 2005, YouTube and Google Search had both hit the scene…and redefined the Internet as we knew it. The content didn’t just look different. It was different. More dynamic. Audio-visual. Enhanced search capacity. Commenting and interaction between the creators and users of content. And in fact, the line between creators and users started to blur at this point in our collective cyber history: anyone who could figure out how could upload a video to Youtube. Wikipedia turned everyday citizens into content creators and curators. Today, the line between creators and consumers of online content has disappeared completely. We all can be creators if we choose to. And we continue to be users. We can create, publish, edit, republish, share, collaborate, comment, and more.

The true power of technology does not lie in any one tool, suite of tools or newest, glitzy capacity. Instead, the real power of technology as an educational tool lies in its ability to provide ongoing, diverse and dynamic opportunities to inform and connect anyone, anywhere.

As a world language teacher, I am inspired and energized by the possibilities technology affords to help my students become not only more knowledgeable, but more connected to the communities of target-language speakers all over the world.

  • Tools like ExplainEverything, Doceri, myBrainshark and Educreations that make it possible for teachers to ensure that learning, practice and enrichment available to students 24/7.
  • Skype and Google + Hangouts connecting my students to classes elsewhere to talk in French, in real time.
  • Video editing tools like Zaption, Educanon, EdPuzzle and Blubbr that let teachers add questions and other activities to existing YouTube videos.
  • Twitter to share their work to a real audience and to engage in global dialog around current issues.
  • Dynamic tools like Padlet and TodaysMeet where students can quickly post thoughts on any topic and see what others (local and global if the links are shared with others) are posting as well.
  • Collaborative tools, such as those in Google Drive (and, for those schools that use it, Google Apps for Education) thatsymbaloo_pic allow students to collaborate, create and publish–locally and globally.
  • Rich tools like Blendspace that allow users to organize all kinds of content into an interactive, multi-media presentation in which users all over the world can use the commenting feature to dialog about every item in the presentation.
  • Creative multi-media tools like Storybird, Wordle and Tagxedo, Voicethread, PowToon, Animoto and more that help students build capacity to use and ultimately publish their work in their new language creatively.
  • Mobile tools like Toontastic, Tellagami, ShadowPuppet and others that allow students to quickly and effectively combine their own spoken audio with video and images on their mobile devices and publish to an audience with one tap on their screen.
  • Free mobile and online tools, such as WhatsApp, Snapchat, Viber, and more that allow students to foster one-to-one connections in real time with native speakers around the world–allowing them to communicate authentically when and where they want.

I’m fortunate to teach in a place where technology is seen as an ally in students’ education. Virtually nothing is “blocked,” thereby allowing my students to learn, explore, communicate, collaborate, create and publish using a variety of media and tools, right from my classroom. Yes, we have an obligation (legally as well as ethically) to protect our students from nefarious content and people on the Web. But we are also responsible for preparing students to become productive, responsible, and media-literate global citizens: these tools allow my students to learn and practice, but also to produce and share and get feedback from real audiences. More importantly, these tools allow my students to make real connections with French speakers around world right from their residences in suburban Northern California where French is rarely heard on TV and virtually never on the radio or in person. Through their interactions and their experiences with a rich array of authentic documents now easily accessed from their pockets, they increase both language and cultural proficiency by interacting with a variety of people from diverse communities where the language is spoken. As technology continues to shape how we work and interact, it truly empowers teachers and students to transform what it means to “study” a language or to “learn” a language by taking their voices and their experiences out of the book and out of the classroom to the global community.

Am I Charlie?

The recent events that have unfolded in France have shown the best and worst of humanity. Once again, a series of cowardly acts of violence have caused numerous senseless deaths. Once again, families, friends, colleagues, countrymen and the world are mourning. And yet today, millions have stood up and marched around the world in a beautiful and rare sign of peaceful political and religious unity and in favor of freedom of the press and freedom of expression.

In class Wednesday, we talked about the events. We examined tweets and political cartoons in French from around the world that overtook Twitter in an explosion of indignant anger and rebellion against these attacks on the most fundamental tenets of a democratic society. We sent our penpal classes in France pictures showing our sympathy and solidarity.

Those of you who follow me on Twitter probably noticed that I tagged many of my tweets #jesuischarlie or “I am Charlie”, “Charlie Hebdo” being the name of the satirical paper whose editorial staff was the initial target of the terrorists. By now, you may have researched or seen in the news and on social media the content of Charlie Hebdo: always harshly critical of many facets of society, many groups, many faiths and many points of view…and often incredibly offensive.

Like many, including one of my students, I had to decide if I would be part of the #jesuischarlie movement. I had to think about whether that hashtag meant I agreed with the contents and the editorial approach of that paper (which I do not) or if the tag represented something more. For my student, a thoughtful, mature and very talented artist in my French 4 class, she could not bring herself to hold a sign or part of a sign with the #jesuischarlie tag in our class photo. She abhors the violence and the deaths and wants to stand in solidarity with our class against terrorism, but she also vehemently believes that the paper’s content is so offensive and hateful that, in her opinion, it does not deserve protection under statutes protecting freedom of the press or freedom of expression. We all respected her opinion and she created her own drawing indicating that Islam is not about violence and she held that as she stood with the class in the photo we sent to our penpals.

And what about me? Like her, I find much of their content very offensive. I do believe that with the freedoms afforded citizens in democratic societies also comes the responsibility to exercise those freedoms in a manner that is respectful of the many diverse perspectives of the different people who call those societies their homes, their countries, and for many, their nationalities. But ultimately, all opinions have the right to not only exist but to be expressed. Those publicly expressing extreme opinions, those engaging in rhetoric that is hateful, defamatory, and derogatory, such as some of the content of Charlie Hebdo, know that their views will be questioned, critiqued and even outright criticized. They know that they may be asked to defend and explain their views. They expect to start conversations. Heated conversations. They do not expect–and they do not deserve–to die for expressing their views.

As offensive as some of their content is, we cannot, as a democratic society, say that they have no right to publish. Because the strength of “freedom of speech” depends precisely on our willingness to defend that right even when the opinions expressed are disdainful, unpopular, or only held by a small group rather than the majority. Otherwise we begin eroding that right, eliminating more and more ideas that are not in line with “majority thinking”. If only those opinions that are easily swallowed are protected, then freedom of speech in becomes just a meaningless slogan.

And so it is in that vein that I have determined that, yes, #jesuischarlie.

Say what? 3 tips to help novice speakers SPEAK

We all want to see our language learners leave our world language programs able to participate in spontaneous conversations on a range of topics. Preparation for this lofty goal starts in the very first years of language instruction. But, we also recognize that language students at the novice level are primarily comfortable with memorize chunks and phrases (see page 5 of ACTFL’s proficiency guidelines for speaking at the novice level). How can we facilitate spontaneous conversations with and among  students who cannot yet independently manipulate the language? The single most important thing we can do is use the target language in every class every day. Students can’t be expected to use a language they don’t hear used! But here are three additional strategies I use specifically to support my novice learners to speak spontaneously.
1. Randomize participation
I knew my very first year teaching that I didn’t want to have only my bravest, most confident students to participate on a daily basis. I wanted to know how well students were manipulating new words and structures after they had practiced with a partner or small groups, and yes, my novice classes almost always complete oral activities in pairs and small groups before I ask students to provide responses to the whole class. In my first several years of teaching. I used to use index cards to randomly select which students would speak. I had a card for each student and I would shuffle them (frequently!) to randomize their participation. For question-answer activities, I would use the index cards to randomly select one student to ask the question and randomly select another student to provide the answer. This is a small, but important, step in preparing our most novice learners for spontaneous conversations because although they may be responding to a fairly structured partner activity with only limited variations, having randomly selected students produce the questions and responses for the class after they have completed the activity with their partners gives them practice being ready to speak at any time.
Random selection provides other benefits as well. I almost never allow students to volunteer because research shows that volunteering offers very little to students in terms of engagement and equally little to teachers in terms of useable formative assessment data. But randomizing participation enhances student engagement and provides more valid and reliable data from more students regarding their proficiency with the topic at hand. Some teachers do this with Popsicle sticks, but I liked index cards better than Popsicle sticks because the cards allowed me space to mark how many times each student spoke and even make other small notes regarding their work. But, not surprisingly, technology now provides us with digital options that work from smartphones and tablets. I personally have traded my index cards for the iPhone app “Class Cards” to randomize my students’ participation. It was free when I installed it years ago. Unfortunately, it is no longer free. I like the fact that I can see who is next up in the random selection because that makes it faster to announce who will ask the question and who will provide the response. Sadly I can’t find any free randomization apps anymore. Another app is “Pick Me“. It costs less than Class Cards, but is still not free. A free web-based alternative may be “Random Student Generator“. Since I have been happy with Class Cards, I have never tried Pick Me or the web-based Random Student Generator, but for what it’s worth, I can say that I have found randomization of participation to be so instrumental to support the work we are doing as a class that I would actually buy one of the apps if I didn’t have one already (and because I use my iPad tools extensively during class, I would personally opt for an app rather than a Web-based tool, but that’s just me).
2. Add spontaneity and build on existing activities with “just one more”
Often, we choose to use some existing materials in order to provide our students with practice in the new language. In my case, I find that I can often make use of or adapt some of the practice activities provided in publisher materials. I firmly believe that textbooks do not teach and therefore, I provide all the instruction myself by designing lessons that are communicative and proficiency oriented in order to teach the variety of vocabulary and structures students will need to communicate at a stage-appropriate level. However, I can include many of the proposed practice activities in my students’ learning and practice sequence, along with numerous supplemental activities that I create. Often, the activities prepared by publishers include a several designed to be completed in pairs. It is common to find these activities already organized in a question-answer format,  simulating real life conversations, albeit very short ones. But they often stop short of providing any element of spontaneity. This can be remedied as soon as students have learned and practiced the basic question words (who, what, when, where) and at least a couple of easy ways to answer those questions. Armed with these powerful language stems, we can support novice language learners to step up the game a bit (even with very structured, text-book based question/answer activities) by asking “just one more” question. This simple strategy actually supports both partners in the question-answer format to increase their language skills by requiring the questioner to listen actively and determine an appropriate follow-up question while the respondent must listen for a question that was not part of the original activity and then formulate a simple response to it.
3. Semi-spontaneous interviews
I use this structure frequently as both practice and as one of the ways I assess my novice learners’ interpersonal communication. It is easy to incorporate on a day-to-day basis so students can have several opportunities for practice (not just assessment) throughout the year. I actually really like it when students don’t feel like their assessments are different from the communicative work we do daily in class.
The key to this strategy is to allow all students to prepare some of their questions in advance but not tell them whom they will interview. Nor can they show their questions to the person they are interviewing. Preparing questions in advance for an interview is actually more authentic than not doing so because it is rare for professional journalists and others who conduct interviews (such as researchers) to not have prepared their base questions in advance.
Once students have created questions, I have them practice. There are many ways students can practice (beyond the obvious of interviewing the students that sit next to them or with whom they are normally partners. Here are some variations that provide more randomized practice:
  • “Inner-outer circle” format. This is one of my favorites. This is done by having the class stand in two concentric circles: the students in the “inner circle” face outward from their circle and then the other half of the class forms the outer circle by standing face-to-face with a student in the inner circle. If there is an odd number of students, I stand in one of the circles to even it out. Otherwise, I stand in the middle of the two circles because it is easier to quickly listen to the various conversations from the middle than it is from the outside. Once the students are in place, I choose one group  (inner or outer) to be the ones asking the questions they have prepared to the student facing them in the other circle. That student listens, and responds. Typically, with novice classes, students can ask and answer five questions in about a minute (unless they are struggling), due to the highly “memorized chunk” nature of their language use and also their inability to provide extensive detail that would lengthen answers. So, after about a minute, I ask the outer circle to rotate to their left.  The process repeats again, but their is a new pair of students. After several rotations, I have the students switch places with their partner so that students who were on the outside are now on the inside. This also results in a change of speaking role (from interviewer to interviewee or vice versa). We then continue for several more rounds. This is a great activity to do outside if the weather permits.
  • Caterpillar: This is a variation my friend (and outstanding teacher) Christine Lanphere uses for tighter spaces. Have students stand in two parallel lines. When done, each line rotates TWO speakers to their left. Note that this will have each line appear to be moving in OPPOSITE directions. This will cause those at the end of the line to switch lines. Having them rotate two speakers (instead of just one) ensures they don’t end up with the same partner they just had before switching to the other line. In smaller classes, I have one line designated as the “question line” and the other as the “answer line” and students switch roles when they rotate to the other line. In larger classes, I have students switch roles after five rotations or so, just like with “Inner-Outer Circles.”
  • Mingling: Another variation is to designate half class as interviewers and half as interviewees. Ask interviewees remain seated, set a timer and have interviewers circulate freely in the room, attempting to interview five different students in approximately five minutes. Then switch roles and repeat.

This format can be used for quick conversation practice with many topics. And as students become more comfortable, you can even have them do completely spontaneous, impromptu conversations using this format. Furthermore, you can use the

Five exchange students were visiting from France. Students prepared some questions in advanced and asked more questions spontaneously.

Five exchange students were visiting from France. Students prepared some questions in advanced and asked more questions spontaneously.

“just one more” strategy mentioned above in combination with their personally prepared questions in order to add an element of spontaneity, increase the authenticity of the conversations and promote greater listening and speaking proficiency.

When it becomes time to move from practicing conversations to assessing their interpersonal speaking proficiency on a given set of learning targets (can-do statements) with or without the “just one more” questions (I prefer to include those in assessments, so it is important to have them practice listening for opportunities to add them and also practice responding to them), I find that the easiest way to manage randomizing students for interviews I am assessing is as follows:

  1. Print out a copy of the rubric you will use to evaluate each student’s interpersonal proficiency (you can find my draft rubric here…I’m always revising rubrics!).
  2. Make enough photocopies for the class and distribute it to students. Remember that it is beneficial to do this earlier in the learning-practice-assessment cycle rather than at the end: our “end-game” shouldn’t be a secret to students!
  3. When it is time to assess, have them write their names on the rubric and then hand it back in.
  4. Shuffle them up, and the order of the rubrics becomes the order for the interviews: I call up the student whose rubric is on the top of the pile. That person asks the questions. I also call up the student with the second rubric. This student will answer the questions. When they are done, student A sits back down (she will come back at the very end). Student B becomes the interviewer (asking the questions) and I call up the next student from the rubric pile to respond. We continue rotating roles and calling up new students from the rubric pile. The very last student called up to answer will be the one who asked questions first.

What strategies do you use to help your most novice speakers actually speak? Share your ideas in the comments!

What (my) novice language learners need

Over the years, it has become more and more clear to me that our novice learners can produce language and even have a bit of fun with it, if we remember the characteristics of novice-level production. I think a lot of teachers (myself included until just a few years ago) have expectations that are surprisingly unreasonable for novice level students. Once our expectations and the tasks aligned to those expectations correspond better to the characteristics of the novice learner, reader, writer and speaker, students experience greater success, and in some ways actually produce more content (and do so with greater accuracy) than was possible before.

According to the proficiency guidelines published in 2012 by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, a language learner at “novice high” (which is where some of my French 2 students are at in writing) can “[…] express themselves within the context in which the language was learned relying mainly on practiced material. Their writing is focused on common elements of daily life. Novice High writers are able to recombine learned vocabulary and structures to create simple sentences on very familiar topics, but are not able tosustain sentence-level writing all the time”. Similarly, ACTFL states that “novice mid” writers (the rest of my French 2 students) can “[…] reproduce from memory a modest number of words and phrases in context. […] Novice Mid writers exhibit a high degree of accuracy when writing on well-practiced, familiar topics using limited formulaic language. With less familiar topics, there is a marked decrease in accuracy”

Here are two different examples (from two different themes we considered in French 2 this semester) in which I endeavored to design assessments of their writing proficiency that reflect ACTFL’s proficiency guidelines.

1. Jobs brochure

This was actually part of an Integrated Performance Assessment (IPA) that incorporated listening, reading and writing around the concept of careers and finding careers that fulfill individuals personally and professionally. We began by examining two documents from this Web site (where careers are profiled for French children, often including interviews with real French citizens who have chosen those careers. The first document was a “practice” document on the careers of “Photographer” before using the second document on becoming a florist as the reading portion of the IPA. For both the practice and the actual reading assessment, I followed the reading comprehension assessment template provided by ACTFL. Here are the students’ comprehension questions for the florist document. It should be noted that, as recommended by ACTFL I added section numbers to the authentic document before copying it for students in order to facilitate their ability to identify the information appropriate to their level of proficiency).

After completing this task, students were ready for the writing portion, in which they would create their own short brochure for a job fair featuring the careers on the Webjunior careers Web site. For this task, they were allowed to explore the entire set of careers profiled and choose the career that interested them the most. I did suggest that they might find the task easier if they chose a career that featured an interview with someone working in that field, but it was not required. On the brochure, they were required to provide the following:

Some images from one student's job brochure

Some images from one student’s job brochure

  • a list of responsibilities for people working in this field,
  • a list of advantages to choosing this career, and
  • a list of personality traits that would be important for individuals working in this career.

So, how does this task correspond to the guidelines from ACTFL I cited above? The first two bullet items in the brochure allow them to use language provided by the original document in order to complete the task…students are demonstrating their understanding of the relevant language in the authentic document by the relevance of the items they opt to include in their brochures. Only the third item requires students to use their own bank of French language (descriptive)  to produce something and the task could be accomplished in list form for the novice-mid learners or i sentence form for the novice-high students. It is also worth noting that this task allows students to create something that is inspired by an authentic document and adds something new to it, repurposing it for a new audience (those attending a hypothetical job fair.

Example 2: writing an article

In this same class, just after examining careers, we began considering how to talk about past events. I use a murder mystery (now out of print) from a series in Quebec that was originally published for “French as a Second Language” classes, much like the programs we create for students learning English as a second language in the U.S.  The murder mystery provided a very engaging context and introduces the students to the basics of speaking and writing in the past in a way that is almost so inductive that the students figure it out for themselves, naturally, as they progress through the scenes of the mystery.

As one of the culminating activities closing out this mini-unit, students write an “article” about what happened over the course of the mystery, and of course, they name the criminal in the article. Referring again to the proficiency guidelines provided by ACTFL, I prepared a list of actions that each character did, including the victim. The actions in the list were left in the infinitive and were in no particular order, but they were organized in a table by character, as you can see here . Students selected a number of these actions, determined a logical sequence of events for these actions and then put themPhoto of sample from French 2 Murder Mystery Article into sentences in the past in order to compose their article. In past years, I had asked students to write the article as well, but only the most advanced of my French 2 students found the task manageable. Students who were still at novice mid struggled mightily when they were asked to come up with their own articles using sentences about each of the characters they created without any support beyond their memories.  Those students who were not the highest achievers typically wrote significantly fewer sentences, and exhibited more errors in the sentences they did manage to write.

This year was different. More than 75% of students achieved a 4 on this assessment, meaning that they exhibited production of language that is fully proficient at the targeted vocabulary and structures. And the vast majority of the remaining students achieved a score of 3 (mostly proficient in the targeted language and structures, but some difficulty with the more complex aspects). They had much the same experience in terms of learning and practice of the new material as last year. The difference came from the table in which I provided them the characters and the characters’ actions in the story in infinitives along with a reminder of the targeted structure at the bottom. Was this too much information? Does this somehow detract from the validity of the assessment? I don’t believe so. The reality is that this assessment provides the degree of support that corresponds to the abilities of the novice learner while still requiring them to demonstrate the desired skills. Additionally, I believe that this format respects the reality of life and work in the “real world” beyond our classrooms: the “real world” almost never requires employees to produce high quality work without access to resources, information, formulas, etc. Why do we insist on isolating students from such resources and support in the academic world? Even with the benefit of the “tool” I provided them, they still had to show that they knew how to apply the knowledge in order to effectively communicate the details of the story. Providing them access to a list of the information they might want to include and a sort of formula to use to check their work is both more respectful of their capabilities as a novice user of the language and more realistic.

How do you support your novice-level students to communicate in a variety of contexts and in realistic ways? Share your thoughts and ideas below! I look forward to hearing from you.

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?


Before you rush off to the app store or to your computer to try (which is NOT a site, by the way), remember that a tool doesn’t have to be technology. In fact, according to, 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


(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


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 Students participate at
  2. Socrative: teachers create at Students access and participate at
  3. Google forms (with Flubaroo script to grade and email feedback if the answers are multiple choice). Here is some information and tutorials: Forms: Flubaroo: 
  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 Students participate at

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!


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.