Student voices, learners become leaders

Empowering Students To Find The Best Resources For Them

May 23, 2016  – Shared on the Formative Community Forum

By Guest Author Rachelle Dene Poth

HS French and Spanish Teacher Rachelle Dene Poth argues for more student voice, choice, and leadership when finding the right materials for every student. One of her students, Cassy, a 9th grader in Spanish I, reflects on what she’s learned from that experience.

Resources Are Everywhere: Where Do We Start?

Teachers work hard to find diverse resources to help students learn. Supplemental materials can be found in textbooks and other resources, through a quick search online or implementation of teacher-created or student-made materials.  An online search will result in a tremendous list of resources which includes webpages, images, documents, videos, and other media formats for a teacher to choose from. It seems simple enough, but it really isn’t quite that simple.  The challenge is finding the right resource for each student.  Being able to do this requires more than just conducting a simple online search. It requires that we truly know our students and understand their needs. Students do not all respond the same way when it comes to learning and feedback and developing these relationships will help teachers to provide the best learning opportunities.  Finding something that will enable each student to have an opportunity to grow, receive personal feedback, to experience learning multiple ways, is something that teachers strive to provide for their student.

Choosing Tech Tools For Students Is A Good Starting Point…But What’s The Next Step?

Technology offers many ways for teachers to differentiate instruction through digital tools. The number of tools and the features available changes every day. Finding something that works for everyone may take a little bit of time, and it involves some risk taking, flexibility and reflection to truly find what works best for each student.  And while teachers are good at determining what might work best for their students, it is important to hear from the students themselves.  Asking the students directly what helps them to learn better, stay engaged, and feel challenged will enable teachers to differentiate instruction and provide appropriate opportunities for all students.  Student voice in how they learn and their opinion of tools used in the classroom offers the teacher valuable information and different perspectives.  So it is worthwhile to take the time to investigate some tools, ask the students to try new things and then see what they think.

Rachelle's students drawing a watermelon with our "Show Your Work" drawing tool!

Rachelle’s students drawing a watermelon with our “Show Your Work” drawing tool!

Give Them Choices And Let Them Lead

So I wanted to know, what do students get from the choices they are given? Does it make a difference?  What helps the students to learn?  A few years ago I started giving the students different options for how to complete a project or an assignment. Other times,  rather than assigning a worksheet for  homework, they had other options such as creating a game, participating in a classroom discussion online, or even the use of blogging, all which made learning more personalized and meaningful for each student. I value the feedback that I receive from the students and when I try something new, I always want to know what they think of it. In order to learn more about student needs, I decided to have one of my students become the teacher, create a lesson using Formative, and share their thoughts about the new experience and the benefits.

Student Perspective On Edtech: Cassy Becomes The Teacher

Cassie getting ready to show tech tools that help her learning "catapult".

Cassie getting ready to show tech tools that help her learning “catapult”.

Cassy: I believe technology is an important part of learning and is a great asset to teachers and to students. Technology allows students to have the freedom to choose how to do projects, homework assignments or other classroom activities. This freedom allows students to thrive and do the best they can. I know that I love the process of finding a new website, game, project or teaching tool that I can use to help my learning catapult. It is also fun to explore the possibilities of technology and what it offers me. I can be creative and innovative. Classes which integrate technology are completely different than those which do not, because they provide more opportunities for students to learn.
Formative is a great example of the infinite possibilities technology can offer students and teachers.Documents, websites, pictures, questions and drawings are integrated into this program which allows for differentiation and creativity in various ways. Also, many people can participate in one formative assignment. The teacher or creator of the formative can see individual responses and work with the student one on one and provide personal feedback. Formative creates an effective learning experience while keeping a fun atmosphere.
On May 16th, 2016, I participated with other students in the PAECT (Pennsylvania Association for Educational Communications and Technology) student technology showcase, where students from Pennsylvania showed how they use technology to its fullest potential. I made my own Formative and allowed others to try it, and highlighted all of the different uses and how effective it is for education. I enjoyed sharing how a digital tool like Formative can provide different learning activities, enhance how students learn and how teachers can teach.

"Formative is a great example of the infinite possibilities technology can offer students and teachers."- Cassie

“Formative is a great example of the infinite possibilities technology can offer students and teachers.”- Cassie

Why Having Tech Available In The Classroom Matters

I feel that making students turn off their phones or computers is not fair and is not smart choice. Teachers do that for their benefit, not for the students. The current  generation of students is extremely involved and knowledgeable about technology. If all teachers could dive into the world of technology and understand its importance, significance and benefits, and then take the time to explore new ways to integrate some technology into class, it would make a huge difference in a student’s learning experience. I don’t know why more teachers don’t use technology to teach because it is a way to get the students more involved in the learning material.

What Do Students Want?

I want teachers to empower, engage and inspire me. I want teachers to give me the freedom to be creative while I am learning. I want teachers to make learning relevant to my time, and my life experience. Technology is the way to do that, to get students involved. It allows me to have my own voice and learn in the way that is best for me. I do not want to be held back from the infinite possibilities that technology offers any longer.

Student Voices: Listen To What They Say

Rachelle: It is clear that students have opinions about technology and its benefits.  Having choices in how to learn, being exposed to different learning tools and styles, and receiving feedback are all benefits of technology integration and ones which positively impact students.  When they have opportunities to work with technology and choose how they learn, including them in the conversation and asking for feedback empowers students even more. Since students are the group most affected by the technology used in the classroom, we need to hear what they have to say.

Staying strong to the end of the year! Thanks Teach Thought

treePSU

 

The Year Is Almost Over. Don’t Miss The Opportunities.

by Rachelle Dene Poth

As the final grading period sets in, it’s hard to not look forward to summer vacation, having days where we don’t have any particular place to be or tasks to attend to, but we have to remind ourselves to keep our focus, stay motivated, and keep up that momentum until the finish. Too many days can be lost as a result of changes in schedules, standardized testing or any number of things that can take away from the valuable class time at the end of the year. There are many factors that can lead students and teachers to lose momentum such as: nicer weather, school sports, school musicals and activities and the rounds of standardized tests.

Classes, teachers and students can be pulled into many different directions and finding ways to stay engaged, motivated and working right up until the end can be a challenge. I am not saying that I have all of the right answers but I decided to do things a little bit differently for the end of this school year.  I decided to take some risks.  I wanted to try some new things, give the students more control in the classroom, and see what happened.

What brought about this change of mind, change of plans and new perspective?

Lots of things. A combination of finishing out a two-and-a-half-year graduate program for a Master’s in instructional technology, getting involved at education/technology conferences and edcamps, and interacting with people having various roles in these areas and hearing some really great ideas. A lot of my inspiration came from seeing my students involved in a technology showcase and the pride that I felt while watching them taking the lead, advocating for technology use, interested in more opportunities, and my desire to make things better, more interesting and meaningful for them.

So taking a bit of time over the recent spring break, I thought about what had not been going so well, things I might like to try to change or improve upon. I referred to my list of different ideas and tools that I’ve wanted to try in my classroom, but did not have enough time. I wanted to try different ways of doing things I had always done, to see if it made an impact in the classroom. I figured that now was as good a time as any to integrate some new ideas, to seek student input and to change things up a bit.

I thought that the end of the year seemed like a decent time to do this because it could lead to creative and innovative way of trying things, different from how we had done things throughout the year.  And it would provide an opportunity for reflecting over the summer break.

Sometimes change is good and the benefits are seen quickly and sometimes they are not. Worst case scenario in my mind was that the changes I would make and the different methods for enhancing student learning and interactions in class would not end up as I or the students hoped, but in the end, it’s all about learning and growing. And then figuring out what the next steps should be and starting from there. It is about taking risks, evaluating, reflecting and then moving forward. But there has to be a first step.

So if you find yourself feeling like this.  If you are seeking a way to help the students hang in there for the final stretch of the school year or to keep yourself going as well, think about trying something different, that has been on your list. Maybe it is a new classroom setup, or trying a different tool, or some other activity, that will give you just enough time to get some experience, involve the students in the decisions and get their feedback.

Having this information at the end the year can provide some really valuable information, leading you to reflect over the summer. Perhaps you will start off the new school year with these ideas. Worst case scenario is that it doesn’t go as you or the students had planned, and so you use that information to reflect and grow and plan something different or better for the future.

Starting with change number one.

I had a day to think about where I wanted to start.  Was it a specific activity? Or should I try a new tool in class? After some thought, it ended up being the same way I started the school year, creating a new learning space.

I am always trying new ideas, activities, tools and more now with my classes than I have never done before.  In some cases it’s trying out a new idea that I just thought up right before they came in, and in other cases it’s integrating a tool that we had used before, but because of lack of time, did not have opportunities to use recently. Regardless of what you decide, it will be something new and different and just might be that extra spark that you and your students need to stay strong to the finish.

I can give you some examples that have been working for me but again, it’s what you need and what’s best for your students. I will share some additional ideas and how they went in my next post but here are a few simple ideas to consider if the learning space is an area you would like to change.

Can you change around your learning space?  Can students be paired up and then rotate seats every so many days so they have a new partner to work with?  Does your classroom lend itself to movement and flexibility?

I changed the arrangement of my classroom so students would be seated across from each other. I wrote numbers on cards and the day they came to class, I gave each student a number written in Spanish.  They had to put themselves in numerical order and then starting with one, were able to go in and select their seat.  It was a fun activity and the students were really excited about the opportunity to choose their seat and the different setup.  I was nervous because I was not sure how it would all work, but I was willing to give it a try.

So, what happened?

I used the new arrangement as a way to have students work with peers more in cooperative learning activities during class.  This has had many benefits. I am still working through it, but my students like the arrangement and sharing the role of teacher and having opportunities to collaborate more in class.  I had them take on various roles and complete different activities with their partners over the first week. Sometimes it was seated in their group, others it was combining with another group, and a few times we did gallery walks with activities and stations in the classroom.

These are just the first in a series of changes/new ideas that I started with and I will admit, I was a bit hesitant and nervous at first because I did not feel as in control.  I can tell you that each class reacted differently and some reactions initially to the new seats, new methods were not all positive.

So I took this as an opportunity to ask my students for their input, whether in conversations, in writing, or surveys.   I had to set up some expectations and let them know that it was a risk and that it might need adjustments along the way.  After a few days, it worked out and the students have said how much they are enjoying this new experience. And I’ve noticed less students looking at the clock and less counting down the days to the end of school.

As a facilitator more with this arrangement, I have been able to interact more with them, answer individual questions, assess their needs more regularly, and continue to work on the relationships.  So I take these as good signs and what’s even better is that they seem to be making more progress with the material which is an area that is quite difficult for students in Spanish II to master.

So this is an evolving process and I would love to keep you up-to-date to where it goes for the rest of the year. So I leave you with this: think of a class or classes that you have, in which it seems like students need a little something extra.  Find a spark.  Ask them what could help them to learn better, make things more exciting, and then just try something.

Get them up and moving, mix it up, whatever you do it will be new and different and hopefully keep everyone going strong. And don’t give up too soon, give it some time and see what happens.

The Year Is Almost Over. Don’t Miss The Opportunities.; image attribution flickr user vexrobotics

Storybird: Students tell stories with beautiful images.

Recently posted on Edueto Magazine

The path to integrating more technology into the classroom

So if you have been following along with my posts since I started writing

 

for Edueto, you can see that my method of and path toward integrating technology has taken many turns. I first started by trying to find one area of my teaching and my classroom that I could improve. After some consideration, reflecting on my practice, observing the daily routines, I determined there was a “disconnect” occurring between my students and myself. I did not feel that I was as accessible to them and their needs as I could be or more importantly, wanted to be. But the counterpart of this was that I also felt the students should bear some of the responsibility and be accountable for accessing classroom materials and asking for help when they needed.

Over the past two and a half years, it has been an ongoing, evolving process. One which has led to greater reflection, additional changes, and more than I could have imagined. It all started with the simple addition of one tool into our classroom, Celly, for messaging. This first step solved that disconnect and brought about so many positive changes for my classroom. From the beginning of this tech integration journey until now, the variety of ways that we have found uses for Celly are tremendous.

Once I felt comfortable with that first step, I began working with other areas of technology integration. I began using Edmodo for our LMS, which helped with the original issue of “disconnect” and provided access for the class resources and a central location for students to get what they needed. Edmodo provides a lot for teachers and students and has many apps available which we use and enable students to connect with automatically.

These initial steps evolved into the integration of alternate assessment tools such as Kahoot, Quizlet, SurveyMonkey, Riddle, Quizizz and more. These are just a few of the great tools that can be used for formative assessments and some also for student reflections. Once I felt comfortable with these choices, and I could see the benefits for my students, my next step was finding more ways for the students to show what they had learned and what they could do with the material. My prior post focused on project based learning and the benefits, so I would like to share one tool, Storybird, and how it can be used to give students an engaging, creative way to present information.

Storybird

While I have always enjoyed the traditional paper style presentations, I found that moving over to digital formats and letting the students choose from a variety of the creative web tools available for completing their projects, served many purposes. It was important that I offer resources that would give students meaningful ways to demonstrate their learning, but also have fun and be creative in the process. I wanted something that could meet their unique interests. So I started looking for different ways for students to present their information, but still be comfortable with creating the end product and learn something new in the process, technology skills.

One of the first tools we tried was Storybird. It has been one that my students have enjoyed using in Spanish and for other classes, and have shared with family and friends.

I first came across Storybird in the summer of 2014 while taking a course in special education, and I had to create a project that would describe legislation in this area. While there were many choices out there for presentation formats, I wanted to create more of a book style presentation, with vivid images that would add to the information. My search led me to Storybird and so I decided to give it a try.

Getting started

It was really easy to get started. I created an account and searched the available themes, until I found one representing an educational setting, and began creating my project. The themes are full of images created by various artists that contribute to the book with their vibrant illustrations.   Storybird was very easy to use, to add my information and also to select from a variety of very vivid and engaging images to highlight my content. Editing the images and changing the layout was simple, and I really enjoyed presenting my information in this way.

When I assigned the first project of the new school year, I added Storybird to the list of student choices and several students used it for their projects. Each student chose different themes based on their individual preferences and the end products were vibrant, engaging, and authentic, but most of all creative.

Student Reaction

The students were very excited about their work with Storybird and truly enjoyed being able to have a choice in how to show what they had learned and finding a theme that best suited their own personal interests. In addition to creating and seeing these beautiful books online, you can have them printed into a book and see the story come to life. I was truly amazed the day I opened the package and saw the beautiful books that my students had written and had been prepared by Storybird. Each student’s book had their name on the cover and I had placed an inscription inside the cover, to detail the purpose for creating the book. The students were excited to see their names on the book and enjoyed reading each other’s. I wanted more to add to our classroom library and so I asked the students to share their work with me so more of their books could be printed and displayed in our room.

Since then I have shared their work at conferences and with other colleagues, and the students have proudly shared their work during technology showcases. I recently found out about a few students who had used Storybird to create books for telling a story to a sibling, inviting someone to a homecoming dance and several other really neat uses for Storybird. Technology can really enhance the learning process and benefit students in your classroom, but it is when students extend this learning to other areas and uses, that you realize it truly has made an impact on their learning.

There are many other great tools out there for project based learning. Offering a variety of choices for students enables them to find something meaningful and enjoy the experience.  If you have not used Storybird, try it out. Students have used it in many of their other courses after Spanish and have found exactly the theme they needed. I will continue to share some of these tools with you and some examples, as always feel free to send me your comments or questions I would love to hear from you.

story

 

Quizlet Live: Recent Post on Quizlet

Keeping Students Engaged: A Teacher’s Quick Guide to Quizlet Live

News ·

This is a guest blog post by Rachelle Dene Poth, a teacher who uses Quizlet Live with her classes.

As a teacher winding down the school year, it seems we need something extra to keep students motivated and engaged. Fortunately, in today’s learning environment there are a lot of great resources available for use in classrooms that are tremendously beneficial for both teachers and students. The use of digital tools like Quizlet have introduced new methods for teachers to deliver instruction, personalize learning, and engage students in and outside of the classroom.

I frequently use Quizlet with my foreign language students to help them practice vocabulary and verb conjugations. Since Quizlet makes learning more personalized, I typically create study sets related to the chapter we are covering in class, or track their progress through Quizlet by creating sets dedicated to terms that my students are struggling with. What’s most helpful is the variety of activities Quizlet offers students to do at any time, ranging from flashcards, practice tests, audio activities, and playing a game of Scatter or Gravity. With countless ways to use Quizlet, I’m excited to share my experience with Quizlet Live, which I had the opportunity to beta test with my students.

screencap1@2x.png

My first game!

With the recent addition of Quizlet Live to my classroom, students have been more engaged and eager to learn new material with this interactive game. When I first tested the game, I let students figure out how to answer questions as a team, which improved their focus on selecting the correct answer. Although students typically sit with their respective teams when playing Quizlet Live, my students decided to remain in their seats and call out their team name, or in Spanish (i.e. “tengo” or “no tengo”), to signify whether or not they had the right answer. I noticed that when students chose not to sit with their team, they were more mindful of their own answers, working through each choice. As the game progressed, they learned the mechanics more quickly and wanted to play over and over again.

Letting students learn on their own

Not only did I enjoy seeing their excitement and desire to keep playing the game, it was rewarding to see them truly learn the material and work through the activity on their own as well as on a team. My foreign language students told the other class about Quizlet Live and it was great to hear them so eager to share their experience. Without much delay, the second class started the game and I shared a few pointers that I learned from the previous group. I knew how to guide students with the second beta test and wanted them to figure out how the game worked on their own. My involvement was briefly as a facilitator, then as an observer. This helped me assess what they could learn on their own and also encouraged students to help each other. I could work with them individually or within the groups, be involved in their thought processes and problem solving, and ultimately use this information to guide my next steps in the lesson.

Since testing Quizlet Live, my students have asked to play Quizlet Live every day and they tell me that it really helps their critical thinking skills since they can retain vocabulary better with the repeat practice.

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Key tips for getting the most when using Quizlet Live

  1. Pick a study set with at least 12 terms for the students to practice. Give a brief explanation of how the game works, then let them figure it out on their own and use their experience to guide the next game.
  2. Have at least 6 players since the game will generate 3-4 players on a team. Each team is assigned an animal name and you can see the progress of each team as you go through the 12 questions. The first team to answer 12 questions correctly wins, but if an incorrect answer is selected, the team starts back at zero and has to earn points again to clear their board. As questions appear, each student starts with 4 possible answers on their screen. One member of the team has the right answer, the other members can only see blocks below each team member’s name. As answers are used, the blocks below each member’s name show a checkmark. Players can only see their their answers and the game continues until one team reaches 12.
  3. Shuffle the teams after a few games to provide new opportunities for students to collaborate with each other, and shuffle the card sets to get new terms and practice as much as possible.
  4. Make sure to complete the review with your students, which can be done with Quizlet Live’s feature. Once the game is over you can review the study set to assess and give feedback, and the students also see the correct answers on their screens during the game.
  5. Collaboration is key! Teamwork truly makes learning successful and I’ve seen my students become more engaged with their peers as they work together to master new material. In addition to providing new learning experiences, giving valuable feedback to the students helps them grow.

Quizlet Live is free to all teachers, and just requires signing up for a Quizlet account to start. Inject a new study activity in the classroom and see the positive effect it has on your students!

Rachelle Dene Poth teaches French and Spanish at RIverview Junior-Senior High School in Oakmont, Pennsylvania. She can be reached at rdene915@gmail.com  @rdene915 or through her website: www.rdene915.wordpress.comquizletlive

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