What students can gain from blogging

Thanks to Edutopia for this recent post on June 20, 2016

Blogging

As a foreign language teacher, I constantly look for new, engaging ways for students to work on their reading, writing, speaking and listening skills in and outside of the classroom.  It is also very important to me that they develop confidence in expressing themselves with the language.  Confidence is sometimes an issue because of the fear students have of making a mistake, either writing something incorrectly, or pronouncing a word wrong. The fear exists and often it causes students to be more hesitant before responding and not participate as much.   The fear of mistakes is not something that is specific to students.  Teachers have this same fear, as do all people.  I have noticed more this year, than in prior years, that students struggle with this and as a result, it limits their learning potential.  So I have worked on finding ways to encourage them to use the language and be creative, and to leave that fear behind.

I took some opportunities to ask students why they did not answer a question on an assignment or a test, or respond in class, and before hearing their response, I already knew what they would say.   They “figured it would be wrong” or they “didn’t know the whole answer” so they left it blank or did not complete the assignment.  Sometimes the students would even write on their papers that they were wrong, or would draw a big X or a frown next to a response.

Seeing these responses, or hearing their reactions, made me want to find ways to help build their confidence levels and to keep them learning.   I tried encouraging them to speak more in class, emphasized that it was more important to try and express themselves and create with the language, rather than worry about being wrong.  I thought that by providing opportunities for them to choose a topic, to know that they were not being graded based on perfect grammar, but rather receiving points for having made the effort and created with the language.  The way to do this was through blogging.

Blogging helps students develop content area skills and confidence

I thought that blogging would be a good way for the students to have a more meaningful and personalized learning experience because they could choose a topic and write about something that they wanted to.  While I emphasized the importance of using the related vocabulary and verbs, I also made it clear that I was more concerned with them using the language, expressing their ideas, and then taking time to look at mistakes and learn from them. Reading their blogs was a great way for me to focus on their individual needs but also to learn more about each student.  It is helpful as a teacher to understand where the students are coming from, what their interests are, and their learning styles, and blogging is a very beneficial method to accomplish these tasks.

Some students initially were not in favor of blogging and at times, seemed almost pained at the idea of having to “blog”, however it is really not any different than filling in a worksheet or making up sentences for class.  It took a little time, but in the end, many students enjoyed blogging and made their blog posts a very creative and personal space, but also were able to look at their growth over the course of the year, and see the progress that they had made.   Blogging is a great tool  for practicing language skills and many others, but also a way to look back and see how you have improved.   The ease of sharing ideas and creating with the language, plus the increase in confidence, are some of the reasons why I think blogging is beneficial for any student or teacher, but also why it will be a practice which continues in my classroom next school year.

Thinking about Improving Homework

Thanks Terry Heick and TeachThought for publishing this recent post on June 20, 2016.

IMG_20160425_133159414

The end of the school year can be challenging with so many changes occurring: the weather, spring sports, weeks of standardized testing, field trips and other activities lead to oftentimes, chaotic schedules.  These changes can decrease motivation in students and in some cases, teachers as well, and result in a feeling that the school year is over before it really is.

I notice this gradual transformation each year, and do my best to mix things up, to keep learning going, and to stay strong until the end.  This year seemed to be a more challenging year, although I cannot pinpoint why, but as I mentioned in my prior post, I decided to do something about it. I made the decision to try some new methods, reevaluate how I have been doing things in my classroom, and what could I be doing better.

The last grading period has been a time to test out some new tools, give students new opportunities, more choices and be a little less structured, allowing for some spontaneity in our learning.  So as part of my “staying strong till the finish”, after mixing up the seating arrangements and receiving positive responses, I shifted my focus to a new area:  Homework

What Is Homework, Anyway?

Recently I have been giving a lot of thought to homework.  My focus has been on really looking at the types and the frequency of assignments I give.  Over the past few years, I have changed my thinking and tried to move away from a “one size fits all” assignment and move toward a more personalized, authentic assignment.  There have been several reasons for this change in thought.

Hearing from other educators at conferences, input from my students, and as a language teacher, also having to find ways to avoid student use of translators for assignments. These experiences, in addition to a little frustration from homework not being completed, have led me to really try some new methods in this area.

Some of the areas I considered when thinking about homework were: the types of assessments I use in my classroom, my students, the frequency of homework completion, the type of homework, and even more closely, a look at the individuals within each group of students that I am teaching.  My goal is to continue to reflect on whether or not the type of instruction and the strategies I am using, are beneficial to them and if the homework I assign truly has value and builds their skills, or is it just busy work. A lot of the discussion out there now is about getting rid of homework assignments and traditional grading.

Why I Decided To Do Something Different

I have been teaching foreign languages for almost 20 years, and I notice how quickly time has passed, when I find myself teaching a concept and I feel like I just taught the same thing the day before. This “déjà vu” experience leads me to think about the progress I am making with the curriculum in the current school year, and how I have paced my instruction throughout the year. But what I have come to realize more this year than any other, is that it should not be the goal to be at the same point at the same time each year. In my mind, that simply should not be how it goes.

I think a lot of people consider teaching as a profession in which the same plans are used, lessons are taught at the same pace, the same assignments and tests are given each year. If we truly did that, then the profession of teaching would seem to be a rather easy and predictable one. However, that is not the way it is.

I had a conversation with someone that thought teachers simply used the same exact materials each year, with each class, and that teaching was a really easy profession.  This conversation bothered me, and the last part about it being “easy” really hit me. So this inspired me to think about my teaching practice.  What materials I was I using in class? How was I providing instruction for my students and was I using the same resources each year with each class?  Had I been doing the same thing in my classroom every year?  Did I simply pull out a folder to make copies or open up a computer to reprint what I had used each of the 19 years prior to this one?

Honestly, sometimes yes. I had. I had used the same worksheet, or a document for a part of a test over the years.  I hadn’t done this because I was lazy.  In some cases it was for providing a quick activity or assessment, and others it was because I thought the materials were valuable and would help the students to learn.

Thinking About Homework In Your Classroom

Ask yourself these same questions.  What do you come up with?  If you have been doing the same thing, then maybe it is time to make a few changes.  Think about what would work best for and help your students.  This means more than just looking at each individual class, it means really looking at the needs of each individual student.  To do this requires that we get to know our students, and to know our students means we have to build relationships and understand where they’re coming from and what they’re interested in doing in class.

What helps them to learn the best?  What do they want and need from us?  So I decided to use this as an opportunity to take a bit of a risk and try some new methods during this final grading period. It made sense because then I could really think about it over the summer and start fresh in the fall.

The first homework experiment

Students have a lot of homework and I do believe in the value of homework.  It is the way we help students to practice and figure out what they know and what they don’t know and how they can become better. It is one of many ways teachers can assess students and learn about their needs, provide instruction and valuable feedback.  But I’ve changed my thinking about homework.  I used to think that I had to give students homework every day.  And I also thought that homework had to be the same for each student and each class. In part, my methods were a result of the experience I had as a high school student.  I decided to change the daily homework assignments and make things more personal,  let the students determine for themselves what they could do for homework, and have choices.

Just as a start, I assigned each student to be the teacher for the next class period.   With a partner for example, we are working on the past tense in Spanish and in pairs, I let the students decide which verb tense they would like to teach their partner.  The homework was to simply come to class the next day with a way to teach their partner the verbs.  I said it could be something tangible in the form of a worksheet or any activity that they found, a website, a video, a game, or another resource. It really did not matter to me as long as whatever they had they could use in class and they could teach.

I believed that in the process the students would learn more and also develop collaborative learning skills.

What Did The Students Think?

While they taught, I moved around to interact with each group to see what it was they had prepared. There were worksheets found online, worksheets that students created, handwritten pages of notes, flashcards, some had found websites with games and others had found videos or had created a Kahoot or Quizizz game for their partner to play. But what was most important was that they sought out resources, they had an opportunity to teach someone else and their homework was personalized not only for them, but also for other students. It went well and they were enjoying it and learning.

I will admit that I was nervous about doing this.  Not requiring a specific form or product for each student to show in class, and being open to any format the students brought in, was very different. It was a risk. But I was amazed at how creative they were, how engaged each group was, and the variety of “homework” that had been done.

Student feedback is very important for me and I value their input and regularly engage them in informal conversations or will have them complete a survey.  I want to know their thoughts. What did they like?  What did they not like?  Did they learn? Was this an effective way to practice the material we were covering in class?  We spent two days doing this first assignment, so each person could teach.  And then I had them switch groups, and teach again.  The end result was that students were teachers, the learning was personal, they were engaged, felt valued, and the experience was meaningful and beneficial to their learning.

It is a risk and when you don’t necessarily have the whole plan set out, and you just kind of go with it, you might be surprised at the results.  Giving the students control, seeing their interactions, and knowing that this homework was the type that was beneficial to each of them, encouraged me to continue to find new ways to give more classroom control to the students.  Giving up some control is not always easy, but in doing this, it opens up more opportunities for facilitating learning, providing individualized instruction and building those relationships which are the foundation of education.

Using Technology To Help Students Lead Their Own Learning

IMG_20160504_111504184

Using Technology To Help Students Lead Their Own Learning

 

by Rachelle Dene Poth

Technology provides ways for students to learn anywhere and at any time, and affords the possibility of providing learning at a pace that is comfortable for each student.

Teachers can teach students from inside the traditional classroom, “the brick-and-mortar” as it is called, or from other places anywhere around the world. Lessons can be pre-recorded and shared or streamed live, and students can access these types of tools at any time and refer back to them as needed. The availability of tools which lend themselves to more interaction between the teacher and the students–and the content can continue, in the mind of the student, to grow.

There are many options available and the best part is that with so many choices, it is possible to find something that meets the needs of each class and each student. Using digital tools provides more differentiation and personalized learning, and can provide opportunities for the students to take on the role of teachers and to create their own lesson and lead. Students can create with these tools and share lessons with the class, thereby increasing the resources available to all students. Or simply use the opportunity to become the creator, as a way to help them learn the material in a more meaningful and authentic way.

They Can Learn Anytime, Anywhere

The use of technology can mean that learning is no longer confined to the traditional time and setting of the classroom. In this way, it opens up the learning environment to anytime, anywhere–and at a pace that is comfortable for the students as well.

Teachers and students can access so many resources to teach the content and to help understand and then apply the knowledge they have gained. And when students are given choices in how to show what they have learned, they are more likely to be engaged and excited for learning. They will feel valued, and the lesson and learning will be more meaningful because it has been made personal to them. Given support, students can find resources that meet their needs, and teachers can also use these resources to find out what the student needs are.

With the multiple ways to assess students using digital tools today, teachers can have the data instantly, through live results, and can provide feedback to students when they need it the most. Students can take this information and then build on their own skills, and when they can’t or choose not to, you know where to start when helping them and their families growing as master learners.

It Give Them Choices

The timing and quality of learning feedback is critical for growth to happen. Students can also make choices about what types of activities they want to use and therefore are more empowered in their learning and can self-direct. If you give some of the control and leave the decision making to students to choose how to show what they have learned, or let them design their own homework assignment, they have the chance to be more empowered, and build momentum that can endure after the unit is over.

Giving students opportunities to work with each other and take on a new role, such as that of a teacher, enables you to also provide more one-on-one feedback. Teachers can become more of a facilitator and move around the classroom and learn more about the students and their needs, and also build relationships in the process. Relationships are key to student growth, and choice can be a significant boost here.

It Can Help Them Find Resources More Relevant To Them

One of the advantages of digital tools is that it can make some things more accessible; anytime, anywhere access to information, past work, groups, experts, and more are not the only benefit of technology. The resources and materials have more of an opportunity to stay up-to-date, and there are many so choices that each student can find something that is relevant to them.

 

Using Technology To Help Students Lead Their Own Learning; adapted image attribution flickr user sparkfunelectronics

Blogging: Assessing Student Growth

Assessing Student Growth Over Time

@CESMediaCenter Ana works on KB post about buddy bench

Blogging is an effective classroom tool used to exceed learning objectives beyond traditional methods. It offers more than just a platform for writing and sharing ideas. It is a means for teachers to assess, connect, empower, and understand their students. For students, it is a way to to find their voice, while continuously learning more about their interests, strengths, and areas of growth.

There are many innovative ways to use blogging in the classroom to meet these goals. As a teacher, you simply need to be open to new ideas, implement creative lesson plans, and relinquish some control by offering the students a chance to choose their own inspiration for writing.  These choices, this freedom in writing, lead to higher student engagement, more meaningful learning, and an enhanced classroom experience for both teachers and students.

Within my classroom, blogging has become one of the best tools to promote literacy skills, while building students’ confidence to express ideas without the fear of making mistakes. Additionally, it has become a way to learn about my students and create a deeper teacher-student relationship. Blogs offer teachers the ability to learn about students and for students to learn about themselves. Yet, what I have found most valuable is blogging’s ability to foster an engaging learning environment, personal to each student, while providing a means for student growth to be tracked and to promote student reflection in the process.

With Kidblog, we have an opportunity for assessing students in multiple areas of communication. It provides a unique, personalized environment for encouraging students to convey their thoughts, demonstrate understanding and make meaning out of content material. Because of Kidblog’s ability to be used class-over-class, year-over-year, students can begin blogging at a young age and continue into higher grade levels. At each phase, they further develop their skills, find comfort sharing knowledge and ideas freely, and continuously develop their content-rich digital portfolio. This ever-growing content can later be used as a focal point to help students see their progress and reflect on their work. They are able to review their first blog posts, compared to their current blog posts, and acknowledge their progress as writers throughout the year.

This progress is built upon the ability to engage students in the writing process through student collaboration and the opportunity to reach an authentic audience. In my class, students are asked to review the comments, to re-read their work, and to consider how they have developed over the year.  It has proven to be an effective way to provide feedback to students, to teach them to reflect and work on goal setting, but in a way that puts the control in their hands.

Students often surprise themselves. They develop skills in ways that are personal to them, and they can use this to track their own growth throughout the year. Even those students who initially were not the biggest fan of writing have been motivated after realizing their progress throughout the year.  Additionally, by taking a look back at where they started and where they are now, students will be inspired to take the next steps to keep moving forward.

 

Current Kidblog members: If you’re a teacher with multiple colleagues using Kidblog in your school/district, Admin Pro is simply a better plan for you.  Email membership@kidblog.org to learn about benefits and volume discounts.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

I am a Foreign Language Teacher at Riverview Junior Senior High School in Oakmont, PA. I am also an attorney and received my Juris Doctor Degree from Duquesne University School of Law, and I will receive my Master’s Degree in Instructional Technology from Duquesne University in May 2016. I have presented at several conferences on technology, including PETE&C in Pennsylvania and four sessions at ISTE in Philadelphia in 2015. I look forward to presenting at these and other conferences again this year and enjoy sharing ideas and collaborating with others. I am an officer for ISTE Mobile Learning Network and Games & Sims Network, the PAECT Historian, and fortunate to represent several communities working with educational technology. 

Listening to Student Voices: Piktochart

This is a story done about one of my students, after working with Piktochart and participating in their user story last year, thought hearing from students about the benefits of Piktochart and other tools in the classroom.  Thank you to Jacqueline Jensen and Piktochart for this great post, originally posted on Medium. 

User Story: Students Using Piktochart

In this user story, we talk with Dana Grover, a high school student in Pittsburgh, about how she uses Piktochart inside and outside the classroom, why she thinks visual storytelling is important for her generation, and her favorite EdTech tools.

The fast pace of technology advancement is affecting students outside andinside the classroom. At Piktochart, we often talk to teachers about how they are using Piktochart in the classroom. Uses range from creating a new visual take of the traditional syllabus to utilizing one of our 500 templates to quickly turn text-based material into engaging visuals for the classroom.

But we felt like we were missing an important voice in the conversation. What do students think about Piktochart? Do they think that visual storytelling is a trend that will stick for their generation?

Meet Dana Grover

Dana Grover lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and is a student at Riverview High School.

“I am a theatre enthusiast who is involved with the marching and concert bands, orchestra, and chorus, along with the Spanish, drama, cinema, and Model United Nations clubs at Riverview,” she told me. “If someone were to look for me outside of school, they would find me in the kitchen, listening to my extensive music collection, or just relaxing.”

Dana first learned about Piktochart about a year ago. In fact, a big part of her discovery of Piktochart was thanks to her Spanish teacher, Rachelle Poth, who we profiled recently in our video user story series. Check out how Rachelle uses Piktochart in her classroom. Video on Youtube of User Story

Piktochart User Story — Rachelle Poth

“Technology is a big part of our Spanish curriculum,” said Dana. “We find new and interesting ways to use it, and showcase our knowledge through it. When I started taking Spanish, all of our projects had to be created using some sort of digital presentation application.”

Dana said when Ms. Poth discovered Piktochart as a tool for students to use to create their presentations, she was quick to share it with all of her students, “as she is prone to do with all great tools,” recalled Dana.

Dana said the way class projects are set up leads students to use new websites each time something is created. “So when I had already used Visme, Sway,Glogster, and others, I decided to try Piktochart,” she said.

“What made me want to explore Piktochart more was when my peers presented in class and I saw how organized and aesthetically pleasing their projects were,” Dana said.

When she thought about what she and her peers needed in an EdTech tool, Dana pointed to one must-have:

“We need to be able to express ourselves in creative ways. Piktochart lends itself to this perfectly,” said Dana.

“Everyone wants technology to be fast and easy to use,” she continued. “Teenagers want lots of choices when creating projects, because we are our own projects, and we want to be able to have choices and create ourselves in creative ways.”

Dana’s Work on Piktochart

When I asked Dana to share her favorite project on Piktochart with me, she was quick to point to an infographic she made about one of her favorite shows — HBO’s The Leftovers.

“Piktochart was the perfect tool to use for this project,” she said. “The Leftoversis such a good, well thought-out, creative show, and I needed a website that was going to be able to do it justice. I was really pleased with all of the options I had when making this project. I felt like I was able to create exactly what I had envisioned it to be, which is not the case for a lot of tools.”

Dana’s Tips and Tricks for Using Piktochart

Dana knows what’s it’s like being new to using Piktochart, so I was curious to hear some of her tips and tricks for newbies.

“The first thing I would show them would be text features, photo options, and background choices,” she said. “Not only are those the basics to creating an infographic, but Piktochart does a really nice job of making these features accessible, easy to use, and extensive in their range of creativity.”

Dana said that when she first started making infographics, she wanted to make the visual longer. The problem, she recalled, was that she couldn’t figure out how to add blocks to build on to her visual.

“It probably took me a good 10 minutes before I realized that when I had a block selected, in the upper left hand corner was a button to add more blocks,” she said. “And below, there is the option to re-size them, which is really helpful.”

For those who are new to using Piktochart, this is what Dana is talking about. This is how to add more blocks!

Dana told me she loves how many symbols, shapes, and colors can be put into visuals she creates using Piktochart.

“Lots of applications have options, but not nearly as many as Piktochart for creative purposes,” she said. “My presentations don’t have to be dry when I use Piktochart. Whatever I envision for my project, odds are I can create it with Piktochart.”

Dana’s Favorite EdTech Tools

When she’s not creating on Piktochart, Dana said she loves using Storybird. Storybird lets anyone make visual stories in seconds. The team curates artwork from illustrators and animators around the world and inspires writers of any age to turn those images into fresh stories.

“Storybird is another great website because it is fun to use and really simple,” said Dana. “I love that people are able to write their own stories and use professional artwork to accompany it. The best part is that you can order your story as a hard or soft cover book. Everyone who worked on it is cited — the author, the illustrator, and the website.”

Another tool in Dana’s toolbox is Sway. Sway, a digital storytelling app, was recently released by Microsoft and is part of Microsoft Office.

“Sway’s layout is very interesting, with options to make a beautiful cover page and online poster-style infographics,” explained Dana. “There are a lot of options on Sway when it comes to pictures, so when I created mine, I only used images from the website, which was really helpful to save time and citation effort.”


Looking for more ways to utilize Piktochart to make students excited in the classroom? Or maybe you’re looking for ways you can use infographics to make your next school assignment shine? Take a look at how teachers and students alike are using Piktochart in the classroom!