Learning as I go: Experiences, reflections, lessons learned

Rachelle Dene Poth @rdene915 #FUTURE4EDU #QUOTES4EDU #THRIVEinEDU

foreign language

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

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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.

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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

Thank you Kidblog, my recent post published April 14, 2016

Retelling the Story: What Comes Next?

@mrsgrun4th reading and blogging at recess 3

My prior blog posts have focused on the benefits of blogging for students and teachers in the classroom. Some of these posts included using blogs as a way to encourage students to write freely without fear of mistakes, as a way to build relationships with classmates and the teacher, and as a way to create with a new language and build their vital language skills.  In addition to these, there are many ways to use blogs in place of a traditionally used assignment or assessment. It is simple to set up a loose prompt for students and use their blog as a way to assess their learning in relation to topics covered in class, while welcoming creativity.

Retelling the story:

Recently, I have used blogging as a means for students to retell portions of a story that we have been reading in class in a way that helps them better understand the meaning of the book. In my Spanish class, we use leveled readers throughout the year to build our language skills. Sometimes we will discuss the readers in class and other times students may complete a worksheet with comprehension questions. While, these are both great methods to determine what students have learned, they do not allow for student creativity or differentiation.  To assure all students have the opportunity to be involved in the discussion, expressing their creative views and offering insights, I have the students blog.

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What happens next?

Recently, I assigned the students the task of reading a chapter in the Spanish reader “Amigos Detectives” and asked them to write about what they read. I gave some guiding questions to provide ideas and spark their creativity. In addition to answering some of my questions, I asked the students to either predict what may come next in the story or to create a new title for the current or next chapter. Later, I asked them to create their own chapter and give some of the highlights of what might happen to the main characters. This encourages deeper thinking and creativity, while the blogging medium gives the students an opportunity to share their ideas and opinions on a higher level.

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Student example

 

The benefit:

Giving blog assignments related to a reading has increased the levels of comprehensive reading being done by my students.  The requirements given, a summarization, retelling the story, or creating a next chapter, lead to more student involvement in the reading process and makes it more interesting and personal process. Students are able to choose how they demonstrate comprehension of the language, which increases student motivation. Additionally, it  provides a great prompt for classroom discussion. Using blogs as the medium enables students to narrate in their own personal way and hopefully have fun in the process.

Blogging provides a more engaging way to have students show what they have learned, to express what interested them, and to create with the language.  Students truly enjoy sharing story predictions and choosing our favorites from the newly created titles.

Build Confidence Through Blogging

Regardless of the course one teaches, or the content being covered, it is important to provide opportunities for students to practice their literacy skills. As a foreign language teacher, I continually seek new, creative ways for my students to practice their reading, writing, speaking and listening skills and in the process, to become more confident in their language usage. Students today often struggle with a fear of speaking in class and of making mistakes. As a teacher, I try to support the students as best as I can by reinforcing that it is natural to make mistakes and it is part of the learning process. I share my own experiences to help build a connection with my students.

But even with these supports, the fear of mistakes continues to limit the willingness of students to participate in class activities. They are afraid to be wrong. I have noticed this is very common among students today and even in my own experience, as a teacher and even now as a graduate student, I experience this fear as well. As a teacher, it is important to provide support and model risk-taking for our students. We must work to find different ways to encourage them to use the language and express themselves, without worrying about mistakes.

So how do we do this?

A great way to involve students in expressing themselves and also to provide valuable feedback to them and to help boost confidence in the process, is through blogging. I decided to try this with my students as an alternate homework assignment, to provide some differentiation and to learn more about the specific needs of my students in the process. Blogging was something that I had recently started and so I thought I would give it a try with my students, as a way to help them be more comfortable in expressing themselves.

Because it is critical for students to practice their language skills, I focused on providing some unique and creative writing prompts that would be a comfortable way for them to start writing and blogging. I set some requirements, such as that they do not use translators, that they simply write their response, cast aside any worries about making mistakes, to just write in Spanish and do their best. I continued to emphasize that making mistakes is a normal part of the learning process and how we improve as a result of having made mistakes. It is important to also share stories of our successes and failures with our students, so they can relate and have the support that they need. So when I started assigning the blogs to my students for homework assignments, I encouraged them to focus on expressing their ideas, to write freely without worrying about the grammar and language accuracy, but rather to focus on using and creating with the language.

The first assignment KIDBLOG

The decision to integrate Kidblog as my blogging platform, and to use blogging as a way to encourage my students to write, and create with the language, has had great benefits on their language skills. The tools available for blogging today are similar to what I had done many years ago, with students in my Spanish IV course, who had paper journals. At that time, I set aside ten minutes in class, a few days each week for the students to write a response to a prompt I had written on the board. I tried to come up with a variety of interesting, fun, content related prompts, to help with comfort level but also to have them practice the related vocabulary and verbs we had been studying. While they wrote, I also took the time to write because I wanted to be involved in the process, and it is beneficial for me to work on continued writing as well. Most of the prompts were created by me, but there were days that I left it up to the students, and their fun, creative ideas, led to even better prompts than those which I had created.

I would collect each of their notebooks on Friday, read their responses over the weekend, provide feedback and comments, but they were not graded based on grammatical correctness. I wanted to assess their skills, use the information to guide my instruction, and also quite importantly, use it as a way to understand the students and their interests. As teachers, it is critical to work on building relationships with our students, to better understand their needs and interests, and the journal writing was a great way to accomplishment each of these goals.

On Monday, I would return the journals, and the students would read my comments and try to implement some of the corrections or feedback that I provided into their work for the new week, and build their language skills.

Blogging: What are some of the benefits?

Blogging is a means for teachers to encourage students to express themselves, to be creative, to build literacy skills, to become more confident in their writing, and focus more on sharing their ideas without fear of errors. Blogging helps students to develop their creative side, to have a choice in what they are writing, to become more expressive and to have some individualized instruction. Paper is fine for students to being blogging and the most important thing is that students have the opportunity to blog and use the experience to build their skills in the language or in any area.

But rather than using paper, students and teachers can benefit by using a tool such as Kidblog. The blog can be written using any device for access. Students can personalize their blog by choosing from different templates, fonts, and more. The use of digital tools for blogging is great for tracking student growth and having the writing available, longer than a piece of paper would last. As teachers, and with our students, we can watch the student’s growth and track their progress in writing skills and more, over a period of time, and provides opportunities for self-reflection.

I enjoy creating new prompts for the students to blog about and I encourage them to find blogs of interest to read as well. Reading their entries provides me with valuable information to help guide my instruction, to give them feedback, but more importantly, I can learn more about the interests and needs of each of my students.

If this sounds like an area that might be of benefit to your classroom and your students, then I recommend trying it out. It is a risk, but it is worth it. Blogging might just be the way to open up communication, collaboration and enhance creativity in your classroom. Find your blogging tool and get started. Good luck!

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Thank you Terry Heick for publishing this post today in TeachThought.

How I Got Started Using Technology To Assess Student Learning

by Rachelle Dene Poth

If you are looking for another way to integrate technology into your classroom, why not start with assessment?

In order to learn what our students need and how we can better design our lessons to prepare them, we use formative and summative assessments.  Assessments are vital in for determining what learning has occurred, what areas need to be reinforced, and what our next steps must be. This kind of information helps to guide our instruction and provide additional opportunities for our students. Assessments give us the information we need to provide feedback to them, to guide their learning, and to set new goals.

(See ‘The Most Important Question Every Question Should Answer.’)

Providing timely, relevant learning feedback is essential to personal growth and reflection for student learning.  So how can we make assessments more effective, informative and engaging too?

Why use technology for assessments?

Depending on the number of classes and students in each class, creating assessments in a variety of forms, grading them and providing feedback in a timely manner, can become quite time consuming. However, with the numerous digital tools available, teachers have many choices available for assessing students.

Options exist for using quick entrance and exit slips, surveys, having students interact in discussions both in and outside of the classroom, just for a few examples. There are so many possibilities, and what’s even better is how quickly results are obtained, can be evaluated and feedback provided to the students.

Teachers have choices in the types of feedback they receive. In addition to live results, teachers can save data in downloadable spreadsheets, receive emails with the results and some tools offer other formats as well. These all enhance the ability of teachers to further their understanding of where the students are in terms of their learning and what areas need a bit more focus and instruction.

What changes will you notice in your classroom?

As a foreign language teacher, I need to assess my students regularly because learning a foreign language, especially at the lower levels, requires an ongoing evaluation of the students’ understanding and ability to use the language.  Providing regular feedback is critical for students to learn structure, build their vocabulary and enhance the four language skills.

Teachers with larger classes find that providing assessments and giving feedback to the students in a timely manner can be challenging and need a way to make this process easier.  However, sometimes due to other time constraints, or the length of assessments, grading student work and returning it the next day, in spite of one’s best efforts, is not always possible, and for this there are solutions.

With the variety of digital tools available, many of these concerns have disappeared and make a tremendous difference in the efficiency of classrooms and teaching procedures, and the types of assessments that teachers can create for students to meet the diverse learning styles.

Where to begin: What are some tools to start with?

Using tools such as GoFormative, Kahoot!, Quizizz, Riddle, SurveyMonkey, and others like these, I have quickly created discussion questions, quizzes, reflection surveys, or combination of all of these.  There are so many options for creating formative assessments by using any of these and other tools available today.  As the students finish, teachers can see the live results or download the results directly to their computer, and can analyze the data in a variety of ways. It is a great way to focus on the needs of each individual student, but also for the class as a whole, to address what the areas are that the students need some help with.

Integrating tools for assessment such as these, makes the use of entrance and exit slips easier and quicker to use.  Having students complete an entrance slip for example, using one of these tools at the beginning of a period, enables you to have the results within a few minutes and use this valuable feedback to help guide the lesson for the day and make changes as needed based on the data.  The results can then provide valuable feedback to the students, one on one, and help them to work on their personal growth and reflection.

Teachers can refer back to the results to track student growth, to note patterns in certain classes or students, and to work with students on determining strengths and weaknesses. I have found it very beneficial to my professional growth and use these results to reflect on my instructional methods. Paper assessments get lost but assessments created using one of these tools are stored and can be referred to as often as needed.

 

 

Benefits of using digital tools for assessment

So many options are available for assessing students, giving them a way to express thoughts, learning and be involved in the classroom. These tools enable teachers to conduct this type of evaluative work faster, decreases the paperwork, and provides more time for working with the students using the data.  Students benefit because they have this feedback when they need it most and also learn additional vital technology skills in the process.

Some quick examples: Use GoFormative to have students complete assessments in class, respond to them with feedback instantly and track their progress. They can draw, write, watch a video and much more. Kahoot! and Quizizz can be used in class as an engaging way to assess students and then use the information to focus on areas which need review. Quizizz can even be assigned as homework, which students actually ask for.

And taking it a step further, students can create their own games with either of these, further enhancing their learning and involvement in the course. Riddle and SurveyMonkey can be used for quizzes, reflective surveys, and more, it all depends on what your needs are.

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These are just a few of many ways to use these tools. Each of the tools mentioned can be used in any grade level or subject area and they do not require students to create an account but can be shared simply through a shareable URL, posted on a class website or written on the board.  The ability to design, share and evaluate students using these and other tools is remarkable.
So if you’re looking for better, more effective ways to provide feedback to your students, and to reduce the amount of paper used, I recommend trying out one of these tools.

There are many options available but these are just a few that I used when I started integrating more technology into my classroom and that have had a tremendous impact on the assessments I have created for students. My students have responded positively and truly enjoy having alternate ways to show what they know and can do with the material.

Using these tools really enables teachers to personalize instruction and help students to reach their fullest potential in the classroom.

 

Images from each website

What Is Blendspace?

 Thanks to Terry Heick and TeachThought for publishing this today.

What Is Blendspace? Using Blendspace In The Classroom

by Rachelle Dene Poth

In my prior two posts, I talked about the way I started to gradually work toward integrating more technology into my classroom.

I focused on what I thought was an area that could use some improvement, and found that there was a disconnect occurring.  I needed a better way to communicate and collaborate with my students and for them to access help when they needed it and the resources that would help them to be successful.  So for me I started with Celly (a messaging app) and once I felt comfortable, integrated Edmodo as our classroom LMS.

BLEND

Once I felt like these were having a positive impact on my classroom, which came in the form of solving problems of lost papers, forgotten assignments, and missed learning opportunities due to class absences.  I began searching for another way to make some improvements and found a tool called Blendspace.

Change takes time, there is no doubt, but we must persist when we take on any new venture. Sometimes it can take longer than we like because we run into difficulties and roadblocks.  In the search for answers to your initial questions, new questions arise, And that is the nature of the game. it becomes an ongoing cycle which helps in the promotion of goal setting and growth as teachers.

How Does Blendspace Fit?

Blendspace is a tool that provides many possibilities and initially I used it as a method of curating resources and flipping my classroom. There are similar tools available, and regardless of which you choose, having one place to keep your resources is a really great idea. So how do you make the decision of which to rely on?

Looking at sites such as Graphite or EdShelf can help. Reading blogs and participating in Twitter chats are also great ways to find out what others are using and their thoughts.  For example, using something like Graphite or EdShelf, you can get a summary of the uses of a web tool, read the reviews and stories about user experiences. Hearing about how other educators are using tools like Blendspace is tremendously helpful when deciding on what tool to integrate into your classroom.

3 Ways To Use Blendspace In The Classroom

1. Flip Your Classroom

I like Blendspace because it really does provide a variety of benefits to me both personally and professionally.  It can be used as a way to flip the classroom and to save that vital classroom time for student interactions, engaging activities, or having students work independently while teachers facilitate their activities and provide feedback one-on-one.

Blendspace can be used to create a lesson using the TES Resources tab, then shared with students through their class account or through a direct link. Regardless of how the lesson is shared, students have access to many resources and can learn asynchronously outside of the classroom, on their own schedule, using whatever device they choose.

This means that, in ideal circumstances, learning can take place anywhere at any time. The choice is the students’ and that’s the great thing about technology and the usefulness of tools like Blendspace. It can also be used to store favorite web tools, presentations, or one’s personal work. It makes it easier to share ideas with colleagues, and organized teaching and learning materials with students.

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2. Present Student Work In Class

Blendspace is a way to avoid fumbling with flash drives, losing valuable class time opening emails and attachments.  All of the student projects can be added by their URL or uploaded into one lesson, given it a title, and in class, only one lesson has to be opened to display the student work for the class to enjoy.

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3. Build A Lesson

Building a lesson for any level or discipline is easy with Blendspace. Simply choose your topic and by using the TES Resource tools provided such as Google Search, Educreations, Google Drive, Dropbox, uploads from your computer, and more, you can quickly build a lesson.  All it takes is finding the resource and dragging it into place in your lesson.

You can add boxes, move items around, and no matter what you do it is done quickly. It really is a great way to share information, keep track of projects, and so much more. These are just some of the reasons why I am really happy that I found Blendspace and how its use has benefited my classroom. I recommend checking it out if you have not, and letting me know in the comments below what your experience was!

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Published on March 17, 2016 by Kidblog. Thankful for the opportunity to be a Blogger for Kidblog.

Promote Student Expression​ through Storytelling

Practicing commenting on paper @woodlandtaglets @anna_bilyeuDepending on particular class content, concepts, or topics, blogging can have a strong, positive impact on several aspects of the learning process.  Recently, I have found that providing students with a short prompt and having them create or tell a story has been extremely beneficial. In doing this, they not only build knowledge and skills in the relevant academic area, but also improve their writing, literacy, and critical thinking skills.  In addition to these learning opportunities, blogging also gives students a means to build skills in technology and become reflective writers in the process.

One way to guide students in writing successful stories is to provide them with writing prompts. Typically, I aim to supply a writing prompt focused on a certain theme we have been covering in class.  This assignment enables me to provide differentiation in their learning and lends itself to more student creativity and choice. I post a writing prompt related to a recent class lesson or theme and ask the students to be creative with their responses. Being a foreign language teacher, I often provide my students with a few specific elements that I would like the responses to contain. Depending on the content area, these elements range from the use of a specific verb or verb tense, a focus on grammar usage, topic of discussion, specific style of narration, or a method of debating an issue.

One example in a foreign language class may be discussing one’s childhood.  By providing a prompt which asks for students to discuss their childhood, they are focused on narrating in the past tense and using specific themed vocabulary.  By requiring students to use a few specific verbs in the blog, it helps to guide their practice with an area in which students may be having some difficulty.

Using blogging in this way has helped promote student discussion and creativity and has served as an alternate means for student assessment. It enables teachers to provide reinforcement of specific content in an individualized way that promotes more authentic learning. For students, it provides a unique way to complete a homework assignment, share ideas, and develop critical thinking skills and learning in multiple areas.

Kidblog has been an awesome medium to get students creating and writing in class. One feature of Kidblog that has helped increase engagement for students in any writing prompt and, in some cases, may also be used as a prompt itself, is the ability to add a photo to your post. Using the photo as a focus helps promote discussion and increase curiosity. Kidblog provides students with the option to enhance creativity through the diverse images and formatting choices. Images and customized formatting brings students’ writing to life and provides a way for instruction to be personalized for each student.

Giving students options empowers them in their choice for writing, and leads to a more engaging and fun learning experience.

Thanks again to Terry Heick for the opportunity!  Originally published in TeachThought on February 10, 2016

Putting All Your Teaching In One Place With An LMS

by Rachelle Dene Poth

If you are starting to integrate technology into your classroom, it is easy to feel overwhelmed with so many options available.

The number of choices available for each area of integration are tremendous. The best advice I can give is to start with one thing at a time.  Find an area that could use some enhancement, and work on it for a while.  Learn about it, reflect on it, figure out if it truly is of benefit to your students and your classroom.  The key words being you and your.  It has to be something that will benefit your environment and your students.

Once you feel comfortable with what you have been using and your students are comfortable as well, then it is time to start thinking about something else that could help to improve the opportunities and learning in your classroom. There are many options, and I will share with you what my next step was, but it may not be the exact thing that you need.  As a suggestion, perhaps the next step is to find a way to create more organization for your class materials.

How can your students access extra copies of their papers or review the requirements for a project that’s due the next day? Is there a way you have to share some web tools or review activities with them that is easily located?  If not, this would be another great step. If this sounds like something that would be helpful, then what you might consider an LMS (Learning Management System).

Making The Choice

For myself, searching for a way to do all of these things was another way to solve the “disconnect” I felt was happening initially.  So after doing some research, I came across Edmodo and decided to try it out for a while. Although I found and still use Edmodo, I will also say that there are many wonderful learning management systems available and depending on where and what you teach, Edmodo may or may not be the best choice for you.

But I believe that each classroom should have a common site.  A place where teachers and students can access course materials, communicate and collaborate on assignments.  A place where students can interact with their classmates and more importantly, receive help when needed.

For my classroom Edmodo is a great choice.   I have spent time using and learning about several other LMS and I can tell you about them, because I think it is important to know the options. I have continued to use Edmodo because my students stay with me throughout their Spanish studies, and it makes sense to keep them in the system, so they can see their growth, so I can track their progress and have access to the materials which then become a part of their digital portfolio.

Maybe an LMS is not what you want but instead you choose to create a website, for example through edublogs, Google, Weebly, Wix or even use Wikispaces as a way to post resources and links. No matter what you choose you can’t go wrong. Centralizing your materials for your class and your students is a great idea and both you and them will benefit from it.

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What were the effects?

Going back for a moment to my initial word of “disconnect,” perhaps it is clearer now how these two tools really help to solve that problem.  Individually either one would work in my favor to promote the communication and collaboration with the students and to make class materials and resources available.

However, the combination of them builds even more into what I can offer because the students can be assessed, they can have their voice expressed in many ways using Edmodo or Celly. Then, each year we can track their progress through tools like Edmodo. It took some time to learn how each of these could be used, but it was well worth it and I am still learning. And more importantly, the students are benefiting tremendously.

So again I ask you, what would help you the most? If you were asked to name one more thing that you could change, determine what that is, investigate and try something new. Take that first step, work with it and then continue to add more.  Again, you may find that your choice is not the best but give it some time before making a final decision. There is always a risk involved, but as educators we are role models for our students.

Being a role model means taking a risk, confronting any roadblocks, and setting new goals after reflecting. All of these lead us to learning and growth and isn’t that what we want for our students?

Thanks again to Payman Taei and Nayomi for publishing my recent post.

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Posted on January 29, 2016 by Rachelle Poth

How to Use Visual Storytelling in the Classroom

image: http://blog.visme.co/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/visual-storytelling-in-the-classroom-1024×590.jpg

Everybody loves a good story. Whether it is a story you are reading in print, hearing firsthand or retold by another, each unfolds in creative and engaging ways. What all of these have in common is that they are created and presented in a way that is unique and meant to engage the audience.

By infusing one’s personality, individuality and creativity into the story being told, the story takes on a new life. Everyone can have similar experiences; our interpretations of them, however, are unique. Through digital tools, we have numerous possibilities for bringing these interpretations to life.

In the classroom, storytelling occurs on a daily basis. The content delivered to and interpreted by the students is a story. How teachers choose to deliver the content, their presentation style and tools used, can make all the difference in the learning that occurs in the classroom.

The way that students interpret the instruction and show their understanding can be accomplished in so many unique ways. It can come in the form of assessments, the sharing of experiences that spontaneously arise during the lesson or through interpretation of a class discussion or sharing of projects.

These are the same possibilities that can occur in any area of life, stemming from our interactions with one another and our efforts to express a thought, feeling or experience.

 

Designing your story

image: http://blog.visme.co/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/16.jpg

1In years past, these stories, essays, reflections and authentic creations were shared using paper and other supplies to create a visual representation.

Today, these options still exist and lead to enhanced student engagement and encourage their creativity. But we now have an abundance of digital tools that can provide these same benefits and also help develop vital technology skills required in today’s world.

Having been on both sides, a teacher and a student, I find that I like working with new presentation creation tools. They give me a greater variety of options and, more importantly, the choice of how to best express my thoughts. I appreciate the variety of choices these tools afford to individuals like me, who are not very artistic, and how they enable us to breathe life into our stories.

 

Project possibilities

image: http://blog.visme.co/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/32.jpg

3I have always liked having possibilities and the freedom to search for tools that meet my needs and interests. I value this freedom of choice greatly for my students as well. Deciding to move toward more personalized instructional opportunities was one of the greatest changes in my classroom that has led to truly amazing benefits for my students as well as for my own professional growth.

image: http://blog.visme.co/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/21.jpg

2One of the reasons I look forward to students’ projects is that by giving them a choice in the type of tool to use, I learn a lot about their interests. They have the freedom to find something that engages them and lets them be creative in their own way. They can express their individuality and in the process of learning and showing what they know and can do, they have fun.

 

Great examples for storytelling

There are so many choices available for students to create a digital story. For example, as a foreign language teacher, we cover a lot of themes in our courses. I enjoy having my students complete projects to show what they have learned, but I prefer they select their own method of presentation.

A few great ways to incorporate visuals through web tools are to have students design a brochure advertising a store or another similar concept covered in class. With so many add-ons available in the template choices, students can create almost anything. I have had students describe their daily routine using visuals, ranging from infographics with a timeline to comics, animated cartoons and much more.

How can students tell their story?

image: http://blog.visme.co/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/42.jpg

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In my classroom, students often complete a variety of themed projects. Some examples include creating a restaurant scene, a menu, a self-description, a narrative about one’s daily routine and preparing for a special event.

There are so many possibilities for students to create a visual representation of these topics. In addition to working individually, students can work collaboratively on things like the creation of a travel agency or on a food and recipe project; or they can create websites, videos, animated presentations and more.

While the instructions and the rubric for each of these projects are always the same and have the same requirements, it does not make a difference to me how the students choose to convey their information. There are times when I may give them a choice between four or five specific tools for creating an infographic because that is the format that I prefer and a skill I would like them to be able to have.

However, there are also many times when I will give them 20 or more choices–ranging from infographics to cartoons, comics, videos and more–because I want them to feel free to express themselves in a way that meets their needs and interests.

 

Examples from my classroom

To give a few examples, in Spanish I, students created infographics to talk about their school schedule and were able to use the various icons, font styles and templates to bring their schedule presentation to life. They also created their own menu for a restaurant and had the same capabilities, regardless of which tool they chose to use.

In Spanish II, where the presentations take on more of a narrative and a lengthier description, some of their work includes describing a daily routine or shopping excursion, and with the newer digital tools available, they can add audio, video and choose from a range of icons and other art that is included; they do not have to worry as much about citing their images because it is an all-inclusive tool.

image: http://blog.visme.co/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/visme-interface-screenshot.jpg

visme interface screenshotStudents have also described their city or a city they would like to live in using a cartoon character or an animated comic strip. They have also created videos using their camera and a tool that helps them edit and combine it into a finished product.

In the upper level Spanish courses, where we focus more on communication and collaboration, students have worked together on telling a story using Wikispaces and Kidblog and shared accounts with something like GoAnimate to create videos. It really does help to engage them, and it definitely makes the learning experience more meaningful because they can recall how they chose to portray the information in their own personalized way.

 

How can this benefit your classroom?

So, if you have a project in mind, think about what the requirements are and how have you assigned the project in the past. What really matters is, “what do you want the students to show you that they know and can do with material that has been covered.” Then think about what has been your traditional way of having the students create something. Do you feel, when you look at their final product, that they are mostly all the same? If so, then using one of the digital tools available is your answer.

image: http://blog.visme.co/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/5.jpg

5Try this: Keep the same requirements but give the students some choices by offering a variety a presentation tools and let them teach you some new things about technology. Also, let them drive their learning, become more engaged and as a result inspire others to do the same.

One thing I have noticed when projects are shared is that in each of the classes, students enjoy seeing each other’s work and having a choice. Another benefit is the relationships that form. Of course, they can go to their teacher, but they can also go to their peers and receive guidance when trying some new presentation tool.

Sometimes students fear new things and are afraid of taking a risk, but experiences that are diverse like this truly help to support students. Digital storytelling encourages creativity; having that choice inspires curiosity and will help to diminish the fear of trying something new.

And finally, it brings a lot of extra diversity and excitement into the classroom. As teachers, we benefit from the extra learning opportunities provided by these tools as well.

Read more at http://blog.visme.co/visual-storytelling-classroom/#xk1rvEGYWugIskuS.99

Excited to start my blogging for Kidblog.  Here is a link to my first post about Foreign Language Classrooms and the benefits of Student Blogging.  http://kidblog.org/home/foreign-language-blogging-the-way-to-express-yourself-freely/

 

Throughout the twenty-some years I have been teaching, I have continued to seek new, engaging ways for my students to practice their foreign language skills. I want students to work on their reading, writing, speaking and listening skills and develop confidence using the language in the process.  When learning a new language, an issue that often arises for students is the fear of making mistakes.  As a result of this fear, they tend to shy away from participating in our class activities. They will note on their homework and tests that they are “probably wrong” or a some other general comment showing a lack of confidence in their work. Other times, before they provide a response in class comes a statement of self-doubt such as, “I’m sure I am wrong” or a request to not have to respond, “Can you please call on someone else?”

Students in general are afraid to be wrong.  In the foreign language classroom, I have noticed this is a recurrent theme among my students.

Hearing students exhibit these feelings drove me to look for ways to help them become comfortable in expressing themselves.  Students need to practice language skills, so I focused on finding methods to encourage students to cast aside doubt and find confidence in expressing themselves through the language.  Initially, I started each class by reminding students to “just go with it,” to simply read their answer, write their response, and not worry about being wrong, just participate.  I tried to help them understand that it is normal to make mistakes – that is how we learn. I even shared stories of my own mistakes to emphasize this point.

I chose to integrate blogging as a way to encourage my students to take a chance with writing and to be more creative with the language. I started having my students write blogs for a few homework assignments.  I encouraged them to share their thoughts, write freely, and not worry so much about grammar and being right, but to focus on expressing their ideas and using the language.

I had done some blogging with students in Spanish many years ago, although at that time it was called “our daily journal writing.” I set aside 10 minutes in class a few days each week, created a prompt, and encouraged them to write. I asked them to write without worrying so much about grammatical accuracy, but rather focus on expressing their ideas. I also took the time to write alongside them because I found it was important to be involved in the process. The prompts I provided were fun to write about.

At the end of each week I would collect their notebooks and read their responses. I chose not to grade their entries based on correctness, but rather provide feedback where needed. I also used it as a way to learn about the students themselves.  Building relationships is such an important part of what we do as teachers and, for me, this was a great way to learn more about the interests of my students and to build their language skills in the process.

The students would read my responses and as part of the following week’s writing, try to implement some of the corrections or feedback that I had provided into their work.

Blogging has proved to be a tremendous way to encourage students to be creative and express themselves without worrying so much about being right. They are now focusing on talking about things that matter to them and, therefore, creating with the language.

 

Photo Credit:  WELCOME by prayitnophotography; CC BY 2.0 license via flickr

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 conferences again this year and enjoy sharing ideas and collaborating with others.

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