Learning as I go: Experiences, reflections, lessons learned

Rachelle Dene Poth @rdene915 #FUTURE4EDU #QUOTES4EDU #THRIVEinEDU

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An updated post from a prior blog I wrote for Edueto Magazine.

Integrating Technology: Getting Started with the First Steps
RELATED TAGS: Technology Integration,Classroom Technology,All Grades,All Subjects
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Rachelle Dene Poth
Posted 04/19/2016 9:36PM | Last Commented 04/19/2016 9:36PM

Every day, there are tons of discussions to be found through social media, online resources, conversations with colleagues and more. Becoming involved in Twitter chats or being a member in a Google Community or other Learning Network, are ways to access some of the resources that describe the best ways, the best tools, and the best ideas for integrating technology in the classroom. Educating oneself about the tools available and best strategies for integrating technology into the classroom is never a bad idea. But the most important thing is that there has to be a first step. Teachers have to take a chance and find some way to integrate technology into the classroom. Not all teachers may feel comfortable with the idea of technology integration, and may find themselves on varying ends of the spectrum of what I will refer to as being technology savvy.

Teachers who have taught around 20 years or were 80s children like myself, have seen many changes in the world of technology from the entrance of Apple computers and programming in the early 1980s to the start of the Internet in the nineties to cloud computing and other emerging technologies today. There will continue to be more tremendous and innovative changes in technology available.

I was an 80s child and I have grown up in the age of computing, fascinated at the opportunity to program computers in 7th grade. Because of this fascination and continued interest in learning about the tools available, incorporating technology into my classroom was not something I was afraid to do nor would I consider that it has been a seamless process either. Risks are always involved when trying something new such as integrating technology. With any new venture comes many questions such as where to begin, how to begin and what is the best way to use the new tech so it does not interfere with the learning process.

Getting Started

So where to begin? This is the most difficult question when first starting. There are some things that you have to ask yourself. How comfortable are you with computers and web 2.0 tools? For several years, I had been using technology with my students in the form of some online language learning games and activities, or occasionally had students’ complete projects using word processing or some other presentation software. Besides these occasional activities, other than audio and video resources for my course, the technology use in my classroom was limited. Although at the time, I thought that I was really providing a variety of technology opportunities for my students.

The Changing Point

I had attended a national conference and realized that there were so many possibilities out there for enhancing learning experiences and new ways to engage students, so I reflected a bit to figure out what I could add to my classroom that would benefit my students and bring about positive changes.

I also asked myself, what is it that I am not offering my students, and also, what is something that the students could do as well, to enhance their experiences.

For my classroom, it came down to what I have referred to as a “disconnect” between my students, our class and their access to the vital resources. I focused on finding something that could make a difference. I decided to start with finding a way to facilitate communication.

Communication Resources: Why We Need Them

We have all experienced this in our classrooms. How many times have your students come in to class after a long weekend, with questions about the homework, that they did not complete because they did not understand it? And then there are the times when students missed class and appeared the start of class, wondering what they missed in their absence. These situations led me to find Celly. Celly is a messaging tool that can be used in many ways. When I started, it was simply a way for me to send reminders to students, to be accessible for their questions, to provide helpful resources and to be available when the students needed, which often was later in the evening or during the weekend when they were working on their assignments and had the questions appear.

So how did this impact my classroom? It quickly helped to solve the problem of the “disconnect”. Integrating Celly into my classroom was the first step in a series of changes that I made to my classroom procedures that has brought about many positive changes in the educational experiences I provide for my students. Most importantly for me, it provides the students with a way to get help when they need it. If this sounds like something that could benefit your classroom, try one of the many great messaging tools available. There are many choices and it simply takes starting with one, working with it and seeing how it can impact your classroom and students. Once you feel comfortable with your choice, then start thinking about another way that you can add to the learning experience in your classroom. Just remember to find what works best for YOU and your students, that is an important aspect to keep in mind. Integrating technology is great when it adds to the experience and provides new opportunities and extends learning and communication. But the important thing to remember is that it has to be beneficial for your classroom.

Another Step for Communication and Collaboration.

After some time had passed and new ways for using Celly had been found, I started looking for something else that I could improve in my classroom. This would be the next step for you as well. It might be finding a way to keep your class materials organized and accessible for students or find the requirements for a project that’s due the next day. Or maybe you post some many web tools and review activities that you have shared with them. If these sound like some areas that may be beneficial, then what you need is a Learning Management System or a classroom website. For myself, this was the next step and after some research I found Edmodo.

I have made presentations at conferences and my message is the same, which is this: There are many wonderful learning management systems available and options for creating websites, 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. For my classroom Edmodo has been a great choice. I have worked with many of the other options and I can tell you what you might want to know about them. 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 Google sites, Google Classroom, Weebly or even use Wikispaces as a way to post resources and links. No matter what you choose you can’t go wrong. Creating a space online for your class materials and to communicate with your students is a great idea and you will see the benefits of this.

Making the Decision

In my experiences, referring back to that feeling of “disconnect”, I hope it is clearer now how these two tools really helped to solve that problem. By choosing a messaging tool or creating a class websites or using an LMS, either would serve to promote the communication and collaboration with the students, have class materials and resources readily available, but in my classroom, having both of these in place enhances the learning experiences and support I provide for my students. I have new options for ways to communicate with students, different ways to assess their learning, and students have more support available through these communication and collaboration tools.

So now it is your turn. Think about your students and your classroom. Ask yourself, what is something that could help make the learning experience better? Is there something that you would like to change? Think about it and when you figure out what that one thing is, do a bit of research, find a tool, start small and build. Try it within your classroom and give it some time. You may decide that it is not working as you had hoped, and that is part of the learning process. Give it some time. It is a risk to try something new and different, but well worth it. Sometimes we are successful and other times we are not, and this is something that as educators we need to experience as well. We have to model challenges and struggles for our students, to show it is okay to try something new, to set goals, and that there will be challenges along the way. It is part of learning, reflecting and continuing to grow.

If you have wanted to integrate more technology into your classroom, now is the time to start. Find something, work with it and keep going. It is an ongoing learning process and well worth it for you and your students.

So keep wondering, taking risks, and be persistent.

But more than that, be patient. Learning has no time limit.

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!

edueto1

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.

laptops-in-classroomc

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?

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