Archive for April, 2012

Leading up to the Easter holidays, with the dark shadow of exams looming over the horizon, one thing I wanted was to be able to monitor was what (if anything) my pupils were doing in terms of revision. I wanted proof that regular work was being done, evidence of exercises done, progress being made and skills being practised. It is true to say that I am something of an obsessive perhaps on this front, though maybe it is just because since I feel I put my fair share of time in to help pupils prepare for exams with extra lessons, loads of mock orals and time spent preparing targetted work and revision sheets, I expect to see that dedication being mirrored to some extent. Do I bother coming into school on a Sunday like I did today for everyone if they aren’t doing what I expect?! (for the 2 pupils today absolutely given how hard they have worked). This need to be able to see what is done in addition to officially set work obviously helps with reports and assessment grades, and can also show parents either how much, or how little their offspring are doing.

I recommend a number of websites to all my pupils – all of them are linked to from our department VLE website. Some of the best of them in my opinion are Languages Online, Español Extra (needs subscribing to), Asi Se Hace, and Oye (see Zut and Gut for French and German respectively) which allow pupils to do exercises and check their own answers. In the IB Spanish B website that I am involved with, Exclusiva (which will soon go live when some subscription issues have been sorted out!)  this will also be a feature, pupils being able to get instant feedback from their exercises. The only problem is that teachers can’t see which exercises their pupils have completed or seen their results. The Authentik Interactive site does have this feature – at least you can see when your pupils have logged on though they seem to have had some problems with the facility that allowed you to see their marks as well. Authentik is an excellent site, though on the pricey side, and they do need to sort out their word translation problems and the ongoing assessment problems for it to be worth the money for the subscription.

This is where two of my favourite sites have an advantage. Edmodo is great for this particularly. Though you have to create your own quizzes and so on, it does allow you to see easily who is doing what. All you have to do is to create the quiz and ensure that the marks go into your gradebook for that group. It gives you quick and easy feedback on how pupils are doing and how often they do tests. I look forward to showing any parents saying their pupils are working hard the evidence of how many tests they did during the Easter holidays. Strangely there is an obvious coefficient between those doing best and how  many tests they have done and those who are struggling to some extent! There is little hiding place to defend anyone’s lack of effort, particularly if you have got everyone to subscribe to the relevant group in a lesson and you know that internet facilities are working! I have also said that pupils will find it difficult to get a ‘1’ effort grade in their orders if I don’t have evidence of extra work, something stipulated in our reports criteria.

Voxopop also allows you to see if pupils are doing anything or not. Here there are a few more excuses for not participating. Some school computers may not have microphones but if you have assured yourself that it does work across the school and / or pupils’ own PCs and laptops, and obviously showed your class how it works, then you have a better chance of everyone being able to use it correctly. Again, I would stress the need to use a few minutes of a lab lesson to subscribe your class to Voxopop and to show them how it works, ideally getting them all to make their first recording too. From then on you can see if they are using the tool or not, although with Voxopop you may need to remind pupils or inform them of new topic discussions as alerts are not sent to emails, unlike with Edmodo.

Blogs are also an easy way of monitoring extra work, this time for writing skills. I intend to start blogs with several exam sets in my new school in September and asking them to produce a regular blog entry, either on a topic of their choice, or about things covered in class. There are various blog options out there, obviously WordPress, Blogger and so on, and it may depend on whether your school has a preference too. Ideally, I would like my future sets to have the facility to embed videos, images, cartoons, animations and recordings onto their blog, and so I might employ Blogger, though I do need to look into this more. (Any advice welcome!) I know that colleagues in the drama and history departments at my current school have asked their IB and 6th form pupils to produce blogs, challenging them to do the extra work expected, and again permitting teachers and parents to monitor continuous progress and revision outside the classroom. My colleagues have also told me that it has led to pupils almost being forced by the efforts of others to put the same amount of effort in, or risk being shown up! There is also a pleasing aspect of trying to outdo each other in what they are writing as they check each others’ blogs.

The obvious downside to this is that you need to be prepared to spend the time checking what your pupils are doing. Some teachers see the marking and planning as the extra work they are expected to do, and may not like the extra extra checking that Edmodo, Voxopop and reading blogs would entail. Personally, this is time I am prepared to invest in order to help my pupils to progress and that support and input can really help improvements. It also puts the ball in the pupils’ court and shows those who struggle to see how to practise their language skills how they can be more independent learners. Pupils need to take these opportunities and the responsibility for their own education and not leave it all down to us!

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Today I thought I would do something slightly different; rather than introducing a new program or web 2.0 tool that could be employed in your lessons, I though I would deal with how you go about training or teaching pupils how to use them.

There are lots of time pressures on teachers at all the various Key Stages and the use of some of the tools I have blogged about previously could be seen by some as a luxury lesson. For example, it is all well and good to do a writing task by using a comic creator such as Chogger, Strip Generator or Toondoo (yet to be blogged about, it will happen!) but is this really the best way of getting pupils to write? Do pupils become obsessed about the layout of the cartoon and forget about the linguistic importance of the task they are charged with carrying out? Does humour take over from intellectual and educational relevance? Is it time effective or could pupils produce more work in the time available just by writing in their books in the traditional manner? What happens if things go wrong with the programme or website? What happens if pupils don’t like using computers or find it hard to work out how to use the tool effectively?

My first point is that by using cartoon generating tools you will stimulate interest in the task, and it is likely that pupils will make more of an effort to produce an entertaining and well made piece. The same is not necessarily true of yet another piece of written work in their exercise book, which doesn’t really spark much interest and can be trotted off in a rush. Any language production is worthwhile immediately, and the finished cartoons will almsot certainly be shown off to others in the class and be read by others. This hardly ever happens with exercise book work. A sense of competition, and the desire to outdo others could grow, and as long as you, the teacher, controls this competitive instinct and directs it towards target language production then better work will be elicited. It may be a luxury lesson, but it will in my opinion be productive and something that will enthuse and motivate your pupils. It doens’t have to be done every week, maybe once a term will suffice, and who knows, pupils may be inspired to do others independently.

The difficulty is perhaps teaching pupils how to use the tools without losing much time of the lesson and this is a key factor to debate. First of all, you have to be very confident in using the tool or application. You  have to anticipate what problems could arise, work out how you want everything to work and see what every button does before using it in a lesson, as the last thing you want is for some unsolvable disaster to occur which leaves you looking stupid as you try and work out why you can’t type into a speechbubble, or why something hasn’t saved. One method is to do a presentation demo infront of the class beforehand and restrict the features of the tool that they use. Another is to walk a class through their task step by step, giving a set time limit per stage of the task you are completing. Some kind of handout is probably necessary as well with a basic guideline for using a tool. This is something I will be doing during the summer holidays in fact.

There are various other options as well. Perhaps you could liaise with the IT department and see if they will teach some of the tools in their class. After school or lunchtime hobbies time will also be useful projects, though the downside is that not all pupils will become involved and some could get left behind. There is the chance that interest will spread if pupils enjoy the creative process. If finished projects such as animations, cartoons and videos can be embedded on well published and regularly viewable blogs or department webpages, others may be curious and encouraged to join in. Certainly using these tools in my opinion is an excellent way of  promoting TL use in language clubs for instance, where time pressures are not as restrictive.

In all situations, the most important thing to do is to do the preparation work first. Know WHY you are using the tool and WHAT you want the finished outcome to be. Know HOW it works and have the appropriate support ready fo the pupils. It helps a great deal to have the target language material prepared fully prior to using the tools you are going to use in the lesson, or requiring them to use in their homework.

So far I have had fair success with implementing certin tools. Edmodo has gone down a storm, but then it is very easy to use given its facebook like style and interface. Voki has also worked very well, and my chogger lesson was pretty successful, barring slow running internet issues which slowed the process down and led to rather rushed finished projects.

I am already thinking of how I will introduce the tools I use in my next school. This clean start seems an ideal time to begin properly. I think it will be very important to be organised before this, deciding which things to start with and not overloading pupils with too many things right away. I do intend to ask pupils to subscribe to certain sites immediately, certainly Edmodo and Voxopop to start with. I also would like to get every pupil going with their own blog page, and teach them how to embed their own videos, cartoons and so on as a lasting ‘folder’ of their efforts over the year. I just hope the computer systems at my new school will be reliable!

 

Tagxedo

Posted: April 26, 2012 in Reading, Uncategorized, Web 2.0 tools
Tags: , ,

Tagxedo is an alternative to Wordle, a tool that takes a text and makes a rather fetching wordcloud. Having blogged already about Wordle a week or two ago, please read that particular blog entry to see how you could employ these wordclouds in your lessons, and do read the links there for more ideas from Samantha Lunn.

When you go to Tagxedo (click here) you will see the above start page. You have a range of options about where to source your text from that will be made into a wordcloud, URLs for webpages, Twitter sources etc. I’ve made one from my blog which you can see below.

Having put in the URL and clicked on submit, you then get one offering for a word cloud, which you can then adapt to the shape and colours that you like, or that are relevant to the words in the cloud. Here is the same word selection in a different style, font and colour scheme.

The thing that makes Tagxedo slightly more of an attractive option than Wordle is that you have more options about the end product. There are a variety of shapes that you can fit the words into, and a nice range of fonts, colour schemes and so on. The one down-side I think, and the reason why I suspect I will currently use Wordle more is that I don’t think you can input your choice of words (I may be missing something here as I have to admit that I haven’t had the time to fully explore Tagxedo yet – please correct me if I’m wrong someone) but the end product does look great.

Anyway, tagxedo certainly has its uses and in primarily the same ways as Wordle. Perhaps pupils could make tagxedo’s out of vocabulary pages or grammar explanations and use them as posters and it could help with revision for instance in addition to other uses already mentioned.

Please comment on how you use tagxedo already, or how you feel it could be employed.

Today I’m going to blog about Lingt. Lingt is a worksheet creation site, which enables you to embed videos onto the worksheet, as well as spoken questions for pupils to answer orally or in written form. Therefore, it is possible to assess all four language skills, reading, writing, speaking and listening on one document, which is a nifty premise, a real interactive worksheet. The best thing about it at first glance is that you can really get pupils practising the vocabulary or grammar in every way outside the classroom, hence promoting the ‘classroom outside the classroom’ idea.

To use Lingt, go to the following URL: http://lingtlanguage.com and click on Signup. After signing up, you will be taken to your homepage. As a free user of Lingt you can only create a certain number of assignments (6)which is a bit of a shame. To be able to do more, you will need to extend your membership (click on upgrade your account). The price does not seem too exorbitant if you want to upgrade to say 50 exercises (currently $39 a year), but I’m not really sure I would need to upgrade to have all the features for a $79 per year subscription. This is just something you will have to decide for yourself based on how effective you feel Lingt is for what you need it for.

I would suggest the best step now is to watch the Lingt tutorial video. Click ‘Help’ from your home screen (or click HERE to watch the tutorial to get an idea what you can do.) This is a well made Screencapture video explaining how to do everything and I strongly recommend watching it and making notes. The video goes through how to create a class, and then how to create an assignment for the classes you have created. There are a number of other useful questions answered for you on the help page.

When creating a class, you do not need to input anything apart from the class name. There is no need to input all your pupils, or even for them to signup to Lingt, as when you have created an assignment, the pupils will simply just go to your Lingt page (more of this later) and click on the relevant assignment for them. They will do the assignment online (on the web browser, before filling in their name and their email address at the end which will alert you to the fact that they have completed the assignment.

When you create your assignment you have a variety of tool buttons to create the texts. You have Voice, Text, Image and Video  (YouTube only) options for teacher prompts, and text and voice buttons for when you want pupils to answer. I have created a Prepositions and Furniture work sheet for my 3rd form. I have a video from Youtube going through the prepositions to start with, with questions in English underneath. Then I have uploaded an image of a bedroom with questions in Spanish again underneath, and then I have finally recorded some questions requiring spoken answers, before leaving one final question for a longer written response, describing their bedroom.

I have yet to test this out with the 3rd form but there appear to be a couple of risks involved with Lingt. Firstly, many schools have blocked Youtube (in my school only the 6th form can go onto Youtube) and I don’t know whether by ’embedding’ a Youtube video into your worksheet on Lingt it will allow the 3rd-5th formers to watch it, or if it will be blocked still. Secondly, pupils will need to have the ability to record their own voice (necessitating a microphone) and not all school computers or pupils will have one, and it could mean them being excluded from a task, or being able to complete it properly. Hopefully they can upload / save their recordings on Lingt – I have experienced problems with Voki and GoAnimate with uploading recordings on a browser, and I don’t know if this would be a problem with this website as well.

Hopefully these problems can be overcome without too many difficulties as the IT technicians in schools become more aware of the potential uses of Web 2.0 tools and other sites for the classroom and education generally, and unblock and allow full or timed use of them. There are of course risks with using Youtube, but the benefits are huge as well, and this should mean that a more sensible policy regarding its use can be found.

I do feel that Lingt has much to recommend it, and after the exam period I will investigate it further and see if I and the pupils experience any problems with its use. It does seem particularly useful for speaking and listening practise outside the classroom, and providing a really interactive worksheet, something I feel would appeal to a lot of students of all ages.

I would be really interested to hear from anyone who already uses Lingt regularly or who has tried it out to see what you think and if it has worked well or not. Please leave a comment below or tweet me @pedroelprofesor.

Just a quick blog entry today, as it is the eve before the onslaught of the summer term begins. The next few weeks will be choc-a-bloc full of speaking tests, moderating and marking past papers as well as cricket, so will just do quick blogs here and there when time allows. Probably while waiting for the rain to stop in deepest darkest Norfolk, Suffolk or Cambridgeshire, while taking refuge in a pavilion!

Lino it, is an alternative to Wallwisher, which I blogged about a couple of days ago. It is an online notice board, which you can use for your class to add sticky note ideas to a question or theme.

Like Wallwisher it is free to use. You will need to sign up which takes a minute or two, but does not require much information. Pupils will also need to sign in. Once logged on, click on ‘Create a New Canvas’ and then follow the prompts. Pick a name for your canvas, select a background, decide who will have access to it and then click ‘Create Canvas’. People adding to the canvas can choose the colour of stick they want to use, before typing their note in it and then clicking post. It is that simple. After that, just let your pupils know the URL to find the canvas for them to add their own ideas.

It is really your decision if you decide to use Lino it or Wallwisher. Both do the same job. Lino looks a little more professional perhaps, but there isn’t much of a difference. Hopefully your school computers will allow your pupils to use both easily!

Dvolver is a nice little tool, if a little limited in its usefulness. It is a tool to create a short ‘movie’ though more like an animated cartoon. The language that will be used will be produced in the form of speech bubbles, so it will more be useful as a way of practising reading and writing, rather than speaking and listening. In this way it compares to the comic strip creators that I have blogged about already, rather than the animation creators like GoAnimate. It is quick and easy though so may be most relevant for beginners in the language. A program like Domo Animate (yet to be blogged about) is a much more ambitious and flexible tool that does the same thing, but may take longer to get used to using.

To use Dvolver, go to the following URL http://www.dvolver.com/moviemaker/index.html and click Make a Movie. There is no need to sign up, login or register, which also means that it is harder to save your movie creations on the flip side, though movies can be emailed and embedded. Having clicked on Make a Movie, your futuristic looking control panel will come up. First you pick a background and sky by clicking on the icons that you like the look of, and then click next (bottom right). Then you choose the type of scene you want, either rendez-vous, pick up, chase or soliloquy (this will be how the characters interact and move around on the video). Having clicked next, you then choose your two characters who will star from the lists provided. The you add your dialogue. There are some limitations here which make Dvolver of limited usefulness, as you only have three lines per character, and are limited to 100 characters of text, hence why I said it would be best for beginners in the language. In the next panel you add your music soundtrack and then in your final panel you pick the way you want your title to appear. Then you can see your movie and can send it to the person you want to send it to by inputting their email. After you have sent it, you then have an embed code given to you, so videos can be saved onto a blog or webpage. It is worth asking pupils to send you this as well in case you want to make a page with all their creations.

Here you can see my quick movie made for you lucky people

http://www.dvolver.com/live/movies-715275

For this reason, I would use Dvolver as a tool for short written work and preps from students, and would ask them to email it to me. I can then show the pupils their movies in class through projecting the videos onto the whiteboard.

 

Wallwisher is described as an ‘online’ notice board maker on its homepage, and this is an accurate description. Basically, what it allows is you to create a noticeboard on a particular topic, and then you and pupils can add sticky notes to it, creating a collaborative board full of ideas.

To begin you register for the grand fee of £0 or $0. When you have logged on, simply click ‘Build a Wall’ and then you will get some preferences including what you want the URL to be, the background colour of the wall and who can post onto it. You also have the option about if you want to approve the stickies first or not which will be an important decision. If you leave this unticked, there is the risk of wall ‘abuse’ potentially, with outsiders leaving inappropriate messages, although this is unlikely. It is maybe safer to vet the messages first however. (For some strange reason, when I build a new wall, my ‘Open File’ opens as well, indicating some glitch which is a little worrying perhaps). You also have to give the wall a title, a description and choose a picture for it (including the option to upload your own)

When you have created your wall, all you have to do is to double click to add a sticky note. The just type your message into the note and click ok. You can also upload images, audio and video to the sticky leading to a few more options. And that is basically it. Just send the URL of your created wall to pupils and they can go to the site and add their own sticky. Once pupils have put on their notes, you need to approve them so they can be viewed by others in the class.

The premise is very simple and effective and there are a variety of ways that this tool could be employed with classes. It could be used as an essay planning tool for example – you could set a question with a central stickie, and pupils could put their ideas about the points they could mention around it. It could be a way of setting quick written preps to encourage extra participation, for example asking basic questions with pupils writing their own answers. It could be a vocabulary revision tool with pupils adding 2 or three new words to a topic. It could even be a little story. Maybe you start off a story, the first person to log on adds a sentence, then the next pupils adds another line and so on.

In order to practise this, I have started a Wallwisher notice board for people to add their own ideas about how wallwisher could be employed. Click on the following URL to leave your ideas!

http://www.wallwisher.com/wall/mfllessonideas