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!