The question of language labs recently came up on an independent school listserv, and as a French teacher/Director of Edtech, I felt compelled to respond. I strongly believe that language labs are a waste of precious resources, both in terms of budgets and facilities. Here's why:
The idea of a separate lab runs counter to the idea of integrating tech into the everyday curriculum. Just as we've abandoned the isolated computer lab for more ubiquitous 1:1 or BYOD models, having to book a language lab and manage the hassle of getting students there and setting up/breaking down will limit the number of speaking/listening activities that teachers undertake. This is a bad idea for a communicative based language program. Speaking and listening activities need to take place as much as possible, both in school as well as home for homework. It is extremely counterintuitive for speaking activities to be recorded one way at school and then through another program at home. I'd suggest headsets for students paired with one of the options in #2 below. We keep our headsets in the classrooms in a cabinet. Students know where they are and how to set them up, creating an efficient workflow transitioning into and out of listening/speaking activities.
There are so many amazing options for recording and sharing sound files that are a fraction of the financial and facilities cost of a language lab. Dedicating an entire room to equipment that is occasionally used is a waste of space. Most textbooks now have an online component that allow students to listen and record their voice, as well as having voice based discussion boards. I used VHL and it was fantastic. If not the text, then your LMS will probably have excellent recording capabilities. At my former school Moodle had this functionality, and in my current one, Canvas has an even better and easier system. If neither text nor LMS, then there are great free Web 2.0 tools to check out. Audacity has been mentioned already, if you're a Mac school, Garage Band comes standard. Google Drive has voice recorder apps that are decent and easy to use. Finally, a free ridiculously easy cloud option is Vocaroo. Pushing video content to students is also easy with the plethora of options, including Youtube, Vimeo, Teachertube, etc.
The synchronous/asynchronous argument is a moot point. If your listening file is embedded into a website/discussion prompt/voiceboard, the activity and subsequent student responses will be as synchronous as a traditional listening lab. A good headset with mic isolates the students' voices so that only their response is recorded. If the idea of teacher synchronous listening is the issue, having the teacher walk around and listen to individual students performs the same function. (Protest: Having the teacher next to the student makes them nervous, anonymous listening is better! Response: Get over it! Our job is to prepare students for authentic communicative situations. Having a speaker next to them is much more authentic than being isolated in a booth!)
Changing from a system where the teacher has all of the control and students are neatly organized into tidy booths to a classroom-based anytime system can be intimidating. That's where good edtech coaching and leadership comes in. As technology administrators it is our job to set up the systems as best as we can so that they are as easy as possible for our teachers to use. We also need to logically explain the benefits to teaching and learning that will result from abandoning an archaic methodology such as a language lab. But sometimes we also need to console, reassure, and cheer on our colleagues as they take coerced leaps of faith into the unknown.
Using Google Forms as quick formative assessments? Yeah!
Having to shuffle through multiple spreadsheets to check everyone's answers? Boo!
Getting lost when students submit multiple times? More boo!
After a lot of trial and error and Google searches, I created a workflow that aggregates multiple Google Forms quizzes onto one sheet and only displays the latest entry per student. The idea is for this to be as out of the box as possible, with no requirements for teachers to have to import rosters or do extra steps after the initial set up. Enjoy the fruits of my labor!
STEP 1: Make your google forms quiz
Create however many Google Forms quizzes and the corresponding spreadsheets that will receive their responses. Make sure to check the "Automatically collect respondent's (GAFE domain) username" option when creating the quiz!
In my example, I named them Quiz 1, Quiz 2, and Quiz 3.
STEP 2: Filter the latest entry per student
I found this formula that is way beyond my understanding on Yogi Anand's website. All credit goes to him!!!
Open the Form Response spreadsheet for one of your quizzes. In the first blank column, copy and paste this formula. You'll want to customize the column letter to match the column that can most easily detect duplicates. In my example, it's the username, and thus column B.
Duplicates will return a value of zero, while the latest entry from each user will return a value of one.
Next, create a new tabbed sheet within each of the Responses spreadsheets (click on + in bottom left hand corner). In my example, I named them SortedResponses.
Copy and paste this code into cell A1 of your new, sorted sheet. Customize with your sheet names and column letters where needed. Column E is where I added the formula above, resulting in either a zero or a one.
=query('Form Responses'!A:E,"select A,B,C,D where E=1")
STEP 3: Create your aggregated spreadsheet
Create a new spreadsheet with a tabbed sheet for each of your individual quizzes. On each of the individual sheets, import the respective sorted quiz results using the below code. Customize with your sheet names and ranges where necessary.
How do I find my spreadsheet key?
(optional) Step 4: Pull this to one sheet
Feel free to stop at Step 3 if that is sufficient for your needs. If you want multiple quizzes to show on the same sheet, instead of tabbing between the different ones, continue to the following step.
Create a new tabbed sheet in your aggregated spreadsheet, in my example it is called AllResults. Since there is no imported roster to match up the different quiz results, I collect usernames from the first quiz and then match subsequent quizzes.
To collect submitted usernames from Quiz 1, simply reference the username cell in A2.
Then pull the formula down to populate the rest of the column.
To populate the rest of the row, use a VLOOKUP function to reference the quiz results associated with that username on each of the tabbed sheets. Use the formula below, customizing sheet names and ranges as necessary.
Your spreadsheet is ready to go! There's always the option for adding a conditional formatting bonus, as well!!
In a former post, I fleshed out my kid-friendly definition of digital literacy. In this post, I'll dive deeper into the idea that being digitally literate means knowing...
How to effectively and respectfully communicate online and to create various forms of digital content.
Chicken or the Egg: Digitally literate or Digital citizen?
What is digital citizenship? How does this concept relate to digital literacy? How many other hazily understood buzzwords can we create by slapping the word digital onto the front? All good questions, my digital natives, digital immigrants, and anyone else who falls between these two poles on the digital spectrum.
How would I describe the ideal digital citizen?
I would be so impressed with myself if I came up with that definition all alone. But the thing is, I didn't. My six characteristics of a digital citizen are directly based on the criteria Thomas Jefferson used to describe an informed and enlightened citizen in his failed 1779 bill (#79) to the Virginia legislature entitled "A Bill for the More General Diffusion of Knowledge". In Bill #79, he advocated for free primary education, which in his opinion was necessary to create a literate and therefore more perfect citizenry. The benefits of literacy in his words were...
Like Jefferson, who advocated literacy and education to form an enlightened citizenry, I firmly believe that digital literacy is the foundation of productive digital citizenship. When we expand the analog mission of education that is so deeply rooted in our American psyche to reflect the realities of today's world, digital citizenship is a natural result. Let me reiterate, digital citizenship is the end result, digital literacy is the path to achieve it.
Digital Citizenship in the curriculum
Too often, education approaches digital citizenship as a separate character development program divorced from the curriculum. As my example above shows, I see enormous potential to embed these principles directly into classroom content.
Any U.S. History class could take Jefferson's Bill (or in European/World History examine the Enlightenment debate between civil vs. natural education exemplified by Locke and Rousseau) and extrapolate its relevance to modern day. Based on historical documents and debate, students can define for themselves, just as I did above, what it means to be a citizen in today's digital world. Class discussions/debates can explore questions such as: What skills do digital citizens need and how should education adapt to include them? (How powerful would it be if students, not teachers or administrators, were the impetus to integrate digital literacy/citizenship into the curriculum!) Other topics: should a digital Bill of Rights exist? If so, what rights and privileges should be accorded to digital citizens? To prepare for such a debate, students can compare and contrast different rights documents (U.S. Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights, French Revolution's Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen, UN Declaration of Human Rights, etc.) to construct their own. To go further and embed a global component into the discussion, students can examine if the entire idea of a Bill of Rights is Western biased and analyze the arguments used by the Chinese or Arab Spring governments in censoring the internet and social media.
Additionally, the internet provides a fertile ground for civics and government classes to examine the concept of inflammatory speech. Debate topics that pull in Supreme Court decisions include: Why are hateful websites allowed to exist on the internet? At what point does hateful speech constitute a clear and present danger? The unfolding Twitter situation in which a man was arrested for threatening to rape a woman on Twitter is an excellent case to use. Another topic: can you legally impersonate someone online? Odds are there is at least one fake Twitter or Facebook account created by a student to impersonate a teacher, administrator, or other student at your school. (I stumbled upon two from my school when Twitter suggested the impersonated accounts as "People I should follow" on my Activboard in the middle of a class Twitter project and presented me with a perfect teachable moment...) Instead of admin going on a fishing expedition for these accounts, create a fake case study in class using exactly this scenario and have your civics students hash it out using case precedent. Believe me, the word will get around and those Twitter accounts will magically disappear.
As you can see, my examples skew older, as high school is my realm of expertise. Some fantastic resources exist that address lower and middle school applications, including a recent article in NAIS' Independent School Magazine by Don Orth and Edward Chen, entitled "The Strategy for Digital Citizenship: Children in a Digital World".
There is a fine line that we walk in language classrooms when it comes to pronunciation- overcorrecting errors impedes a student's communicative flow and can dim his or her enthusiasm to contribute, but allowing errors to fossilize is counterproductive. In the best case scenario, teachers should help students develop a sense of autonomy in their language career and to create systems by which they can auto-evaluate and fine-tune their pronunciation on their own, instead of relying on us to point out areas of needed improvement.
Using speech-to-text or dictation software is an easy and effective way for students to get instantaneous and objective feedback on their pronunciation without the intervention of a teacher. For those who use Google Chrome, Simple Dictation is a free and effective extension that students can access within their web browser.
To get Simple Dictation, go to the Google Chrome Webstore and input "dictation" into the search box. Adding the extension is then a simple click away. To activate the extension, follow the instructions in the video below.
To try the system out, give your students a few sentences that highlight common difficulties in pronunciation, such as accented vowels. Does the transcription match with what they were supposed to have said?
What I like best about this method is that it takes the teacher totally out of the equation. Students can visually see their pronunciation errors, allowing them to troubleshoot on their own. Sugata Mitra, an educational technology professor from Newcastle University, showed the effectiveness of using a speech-to-text program to improve second-language pronunciation in a fascinating experiment with children in Indian slums, which he discusses in his Ted talk on "A Child-driven Education".
An alternative to individual practice would be to pair students up, where one partner speaks and the other monitors the pronunciation and the transcription. When the monitor hears and/or sees a pronunciation error, he or she can alert the speaker and, using the target language, explain the problem and help him or her improve.
Thinglink is a fantastic image annotation site that I've used many times in my classes. The software is simple and easy to use, and it's a great way to visually curate information for classroom use. Simply upload or import your own images, or link to ones found on the web, and then tag the images with links, text, videos, and even other images.
A Thinglink image is a great platform through which a teacher can organize and visually contextualize related vodcasts, readings, diagrams, and notes in a flipped classroom. Conversely, students can easily use this tool to curate information on their own. For example, in my AP European History course, my students annotated Renaissance Art images with short texts and links to Youtube videos in which they analyzed the impact of Humanism on the works of art.
In my AP French Language & Culture course, I've been using Thinglink to aggregate various target-language sources and couple them with practice cultural comparison questions. In the examples below, I've linked radio broadcasts, short videos, graphs, and written articles to a thematic picture. My students have found these very helpful when it comes to preparing for the AP exam, and they are in the process of creating their own Thinglink images complete with practice exposé questions to help the class review.
Image source: http://maasd.edublogs.org/2012/04/26/linking-ipads-blooms-taxonomy/
As final and/or Advanced Placement exams begin to loom large, both teachers and students increasingly turn to the task of reviewing the year's material. Many review activities, however, focus on remembering and understanding past information, thinking skills which according to Bloom's Taxonomy occupy the two lowest order rungs.
As I filled out my NCAA bracket this year, I was struck by its potential for impact in the classroom. In order to make my decisions, I was relying heavily on higher order thinking skills, such as analysis and evaluation. For each bracket, I had to learn a bit about the two teams, compare and contrast the teams' strengths and weaknesses, and then decide which was the stronger contender. The very next day, I began a bracket competition in my AP European History class in which my students review by naming the most influential figure in European History.
To begin the activity, my students brainstormed figures from European History whom they considered to be important. I added a few from future lessons and then together we whittled the list down to sixty-four. To create the brackets, I typed all of the names into a flipchart on my interactive whiteboard and covered each individual name with a thick stroke of the pen tool. Then at the board, I erased the pen strokes one by one in a random order, revealing the hidden name below. Each student filled out an empty bracket that I had printed off from the internet, and I created an official bracket on a large piece of butcher paper that I hung in the hall.
I gave my students Spring Break to complete their brackets and for motivation, I offered one extra credit point for every bracket win. On our first day back from break, I heard about multiple intense Facebook discussions over especially contentious first round showdowns, such as Martin Luther vs. Karl Marx.
I broke up the bracket so that each day a manageable amount of "games" are played. Before class, I take a look at the brackets and make a cursory decision as to which figure I think would win, but make no final choice. For roughly the first twenty minutes of class, we go through the day's match ups. The class announces their pick, and if it coincides with mine, the decision is easy. If one student dissents, however, the floor opens to debate and my students' job is to convince me their choice is the best. The heated exchange pitting Jean-Jacques Rousseau against his real-life nemesis Voltaire was epic and entertaining! The nature vs. nurture debate, their ideas on the role of women in society, religious toleration, slavery, education, democracy vs. Enlightened Absolutism, the French Revolution, and the origins of socialism were all being argued back and forth to support the two cases. As the final arbiter, I choose a winner based on my own evaluation of the match up combined with the points made in the class debate. I have on several occasions reversed my preliminary decision due to a weak defense of my initial candidate and a strong argument in favor of the opponent. This situation, however, alerts me to a gap in the students' knowledge and presents an excellent opportunity for some on the spot reteaching.
I found that even if students don't have any "skin in the game" for a particular bracket, they are still active participants in the debate. Since there are lots of extra credit points at stake, they enthusiastically help develop the arguments to support or thwart classmates whose bracket choices are still in play. The conversations continue in the hall, where I overhear discussions of the day's results. My former students have even come up to me to protest what they consider to be an upset.
The Elite Eight begins tomorrow, followed by the Final Four, and the Championship on April 11th. As the decisions become more difficult, the discussions are deepening and the learning intensifies. My students have unanimously agreed that this has been an enriching, productive, and fun learning experience, and a fantastic review for the AP Exam.
In preparing this blog post, I searched for other examples of bracketology in the classroom, and here are some finds:
You've got a solid grasp on Google Drive's Documents, Spreadsheets, Forms, and Presentations features, but what on earth is Drawing for?
Google's Drawing program is the perfect platform to practice orthography- the skill of writing characters and symbols to create words- in language classrooms with non-Roman alphabets, such as Arabic or Chinese. Students of these languages need lots of practice handwriting the new alphabet or pictographic symbols, which is difficult to do in a digital environment. In traditional word processing programs, typing pictographic languages, such as Chinese, requires the student to change the keyboard language and then phonetically type the syllables. Characters will pop out fully formed, which is efficient and useful, but bypasses the important orthographic practice!
Google Drawing presents teachers with an opportunity to digitally collect and monitor their students’ orthography without having to scan in and email worksheets. The Scribble Tool in Google Drawing allows the user to create free form lines and by extension hand-drawn language characters. Couple Google Drawing with a pen mouse and Chinese language students are fully prepared to complete short answer or extended writing assignments online.
As with all Google documents, Google Drawings can be shared, edited, and commented on. An added bonus with Google Drawing is that comments can be attached to individual strokes, so that feedback can be specifically targeted. When the student hovers their mouse over the comment, the stroke to which the comment is attached is highlighted in yellow, as in my example below!