Posted in 21st Century Skills, Technology

The Blame Game

Where should the blame lay?

I walked into my pod office to quickly drop of my lunch dishes before my next group of students walked into the room. A colleague had walked into the office just before me.  He sat down and began to talk about what he just “stirred up.”  To be fair, I only had a moment and I didn’t stay for the entire conversation, but I heard enough to become concerned. Yes, it bothered me, and yes, I am concerned.

What my colleague was talking about was our building’s drop in standardized test scores – across the board. Yes, that’s concerning for a number of reasons: the drop itself, what this means for our school accountability-wise, statistics in general, the general discussion regarding standardized tests, and where he is placing the blame. My colleague is placing the blame for our drop in scores on what he calls “too much time spent programming” and not reading and writing.

What he is referring to is the use of tech tools in the building and more specifically wikis.

Wow. In my brief moments in the office, I was able to add that there has been discussion about this one particular class of students since before we ever received them as students. That is something within the scores that really needs to be looked at – not just one 10th grade class to another, but this 10th grade class longitudinally.  Blaming tech, and those teachers that i]employ tech tools, however, isn’t the answer and it was difficult to hear.

I’m hoping to use this as an aha moment in my own technology trainings: technology should be tools seamlessly integrated into the educational experience, they are not toys and not the product.

It does take some initial time to train students in how to use a tool, but that’s not programming. At one point it took time to teach students how to use a word processing program, but now it is second nature to most of them. Technology tools can be like that as well: give them the proper training, and students will be able to use those tools in ways that we may not be able to imagine.

Using technology tools is not a replacement for reading and writing. Using technology tools just brings students to the information faster and allows them to collaborate in ways that they weren’t able to at an earlier point.  Using technology tools in the classroom is teaching them how to approach the workforce that they will be walking into. They key is to be using them as tools, seamlessly integrated into the instructional environment, ones that foster skills development.

Standardized testing may or may not be catching up to 21st Century learning and workforce, but that’s a different discussion entirely.

Posted in Technology, World Languages

Back to School = Back to Tech

The next school year is about to begin. While sad to say good-bye to the summer vacation, it’s still exciting to see what the new year will bring.  Before our students walk through our classroom doors, there’s a good deal of front-end preparation and planning that we all do. Struggling with technology is not something that anyone looks forward to at this time.  Here are some tips to avoid some of those struggles and help us along the way:

  1. At the beginning of the year don’t try every tech tool that you might have read about or someone told you about. Pick something you feel confident that you’ll use. When you and your students are comfortable using that tool, then try adding something else.
  2. Practice using any tech tool before you plan on using it in the classroom. You never know what problems you might encounter: blocked sites, incompatible software, login issues, tool too complicated for age-level of the user.
  3. Remember that not only are you teaching your respective target language, but you need to teach your students how to use the tool as well.
    1. When working with a new tool that you plan on using for performance assessments, introduce that tool in a smaller assignment to give them experience.
    2. We want the language to be the product, not the technology. We don’t want them to fail because of complications with that technology.
  4. Integrate technology in your lesson planning process, not as an occasional activity.
  5. Some students don’t have the same access to the internet and other tech tools at home. Make sure that there is enough class time available to get these types of assignments done at school.
  6. Technology should always remain a tool and support instruction, not a toy and not the focus of instruction itself. Before using one, ask yourself how this helps your students meet your learning targets.
  7. Always have a backup plan. Technology can sometimes fail. Having a backup plan can save the day and prevent loss of instructional time.
  8. Have a web site. Use what your school provides or try out Google (free). Use this as a place to keep parents informed: Standards, learning targets, unit overviews, important dates, your schedule, links to other sites, policies, class newsletter, etc.
  9. Develop a personal learning network (PLN). Use twitter! There are so many teachers using twitter as professional development and collaboration tool. You’ll be able to learn, ask questions, and share with fellow educators all over the world! Search for the following world language related hashtags: #flteach, #langchat. There are more, but these can get you started. Visit https://twitter.com.
  10. Find educational blogs to follow. These can provide ideas and inspiration. Here are some ideas:
    1. http://mmeduckworth.blogspot.com
    2. http://langwitches.org/blog/
    3. http://zachary-jones.com/zambombazo/
    4. http://community.actfl.org/ACTFL/Blogs/ViewBlogs/
    5. http://teacherbootcamp.edublogs.org/
    6. http://marisaconstantinides.edublogs.org/
    7. http://languagesresources.wordpress.com/
    8. http://deutschlich.wordpress.com/

Why might you put this time and effort into something that’s not the target language or culture itself? Because this is where our students are today. This is the culture in which they are growing up. This is their language and we need to speak it as well. Not only will we identify more with our students, but we can benefit from the world of technology. World language teachers are often isolated (singletons) in their respective buildings. Technology can bring us connections like never before. Through these connections we can become stronger, better informed, and never really alone.

 

 

Posted in 21st Century Skills, Technology

What’s this all about?

21st Century Learning is quite the catch-phrase these days.  We see it in mission statements, we read it in articles, we hear it around the water cooler.  When we have it thrust into our faces, it is usually accompanied by some form of technology that we “need” to learn which our students probably mastered last year. Don’t get me wrong, I love techie toys and tools. (My husband calls me an iNerd, lovingly.) But it doesn’t help us professionally to throw some “new” pieces of technology at us, make us learn them, and expect us to use them when they are really just expensive toys.  That’s assuming that our District can even afford gadget-styled toys for the classroom!

What we need today are tools to help us bring our students through this century and into the next.  The gadgets we have today will be obsolete soon enough, but learning won’t. Gadget can certainly be terrific tools in the classroom – as long as they are tools to further the learning experience and not the point in themselves of it.

This blog is here to share, learn, collaborate, and reflect on just that:  what does the 21st century learning experience look like and where do I fit in with it.  Let’s get sharing!