Saturday, December 3, 2016

Sharing Our Stories

My final post for this course will be a follow-up from my last post about blogs.  I chose this topic because this year I have working with some students in one of our very rural school districts.  One of the blogs that I referenced in writing this post was Using Blogs to Engage English-Language Learners by Jon Schwartz, who stated “blogs provide a virtual workbench that students can use to find their creative muse and learn about the technological world they are inheriting.”  This is a fantastic and astute statement about the potential of what blogs can provide students in their learning.  In this post I want to share the experience, in addition to a couple great resources.  

The students I work with use Edublogs to create and share blogs about stories they are learning about their area.  While they are still working on mastering this form of communication, they have not yet made their posts public.  Making their blog public is creating a lot of anxiety with many students.  Their anxiousness has impelled the students to increase focus on their communication skills.  The teachers have definitely seen a drastic improvement with some students in their written communication.  There was more critical discussions among students about their writing.  The discussions were rich with suggestions that could improve each student’s writing skills and assisted them in creating a more engaging blog with the audience.  This could prove a very valuable resource when it comes to ESL students.  It appears students are taking more time on drafting, proofing and analyzing feedback with their written work.  

On top of contemplating about their writing, they also looked for ways they could make their blogs more entertaining through the use of links, videos, and maps.  Students created a digital map using Google’s Power My Map tool available to students with Google Apps for Education accounts.  By utilizing these tools, students  have the ability to give the audience an interactive experience that shares the location of all the events.  Students made a collaborative map that they linked to their blogs. The map allowed visitors to go to other student’s blogs and view stories they shared.  Students were able to go to all these locations and get pictures and videos to share on their blogs.  This experience was a great way for students to become more of the creator, by getting their own pictures and videos, and not just using ones they found on the internet.  This whole project has allowed their stories to come alive, and they are looking forward to publishing for a global audience.  Therein lies the power of this tool, giving the students a chance to reach out and share their stories with an audience bigger they previously knew possible.

Although these students are part of the Google Apps for Education, and had access to the awesome blogging to Blogger as part of the Google services, they chose a tool they were familiar with using in the past.  Edublogs is also a great tool to help students create blogs.  The only disadvantage is it is a paid service, but being that this services solely focuses on blogging, teachers are given a ton a features and functionality.  They are definitely more administrative features on Edublog for use with a classroom of students, than there are with Blogster. It integrates well with Google, so students had no problem sharing maps, documents and presentations created with their Google Apps.  As an Instructional Technology Specialist, I would recommend the Edublog service, but if you don’t want to spend the money and have Google Apps for Education, than Blogger might be the way to go.

There is one more tool you might want to look into if you are thinking about having students publish works like blogs and eportfolios and are using GAFE, Google Sites.  This is Google’s website creating tool. They have finally redesigned this service, and it is their best overhaul yet, making the service more like the website builders Wix, Squarespace and Weebly.  Best yet, it is free for students and teachers to create as many websites as their heart desires!  Sites can be collaborative, so more than one student can contribute to the site at a time.  It’s easy to add anything you create or save in your Google Drive, and it’s simple to organize and publish all your work to the web!  Using it as a blogging tool, gives students more access and functionality to design their work anyway they like.  It is much easier to add media elements than it is in any blogging platform.  It is probably best if you use it like an eportfolio and a blog, a place where students can share all their great work and all of their great ideas!  Below is a video I made about Google Sites and how it can be used as an eportfolio.

Feel free to share how you have used blogging tools or websites in your classroom to share student’s work with a global audience!

Saturday, November 19, 2016

The Power to Share

"Blogging has the power to unleash learning, reflection, and communication.”
-Rusul Alrubail

In this age of 21st century technology, we are all given the potential means to allow our voices to be heard by an audience vastly larger than any time before.  With access to the internet, some keystrokes, and a few clicks of the mouse, we all have the opportunity to share our own thoughts and ideas.  This is a powerful tool, however, in education may unfortunately be overlooked.  Student blogging enables students to demonstrate and practice this significant communicative tool.  In this week's blog, I will reflect on the art of using student blogging in the classroom.  

I read Rusul Alrubail’s blog post “Blogging for English-Language Learners”, which was posted on the excellent and informative site, Edutopia.  While her focus in this blog emphasized utilization for EL students, it most certainly can be ascribed to all students at all age levels.  Along with the quote above, Alrubail also begins by stating “blogging for English-language learners (ELLs) can tap into students' and teachers' utmost communicative potential and help expand and widen learning opportunities.”  I think this, indeed, reflects on the true ideal of blogging as an essential communicative tool, one students can use to develop language in a more genuine way than merely repetitive classroom practice.  Blogs give students the chance to use their own voice to communicate with audiences beyond the classroom.  It gives them a relative and personal way to reflect and share.  She identifies many different benefits (as stated above), which can be seen in her infographic.

Along with the benefits and proper utilization of student blogging, she explains how a teacher might be able to start using blogging with their students in the classroom.  She identifies many different purposes for using blogging in the classroom:
  • Discussions
  • Responses
  • Reflections
  • Sharing images, links, and resources
  • Vocabulary and grammar activities
  • Paragraph writing
  • Commentary
  • Storytelling

All of these are great ways your students have the opportunity to use blogging for themselves.  As students of ESL-509, we can most certainly relate to the first three (discussion, response and reflection) purposes, as this is what I am doing currently !  We are opening ourselves up to the many different perspectives of others while contributing our own perspective.  Your students can do much the same thing with the content they are learning in the classroom.  Blogs also lend themselves to educating students in proper grammar, writing and paragraph development, because students are publishing something that potentially could be read by more than the classroom teacher.  This helps students self-reflect on their writing and put their best work forward.  

Blogs are a great way to share our stories, our learning and our beliefs, while reaching an audience far bigger than we could image.  If this is something you are interested in using in your classroom, I strongly encourage you to give Rusul Alrubail’s blog post “Blogging for English-Language Learners” a read. Now is the time to unleash the power of blogs in your classroom.  

Alrubail, R. (2015). Blogging for English-Language Learners. Retrieved from

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Connecting Cultures

This weeks blog post is a reflection of a fantastic post I read from Edutopia called Pen Pals 2.0: Can Technology Foster Global Tolerance? by Holly Korbey.  The article reflects on using web 2.0 tools to connect a third grade classroom in Georgia, Vermont, with another class of third graders 6,000 miles away in Sejong City, South Korea.  As expected, students had a life changing experience.  It was more than merely a webcast, but a project that used the collaboration for a month-long event, where students used Google Docs to create a project about alternative energy.  Students were able to see (through this project) that people from across the world live lives similar to their own.  Students discovered people dealing with similar issues, not only in the realm of climate change, but also within their own cultures.

By having students work in these collaborative groups, they are forced to use their communicative skills to effectively engage with students from other countries.  Not only must they be effective communicators, but they are able to also share their own cultural experiences, and engage in experiences of the collaborating students’ cultures. These projects break down cultural barriers and make the world a much smaller place.

Organizations The Intercultural Virtual Exchange of Classroom Activities, Digital Promise, The International Education and Resource Network, and The Global Nomads Group offer opportunities for educators to connect with other educators around the global.  This is a profound method for thousands of teachers to connect their classrooms without having to spend eons of time trying to locate other collaborative educators.  Not only do they connect other educators, but they cultivate communities that collaborate to design strategies to utilize this partnership.

Utilizing web 2.0 tools, like Skype and Google Hangouts, teachers have the ability to collaborate through video conferencing, giving the students an opportunity to meet other students worlds away in the comfort of their own classrooms.  Students can expand their collaborative efforts further by using tools like Google Apps for Education, Wikispaces and other tools to create spaces where they conceivably work together to create multicultural collaborative projects.

Korbey, H. (2016). Pen Pals 2.0: Can Technology Foster Global Tolerance?. Retrieved from

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Common Language of Games

"The glue that sticks many different kinds of ‘knowing’ together is language."

 -Vygotsky, 1978                   

My last blog post discussed the numerous benefits of utilizing game-based learning in the classroom and in the comment of our excellent instructor was recommended the article “Learning Technologies and Playful Ecologies” published by WIDA at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  After reading the article I feel compelled to write a blog post focusing on using games and tech tools as a way to “elicit the use of targeter language”.  I immediately related to the example presented.

It frequently happens when only one device is available and you have a group of children wanting to participate in the game.  They begin to work together as a team and taking turns to complete various parts of the game or activity.  My son did this the other day with his friend.  There was one iPad and two of them so they played together, took turns, discussed how to complete levels and why some things were more awesome than others.  It was genuine, engaging, deep conversation.  While Plants vs. Zombies might not have the most educational value when it comes to games, the conversation they were having was rich in language.

The example in the article presented the same idea, except her’s was built around a reading game with a lot more core educational value to it.  While any game can very much drive rich discussion, using educational games can prove even better.  We see that promoting informational literacy and diverse digital experiences, through games and other tech tools, engages ELLs in rich forms of problem-solving, collaboration, creativity, and production, the interactions through which language is built (Himmele & Himmele, 2009).  In the article it discusses how language is developed through it’s use and that using games and technology collaboratively, give students opportunity to use language in a setting that isn’t so much like instruction.  Games are a place where school and a student’s culture can interjected, because the vast majority of students have at least a favorite app giving them a common interest regardless of their different backgrounds.  Everyone loves games!

Any game, digital, physical, educational, entertaining, can provide students the opportunity to engage in conversation and utilize language.  Yet it is the well-selected games the teachers can pick that will give the students the ultimate chance to provide avenues for creation, expression, and the kinds of meaningful activities that facilitate academic language development, as well as frame various learner identities for ELLs (WIDA, 2014). In the importance of understanding what you should look for in a tech tool and games, this article provides an evaluation tool that will ask you some guiding questions and you can reflect on the challenges and opportunities each tool/game could provide.  It is a very detailed three page form broken up into five sections based in content, context, communication/language, the individual child and reflections.  It is a great resource to use in it guides you to look for these key elements and forces you to think of ways they connect to student’s learning.  If you are looking to implement any kind of new tech tool or game that is based around students collaboration, I would strongly recommend this article and the wonderful evaluation resource it provides.

Himmele, P., & Himmele, W. (2009). The language-rich classroom: A research-based
framework for teaching English language learners. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological
processes. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

WIDA Consortium. (2014). Learning Technologies and Playful Ecologies. Retrieved from

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Level Up Classroom

For my fourth blog post I decided to reflect on game-based learning, or what some might call “Gamifying” your classroom.  This post is based on my own experience using game-based learning, as well as the information I obtained from reading the blog post in Edutopia called “Gamifying Your Class to Meet the Needs of All Learners” written by John McCarthy.  We have a habit of being competitive, thinking we can top someone else’s achievements. It is through this extrinsic motivation that games make the process of learning more entertaining and engaging.  By providing opportunities for students to engage in game-based learning, we captivate them where they learn best.  Why teach a child through lecture, when they can’t sit through five minutes of commercials?  Is that the most effective teaching methodology?  We must do more!  Gamifying your classroom provides teachers the chance to do just that.  With the proliferation of such diverse web 2.0 tools like ClassDojo and Classcraft, gamification possibilities are substantially improved.

Gamification has the ability to help every student in your classroom.  With ELL students, these tools may have a motivating effect that might drive them to develop their language skills. More importantly, however, is many of these tools are used collaboratively, engaging students in authentic language learning. They are communicating to each other, writing goals, developing plans and sharing successes. These tools have the potential to lead to collaboration embracing all those involved.  

In McCarthy’s post “Gamifying Your Class to Meet the Needs of All Learners”, he mentions six of his favorite mechanics for building engagement and learning. I am going to focus on two of the mechanics, you can check out the rest in his post.  The two mechanics I have experience with are “Experience Points and Leveling Up” and “Achievements and Badges”.  Both of these methods utilize the idea of students gaining or losing points for something, such as behavior, grade, or completed work.  Students receive a set of criteria, which they earn points for achieving or completing. Many popular games today, like Clash of Clans and Pokemon Go, award points, and with each point, you get closer to the next level.  When you meet a benchmark, you “level up”, and usually receive a set of rewards.  Teachers can easily create this in their classroom and many times do, without ever realizing they are “gamifying” the classroom.  Teachers who make use of stick charts are doing just that!  Along with the level up approach, comes the achievements and badges.  Badges are an outstanding way of awarding physical (or digital) proof of completion.  This, again, is a commonly used strategy in many programs.  Many teachers take part in online webinars and programs where badges are offered, and they can display them in their classroom or on their email signatures.  These methods are inexpensive, yet effective ways to motivate students.

Two examples of  programs built around gamification and awarding a value system are ClassDojo and Classcraft. Classcraft blends elements of World of Warcraft, collaboration and goal setting.  Students work in teams to gain points, which can be awarded for whatever the teacher desires.  They can, as they accrue more points, level up and challenge others.  This system strives around the aspect of teamwork, and really pushes students to work together to complete goals.  ClassDojo does this to a lesser extent, but can easily be modified by the teacher to be the basis of some stimulating gamification.  ClassDojo is a great tool to collect the data needed in engaging and entertaining ways, one would need to make a great gamification project.  With ClassDojo a teacher can enter all of their students into the system, they can then create criteria for being awarded or taken away points.  With a fun and engaging interface students find this tool an entertaining way to manage behavior.  

Regardless of how motivated you are to implement these methods into your own classroom, any form of gamification can go along way in improving student engagement, collaboration and success in the classroom.  Start off small, and you will see results that will take your class to the next level! Set a goal now of trying to implement some form of gamification, if you do, go ahead and display this badge with pride!
Click to download and display proudly!
McCarthy, J. (2016). Gamifying Your Class to Meet the Needs of All Learners.  

Saturday, October 22, 2016


The article I found for this weeks blog reflection was titled “Using Emojis to Teach Critical Reading Skills,” written by Marissa King.  I’ll admit that I am an emoji fan, but not an advanced user.  I can throw in the occasional smiley face 😀 or a thumbs up 👍, but that is pretty much the extent of my emoji keyboard usage.  While I have looked through the extensive library of characters, I am never motivated enough to take the time to find the right emoji to explain words that I could much more quickly type.  My children on the other hand love those emojis and like to write out messages that are just in emojis, having others try to figure out what the message could mean.  This of course is a wonderful process because it uses so much of those elements that make up a good reader, using context clues, inferences and multiple meanings.  They do this all in a way that is fun, because that is the point of emojis, to communicate in a universal way that is fun.  This is what is at the heart of King’s article.

To start the article, she mentions that the “Face With Tears of Joy emoji” was recognized as the 2015 Word of the Year by the Oxford Dictionary.  The blog post written by the Oxford dictionary announcing the word of the year was also a great read and explained why this emoji was chosen as the word of the year.  One could argue that emojis aren’t words and just pictures, but when they are used with such a huge frequency to communicate feelings they can most definitely fit into the category of words.  

In her article, King explains that “Internet-inspired trends may not seem important next to English 101’s selected texts, but the way students seamlessly navigate emoji usage is similar to critical reading skills we practice in class.”  She points out that emojis can have this one meaning, but through discussions with students she can see that emojis can have a much deeper and richer meaning than what is face value.  She noticed that students decode these pictures much the same way that we decode text.  She saw emojis as a way to “transfer digital skills to a written context”.  Which brings students digital communication world to that of their reading and language skills.

She mentions a bunch of different ways that she uses emojis in hear lessons.  From having students analyze tweets from social media and celebrities that utilize emojis to communicate messages, to decoding different meanings that a singular emoji could have.  She recognizes that that as a teacher students might have more experience and understanding of emojis, but this isn’t a disadvantage because it lends itself to students explaining in more detail in order for the teacher to understand their meanings.

Emojis have made their place in our daily lives as a fun and different way to communicate.  Because of this we can find value for using them in the classroom as a way to connect this personal method with that of their learning in school.  As for ESL and ELL students emojis offer a universal way to communicate.  Emojis are not regulated to one language or culture, they are a human way of communicating that we have been using for a lot longer than our written words.  Just look at cave drawings that go back 40,000 years ago, our first way of communicating a message.  
30,000-year-old cave hyena painting found in the Chauvet
Cave, France.  With an added Face with Tears of Joy’ emoji

King, M. (2016). Using Emojis to Teach Critical Reading Skills.
Retrieved from

Oxford. (2015). Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year 2015 is….
Retrieved from

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Benefits of Technology Intragration

The blog I happened upon this week was written about a year ago, and I was alerted by my Google Alerts to another blog.  While the redirected post is long forgotten, this post made a number of statements I thought resonated with me, and thus my reflection follows.  The article was written by Kellie Woodson for a blog sponsored by FluentU entitled “How to Use Technology Effectively to Transform Your ESL Classroom”.  While the title caught my attention as relevant to our learning, it was the contents that made me think.  Her blog post mentioned six different benefits as to why educators should integrate technology into their classrooms.  While this post was definitely an endorsement of the services provided by the sponsor FluentU, which most certainly met the criteria she presented, the meat of the post was a meaningful reflection on any educational technologies benefits.  She also focused on how these benefits directly affect ELL students in their learning of language.

To understand the benefits of technology integration, you must first set the parameters for the meaning of technology integration.  Technology integration into the classroom is more than merely using it as a remedial tool, or an extra activity one could do at home or when students have extra time.  As Woodson said, “simply put, technology integration is just that, the practice of integrating or interweaving technology into teaching and learning.”  Making technology a part of the learning process, instead of the driver, gives students the opportunity to discover the productive and create opportunities for self learning these tools offer.  Technology needs to be a secondary part of the students classroom experience, like that of a notebook and pencil.  While you can certainly learn from the contents of the notebook, it is most effective in conjunction with instruction and classroom interactions.  The same is true for technology, it must become a part of the learning experience, a part of the student toolkit.  

With the understanding of technology integration, we can look at the six different benefits that the author lists.  While going through these benefits,  I am going to share ways I, personally, can educate teachers methods for using these tools to see their benefits.  The six benefits to be addressed are:

1. Increases student engagement and motivation
2. Offers mobility
3. Teaches students valuable tools for the future
4. Can be a time saver for teachers
5. Promotes learner independence
6. Provides students access to target culture

Technology increases students engagement and motivation in a number of ways.  Woodson states that, “technology is exciting, fascinating and ever-evolving, and when used thoughtfully, it can transform even the most mundane lesson into one that is powerful and thought-provoking.” Technology allows students to go beyond words on the page, and opens a world of creative and innovative ways in which ideas can be presented and learned.  These methods may include using ebooks, which provide interactive videos, activities and other features that standard textbooks don’t have, to using digital libraries of videos, to collaborative interactive games.  All these methods gives students a new way to see and experience learning.  Just like technology in their lives is providing them with new way to experience life itself, it too can provide those same opportunities to learning. Using iPads as digital notebooks to reflect on learning by recording audio, videos, adding documents as well as written reflection shows one way in which you can accomplish this engagement.  Having students use the technology that is already present as an extension of learning, gives them additional value to these tools potential.

Technology is only getting smaller, which allows for nearly constant access and utilization.  By offering mobility, technology opens the door to learning whenever, wherever.  As Woodson says in her post, “this focus on mobility has eliminated the rule of course materials being confined to a textbook and/or classroom.”  Students can access anything by way of devices that most already have, or will soon have.  Not only is there access to this as a resource, but it also provides a platform to create your own understanding and document your own learning. ESL students could use this mobility to reflect on experiences  they had in the world outside of the classroom.  They can create audio journals that will give them a place to reflect on these experiences.  

By blending technology into the learning process, you are providing the opportunity for students to learn and experience valuable tools for the future.  In this day and time, we need to understand the basics of technology in order to function efficiently.  As was stated in the blog, “it is important to make sure that our students are well-versed in technological tools, skills and language.”  Students are a part of a very competitive world.  To keep them on par, we need to focus on engaging in these tools.  Schools going to Google Apps for Education, or similar services offered by Microsoft and Apple, are demonstrating this benefit.  Those that give students email accounts, and offer services like Google Apps are giving their students the space to flex this technological muscle.  They are giving them real world experiences with collaboration and virtual creativity.  Educators are opening a world  beyond the classroom for students to explore, share, and create learning. Therefore it is essential we  provide teachers access to essential tools to get their students to experience the 21st century mindset.

The fact that technology can be a time saver for teachers is one of the biggest selling points to educators I work with.  I certainly understand the initial implementation of integrating technology can be a process, and seems like a time consuming task, but once built, it can be maintained, updated, and administered with relative ease.  Building courses through tools like iTunesU can help to increase student engagement, provide opportunities for outside the class learning, and initiate and maintain conversation.  These tools, once built, provide the structure, and only needs to be managed and maintained.  Additionally, there is the assessment aspect of technology. With the aid of numerous tools, teachers can build new engaging, interactive and reliable assessments.  Data collected through these tools is graded immediately, providing a quick way to gage understanding.  

Using technology promotes learner independence through these deeply embedded practices of technology integration.  By using these technologies as a tool to support learning and creating, students will become accustomed to effective usage.  In fact, this is one benefit that students grasp quickly, especially if they are looking for Minecraft or video game tutorials.  They see technology as a tool to find answers. Students know if they have a question, they can most certainly find the answer online.  What we, as educators need to do is to have them appreciate the tool as an extension of the learning process.  

The final benefit noted is definitely one easily adaptable to ESL students, but certainly applies to all. This benefit is the fact technology provides students access to target culture.  You can find just about anything online, and videos and audio of people speaking in native languages is certainly one of them.  Watching and listening to exchanges in different languages is an excellent way to provide an experience for learning new languages.  Additionally, technology provides opportunity for students to engage in these languages with the use of communication tools, such as Facebook, Skype, Google hangouts and other social media tools.  Experiences like these go beyond ESL students, and provide all students with unique opportunities to explore cultures outside their own. Never before have we seen the world this interconnected, and we, as educators, need to to a better job creating more experiences with global connected opportunities.

Technology is not going anywhere.  It is a huge part of our lives, and it is becoming only more prevalent in the classroom, whether we like it or not.  Students will continue to grow and learn with these tools, and it is up to us, as educators, to find ways to integrate this tool into their learning.  We need to create the opportunity to blend technology that is in their pocket to more than just a clever way to communicate and entertain. We must help students see the potential that lies in the tool as one that can help drive connection, collaboration and creation of our own ideas and beliefs.  

Woodson, K. (2016). How to Use Technology Effectively to Transform Your ESL Classroom. Retrieved from