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

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Edtech Horizons

For my first blog post I am going to respond to the NMC/CoSN Horizon Report: 2016 K-12 Edition.  This was a fascinating report issued by the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) and the New Media Consortium, which features the next 5 years in education in regards to trends and technology.  In this report they highlight six trends in education: coding as a literacy, students as creators, collaborative learning, deeper learning approaches, redesigning learning spaces and rethinking how schools work.  They also highlighted six developments in technologies: makerspaces, online learning, robotics, virtual reality, artificial intelligence and wearable technology.  All of those trends and technologies show a tremendous potential to revolutionize learning in the modern classroom.  With all the money that is being spent on new school construction designed around the modern ideas of learning spaces, many older schools are trying to find innovative ways to incorporate these new trends without having new infrastructure, more and more are reaching outside of their districts to collaborate with others in redesigning learning spaces.

It’s exciting to see where these trends are going to take education.  Seeing a greater focus on student as creators and collaborative spaces, makes it easier to engage students in their own learning as well as allowing them the opportunities to work through real world problems in ways they may encounter when they leave school.  Makerspaces in libraries or old computer labs provide these authentic learning experiences, giving students the opportunities to creatively problem solve.  While we might not know what the jobs of the future are going to be, we know that in order to solve these problems we need to know how to think creatively and work together.  These strategies have a strong impact for ESL students in particular, because they are able to work with others and learn from these experiences.  Allowing them to work creatively allows them the chance to assimilate their native language into that of this new language.  Seeing what students can create in this new, creative, and collaborative way of learning should be inspiring enough to create a new wave in education, but there's still work that needs to be done.  As long as there are these tests at the end of the year, there will be holdout teachers who might not believe this new way of learning can effect positive change in the standardized tests at the end of the year.

Yet it is the technology that always gets me.  This summer we had the Pokemon Go trend that transformed every smartphone into an interactive treasure map to go forth and walk like you’ve never walked before and “Collect ‘em All”!  It was participating in this fad (still do daily on my lunch walk) with my son that really opened my eyes to the potential of what this type of game allowed.  It was more than just searching for some mythical anime type creator, but using this device to learn about your community and to get you off the coach and walking.  My son started to notice landforms and cultural reference points in our small community, not because he wanted to, but because the game forced him to.  It was using the game as a tool to spark interest that made it worth it.  Pokemon Go might not be the greatest Augmented reality game invented, in fact the other game that the makers of Pokemon Go released is actually much better.  However, the fact that it opened a new interest in the concept of augmented reality has made it a novel addition to the ever changing tech game.  It’s going to be neat to see what innovative educators and programmers can come up with to use this technology within the classroom walls to drive learning.  

The other technology that really drew me was that of virtual reality and where it might come into education.  The dream of being able to have your students visit anywhere in the world (and space) is soon becoming a reality.  While these ultimate virtual reality machines are expensive and in their early development, we can still see some of this already happening in the classroom.  Tools like Nearpod, an online presentation tool that allows you to add interactive elements to your presentation, use 360 degree pictures to take students on virtual fieldtrips.  Students can use their phones and tablets to move them around giving them a window into another world.  This can be a powerful tool to drive learning and understanding.  Not only do you tell your students about the Great Pyramids, but now you can take them there.  Google is also a great company that has been delving into this virtual world.  With Google cardboard and using some of the Google Expeditions they have created, students can go on even more immersive virtual experiences.  If you haven’t checked out the Google Rio expedition, you should take a look.  In this experience the user is a passenger on a scooter that goes through the Favelas of Rio, giving you a really cool experience of this place.

There is so much covered in this awesome report and I recommend the read to anyone in the educational field.  With every year I look forward to what is to come and this year proves no different.  So I leave you with one question… What excites you the most about technology in education?  

Source: The New Media Consortium, (2016) NMC/CoSN Horizon Report > 2016 K-12 Edition

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Useful Resources for ESL teachers

Here is a list of 20 helpful resources for all those that teach or want to integrate more into their ESL classrooms.

Edutopia is an online magazine that brings you up-to-date information about edtech and anything in relation to education.  Be it STEM, language learning or math you can find awesome articles and blog posts about everything!
#educational technology  #classroom ideas  #ELL  #ESL

Free Technology for Teachers has been one of my “go-to” educational blogs for years.  Curated by the great edtech educator Richard Byrne, this blog is updated daily with posts about new and exciting ways to use educational technology in every aspect of education, including ESL and ELL classrooms.
#educational technology  #classroom ideas  #ELL  #ESL

Edudemic is another great educational technology blog that deals with so much more than just edtech.  It delves into great strategies and ideas for all aspects of education including a plethora of resources and articles on ESL and the Language classrooms.  
#educational technology  #classroom ideas  #ELL  #ESL

This blog by Lisa Nielsen contains great resources for all educators that is updated daily.  While it is based around innovation in educational technology it contains so much more information than just that.  Find great ideas to increase student engagement.
#educational technology  #classroom ideas  #ELL  #ESL
Dangerously Irrelevant is a great blog put together by educator Scott McLeod which delves into everything that we are doing wrong in education and ways that we could improve.  While it’s not based solely in ELL classrooms it is definitely relevant to every classroom.  
#educational technology  #classroom ideas  #ELL  #ESL

This is an online resource for ESL and ELL teachers to find a large collection of tools that can be used in these language classrooms.  With a such a great number of tools available educators should be able to find what they are looking for!
#ESL  #ELL  #resource collection

EverythingESL is a collection of lesson plans, teaching tips and resources for the ESL classroom.  Updated regularly this site proves a great resource for any educator teaching ESL students.  
#ESL  #ELL  #resource collection #lesson plans

Colorin Colorado is a bilingual site created for an audience of both ESL teachers and parents.  Within you can find a number of resources that will help these students succeed in school.
#ESL  #ELL  #resource collection

The What Works Clearinghouse is a resource developed by the Institute of Education Sciences and the U.S. Department of Education to provide a place where teachers can find reputable programs, products, practices, and policies in education.  
#ESL  #ELL  #resource collection is an eduactional website for students to use to study and practice lanuage skills through games and interactive activities.  Great resource for teachers to use with their ESL and ELL classroom.
#ESL  #ELL  #games #interactives

ManyThings is a collection of quizzes, word games, word puzzles, proverbs, slang expressions, anagrams, a random-sentence generator and other computer assisted language learning activities to aid the development of ESL and ELL students.
#ESL  #ELL  #resource collection #games  #activities

This ELL resource website brought to you by Utah Education Network is a collection of tools, teaching resources, student resources and forums to help aid in the development of the ELL and ESL students.  Awesome resource to find anything you might need to enhance your language lessons.
#ESL  #ELL  #resource collection #games  #activities

An ESL resource developed and maintained by ESL educator Dave Sperling, this site has many great resources.  You can find lessons, forums and activities to use in your own ELL classroom.
#ESL  #ELL  #resource collection #podcasts  #activities

ESL Gold is a website that contains thousands of resources for both students and teachers alike.  With everything from lessons, videos, forums and activities teachers will find what they are looking for in their language classrooms.
#ESL  #ELL  #resource collection #videos  #activities

This is a blog that is updated daily with education technology resources for all areas of education including the ESL and ELL classrooms.  Keep up with all new technology with this online resource.
#educational technology  #classroom ideas  #ELL  #ESL

This resource filled website developed by the BBC will help students in their learning of the english language.  Filled with lessons, activities and interactives to support ESL instruction.
#ESL  #ELL  #resource collection #videos  #activities

One Stop English is another fabulous resource where educators can find all things ESL learning.  From lessons to activities this resource is bound to have what you are looking for.
#ESL  #ELL  #resource collection #videos  #activities

With contributions of lessons, activities and other resources by thousands of educators, this online community has many answers to your ESL integrated lessons.  
#ESL  #ELL  #resource collection #videos  #activities

This blog brought to you from the staff at Education Week bring you posts about what is new in the world of English Language Learners.  With hundreds of posts, you can find an abundance of helpful information.
#blog  #ESL  #ELL  #ideas

With a community of English learners from 140 countries this blog also has helpful information on integrating new ideas to your ESL classroom.  
#blog  #ESL  #ELL  #ideas