The Smartpen, a dream come true !

Thanks to Annie Krespil and her presentation during the SPEAQ campus, I had the opportunity to discover an incredible teaching tool : the Smartpen. The Smartpen is not just a simple pen, hell no ! It is a computer which combines all four mode of communication (reading, writing, speaking and listening). When you buy the basic Smartpen which has a storage of 2gb, you will also receive a special paper with features already on it. For example, in the lowest part of the page, you will find a small ink and every time you will touch it, it will record what you say. There are many ways to use it effectively in and outside the classroom and some of them will be presented in this blog this week. I want to specify that, in this text, I will only talk about the advantages if a teacher has it because I think it is unrealistic to think that all students could have their own.  

The first benefit from using the Smartpen is the fact that, in your class, you can ask a student to take notes on the course that you give. For example, if you talk about the rules of plural, he will write the categories on the paper (and click on record) and then everything that you will say will be recorded. Then, it will possible to put the sheet on the portal or on google docs and it will be accessible for the students and the parents to go take a look at what they have learned during that day. The student can revisit instructions and particular points of a course as many times as needed to understand. We have to take into consideration that, as a teacher, some students are shy and will never ask a question if they don’t understand. By making the course notes available online, it will allow this kind of students to understand and to have access to help as much as the others. Furthermore, like I said if it is available online for the students, it is also for the parents who will be able to help their child in their homework because it will be possible for them to see exactly the explanations he received at school. We can also think that the Smartpen will be very useful for a student who missed the class because he won’t only receive a small review of what was seen in class and the exercises, but also spoken explanations of the teacher. Dr. Sam Patterson, an English teacher at Kehillah Jewish High School in Palo Alto, shows that it can be really effective in a school context because he says that he uses the Smartpen “to improve their understanding of difficult subject matter, such as antiquated vocabulary used by Shakespeare and Homer. The students write with the pens to augment their notes, while Patterson uses his to generate comprehensive files that he then shares with students who need help or were absent. He also creates mini-tutorials for certain lessons that students can refer to outside of class. Using the Smartpen clarifies instructions for students who might not have initially understood them” he explains.

From a psychological perspective, I think that the Smartpen will also allow the students to listen more to what the teacher says instead of copying what he writes on the board or on his powerpoint. Indeed, the Smartpen will make note-taking less stressful because it will eliminate the fear of missing something important that the teacher could say because they will all have access to everything on the net. The comprehension will be then, their major preoccupation. Like Andrew Leibs from assitivetechnology.com says “[The Smartpens] also remove the time-consuming task of transcribing a complete lecture by enabling students to access any part of a recorded lecturer by merely tapping on words.” Students with learning disabilities will truly benefit from that technology because if they struggle to follow the teacher or the lectures, they know that they will be able to listen to the lesson as many times as they want at home. Andrew Leibs says the same thing because he knows in class, “students with learning disabilities such as dyslexia sometimes struggle to keep up with class lectures. In the time it takes to hear, process, and write down information, the professor has often moved on to the next point. Giving an equal chance to succeed to every student is a value that every teacher should have.

Many students will also improve their listening comprehension by using the Smartpen. The fact that the teacher can put the instructions of a work online will give the students another opportunity to improve their listening comprehension because the more input you have on a particular thing, the best it is. Like Stuart Knox says in his essay about Smartpens in second or other language learning environments, “the  analysis of recorded native English speaker speech and analysis of their own recorded speech produced benef its in the areas of pronunciation, intonation and accent improvement. When students failed to understand native English presentations, they could repeatedly play back recorded presentations in order to achieve understanding. “ Listening to English speakers such as the teacher in a recording for example will provide learning benefits because things will be clearer for them. Encouraging the students to listen to a language in class, but also at home will help them in their development. 

Finally, the Smartpen can improve the students speaking skills because they will be able to evaluate their strengths and weaknesses by listening to their interventions in a group for example. Like Annie Krespil told us during the Speaq, when she asks her students to do a group talking activity, she asks one student to put a check with the Smartpen, every time a person talks. The result of this action is the fact that all the interventions of every student can be recorded. The students can thus have the opportunity to  evaluate their skills and try to see where they have to improve before the teacher tells them. It can also resolve a conflict if a student says that he did say something during an oral presentation, but in fact he did not. You have the proof in your pen.  Like Livescribe education says “ By expanding the use of evaluation form to include audio recordings, the evaluator can then go back and make instructional use of the recorded segments to reinforce positive behaviors or to instruct in areas that need improvement.” Sometimes the students will improve if he feels that he is not that bad after all and one way to make him feel like that is to show him that he is able take his place in a discussion. Furthermore, having the possibility to evaluate the students after the class (by listening to the recording of the teams) will allow the teacher to help teams the ones that are struggling and will incite the students to talk in English during all the period because they will be evaluated on what the teacher will be able to hear on the pen and not only what she hears during class. It will be the end of students who only talk in French or about their weekend.

 

As you see the Smartpen can be magic, but you have to know how to use it properly! 

 

 

 

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Google Drive, what a tool !

Google has always been a precusor in the world of technology.  Since its creation, the company has created multiple tools that literally changed the way that we interact, search and play. However, on April 2, 2012, the company changed the way that we keep and create school work by launching Google Drive. This tool allows students and teachers (and everyone who has a google account) to store documents such as word documents, powerpoint presentations or over 30 other file types. When you create a Google Account , you have 15 go enterely free on Google Drive and, as a future teacher, but also a guy who likes to use the best softwares and tools, it is wonderful to have everything at the same place which is the case with Google (Gmail, Drive, Calendar, etc). That’s why (on a more personal note) I don’t really use Dropbox anymore because why should I use an outside service when I can have everthing at the same place ? Let’s see why I really think that Google Drive revolutionized how I will be teaching.

There is the fact that the teacher can use Google Drive as a formative assessment tool because you can give feedback on the students’ work before the deadline. I’m not talking about evaluating, I’m talking about giving tips and tell the students how they can improve and if they are on the right track or not. Through the revisions history, it will be easy for them to see all the comments. Like Jennifer Carey who is the director of the academic technology at the Ransom Everglades School in Coconut Grove, Florida says “Instead of emailing documents back and forth (which is a huge pain with many opportunities for confusion) teachers can go quickly to Drive, find and open the student’s paper in the Drive table of contents, and make “live” comments and corrections on the student’s paper”. It really helps the teacher to be more productive because you don’t have to search for the students’ copies in your mailbox or in your folder anymore. There is only one single copy that can be modified as many times as they want.  I also learned, again by Jennifer Carey’s article that you can leave students voice notes which is fantastic. Sometimes when your comment is just too long or not clear enough, you can decide to incorporate a spoken comment in the Google Drive document. Like she says, this is a great way to provide broader feedback. Furthermore, if we talk about one of the most helpful thing for teachers and one of the most frustrating for students is the fact that you can clearly see if a student has worked on his project or not because you have access to the revisions history. They won’t be able to lie to you because you will have proofs of his implication in a project.

Secondly, as a student who graduated from high school three years ago, I remember that one thing that was frustrating was the fact that the only time that we could see all of our grades during a semester was when the teacher had to send the report cards to our parents. My future students will be happy to know that Google Docs has also a solution to it! Teachers can now create a sheet that will track all the student tests, so they could easily have accesss to them and see which competency they have to work on and improve it before the end of the semester. During my high school’s years, we could only see how well we did by the end of it. It has also the advantage to help the parents to keep track of their child’s score because sometimes, the teacher ask their students to bring their folder at home to show their results to their parents (like in my practicum 1), but who knows if they really did it ? By creating a sheet with all the results of their children, you have the possibility to share it with every person you want which includes the parents. At the beginning of the semester, you ask them to send you their gmail adress and then, you can share with them the course plan (which includes the due dates of the projects and the homework that have to be done) with the parents, so they can clearly see what their child has to do and he won’t be able to lie to them and say that he does not have homework or any type of lies. Like Todd Koren who worked in a high school for ten years and who is now a writer for The Yelling Center says “I often speak with parents and teachers about their struggles working with students who simply cannot seem to keep their assignments straight or meet due dates in a consistent manner. This software offers multiple free tools that can help students keep their work and due dates organized, as well as give parents and teachers ways to be supportive without actually doing the work for them.” One thing to keep in my mind as a teacher is to give the students a number on that sheet otherwise some mean students could use it to make fun of others.

Finally, the most interesting thing about Google Drive is the fact that you can share your documents with your teamates for a project. Before the arrival of Google Drive, the students had to do the work all together at the library or send to each other the copy of the work (who got modified over and over again). Now, with Google Drive, every member can modifiy the same copy at the same time and they will be able to see what everyone is doing (because it will appear in different colours). Goodbye to the time when doing a Powerpoint was complicated to do in team because it wasn’t possible to see everyone at the same time. Furthermore, what every teacher loves about Google Drive is the fact that they can ask their students to do peer review like I do in a course this semester. A lot of studies say that you understand your writing mistakes better when someone who is in the same situation as you explain it to you. With Google Drive, the students will be able to read, comment, modifiy each other’s work which will make their work better and they will improve faster. Like the teaching center of the Washington University in St-Louis says “engage in “peer review,” when well planned, can help students improve their reading and writing skills, and learn how to collaborate effectively”.  Futhermore, as a teacher, I will see the level of my class improving because, before a work is handed in, it will have been read at least two times. Nate Green, an educator and a writter for http://www.edsocialmedia.com says that “often, I will pair up students who are proving a similar thesis. Other times, I will pair up students based on ability. Peer editing with Google Docs allows me to watch the discussions that go on between students during the editing process. It’s hard to doubt the effectiveness of peer-to-peer discussion in learning. My students have made leaps and bounds this year in their writing skills.”

As you see, it is hard to doubt of the effectiveness of Google Drive because it simplifies the life of the students, but also the one of the teacher.

If you want to learn how to use Google Drive, there is a very useful link ! 🙂

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The use of Youtube in the classroom.

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Since its creation on February 14, 2005, Youtube really changed the way we live. If we look back at the way we were listening to our favorite music 10 years ago, we realize that the change is radical. This video-sharing website has invaded the music industry and it begins to invade our classroom because Youtube has multiple benefits for students if the teacher knows how to use it smartly. Anybody who has access to internet can go on Youtube and watch videos from anyone in the world (which results in a high number of bad videos I agree), but also from broadcast networks such as CBC, Discovery channel or ABC that have their own Youtube channel that shares very interesting videos.

As an English teacher, you have to teach grammar, punctuation and writing techniques, but you also have to teach the culture behind the language. Youtube can be a way to reinvest material that was seen in class. Amy Palko, a teacher who is specialised in American literature, said about how she teaches with Youtube that she found clips “particularly helpful when teaching the 20th-century American short story, as many of the narratives the course focussed on dealt with historic events for which there exists a wealth of material. For example, filming that depicts the Great Depression and the Civil Rights Movement is available on YouTube, thus allowing students to attain a much deeper understanding of many of the themes recurrent throughout the short fiction”. Some students can’t truly understand something without seeing it. Following the “Programme de formation de l’école québecoise”, it is the responsibility of the school to adapt the formation to the capacities, the talent and the interests of every student. For example, if I ask them to read a book about the feminist literature, I need to be able to provide other material than only a book to help students who don’t understand very clearly. Youtube can really help me to do that because I could use videos about it, so they could see exactly what it looked like.

As a future teacher, I want my students to become good english speakers, but also active citizens. I can already see myself beginning a class with a very popular video by Justin Bieber or Lady Gaga in which we could see the lyrics and try to analyze them. This could lead to a debate about the pertinence of saying that kind of things. We could talk about the pressure of the society on the ladies, the relationship between man and woman, etc. It could also lead to politic debates like Amjad Ali, who teaches citizenship and law at The Bulmershe School in reading, does. He says  that he simply displays “some newspaper headlines with a keyword/sentence missing. I may play a YouTube clip, or even wear/hold/present a prop. I then ask students to think, pair, square and then share what they think the stimulus is about. This is an immediate way to get students talking and discussing politics“. We want our students to talk, but can’t they please talk about serious topics?

There is also the fact that Youtube can be used as a way that children practice their English. For example, 1st graders learn a lot by singing songs about various topics, so you could post on the portal of your school, the Youtube videos of the songs they have to practice.  It will allow the parents to practice those songs and those vocabulary words with their children at home (songs such as Brown Bear, Sally the Camel or From Head to Toe). In my practicum 1, this is exactly what the teacher does and it works pretty well.  They also post on Youtube (with a link to their portal), activities that they did at school.

 Finally, as a teacher, it is hard to make quizzes and tests fun and interactive, so that’s why Youtube created a tool for that. It is called “spotlight” which will make a video that you created fully interactive. For example, if I create a video about the rule of the 3rd person singular, I make it interactive by doing a quiz in which I  ask them to complete some sentences. If they pick the right answer, you can add a funny picture or a link to a videoclip of a song like “Celebration” by Kool and The Gang to congratulate them (reinforcement), but if the student is not right you show him the right answer and a link to a Youtube video that will show him the rule of the 3rd person singular (there are a lot of videos about it). From a future teacher perspective, this tool from Youtube is truly great because every student will learn at their own rhythm because they receive a personalized answer. I don’t think that, one day, students will be excited about doing an exercise about grammar, but, at least, it will be less painful. There is a link to a website that will show you how to make interactive lessons with Youtube.

As you see, Youtube is a valuable tool in the classroom, but you have to use it wisely and you have to be allowed the access to this video-sharing website because multiple schools block it.

 

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SpeakingPal, a revolutionary app !

Multiple tools are now available for teachers who wants to improve the efficiency of their teaching. One of them is directly answers a need that students have, which is feedback on their speaking skills. As a teacher, unless you do an oral presentation every course, you can’t truly evaluate and give complete feedback to every student on a regular basis because the courses only last 60 minutes. Speaking is one of the most important, if not the most important thing that students need to acquire in English. One of the solution you would say is to ask other students to evaluate their peers on the proficiency of their speaking, but unless your students are native speakers, they won’t be able to really tell if the pronunciation was right or not. So, we have to look for other alternatives and one of those is SpeakingPal.

Available on Itunes and Google Play, SpeakingPal is an app that consists of video scenarios such as asking for directions, searching a book at the library or asking for information at the bank. When you begin a scenario, a virtual speaker will act, for example, as the cashier of a bank. He will ask you questions about your bank account and you will have to respond with one of the provided answers on the screen. Every answer will be analysed and an evaluation with a color-coded bar will be given (ex : green means that the pronunciation was very good, yellow means that it was average and red means that you have work to do). The sentences that didn’t go very well can be done again and you’ll also see which words were well pronounced and which not. There is even a native speaker on the screen who can show you the perfect pronunciation. The average length for a scenario is about 2 minutes. So, as you see, the app will improve the student’s skills because he will practice, but also because he’ll receive feedback. Image

The Usa Today said about the app that “because it’s free to try, SpeakingPal is an ideal download for those who’d like to practice speaking English in real-world scenarios and receive immediate feedback. If you can get past the cheesy humor, this app should help those wishing to improve their English-speaking skills via their tablet or smartphone.” As a future teacher, I can already see myself in a classroom or a computer lab, asking my students to open the app and do different scenarios. It will help them to improve their pronunciation faster because they will directly see on the screen which words are difficult for them and how they can improve their pronunciation (by following the native speaker on the screen). It will also show them real-life situations in which they will have to speak English throughout their lives. It is true that, in a perfect world, I would sit with every single students and listen carefully to the way they pronounce the “ed” at the end of the past of regular verbs or how they say “hippopotamus”, but since cloning is not available yet and I still have 25 student in front of me, I need to find another way to teach my material and it is one of those. Furthermore, the app seems to work pretty well in loudly places such as a classroom like you can see in this video. So, once again, it will be easy to adapt it in a classroom where everybody talks at the same time.

Like I said, I really think that it is a very good app, but it is not a perfect solution. Right now, I don’t know if I’ll have a job in private school in which the students have more costly material or in a public school in which I’ll be confronted to some poorer students who barely have a pencil and an eraser. Using SpeakingPal will require a tablet such as an Ipad or a Nexus 7, so the type of school that I will teach in will influence greatly the possibility to use it or not. However, if it is possible, the use of Ipad or any tablet can be very interesting if well controlled. We need to make sure that, as a teacher our students will go on the right app and not on Candy Crush or Angry Birds. The use of Ipads, for example, will catch their attention more than a piece of paper. They will pay more attention to what we are trying to teach them. Ashley Wainwright, a writer for SecurEdge Blog, adds on the effect of Ipad in the classroom that “teachers can reinforce what is being taught with the iPads allowing student to practice certain skills at their own level and pace.” Every student will be able to learn at his own rhythm and it will lower their anxiety to make mistakes.

Futhermore, as Tim Gifford, a writer for EltJam.com, notes in reference to SpeakingPal that the “Speaking sections’ of lesson spreads were (traditionally) opportunities for the learners to practise putting the grammatical components together in substitution drills and exchanges. Sure, that’s saying out loud what the lesson has been designed to ‘teach’, but it’s not speaking. By ‘speaking’ I’m referring to a spontaneous, need-driven utterance that invites an interaction.” It is a really good point. A teacher cannot use this app to evaluate the Competency 1 which is the ability to talk orally in English because the students won’t have to opportunity to use the vocabulary or the grammar rules that they learned previously, but they will be able to improve one very important feature of speaking which is the pronunciation. The App is not better than working in teams or discussing about a specific topic because it doesn’t involve real people. Fictional conversation will never replace real-life conversation between friends, but does your friend can tell you exactly if your sentences are well pronounced?Not really in the majority of cases. Tim Gilfford also raises a very good point in saying that “it’s missing out on the fundamentals when it comes to speaking practice, however; the spontaneity and support that are critical in helping a learner to recognise and respond to shortfalls in their productive abilities.”

Finally, as you see, the use of technologies such as SpeakingPal can really be enriching for your students because they will be able to improve specific skills in English. As long as the teacher knows how the app or the technology works, there is no problem to bring it in our schools.

For complete overview of the app, there is the link !

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