Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Memrise for Vocabulary Development in the FL Classroom

Well, I just found this empty title saved in my drafts, and I think it's time to bring it to the light of day.  Memrise.com is a vocabulary building site that I discovered several months ago. I absolutely fell in love with it, as did my students, although for different reasons. I love the fact that I can build my own vocab lists, and they are collaborative. By that I mean that I can start a vocab list on, for example, food words, and I can invite my students to add words that they are interested in learning that I left off my list. I also love the fact that sound files can be added along with each word, so students can hear the pronunciations as they study: a step up from your average flashcard. Memrise also has the capability for me (or preferably my students) to add "mems"to each word.

What's a mem? A mem is basically a mnemonic device: a short, often silly cue that student create to help them remember the word.  Something along the line of Every Good Boy Does Fine for music students to remember the names of the line notes, or "I before e..." to help remember a spelling rule. I tell my students the sillier the better, and I much prefer if the mems come from them, although I do have a few in my bag of tricks.

The last reason I really love this site is the way practice is structured. Each word is introduced along with its accompanying sound file and/or mem. Then a multiple choice question is asked to practice the word and its definition. A second word is introduced, more multiple choice, then more words, multiple choice becomes interspersed with short answer questions requiring students to type in the target language vocabulary word, and missed words are reintroduced and repeated more frequently.  Progress is tracked, and students who sign up for an account receive periodic emails reminding them to refresh their learning before their memories "die".

Now for the reasons my students love memrise:  learning takes place in a somewhat game-based environment.  Difficulty increases as students make progress.  Students are ranked and reranked based on the number of words they view and the amount of correct responses, so it is competitive.  Too much time away from memrise, and your ranking starts to drop.

I am very excited to use this tool more with my students next year!

What do you think?

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

To Grade or Not to Grade...But Is That Really the Question?

Tuesday night's #edchat was really hopping with opinions about how to make grading more meaningful, and in many cases how to abolish grading altogether.  I have long been of the opinion that our current system of educating our children is at best largely irrelevant to a good percentage of the population, and at worst outright damaging.  I think, however, that "to grade or not to grade" needs to be looked at in terms of the bigger picture.  Given the system as it stands, the current push is to grade teachers based on how their students scores look.  That said, for many of us, grading is a matter of self-preservation.  I am all for pushing the limits and thinking outside the box, but at the end of the day, I still need my job to support my family, so I need to remain somewhat within the boundaries set by the powers that be.

Philosophically, I guess I fall somewhere in the middle of "to grade or not to grade".  Evaluation is a part of life.  It's something our students will deal with in varying degrees throughout their working lives, and so should not be totally absent from their educational experience.  Ultimately, students will leave high school, and need to have met certain benchmarks, to have mastered certain skills/concepts in order to receive a diploma.  Colleges won't necessarily change how they do business simply because some high schools stop giving grades.  Employers will continue to evaluate employees based on the quality of work, in many cases independent of effort, and part of what we do is prepare our students to be productive citizens in the "real world", so grades maybe aren't such a horrible thing on face.

More concerning to me than grades, though, is the fact of the arbitrariness of the 13 year quest to earn this all-important diploma.  Certainly there are students who "graduate early" and there are "super seniors" who return for an extra semester or year, but those are outside the norm.  Why do we expect that our students will all learn at the same pace?  Why do we expect that all 5th grade students will master the 5th grade skills/concepts in a wide range of content areas in the same amount of time -- one year?  This has never made sense to me.  Perhaps, (and here is where I climb onto my techie soapbox) this is where the flipped classroom, differentiated instruction, and mobile learning can make the most difference.  If each student is treated as an individual, beginning each school year with an individualized learning plan, mastering skills/concepts at his/her own pace, what would that do to the concept of grading?  Grade levels would cease to exist, curricula would be fluid, Suzy might be 10 mastery levels ahead of Johnny in math, but 3 behind him in reading, and at the same level in science, and they would both be learning "just in time" to meet their needs.  Report cards would be issued "as needed" for each content area at a logical point, rather than tailoring units to fit an (again arbitrary) 10 week time period.  Learning is continuous -- a journey with checkpoints along the way. These are things that could be possible if school systems -- yes, it will take more than a teacher revolution -- are willing to build flexibility into their programs, allow students to bring their own devices and learn in ways unique to each of them.  This is the glimmer of the ideal school that I see for the future.

And then I wake up and remember that I still have to give a number grade every 10 weeks based on homework, quizzes, tests and classwork.  But when I identify a student that is learning at a significantly higher rate than his peers, I fight to have him appropriately placed -- even if it's off grade level.  If I have a student with a particular interest but no time in her schedule, I fight to be able to offer an independent study that will meet her needs.  And my grades are never final until the ink is dry (and sometimes not even then) because if the goal is mastery, then we need to be flexible with our time limits because our students ARE individuals, and mastery just might not come in exactly 10 weeks.

What do you think?

Saturday, July 2, 2011


I have to admit that prior to finding this Teacher challenge, I had already used glogster with my students. They loved it!  I had them create campaign posters for a mock election for French class president.  Students were required to include a "photo" (real or otherwise), a French music clip, a logo, 10 campaign promises (using the conditional tense) and 2 (made-up) statistics defending their promises.  They then presented their glogs to the class, who voted to narrow the field to 2 candidates.  The feedback I got from students was positive, with the exception of the music, which quite a few had difficulty embedding.

In accordance with this challenge, I created my own glog on a topic that has been in my tweetstream for the last several days -- American Stereotypes of the French.  I'm happy to have a forum in particular for the "Cliché" video, which is a tad too risqué for me to put on my class blog.

What do you think?

Friday, July 1, 2011


Soooo...Free Tools challenge #6:  DoInk.  After using Bitstrips for comics and Goanimate for animations, I wondered if DoInk could offer me anything new, different, and/or better.  The answer is no, DoInk has nothing to offer ME.  That is not a deficiency on the part of DoInk, however, but a complete and utter dearth of artistic talent on my part.  I tried, and I tried, but the effort it required for me to create something resembling ANYTHING...well...I'm embarrassed to even admit it. I have no doubt that I have students who would take to DoInk like ducks to water, and create beautiful, sophisticated graphics and animations that would make me proud.  I also know, however, that there are a fair number of students who, while they certainly have more artistic talent than I do, might be intimidated by this tool in conjunction with their own lacking confidence.  So given these variables, I'll be sticking to apps that are a bit less DIY and a bit more "use what we have to offer and make it your own".

Here's my test animation (try not to look directly at it -- you might go blind!)

my pathetic attempt by mmebrady, made at DoInk.com

Edmodo, Wikispaces, Collaborize Classroom

This is not intended by any means to be a comprehensive review of these platforms.

I'm really liking this challenge, because it fits right in with one of my goals, which is to find a way to  accomplish what I want to accomplish using as few different platforms as possible.  I am currently using 5 different platforms at different depth levels (2 of them are required by my school district; Edmodo is not one of them), and would ideally like to reduce that to 3.

That I will continue to use the school website (through SchoolWorld) to disseminate information to students and parents is a given, so at the very least that will remain a platform that I use.  Our district uses schooltool for management of internal data, including grades.  This includes a student/parent portal feature which allows ongoing access to information about assignments and grades.

Aside from the platforms used district-wide, I have also embraced wikispaces.  I like that students can collaborate with one another via messages, and can edit one another's work.  I LOVE that all changes to any page are forwarded to me via email, and a history is available.  This was particularly useful when a well-meaning student accidentally deleted the home page for his class, and it was an unbelievably simple fix for me -- I don't even think he ever knew what he had done. 

I also love the capability of wikispaces to be used as an eportfolio for digital student work.  It supports embedding many different types of work (goanimate, voki, wallwisher -- although due to repeated "glitches" I have switched to linoit for an online blackboard, glogster, slideshare, bitstrips, and screencastomatic, to name the ones I have used).  I have had issues with certain cloud apps:  empressr and sketchcast, but I have posted links to the student work, so it is still a worthwhile option in my opinion.  Image files are also very easily embeddable.

Collaborize Classroom is another platform I have dabbled with.  It's format seems to be more or less a directed class blog.  What I like about it is the capability to create class polls, and get ongoing data.  For example, with a French 3 class working on the future tense, I put forth several specific questions about what life will be like in 25 years (will people be vacationing on the moon? etc.) and students voted whether they thought it was impossible, unlikely, possible, or definite, then we discussed the results in class.  For the same poll questions, they had to post longer comments giving reasons why they voted the way they did.  However, with blogpolls, I will be able to do the same thing in wikispaces. Also, student feedback on Collaborize Classroom was that many had difficulty logging in, even though I had sent invitations.  So, bottom line, I will likely not be using this platform in the future.

Which brings me to Edmodo.  It's a great site for teachers whose districts have not made the leap to digital information storage, but for me, it just seems to be redundant.  I do like the community aspect, and as I did sign up for an account, I will check that periodically if for no other reason than to continue building my PLN, but beyond that, probably not.