Thursday, October 20, 2011


Goalbook is one of my new favorite sites -- not least of all because their customer service is OUTSTANDING!!  If you are a reader of my Changing My Realm of Control blog, then you may have already read my parallel post there (more theory, less techie).  You probably also know that I have gone from dabbling to diving headfirst into personalizing instruction for my eighth grade French students (and I'm having the time of my life!)

Here's how my journey began.  Faced with the highest percentage of students with special needs I have ever taught, I simply could not bring myself to "teach the curriculum" knowing that some, perhaps many, would be left in the dust while I moved forward with the students who learn at the prescribed pace.  I just couldn't do it again.  So without even consciously deciding to do it, although I had certainly mulled over different scenarios and strategies, I found my classes separating themselves into flexible groupings based on topics students were working on at the moment.  Believe it or not, it just sort of happened.  The kids responded VERY positively, and it was far more manageable (if you like chaos) than I had imagined it could be.

So the question became, as each class divided into more and more groups based on student pacing, how do I make sure each student knows what they are "supposed to be" doing during a given class period?  My initial solution was Evernote.  I created a note for each day of the week. Each day I would grade the assessments that came in (not too overwhelming at first, since there was never a full class set of assessments to grade at any one time, due to self-pacing, and assessments were very short, due to beginning language limitations), and then assign each student to review, progress, or assess in a list in that day's note.

Don't get me wrong, I love Evernote, and will dedicate a future post to it's glory, but I knew from the beginning that my system was flawed, and that students needed to take more of a role in planning for themselves.  I just didn't know where to begin.

I first encountered Goalbook via a blog called Beta Classroom.  I backburnered it, because I just had too many other pots on the stove.  I revisited it this week, and the magical CLICK happened.  Part of my hesitation was the thought of  adding yet another piece of daily-use tech to the kids plates (some of them are really resistant to new accounts, and have extreme difficulty remembering passwords), but the more I researched and let the idea percolate, the more sure I became that this was an essential piece that would reap benefits far outweighing the whines.

When I began setting up the account...Tuesday evening, a chatbox popped up and a tech support person offered their unsolicited help.  When I regained consciousness and came out of shock I thanked French.  He French!  Although I correctly guessed Google Translator was involved (students, if you're reading this, yes, you will get caught!!) the effort was appreciated almost as much as his sense of humor when I called him on it.  How refreshing!

My initial thought was to have all of the students use my login information so they didn't have to remember new information of their own.  But within a couple of hours of students creating their initial goals yesterday (I kid you not) the happy chatbox reappeared offering to solve all my problems -- and the offer was sincere, because they adjusted my account to allow for students to create subaccounts under my domain before the end of the day yesterday. (Shortly after 4PM for the sake of accuracy).  Unbelievable!! 

Yes, we are still working through some very minor glitches (Suzy is unhappy with her green alien avatar and can't seem to change it to a purple sparkly unicorn) but when I say WE are working through it, I really feel that is true, and if that's not a 21st Century skill we are teaching -- to be able to give your customers that feeling -- then it should be.

Read my parallel post if you want to know more about how I feel about setting goals with students, but if you're ready to jump in and give it a try, Goalbook is a great place to start.

What do you think?

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Grading Student Writing Drafts Part 2: Jing

This is not something I discovered on my own, and there are several other teachers that I know of who use Jing for this purpose (names are escaping me)

My use of Jing is an extension of my use of Awsome Screenshot.  As long as I have been grading papers, I have been talking to myself while I grade -- a habit that drives everyone around me nuts, except for those of my colleagues who do the same.  And truth be told, I'm really not talking to myself, I'm talking to the student whose paper I'm grading, except my words float uselessly unheard into the atmosphere, never to help develop anyone's writing at all.

Enter Jing.  Jing is (the basic version) a free offering by Tech Smith (makers of Camtasia).  Jing allows me to record, in five minute video segments, the annotation process with a vocal background track -- me giving an explanation for each annotation.  To be clear, I am not telling students how specifically to correct their papers, but I can cram 20-30 mini grammar lessons (reminders of things we've already gone over) in about five minutes.  As for my own learning style, after recording a class of videos on a particular assignment, I know what points need to be revisited in class due to common errors.  No going back through papers tracking common errors.  If I've had to verbally re-explain something four or five times for a recording, trust me, it's memorable.  I also let the students know on the recording that theirs is the umpteenth "paper" where I've seen the same error, which seems to take some of the pressure off when we revisit the concept in class.

So far, my students really seem to like the correction videos, and they are effective.  However, I cannot tell a lie.  The are time consuming.  I range from 5-15 minutes per student per assignment.  It's a lot, but I feel it's worth it.  What it has also done for me is to limit the number of graded writing assignments I give -- that is not to say that my students are writing less -- on the contrary, in fact -- but I've set their blogging and commenting on each others' blogs apart from the graded writing, so it serves a different purpose.

Here's a sample in an eportfolio.

What do you think?

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Grading Drafts of Student Written Work Part 1: Awesome Screenshot for Google Chrome

Long title, but worth it!  The grading process I go through for student written work has evolved quite a lot over my fifteen year teaching career.  Some of the keepers have been:

1.  Insisting on a draft

I think it is crucial for early learners of a foreign language to recognize that mistakes are expected.  Even more than that, they are a necessary part of the learning process.  I used to grade the first draft, and make revision optional, updating the grade as students made corrections to their writing, but so few students were motivated to correct their work, that I felt a change was necessary  I began requiring a draft.  I graded the draft on content, rather than grammatical errors.  I would make note of errors so students could correct them in the final draft.

2.  Providing a key to my notations.

This I figured out very early on.  I always explained my notations, and they were (to my mind) fairly straightforwardd -- voc = vocabulary error, vb conj = verb conjugation error, etc.  but having a key for reference made things much easier for my students.  This key is always a work in progress, as their questions and errors never cease to surprise

Key to editing abbreviations

3.  Awesome Screenshot

Last year I began my journey into electronic portfolios.  With students doing their writing online it made no sense to create (read:  waste) paper just to note areas needing correction, which they would then correct back on the computer.  I knew there had to be a way to keep it all online.  Enter Awesome Screenshot.  I use it as an add-on to Google Chrome.  It appears as a button on the Chrome toolbar.  When I open a student's portfolio page in the Chrome browser and click the Awesome Screenshot button, it offers three choices -- capture the visible part of the page, a region of the page, or the whole page.  Awesome Screenshot creates an image file of your choice, and opens it (within Chrome) with a toolbar for annotation.  I am thereby able to make basically the same notations I used to make with my pen, now with the mousepad on my laptop, and my horrible handwriting is no longer an issue for my students (neither is theirs for me).  I then save the annotated copy as a new image file, and embed it into the student's electronic portfolio above the original draft.  That done the student has the annotated image to refer to while correcting the draft.

Here is a sample :

What do you think?