Friday, September 7, 2012

Blogging with English Learners

With the first few days of school behind us, I know many students (and teachers) are ready and anxious to really get started with this year's learning. The milestones that everyone talks about stick out like neon signs to students in the fall...I am so glad I'm finally in 3rd grade so I can learn cursive, multiplication and division! Isn't 6th grade when we get to engineer robots? My brother told me all about the states research project in 4th grade and I want to choose Minnesota.

I love hearing students express their excitement about upcoming topics of study, and am always interested in ways to channel and extend their enthusiasm throughout the year. I also want students to be able to archive their work so that they can share their learning with others and look back in a year or two (or ten) and reflect on the all that they've done.

The 3rd grade teachers in my building began having students blog about their experiences during the school year, sort of like an online journal. The kids loved it because it gave them an authentic purpose for writing (they had an audience who could..and did... comment on their posts!), because they could add their own photos, audio clips and videos to supplement their blog posts, and because they could easily go back and make changes (from school, home, or anywhere) if they discovered mistakes or wanted to revise what they'd written. After hearing about the success of blogging from my colleagues (and their students), I knew I wanted to try it out with my English learners.

I decided to have my 5th grade ELs try out blogging as a part of our fiction and nonfiction literature circles (which we called
book club). In class, we chose literature circle roles for the week, and each group decided on the number of pages they wanted to read. Then, usually on Thursdays, we spent our time together blogging about what we read: everyone wrote a summary as a part of their post, and then they recorded their lit circle role for the pages read. On Fridays, we discussed our literature circle role responses together and then had time to read and respond to each others' blog posts. My students really loved reading the responses to their posts and answering their classmates' questions -- both on their blogs and in person.

Blogging was a great motivator, and we eventually discovered that we wanted to delve deeper into many of the topics we were reading the end of the year last year, our literature circles had morphed into very motivated inquiry circles. I can't wait to use blogging again this year with students!

Blogging platform used:

Here are a few snapshots of our blogs:

My initial blog post:

And here are a few examples of student blogs:

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Khan Academy

A big part of my job is collaborating and co-teaching with mainstream classroom teachers, so I always try to keep an eye out for technology that could be helpful for English learners (as well as other learners) in content area classes, such as math, science, social studies and language arts.

I happened to turn on the TV for a few minutes this afternoon and I caught a good portion of 60 Minutes, which was featuring Khan Academy - an edtech site that hosts thousands of free educational videos on (what seems like) any subject you may be interested in learning. I have used Khan Academy a several times with elementary and adult ed math classes, and have had positive results.

I see Khan Academy fitting into math and science instruction with English learners for a few main reasons:
  1. Students can learn at their own pace - they can stop, rewind, or fast forward to hear and see the information as many times as they need to really understand the concept.
  2. The videos provide modeling of both the new concept, as well as of the processing language necessary to explain and describe the new concept.
  3. Students can practice various concepts with practice problems, and are offered a corresponding video to watch if they get stuck on a problem. A personal tutor...just a click away.
  4. Teachers can track students' progress on Khan Academy by creating a free account and then creating a class list (students log in using a Google Apps account, and then add the teacher as a Coach). Once a student begins working on a set of practice problems, data about the # of problems right/wrong, as well as a record of the type of problems attempted are all accessible by the teacher/coach. This allows teachers to closely monitor progress and confer with students in a meaningful, specific and individualized way.

This year will be the first year I'll have students add me as a coach so I can track their progress. I'm pretty excited to see how well it works and will definitely report back!

For the record, the categories of topics covered by Khan Academy videos are (as of right now):

  • math
  • science
  • computer science
  • finance & econ
  • humanities
  • test prep

Have you used Khan Academy or some other screencasted video lessons? If so, which ones, and would you recommend them to other teachers?

Thanks for reading and happy Labor Day weekend! Hope the start of the school year goes smoothly for everyone!