Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Coming Soon to ELO: Blogging!

Starting during the 2011-2012 school year, blogging will enter my ELO classroom.  Students will have the opportunity to reflect on their enrichment experiences, content learning, analysis and evaluation of research and classroom discussions, and overall goal achievement through the consistent posting of an individual blog.  At this time I’m interested in having the students create their blogs in Youth Voices, a network for educators and students to hopefully ensure more safety and privacy.  Podcasts with auditory reflection, images, and videos may also be uploaded to student blogs to enhance and further promote the ideas communicated within their postings.

Blogging will also be incorporated through various enrichment experiences.  Students working with me in writing enrichment will have the opportunity to utilize a blog as a digital writer’s notebook where they have the opportunity to collect important quotes, play with language, brainstorm ideas, and perhaps share personal experiences to prompt and aid in their writing.  If ok with them, they will also have the opportunity to comment on other classmates’ blogs and begin to explore writing shared by other students around the world on the Youth Voices network.

Students may also be collaboratively writing blog entries to share various experiences throughout the year.  There are a variety of possibilities and we will continue to try new ideas.  The important point to remember is that blogs allow the students to reflect, analyze, evaluate, experiment with language and argumentation, share ideas, and build online communication skills; all skills necessary for the 21st century.

For more information about blogging you can browse various sites listed on my Technology Webliography on my ELO website.

Language Learning Made Easy

 As technology has progressed, our global connections have spanned the globe without even travel.  Collaboration is touted as an important expectation for our youth as they enter the workforce.  I would like to start introducing my students to opportunities to begin learning the basics of another language to ensure they have more access to communication with others.  

Rosetta Stone is highly-rated software that utilizes the “dynamic immersion method” to help individuals learn to “speak, read, write, and think” in the language they are learning.  The visual images utilized helped me make a connection from the words and what I heard to what I saw to make it a more meaningful approach.  I self-taught myself to learn some Russian while I was in junior high and found the program very engaging, and this was almost fifteen years ago.   The program does not involve translation or lists of words to memorize, but does provide interactive speaking opportunities.

Now, there are more advantages with the integration of the Internet.   The classroom edition, can be accessed online or through CD-Rom and flexible licensing options exist.  There are 25 languages available for classroom use and teachers and administrators have access to a manager tool to allow them to customize the learning for their students and view reports of progress.  Students may work individually or collaboratively.

For personal use, the company provides software for 31 languages, offers a 6 month money-back guarantee if you are not pleased with the software, and provides additional online resources.  The learner may choose to go online to speak with a native tutor to practice authentic conversation and “hear” the words.  There are also games and other activities within the online community.  No longer are you confined to your computer at home; learn as you go.  Now, you can use the software on your iPhone, iPod Touch, MP3 Player, PC, and soon iPad.  

I would highly recommend this software.  It is not free, and the challenge for me will be to acquire funds to at least purchase some licenses for some of my students.  Eventually, I would like to have a few different languages available to my students.  This software will help me expand my program opportunities and allow more flexible scheduling with my students as they may work independently at their own pace on the computer or mobile device while I’m working with other students.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Assistive Technology: Voice/Speech Recognition Software

I researched speech recognition software as part of my assistive technologies study.  I have worked with students in the past who have had to use personal word processing machines and software for classroom written assignments and I am interested in learning more about these technologies and how to better utilize them with students I may encounter in my future.  

Assistive Technology Training Online suggests that students who would benefit from using this software are those who have difficulty using written tools, struggle with writing mechanics, and/or have difficulty with the writing process.  I have worked with some twice-exceptional students who needed support to share the creative thoughts within their minds.  If I encounter students with this need in the future, I would definitely make sure that the software was installed on a computer within my classroom, so the student could still keep a reflection journal or blog and utilize the software to help him/her write for whatever assignment.  We do have a ReadWrite Gold tool within our server that our students can use to help them research and understand information online.  I definitely think I could integrate this tool also, because it would help support my students during independent studies and then they could use the voice recognition software to take their notes and write their reflections.  The biggest challenge I would face, would be to find someone to help train the student if the student did not know how to use the software program.  The site suggests using “voice recognition to record thoughts for written assignments and then worry about organization and writing later”. I think some of my students could benefit from using this tool just to get their ideas down and then they could go back and write their reflections and organize their notes.

Bob Follansbee, Ed. D., discusses the challenges and benefits of speech recognition software within his article SPEAKING TO WRITE / WORD FOR WORD:  An overview of Speech Recognition.  I found this article to be very helpful because it provides several important points to consider before using with older children, usually over age 10.  Speech recognition programs are advanced and should only be utilized by students who are capable of completing the extensive training, clear pronunciations, and understanding literacy’s purpose.  Since this requires in-depth training and must be used within a relatively quiet location, other strategies should complement the use of this program.  Classroom activities involving pre-writing and editing will still be necessary, because the student will still need to be able to learn to identify errors and make corrections.  Also, initial work should be simple and a gradual release of responsibility and advancement should occur as the student builds confidence and learns to use the software.

One resource I could use to find more information and locate this software would be The Great Prairie Area Education Agency.  Marge Nash is the Assistive Technology Specialist from the Ottumwa office that I could contact.  Their site also has links to numerous other sites and documents with helpful information.  I could even check out a Toshiba Tablet with the software installed through Snap Smart Search to review the program and become familiar before the school purchased.

Another resource is a website  I selected this site because it was geared more towards education purchases and the features of free UPS shipping and flexible ordering methods.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Using Wikipedia in the Classroom & The Future of the Written Word

Wikipedia Discussions?

Frey, Fisher, and Gonzalez (2010) discuss how Ms. Santori utilizes Wikipedia by having her students review the various discussions people have on different pages in their text Literacy 2.0: Reading and Writing in 21st Century Classrooms.  Her purpose is to demonstrate to the students that people can have civil disagreements backed by support online.  Currently my policy on Wikipedia is that students can consult it to find new search terms and information related to the topic for further research.  After reading this text, I believe that I will incorporate it more to model for my students how to effectively utilize Wikipedia for research versus personal interest.

In regards to Ms. Santori’s use, I believe that I would use Wikipedia to prompt discussion between my students to model how people disagree respectfully and with evidence in an online format.  Persuasion is one of the main writing genres taught in middle school language arts and I believe that these discussion forums would provide an authentic format for the students to analyze and observe in order to learn to make their own civil arguments whether they are working on a persuasive classroom assignment or preparing for debate team.  Students might also be interested in practicing by posting their own response similar to the responses of others.

The Internet and online discussion forums are an increasing presence in classrooms and students need instruction in how to write appropriately online, especially since this work is publicly viewed by others.  Instruction in appropriate online literacy is necessary to help prepare our students for a world where these functions of technology will be present.

image courtesy of creative commons

Will the written word disappear?

Hodgson states in Teaching the New Writing: Technology, Change, and Assessment in the 21st-Century Classroom; “In the future, you will not even have to read the books-just listen to them” (Herrington, Hodgson, & Moran, 2009, pg. 70).  He describes how he has his sixth grade students create digital, interactive picture books incorporating mathematical or scientific concepts from their sixth grade curriculum.  These books contain videos, animations, and other interactive features that make the story three-dimensional.  

Bromley (2010) states; “Today, reading and writing are digital events that occur worldwide.  So, the absence of pens, pencils, and paper in the future should not be surprising when we look back on the history of reading and writing” ( pg. 98).  "In his essay 'The Future of Writing,' Sperber (2002) says, "the revolution in information and communication technology may soon turn writing into a relic of the past" (p. 2). He predicts that with the speech to-print capability of computers, speech may well displace the activity of writing" (Bromley, 2010, pg. 102). Today we use eReaders instead of print books, type and create projects online, and interact using distance communication technologies so we are already on our way towards these predicted changes.

These quotes show us that technology is rapidly changing and our communication and literacy habits also.  I don’t anticipate the written word disappearing any time soon because we would need to have worldwide equity in technological advancements and everyone would have to be experienced and knowledgeable with these ever changing tools.  However, I do believe that we have started the transition that may someday make the written word obsolete as the younger generations are exposed to the new technologies from an earlier age and our creative, innovative minds find ways to ensure access to all people around the world.  Perhaps it will never be completely gone due to the isolation of some cultural groups in the world, but it may very well be less popular than it is today.  I am curious how schools will handle these changes and if speaking and listening, two skills often overlooked within language arts programs, will take more precedence than it has to prepare our future adults?

Bromley, K. (2010). Picture a world without pens, pencils, and paper: The 
      unanticipated future of reading and writing. Journal of College Reading
      and Learning, 41 (1). pgs. 97-108.

Herrington, A., Hodgson, K., & Moran, C.  (2009).  Teaching the new writing: 
     Technology, change, and assessment in the 21st century classroom.
     New York: Teachers College Press.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

New Iowa AEA Online Resources

ProQuest’s CultureGrams

Starting in August 2011, teachers will have access to some new educational tools and sites available through Iowa AEA Online  

One of these new resources that I’m excited about is ProQuest’s CultureGrams.  I started collaborating with our seventh grade geography teachers this past year and I had my seventh and eighth grade ELO students select a culture to research, analyze, and compare with their own cultures.  This new resource will enable my students to access information from over 200 countries.  The site moves beyond basic facts to providing updated information from in-country experts, perspectives from interviews and multi-media formats, and opportunities for comparison among statistics and facts of different countries.  Country outlines, flags, graphs, and tables are also provided for additional information about each country.  

The presence of modern technology through the incorporation of digital images, slideshows, and videos will help students visualize the different lifestyles and customs of people around the world to enable them to make connections and comparisons to hopefully reach a more in-depth understanding of the world.  A bonus is that students could actually upload various videos and images to incorporate into their own projects.  

Mrs. Broeker and I are interested in working together to create an ongoing country expert project and we are excited about having access to this valuable student-friendly resource.  Imagine students having a country from which to become an expert and make comparisons and connections when discussing and sharing with their classmates.  The in-country experts included on this site will also enhance this project.
I also appreciate the various resources for training and lesson plan ideas to assist me as a teacher.

Collaboration Challenges


This past school year our school district focused on Nancy Frey’s and Doug Fisher’s “Gradual Release of Responsibility Model.”  One aspect of their philosophy and model is the importance of student collaboration in the learning process.  I have recently been reading Literacy 2.0: Reading and Writing in 21st Century Classrooms (2010) by Nancy Frey, Doug Fisher, and Alex Gonzalez where the authors explain the role and importance of technology integration into literacy instruction and collaborative group work.  “In order to learn, to really learn, students must be engaged in productive group tasks that require  interaction…The collaborative phase is at the heart of literacy 2.0, as evidenced by the changes we’ve seen in the late 20th century with regard to the manner in which students work together” (pg. 13).

An article I read recently by Leu et al entitled “Toward a Theory of New Literacies Emerging From the Internet and Other Information and Communication Technologies” (2004) discusses the changing structure of the workforce where employees are working in collaborative groups to make decisions based on their area of expertise.  It is obvious that collaboration is imperative for these new tasks:
“A decentralized workplace requires collaboration and communication skills so that the best decisions get made at every level in an organization and so that changes at one level are clearly communicated to other levels…We need to support the development of effective collaboration and communication skills using new communication technologies if we wish to prepare children for their futures in a world where these skills are so important.”

Why does this matter?

Reflecting on these texts and quotes, there is no doubt there is a need for collaborative learning opportunities within classrooms.  However, utilizing more collaboration prompts challenges for not only the teacher, but the students as well.

One major challenge I’ve encountered with my students involves their resistance.  There are several reasons for their unwillingness to participate or work with others as optimally as I would like.   

*previous classroom experiences

*individual conceptualization of school and its expectations

My students come to middle school with their previous experiences and conceptualizations of what school is and its expectations for them.  If they have not had many opportunities for collaboration, then they question its purpose and role within my classroom.  “Gergits and Schramer (1994) report that most students have been trained to see learning as an uncompromisingly individual process in which independence is demanded and rewarded” (Stairs, p. 4).

*teacher-centered learning is easier and less thought-provoking

Even some of my brightest students balk at learning opportunities and opportunities to work with others because it will require more work and engagement time.  “Students feel that the lecture method is "easier" because they are passive during the class while apparently receiving the necessary information. In contrast, interactive classes are very intense. The responsibility for learning is shifted to the student, thus raising the level of critical thinking by each student” (Panitz).

*loss of content understanding

*impacts their own grades and goals for achievement

*parental expectations

*fear of social-loafers & free-riders

Since I work with talented and gifted students, I find that some of them have a difficult time working with others because they have their own goals and expectations and they do not want them impacted by others.  They fear getting put into a group with other students who do not work and carry their weight, leaving them to do all of the work.  Social loafers sit back and let others do the work while free-riders only contribute on what they are graded on.  Some of these students also have high expectations from their parents and they do not want a lower grade because of another classmate's misunderstandings or mistakes. (Davis & Rimm. 2004) (Panitz)

These various reasons challenge me to help my students become more comfortable with collaborative learning.  Additional challenges I face as a teacher are:

*time to plan and implement


*training my students

Since many of my students are resistant, I need to spend time teaching them how to collaborate before I can actually give them collaborative tasks.   I need to take time to establish the expectations and clearly communicate the purpose and benefits of the collaborative tasks.  Each student is held accountable for his/her contributions and learning as opposed to one grade for all.  I am still challenged though to find the time to plan and get everything prepared in the short amount of time that I work with my students.



Davis, G. &  Rimm, S. Education of the Gifted and Talented, 5th Ed. United States: Pearson
Education, Inc, 2004

Frey, N., Fisher, D., & Gonzalez, A.  (2010).  Literacy 2.0: Reading and Writing in 21st Century Classrooms.  Bloomington, IN: Solutions Press.
Issues Raised for Students in Implementing Collaborative Learning.  Available at:                                                                    

Leu, D.J., Jr., Kinzer, C.K., Coiro, J., & Cammack, D.W. (2004). Toward a theory of
new literacies emerging from the Internet and other information and communication technologies. In R.B. Ruddell, & N. Unrau (Eds.), Theoretical models and processes of reading (5th ed., pp. 1570-1613). Newark, DE: International Reading Association. Available:

Panitz, T.  Why more teachers do not use collaborative teaching techniques.  Available at:

Stairs, D.  nd.  Assessment in the collaborative classroom.  Available at:

Friday, May 27, 2011

Educational Games

State of Debate

It’s the year 2020 and it is now illegal for young adults to wear hoodies, sagging pants, and to play music openly in public.  Unfortunately, you don’t see the value of these laws and continue to wear and use these items.  However, you continually get caught by a monitor.  How will you argue your way out of each offense?  Find out when you play State of Debate.

This game is found at GCSE Bite Size Games, a gaming site from the UK.  A scenario is shown and then you are given three options for response.  Select the wrong options and you will have to try again.  The purpose is to utilize your debate skills to analyze the options and determine which one shows humility and cleverness.

Persuasion is definitely a prominent component in middle school language arts curriculum and a valuable life skill.  This game will help promote analysis and decision-making in relation to making solid, valid arguments.

Students, especially those on debate team, would benefit from practicing and comparing the different options and word usage to aid them in developing their own arguments and defense.  The advantages of this game include that teachers can use it in a variety of ways.  The game could be projected to the whole class/group and the teacher could walk through the first example and model his/her thinking and choices and then have the students help her with the next one and discuss their options together.  Then maybe students could work together to try a scenario if they have shown some understanding while the teacher could still work with those who needed more support.  If students have previously studied arguments and defense, then maybe this game could be used for the partner or small group collaborative practice and reinforcement or individual practice.  A great extension would be for students to determine other issues and try to create their own scenarios and options for their own class game.  The students could actually create these games on SCRATCH to help test each other and for more practice.  This activity would help them further analyze and evaluate the differences between different arguments and what makes one more effective than the others.
image courtesy of site