Course 5 Final Project: Gamification in the World Language Classroom

What were your goals for your lesson/project?

Goal 1: To increase students’ love for learning French by making class more engaging.

Goal 2: To increase student choice and involvement in their own learning process.

Project Description: 

During this unit, approximately 50% of the time in class was used for traditional instruction (direct instruction, whole-group speaking and listening activities, etc.) and the other 50% of class was devoted to students working on self-selected activities and projects to demonstrate mastery of the content objectives, and recording their progress in an online gamification system, Classcraft, by claiming points for their completed work and moving up to new levels in the game based upon their points earned. Some activities were able to be completed without technology, and others required the use of technology (Prezi, Piktochart, Duolingo, Flipgrid, Google Docs, Google Spreadsheets, and Quizlet were some of the technologies students used). Students were given 15 minutes per week in class to reflect upon their learning, and to share work on their e-portfolios if they chose to do so (which would also earn them additional points in Classcraft).

What tools did you use ?

  • Classcraft: This was the main tool used daily throughout the unit! I paid for the “premium” version ($10 a class, plus $1 a student for the year), but I think that the free version would have been nearly as useful as the premium version. I explain why I chose those tool as my main technology tool in the following section.
  • Duolingo: This is one of my students’ favorite websites (and one of mine) for language learning. It is a translation-based language learning website— although I am not always the biggest fan of translation, I love that students can work through short 10-15 minute lessons on here any time they want at school or at home, and can progress at their own rate. One of my beginning students has done 90 lessons on Duolingo this year, and a few others are not far behind! For those who choose to use this program regularly, it can lead to great language improvement. I see my students use vocabulary in class that they have learned from Duolingo lessons done at home.
  • Flipgrid: I love this tool as well. A teacher sets up a “grid” of questions for a class (either a text-based question, or a short video question) and then students record individual video responses of less than 90 seconds. Students follow the teacher link to the grid to do this, and it is so simple that they don’t even have to register or sign in. I love this as a formative assessment tool at the end of a lesson to see if each individual student can answer a question without any preparation. I don’t allow my students to rehearse or to use resources for these questions. That means I don’t expect the answers to be perfect… it is just a chance for my students to speak, and then to listen to themselves and others speaking.
  • Piktochart: Infographics are simple for students to create here.
  • Prezi: I love that my students have used this site enough in other classes that it requires no introduction or explanation. My 6th graders are way better at making Prezi presentations than I am!
  • Google Docs: My school, American International School- Chennai, uses Google Docs all the time for everything. My students use Google Docs more than they use paper.
  • Google Spreadsheets: We used this to track our progress on Duolingo in a class document. Duolingo also sends me a report weekly showing what students have done in the system, but for some reason it does not always include all the data for every student. This spreadsheet is easier for me to see at a glance, and some students are motivated by seeing their progress in comparison to others in their level of French, as well as in the higher levels. Do you see the lessons that are marked at the top with an orange square, like the 8th lesson in Food? Those are what I have started calling bonus levels. If a student finishes one of those lessons, he/she gets a 500XP bonus added to Classcraft. I have labeled about every 15th lesson as a bonus, and that just keeps my students even more motivated to keep moving ahead in the system!
  • Quizlet: I create online flashcard sets for my students to use for each set of vocabulary we learn in class. This is not the most exciting site, but it gets the job of vocabulary study done.
  • Some students used images from here for presentations (others used ones they found via Google or Prezi).

Why did you choose this/these tools for this/these task(s)?

I chose Classcraft for my primary tool for three reasons:

1)  Nearly every “power” that a student can earn in the game can be changed by the teacher— some of the original pre-set options were things that I was not willing or able to use in my classroom (like giving “extra time” on a test…. after all, my students already don’t have time limits when completing any kind of assessment). For those “powers” that I did not like, I changed them to something that worked better for my class— like being able to sit in the teacher chair for the day.

2) Students earn points by completing academic tasks that the teacher enters into the “assignment book.” Many of the tasks that I set involved technology, but not all did. I think technology is great for supporting learning, but I still do not believe that everything should be high-tech. My students were still able to earn points in Classcraft for completing activities that did not use technology at all. I made some activities mandatory for them to complete, and others optional. I wanted my students to self-select their work for the most part, and to be in charge of their own learning. Students also completed other activities in the language and then could ask me for XP for that work as well.

3) The Canadian Media Fund sponsored the development of this program, and due to this fact it operates in French as well as English. My students use the system fully in French.

How did you go about introducing your lesson/project?

As I explain in my video, I introduced it over two days. Day one was for explaining the system, and day two was when we started to put it into action. I was amazed at how much my students actually helped ME to understand!! They know way more about gaming systems than I do, which actually made the introduction of the project go much more smoothly!

How did the students react? Include actual samples of student reflection (video, images, etc)

My video shows students at work the day that the system was introduced. They dove right into it! I love that the student in the video is dreaming out loud about “earning the power of going to the CIC (library) and sitting at a desk there and doing work.” I am totally happy with that being what a kid is working towards earning in the gamification system!

Outcome? Did you meet your goals?

Overall, this project was a success. I used this same project for my research project for my SUNY master’s degree course as well, so in addition to the observations included in my video presentation above, I also had to collect data about student learning. I compared the results of a pre-unit and post-unit assessment for this gamification unit with the results of pre/post unit data from a the previous non-gamification unit. Although there was not a statistically significant gain in student performance, the project was still successful because of student attitude improvement.

There were several students who benefitted tremendously from this project. One student had not done a full writing activity all year in my class, and I had been seriously considering a recommendation that he repeat this beginning-level course next year. I introduced the gamification system, and he promptly labeled it as “EPIC.” Now he is doing all his work, and has made tremendous gains. Honestly, for this particular student, gamification changed the trajectory of his progression through the World Language course sequence.

However, I do think that gamification benefits some learners more than others. I teach a mixed-age class of beginning students, and I have had a 10-year-old in the same class as 15-year-olds for most of the year. The 6th graders (and especially the 6th grade boys) were much more vocal about their interest in gamification. I’m not sure if the 8th graders were truly less interested, or if they just didn’t want to appear to be enthusiastic about the same things as their younger classmates. When the 6th graders went on Week Without Walls, the 8th grade students still wanted to use the system. Even though I am not sure that gamification did anything to really benefit some of my students, it did not have a detrimental effect on their learning either. I can live with that, since it was so great for some other students!

What would you do differently next time? What did you learn? 

I would start using gamification earlier in the year, at least with 6th graders who are beginning-level students! It has really changed the attitude in my class. Kids come in excited about the “event of the day” and class is more fun for them and for me.

If you want to try to use Classcraft or another gamification system in your class, I recommend just jumping into it and letting your students help you figure out the details. I spent way too much time reading tutorials on the Classcraft website, and watching their videos that explain the system. Honestly, the amount of time I put into that was out of proportion to what I gained from doing so. I learned more in the first day of using the system than I did from many hours of trying to learn about it ahead of time. I warned my students before we started using the system that I might mess some things up because I was learning too— and that did happen at times. My students were gracious and forgiving when I didn’t understand how different types of points could impact one another. They remained happy to use the system, and eager to help me understand it better.

How do/did you plan to share this with your colleagues?

My students were so excited about gamification that they told their friends about it, and those students who have the other middle school French teacher, Mlle. Miriam, asked if they could also use the system. She came to me to ask, “What is this Classcraft thing that all the kids are so excited about!?” After that, one of my classes went up to join one of her classes for a 15 minute introduction to gamification. Now those other students are using gamification as well!

What was your greatest learning in this course?

In language education, people love to talk about using “authentic materials” in class. This usually means things like newspaper articles, menus, or video clips of native speakers talking about the themes being studied in class. This project really made me think about “authentic materials” in a different way. For many of my students, talking about “warriors, mages, healers, XP, AP, HP, and avatars” is about as authentic as it gets. These are things they speak about with their friends in English, so it makes sense to continue those lines of conversation within the language class as well.

I learned that gamification does not “take away” from serious learning time, as I was worried it might. Instead, if students are really engaged in the gamification system, it extends learning well outside of class time.

Another thing that I learned from this project was how to use iMovie to create a movie. Wow. I think that merits a different blog post. Let’s just say the learning curve was steep.

Did this implementation meet the definition of Redefinition?

According to Puentedura, ‘Redefinition’ means that “the computer allows for the creation of new tasks, inconceivable without the computer.” Some of the tasks that we did in this unit were not at this level. For example, using Prezi or Piktochart is really just a digital version of making a poster. However, we did reach Redefinition with other areas of the project. The ability for my students to complete differentiated lessons on Duolingo, no matter what their language level was, and to then earn points for those lessons within Classcraft— and for them to do this all independently (even during spring break!!!!) was really redefining what technology enables them to do as learners.

If you want to learn more about how Duolingo along with other technology is redefining learning, I strongly recommend watching the TEDx talk— particularly at minute 3:00, when a young English language learner comes on stage and talks about how he has learned English completely through the use of technology. We really are living in a time when technology is redefining how people learn!

Twitter: #langchat vs #Baltimoreriots

I have been trying to develop more of a PLN via Twitter (@mmekingsley). I have retweeted posts that I have found on #langchat, #flteach, and #WLteachers. I have also tried to start a couple conversations, and am finally getting some back-and-forth dialogue going! My involvement is not anything life-altering at this point, but it is at least a start. (I actually just edited this post from earlier today with this new photo, because I am excited that maybe my Twitter-connections are going to extend beyond Twitter and the 140 character limit!)

Screen Shot 2015-04-28 at 6.23.27 PM

At this point, I am seeing Twitter as a good resource full of interesting and current information about education, and I am actually enjoying reading many articles, infographics, and blogs that mentioned on Twitter.

I was just joking with Ross Connelly that his recent blog post on Twitter “stole” way too many ideas that I was also planning to write about. I find the character limit frustrating at times, and think that my poorly phrased questions are less likely to get a meaningful reply from other Twitter members that they would if I were to just have an extra 100 characters or so. I also feel like this leads to too many tweets that are very shallow in nature. At the same time, I get that the whole point of Twitter is brevity. I do like that I can skim through so many tweets so quickly, and click links in those that interest me so I can better explore the issues that I find meaningful.

I also really agree with him about the fact that for now I am greatly enjoying using Twitter just for professional reasons. I have Facebook for personal use (although since nearly all my coworkers are also my “friends” on Facebook, I guess those lines have started to blur). In an ideal world, I like separation. I enjoy(ed?) Facebook because I could post personal updates for people I really care about— like my close friends back home, and my family members that I don’t get to see nearly often enough. As my “friend list” on Facebook has grown, I have actually been using it much less often and have even been considering leaving it completely.

Although my love-hate relationship with Facebook goes way back, I have never used it for professional purposes. That is partly because I do like to keep my personal life somewhat separate from my professional life, but it is also because most of the people I most care about on Facebook are not even slightly interested in my professional life. If I started posting links about Coetail, gamification, teaching French, or standards-based grading, I can imagine that most of my high school friends and older family members would unfollow or unfriend me. Only an educator wants to look at educational jargon on a routine basis.

I do, however, follow the Facebook pages of various media outlets that I regularly read, and also follow various organizations. The New York Times can show up in my newsfeed and not do anything to alienate relationships that I use Facebook to maintain.

This morning I woke up, and logged into my personal Facebook page as usual. Wow. Things in Boston are really a mess. It was clear from those news articles in my feed. I read a couple full articles while getting ready this morning, and came to work feeling somewhat-informed about the current situation.

After getting to work, I logged into Twitter for professional reasons. I checked #langchat and the other hashtags that I normally check, and found some more good resources.

Today, however, was the first day that I clicked on one of the trending hashtags listed on the left. #Baltimoreriots.

Woah!!! Way different story that the NY Times article. Many images from people who are there. Many voices expressing frustration and anger. Also many voices expressing specific frustration about how the protests are being portrayed by traditional media. Here, there is no censoring or editing of anyone’s opinions. If you check out #Baltimoreriots you will see a lot of opinions on all side. Some will inspire you, and some just might make you give up all hope in humanity. There was a lot of commentary from people who are far-removed from the situation— and a lot of that commentary was quite disturbing. Much of the #Baltimoreriots tweets were disgusting, racist, and violent. I’m not surprised in the slightest bit, but I am also not used to getting such a first-hand live view from people who choose a Twitter name involving “Adolf.” I am choosing not to give additional voice to those views, but the reactions below sum it up pretty well:

Screen Shot 2015-04-28 at 9.49.27 AM

Twitter showed a much more R-rated version of events than CNN or NY Times is ever going to provide. Although I appreciate my NY Times articles, I also think that the ability to see ourselves what is going on in situations like this— to see the good, bad, and horrible aspects of humanity— is important.

As much as #langchat and #WLteachers can provide some fuel for thought and action, so can #Baltimoreriots. Thank you, Twitter, for a much needed kick in the stomach.

Gamification: Course 5 update #2

I am nearing completion of my Coetail Course 5 work in the classroom (… the video is another matter entirely), so I wanted to check in here to process some of my thoughts about how gamification has been working with my different classes. The short version is that I am sold on the potential it has to engage and motivate learners, and I plan to keep using it after this course ends. The long version, as usual, is a little more complicated.

I have been using Classcraft with my students. For my official Coetail Course 5, my original plan was to use it with my beginning-level French course. One week after I debuted the program with my two classes at that level, my other classes asked why they didn’t get to do it. Apparently, they had heard about how great it is from their friends who were in the beginning-level course. There was no reason for me to refuse to use it with them, so I started to use it with them as well! So, now I have been using Classcraft for about 6 weeks with 4 different classes. What is currently fascinating me is that the 4 classes are all having very different reactions to it.

I teach 2 sections of middle school beginning-level French, and 2 sections of intermediate-level French. For both of the levels I teach, the number of students in each section is unbalanced because of scheduling conflicts. For both levels, the two sections are also completely different in personality.

For my beginning-level classes, my class of 9 students is made up of eight 6th graders and one 7th grader (who is actually younger than many of the 6th graders). The class of 19 students is made up of thirteen 6th graders, and six 8th graders— most of the 6th graders are boys, and all but one of the 8th graders are girls. If you ever want to watch an interesting social interaction, have a 10-year-old boy work with a 15-year-old girl on a class activity. For my intermediate-level classes, the larger section is all 7th graders, and the smaller section is all 8th graders.

So, what group is the most enthusiastic about Classcraft? The small group of almost all 6th graders. And the least enthusiastic? The small group of almost all 8th graders. When my small group of 6th graders arrives in class, the first thing they do is shout for the “event of the day” to be shown. When my small group of 8th graders arrives, they just don’t care about Classcraft. They were interested in it for a week or so, but it quickly faded into disinterest. If I never mention it at all that day, they certainly don’t seem to miss it.

The reactions of the group of all 6th graders and the group of all 8th graders don’t shock me much, but where things get extremely interesting is in the beginning class that has a good mix of 6th graders and 8th graders. The 6th graders in that class are equally obsessed with Classcraft as their peers in the entirely 6th grader class. In fact, the two students with the highest overall scores in the gamification system so far in the system are both in that mixed-grade group. It has changed a couple of my least-engaged students into a couple of my most-engaged students. Right now we are on spring break, and just finished a unit right before break. Typically this isn’t a time in the academic calendar where many 6th graders are thinking about French class—- but I have gotten emails every day of break from some boys in that class telling me what they are practicing online, and asking if I can still give them points in Classcraft even though it is break! It is amazing! While the 6th graders are enthusiastic, the 8th graders seem to being downplaying any interest they have in the gamification system. Since we just finished a unit, I asked my students if they want to keep using it for the next unit as well. Almost every 8th grade girl in that mixed-grade class said the same thing. “Yes, we should. I think it is really good for the 6th graders.” Ok. So, it is good for the 6th graders and as 8th graders they will just go along with it to be kind? Maybe. But if that is the case, why were those same girls logging in every day to earn points with such enthusiasm even when the 6th graders were away on Week Without Walls?

So what is going on? Is Classcraft really more interesting for younger students, and their enthusiasm rubs off on the older ones (even though the older ones might want to claim otherwise)? Or is it equally interesting for 6th-8th graders, but the 8th graders are a little more self-conscious about it? Perhaps it isn’t that complicated, and maybe my classes just have really different personalities, and what works well in one class doesn’t go over as smoothly in another? Or did I approach my use of Classcraft with more enthusiasm with the beginning classes, because those were the classes that I had originally planned on using it with for Course 5?

Regardless of the reasons, I am going to keep using Classcraft with any class that has students who keep sending me emails on break telling me that they are practicing their French to try to get enough points to level up.

My last student email asking for points in Classcraft just says, “I did one lesson in adjectives. Awesome right?!”

Any student who is doing option French activities during break without me even having suggested such an idea is awesome indeed!

Getting in the Gamification Groove

I am about halfway through my COETAIL Course 5 project now, so it is definitely time get my blogging life back on track!

I was pretty sure by the end of Course 4 that I wanted to do a project based on “gamification” for Course 5 but for a long time I wasn’t really sure what that would look like, or even where to start.

When I searched for gamification systems that were already in existence to implement in a world language class, I found myself simultaneously inspired and completely depressed. Check out Operation Lapis, an online Latin course that uses gamification to teach the equivalent of two years of college Latin by having students go on digital quests related to the Latin language and Roman history. What I can see and read about this program impresses me with what seem to be ambitious learning goals and a fun and interactive online gaming experience in a virtual world. Unfortunately, this particular program only exists for learning Latin. I spent roughly 30 seconds thinking that I should create something like that for my middle school French class as my Course 5 project. Then I remembered that half the time I can’t remember my email password, and that creating my own online virtual reality game is far closer to absurd than ambitious.

While I looked for other gamification options, my students used Duolingo throughout the first semester as an online activity for when they finished their other independent classwork, or outside of class time. This was how I started to dabble in the world of gamified learning, and discovered what went well and what did not. I found Duolingo to be pretty great at helping students to build their vocabulary and use of basic grammatical structures. At first my students loved using it. However, the initial student excitement about that program proved short-lived with the majority of my classes. A handful of my most motivated students are still really into it, and I have seen their language skills improving a lot as a result of using the program—- but it does little to help engage a reluctant learner. If I didn’t find something more interesting for my students, I was worried that a whole unit based on a gamification model could prove uninspiring. As one 7th grade boy put it, “Duolingo just gives us XP to trick us. Do you know what you can buy with the XP? An extended French quiz! This whole thing is a TRAP!!!” I have to say… as much as I do like Duolingo, the gamification side of it is a little weak.

Eventually I came upon Classcraft. It is a gamification system that you can implement with any subject.

Initially I was highly skeptical about whether Classcraft would benefit my students’ learning. After all, it is not designed specifically for language learning. Could a non-subject-specific gamification system really push my students to learn more French and to use technology in a way that moved away towards “redefinition” in the SAMR model? I will write another blog post later that goes into more details about how it can indeed be used to these ends, but for now I will just say that the ability to customize it is the key. The teacher has complete control over how to distribute points. If you want to give out points just for your students coming to class on time with their materials, you can set up the program to help you with that goal. If you want your students to earn points by interacting with others around the world, you can set up the program to help you with that goal. I love that it is highly customizable and can be adapted to suit each unique classroom environment and course expectations.

Although I quickly came to see the serious potential within the program, watching the above video also made me so painfully aware of the fact that I am 100% not a gamer!! Goodness!! XP, HP, AP, PP, and Gold Coins?!?! What?!?! What are these and why are they necessary!?!? Seriously, I never have felt as geriatric as I did as I tried to get my head around the hows and whys of Classcraft.

After a lot of video tutorials and reading, I did come to understand the appeal of being able to use AP (Action Points, for my fellow non-gamers) to earn “real life rewards”. The fact that you can also use Gold Coins within the game to buy new clothing for your avatar, or to buy a virtual pet like a flaming crocodile…. well…. I am still completely baffled about the appeal of this, but three weeks into using Classcraft I can assure you that 11-year-olds are really into virtual pets.

Eventually, despite my continued confusion about flaming crocodiles, I decided to just take the leap of faith and start using the program. There have been some small bumps in our road over the past three weeks, but honestly my transition to a gamification class environment has gone pretty smoothly! My students are reenergized, and I see them pushing themselves to do more with the target language and with technology than I have seen in some months.

My 6th graders were away last week on Week Without Walls. When they burst into my room after getting back to school this Monday, the first question was, “We still get to use Classcraft, right?!”

The second question was, “Can I get 30XP for the lessons I did on Duolingo this weekend? I wanted to make sure to still earn points even though we didn’t have class last week!”

My student is now only 3700 points shy of being far enough in the game to consider buying the flaming crocodile of his dreams.

Course 4: Final Project Ideas for Course 5

It is the last day of my first year of international teaching, and I’m writing my last blog entry for my first year of Coetail as well. I feel like I’m at both the beginning and the end of a long journey. The year is over. My bulletin boards are stripped, my Moodle and Atlas pages are in order. Everything is packed up for 8 weeks.

But my mind is already 8 weeks ahead, thinking about next year. I got my schedule for next year today. I am teaching 6th and 7th grade French, but not 8th next year. All along I have been planning to do Course 5 centered around my 8th graders because their level of language being more advanced leads to more interesting projects (tech projects as well as traditional). I’ve known for a few weeks that it was likely that I wouldn’t have that class next year, and I’ve started to mull over ways that I can develop a final project with my 6th or 7th graders.

Here are my ideas at this point:

1) Redesign my unit that is the introduction to the past tense, to become a unit focused around digital storytelling. I love the idea. I’m also worried that the level of French in 7th grade is still far too elementary to create digital stories of any degree of interest.

2) Have students create infographics for each unit of a course, and create a digital gallery of the various visual ways of representing the topics covered— perhaps by creating a class blog or website.

3) My final idea is to do something with gamification in the classroom. I read a blog post this week called A New Roll for Avatars: Learning Languages and the creativity behind that idea just amazed me. I had spoken with Laura Blair, our tech integrator at AISC in the fall about how I would like for my kids to play some games in French, but the level of sophistication in this looks like it could be quite impressive. I need to look into it far more before I’m convinced that this is an appropriate final project idea. I would need a way to track my students’ participation and language use within such a program, for example. This is something that I definitely want to explore more.

There are so many fabulous ideas out there in technology. Any other suggestions for a final project for a world language classroom? I’d love other suggestions, as I am in no way set on any of those three ideas! I’ll keep you posted about what I decide when school resumes!

Tech Break in a Tech Rich Environment?

My students are immersed in technology all the time. I walk past classrooms with students on their laptops all the time. They do great tech projects, and use their portfolios to document progress. They live in a tech rich environment, which is great.

Then they go to lunch, or morning break, and many of them immediately open up their laptops or grab and check whatever social media they want.

They do likewise between classes.

Is a “tech break” needed in the middle of a 50 minute class? Or should my students be able to make it that long without checking if they got any messages?

I believe that the answer is yes. Of course, there are exceptional moments, and if a kid is honestly waiting for some email from a coach about whether or not they get to travel on a school athletic trip, of course checking their email to get this off their minds would be useful—- but aside from those exceptions which will always exist, I think that having a “tech break” would just teach my students less focus instead of more.

Already, focusing on using technology appropriately in class without having other windows opened with chats going is difficult for many of them. When they open their computers, gmail chat is already turned on from earlier at break, and the messages start pouring in before my kids even can think to begin what they are supposed to be doing for the lesson. Do I want to answer messages when they arrive too? Of course! But there are times when I know that it is impossible or inappropriate for me to reply to messages. When I’m teaching is an example of this— the same it is inappropriate for my students to reply to such messages during class.

A lot of people claim that they can multi-task well. I have read many times that what we think of as “multitasking” actually decreases our productivity. This article, “How Multitasking Hurts Your Brain (and Your Effectiveness at Work)” describes many of our realities today. Those little pings of messages often prevent me from working at my best, and the same with my students. And those messages are rarely urgent, and rarely are a 1 minute exchange. The chats often go on for quite some time. I feel that if I say 3 minutes of chatting is ok, the moment that time is over will be the start of my students once again wondering what new message awaits them. I think that 50 minutes of time to focus on a class is a reasonable expectation.

Are our classrooms really obsolete?

I started the readings for this week with the article The Classroom is Obsolete: It’s Time for Something New. The article argues that “the classroom has been obsolete for several decades. That’s not just my opinion. It’s established science.” I find it really hard to take an article seriously that makes such an extreme position in the opening paragraph. Is classroom instruction perfect? Of course not! Can we improve our instruction? Yes, and doing so is imperative. Is a classroom alone an adequate environment for all learning to best occur? No. But is it really truly obsolete? Has it really been obsolete since before I was born? I hope not, because if so I feel like I better start finding a new career now. I think that what occurs in my classroom is certainly NOT obsolete. Or am I a some relic of the past that just can’t bring myself to admit defeat?

The article argues for a different school set-up, basically one where learning can occur more organically and across disciplines. Not a bad idea at all, once I get past that opening paragraph. Once you get further into the article you discover that you can even still have a classroom-like space; you just have to call it a “learning suite”! Most of the key principles listed in the article as being essential for a school of tomorrow are things that I already see daily in my school, despite it being cursed with classrooms. Student-centered? Yes. Safe and secure? Yes. High expectations? Yes. And the list goes on.

After having read this article about the need for a more open school design, I also read the articles about Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs).

In theory a MOOC is a great idea because a student can progress through the course at his or her own speed, and can investigate his/her own questions through online research or interactions online with others in the course.

My question is this: If classrooms are “obsolete” because they “are based on the erroneous assumption that efficient delivery of content is the same as effective learning,” as stated in the EdWeek article, then does a MOOC which is designed to effectively deliver content to hundreds or thousands of people offer any great of a solution? Of course in a MOOC, a student can do additional research, interact with peers, and push him or herself to learn more about what aspects of a course seem most relevant to that student. But should our students be encouraged to do the same in our physical classes?

Of course, MOOCS offer other benefits as well— I could register for a MOOC that presents information that I currently do not have a way of learning in another way. My students could take a MOOC to learn something else in any given subject as well.

However, at the end of the day a class has to be interesting to a student, has to be relevant, and has to be student-centered to work well. This can be done online (although I really do think that a MOOC with thousands of people in it would be extremely difficult to create in a genuinely student-centered way). This can be done in a non-traditionally designed school with open spaces and “learning suites,” and this can even be done in a physical classroom with real living students, a real living teacher, and technology to help us in pursuing our interests and answering our questions.

For now, I’m going to hold off on calling my classroom obsolete. I am not renaming it a “learning suite,” and I’m also not yet ready to believe that a MOOC can offer the same level of personalized instruction and interactive quality that I strive for in my classes.

I’m Not Ready to Flip

A “flipped classroom” is one in which the student uses time at home to basically experience what would have been a lecture in a traditional classroom structure— usually this comes from a video, but it could come from other types of multimedia instruction as well. By having the traditional lecture done outside of class, this frees up class time for other purposes— applying the information that has already been presented.
This infographic explains the concept well.

I think that, as the infographic shows, the videos being limited to 5-7 minutes is what makes this method of teaching more practical than what I had previously imagined. I don’t give “lectures” to middle school kids in French class. I do, however, often spend about 2-5 minutes explaining a grammar concept. Having videos explaining those concepts could be a great way to expose students to the concepts ahead of class, so we are prepared to dive right into applying those concepts to our own work.

My one major concern about depending on a flipped classroom model is the 10% of students who don’t typically do homework, and who especially find online work easy to avoid because they can always claim that the internet wasn’t working at their home (a believable enough situation here in Chennai—- often the internet works fine, but my own home internet has been too slow to allow me to streams videos for some weeks). I like the idea of flipping my classroom, but I’m not sure the time for that is right yet.

I should make or find videos that serve the purpose of allowing students to watch the video at their own pace as many times as needed, but I imagine this as a supplemental tool, and not the only way of presenting that information. I still do find value in presenting key points live in class to my students and am not yet convinced in the value of doing no direct instruction in class. Obviously, the days of the teacher standing in front of his or her class and “lecturing” for a full hour are no more, which is a good thing. I’m also not yet convinced that a 5-minute in-class explanation of a concept is necessarily something that should always be put on a video to watch at home instead.


Project based, problem based, and challenge based learning are all authentic student-centered ways for students to learn. I think of the three as being separate, but also existing along a continuum, with projects being a good place to start, and problem based and challenge based being more advanced. They are all ways to keep kids engaged in their own learning, and to connect it to the use of knowledge and skills outside the classroom. Best of all, students of any age really do love to do projects.

The Buck Institute for Education says that project based learning is “a systematic teaching method that engages students in learning knowledge and skills through and extended inquiry process structured around complex, authentic questions, and carefully designed products and tasks.” Problem based learning focuses on solving a problem, which is a more specific type of learning than project based (which includes so many various types of projects). The website Challenge Based Learning explains that “Challenge Based Learning is an engaging multidisciplinary approach to teaching and learning that encourages students to leverage the technology they use in their daily lives to solve real-world problems through efforts in their homes, schools and communities.”

The same way that I am working towards the “redefinition” goal on the SAMR Model, I also see Challenge Based Learning as a great goal to work towards. I’m not sure how to do this in a language class, to tell you the truth. From time to time we discuss problems that exist and how to solve them, but that is as far as we get, and even this level of discussion is rare in the first levels of French.

Currently, I would say that project based learning is what I am doing in my classroom. My COETAIL final projects have all been project based learning, and of course we have done other projects throughout the year also. Don Doehla has a great blog entry on Edutopia about using project based learning in a world language classroom— I think I’ll try his alphabet book idea next year! I’m eager to use even more projects in my classes next year, and to look for ways to push myself towards doing problem based and challenge based projects as well.

Labeling my tech integration level

I’m currently swamped in almost-the-end-of-the-year grading. Somehow I managed to plan in a way that every class finished a unit this week and had a test. My oh my. Grading is not my favorite part of teaching. At all.

When I think about the SAMR Model, I feel like I’m grading myself. Am I bad at using technology? Then I’m just doing substitution. Am I great? Then I’m up at the modification level… or maybe even the redefinition model!

The problem with grading in general is that it is hard to slap one definition on anyone’s abilities. Many of my students have a mix of grades in the grade book for the year. If I looked back at my own tech integration over the past year and assigned grades of S, A, M, or R, I’d also have a mix. If a student gets an A on a test, it doesn’t mean they are completely immune from ever doing mediocre work again. The same is true for me. I’ve had my technology high points over the past year, and some real low points as well. I have some projects going well right now, but I don’t feel comfortable saying, “I integrate technology at the modification level.” Honestly, I feel like technology for me is two steps forward, then one step back.

Sometimes I have students fill out a shared Google Spreadsheet with information. That is pretty much substitution. I could have taped a piece of paper to my whiteboard and had kids write what region they want to research for a project and accomplished the same goal.

More often, however, I have students do activities such as practice their vocabulary at home with Quizlet online flashcards. I would say this is augmentation or maybe modification, because the activities you can do with these flashcards go well beyond what you can do with traditional paper flashcards. My students love to compete against each other in games on Quizlet, for example, and that wouldn’t be possible with traditional flashcards. I would also say that the RSA videos we made a while back, and the infographics we are creating in class now are something between augmentation and modification as well. Sometimes I feel like infographics are little more than sleek digital posters. At the same time, my students can use them in their digital portfolios and share them in various ways, which I think of as being more indicative of a modification-level activity.

I need to keep searching for ways to really redefine what my students are able to do with the help of technology.