Course 3: Final Project!

This is my first year teaching internationally. I love a lot about it. Out of all the many things that I love though, my students are at the top of the list. They are amazing! They come to class excited to learn, and the progress they have made this year in French class is impressive. I feel this is particularly true of my beginning level students. In one student’s ePortfolio she made the observation, “At the start of the year I didn’t know any French and now I can tell almost everything I do in a week in French!” It is exciting to see students learn a language from the basics up. This is made even more enjoyable by the fact that my students are such enjoyable people to be around and to teach.

Unfortunately, one downside of teaching internationally is that these amazing students leave too often! As the end of the school year approaches, I feel like I’m learning every week about another kid who will not be returning to AISC next year. I’m sure that I’ll get a number of other wonderful students next year, but right now I’m more than a bit sad to see so many of my current students leaving.

As I think ahead to next year, I know that everyone will be meeting new people. I’ll meet new students. The students who are staying at AISC will meet some new classmates. Those who are moving elsewhere will also meet new peers and new teachers. There will be a lot of introductions.

Before this school year finishes, I want to do a project with my beginning French students to create an infographic that tells about them, what they do in a typical week, and communicates their likes and dislikes. This is a great way for my students to showcase the French they have learned this year in a visually appealing way that they can be proud of. It is also a product that leaving students can use to introduce themselves to new peers and to a new teacher. For students that I will be teaching next year, we can use this in the fall to review and to introduce ourselves to new students.

I am going to begin this project with my students in the next week, and I’ll post an update showing some of the finished projects before the school year is over.



Infographics in Class

The Route of Seine, Paris

by juditsolsona.
Explore more visuals like this one on the web’s largest information design community – Visually.


I have not used an infographic yet in my class, and it is time that changes. This is one that I could use in my unit about planning future vacations. I will share this with students, and have them use it as one tool when planning how they would spend a few days in Paris. I particularly like that this one includes information about potential waiting time to get into some commonly visited sites, instead of only listing the sites. Students can talk about the prices, the views they would see, the wait time to enter a site, and how much time they could spend in each place.

In searching for an infographic to use, I noticed a few things that I want to keep in mind when I create an infographic on my own. The first one is that many infographics seem to actually be vision tests in disguise. Wow. I actually have pretty good vision, but I think the past hour I spent trying to read some infographics may have done some permanent damage! Some of the infographics I found looked interesting, but I could not read the smaller print. I found it very frustrating, and it is something I definitely want to avoid in my own creation of an infographic. My other observation is that an infographic needs to contain enough substance to be interesting or thought-provoking, but not so much information or so many visuals that it becomes overwhelming. I’m glad I spent some time looking at so many infographics, because it makes me appreciate the clarity of those I have seen posted on other Coetail blogs. I can read them, and they give me useful and interesting information! Hopefully I can make one myself and have it turn out as well as many of those I have already seen. If you haven’t seen them yet, check out Laura, Rob, Flor, or Seth‘s infographics for some great examples!

Digital Story(re)telling

Sometimes I get a serious mental block about something. I’ve had one about digital storytelling, which is why I haven’t posted anything on this blog in far too long. I know what digital storytelling is. I love it. I can imagine it being a tremendously amazing force in a classroom. I want my students to use it to create something incredible, beautiful, thought-provoking, and moving. I want them to move their audience to tears or to action. Then I remember that we are currently learning how to order food in a restaurant. And thus begins my mental block.

Although Educational Uses of Digital Storytelling says, “Digital storytelling at its most basic core is the practice of using computer-based tools to tell stories,” the 7 Elements of Digital Storytelling seem beyond what I feel able to link to what I am covering in my classes. Honestly, a dramatic question and emotional content are a bit tough to have beginning foreign language students incorporate into a digital story. Even on the adapted list for elements to include in digital storytelling for educational uses, the need for “a dramatic question” still remains. We may pose the question “Qu’est-ce que tu as fait le weekend dernier?” (“What did you do last weekend?”), but that isn’t exactly a “dramatic question”. I’m a little afraid that any attempt at a dramatic question or emotional content will end up resembling Flight of the Conchord’s song, “Fou da Fa Fa,” and not in a good way! As much as I really do love that song (grammatical errors and all), I’m not sure I want to do a middle school version of it and proudly call it “digital storytelling.”

So, I decided to do some digital storytelling in my classes, but adapt it to the needs of my students who are just learning how to use the past tenses in French. The end result may not even qualify as digital storytelling since it has no dramatic question. The story isn’t even original. It is actually digital storyREtelling, not telling. But despite those flaws, it was an amazing project for my students and it was perfectly appropriate for their language development.

My advanced 7th and advanced 8th grade French classes had both been studying the passé composé (a past tense), and they read the short story “Le chouette bouquet” from the classic children’s book, Le Petit Nicolas. Reading this story was challenging for my students, but gave them the opportunity to see the past tense in a more authentic context. The story is written from the first person perspective of Nicolas. For a digital story(re)telling project, my students were to retell the story from the third person point of view. Some groups did the retell in the past tense, but some groups were not ready to use the past tense themselves, and they were able to retell the story in the present tense if they chose to do so. My 8th graders did the retelling project as an RSA video. My 7th graders were allowed to retell the story with an RSA video, with a digital comic, or a traditional comic. Only a few groups of 7th graders chose to do the RSA video option, but the ones who made an RSA video had great results.

My students prepared by doing a storyboard first, and then practiced drawing the full story a few times, as well as telling the story while using their notes for practice. Because I didn’t want my 8th grade students to just read the storyboard for the actual recording, they were not allowed to have access to any notes. They had to tell the story from memory for the final recording. My 7th graders were allowed to have notes, but they were supposed to keep the use of those notes to a minimum. I am still finding it a challenge to balance my desire to have a polished final product with the fact that I also want my students’ speaking to be as authentic as possible. Even without using their notes, I am still proud of how the final projects went. They worked out pretty well for a first digital story(re)telling project.

We’ll keep working on a “dramatic question” for an end of the year project!

Blendspace with the 8th grade Digital Story(re)telling Projects:


Here is also a really cute video that some of my 7th graders did.

A Picture’s Worth a Thousand Words


Photo Credit: <a href=””>ggallice</a> via <a href=””>Compfight</a> <a href=””>cc</a>

In my 8th grade French class, I have been trying to incorporate more “authentic” materials into my lessons. This can be tricky. A lot of the authentic language-rich items that may interest my students are sometimes too far beyond their current language skills. One topic, however, that we have discussed very successfully is elephant poaching in Africa. This topic worked well with my students because they already had some background information about it, and the language level of the materials on Radio France Internationale has been accessible. They also tend to be quite passionate about how animals are treated, and they are aware that endangered species need to be protected. I was so impressed with many of my students’ abilities to communicate complex ideas and feelings about this topic in French. The article and associated audio that we used to learn about this topic is no longer available online, but this one is similar (although this audio clip is more difficult than the one we used before).  Some of my students also read about “elephants” now using Twitter to raise awareness about poaching. 

One speaking activity that I want to do more often in my class is having students describe images. I have chosen the above image from Compfight as one that I could use in class because students could talk about it in various ways. Some might simply describe what the elephants in the photo are doing, or what they look like. Others could tell a story. They might also make a connection between the image and the student in our class who frequently mentions his love of elephants. Of course they can also make the connection with the problem of elephant poaching and the species being endangered.

Cleaning House


Photo Credit: This Year's Love via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: This Year’s Love via Compfight cc

The picture above pretty much sums up how I feel my blog starts to look when I change the “theme” or attempt to manipulate the look of it in any way. I have to throw everything all around, and only then will I eventually be able to sort it, categorize it, and put it into shiny new storage bins that would make make sense not only to me, but to everyone else who views the page as well.

Some websites are so beautiful, and so easy to navigate. Others are chaotic due to the massive amount of information/widgets/graphics/links that the site owner has tried to make stand out. Personally, I like simple and clean websites the best. As Brandon Jones writes in Understanding Visual Hierarchy in Web Design, “Good visual hierarchy isn’t about wild and crazy graphics or the newest photoshop filters, it’s about organizing information in a way that’s usable, accessible, and logical to the everyday site visitor.” I also agree with him strongly when he says that “as a society we’ve been being barraged with a vertiable tsunami of visual information over the last couple decades; as a result, people nowadays are hyper-sensitive to visual hierarchy. This is especially the case on the web where studies have proven that regular web surfers have learned to “scan” content innately; automatically seeking information that is relevant to their interests and discarding/disregarding information that doesn’t.”

I try to keep those ideas in mind when I look at my own blog for this course. I have been (am still!) tempted to add some more widgets, and to reformat in other ways as well. However, do my readers really need or want the clutter of a ClustrMap? I would love to see if someone from far away clicks on my blog, but so far I’m not willing to have that widget on the side of my blog. I like a clean minimalist design type blog more than I like the idea of seeing who has gone to my site.

This is how my blog looked when I started this post.

Screen Shot 2014-01-26 at 10.55.42 AM


Screen Shot 2014-01-26 at 10.56.01 AM


Not great, but at least not a messy teenage bedroom level of disgusting either. Although to be fair, I am pretty sure that I never find my own messes as disturbing as others probably do.

As far as content is concerned, Lazy Eyes says that this blog post is not appealing to readers because I am using too long of paragraphs. Instead I should be using bullet points or very short paragraphs if I want to have a reader actually finish reading the post. Honestly, that depresses me! Just because we are reading things online, are we no longer able to maintain attention long enough to scroll?! Yikes. I would also be interested to see how our attention to online materials is lengthening or shortening with the increased number of years we have been reading a great deal of material online. Lazy Eyes was written in 2008. As far as information concerning our interaction with online material goes, a six year old article is pretty dated. Maybe as we have done more and more reading online we have developed better stamina and can now actually manage to finish longer blocks of text. Maybe we have become even more easily distracted though. Maybe eventually sentences will be too much for many readers to get through. I sure hope not, but I’m a bit worried! Today I read Extra Virgin Suicide in the New York Times. I loved the visual effect. Engaging, simple, clear. But to be honest, if that is the direction that more things head in the NY Times in the future, I’ll become one very sad person. I like in-depth articles, and blocks of texts don’t scare me away.

I may have to change my habits though, and start to write in shorter chunks. Mental note made.

As far as the rest of my blog layout goes, it has now become a work that is very much in progress. I wrote almost all of this blog post a week ago. I have tried a number of times to change my blog format, but I haven’t found anything yet that I like more. In theory, I like the “Berlin” theme because it is more visually interesting and has less white space than my current theme, but it still avoids feeling overly produced and therefore appeals to my more minimalist taste in website design. Unfortunately, I can’t get it to work for me. When I change to it, this is what I see:

Screen Shot 2014-02-01 at 7.55.38 PM

You know how when you want to organized a closet the first step is to take everything out and pile it on the bed? Suddenly cleaning/organizing can make things look far worse than it did before, right?! I am considering this the clothing on the bed stage, and I am going to have to keep messing with settings to get this to work. I promise that things will get better, even though it may not seem so right now.

While my final project for Course 2 was nice, I would like my followers to be able to see more than ONLY that one post repeated endlessly down the page (don’t worry: it is also displayed as a banner at the top, just in case you can’t find it anywhere else)! This week I spoke with Ross, who was also having trouble getting a new theme to work. His problems came from the fact that “featured images” are needed for each blog post. When I looked at his site on Friday it was displaying fine, but now it seems to have reverted back to black squares. And this is after I know he spent a lot of time getting it to look good!! Where he gets black squares as problems, I seem to be getting repeating blog entries showing.

Since it seems that “featured images” are needed, I am going to go to and relocated and download all the images I used in Course 2 (“featured images” seem to only be able to be uploaded, and all the links that I have in my post right now to compfight images don’t work as links for featured images). I am going to also have to update all my blog posts from Course 1 to include “featured images” if I am going to switch to a more image-intensive theme as well. I just hope that it really is the “featured images” that is causing the issues. I guess we will find out! I would like to include a perfect “after” picture here of my updated blog, but this will take me some time to do.

For now, I am changing my theme back to the old one until I sort out the bugs in the new one.

Course Two: Final Project


Photo Credit: Anirudh Koul via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Anirudh Koul via Compfight cc

For my final project, I worked with Laura Blair, the middle school tech integrator at our school, to create a unit in which students create a tourist website for a Francophone city or region. AISC has increased the amount of material that middle school language students cover at every level this year, and I have found it challenging to finish the materials that I am supposed to cover with my students this year. Although I think that our students do need a rigorous curriculum to be prepared for high school world language courses, I find myself trying to teach so much vocabulary and grammar that learning about Francophone regions has taken the backseat. My students do absolutely need to be able to conjugate verbs in order to be successful at more advanced levels of French. However, they also need to learn more than just the “foundational skills” of vocabulary and grammar that are the cornerstones of our language program. As a new teacher in this program, I am still working on finding that balance. I wanted this unit to address some of the AERO World Language Standards for Cultures, since I am sometimes feeling that I am not devoting adequate classroom time to these standards in my rush to cover enough grammar to prepare my students for high school. Laura and I designed this unit together, and then she also shared this unit with a friend of hers, and this other teacher is planning to use it in her classroom in Florida.  I always enjoy working with Laura, since her technology background is so extensive! My original thought was for students to create an online travel brochure via Prezi or a comparable site, and to collect notes on Diigo (Laura’s friend suggested also creating a Diigo group to aid in the organization of that material). Student will collect the images they use via Compfight, since the NETS-S Standards we included emphasize the importance of digital citizenship. Laura suggested that instead of doing a Prezi-type brochure, my students could make a website. She said that the former French teacher at our school had created websites with students successfully. Personally, after having seen how difficult it was for many of my students to do their VoiceThread projects as my Course 1 Final Project, I am interested to see how this goes. I admire Laura’s ambition on the project, and I am glad that she is back from her pregnancy leave, so she will be in my classroom to support my students when we do roll out this project in the upcoming months. I’m really fortunate to have a tech integrator who also speaks French!

Link-filled Life

Photo Credit: diesmali via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: diesmali via Compfight cc



So, I read two weeks before writing this blog entry that I had to do this blog post about hyperlinks and how I use them… and after two weeks of thinking, I still found it really hard to answer! The reality is that the question of how do you use hyperlinks almost feels like asking “How do you use oxygen?” Now I’m back to editing this post a month later, and I am still finding it really challenging. Sometimes the things we use the most in technology seem to be the hardest ones to actually articulate. The same way my résumé may have included a line about “skilled at using email” if I were teaching in 1997, now that skill is such an obvious one to have that I can’t even imagine my life without it. To articulate how I use email…. or in this case, the importance of hyperlinks to my online life… feels a bit like explaining the obvious. It is important because I live in 2014, not in 1994, or even 2004. I live in a hyperlink saturated world.

I don’t think about hyperlinks; I use them automatically. I follow links within blogs all the time. I follow links within news articles. I also have been linking to other sites within this blog (for example, in my previous blog post I included two hyperlinks). My friends send me links to articles. Hyperlinks are used all the time online because they are useful. They direct us to other potentially relevant or interesting material, and we often follow them for that reason. Yesterday a friend here in Chennai posted a link to an article in the NY Times about the 52 Places to go in 2014. Chennai is #26 on that list! Within about 3 hours, I had over a dozen friends repost that same hyperlink. They linked to the article because it was relevant, because they thought their friends near and far may be interested, and they posted it out of a feeling of pride to have our city included on the list. I also had two friends in the US email me a link to the article. Within the article itself, are a plethora of links to information about these 52 places. I followed some of them, for example, the one to learn about the Tren Crucero in Ecuador, which was still under construction during my trip there last winter.

In my classroom, I use links often to find relevant teaching materials and ideas, and I also send them to my students. For example, I may send my 8th grade students to Radio France Internationale to listen to a portion of the news in simple French or to read an article. I have never had a student ask why words are blue and underlined; our students know when they see a hyperlink that it is there to take them to further information. Clicking those links to access new information is as easy for them as it is for me. The beauty of the hyperlink is in the simplicity.

No one thinks, “I’m the Bully.”

Photo Credit: nist6ss via Compfight cc

I loved ‘”Bullying” Has Little Resonance with Teenagers’ by Danah Boyd. Boyd writes about how the real problem is not new technologies making bullying easier— the problem is a lack of empathy. Young people (along with many who aren’t so young) don’t see their actions as “bullying.” In short, teens think of “bullying” as picking on someone who doesn’t deserve it. And since they think that those they ridicule or exclude are deserving of such treatment, they don’t view their actions as “bullying.” The fact that society glorifies “drama” makes this situation even worse.

How can we, as educators, teach students empathy? How can we cultivate kindness, both online and offline? I think that we have to start by modeling empathy ourselves. We also have to have direct conversations with our students about how others’ feelings are impacted by our words and actions. We have to have these conversations all the time. I think students would also benefit from watching videos like those on Common Sense Media, which give such clear examples of the consequences of bullying. I think that it is valuable to also ask students to think about what the aggressor might have been thinking as he/she did the bullying. How does a person justify bullying?

I worry that our students picture “bullies” as 100% bad kids, who are out to bully someone for the joy of bullying. While I know that those types do exist, it is also often a former friend who feels hurt and then reacts by bullying, or someone who has been excluded from a group who then also excludes. Clearly, having been hurt doesn’t give someone the right to bully, but by casting “bullies” as one-dimensional total jerks, it makes it easier for students to think, “I’m not a bully. I’m a nice kid.” It also makes it more difficult for them to see actions as bullying when they experience those hurtful acts themselves. Can a bully be a total jerk all the time? Sure. Can a normally nice kid also bully? Definitely. I teach a lot of nice kids, and I am sure many of them have bullied others at some point in time. I’m also pretty sure that few of them would categorize their actions as bullying. There really is a disconnect.

Asking a student if he/she has ever bullied someone is likely to get a negative answer, but showing examples of what bullying can look like and what can be the initial cause for it to begin would encourage students to think more critically about how they treat others, and how others treat them. Empathizing with those in the videos can be a first step towards students having greater empathy as they interact with their peers.

Is privacy too much to ask for?

Photo Credit: hyku via Compfight cc

I like having control of my privacy. I like it a lot.

I don’t mind sharing about myself as I get to know people. I don’t mind opening up to people in an organic way. I share, the other person shares, and a personal or professional relationship develops. I’m not secretive at all when I’m having a face-to-face interaction with someone, even if that person is new in my life. That said, I absolutely hate the idea of someone I have just met going online and searching for my name. Do you want to know something about me? Ask me. I won’t mind. I enjoy a good conversation. But asking Google? That thought creeps me out, probably way more than is rational. I want to be known in a human context and not a digital context.

I am at a new job, and have had a number of co-workers become my “friends” on Facebook. I have mixed feelings about that. Do I want to build friendships? Absolutely! I enjoy their company, and we are in the process of building real relationships; at the same time, I find it a bit odd and more than a bit uncomfortable to give instant access to all the photos from my past few vacations to every person I meet. I find it equally strange to be able to see so much about what they were doing a month or a year before I met them— or even what they are having for dinner tonight! In some bizarre way, I think I might treasure things more if I hold them a bit closer to myself instead of having them be public.

I also strongly value being able to change my opinions. What I think personally, and professionally, is different today than it was a few years ago. I hope that my views continue to evolve in the future. That is one major reason for why I don’t have a personal blog. To speak truthfully, I’m still not really embracing having this blog either. What seemed like a good idea for my final project for Course 1 already seems inadequate to me now. Sure, I’m in these courses to grow professionally, so not everything needs to be perfect now. I know that, and I would hope that others who look at this blog know that too. But the part of me that values privacy also thinks that I grow better when I can wrestle with ideas alone, and not have to worry about who will read my thoughts.

Watch where you step…

Photo Credit: Abizern via Compfight cc

We all have a digital footprint, regardless of whether we want to have one or not. As an international educator, or any professional for that matter, it is important for us to be aware of what is in our footprint, and for us to create as positive of a footprint as possible. We can help to make sure that happens by establishing a solid professional presence online.

Out of curiosity, I just put my name into Google. The first several links for “Hannah E. Kingsley” were to this blog. Most of the other sites were information about someone by the same name who died in 1850. I guess that woman won’t be posting anything online, so I’m not too worried about someone mistaking information about her as information about me. If I leave out my middle initial, things become a little more interesting. I get links that include my own Facebook page, some links to other Facebook pages under the same name, and some photography websites. One of the other Facebook profiles that shows up is not one that an educator would want turning up in Google search results, but the reality is that we have no control over other people’s digital footprints— even if they happen to share our name! I’d imagine that anyone searching online for information about me would have the common sense to figure out that the same as I’m not the Hannah E. Kingsley who died over 160 years ago, I’m also not some of these other people.

As far as the impact our students’ digital footprints can have on their futures… the thought actually terrifies me. So much of students’ lives are conduced online now, and much of the data associated with it will not go away with time. When I was in middle school, I kept a journal. I’m sure it was nothing to be horrified by, but I’m still glad it isn’t available to be found by a Google search. Sometimes I wrote about how my mom was driving me crazy. Sometimes I wrote about what boy I had a crush on. Sometimes I wrote about a little argument I’d had a friend (and, of course, how I was right in this argument). Then I closed my journal, stuck it on a shelf, and went on with my life. Thankfully there is no permanent digital record of what I thought when I was twelve to come back and haunt me now.

Our students’ have things so differently than I did at that age. Instead of keeping a private journal, many of them post their feelings on social media. Instead of writing a paper for a class, getting a grade, and being done with the assignment, they write reactions to books and ideas on blogs that might still be found years later. We can guide them to only post appropriate things online, to be responsible, to think about long-term implications of what they post. Hopefully, they will do all those things. The reality, however, is that even if what they post is perfectly acceptable, they might not agree with it in five years (or even in five minutes!). I know this is just the reality we live in, but it still freaks me out quite a bit! I can’t imagine if I had gone off to college, met new people, and then gave them all access to my journals from high school or middle school. I can’t imagine people I meet now being able to read what I wrote about politics when I was in high school. I am glad that I have the luxury of not having to explain that I feel completely differently than I may have felt when writing a persuasive paper about politics in high school. Our students don’t live their lives with such a degree of privacy, and teaching them how to navigate these tricky waters is so important. It is also absolutely terrifying.