Questions are good…



I have a “sister” post to this one, going out on In Practice.

A recent post in dy/dan» This girl is dangerous talks about the hard questions that need to be answered when you are talking about using technology in the classroom, and refers to another blog post (which I hope to discuss in the sister post on In Practice) about how we don’t make a good case for technology in the classroom.

Something keeps coming up in many recent discussions about avoiding teaching technology for technology sake, that is disturbing to me. First off, on that argument I usually come out on the side of teach the standard using technology (but being a Gemini, I’ve been known to take other sides of that argument too, I don’t like pinning myself down too much). I think there is a lot of ignorance about certain aspects of the standards that technology of various sorts can be really helpful in addressing.

At this session of the Classroom2.0 LIVE there was some discussion of not doing “podcasts” for podcasts sake. I pointed out that in the California English Language Development Standards , oral language development is a explicitly stated standard for all English Language Learners, which seemed like news to some of the participants. Oral language is also part of the state’s Language Arts standards for ALL students. I don’t think it’s too far a stretch to say that Podcasts, in and of themselves, meet this standard whatever the content. Frankly, just asking for oral response to your lectures unless you really structure it, will not suffice. That is not acceptable pedagogy in any classroom, digital or not. Podcasts, whether of “spontaneous” discussions, or scripted are oral language development, and students need both experiences. THINK BACK TO the language courses you took (I know anyone who got a California credential in the last 10 or so years, like Dan, had to take these classes). You recited dialogs where you were provided with a script, you devised your own dialog scripts and read them to the class, and as the course advanced you the teacher stopped using or letting you use English, so you had to respond in the language being taught. Podcasts are in that realm. They also provide an archive, that is otherwise very hard to obtain. In addition, if students are being evaluated using CELDT or another diagnostic tool for English Language Development, they will be tested on listening and speaking skills, so these need to be developed.

Web 2.0 tools and podcasting will help you meet these standards quickly, easily, and provide you with realia to assess students progress. Your other alternatives are class discussions, oral response to lectures, oral exercises, and oral reports, or use older tools that frankly are no longer supported and not worth the time to use, especially given the crude output quality (I can’t believe that those old Calfone cassette recorders are still being sold, but I guess there is a market someplace). You can do all of the former venues, but by adding recording (pretty easily done), you increase engagement and have a record of what a student has done.

BubbleShare – Earth – By A. Mercer: Here is a multimedia project created with students in my fifth grade ELD class last year. Students created pictures to talk about a natural space they enjoyed, then added audio narration to their pictures. It was based on a project outlined by Cristina Igoa in her work, “Inner World of the Immigrant Child“. This post from Rick Scheibner has a discussion with, Dr. Igoa, where she outlines the project she did to have beginning level ELLs tell their stories using photos that become filmstrip images, and then their stories are recorded on cassette tape.

The filmstrip concept is more complex. Let me tell you what all is involved and see if today you can find new technology.
1.The filmstrip stories were exactly as you see them in the book, the children hide themselves behind images of wolves, tigers, lonely bears etc.
2. The children tell their stories on tape.This is done after they have learned to read in English. They have built up vocabulary, they write, they learn to spell, and grammar is included.
3. Their voices are heard, but they are not seen.
4. The children select their own music and ask peers to do the sound effects. They learn collaboration
4.When the strip stories are done and they are satisfied with their artwork, they get the Dukane projector ready for viewing. This projector looks like a television. Filmstrip is inside, the tape cut with music and story in place and the drama of their lives unfolds.

She seems to unconvinced that new technologies would be better than this method in a later comment, which may be more a testament to my poor skills of persuasion. I would hope that anyone with some smattering of knowledge about PowerPoint can see how much EASIER this sort of project is with newer technologies. I can think of four ways to do this on a computer off the top of my head.

Have the kids do a drawing with paper, pencils, markers, crayons and scan in the results; OR have them create a drawing online with a paint package. BOTH have merit, I did it with crayon because it’s more tactile. Scan and upload the images.

  1. Use PowerPoint for the images, and create sound files to add in using Audacity. Audacity has higher quality audio than PP’s built in narration tool, and with multiple tracks lets you add music background, and edit the narration.
  2. Use Movie Maker for the images, add narration and a soundtrack. I still prefer doing the sound in Audacity because of the better control and quality. If you wanted, you could then upload to YouTube or TeacherTube.
  3. Use Bubbleshare and have the kids narrate with background music playing.
  4. Use VoiceThread, same as in #3

I may not have convinced Dr. Igoa to give up her filmstrips and cassette tape (really, what would most teachers prefer to learn, Audacity or how to cut and splice audio cassette tape?), but I hope this makes a case for standards based instruction using today’s technologies for people like Dan who already have some tech skills. If you don’t believe me, noted ELL/EFL instructor and tech skeptic, Larry Ferlazzo, uses these and even cruder viral marketing tools with his students. He got an award for his work from the International Reading Association. Dan can argue with the aesthetics of some of these tools (heck I do all the time), so use the higher end tools (Audacity, iMovie, etc. not the PowerPoint narration tool), and teach kids about visual literacy, but for goodness sake make sure you are developing students oral language skills, and documenting what they are actually saying, not just doing a rough estimate of what they’ve learned!

Dr. Igoa may not see the need to give up her older technology, BUT she does see that creating presentations that involve art, narration, and music so that students can tell their stories, helps them adjust to and learn English. For those of us more familiar with newer technologies, I think we can all begin to appreciate how they will make that easier, and more effective. It’s what led me to podcasting and blogging with students, things I was already doing in my personal life.

7 Comments to

“Questions are good…”

  1. February 9th, 2008 at 6:24 pm      Reply alicemercer Says:

    I forgot to add this link to Larry Ferlazzo’s post on this topic:

    It includes his thinking (technology good, but I want my peers to be engaging students with or without it), and his approach to picking sites for students to use (it’s all about ease of use and language development baby). Excellent read!

  2. February 10th, 2008 at 8:54 am      Reply Mr. K Says:

    I don’t think it’s too far a stretch to say that Podcasts, in and of themselves, meet this standard whatever the content. Frankly, just asking for oral response to your lectures unless you really structure it, will not suffice.

    I don’t get it.

    I don’t see how the technology makes a difference. It seems to me that the important part is the process – how they go about deciding what to say, and then how they say it. Why does it matter whether they say it into a microphone, to the class, or into a cellphone? Don’t they all require structure to be successful?

  3. February 10th, 2008 at 8:55 am      Reply Mr. K Says:


    i guess the technology didn’t like my blockquote tags.

  4. February 10th, 2008 at 9:49 am      Reply alicemercer Says:

    It’s okay Mr. K, I got the gist of your point.

    They can say it Mr. K, but if it’s not recorded…

    1. Will you hear it?

    2. Will you remember it?

    3. Will you evaluate or grade it? Remember if you don’t do it right then when they say it, it’s gone.

    This is probably why Dr. Igoa (and others) teaching language learners in the 1980s/90s started to record their students, and didn’t just have them hold up pictures and give a report to the class. I imagine that is also helps pull-out teachers (like Dr. Igoa, and myself) share what students have done with their regular ed teacher.

    I think the posting, and syndicating part of the podcast could be optional, but can I point out something from my own experience? The posting of podcasts and sending them out to parents over the phone system motivated my students to participate. The students that it did motivate surprised me. It wasn’t the class-clowns, or talkers (although they liked doing it too), it was the quiet girls. I think they liked being able to work on it because they could improve on a project. There were retakes, and they did the recording in a small group. They could perfect it in a small group, but share it with a big audience once they got it right.

    I don’t just have kids talk into the mic. I usually have them doing something related thematically to something we are studying, or they are weekly news podcasts from the school. I was perhaps being provocative with that statement, but I don’t think some folks appreciate how important that oral language practice is. The listening and speaking part of CELDT is where many students bomb out, and that is keeping us from redesignating students out of being English Language Learners.

    Thanks for asking questions!

  5. February 10th, 2008 at 8:46 pm      Reply tilgunas Says:

    I agree with both Mr. K and Alice. I’m a middle school teacher in a low income area, and this is what I see. On the one hand, as long a task is authentic (and yes, tied to standards), it is awesome. So it could be an oral presentation to the class, or a tape recording that would be shared with others. But when I add to these activities Internet publishing…when my students use any technologies that are public, which they can go home and share with family on the Internet, they see it as IMPORTANT. That’s saying a lot for a middle school kid. I think doing some in-class and some public publishing…mixing it up…this makes all the difference in the world.

  6. February 10th, 2008 at 9:33 pm      Reply alicemercer Says:

    Tilgunas: I think the recording frankly is more important than the publishing, but that is to my mind the more complex and difficult to learn process (using Audacity–which frankly isn’t that difficult). Once you have an audio file, posting it or syndicating it is much easier. The added bang you get for publishing/syndicating is defiantly worth that effort, so I figure why not. I harp on the recording because I think it is really important to get that record of what kids are doing. I think Mr. K brought up some excellent points for keeping me (and other) honest. I wrote this because I wanted to bring up the ORAL language standards because people are treating this like it’s extra, and it’s part of the core.

  7. February 14th, 2008 at 1:30 am      Reply Dorothy Says:

    Hi Alice
    I am very interested in what you have to say and there is so much I would like to respond to 🙂 So I will limit myelf to a couple of points.
    First “Dr. Igoa may not see the need to give up her older technology, BUT she does see that creating presentations that involve art, narration, and music so that students can tell their stories, helps them adjust to and learn English.”
    In our low socio-economic NESB school we have been looking outside Education to the work of Kevin Roberts, CEO of saatchi&saatchi, on the concept of sisomo ( The thought of sight, sound and motion (sisomo) as being an integral part of 21st century living resonates with us and we try to ensure that teaching and learning at Pt England School reflect the students responsiveness to sisomo.
    Secondly, I spent 2007 researching the impact of our podcast, KPE (Korero Pt England) on our students’ reading outcomes. While I did observe significant measurable improvement in student reading outcomes, I also measured significantly improved oral fluency. I recorded them reading aloud at the start of the research period and 5 months later recorded students reading aloud on average 22 WPM faster (with accuracy). They were also more expressive and confident. Podcasting is a wonderful way to evaluate students’ progress because they are constantly speaking and being recorded and you have such a wealth of material to base your assessments on.
    I also confounded the speech-language theraphists by putting in applications for over-looked kids to have sessions by providing them with DVDs of podcasts for them to listen to as they went thrugh the selection process.


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