Classroom Reflections on Week 4


My classroom is still a work in work in progress, but many of my practices have started to “gel” and routines are taking shape. I also have some tech stuff to share, but much of the progress will not be visible as it happened offline. This week saw the addition of a lab to science, art in social science, and more structured writing.

Social Science is a trying subject, and the one most students list as their least favorite. First, I went old school and opted to read the lesson aloud myself. This had the advantage because I could convey my interest in the subject through tone and inflection, and I could add interesting tidbits and examples. The students were more engaged. I also had them do an art project, creating a buffalo hide painting (that I got at a Thinkfinity training with Gail Delser), which was a way Native Americans of the Plains kept their history and stories. As a result, their writing on the subject was better in terms of content, and quality.

Language Arts involved doing more explicit writing instruction, and having students write paragraphs with topic and concluding sentences. We’re using WriteTools which is influenced by Douglas Reeves work. The plus is that it provides explicit ways to teach students writing mechanics. The downside is that it can result in formulaic writing. I was fortunate that the story, a selection called “The Marble Champ” from Gary Soto’s Baseball in April, really connected with the kids. In addition, the writing topic was about family support which students enjoyed.

The science text seems to know that it is, desperately, competing for time in the curriculum. This means that it is much thinner than the other textbooks, and has lots of the lessons chunked into bite-sized pieces. They even have the text and workbook compressed together in what they call an interactive textbook. It’s a shorter version of the text, with lots of visuals. Also, they are providing a couple potential lab activities for each lesson. We were studying air currents/wind, and did a lab using lamps. I had a bunch of clamp lamps I bought for video lighting at one point. They were supposed to hold a paper spiral over the lamp, and see what happens. It is supposed to create an upward movement of air causing the spirals to spin but it didn’t. That was fine because it shows that just because it didn’t turn out doesn’t disprove, we just haven’t proved it. Many noted the effect of air conditioning coming on during the process.

On the technology front, I’m adding more content to the class blog, I’m putting up homework forms at the top right, and I let parents know about this. I’ve also added the digital content we are creating a little farther down. I’ve put the video on YouTube, and did get our class channel unblocked by the district, but kids were still have trouble accessing it all at once when we had the mobile Mac lab, so I’ve loaded the MP4 on the blog as well. We did our first class report about what we’re doing. It’s rough, and I edited it together, but I’ll have the kids take over, and we’ll have a more polished product with intro music, etc.
Photo Credit: Number 4 by Francesco ML, on Flickr

Got any questions?


I recently received the following email:

Lynda wrote:
Hi Alice! I just read your blog about podcasting with ELD students. I didn’t quite understand how you used the powerpoint slide and how they picked the stories.Could you please elaborate for me? I have 3rd grade ELDs and would love to try it! thanks, Lynda

Lynda is referring to this post:

I thought I’d put the answer here in case it was unclear to others, and to revisit this post and the idea of podcasting with students.

I used Power Point for the script of the show. You don’t have to use that, BUT since the fonts are big and readable in Power Point automatically, I just used that instead of Word, or some other word processing program. It makes it easier to read. The important part is that they write a script either on computer or a piece of paper, before they speak. If you are working with students of different literacy abilities, have the good writing at the start, and other reading, or editing (eventually, all of them should be writing).

I had a group from fourth to sixth grade level (9-12 yo). I had them suggest topics on day one through blog post, but you could have a “production meeting” to decide that. I would sometimes require a story about upcoming events (like parent conferences) but the majority of story topics were given by students. You might have to oral prompt them at first, but have them make the choice.

Here is a basic outline for a 30 minute ELD block:

Day 1: Have students write suggestions for topics

Day 2: Select the topics as a class or have a committee

Day 3: Create a script with the topics. You may need provide an outline or dates and times for events especially with lower-level third graders.

Day 4: Edit the script (great opportunity for sentence lifting)

Day 5: Record the show and edit (I use Audacity, some Mac users favor Garage Band). Save as an MP3, then post on a syndication service, or blog (I just used a blog).

Alice’s Restaurant @ EarthCast08


I’ve been slow posting this here in the hurly burly that has been my life lately, but here is an excellently received interview with my husband. Due to my pig-headedness, he is not “Mr. Mercer” (I made him keep his “maiden name” when we wed 21 years ago), but is Mr. Terry Preston.

I am not at all objective about Terry talking because the first thing I noticed about him was his voice when we met about 25 years ago (it was like a waterfall of honey to my ears). But, according to others who were listening, he has lots of great things to share about getting a walk to school program going, and how to deal with obstacles to said programs. Lots of great organizing lessons there (some that can be applied to implementing tech in schools). So, here’s Terry…

EarthCast08: Alice’s Restaurant

Notes from Technology to Bring the Past Alive


Intro from by Mike Lebsock: Podcasting, videocasting, streaming video and more…have become technologies to bring history into the classroom. This session will connect participants to some fantastic sites, lessons and ideas to take advantage of these terrific tools.

Not how-to, but what it looks like session. Presenter impressed me because he was dressed up like Sam Adams. Discussed that if you’re teaching middle or high school and the kids say, “I didn’t learn that,” they aren’t lying, elementary is teaching only reading and math. He moved up to middle school from elementary, caught history bug and went to Colonial Williamsburg.

1. He had a project with 8th graders to create a version of Jefferson reading Declaration of Independence, but kids would read it. What is the script? What are you going to say?

2. Play podcasts for kids to hear example (10-15 minutes)

3. Write a synopsis of what they’ve heard. He broke the Declaration down into parts to make it manageable (primary source vocabulary, fluency, etc.).

4. He recommended for sound clips to add.

5. The class also does analysis of what speaker intent was.

6. It was done over 2 weeks, but part of a larger project. Moving from cell phone, to mic recording scaffolds it.

The transitions from one voice to the next were very nice because it happened naturally because there is a change in the section/paragraph. Next project was Moment in Time about a historic topic. Start with audio, then add still pictures. He is planning to return to Colonial Williamsburg, and will be live podcasting from there. By Civil War, they did Ken Burns type piece. Lots of materials in handouts, and links!

My take-away, this is the best way to approach and start learning about this stuff because it gives you a reason to use the tools, AND he emphasized how to structure teaching it NOT the tech part. Many people make the mistake of the thinking the tech issues, and knowledge it most important. It’s still about the classroom management and planning. My vote, two thumbs up for Mr. Adams, err, Mr. Lebsock.

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.

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