BlogWalker

Muddling through the blogosphere

October 5, 2012
by blogwalker
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Time for an iPad, Maybe?

Image from Apple.com

I’m thinking it’s time to fork up the $$$$ and buy an iPad. . . maybe. I’ve held off buying one, mainly because I seemed to be getting along just fine between my desktop, laptop, and iPhone.

I’ll admit to an attack of iPad envy last spring, on a trip to Europe. I opted to pay for a texting only plan to keep in touch with friends and family. Sometimes the texts went through, sometimes not.  My traveling companions with iPads, however, definitely had many more options for sharing their trip, ranging from filming, to snapshots, to email, to Skyping.

Yesterday was almost the tipping point.  With a Google Teacher Academy coming to California (Mountain View) in December, I was working on the last part of my application: a one-minute video. I teach in a PC district, and therefore use free, Windows-compatible video tools (MovieMaker and PhotoStory). I’ve resisted purchasing, for instance, Adobe Elements mainly because in the workshops I do for my district and region, I don’t want teachers to have to turn around and purchase software when they leave my workshops. But after watching a few teacher-created GTA application videos on YouTube, I was wishing I had access to the many nifty, full of bells ‘n whistles, incredibly professional looking templates that always come with any of Apple’s video creation tools.

The absolute tipping point for buying an iPad, however, will be finding at least 3 powerful apps for an adult English language learner. A friend recently returned from a trip to Africa. During her 3-week tour, she formed a friendship with a young man (Maasai), who would very much like to improve his English skills. She is sending him an iPad and would like to load it with a few apps for learning and practicing English.  Overwhelmed by the number of available apps, both free and fee-based, she asked me for some recommendations.

Can you recommend any apps for my friend to upload to the iPad? Once I have 3 recommendations, I’m heading the nearest Apple store and buying my first iPad.

November 25, 2011
by blogwalker
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QR Codes – A whole new set of teaching & learning possibilities – for ELLs too

From websites to newspapers and magazines to museums, pretty much anywhere I look, I see QR codes popping up. So one of my goals this school year is to organize by grade level and subject area ideas for extending teaching and learning  with QR codes success stories.

My interest in QR codes started when one of my Merit colleagues mentioned an algebra teacher at her site, who compensates for outdated textbooks by pasting on selected pages notes with QR codes that take her students to dynamic websites to elaborate on and extend a particular algebraic concept. And a recent blog post from the Calgary Science School on Showcasing Student work with QR Codes really has me thinking about the possibilities.

For the past year, I’ve been hanging out virtually with National Writing Project (NWP) teachers in the Know ELLs ning. This talented, dedicated group helped prepare me for the CTEL exam and continues to keep me thinking about best practices for teaching English as a second language. So my focus this month will be on finding examples of how QR codes are increasing teaching and learning opportunities for all levels of ELLs.

A Google search on QR codes ELLs  (which yielded over 120,000 results!) brought up some good sites for background information, such as:

Leave it to the awesome Tom Barrett to come up with 40 interesting ways to use QR codes in the classroom:

Through my Google search, I did find a couple of useful resources for ELLs, such as this ELL Resources and Vocabulary PDF with QR codes for various ELL organizations, but what I haven’t yet found are tried-and-true ELL classroom stories of QR code successes, suggestions, etc.  Although I can certainly think of a few ideas where QR codes could make lessons more accessible to ELLs, what I’m looking for are actual “from the trenches” examples.  So please leave a comment if you can point  me to some!

May 5, 2011
by blogwalker
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The Power of Words – A few great resources

How do you ignite in your students a love for words? From basic interpersonal skills (BICS) to cognitive academic language proficiency (CALP), students feel empowered when they can recognize/recall/distinguish/apply the right word for the right context. (Maybe we all do.)  I came across a few resources this week I think just might help promote discussions around the power of words:

  • Newspaper Blackout Poetry – This is a new genre for me:  newspaper + marker = poetry. “Instead of starting with a blank page, poet Austin Kleon grabs a newspaper and a permanent marker and eliminates the words he doesn’t need. —NPR’s Morning Edition
  • Cognates and False Cognates – Amongst the rapidly growing resources at California’s Brokers of Expertise site, I’ve discovered the ELL Teacher Tool Kit, a collection of videos created by the Burlingame School District. There is definitely a difference in meaning between embarrassed and embarazada😉


  • RadioLab and NPR present Words – A visual word puzzle. “You may have to watch it more than once, but there are at least a half-dozen words hiding in this video. See if you can find them.”

What resources are you using to promote a love of words, the building blocks of language?

February 6, 2011
by blogwalker
7 Comments

Why I Love Audacity

(Reposted from Know ELLs ning)

Do you have favorite technology tools for helping your students become more comfortable with their speaking skills?  I have a few favorites, but lately and for a number of reasons, Audacity has been at the top of my list.

For a starter, Audacity is  a free download and works both on PCs and Macs.  The program allows students to record and import audio files  – and edit them.  From a basic activity such as recording students’ reading fluencies to a  more sophisticated project such as Rob Rozema’s amazing collection of student-created (pre-service teachers) YA Casts, Audacity  offers many possibilities for ELLs to practice their speaking and listening skills.

Audacity is  also simple to learn. How many other software programs can you introduce with just a 1-page (double-sided) handout. And for those who want more involved tutorials, I’ve listed online resources on  a wiki, including my latest favorite, a very complete, well-explained Audacity Basics video tutorial from Mindy McAdams.

The appeal of  Audacity to students is that they can edit all or just parts of a recording. For the past few months, I’ve had the privilege of observing Teresa Cheung’s 4th graders delve into Audacity to edit their Stories from Heart audio interviews. Once students see how easy it is to zoom in and delete an “er” or “um,” or shorten a pause, or amplify a section that’s too low, or remove background noise, etc., they become active sound editors. I love watching the confidence level of ELLs grow, as they relax, knowing how easy it is to redo words or even a single word until they’re satisfied with the output.

But more importantly, as Teresa’s students listen, for instance, to Chase’s mother explain how she came to be born by a waterfall, or Devina’s grandmother talk about growing up in Berkeley in the ’50s, or Anthony’s mother talk about her childhood days escaping Laos,  the students take pride in sharing and preserving family stories, cultures, and languages. As the collection builds, so does the celebration of common threads and diversity in Ms. Cheung’s classroom, along with an appreciation for the power of the human voice.

Please join this conversation and share ideas and literacy tools that are working for you and your students – or questions you might have.

And please invite your students to leave comments on the Stories from the Heart posts!


November 18, 2010
by blogwalker
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Nominations for the 2010 Edublogs Award

Edublogs Awards – It’s that time of year again. I really appreciate this opportunity to recognize those who have contributed greatly to my PLN:

  • Best Individual BlogEducating Alice – Monica Edinger’s posts will keep you on top of the latest in children’s literature – along with insights on how to team literature and technology.
  • Best Individual TweeterLarry Ferlazzo – I don’t always have time to read through the sheer volume of great resources Larry shares on his Websites of the Day site, but every time he posts a resource to Twitter, I know it will be well worth my time to open the link.
  • Best Group BlogVoices on the Gulf – Once again, my friend, mentor, and NWP colleague Paul Allison makes “keeping it real” part of this timely online community of teachers, students, and community leaders who have joined Paul on a year-long investigation into the impact of our nation’s worst oil spill.
  • Best Class BlogMs. Cheung’s Connection – A 4th grade teacher in my district who always teaches from the heart (despite the pressures of a Title 1 site in its second year of Program Improvement), Teresa Cheung’s projects are always a source of inspiration.
  • Best Resource Sharing BlogThe Edublogger – You don’t even have to be a blogger to benefit from Sue Water’s shared conversations, great resources, and wonderful humor.
  • Best Teacher BlogKevin’s Meandering Mind – When teachers new to blogging ask me where they should start, I recommend following (NWP colleague) Kevin’ Hodgson’s continuing journey with 6th graders into the possibilities and limits of “teaching the new writing.”
  • Most Influential Blog PostMiguel Guhlin’s recent post Nurture Human Talents. If you are looking for the research and the argument for all students’ right to become producers of information (not just drill ‘n kill consumers), you definitely need to read this piece.
  • Best Educational WikiResources for Digital Writing and Digital Teaching – Considering Troy Hicks’ volume of outstanding publications and presentations, his wiki is the next-best-thing to traveling to a conference to attend one of his sessions or heading to Amazon to order one of his books.
  • Best Use of AudioYA! Cast – Looking for a site to amaze teachers about the possibilities of Audacity and podcasting? Robert Rozema’s pre-service teachers can show you!
  • Best Use of VideoThe Power of One – (NWP colleague) Lesley McKillop’s 4th graders take their voices beyond the classroom via video to change their community and to connect with online communities across the nation in creating and sharing information.
  • Best Use of a Social NetworkKnow ELLs – Feeling a  little overwhelmed about how to best meet the needs of your English Language Learners? From the National Writing Project, such a brilliant group of teachers sharing their expertise and resources!
  • Best Use of a PLNEdutopia: What Works in Education – With project-based learning experts such as Suzie Boss leading discussions and amazing workshops (including last summer’s session on studying and teaching the PB oil spill), I think there is something for everyone at this site!
  • Lifetime Achievement AwardGeorge Lucas – In a year when teacher-bashing seems at an all-time high, I really appreciate all George Lucas has done to support teachers and celebrate public education.

February 21, 2010
by blogwalker
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Favorite Links for the Week

For the Week of Feb 14th:

  • Who Pooped? – Found this beautifully done K-adult site from the Minnesota Zoo on Larry Ferlazzo’s site (Note to self: budget time into my day to start visiting all of Larry’s Best of links.) And, yes, the site is very accessible to English Language Learners.
  • Word It Like Warren – On the long return flight from Educon (Philadelphia to California), I managed to board the plane without any reading material of my own.  So I was delighted to find some entertaining articles in Southwest’s magazine, including one on tips for writing like Warren Buffet. (Note: to self: Follow up on all the links that came up when I Googled author Jay Heinrichs.)
  • Vocabulary Web 2.0: 15 Tools, Tips, and Resources – Another great post and resource from Shelly Terrell.
  • Inteview with Adora Svitak – After connecting Adora with a group of 5th graders in my district  during last year’s Megaconference Jr – and watching their faces as Adora effortlessly walked through the steps of composing an impromptu piece of writing, I guess I’m not surprised to learn that this brilliant 12 year old is now the youngest TED speaker ever.

June 14, 2009
by blogwalker
2 Comments

VoiceThread and the ELL Student

Last week a 4th grade teacher in my district mentioned in passing that her team was looking at movie making as a way to boost skills of their ELL students – in a way that would also boost skills of their non-ELL students.  I can’t wait till next year to continue the conversation with her.

Thinking back to the first 4th grade video team I worked with this year as part of an EETT grant, as the group moved into the editing mode, each student picked a role. As the editing session went on, one student, not known for being able to maintain very well behavior-wise throughout an average school day, assumed a new role: wordsmyth. Each time the group would stop to debate a possible better word choice, this student spontaneously contributed a “$5 word.”  I loved being able to listen in on  student-generated conversations on vocabulary.

Last week I wrote about VoiceThread, using the 4th grade project I’ve embedded below, as being a tool for combining writing and technology to promote resiliency. But VoiceThread, like movie making, also builds on the four spheres of language.*; not just reading and writing, but also the often neglected listening and speaking. (*Note: I recommend reading Kevin Hodgson’s post on literacy and writing.)

I have in front of me Omar Lopez’s Lighting the Flame  of Learning for English Language Learners Through the Use of Interactive Whiteborard Technology. I think the “high-quality instructional strategies” he lists apply to VoiceThread as well as IWBs (maybe even more – and VoiceThread is basically free for educators):

1. Learning builds on previous experiences and therefore, ELL teachers need to incorporate ELLs’ prior knowledge, culture, interests, and experiences in new learning.

2. Learning takes place in a social setting and therefore ELL teachers need to provide opportunities for ELL student-interactions.

3. Knowledge taught in a variety of contexts is more likely to support learning across students with diverse learning needs and therefore, ELL teachers need to integrate ELL strategies in different contexts.

4. Connected, organized and relevant information supports students learning of knowledge but also helps them develop higher-order skills. Thus, Ell teachers need to contextualize instruction and use strategies such as graphic organizers that support ELLs’ development of higher-order skills.”

In listening again to the Letters from the Internment Camps VT, I think there is one more huge benefit for ELL students: VoiceThread projects develop a common vocabulary across shared experiences. The students now own the words included in the project.

Also, because VoiceThread is online, it promotes another of Lopez’s findings: “ELLs are more likely to experience school success if educators use long-term consistent strategies across all classrooms, along with efforts to involve parents and the community.” As luck would have it, last week several of the wonderful, inspiring citizens of Japanese heritage I’ve worked with in the Time of Remembrance Oral Histories Project came by my office.  When I played the VoiceThread for them, they were astounded at how well this group of elementary students has captured what the internment experience was really like. On Tuesday, Reiko Naguma, who joined the VT discussion to fully describe the experience of using the camp bathrooms, returned, bringing with her Flora Ida Ortiz, who 65 years ago was Reiko’s pen pal. Yep, we taped the interview and will soon add a few clips to the VoiceThread.

I can’t think of another technology that would allow these (Title 1) students to so quickly create a dynamic, growing community as well as to create content that will help reserve the living voices of those who experienced exclusion and forced removal first hand. What a powerful lesson on the importance of understanding and protecting the rights guaranteed to all US citizens! What a powerful project for ELL students – and all students, no?!

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