Muddling through the blogosphere

June 14, 2009
by blogwalker

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?!

February 26, 2009
by blogwalker

VoiceThread + Teachers Teaching Teachers

Of all the Web 2.0 tools, VoiceThread is probably my favorite, so powerful, yet easy to learn. So when I saw Paul Allison‘s email invitation to join last night’s Teachers Teaching Teachers session with VT developers Ben Pappert and Steve Muth, I grabbed my headset and logged in, ready to learn about VT’s new Groups feature.

I’ve learned to always keep a notepad by me during the TTT sessions to jot down gems.  And last night’s session was filled with them, both by the guest speakers and in the chatroom discussion.

In looking over my notes, I see I’ve highlighted insights shared by Bill Ferriter. I follow his blog and therefore already had an appreciation of his strategies for engaging students with VT in meaningful ways. Here are a few gems from last night’s conversation:

  • We need to teach our students the skill of commenting! Bill provides students with guidelines such as “find a point made by someone else and respond to it.” To keep students focused, he limits them to adding only one new thread to a conversation.
  • We need to teach – and model for – our students the art of “collaborative dialogues,” including the skills of “productive conflict.”  Challenge them to find something they don’t agree with and in their commenting, “respectfully disagree.”

As soon as Paul has added the link to the last night’s discussion, I’ll return to this post and add it.

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