Category Archives: Technology

Online teaching

I’ve taken a couple of courses in teaching online, but they were focused on managing online groups so that they feel like communities and creating materials that students could do independently (and then assessing for university credit). Requests for ongoing online Russian classes have made me realize there’s a market out there, but I don’t have the hours and hours that it takes to put all that together.

Now I’ve taken a few wonderful language classes online myself, and colleagues have sent me interested students, and all of a sudden I have an assortment of online Russian sessions happening with people in three countries. I don’t have to create online exercises, only plan an interesting lesson, and it turns out that getting to know students, one-on-one, is fascinating for both sides of the equation. We converse, then I type up what we talked about, and send them a little Quick-time video of myself reading the text out loud, along with a resource or two that they can examine for our next class. That’s all there is to it! And now that we’re getting some faster Internet in our house, maybe I’ll be able to comfortably host a couple of people at once on either Skype or some other platform.

Life changes. And we learn from our colleagues. (Yes, Alice Ayel, I’m channeling you in every way possible.)


Screencasts and Subtitles on YouTube

Thanks to a demo by teacher extraordinaire Diane Neubauer, I’ve just rediscovered some tools for creating videos for classes. QwikSlides makes screens out of individual sentences. It’s very basic, with no pictures, but it’s quick. Then, since I have a Mac, I use QuickTime screen recording to record my voice as I read through the slides, and then upload that result to YouTube. Here’s a sample of that process from my last class.

It’s also possible to go straight through YouTube to make a screen recording. Check out this video/article.

Finally, it’s possible to add automatic subtitles to personal videos on YouTube. Here’s a wiki page explaining how to do that; while things have moved around on YouTube, the directions work. The current changes are that you have to find your Video Manager, then go to Creator Studio, and edit your uploaded videos from there. But how cool! It will subtitle (in English) automatically for you, and you can then go in and make tweaks on whatever it didn’t understand. Try it in other languages for me. It used to do automatic subtitles in Russian, but on my latest attempt, I had to type them in as my video rolled. At least YouTube stops the video while you’re typing.

Using the phone

ACTFL part 2

At ACTFL 2015 last weekend, I tried to attend every session with Bill Van Patten (I missed one because I was presenting, and hope someone will share their notes.) One of those sessions was “In-class testing versus online testing.” A large test group of students across multiple classes resulted in almost no statistical difference between the grades that students got last year on paper and pencil tests and this year on the identical tests, offered on computer. There are some caveats but this post is not about that.

Instead, I got sidetracked by what was for me more interesting: the use of the Can-do statements for in-class assessments. Walter Hopkins (of TeaWithBVP) promised to share the complete list of Can-Do statements that MSU is using with their Spanish classes, and he also explained how they use Google Voice to collect assessments.

I told students that at the end of class, they would share something about Shostakovich. Walter had said that students practice in class on the day of the assessment, and then the prompt is slightly tweaked. I didn’t tweak it on this first time out. We spent the entire hour talking about musicians in general, and Shostakovich in particular, and then I put up the number and asked students to call and tell me three things about the man. It took less than five minutes for the entire class to call in and report, whether they used their own phone, my phone, or someone else’s. Some personalized their information; others included something about yesterday’s concert (our excellent UAA Faculty Trio played Shostakovich). The MSU rubric worked well for me: “2” means “completed task with ease,” “1” means “struggled a bit,” and “0” means “didn’t complete the task.”

I have a clear idea about how much my students can fluently say about Shostakovich, and I know what structures they are acquiring. I can label most students’ level of proficiency for this task. In short, I’m pretty happy with this new toy of mine. It didn’t take up a lot of class time, but it gave me an easy way to collect speech samples.

First MovieTalk screencast

Here’s my first screencast MT. There are three things I’d like to do to improve it. One is obviously to ask questions, another is to increase the mouse size (and maybe change the color), and the other is to have a list of vocabulary on the side. Next time!

I need to find out more about copyright issues now. I’m going to have to start asking YT, and maybe the original posters, whether I can use the videos.

QuickTime Screencast

I’m pretty pleased with myself. I used QT to make a screencast to explain to students and teachers how to add a recording to a Google website page.

That’s not the important part, really, because I don’t want the technology tail to be wagging the dog this year in my classroom.

What is cool is that QT is so easy to use now that I plan to record some stories on line for students. OOH. I could do a MovieTalk! Maybe I can record audio for them (a la Jim Tripp’s Garage Band plans) and let them play that over pictures that they find to represent the audio.

Update: I just tried the MovieTalk idea…and oh my…it WORKED! I played a short film, having silenced the sound, screencast over it, and (as my dearly departed father-in-law would say, “Bob’s your uncle!”) it took me only two minutes to do the entire thing. I will upload tomorrow from school, where it won’t take me three hours to put up three minutes. Watch this space!

Classroom Portfolio Creation

I mentioned earlier that I created a portfolio template for my students. Next weekend, I’m going to be teaching a workshop on the subject.

If you’d like to be a guinea pig for the directions, could you respond? I will send you a link to the workshop document, and you can try it and let me know whether it is comprehensible (for a person who already does Google Apps).

You’ll need to have a Google account, but you don’t need to have created websites. I’m hoping that I can talk some people through this, while those who are a little more savvy can plunge ahead on their own.

In this day of data collection, I’m trying to make something easy to control.

Portfolio Assessment

Our district has recently implemented SGO’s: Student Growth Objectives. I am planning to use a portfolio to help demonstrate student growth (and to help set baseline numbers). I’m kind of excited about this. At ACTFL, I will be sharing how to create a teacher website, but I have decided that I’ll show how to set up a class portfolio template instead and demonstrate that it’s really the same as setting up a class website.

Here’s what I’ve set up for students. You can open it and click on “Use this template,” make your changes, then go into Settings, Manage Site, General, and tell it to save as a template so your kids can try it too. There’s help from teacher Anthony Devine embedded on the site, and if you want to do something but can’t figure it out, just google “How do I …” and you’ll probably come up with the answer. Or ask me in the comments below. Over the next few days, while I’m traveling, I probably won’t answer, but I’m doing the same presentation at our state conference in EEK three weeks! so it will help to know anything you want to know but can’t figure out.

I don’t like technology pushing me but I’m going to keep it simple. Students did a fast write in class one day, typed it up for homework (with all the mistakes), and then opened this template from their google drive, and made their first post on the writing page. Just that easy, just that quick. Fifteen minutes’ worth of lab time. We’ll do a quick-time audio on a story next, and they’ll paste that into their speaking page with a picture. They get to seek out their own reading, as directed. I really like it when we don’t spend valuable class time learning the technology. They can tweak things at home, and my plan is to have one of each (reading, writing, speaking, and maybe listening) at the beginning of each quarter, and at the end of the year. That should show kids their progress.

MovieTalk twist

I tried a MovieTalk variation that I’ve mentioned. First my classes read some Russian anecdotes together. Then small groups had to storyboard a story with plans to make short wordless videos. I told them the video-making had to take less than fifteen minutes, once in the lab, because I don’t like it when bells and whistles take away from input time.


Each group had at least one kid who knew iMovie. The kids chose different ways of getting the movies made, but since they had planned the shots and (minimal) props in advance, they could get done quickly. I think they used built-in cameras on our lab computers. They tried to make the action slow enough so that I would be able to talk all the way through.


The first story is about a kid packing to go vacation with friends on a river shore. He takes what he thinks he needs, but when his mom says he has to take his toothbrush, he decides he doesn’t want to go after all.


The second story is about a girl who goes to buy gloves. A salesman tells her that the pair of brown gloves she wants costs a kiss. She tells him that’s fine. She’ll take three pairs, and her grandmother will come pay for them later.



Today I started MovieTalking the first story. The kids loved watching their classmates, and they loved retelling the story. They didn’t care that there wasn’t much in the way of high-tech editing.


Now I’m going to be able to use these stories over and over, but there’s not so much work in them that I’ll feel bad if we don’t use them more than a week or so. And I think that other classes are going to want to make videos too. Without requiring sound, it’s easy to have a bunch of kids making videos in the same room. If there are any techie kids out there, they might be inspired to make better videos on their own.

Using the search tool!

Just a quick note on my way to class: I was checking whether I’d used a structure correctly, so I plugged it into the search on my Chrome bar, and remembered a hint that a lot of others have shared but I’d forgotten each time: when you start a search, you get suggestions, and sometimes those are really fun to look at in class! (You can also do this on Twitter, as Martina and Kristy Placido have pointed out, but I can’t seem to stay focused when I open Twitter.)

Here’s a couple of examples, though they aren’t really long as some can be. Unfortunately sometimes these come up with a lot of not-so-nice suggestions, so I’m happy even if they’re short, as long as I can take a picture for my students.

I especially like the options the first search gave me, since the final one is “Who is planning to go to Mars?” By opening that one, I got a nice article on prices and options for travel. I hadn’t seen such an article (because I hadn’t looked for one) in English, but I’m sure I can work it into something we do soon.

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Technology ideas

I’ve been on a search this morning for an app that will allow me to send texts from my iPad since my phone is still AWOL.

I happened on a site describing how to use Google Voice for texts and phone calls. I’m going to check that out. But as I searched, I remembered that Kristy Placido does a lot with Google Voice. (Her blog is in the list on the right sidebar.)

Doing another search for using GV in language classes, I found this uncredited site for using various technologies in an ESL class. The site features great instructions and samples of work as well as the materials a teacher can use to practice. It also shares examples of how one might use the technology and recruits more examples. (I didn’t know you could set that up in a Google webpage…that is something else to try adding to my own.)

One of the ideas shares how to set up a Powerpoint for kids to tell a story (to end the time-wasting search for pictures) and then turn it into a movie. I would take my own pictures from a “tableau” activity (credit Carol Gaab and You’ve Gotta Be the Book) and use them to set up the powerpoint. 

Looking at the ideas on this site, I suspect the writer has at least some CI training, because a lot of the activities, while still output, are what I would consider doing at the end of a unit or grading period. Now I’m more excited about trying out some of the applications that I’ve missed doing because I couldn’t figure out how I would use them.

(Moments later: Oh, my! I went to my Google docs to find my homework list for my kids, and found a bunch of new spreadsheets there by Heidi Beezley with the ideas for using these applications. I guess that when you click on those in the site, they are added to your docs so that you’ll be able to make changes. Very interesting!)