One of my greatest passions is helping teachers on their EdTech journey. This is why I am incredibly excited to announce that I am launching the Curious Creator Courses “Tech It Up a Notch!” series on Teachable. There will be much more to come but here is a taste to get started.
Tech It Up a Notch! Creations Library
The “Tech It Up a Notch!” Creations Library is where you will be able to find short tutorial videos to immediately implement engaging activities in your classroom. All tutorials will come with a brainstorm of ideas for how the activity could be used across any curriculum. Want to take your students on a Choose Your Own Adventure story using Google Forms? Click HERE to enroll in the FREE mini-course with a step-by-step for how to quickly set up your first CYOA.
Tech It Up a Notch! Master Class
The Tech It Up a Notch! Master Class is an extensive deep dive into innovating your classroom with intentionality. You will not only develop a frame of mind for how to approach technology integration in the classroom, but I walk you through a step-by-step approach for EdTech integration, including a module on how to manageably throw out your textbook and still make lessons meaningful, engaging, and fun. The course ends with YOUR marker mic drop moment (you know I love those) by using your newly-learned skills to revamp (or create from scratch!) a lesson plan to immediately take into the classroom.
The year 2020 is one for the books. Let’s take 2021 head-on by equipping ourselves to best serve our students.
The idea of keeping up with technology integration into the classroom can seem daunting, which is why I will also address the most manageable and effective ways to make learning an experience and not an overwhelming amount of planning on the teacher.
All content will be released between December 15 and December 29, ready to have you rockin’ and rollin’ for 2021. The year 2020 is one for the books and we have learned a lot from it. Now, let’s take 2021 head-on by equipping ourselves to best serve our students.
Let’s Innovate Together
Innovate. Create. Pivot. Repeat.
Teachers have been pushed to their limits this past year and while it may not feel like it every day, teachers…you shine. The abundance of creativity, camaraderie, and flexibility have made you stronger. I would love to hear about your Marker Mic Drop moments to feature here on the blog, with your permission. Email email@example.com to spread the good word of what is happening in your classrooms!
Regular blog posts will resume in January 2021. I wish you blessed holidays and as always,…
SlidesMania is a website dedicated to beautifully created templates that can be used in Google Slides or PowerPoint. While anybody can find these templates useful, educators cannot get enough of Paula Martínez’s creations. (You can read about Paula, the creator, here.)
“The lack of organization, that we almost all suffered, got me thinking about templates to make the distance learning journey a bit easier.”
Paula is not an educator and does not work in design. She works in a financial department and began Slidesmania to satisfy her creative side after crunching numbers from 9 to 6. Little did she know how much the educational community would welcome her!
“At first, almost every template was for general use, but once I jumped into the Twitterverse and started interacting with so many amazing educators from all over the world, SlidesMania began turning and I started working on templates for education. The ultimate push was given by the pandemic, and seeing myself working remotely for my day job, and having my daughter learning from home at the same time. The lack of organization, that we almost all suffered, got me thinking on templates to make the distance learning journey a bit easier. And the planners were born, along the choice boards, and all the interactive templates.”
I think we can all relate to Paula’s words describing the last several months. I was struck with a profound appreciation for her abundant creativity, support of educators, and attractive templates in a straight-forward, user-friendly forum. Planners, choice boards, interactive games…this is a teacher’s dream. One week with the Digital Notebook with Sections and I feel like my thoughts and plans for the coming year are already more organized.
Paula provides simple as well as more adventurous styles of templates, pleasing anyone’s tastes. Her website makes it easy to find exactly what you need, categorized under “Business,” “Education,” “Formal,” “Fun,” “Simple,” and “Colors.” She also provides directions in her posts, videos, and on the actual templates. For example, she advises against adding your own slides in the Digital Notebook with Sections and instead duplicating her slides so you do not have to add links. Take her advice! She has thought through every angle.
By Educators, For Educators
The last menu that you’ll see on her site is “By Edu for Edu,” with templates submitted by teachers, varying from planners to vocabulary organizers. Not only is Paula taking requests for templates to create, she is bringing teachers’ templates to her stage, too.
Paula humbly admits that SlidesMania largely fulfills her creative side but, after many donation requests, she set up a Buy Me a Coffee (SlidesMania) account. As a simple thank you, it’s the least we could do as a token of appreciation!
“Don’t just teach a lesson. Create an experience!” -Dave Burgess, author to Teach Like a Pirate
If you are not already a follower of Miller’s Ditch That Textbook site, one click on the Tech Like a Pirate Resources will have you hooked. Click on any of the pictures and you will be taken to a wealth of resources. Miller has always selflessly offered a number of materials to teachers that they can use to create a memorable learning experience. He embraces an attitude that it is more important to try and fail than to not try at all. Try, learn, adjust, repeat. That’s my kind of teacher.
“When they’re having so much fun they don’t even know that they’re learning. That’s the best, right?” -Kasey Bell
The book and website break down memorable learning experiences via the following eight categories:
Social Media and Apps
Storytelling (Bonus chapter on the website!)
The idea behind the book is to rethink your teaching to create activities that students will enjoy while using technology. In fact, Miller says in the podcast that his message to teachers is to see their assignment through a different lens. For example, could you recreate that writing activity into a social media post? Framing an activity in an appealing way to students will engage them and engrain your lesson that much more. Intentional, meaningful collaboration among you and your students, or from peer to peer, will add an even richer level of engagement. We know, for example, that social media is a huge part of our students’ world. Why not use that to our advantage and meet them at their interests?
In this remote learning era, this book could not have been more timely. In a time when resources are in overdrive to help out during remote learning, it is sometimes difficult to discern which will be the most valuable. I was already a follower of the Ditch That Textbook site. After seeing the book’s accompanying resources, as well as listening to Miller walk through his why for writing the book, I am completely sold. Not only will these ideas help finish the year strong but will also refresh us in the fall. I cannot wait to start flipping through the chapters to start brainstorming how to restructure my lessons. Imagine the storytelling that could come from this spring when we reunite with our students in person?
I would venture to guess that when the words “remote learning” are uttered in these recent weeks, “Flipgrid” quickly follows in the conversation. My favorite EdTech tool has likely been added to the top of many other teachers’ lists, too, during this remote learning time. Flipgrid is an extremely user-friendly EdTech tool that promotes social and emotional learning via a video platform that boosts student engagement. For an overview as well as video tutorial, check out my Flipgrid blog post.
Flipgrid not only increases students’ comfort levels when it comes to speaking, but it also provides a plethora of resources for teachers to collaborate on and boost their own creativity. The Flipgrid Disco Library provides ready-made prompts that you can duplicate and make your own. #Gridpals allows for Flipgrid users to connect while the Flipgrid Explorer Series has series of lessons featuring experts that can be directly added into your own grids. There is no shortage of resources!
Remote Learning 2020: Creativity Abounds
The creative uses for Flipgrid surface on a daily basis since remote learning began nationwide. A number of educators are using Flipgrid for the first time and their fresh ideas are Marker Mic Drop worthy. Long-time users are vamping up their normal Flipgrid agenda to reach into students’ homes (aka the new classroom). This post will highlight some ideas that can help you close out the year strong!
Virtual everything: Flipgrid allows for prompts, instructions, rubrics, additional documents needed…almost anything you would need in one centralized area under your topic. The latest Screencastify-like feature captures your screen while recording to more easily flip your lessons. Therefore, you can now virtually have band practice, book talks, show and tell, story retelling, topic presentations…the list goes on. Math and language teachers! Use the whiteboard feature on the bottom row of icons to have students talk out their work as they are completing a problem or writing a sentence.
Emotional check-ins: Many students who find it difficult to speak in class feel comfortable behind the Flipgrid screen. If you want to keep student responses private, check your privacy settings so that only you will see each student’s video and create a weekly check-in topic. I have also been creating check-in videos twice a week. Instead of writing weekly inspirational quotes on my large classroom windows, they are now a part of the selfie at the end of each video. (Insert picture from the row of icons at the bottom of the screen when taking a selfie. Resize and drag it to your liking.)
A new twist on story time: My personal favorite topic is “Confessions of a Fairy Tale Character,” but there is an even more engaging way to hear your students’ imaginations at work. Record an ongoing story by having students respond to each other. This could be in pairs, small groups, or the student could nominate the next student to pick up the story where they left off.
The Masked Singer: This may have been one of the most creative uses I have seen yet. By combining Flipgrid with a HyperDoc, a teacher brought “The Masked Singer” reality t.v. show to the classroom. With the gracious participation of her colleagues, each teacher recorded themselves singing on Flipgrid and placed an emoji over their face. To create the HyperDoc where students place their guesses, grab a screenshot of each singer that is linked to each video. Type “Guess” in each box where students type in a teachers’ names. (Hint: Use the “Make a copy” feature in Google Classroom for each student to have their own answer board.) I have created a sample game board here: “The Masked Singer” (Flipgrid). To make it your own, choose “File –> Make a copy, rename” then replace the images with the screenshots of your teachers’ videos and link their videos to the respective boxes. Voilà!
Just for fun: Whether it is “I Spy” or making your students guess your fib in “Two Truths and a Lie,” incorporate a weekly game that makes students connect in a fun way. I include the “I spy with my little eye” prompt in my video and in written form so that students know how to properly guess in French.
“Fliphunts” (aka scavenger hunts): Create a doc that sends your students on a scavenger hunt, whether physically collecting or displaying items alongside a task that displays their knowledge about said item. For example, my students have had to act or draw out and use a sentence with reflexive verbs, correctly corresponding that action to the proper room in the house. (“I brush my teeth in the bathroom.”) Encourage play and creativity with this activity! Check out Kathi K’s Fliphunt guidelines and examples for more ideas.
Talent show: Have students showcase their talents from their homes! Students and judges (perhaps other teachers?) can respond to videos with encouraging comments and feedback.
Physical Education class: Many P.E. teachers are using this to display proper ways to perform an exercise or as much as recording a full class students can follow along for their daily workout.
Advice to next year’s class: I am curious to know the advice current students will give to underclassmen. Create a Mixtape of responses and save it for the fall, showcasing your former students’ advice to their peers.
With a matter of a few short weeks of remote learning left in spring 2020, will you join the #FlipgridFever?
My department chair, Karen Knight, and I were discussing assignments for our remote learning experience that could potentially extend through the end of the year. “I want to give them a memory, Padrah. I don’t want to assign them 150 questions that won’t mean anything to them later.”
Karen proposed an idea that I absolutely love and will adopt for my classes in the coming weeks. Her students will be creating a scrapbook about their lives and the world during this global pandemic. The project builds upon itself with new themes or chapters for each week, with flexible expectations of responses written in the target language. Here is a breakdown of themes we brainstormed:
Week 1 – Current events headlines: Students gather current events articles and explain and summarize COVID-19, how it started and has evolved over the weeks. Students could elaborate on how it has specifically affected their community.
Week 2 – Family, activities, and the “New Normal”: Ask students to gather pictures and tell about their family. What are their ages? Jobs? Do they no longer work or work from home because of the pandemic? Most importantly, have your students discuss what their lives are from day-to-day now that they are at home. Have they been on more walks or spent more time with family?
Week 3 – A little humor: The memes, the GIFs, the videos of what people are doing to pass their time during stay-at-home orders are all pulling everyone through this with a smile. Have students recreate their favorites in the target language.
Week 4 – Twenty years from now…: What do students think the world will look like post-pandemic? Will we be more prepared and learn from this experience? Many schools and businesses have had to alter their ways. Will there be an overhaul to how we operate?
Week 5 – Reflection: Give your students an opportunity to express how they are feeling during this time and how it has impacted their lives. I would strongly encourage different mediums in which the students could present. Some are more comfortable with written or spoken words. For others, a drawn picture alleviates the pressure of speaking. Give an outline of reflection questions that can guide the students.
Presentation styles: There are various presentation options that a student can choose from for his or her final product. While we are living by the motto of “Keep it simple” in this teaching era, I believe that the more options you present, the better. Students only need to choose one, but by giving them alternatives, it accounts for their learning style preference as well as resources available to them. I could not possibly list all the resources available but here is a start:
Paper is always an option. Karen Knight proposed to the other Spanish teachers to accept this project at the beginning of next school year for a grade or extra credit.
Flipgrid presents a user-friendly video option. Even if students have a hard copy of their scrapbook, they could bring it to life by narrating it in a video.
Wakelet allows for beautiful digital storytelling, easily allowing students to add current events headlines as well as paragraphs with their own commentary and reflections.
It’s been a while since I’ve posted a Marker Mic Drop (MMD), and now seems no better a moment to do so in light of the COVID-19 global pandemic. In short, a Marker Mic Drop is an opportunity to recognize others for their amazing talents, thoughts – you name it – that they bring to the table.
I hopped on Twitter this past week for the first time in weeks post-baby number two. I had already received an email from Matt at Ditch That Textbook on an abundance of resources. I considered devoting my MMD post to the amazing amount of resources he and his team had displayed for teachers and parents homeschooling during this remote learning time. However, when I continued to scroll through Twitter, I realized I could no longer choose just one person or group to highlight. I was proud to see the first responder-like reaction from teachers in support of their communities. Teachers to teachers or teachers to parents, the outpouring of resources, the sharing of Flipgrid activities, the building of each other up with powerfully supportive comments…we all share one mutual goal: support our students and each other in this new endeavor.
While there are a number of resources out there, do not overwhelm yourself. Here are a few of the most concise sites that have surfaced in these early days:
Project-Based Learning will enrich student learning. Check out PBL Works for an overview.
Backward Design (UbD): The concept is simple but often overlooked when lesson planning spirals into the minutiae of required content. Identify your end goal and plan learning experiences.
Challenge your students but let them choose: Give your learners an opportunity to explore a topic that matters to them. Is there a community issue that interests them? Charge them with developing a solution. This is a time of flexibility in education, which also means that you may not be working against the same time constraints. Let them choose. Let them explore. Let them dig deeper and make their own (cross-curricular) connections.
Ease your load with online assessments: If you aren’t already familiar with EdTech platforms that will grade your assessments for you, it’s time to start exploring. Start with Edpuzzle and Quizizz (Link to my overview: Edpuzzle (The Curious Creator Blog))
Easily record your lessons: Use a Google Chrome Extension, such as Screencastify, to post video lessons. Take it a step further and create an assessment with Edpuzzle based on your video.
Schools – consider rolling out in phases: This is an overwhelming experience for all parties involved. In light of the day-to-day unknown and the sudden leap into remote learning, consider gently easing into it with a modified schedule that transitions into your school’s norm.
Is online learning not an option? Many school districts are in less than ideal situations to ease into a remote learning plan due to lack of resources. While some are handing out curbside lunches every day at schools, they are also loaning devices and coordinating with local internet companies to furnish free internet for the near future. If worksheets and textbooks are your only option, consider Choice Boards and Project-Based Learning to still enrich students with a deeper learning experience.
In short, this is uncharted waters for many. Take a step back to breathe, create, and embrace your inner learner. Whether you are a teacher or a parent-now-educator, just remember: You’ve got this.
Quizizz is a gamified assessment tool that not only engages students but also provides valuable data to teachers. This EdTech tool is extremely user-friendly that comes with two incredibly important features: the ability for the teacher to give individualized attention to each student and reports with student and question data breakdowns.
Cost? Nada. Absolutely free.
Pre-made quizzes – Like Kahoot and Gimkit, you will be able to search for pre-existing quizzes so as not to start from scratch.
Classes: This is a new feature that can be found on the left hand side menu. Teachers can assign games without the need for a code. Students can log in to see assignments, progress reports, and flashcards, to name a few highlights. Teachers can also share updates with parents and connect to Google Classroom directly from the “Classes” menu page. The portfolio of current feedback to students and parents is an invaluable built-in Quizizz quality.
Self-paced = more individualized attention – I’m no stranger to Kahoot but when students need a little more one-on-one assistance with questions, Quizizz allows me to float the room. Each student answers at their own speed as opposed to one countdown for the entire class. I can read the frustrated expression on a student’s face or see the red next to their name to know there have been more incorrect than correct answers. Some students will ask for help but many are still too shy. This allows you to address each student’s needs without making them self-conscious.
Meme sets – Memes will automatically appear after each question but you do have the option to create your own meme set. Click “Memes” on the left side menu and then “Create New Meme Set.” Name your meme set and choose from the dropdown menu of memes or upload your own picture, then enter your own text. (Don’t forget to click “Save changes.”) The memes are categorized by “correct” or “incorrect” answers. Use the “Show Memes” toggle under Quiz Settings to select your Memeset and show pictures after each question. (Note! The Quiz Settings page will appear after you click the “Play Live” or “Homework” buttons on the quiz page.)
Post-quiz data – Each game concludes with specific data on how students performed, displayed in a visually appealing graph of red and green. The graph immediately draws your attention to questions that need to be reviewed in red. If I take a Quizizz for a grade, I can find the student’s percentage score in my reports. I have the ability to hide names and therefore rankings (first place, second place, etc.) during the game. When using Quizizz as a review, an overall percentage bar shows me class accuracy, letting me know as a teacher how well the class is grasping the grammar or vocabulary.
Calming (and also seasonal) music – The calming, meditative music that plays while students are working immediately sets the tone for learning once the game has begun. There are also festive tunes for the holidays!
Creative Quizizz uses in the classroom:
Check-in – Like many other gamified assessment tools out there, Quizizz will help you to check in on a concept without taking it for a grade. Remember! The live class average bar cues you in on their accuracy.
Quick review – For a grade or not! The post-game report gives you that option to have the data later if you need it. Just warn your students to use names that make them identifiable!
Homework – Co-founder Deepak Joy Cheenath recommends creating several quizzes with an accompanying Excel sheet that contains all game codes. Encourage students to have more fun while reviewing on their own.
Another option! Make one long quiz of review questions. Students can come and go, completing as much as they would like throughout several sittings, all without the need to create a account. Students can resume the game as long as they use the same name as when they previously played.
Review stations – Use Quizizz as one of several stations on a review day. This could also help to liven up your lessons in the days right before a long school break.
Student-created questions – APPSMASH ALERT! Use Google Forms, Google Sheets, and Quizizz to ease quiz writing. Create a Google Form where students can submit their questions with four possible answers. Export the data to Sheets and upload the data to Quizizz!
I hope this post finds you well and gives you a new trick (or refresher on an old one) for 2020. In the meanwhile…
Choice boards: the project that simultaneously accounted for all language skills as well as differentiation. It was also the answer to my Thursdays in a hectic year.
What is a choice board?
Choice boards are exactly as they sound: The Bingo-like board give students varying options in regards to content theme and what platform they will present out for the end project. Here is what I drafted on a plane, which was eventually transferred to a Google Doc.
How it works: a breakdown
As you can see, I separated the project areas into reading, writing, listening, speaking, and cultural comprehension. I assign via the “Make a copy” option under Google Classroom so that students can edit the document. Students have the freedom to choose a box (their project), that could last anywhere from two to four weeks, depending upon the student’s own pacing. I require at least one project to be completed within a six-weeks marking period, but students can move onto another box as soon as they finish the previous. Here are my set guidelines:
Choose wisely! If you start a box, you must finish all three levels.
When you finish a box, change the color to show that it is complete.
Turn in your project via the “Turn it in” Google Classroom option. (Some students directly pasted links, etc., in the box of the chosen project.)
All projects must be in French.
Online translators are not permitted under any circumstances.
All writing must be completed in class, not at home.
Have an outside the box idea? Run it by Mme Gatewood!
Within each box are three levels, all of which must be completed before moving onto another project (another box). Students must complete “L1” (level one) before moving onto the other two levels. Here are more examples for the choice board given to French 1-3:
Thursday takeaways – keep these in mind
Check in for progress and accountability: While this is intended to be a self-paced project every Thursday, certain students certainly require more attention than others. Thursdays are also when I conduct weekly speaking assessments so, at first, I was not as actively monitoring the students’ progress on their choice board project. I am now mindful to check in during their speaking assessment to see their progress and help tease out ideas for their project.
Don’t wait until the end to grade! I felt like I had made a rookie mistake when I collected a majority of the projects all at the same time, coinciding with the end of the marking period. (Talk about a nightmare.) I strongly suggest giving students a grade for each level as the projects come in, staggering your workload. I use Middlebury Writing and Speaking Rubrics.
And most importantly…student enjoyment: Students had the option to choose their project, not set to a specific theme or grammar area. I had favorable feedback from students who enjoyed their opportunity to express creativity in varying forms. Whether they were designing French t-shirts and accessories for their store’s Google Site or planning an itinerary for the perfect trip to their chosen destination, students walked in on Thursdays with ideas in hand, ready to show off their creation to classmates.
This was an answer to a prayer of differentiating even further while peaking student interest. After all…it’s all about student engagement, isn’t it?
Many people think of Padlet as an online Post-It board for thoughts and discussion, an excellent visual. You can choose a template or a blank slate to create beautiful boards, documents, or webpages independently or with several other collaborators. People can add content, comment, like other comments, and make edits in real-time, making a virtual discussion easy to launch in your classroom. Check out below for more ideas!
A quick overview:
Once you have followed all of the standard account setup procedures on the Padlet homepage, you will be ready to explore the numerous features Padlet has to offer. Here are some highlights:
User-friendly setup and platform.
Changes are autosaved.
Quick sharing links for easy collaboration. Sign-up not required for contributors.
Available in 29 languages (and intentions to add more).
Updates are live, instantly appearing across all devices.
Various editing permissions, such as read-only, write, moderate, or admin access.
Padlets support almost any file type to be uploaded and can be exported as PDFs, CSVs, Images, or Excel Files.
Padlets can be embedded on a website or blog.
Padlets have a variety of privacy settings (see below).
Upgrade to Premium to create private networks, manage users and monitor their activity, store bigger files, create a custom domain, and have access to more wallpapers and themes.
Let’s dig deeper.
What can be added to a post? Collaborators can add photos, documents, web links, video, and music to their posts, creating an incredibly vivid discussion or page.
Special feature! Afraid of the text that might appear on your screen when in the throes of discussion? Enable the “Filter bad words with good emojis” under the Settings menu.
Can I change the wallpaper that automatically appeared when I created a padlet? Absolutely! Go to the Settings menu (cog wheel icon) and click “Wallpaper.” You will be able to change to other available options or upload your own. Here are Step-by-Step Padlet Wallpaper Instructions for more help.
What are reactions?Teachers and peers can grade, star, upvote/downvote, or like posts on Padlet to give immediate feedback. Each Padlet can only have one reaction type, as designated by the Padlet owner. If reactions are turned on, users can react to their own post or other posts. Users are limited to one reaction per post but unlimited on reacting to all posts on the Padlet. Users can also change and delete their reactions. Enable reactions under the Settings menu and choose your reaction type!
What privacy settings are available? Click on the Share menu (top right) and then “Change Privacy” to modify your padlet’s viewability. Here are your options:
Private – completely hidden from the public.
Password – hidden from the public; password required if I choose to share the padlet with other people.
Secret – hidden from the public but accessible by those with the padlet link.
Public – anyone can see the padlet.
Creative Padlet uses for the classroom
The number one reason to use Padlet? Collaboration. Wait – creativity. No, wait – self expression. Have I made my point? There are too many reasons to pin down the best.
Introduce yourself – Ask students to create a board introducing themselves at the beginning of the year. This could also be a great option for a world languages family vocabulary unit.
Warm-ups and exit tickets – When students respond to the padlet, all of your answers are automatically in one place for you.
Exchange experience with another school – Post topic discussion questions and have students reflect upon their experience in their own culture regarding that topic. Let the two classes explore and compare cultural differences based on responses.
Live questions – Leave a padlet up on the board to see students’ questions come in during the lesson.
Online student portfolio – Students can contribute to their personal padlet over the course of the year.
Student-designed curriculum – Ask students to contribute their i.e., debate topics or current events to be discussed throughout the unit.
Classroom newsletter – Share information with your students and parents in one centralized location.
Brainstorming – Set the topic and let students’ ideas flow.
Philosophical chairs – Post the discussion topic to allow students to analyze and logically form their arguments for debate.
Book Shelfies – Students take a picture of a book they read and write a review.
Story starters – Students complete the story that you begin, whether via opening text or a picture.
Eulogy for a sandwich – My students ran with this serious yet funny writing assignment.
Messages from parents – Parents can leave their child a message for the first day of school.
Icebreaker and emotional check-in – Post a question, i.e., how students are feeling about the upcoming school year. When answers are anonymous, students may feel more secure after seeing other students with the same fears or desires.
Visual vocabulary board – Assign a word to each student on a collaborative padlet. Each student must define the word, use it in a sentence, and add a visual.
Collaborative review – Students must write in a true/false or multiple choice question based on content learned during the week. The teacher can then create a review game (i.e., Quizizz, Kahoot) based on student’s padlet questions.
Padlet is an excellent visual discussion-promoting tool that can make your lessons come alive. Furthermore, it saves student work to one location, making ideas, projects, collaborative vocabulary boards, etc., easily accessible and organized. Try it out today!
I had the perfect opportunity…and I failed. One hundred percent missed the mark and failed as a teacher.
There is a class that I will always look back on and think, “It could’ve been so much better.” I was blessed with a French 3 class of four students (yes, I said “four”). While I had tried abandoning the textbook once in the past, it had been daunting. At the time, I was a young teacher who put more work into the units than the students and I still wasn’t satisfied. I had not attempted it again but realized a few years back that something had to change.
My class of four was bored. They were bored. I was bored. It felt like the longest seventy minutes of every day. They were polite and did their work but no one was excited or fully engaged. I tried every tactic in my teacher toolbox and felt like everything fell flat. It was not that way in my other classes, however, I was noticing a complete lack of listening skills across the board. Writing was strong, reading and speaking were mid-level, with the exception of the few that had consistently raised their hands to answer questions since their early days of French 1. Things had to change.
Step 1: Take the plunge.
A few years ago, students and I rejoiced when I made the move to not be chained to chapters. I had some ideas but also the fear that it would turn out to be the same as my original experience. Fortunately, experience and planning quickly made it seem like the perfect answer. While this will always be a work in progress, the level of student engagement and ownership of their work was immediately noticeable. That was certainly the best payoff of all.
Step 2: Develop a plan.
I had a lot of activities that I thought would be great for a non-textbook setting but quickly realized that a lack of organization could make this experience disastrous. I focused on the basic language skills (reading, writing, listening, and speaking), and structured my units from there. I also crave routine so, for example, by regularly scheduling speaking assessments on Thursdays, I had consistency across all levels. This helped me check all my boxes by the end of the week that each skill had been addressed.
Develop a plan:
How will you determine units?
How will you determine sub-themes within each unit?
How will vocabulary be organized when they no longer come from a photocopy?
What grammar and cultural content will be included?
In what formats will I present materials if I don’t have a textbook?
What resources will I draw on and give to the students?
Again, routine works for me so I tend to have a similar pattern of how I approach each unit. Unit lengths average two weeks but sometimes lend themselves anywhere from one week to maximum three weeks.
Deciding units and sub-themes:
I always have a starting unit in mind so that I am ready for the beginning of the semester.
Students write their interests on paper and I compile them into a Poll Everywhere to narrow down units or vote which one we will embark upon first. There tend to be common interests but when I have several varying topics, I use Google Forms for students to vote on their top three.
Each unit begins with brainstorming sub-themes in partners or small groups. Whiteboards fill up faster than you can say “Allez!” so limit the time before you go down a rabbit hole of sub-categories.
Common sub-themes along with student votes for or against help start to shape the unit. You will also need to help your students realize that some of their extremely specific sub-themes may not have a place in this unit. But don’t restrict all their fun. When the sub-theme “bizarre foods from around the world” literally has your students bouncing in their chairs and saying, “Oui, Madame! Pleeeaase…,” you let that one in.
Developing a vocabulary list:
I use semantic mapping, a tool strongly recommended by AP CollegeBoard throughout all levels, to brainstorm unit sub-themes and the vocabulary list. Students work in pairs to develop an English list of words they would like to know based on the sub-themes. I input the English words into a collaborative Quizlet and students divide and conquer to add their French terms. Make sure to double-check their spelling and accents!
How to create a class Quizlet: Add a study set –> Create a new set –> Only editable by me (top right), change to “Certain Classes” and choose the correct class. Your students will now be able to edit the set so you can divide and conquer the list. Make sure to double check their spelling and accents!
Developing grammar and culture:
I maintain the same grammar as I normally would for each level. I use Google Docs to create guided notes that can either be printed or used digitally. Students can use their own digital copy (made under Google Classroom) and edit via i.e., Google Docs or Notability.
Cultural content is dependent upon the determined units, pursuing that topic in the Francophone world via literature, news articles, France24 or RFI publications, YouTube, etc.
This is where I put in too much time and effort on my first attempt at throwing away the textbook. Let them research and use different forums to present!
This is my Weekly Speaking Assessment (Master Template). It is a collaborative doc where students contribute an original question for each sub-theme. These are the weekly Thursday speaking assessment questions. No hiding the ball and there is complete student ownership (with a little proofing par moi.)
Impromptu speaking presentations: A Level 3 music unit required daily group presentations outlining a French or Francophone artist, a brief biography, his/her influences and who he/she has influenced, and a sample song link posted to the shared class Google Doc. Students worked in groups of two to three and had ten minutes to prepare their brief presentation.
Create Google Slides to guide discussions and maintain focus. (This is very helpful to give background and prompt discussion for the between units movie weeks.) When you are without a textbook, it is easy to bounce around and lose students in the process. Alternately, have your students create and present their own Slides for an engaging class discussion.
Throw Away Your Textbook – This site was created by a Spanish teacher who felt frustrated after seven years of teaching with a textbook. There are a variety of resources for inspiration as well as “True Stories from the Trenches.”
Common Sense Media – A major concern that might cross your mind when sourcing supplemental resources is if they are school appropriate. This website vets materials for you with a page for teachers and parents.
Google will change your world: If you’ve not already dove into the world of Google, make this your New Year’s resolution. Being a Google Certified educator, I understand how easily Google can 1) organize my life (emails, docs, classroom, quizzes…you name it), and 2) the creativity and ownership I can promote in my students.
A future post to come about all things Google and how to become certified!
Let’s not forget the abundance of resources out there (Nearpod, Edpuzzle, Flipgrid, Seesaw, Book Creator, etc.) that can help create engaging activities or help you write a quick reading exit ticket.
Step 3: Enjoy the process.
Plan but don’t overplan. Make your students do the work! After everyone adjusts to the idea of learning without a textbook, your students will take ownership of and pride in their work. There will be increased learning with more engagement and an overall more meaningful and enjoyable experience for everyone. Isn’t it worth trying at least once?