On reflection, I can look back on my time in university and say I probably took the wrong undergraduate courses. I studied English Language, Politics, and Drama and Theatre Arts at A-level so, naturally, when I applied to university I decided I wanted a BA in Media Production. I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to be when I “grew up,” and Media Production seemed as good a choice as anything else. Much of the theory I found pretty dry, however, I loved using the tech to produce sound and edit film. My friends and I spent our free time messing around in the editing suite and this proved to be a formative learning experience. Now, as an educator, I love getting tech into the hands of students at every available opportunity and giving them the opportunity to become creators.
After working at a private ESOL school in Japan, I quickly fell in love with teaching and pursued a career in Education. Even when teaching adult language classes, I tried to incorporate technology whenever possible. One of my favorite lessons came from a book called Sprint 6 and involved making telephone conversations. I would have my students call a teacher from a neighboring school to practice making authentic phone calls. It was fun to set students up to roleplay conversations in a safe environment. It was an important step in building students’ confidence and developing skills that were relevant to their jobs and for travel. As Kim Cofino mentions in her blog post 3 Steps to Transforming Learning in Your Classroom “Once you know what you want students to know and be able to do, then you can start thinking about how students can demonstrate their understanding.” By taking this approach to teaching, we can help increase motivation and enthusiasm for learning.
Lights, Camera, Action!
My first job as a qualified teacher was working in a Special Education resource room. I mainly worked with students in Fifth and Sixth Grade who received pull out and push in services for reading support. Many of these students were aware that they found reading significantly more difficult than their peers and, as a result, developed many avoidance tactics. I was struggling to motivate my students to practice reading outside of school. That is until a student, I will refer to as “J,” hit upon an idea that would incorporate technology. J had a younger brother who lived in a different state, who he didn’t get to see that often. One day, J mentioned that his brother enjoyed reading, but he didn’t live near a library. I asked J how he felt about recording a video of him reading to his brother and sharing the video. There was an immediate change in his motivation and desire to practice. Suddenly reading was relevant to him and had a purpose other than being something he was told was important.
Soon after I started recording and editing J’s read alouds, I asked other students if they would be interested in creating videos too. For many of them, reading to an Ipad reduced much of their anxiety and increased their motivation to practice reading fluency skills. I also hadn’t anticipated the high level of student interest in video editing. They wanted to know how to add cutaways, titles, music and sound effects in Imovie. My school had just started to incorporate the ISTE standards and it was great to see kids who struggled with reading start to become creative communicators.
As we approach week six of E-learning here in China, it is hard not to think about various ways we are using technology to enrich the learning experiences we offer to students. After considering the 15 Questions To Ask About Tech Integration In Your Classroom, right now we are constantly asking ourselves, “Will all students be able to access and leverage this tech?” Access is a huge issue when we are sharing video lessons and resources, particularly within China. We are currently relying on Microsoft office 365 platforms for much of our resource sharing, however, we have students who are scattered all around the world. For those students in China, we post videos on the Chinese video-sharing platform YouKu. For students outside China, the download speeds from SharePoint and slow buffering of videos from YouKu become barriers of access for some students. To help assuage this, I have started also uploading files to Google Drive and this seems to be helping. This requires me to be more organized and persistent. I am constantly searching for new ways we can share materials with students.
The biggest frustration for me is still the nagging question: Am I meeting my students’ needs? After listening to Sal Khan’s TED Talk, I believe I am finding some success.
I am spending a long time producing videos that, I hope, students are finding interesting. I think it is incredibly beneficial for them to see demonstrations as I explain and hear my voice so that they know we are still connected. They are able to pause videos and rewind when they need to clarify what has been said. I am still working on ways to support all students. I am concerned that language learners are struggling and I would welcome any ideas of how best to support them. I am also trying to figure out how I can do checks for understanding before students attempt a task I have set.
I have been holding meetings with students throughout the day. These video conferences have proven to be very successful by not only allowing students to ask face-to-face questions, but also giving students the opportunity to talk to each other. I have been really impressed with how polite my class has been, taking turns to talk to one another and asking if it’s okay to speak to one person directly. I believe the most important thing about these meetings is that it reminds students that they are still part of a learning community with peers who care about them.