COETAIL Final Project – IB French, Collaborative Writing

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cada macaca no seu galho
photo by mondopanno

FINALLY!!!! I am very pleased to announce that I got the COETAIL final project monkey off my back! I refer to it as a monkey in the most affectionate of manners. This was a really long process. The first step of just settling on a project topic seemed like an amazing accomplishment.

The next step was actually planning the tech integration project. True to the life of an educator, it just never seemed like there was enough time to get this thing done.

Then, the project was done. I had photos, video footage (MERCI Lissa!), student work, and student testimonial videos…which I sat on for too many weeks to count. It was tough work scripting and summarizing. Then the hours spent in iMovie seemed never ending.Until I turned that magical corner of no-turning-back. What a sense of relief! What a sense of accomplishment!

The COETAIL journey was well worth the time and effort. I now have a solid base of information on which to build my approach to technology integration. In addition, I have a phenomenal PLN to consult for further information, developments, advice, and examples. I am certainly a better educator as a result. 😉


Necessity, the mother of…flipping instruction?

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Call !
photo by redwood 1

The week of March 3…fully booked during teaching time to record Individual Oral Assessments.

The awkward part of a week of Orals is that only one or two students become the focal point of my attention during class time. This leaves the rest of the class to their own devices (literally and figuratively). Talk about a teacher’s worst guilt trip on so many levels.

This week through a combination of using Edmodo and Google Drive apps, I am going to attempt to flip instruction. Although, is it still flipping instruction if students are left to work independently during the regularly scheduled class time? 😉

The biggest challenge is that they are beginning a new unit on the environment. I have been scouring the internet for resources that they could use to independently learn the vocabulary and expressions necessary.

The first theme will focus on Recycling.

  • Preparation: I sent students a notification via edmodo to bring a device to class and to be sure that they have a Google account. I also posted a Youtube video for them to watch either before, or upon, arriving in class, their choice. The beauty of the Youtube video is that students can turn on the subtitles in French to follow the dialogue. They are not 100% correct, but should help to support students as they begin.

  • Class 1: Today’s success hinges on a couple of factors that I can’t necessarily control: student motivation/engagement, devices present, and internet connection. I was able to snag Lissa, the French speaking tech coach to support students and help them with troubleshooting.

I posted two flipped assignments and scheduled them to open just before class begins. One is a collaborative presentation in which student are to add 3 slides each representing a different vocabulary word or expression. The other is a document that students will copy to their own Google drive and use to work with new vocabulary. There are two internet-based reading activities linked in this document with simple comprehension activities. It’s a lot of learning for them to complete in 60 minutes, even if everything runs smoothly.


  • Class 2: Not convinced that too much is getting done during class time…
  • Class 3: First student shares completed assignment via Google doc. I notice that answers about reading article were often copied and pasted from said article. Not what I really wanted, but kids often answer questions by copying by hand from text. Maybe not the end of the world, as students also need to comprehend in order to choose the right text to copy/paste.
  • The night before class 4: Second student shares a completed assignment via Google doc. Not a total surprise that I am receiving requests from many students regarding sharing the Google Presentation with them so they could add their slides. Numerous edmodo messages asking for details and clarifications on various expectations. (Without technology, students wouldn’t be able to get answers from me outside of school hours.) I am compiling a survey in Google Forms for students to provide feedback after tomorrow’s written formative.
  • Class 4: Today students will complete a formative assessment based on the previous three classes of flipped instruction/independent learning.

Well, this was an experience for all involved. The majority of students did not complete/submit assignments in the time frame allowed. Flipping instruction. It’s like flipping a coin. Will they? Won’t they? On time? Late?

On My Way to Tech Integration Nirvana

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© All rights reserved StellaMarisHH

It’s way past time for a brief update on my most recent forays into technology integration. I have not necessarily begun my full-on COETAIL final project, but since inheriting a section of DP2 French ab initio in November I have managed to integrate some forms of technology with my students.

I will give a brief description of what I am doing followed by my assessment of where the use of technology falls on the SAMR model of technology integration.

  • Edmodo. I regularly use Edmodo to record what we did in class, assign homework, and to share a variety of documents with students. As a former heavy Moodle user lover, I find Edmodo to be useful, but lacking some of the features that I loved in Moodle. Edmodo doesn’t seem to have improved on the “scroll of death” format, either. I can tag all of my Edmodo posts, but my students just broke it to me a few days ago that tags are personal, so they can’t search my tags…which are well thought so as to be helpful for students.
  • S? A? M? or R? Good questions! On the one hand, Edmodo is a technology that is simply a substitution for a teacher writing assignments on the board that students then copy into a paper agenda. However, due to various sharing and connectivity features, Edmodo is an augmentation that offers functionality that the student agenda does not: distributing paper copies, passing around a sign-up paper, providing feedback for students outside of schools hours.
  • Google Apps. I have created a couple of key documents for my students to use thus far. These are all in support of understanding an IB external assessment know as The Written Assignment.
    • One is a collection of linked sources that they can choose from for their upcoming Written Assignment, which is an external assessment required by the IB. I continue to add sources that I find or that students find and share with me. It would probably be easier to give them the rights to edit the document, but I’m being a bit controlling at the moment. I am considering sharing this document to the IB’s online curriculum center where other French ab initio teachers could have access. At that point, I would strongly consider allowing other teachers around the world to add to this collection of links. The biggest problem in doing this is that in Kuwait we deal with censorship issues and do need to be cognizant of what topics are being shared with students.
  • S? A? M? or R? This document of linked resources is a substitution for a hand-out with a list of articles or URLs. With the increase in functionality that the links within the document provide by taking students directly to an online resource, this document moves up to augmentation. If it were an open document that students could add to, it would become a modification since the task would be redesigned through the collaborative nature of the input beyond one person.
    • Also for the Written Assignment, I have created a practice template for notes and outlines. This is meant to help students to understand the format of the task and can be used throughout the program in order to familiarize students with the requirements of this assessment. My original intention was for this to be a document that students copied and saved to their own Google Drive. Then, at that point, students would create a written collaboration with a partner. This idea is still on the table, but I haven’t moved forward with it just yet.
  • S? A? M? or R? The way that I am currently using this template, it is purely substitution as students are using paper copies of the template that I created. They can follow the link to the template through Edmodo which is, perhaps, a higher level of substitution. If I were using the template for a collaborative brainstorming/writing project, then it would arrive at the modification stage. This would be a modification of peer editing that would happen in real time with the chat option used for discussion during the process.
    • Students also submitted their initial topics for the Written Assignment using a Google Form that I created. The beauty of the form is that the information submitted by each student populates a spreadsheet where I can quickly check everyone’s topics. This is really helpful as it allows me to provide individual feedback and to assist students as they seek resources to support their topics.
  • S? A? M? or R? The way in which I used the Google Form was simply a substitution for passing around a paper on which student would write the same information.
Nirvana Dr.
© All rights reserved by Donny Paulter

Arriving at redefinition is the goal to achieve meaningful use of technology to enhance student learning. However, this is no small task! I feel my examples of technology integration outlined here are simply small steps that will move me forward to achieving technology integration nirvana. 🙂

From Enhancement to Transformation

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Integration is when classroom teachers use technology to introduce, reinforce, extend, enrich, assess, and remediate student mastery of curricular targets.

Stratford Board of Education

Substitution – Augmentation – Modification – Redefinition

Technology integration (or embedding) truly redefines learning when it allows the creation of new tasks that were previously inconceivable without the available technology. I would like to think that I have engaged students in transformational experiences in my classroom. Most of my forays in technology integration I have led have been based on the teachings of integration mentors. Here are some examples of how I have redefined learning experiences for students…

  • In a session on “Blended Learning Communities,” Dana Watts and Jeff Utecht introduced me to the power of student blogging. The techniques that I learned in this session have greatly impacted my use of blogs with students. The introduction of a real time global audience alone transforms the student writing experience.
  • Jeff Utecht’s NESA Winter Training institute “Building Student-Centered Blended Learning Environments,” helped me to take a stab at a flipped classroom lesson or two. The introduction of the backchannel chat into a class discussion significantly changed up business-as-usual in some of my lessons. The ability of more than one student having the floor at a time increases the level of student engagement in the backchannel chat. Students are able to share their thoughts immediately while they are pertinent to the conversation rather than losing the thought and opportunity to share as the topic drifts in a different direction.
  • My own use of Evernote led me to facilitate a more real DP English oral commentary formative practice for my students. I blogged about it here and here. Without devices like the Blackberry, the iPhone, the iPad, or netbooks my students could not have easily recorded an oral commentary with support that they could share with me with the press of a button. The ability to provide meaningful feedback on the process and the content helped many students to have a better understanding of the demands of the oral commentary.

In evaluating the times when I have integrated technology into my teaching I am relatively confident that I have consistently enhanced student learning. However, there are also instances in which learning has been transformed. The transformational instances have often been as a direct result of my own curiosity and motivation. Never have I used or integrated technology in an educational setting because anyone demanded it. I have worked to challenge myself and my students to reach a certain level of functional literacy in technology. Progressing from one end of the SAMR continuum model seems like it might be smoother and more successful in an environment with an institutional awareness. Some day it would be really nice to work in an environment where integrating and embedding technology were the norm rather than the odd exception.

Making Sense of Visual Hierarchy

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This week’s readings and dabblings reminded me of just why I am part of the COETAIL cohort. Many of the basic ideas about visual design in Understanding Visual Hierarchy in Web Design by Brandon Jones are not necessarily new to me. I’ve read and heard about them before. I find visual design very interesting from a non-artist point of view. However, I don’t consider myself an artist, which has allowed me to excuse myself from putting into actually practicing visual design elements. The difference that this course is going to make for me, though, is the practical application of all of these ideas and details. I am now forced (totally by choice) to experiment with this information through the creative design process, whereas without the level of accountability of coursework I would just continue to read about design, think about it, and move on without necessarily making a conscious effort to do anything specific with it.

 The Hierarchist’s Toolbox

So, I took a look at my COETAIL course blog armed with “The Hierarchist’s Toolbox.” Here is the current look, which has some aspects that I really like. Then there are other pieces that really bug me.


This particular blog theme doesn’t have much to offer when considering the size of the title of each blog post. For me, a title should stand out and grab the eye of the reader. Especially if the title is well thought out and sheds insight into the content of the post.


I remember plopping that picture in the banner. It is a picture I took of one of my favorite places in the world: Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lake Shore in my home state of Michigan. The colors are fairly neutral, so it has the potential to go with anything. However, the right hand column is gray! Really?! Not a fan of this column at all (and for more reasons than the color that will be detailed below). There is just too much going on with respect to color in this particular screen shot. I am now aware that the photos that I use in each blog post need to be considered for their color scheme, rather than only the subject.


Aha! this is what drew me to the banner picture in the first place. For me the contrast between the sand and the foliage emphasizes a path. This symbolizes my COETAIL learning path and maybe the path of those who choose to read my blog posts. I do like the contrast between the white space of the blog post and the gray side bar, but is too much contrast a bad thing? The contrast of white and gray might be too extreme.


The top-right of a web page as an “official” space where people look for information is very interesting, especially since the placement of tabs within many WordPress themes are on the top-left. I imagine that it is no coincidence that the COETAIL Asia theme uses that top-right space just as Brandon Jones suggests.


Clearly I excel at the use of this element in my blog! Gray text paragraph after gray text paragraph. Even with a photo thrown in for good measure, not so visually stimulating,


The side bar has some proximity issues. I have included widgets with the intention of providing visitors with ways to find information on my site. Each widget area blends into the next without any clear visual boundaries. I like the idea of having a widget linked to my GoodReads account, but despite the book covers being organized in a grid, it still looks a bit crowded. That said, this blog theme does a good job of separating the left side content space from the right side widget space.

Density and Whitespace

I would say that this theme does not capitalize on this element of visual hierarchy. Of course, my placement of a photo near the top of this blog post on the right hand side only serves to clutter that area (what should really be part of the “official” area).

Style and Texture

For me, this is probably the most intimidating element of visual hierarchy. It sounds so artsy. You mean I have to have a style? Texture as a visual, rather than a tactile, element…This is going to take some serious thinking!

In summary, here is a list of what I am looking for in a blog theme along with aspects to consider during the design of future blog posts:

  • theme considerations

    • larger title font
    • top-right “official” space
    • visual boundaries within the widget space
    • better use of density and whitespace
    • a theme that provides or supports style
  • blog post considerations

    • establish a color palette
      • I’ll give this a try, but wonder if there is potential for a color palette to be too limiting.
    • does the color palette of the photos used in a post work with the color palette of the blog?
    • How best can I interrupt repetition to add emphasis?
    • How can I use blog posts to establish a style?

21st Century Upgrade

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The world of education is ever changing. The first decade of the 21st century has seen much change in the possibilities of curriculum development, learning, teaching, and digital literacy. What does it mean to teach in the 21st century? What are the implications of educating digital natives? How have teaching and learning changed with the introduction of new tools? Change in student learning is certainly outpacing change in teaching practice in the 21st century. New tools certainly engage today’s students in ways that the teaching hopefuls in the video When I Become a Teacher may never achieve. We may laugh at this satirical take on life as a teacher; however, the vices, follies, abuses, and shortcomings highlighted in this video are present in far too many classrooms around the world.


So, then, the question that ensues might be: “How can we upgrade teaching and learning to meet the needs of a 21st century global citizen?” The entry point for such an upgrade, according to Heidi Hayes Jacobs, is outlined in the second chapter of her book, Curriculum 21, where she presents the idea of upgrading the curriculum.  I heard her talk about this idea at the NESA Spring Educators Conference 2010 in Bangkok.  Rather than suggest changing the curriculum (which indicates a total overhaul), the upgrade model offers educators smaller manageable steps (read: safe, non-threatening) that have greater potential to lead to a significant 21st century infused curriculum.  Assessments are the initial focus of this upgrading process.  Teachers begin with the familiar – the curriculum, rather than what is too often the unfamiliar world of software, hardware, and web 2.0.

Jacobs has “found that starting with assessments has proven to be the most successful portal to moving school faculty and administrators into 21st century teaching and learning” (20).  What one assessment could be replaced with a new, 21st century assessment? A seemingly non-threatening way to encourage teachers to look deeply into their units of study.  Teachers can actively work with the assignments that students are expected to perform to demonstrate their learning, a safer entry point than looking at, and changing, practice.

Upgrading assessment types refers to the “actual form of the product or performance selected to demonstrate student learning” (21).  Assessments provide educators with insights into what students are learning, the progress they are making, and even student regress.  What is it that students will produce to demonstrate their learning and new understandings?

Five Steps to Short Term Revision of Assessments are outlined by Jacobs, as follows:

  1. Develop a pool of assessment replacements. Brainstorm, research, and list the numerous types of products and performances contemporary professionals use in the real world of each subject area (i.e. 21st century social scientists, writers, mathematicians, artists, musicians, business people).  These products/performances might include the following:  documentaries, podcasts, screenplays, blogs, CAD projections.
  2. Teachers, working with IT members, identify the existing types of software, hardware, and Internet-based capabilities in their school, district, or regional service center.  Once these tools are identified, educators can focus their energy on creating 21st century assessments within their existing parameters (many of which are free via the web).  In addition, it is very important for educators to commit to learning one new tool per semester or school year.  A differentiated staff development model is important to reach the comfort and ability levels of everyone involved.
  3. Replace a dated assessment with a modern one.  Here each teacher commits to “replace and deliberately upgrade one assessment type per semester” (25).  As educators we must search for ways in which students can demonstrate their learning with products and performances that mirror the current century.
  4. Share the assessment upgrades formally with colleagues and students.  Sharing is done electronically in maps and formally in planning sessions.  Offering the original map as a point of comparison with the new 21st century map is highly recommended.
  5. Insert ongoing sessions for skill and assessment upgrades into the school calendar.  A key piece of this process is the consideration of how professional development is administered within a school district.  The process of reviewing and upgrading the curriculum is vital and merits dedicated time.

This approach offers teachers, administrators, and school districts a precise starting point for curricular upgrades along with a five step process to success.  Changing assessments is a much different proposal than that of altering content, which requires (and will, no doubt, elicit) extensive debate and discussion.  Changing assessments is also very different than asking teachers to change their practice. However, the discussion and collaboration that a team would generate as a result of upgrading one assessment could be the impetus for using new tools that do have the power to change teaching and learning.

Who would ever say, “No, thank you” to an upgrade to the first class cabin? to a jacuzzi suite at a conference hotel? The upgrade has positive connotations indicating a step-up, an improvement, a new version.  If logic follows, suggesting a curricular upgrade should elicit numerous thumbs up, smiles from ear to ear, and an overall feeling of elation.