Tools to Support French Learning

With the technology available today, students and teachers are fortunate to have a wealth of tools and resources to support learning. Recently, a Facebook post asking people to list the top 10 books that made an impact on them led me to consider my top ten technology tools for the French classroom. It was difficult to choose but here are the tools that I use most frequently:

1. Forvo – Billed as “All the words in the world. Pronounced.”, this site helps students with the pronunciation of words in many different languages. Native speakers contribute to this vast pronunciation guide that grows as more speakers post their contributions. “Add words, pronounce, listen and learn.” During French class, students are able to get pronunciation assistance from their teacher – we read together, repeat words and phrases, hear passages in French. The teacher is always there for support. But, what happens when students are at home or in a non-French environment? Who can they ask for help? Forvo fits the bill nicely.

Screenshot 2014-08-25 23.27.212. Word Reference – When it comes to translation, many people turn to Google translate. In most cases, it does a decent job of getting the message across. However, it often gives only a very literal translation. For the nuances of the language, Word Reference is a much better resource. It gives principal and additional translations as well as showing how the word is used in a sentence. Plus, Word Reference is available on Google Play and the App store.

Screenshot 2014-08-24 09.26.393. Study Stack – There are other flashcard apps and sites available like Quizlet or Study Blue and teachers sometimes prefer one over another but my favourite is Study Stack. It works online or on any device, teachers can use pre-made vocabulary stacks or make their own, it can integrate with Facebook, and it provides a variety of activities beyond flashcards. There are games such as Hangman, matching, and word scrabble as well as quizzes and tests that are scored by the program. It’s a great way for teachers to do diagnostic or formative assessment and for students to learn the vocabulary needed to communicate effectively.

4. Voice Record Pro – This is my favourite app for making quick recordings of any length that are still high in quality. Having students listen carefully to their pronunciation, fluency, and expression is extremely valuable in improving their oral language skills. Often, I focus on a specific skill from our success criteria. Before recording, the skill is practised in class with opportunities for feedback from peers and the teacher. Once the student feels they have mastered the skill, a recording is made. This is an effective way of doing peer and self-assessment while also providing the teacher with an audio sample for evaluation and feedback. I have also used Soundcloud and Audioboo in the past, but Voice Record is my favourite because of the variety of formats and options for saving recordings.

10592755_829478653752796_9024729735760932009_n5. Superphoto and Toon Camera – These photo editing apps are invaluable for both students and teachers to create art using their own photos which can then be used for websites, projects, posters, and slideshows. Superphoto uses a variety of filters like painting, mosaic and split frames, while Toon Camera changes your photo into a comic or graphic novel style picture. I find that students are more creative when they can use their own photos rather than relying on clipart or pictures from the internet.

6. Bitstrips for Schools – Great for creating comics and characters that can also be used as avatars or clipart for websites or projects.
7. Thinglink – Add links to images (or video) to make them interactive. This is a great way to practise vocabulary in French.
8. Padlet (Wallwisher) – Build a wall on any topic where students can collaborate or brainstorm by adding a sticky note with their contribution. This is great for diagnostic and formative assessment, building vocabulary lists while reading a text, or sharing opinions and ideas. Photos and links can also be added. Lino is another similar site.
9. QR Codes – These are great for leading students to specific websites where they can complete a survey, read a text, watch a video, or access information quickly. Students use the Scan app to direct them to the website. Use the Shortenme extension in Chrome to easily generate QR codes that can be printed for posting around the classroom or displayed on the board using a data projector.
10. Google Apps for Education – From documents, to spreadsheets, forms, and presentations, this suite of tools does it all. Students and teachers are able to collaborate on documents, share their work with others, and give feedback efficiently. Work is saved automatically and students can use a computer or device of any kind without the need for memory sticks.

As with any tool, consideration should first be given to the learning goal and what tool(s) would best support students in fulfilling the success criteria necessary to meet the goal.

Do you use technology to support learning in the French classroom? If so, what 10 tools would be on your list?


A “No Desk” Classroom

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about transitioning to an open space classroom. What would a classroom with no desks look like? Do students really need to be sitting in rows or in desks to be productive? Do they work at their desks at home? My children always did their homework on the kitchen table, at the counter, on their beds, or even in front of the TV sitting on the floor. So why do we expect students to sit in tiny desks at school with little room to spread out their work? Is this really helping them to be creative or productive? Why do my students so often ask, “May I please work out in the hall?” Why is it that when I walk out to observe them, they are usually more productive and focussed than in the classroom, even if they are gathered in a corner sitting on the floor?

When I mentioned my idea to other teachers at the beginning of the summer, I got puzzled expressions and questions like, “Why would you not want any desks?” or “Where are your students going to work?” Desks in classrooms, often in rows, have been standard probably since formal schooling began. There are entire Pinterest boards dedicated to beautiful classroom desk arrangements. It’s one of the first things teachers do when getting ready for back-to-school: decide how to arrange the desks to allow for various groupings and types of learning.

For me, the desks are confining for the students and hinder the ability to use the space in different ways and for different purposes. Since my room is a multi-purpose room, used for both music and French, and since we happen to use a variety of technological devices and music materials, having fewer desks and more workspace areas would give students room to spread out and get creative. As Ms. Frizzle says on Magic School Bus, “Take chances, make mistakes, get messy!”

My principal, on the other hand, asked me a different question: “What do you have in mind instead? What is your vision for the space?” What if the learning was the starting point rather than the desk arrangement? Envisioning the room as an empty canvas upon which to draw the classroom of your childhood imagination opens up so many possibilities. What would happen if students were asked to do the designing? Would they include desks?

IMG_3365I realized during my travels this summer that even the Toronto airport has changed the way they think about waiting areas in favour of a variety of configurations beyond standard seating. As you can see in this photo, the technology is front and centre, connected and ready to use – no fumbling for cords or searching for outlets. Just like at home, if the fruit is washed and cut, ready to eat, my children are more apt to eat it.
(Photo by T. Giannopoulos, July 2014)

I’m excited to get back into school tomorrow and redesign the space in my classroom. Desks out, larger work areas with technology readily available in. I may take a stroll through the primary area, especially the Kindergarten rooms which often feature a variety of learning spaces within one classroom. Have any other educators removed the desks from their rooms in favour of something different? How do you deal with technology in your classroom? I’d love to hear your ideas!

Facebook as a Teacher Collaboration Tool

I was going to go into school today to get some work done in my classroom but here I am, still in my PJ’s, sipping a cup of tea, working on Facebook and I do mean working. Although there are plenty of people sharing their vacation photos, their “selfies” or pictures of what they ate (not that there’s anything wrong with that), there are also some specific subject groups collaborating on topics of interest. One of them is Ontario Core French Teachers, a place where French teachers are sharing ideas and resources in particular to support the revised Ontario French curriculum.
Background by The 3am Teacher

This morning CEFR resources are being shared since the revised curriculum is based on the Common European Framework and the action-oriented approach to learning a second language. Here are some of the resources posted:
A1 Oral Wheel FRA1 Oral Wheel ENG Public
A2 Oral Wheel FRA2 Oral Wheel ENG
B1 Oral Wheel FRB1 Oral Wheel ENG

Thanks to Denis Cousineau for the CEFR packages and Anne-Marie Rocheleau for the oral wheels.

Also of interest are technology tools to engage students and give them a voice and purpose for their learning. Using the tools that students engage with on a daily basis makes the learning not only fun but relevant.

Some tools to support speaking that have been mentioned are Voki, Photobabble, Photospeak, the iMovie app, and Google Apps for Education. Projects involving clothing (a fashion show, describing clothing students are wearing, a mystery trunk idea) and a “selfie” project are two examples. Thanks to Sylvia Duckworth for the “selfie” idea.

Youtube also has a variety of French language videos. Making a playlist on Youtube is a great way to bookmark relevant videos for future use in the classroom. Here are two I found this morning:

Etienne  – Clothing video – En Vogue et à la Mode
Le Monde des Petits – Les Couleurs

You can subscribe to Le Monde des Petits. They have a number of great videos which appear primary but would also work for junior and intermediate classes.

So if you are a French teacher in Ontario (Core, Immersion, or Extended), this is a worthwhile group to join. Don’t forget to make the most of the experience by asking questions, sharing ideas, and engaging in the conversation of this powerful network of teachers.

A Different Type of Summer Camp

“For it falls out
That what we have we prize not to the worth
Whiles we enjoy it, but being lacked and lost,
Why, then we rack the value, then we find
The virtue that possession would not show us
While it was ours.”
― William Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing

Each summer, in the middle of August, the Waterloo Region District School Board organizes a camp for educators to focus on the use of technology to support learning in the classroom. It is a unique experience for both campers and facilitators. Set in a relaxing, picturesque environment, learning occurs through collaborating and sharing ideas. CATC Camp operates using the concept of Open Space Technology or The Law of Two Feet. The ability to move at any time to any location that suits your needs or is meaningful to you is a part of this model.

This year, over a conversation at dinner, I was reminded just how special this learning opportunity is. Having attended for many years now, it has just become something I do every August. Sometimes, we lose sight of the novelty of an experience when it becomes part of our regular routine. When our guest facilitators spoke about how unique this type of event is and how different it is than anything else they’ve ever attended, I realized that not everyone has had similar learning opportunities.

This year our keynote speaker and guest facilitator was George Couros, who set the tone for the week by encouraging us to “Be More Dog” in our approach to learning and teaching. His opening keynote was so inspiring. As I tweeted, “You made me laugh, you made me cry, you made me learn.” You can follow our CATC camp experience on Twitter by searching #catccamp14.

So as you begin a new day, remember: “Look at the world today – it’s amazing! Carpe Diem. Seize the frisbee.”