My Summary of Learning
Looking back, my journey started almost five years ago, in January of 2016. I started working as an EAL teacher in the fall of 2015, and even though I had completed the Education Program twice ( once in Europe and once in Canada), and I had the experience of learning foreign languages, I still had the urge to learn more in this field. So, I applied for the Masters Certificate Program in TESOL with the goal of becoming a better EAL teacher. It was a great experience but I had to write a LOT of papers. After completing the program, I was thinking of continuing my studies but it seemed that my only option was the Masters Program in Curriculum and Instruction, meaning more papers… When someone mentioned to me the Masters Certificate Program in Educational Technology, I immediately knew this was what I wanted, this was what I needed. Although the name of the program sounded scary because of the lack my experience and knowledge in this field, I pushed myself through the application process and after being accepted there was no turning back.
Was it easy? If you ask my children, they would probably say “Thank God, you’re done!” I cannot describe the guilt that I felt throughout the years for the many hours I had to miss out on. I hope that them seeing me pushing through these past five years and learning new things that even they can benefit from, will teach them to fight for their dreams and never give up. They did such a great job giving me strength to accomplish my goal.
Words cannot describe how thankful I am to my professor Dr. Alec Couros for being my GUIDE through my journey in the world of Educational Technology. The patience, understanding and support he provided truly helped me through this steep learning curve. Thank you Alec for believing in me and sharing your knowledge and expertise in such a unique way. What I find the most amazing is the connections you were able to build with your students and within your class. Instead of preaching about Educational Technology, you immersed us in it. I had the experience to not only learn, but try out so many amazing tools. I feel confident that I can incorporate ed. tech into my teaching in a purposeful way now. Being part of an amazing PLN also gives a great sense of belonging and support.
This semester was very unique since I had the privilege to work with Curtis and Dean on our project on Makerspaces and Coding. Thanks to them, I had the opportunity to meet and learn from Dr. Bryan Sanders, the Codebreaker Brian Aspinall and our amazing colleague, Megan Moore. During our project, the idea of creating a Minecraft world with EAL students came up. Since I had absolutely no experience with Minecraft Education Edition, I couldn’t even imagine how coding could become part of language learning. When Dean’s student, Nico demonstrated how things can come to life in Minecraft, I started seeing the potential in it. So, I asked Dean if he’d like to work on the Summary of Learning with me? He graciously offered to help me learn about Minecraft Education Edition and we used it to create our final project. Under the Summary of Learning Wakelet Collection you can take a peak at our EC&I 833 Island in Minecraft that has several huts, each hut representing a topic covered in class. We also included the information found on the boards in each hut, as well as links to our blog posts. Since Twitter played an important role in our learning journey, we added tweets from our team members as well. It was absolutely amazing to work on this project with Dean. He is a true mentor!
It is hard to say goodbye but I feel I learnt so much, I need some time to think things through and take everything that I learnt to the next level. I am looking forward to continue learning from all of you in the future.
I would like to say thank you with a song called “Rainbow” that I learnt recently. Learning how to play the piano was my childhood dream and one of Alec’s previous classes made that dream come true. I had to learn something new, and I picked the piano. This actually became part of our lives since both of my children and I are learning. Of course they are more advanced than me….
Thank you for being part of my amazing journey!
By Dean Vendramin and Melinda Demeter
There are couple of movements, which although not entirely new, deserve a push, poke, and a plug. These movements are coding, and makerspaces being infused in the classroom. Recently, in an Education Master’s class, we examined the learning theories, tools, and complexities of these movements. We were listening to a podcast recently about making and coding in the classroom. It went along the lines of this … ‘the mindset that we need to prepare students to climb that ladder and be able to win the race is no longer relevant in today’s world, the ladder has been replaced by a maze that students need to be able to navigate, pivot, and create their own path in’. We believe that this reality is true and that it is education’s responsibility to provide students with learning opportunities to best prepare them for their future. Both coding and makerspaces provide these opportunities.
Coding in the classroom usually gets designated to Computer Science classes and maybe a math class. However, coding should not be just relegated to a couple of specific classes. Also, coding isn’t just a 0s and 1s thing or advanced coding language, block coding makes the entry point easier and one can even do coding ‘unplugged’ where one can use paper cutouts to create computational learning opportunities. Exposing and engaging students with computational thinking opportunities provides them with skills to solve wicked problems. The goal isn’t to have all students become computer scientists but to allow students to construct their learning and grow a valuable growth mindset skill set.
As both Dr. Bryan Sanders and the Codebreaker Brian Aspinall highlighted during our interviews (http://shorturl.at/makecode ), coding has a lot to offer when it comes to teaching various subject matters, for example Language Arts. Hour of Code (https://hourofcode.com ) offers a variety of examples that can be easily implemented into teaching. Scratch (https://scratch.mit.edu/ ) is an amazing tool for story writing as well as Minecraft Education where the stories can come to life. Saskcode (https://www.saskcode.ca ) offers different ideas and lesson plans on coding as well as PD sessions. Using the Bee Bot, Ozobot, Arduino, etc. are fun and engaging ways to take learning to the next level. Having coding infused into our classrooms also helps reaching the various needs of our students. One might even call them a type of Assistive Technology.
If you are asking yourself if implementing makerspaces is truly worth the trouble, you need to listen to Jennifer Gonzales’ podcast (https://www.cultofpedagogy.com/makerspace/ ) where John Spencer not only describes the importance of constructionism and connectivism makerspaces offer but the depth they give to the process of learning and teaching by being fully immersed in the beauty of creating. In the above mentioned podcast, John Spencer also provides a few ideas on creating our own makerspaces and incorporating them into teaching various subject matters to help all our students play an active role in their own learning.
Hope this provides some insights and resources that one can use to start or continue their coding and makerspaces journey. For more resources and tips check out http://shorturl.at/makecodewakelet . You don’t have to be an expert or have all the bells and whistles to start being a part of this journey. There are many entry points and many people willing to offer their time, talent, and treasures. So next time you are thinking of having your classroom experience level up, make it happen. As always you can reach out to the two of us on Twitter @vendi55 and @Melinda74108321
As outlined by the Megan, Leigh, Jenny, and Kalyn in their presentation on assistive technology last week, there are three types of AT that we can use specifically in a school setting. This includes:
Low-Tech – lightweight, portable, limited capabilities, simple features, inexpensive, limited to no training needed
Mid-Tech – requires a battery source, relatively inexpensive, limited to know training relatively simple to operate
High Tech – permits storage and retrieval of messages/information, digital or electronic components, typically computerized, require training and effort to learn how to use, expensive
As an LRT, assistive technology is something that I am constantly considering when addressing concerns that teachers have with students. Difficulties accessing curriculum are due to a variety of reasons including health, social/personal well-being, communication, and regulation to name a few. The purpose of assistive technology is for students to be independent, be in control of their environment, and improve skill acquisition. This will inevitably increase attention span, problem-solving skills, confidence, motivation, and engagement. Students need to see themselves as capable readers, writers, thinkers, and communicators. It may take some conventional and unconventional tools and methods in order to achieve this. It will also take careful observations, trialing, collaboration, and consistency for specific tools to be considered successful or unsuccessful. To elaborate more on that, I’d like to touch on some barriers or limitations that impact the effectiveness and efficiency of assistive technology.
Copley and Ziviani, highlight the barriers and limitations to the use of assistive technology for children with multiples disabilities in their study done in 2004. They’ve identified the following barriers to AT which include the lack of appropriate staff training and support, negative staff attitudes, inadequate assessment and planning processes, insufficient funding, difficulties procuring and managing equipment, and time constraints.
Staff training and attitudes
Copley and Ziviani recognize that teachers play a central role in the implementation of assistive technology. However, there is a lack of suitable training for teachers with specific mid and high tech tools. Even with training, which usually consists of a single session, follow up support and assistance is often non-existent. Teachers are often left to research how to troubleshoot or find ways to use and implement the tech within a classroom setting. This takes time, energy, and patience for which teachers struggle with. This then creates a negative attitude towards specialized AT tools and they are often abandoned, which unintentionally negatively impacts the student and their needs.
In addition to a single session of training, supports also need to be available during the implementation of the tool. I prefer to introduce a tool to a group of teachers and paraprofessionals during lunch-and-learn sessions (if possible). After this, I work with the student to train them in isolation with the tool for them to gain confidence and independence. Next, I help the teacher plan to use the tech with specific activities within one subject area to start so that they don’t become overwhelmed and avoid adjusting to the new technology. Often, once they see the benefits it has for the student, they start to feel more comfortable with implementing it within other subjects until it becomes a regular tool that the student can use daily. Although this approach sounds good in theory, it really depends on the teacher and their attitude.
Some teachers are more resistant to use AT with their students as it isn’t something that they are familiar or comfortable with. In addition, some teachers complain that AT devices interrupt the class and it makes it difficult to manage. Unfortunately, these aren’t uncommon complaints, but as mentioned before, it’s important to support all teachers through the process of training and implementation. Having said that, difficulties still exist when students change from one teacher to another the following year. The process and training for the teacher begins again, but the silver lining is that the student should be independent and empowered to assist with this process. This is why my role as the LRT is imperative for the students, the families, and the teachers as a consistent support for all.
Copley and Ziviani explain that most assessments of AT is through the process of trial and error there are few guidelines available to assess efficiently. This is sometimes due to the lack of team involvement in the assessment process. Where I see evidence of this is when students are discussed with school or division teams and decisions are made about them from these anecdotes, but these same team members rarely observe or work with students in their classroom environments. When an assessment is made off-site and not within the educational environment, factors as to where, when, and how it will be integrated are often overlooked. This sometimes results in an unrealistic or unnecessary recommendation for AT tools, hence the trial and error process we continually spiral through. However, in my division, we don’t have enough division professionals, such as occupational therapists, psychologists, SLP’s, and counsellors to have this luxury of a proper, full assessment of student needs. Therefore, they rely heavily on the bi-monthly meetings from their school teams to make their recommendations. We tend to acquire AT for students that may not work, but we try it because we are familiar with it and think it is a common tool that will work well for any student that struggles. Unfortunately, this increases the chance of device abandonment.
In addition to the school and division professionals’ expertise, we also need to include families and the student themselves within these assessment processes to hear their voices and perspectives on the situation. Lack of family and student input could lead to the inappropriate prescription of AT, and this can dramatically increase the stress level at home and negatively impact the student’s attitude and output at school.
Lastly, detailed and regular documentation of student tools/adaptations needs to occur and follow them going into the next classroom. Often, this paperwork is not considered or is overlooked. This oversight leaves other professionals working with the child back at square one, which is detrimental to the student and family. Yes, this documentation takes time, but it saves time in the end.
Integration of AT is sometimes not done with fidelity. We often expect the tool to work automatically and don’t give it the time and proper adjustments to fit the student’s needs and the learning environment. Implementing within one subject or activity at a time would help, but there needs to be a follow-up review or evaluation of the AT tool. This isn’t just for when technology doesn’t work. I’m guilty of neglecting documentation when AT is successful because everyone is happy with its implementation. Again, this documentation needs to be included in a student’s IIP, if they have one, or other notes that follow the student through their education endeavors. Therefore, long-term planning and review of student’s needs have to be an inherent feature of their IIP in order for AT to be effective and efficient.
This is a no brainer barrier to AT. It is no secret that AT can be downright expensive due to commercialization. However, as Copley and Ziviani point out, each division has a budget, and sometimes it is spent on the excessive ordering of high-tech devices that aren’t even being used due to a number of reasons identified above including improper assessment process, lack of teacher training, and teacher attitudes. It’s important for schools to re-evaluate the current AT tools they have in their school and the students that are assigned to them. The decision if these tools would be better suited for other students to use or to trial prior to ordering more is something that I know we aren’t doing at my school. Once it is ordered and assigned, it stays with them. This leads me to question whether AT tools that are no longer being used by students they were originally assigned to need to be returned to the division or used by another student in the school. If so, who should decide this?
Another common barrier is the maintenance of AT tools. Not only are there often long waits for equipment to be available once it is ordered, but their lifespan is also short-lived. Many high-tech tools require software or hardware that gets old quickly and requires updating or repurchasing of the most recent model. This is simply not sustainable. To put things in perspective, the average lifespan of a laptop or tablet is 2 years.
To make things even more concerning, classrooms are often sharing AT tools (after sanitizing, of course), which reduces its availability and doesn’t serve a consistent function but rather a spontaneous one. Lastly, AT tools used in schools should also be transferable to other aspects of a student’s life outside of the school wall. Is this too big of an expectation?
The last barrier Copley and Ziviani point out is the time required for AT implementation. From the assessment process, acquirement of equipment, training of teachers, students, and families, and then students becoming independent when using this technology in a classroom setting represents a significant barrier. In addition, time is spent troubleshooting. Therefore, teachers cease to use devices because they perceive that these aspects of technology do not fit into tight classroom schedules. It all comes down to proper training and supports for teachers, and I feel LRTs are taking this role on, which I am happy to do to alleviate some of the stress and anxiety AT tools have on some teachers.
To become an expert on AT tools for teachers and students, I resort to finding training for specific AT tools through online tutorials videos and reviews of products from other users. I teach myself in order to play around with an AT tool before using it with a student and lastly explaining to the teacher how to use it.
We need to keep in mind that technology is not a fix for students. We can’t expect to put it in their hands and their struggles will magically disappear. It comes down to doing a proper assessment, supplying frequent training and support for teachers, students, and families, and following up and evaluating these tools year after year.
To help with this process, each year I like to have the teachers that I support go through a printable Record of Adaptation overview document adapted from the online version that our division uses. Although overwhelming, going through this document not only affirms teachers of the low tech tools they regularly implement (bonus), it brings to the surface tools that they may want to try again or highlight new tools that fit the needs of new students in the class. This reflection and evaluation are important so that we don’t become stagnant in our teaching practices. We have to be fluid and in tune with the needs of our students each year and can’t paint each class with the same brush.
I apologize for the length of this blog, but this is an area that I am passionate about and want to ensure that we are doing properly for the sake of our students and their families as well as for the teachers that central to the effective implementation of AT tools.
According to the Assistive Technology Industry Association website, Assistive Technology (AT) is any item, piece of equipment, software or product system that is used to help people who have difficulty speaking, typing, writing, remembering, pointing, seeing, hearing, learning, walking, etc. to improve their functional capabilities. Assistive Technology Devices can be divided into three groups, such as low-, medium-, or high tech.
Low technological devices are tools with no electronic parts or batteries, such as graphic organizer, visual schedule, pencil grip, using manipulatives or even a highlighter. I actually have even been using many of these accommodations without even knowing that they would be classified as assistive technology.
Medium technological devices are between high and low tech’ devices, they are simple to use, may be battery operated and use simple electronics. Medium technological devices include audiobooks, voice amplifiers, which have been very popular during a pandemic, adapted seating, calculators or word prediction software.
High technological devices are electronic, computerized and sophisticated. They are also more complicated to learn and operate, but improve efficiency, speed and accessibility. These items can include computers, tablets or iPads, electric wheelchairs, smart boards and speech recognition software.
Working with English as an Additional Language (EAL) students for the past five years, I mostly encountered the term “adaptive dimension”. While reading and reflecting, I realized that I was using certain forms of assistive technology without being aware of it. Since EAL students do not possess an extensive vocabulary, they require many specific opportunities to build their vocabulary knowledge base, including activities to understand both the literal and implied meanings of words and to develop the ability to use vocabulary in context. Just as Jamie Martin in the Five Myths about Assistive Tech Video, The Adaptive Dimension for Saskatchewan K-12 Students also points out that “adaptations should not be viewed as giving students preferential treatment or an advantage over their peers. It is important for teachers to keep in mind that adaptations are provided to students in order to give them equal opportunities to achieve curricular outcomes.” Since “differentiated instruction is effective instruction that is responsive to the diverse learning needs and preferences of individual learners” (Hume, 2008, p. 1), its most significant effect is that it helps students become more confident, independent and successful learners who work more quickly and accurately by setting goals and achieving them.
Interestingly, after examining both, I noticed that the four variables of the Adaptive Dimension are very similar to the SETT model with the main focus on getting to know your students.
Our newcomer students arrive to the schools with an initial assessment administered at the Newcomer Welcome Centre, which is very helpful when starting to work with a new student. I see this as the first and most important document that helps me group my students and plan for them in order to meet their needs as well as support the classroom teachers to adapt their instruction. Building on students’ prior knowledge, learning profiles, perspectives, preferences and linguistic and cultural backgrounds are also crucial. Beside placing the students in the most fitting group to help them feel safe, I also adjust and change my instruction according to ongoing assessment. Not giving my students an actual mark, but a CFR (Common Framework of Reference) English Proficiency Level, is a lot more stress free from a child’s perspective. Adapting the assessment is also crucial. My students particularly like Kahoot and Goformative. I prefer to let my students work at their own pace with no focus on the length of time allowed to complete the assessment to avoid stress and competition. I also use various programs, such as the Reading A-Z Program, and Newsela, offering a wide variety of books, articles and texts. Both of these resources allow students to adjust the reading level as well as have access to text-to-speech to help them with listening and speaking skills. Knowing that “selecting the appropriate resources for students is crucial for ensuring optimal progress and success”(Routman, 2014), it is important for students to have opportunities to select resources that are engaging and reflect their interests and needs.
Spending a significant amount of time with my classmates Curtis and Dean this semester learning about coding and maker spaces, I do see the potential in these resources to be a unique addition to learning a new language. Using Bee Bot, Ozobot, Scratch or even Minecraft would be an engaging and fun way to teach a foreign language. After my classmates Trevor, Dalton and Matt demonstrated the benefits of Knowledgehook, I also see the positive effect of this math program that can help students be successful. It not only offers little tutorials by explaining certain concepts, but the students can listen to them as many times as needed. When exploring Open Educational Resources (OERs), I had the opportunity to learn more about Khan Academy. I liked this resource from an EAL perspective for providing short lessons using visuals as well as having access to caption and translation.
My biggest concerns when it comes to both the SETT model and the Adaptive Dimension are access to a positive learning environment, since in many schools there is shortage of space. But the list of limitations gets bigger, since access to technology, wifi, lack of training for educators and adequate funding are all challenges we face on a daily basis.
I enjoyed having the opportunity to explore various formative assessment tools as part of Matt, Dalton, and Trevor‘s presentation. Since I have used Kahoot before (and I still love it), this week I decided to learn more about formative. Common sense education compares Kahoot and Formative highlighting the pros and cons of these two highly engaging tools. So, I decided to try it out and see how it could be incorporated in teaching EAL students. I would not consider myself tech savvy, but setting up my account on formative was quite smooth. Although there is the option to have participants access the assignments as guests, I decided to create various groups adding my students one-by-one. This process can be a little time consuming, but in order to have a clear picture of student growth, it’s worth it. I actually found this process stress free since there are a number of great tutorials online that can be helpful for anyone just starting using formative.
Although there are a number of ready-to-use assessments in the formative bank, I decided to create my own to match the lesson I taught on “Animal Idioms”. The students read a book that introduced eight animal idioms, their meaning as well as correct use in context. After the students working on various activities related to the idioms, they had a chance to complete the assessment I created in formative. My goal was to check if my students had a good understanding of the covered animal idioms or more practice is needed.
Even though I did not use the paid version, I found formative a very effective tool since it provides multi-modal questions. I particularly liked the fact that I was able to add content too. By having the opportunity to add pictures, video, and white board as well as various types of questions, such as essay, short answer, true/false, multiple choice and opportunities for students to show their work, formative gives a quite complex picture of student understanding. I think this is a student friendly assessment tool with a focus on student success. Beside the fun and interactive side of formative, teachers can also view their students perform and provide feedback as they go. Just checking in with students and letting them know that they are on the right track, can be very helpful.
Beside the interactive and engaging side of formative, I also like the fact that it gives a clear overview of student understanding. I particularly appreciate the fact that I can see my students’ answers on the same question at the same time.
As you can see, having a Covid19 case in our school when trying out formative did not help. I did manage to try it out with two participants and my students enjoyed it. I certainly see myself using formative in the future. I am very thankful for my EC&I 833 peers for sharing such an amazing tool. I am very much looking forward to experimenting with it.
If you’d like to check out my very first formative assessment on “Animal Idioms”, please follow the “join instructions”. Feel free to complete the activities and share your feedback. I would love to hear from you!
I have just finished watching 9 of my students videos and already see so much value in using this tool. The ability to connect with a video of what the student chooses to share with the other students is quite impactful, you can also see and hear what they are passionate about, what they are excited to learn, or what concerns they might have about the course.