My Kid has a Learning Disability and is in French Immersion – Does that make me a bad parent?

“You’re just setting him up for failure, you know.”

“Why punish him by making him learn a second language when he can’t handle a first?”

“Just wait until he gets to High School, then you’ll understand why I was right.”

Yup. Those were words once spoken to me by a teacher (thankfully not one that taught my son).

I loved the discussion around assistive technologies last week, but I’ve been dreading this post. This conversation hits very close to home for me as I have a son who is Dyslexic (although they don’t officially diagnose that anymore). On his file – he has a “Reading and Writing Disability”. Because of the hard work of his amazing teachers and LRTs, we were able to get him a laptop to assist him in his daily work. He is currently in Grade 8 and is doing amazing in French Immersion and even has plans to continue in French Immersion through High School.

However, those damning comments always sneak up in my mind. I judge my decisions all the time and then, I remember “He’s got this. He’s got the tools he needs to succeed. Let him do it if he wants to!” And the best part about it- HE WANTS TO DO IT!

“It” is French Immersion. Learning a second language is hard enough as it is. Doing it with a reading and writing disability makes it even harder. Lucky for him, he has the technology to help him along and a mom who also happens to be a French Immersion teacher. So this post is going to be about all the positive ways technology has helped my learning disabled child be successful in French Immersion.

#1: Google Read&Write http://thinglinkURL

Google ReadWrite allows my son to work on documents in Drive, assist him in reading websites and helps read to him. He doesn’t use it as often as I would like him to, but it is because it is still not quite as user friendly as it could be, but it’s much simpler than Kurzweil.

#2: Google Translate

This is a tricky one. French Immersion teachers either love or hate this app. Some students use it inappropriately by simply typing what they want to say in English and then hit translate to French and then copy and paste and turn it in. It happened a couple of times when I taught Grade 7/8 French Immersion. Thankfully, the following video explained to my students why we can always catch them when they copy and paste.

Google translate has its useful purposes. I have used it quite often to look up a word in French or even help getting ideas on how to properly phrase an idea. However, this video reminds me and my students that it is not a perfect system and that we have to make sure that it is used with a critical eye. My son uses it in two different ways: the first is obvious, to help him with his French vocabulary while writing. However, the second is for it’s speech recognition. If he is unsure of how to spell a word (whether in English or French), he simply presses the microphone icon, speaks the word and Google Translate helps him with his spelling.

Another interesting feature with Google Translate is the camera view. When using Google Translate on a mobile device with a camera you can click on the camera icon, hover it over the text and Google Translate will translate the text it “sees”. This is useful to parents who may be helping with homework and are not familiar with the language.

#3 Word Reference

Word Reference is used by the teachers who do not like Google Translate. Word Reference allows for multiple definitions and translations of a word. I find Word Reference very “wordy” and for my son it’s too much information for him to sift through.

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#4: Bon Patron

Bon Patron is a great teaching tool to help French Immersion students navigate the very difficult world of learning the French language. Students simply copy and paste parts of their French text into Bon Patron and then the program provides suggestions and teaches the students how to correct grammatical and spelling errors. It is not a perfect program but it is very effective in helping students. My son uses it for almost every French assignment to help correct what he is working on.

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As you hover over a part of the sentence that is highlighted or underlined, it gives you a rule and options for possible fixes. My students were not allowed to hand in assignments until they put it through Bon Patron first. The nice thing about this is it offers a free version and their is a paid version. However, the free version is perfect for French Immersion students.

I know with all my heart that I am not a bad parent for allowing my son to continue with French Immersion, but the stigma of the difficulties of learning a second language with a learning disability still remains. However, the technologies that are offered to assist those (and basically everyone else) to be successful in everything they do is endless and as long as technology is accepted and supported to allow those to use it.

My Dad, Web 0.1…

 

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CC image via Flickr by Graham Stanley

What a crazy week. Husband working shifts, meetings at work, kids soccer and University class. Thank goodness I have my parents available to help me out. Now, I’m not sure about you guys, but when you ask your dad to pick up a kid at 7:30 and get them to soccer/hockey/curling they always show up at 6:45. My dad did that just this week. And of course, I was already on Zoom ready for the amazing presentation to come. Dad hung around for a while, listened in and even made a cameo experience (much to his horror). However, he was quite intrigued at how technology has come so far as to allow students to learn from home.

I asked my dad what his first experience with computers was. And I was quite surprised by his response:

Now, for those of you who don’t speak “Twitter”, basically, I had a conversation (convo) with (w/) my 58 year old (58yo) dad who would do a type of coding on the computers (comps) at High School (HS) that would print paper with holes in it. Then, they would get to go to the University of Regina where their computers would read the holes in the paper and create to program they originally made.

Hmmm… This seems a bit Web 2.0-3.0, doesn’t it? Using the computers to create something? Now, maybe it wasn’t connected to the internet because it wasn’t really around, but did my dad’s ts… I mean “teachers”, realize the potential computers had already even before the Internet was available to general population? Had the Internet been around, think of how my dad’s creations could have been shared! So what changed? Why are we so intimidated to shift from Web 1.0 and 2.0 to 3.0?

Let’s look at Web 1.0:

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CC image via Flickr by Alex Ambrose

I remember the first time I saw a web address on a TV commercial. I can’t remember exactly what was being sold, but I remember seeing the telephone number to call for more information, and, instead of an address to write a letter to, there was this weird www. “thingy”. I knew that the Internet was around, but it hadn’t really made its way to quiet, small city Regina just yet. My first thought “It’ll never last.” But alas, I was quite wrong. However, back then, the web address was simply a substitute for the mailing address. For those “who had” internet, they could simply type in the web address and pull information about the product. No different from making the phone call or sending a letter. The only big difference was (okay – huge difference) was the information was then immediate.

Gerstein likens Education 1.0 to Web 1.0. She says:

… {it} is a one-way dissemination of knowledge from teacher to student. (pg. 85)

In my case, it was from producer to consumer. We didn’t have internet back then, so if I required more information, I would have had to make a phone call, and because we only had 1 landline and 1 phone number and no call-waiting, my mom didn’t like if I was on the phone for longer than 5 minutes.

In such a case, and back in the day, the Web was simply a disseminator of information. However, has much of that changed today in education? Is the internet used for more than a google search? Or as a replacement for pen and paper? The non-fiction section in my library would agree. Very rarely do I see students in the library looking for books to do research projects and why would they- everything they need is at their fingertips.

But kids seemed to have moved on from simply “wanting” information. When the Web evolved from 1.0 to 2.0, so to did the new generation of digital citizens. Web 2.0, according to Gerstein:

…permits interactivity between the content and the user, and between users themselves. (p.86)

This was also the evolution of Education 2.0. Bill Gates wrote in his blog:

I was fortunate to have teachers who encouraged their students to explore areas of learning they were curious about. Having the freedom to try things out allowed me to develop a passion for computing…

Today, teachers are are using more inquiry based approaches in their learning, making students seek out their answers and question what they are learning. Education 2.0, is much like Web 2.0 – we are loosening the reins on our children. We are giving them more freedom to explore, analyze, critique, make mistakes and yet still learn. Web 2.0 supports the communicate and collaborate of the inquiry method by making the world a much smaller space.

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CC image via Flickr by Paul Downey

But this can terrify educators who are not comfortable with using Web 2.0 tools. Sometimes, the thought of allowing students freedoms online to create, share, collaborate and communicate is a path fraught with the unknown. So, while teachers are trying to navigate new curriculum and new ways of teaching, they are also expected to include technology into their lessons.

It isn’t a surprise that when you talk to most teachers about technology they seem to groan and complain about not enough broadband, not enough devices so all students can type an assignment or how they have to take phones away because of Snapchat or texting in class.

But when you look at some statistics from Statistics Canada in 2011, most teachers in our schools would never have had grown up with computers in their home, let alone the internet.

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So, when the massive majority of teachers in Canada were born in a time pre-internet, and are not comfortable with Web 2.0 yet, how can we consider getting our students, our teachers and our schools Web 3.0 ready?

The Sofa Student

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CC Image via Pixabay by alphalight1

In 2012 I decided it was time for me to go back to school to pursue my Masters of Education degree. At this point in my life, my kids were 9 and 7 years old and my husband worked shift work. Classes being 1 night a week at the University was sometimes difficult with a young family and a husband who wasn’t always home in the evenings. I had to rely a lot on my parents and in-laws to watch the kids while I went off to school. The guilt was real.

When I discovered that I could take classes online, I was hesitant because I had never taken such a class but equally thrilled because now I wouldn’t have to rely on Grandpas and Grandmas while I took classes. I’ve had two types of experiences with online classes: Alec’s version and “the other kind”.

Audrey Watters wrote:

the original aspirations, even — of ed-tech: the idea that some sort of mechanism could be developed to not only deliver content — that’s what Edison imagines — but to handle both instruction and assessment.

In Alec’s courses, I feel that even though we are learning from the comforts of our own homes or classrooms, we still get the engagement piece through the use of Zoom. One aspect I do like about Zoom is we get to “see” the person who is talking and hear them. The content is delivered through screen sharing, slides and conferencing.  We also have the opportunities to use the breakout rooms and chat using the chat features. The use of Twitter, Google Community, Blogs and Google Docs allows for the assessment pieces. Plus, I get to sit on my couch, with a hot tea and my learning partner next to me!

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In my other class, we simply used MOODLE/UR Courses. There was no interaction, no set time and date to meet up and our only communication with our professors was through email. If you weren’t a self-motivated learner, this class had no appeal. The delivery of content was through readings, there was no instruction (other than the syllabus) and assessment happened with us turning in papers to faceless names.  It was not an ideal experience in my opinion.

So how about distance and online learning in the elementary classroom. Teachers nowadays feel as though they need to create a high level of engagement among students in order to feel they are reaching and teaching their target audiences. So can online learning or distance learning keep elementary students engaged?

When I taught Grade 7/8, I tried using the flipped classroom as a sort of distance/online learning tool. I would create a PowerPoint presentation (pre-Google slides era) of my lesson, record myself going through the slides, put in questions to ponder and discuss for next class and give the students the questions they would be working on in class. For my students who were heavily involved in extra-curricular activities, they enjoyed the fact that their only homework was to listen to a presentation and prepare to discuss certain questions in class the next time we met.

The downfall to my flipped classroom was it was a ton of more work for me. The presentations took twice as long as a regular class would be and we ended up discussing just as much in class when we next met. However, the one real big positive was that the students commented that they enjoyed being able to go back to my presentations for preparing for tests or doing projects. Even though they may not have understood the presentations at the beginning, they enjoyed being able to reference back to them later on.

I guess that is no different then what we are doing here in ECI 833. Just like my flipped classroom, when I need to refer back to class, I have the opportunity to replay it and retrieve the information I need.

I truly believe that, in a sense, with Google Classroom, we are beginning to see an amalgamation on Online/Distance learning with traditional school based learning. Students who may be absent for illness or vacations can always access Google Classrooms to retrieve content they may have missed (so long as they have internet access) and teachers can post from anywhere at anytime (say for instance – Hawaii…).

However, the use of technology for online/distance learning brings up another issue and one that is maybe for another blog post – what are the benchmarks students need to achieve in educational technology to be successful at learning online? For example “By the end of Grade 3 all students will be able to share a Google Doc with their teacher.” Amy Singh and I are currently on a committee with Regina Public Schools addressing such questions and working on Digital Essential Learnings that will be integrated into classrooms through a framework or continuum. As we discuss the use of technology in classrooms and outside of the classrooms, it is important that we remember that students are not born knowing how to use technology so at some point, we need to teach them how to use it.

If My Brain Was The Internet…

When The Atlantic put out the video “Single-Tasking Is The New Multi-Tasking” they referred to the #TablessThursday movement where, on Thursdays, only work in the Internet with 1 tab open. While watching this video on a Saturday morning at 8 am, I quickly grabbed a screen shot of the tabs I had open- this is my pre-blog pic:

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Three tabs- that’s actually pretty good for me… However, an hour before starting this, I had already scrolled through Facebook, The Leader-Post App, Huffington Post and Instagram on my phone. Do those apps count as tabs?

The one sentence that really stuck out there for me in this is “Tabs are a metaphor for life”. Now, my post is going to get a bit more personal, but I promise to come back… If my brain was the Internet, there would be a thousand tabs open all time. I’m constantly multi-tasking in my head about all the events, work, kids, husband, dog- the things in life that consume my life. At the beginning of this week, I was stricken with 3 nights of insomnia where I couldn’t get my brain to turn off about all the things I needed to do. My husband suggested, on the third night, “Make a list of everything going on in your head”. After giving him a scowl, I tried it. Now, maybe it was because I hadn’t slept in three nights, or maybe, just maybe, it was because I made a list, I finally slept. (Please don’t tell my husband he may have been right… 😉

But that one sentence from the video stuck with me. Our brains are wired like the Internet. It is our central hub of all the information we have acquired over our lives and we pull out and search that information as it becomes necessary (and, I must say, much quicker than our actual Internet providers in this province…). But all those “tabs” that we use in our brains to keep ourselves going, to plan in advance, to make sure we are where we need to be, are always open. Managing those tabs is how we make it through each day.

Now, at the beginning of this week, I wasn’t managing them well enough and my body and mind suffered. I wasn’t sleeping because I was too busy thinking. So, if the brain is like the Internet, then is the Internet like the brain when we are trying to be productive? Here’s an example:

It’s 3:00pm. School is almost over for the day and you are on prep. Your email icon pops up, and it’s an email from your principal saying “Long Range Plans due”. You know you are close to getting them done, but you are stuck on a couple of outcomes that you likely won’t be covering until June… Well, let’s not respond right away to that email. Let’s start searching for that outcome online and see what’s out there. As you scroll over to your Internet icon, you see that you were searching up questions for a novel you want to study with the class. Well, that is important so let’s leave that up, next you remember that you needed to print off that news article for tomorrow’s social lesson. So you find it in a new tab. You still have your online textbooks open, but you still need that to plan tomorrow’s Math lessons. Speaking of math, Sadie asked for extra help with algebraic equations. What is that site again??? The search goes on and on. Three more emails pop up and by 3:20 you now have 10 tabs open in your browser and 6 unread emails. There’s the bell! Home time. Close the lid on your laptop and all those tabs just got put to sleep.

I will be honest – I just spent that last 5 minutes scrolling through Facebook looking for a post I read this morning about how teachers make more last minute decisions than surgeons. Couldn’t find it. But I did chat with another teacher about something different. Am I feeling productive? Is the Internet more of a distraction right now? Absolutely! It’s Saturday at 8:46 am. I consider myself a multitasker who takes appropriate brain breaks when necessary. We do the same thing in our classrooms. We see our students getting squirmy after long periods of inactivity so we get them up, focused on something more energizing for a couple of minutes and once they are ready, they can get back to work.

As adults, we have the self-regulation tools needed to help us re-focus when we find we are getting too overwhelmed with what we are doing. For me (and again, please don’t tell my hubby he was right…), I needed to make that list to quiet my brain. When at work, we need to check on something other than work to step aside and quiet our thoughts. When I re-open the lid to my laptop and see all those tabs open, at least there is a visual reminder of all the things I still need to work on (much like my list…). The difference between the Internet and the brain is that one can be turned off when needed. The other will eventually quiet in time.

Here is my post-blog pic:

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It’s Movie Day in the Classroom!

Circa 1987ish:

“Oh boy! The teacher is setting up the movie projector!”

“I wonder if she’ll pick me to help switch the reels?”

“What are we watching?”

“Who cares – it’s a movie!”

Using movies (or videos) in the classroom has always been a discussion among teachers and parents alike. In fact, this past Friday, our Principal was dealing with parents upset over students watching movies in class over the lunch hour because “it’s too much screen time” and “has no educational value”. Thankfully, the Principal pointed out that lunch hours were not instructional times and, with 30+ students in a lunch room, putting on a movie or Tumblebooks or whatever was at the teachers discretion so long as they comply with the school rules about only showing “G” rated material. If the parent was not satisfied, said student could bring a book to read or simply go home for  lunch- or, ironically enough, play on his/her iPad.

But what about movies during instructional time? Do they hold any educational value? Are they time fillers so teachers can complete their copious amounts of standardized tests? Or rewards for the class who behaves and fills up their reward sheet?

I was never one to show a movie for the sake of showing a movie. There had to be an educational purpose. When learning about Mali in Grade 3 social, we watched the desert section of “Planet Earth” so students could comprehend what a Sub-Saharan country was like. When I teach Shakespeare to Grade 3s, we compare the story of Hamlet to the movie “The Lion King” and the comparisons are shocking, by the way (especially for students in Grade 3).

When Potman wrote:

“…We now know that “Sesame Street” encourages children to love school only if school is like “Sesame Street.” Which is to say, we now know that “Sesame Street” undermines what the traditional idea of schooling represents.”

I don’t feel that Sesame Street, or Sol, or The Wiggles undermine traditional teaching ideologies, I feel that they helped advance them. In my last post, I included a YouTube clip explaining how our school system hasn’t changed much in 150 years,  but cars and telephones have immensely – due to advances in technology. So why are school systems slow to accepting technology as a driver for change? Why are some teachers and schools still allowed to shun technology in the classrooms? Why can’t TV shows, radio and movies help students understand certain outcomes?

In fact,  French Immersion has an outcome specific to using French radio and television in the classroom so students can experience the culture and different accents in French.

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Démontrer une appréciation* pour les émissions radiophoniques, ou télévisées, ou pour le contenu d’autres moyens de communication audiovisuels d’expression française destinée aux adolescents et aux adolescentes.

When I taught Grade 8,  I would use CBC’s program Oniva to deliver this outcome to our class. Oniva was designed specifically for  students in Fracophone and French Immersion schools in Western Canada.

I have to agree with Andrew in his post that today it seems that educational apps are the major focal points in education. While teachers will still use YouTube occasionally to help explain something, there seems to be more of an emphasis on what kind of apps we are using in the classroom to support learning or the newest educational software for students. I am hearing more teachers asking for subscriptions to Mathletics or Raz-Kids over movie licenses and a hiatus from YouTube due to bandwidth issues. And the latter may be the reason why…

YouTube used to be a go to. But now, our schools are plagued with slow internet and the impossibility of streaming any sort of on online digital video without it buffering. And with the stories of school divisions being sued over illegal use of movies (due to improper licensing), maybe teachers are choosing or being forced to forgo movies and television in the classrooms.

Regardless, I believe that there is a spot in the classroom where viewing can be a beneficial, pedagogical tool. And with regards to teachers having to be “entertaining” in order to ensure that students stay engaged, I’ve spoken with so many people who hated going to school – both teachers and parents. It was boring and repetitive in assignments and just memorization. I remember how that was! Maybe teachers today want the profession to be more entertaining and engaging so that both students and teachers feel like the school is a place where they want to go everyday.