HELP!!! Personalized learning – how does this work??

Since being awarded a Race to the Top grant, our county has set personalized learning as one of their main priorities in the strategic plan.  All middle school students in our county will have tablets over the next couple of years which will be used as a tool to help personalize learning.  We as teachers have been trained on the use of the tablets and the students will be receiving them in just a few weeks.  Thrown in with the tablet training has been information on how we need to use the tablets to help us personalize learning.

Ok, so my concern is, if I am truly supposed to personalize learning, how the heck does it happen?  In all the training, I have heard very few ideas about how to make this happen in my classroom.  We’ve heard about what it is, how important it is and that this is a main focus and reason for us getting the tablets.  I have read some articles about how the ultimate goal is to create an environment where the learner is in charge of his/her learning and the teacher is a partner.  The learner is deciding what and how to learn, designing projects and the teacher is giving feedback.  It sounds wonderful but I don’t understand how to get there.  How do the twenty or so students I have in a middle school classroom teach themselves French (as complete beginners) and decide what they will learn?  I was not taught French this way.  I didn’t get to decide what vocabulary words I was going to learn or what grammar to work on.  It was taught to me in bits and pieces.  I practiced the concepts I was taught and somewhere along the way I learned how to communicate in another language.  This idea of allowing the students to decide what they’re going to learn is a totally foreign concept to me.

I can understand flipping the classroom.  I can understand giving the students choices for projects.  I can even understand how you could give students choices about how to learn something using a tablet (i.e. give them the choice to watch a video about how to conjugate verbs, read instructions, or sit in a small group with a teacher to explain and model).  What I don’t understand is how students would just pick and choose what they want to learn.  So, if a student is more interested in sports and another is interested in animals they would be studying different vocabulary words?  Another student wants to learn only how to write French but another student wants to learn only how to speak – how does that work?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying this can’t work.  I’m just saying this idea of personalized learning doesn’t make sense to me and I don’t know how to move my classroom into something that looks like this.  If anyone out there has ideas on how this is done in a foreign language classroom, please post links, videos, anything!  Help!!!

Tablets anyone?

SGPT121USSSo, Guilford County Schools was one of 16 school districts in the country to win a federal “Race to the Top” grant giving us $30 million to spend on tablets, data subscriptions, and training for all our middle school students.  From what we’ve heard half of the middle schools will get the tablets next year and the other half the next.  I don’t know what will happen the following year for incoming 6th graders.  It would make sense that additional money would need to be allocated to keep tablets coming for those kids also each year but who knows?  We don’t know what kind of tablets they will be but we’re pretty excited.  It will change the way we teach for sure–at least it will for me.  What a great boon to know that every child will have a tablet with Internet access.  I have to get my course on Moodle or something now so students can submit work digitally and we can get away from paper for the most part.

I would love to hear from others with a 1:1 program in their schools and how having these tablet has changed your classroom in a positive way.  I know there are challenges such as students wanting to play games and be off task in that way but I know there have to be so many great things about students having their own devices too.

Using Blogs and Wikis in the Classroom – Ideas Needed!

I’m in a workshop about using blogs and wikis in the classroom at the moment and just heard a great way to use a blog in the classroom.  One of our 6th grade science teachers set up a blog where a zoologist (his fiancée) posted short articles about various animals or topics relating to zoology and his students would read the posts and comment.  He talked about how excited the students were to see if the zoologist had responded to their comments.  Some students even read, commented and corrected each others’ comments.  What a great idea to connect with someone in the field!

My 7th and 8th grade students are getting ready to start emailing penpals in France with ePals.  The teacher and I have been trying to think of a common project the students can do.  Perhaps we will start a blog or a wiki to collaborate with each other.  If anyone out there has done this type of a project with email penpals, I would love to hear about it.

I ran across this link on my resources page and there are some great ideas there!  Enjoy!

Pinterest – Get inspired!

I am just loving Pinterest for getting French teaching ideas at the moment too.  If you are an educator and haven’t started using Pinterest – PLEASE do yourself a favor and join Pinterest!  Start searching for the subject you teach and start following some people who have ideas that line up with yours.  You will be amazed at what will happen.  It takes Personal Learning Community to a whole new level.  It’s also very addicting.  You have to be invited to join Pinterest so if you need someone to give you an invite, feel free to contact me and I will beglad to do so.  Surfing on Pinterest tonight, I found the video below and Go Animate! and some other cute ideas like this printable Eiffel Tower.

New loot for my classroom

After going to a foreign language teacher gathering this week, I was inspired to go out and look for bargains that would encourage students to speak more French in my classroom or for items that would just make learning more fun.  I realized after reflecting on my 1st quarter that I only played two games with my students?  What?  What the heck was I thinking?  I seriously need to loosen up and start having fun with these kids or I really will teach myself out of a job for next year.

So, I went to the Dollar Tree and instead of just buying supplies for my classroom, I browsed through the toy section and found these darts.  They have a sticky end and will stick to any smooth surface.  I immediately thought: WHITEBOARD!!  I can easily snag an image of a dartboard and project it from my LCD projector onto the whiteboard.  With students divided into teams, I can ask them a question and the first person to get it right will have the chance to throw a dart and earn points for their team.  This could work with any topic and they were only $1.00!  I bought two packs just in case they get destroyed (which there is an enormous possibility for in a middle school classroom).

I also found these cute little cones.  I immediately thought about games – like use them to mark the starting line for where the kids will dash to do something or maybe do a ring toss.  These have praise words on them as well and are made out of a durable rubbery plastic so you could put them on a student’s desk as a way to quickly praise them for doing something awesome.

I don’t have a photo of the two flyswatters I bought but I’m sure you can easily imagine the solid, plastic kind that are sort of floppy.  A colleague in Social Studies introduced me to the idea of putting words or ideas on flashcards on the wall and letting two students use the flyswatters to slap the card with the word you describe.  OH MY!  What a simple idea and why hadn’t I heard this before?  I borrowed her flyswatters on a whim the other day and the kids loved it!  I put the in two teams since her swatters were two different colors (red and blue teams) and I had two sets of the same vocabulary – one small and one larger sized.  I bought magnetic clips at Wal-Mart sometime ago so I clipped all the cards to the whiteboard and scrambled them all up.  I gave the students 2 points if they slapped the smaller cards and 1 point if they slapped the larger card.  I called out the words in English and they slapped the French word that meant the same thing.  I did tell them to hold the swatter on the word and they only got one slap so they had to make a good choice.  They boys loved the fact that they got to slap something period and of course they loved the race aspect and being competitive.  The girls liked it to but at this age they can handle almost everything.  I seem to keep trying to find things to please the boys and get them engaged.  They flyswatters I found at Harris Teeter in their clearance buggies.

In the same buggies I also found some “Guess Who?” games for half price.  These are the ones with two trays and there are many faces of different people (all races) in slots.  The students draw an identity from a deck of cards then they each ask yes/no questions to discover the identity of the other person.  Since I’m getting ready to teach describing people I thought this would be a great way to get the kids speaking a little French.   They only had 3 sets though so I will have to turn this into a station activity.

So bargain hunting paid off for me this week and I will definitely keep my eyes open in the future for more cheap little things like this to breathe some more life into my classroom.  I am now avidly scanning Pinterest for teaching ideas (instead of just recipes).  Teachers, please share your ideas!