Are you teaching half-speak?

‘Half-speak’ is the term that I give to the relatively new ability to type with predictive text in mind. That is, learning to expect and accept predictive words before having to type the whole word. For example, if I want to type the word February I actually only need to type febr before I can then touch the spacebar to accept the full word.

I’ve recently been working in some grade 1 classes where we’ve been using the iPads to publish some stories that they’ve recently written and it was during these classes that I realized the students, although most have used idevices before, were not sure about what to do with the predictive text. From this, a just in time teaching experience occurred and the kids were amazed by how this feature made their typing easier.

As this technology continues to enhance, I can see it learning our personal preferences and writing styles. So much so, that predictive text may move beyond predicting a particular word to finishing sentences for us. Whether predictive text reaches this level or not, I can see users learning to type only half a word before hitting space, hence the term ‘half-speak’.

So, are you helping your students to use technology to their advantage? What other technology features do you think are important to teach out kids?


R.I.P. handwriting…

The age of teaching handwriting is finished!

With the continual development of technology features such as predictive text, autocorrect and speech recognition, along with the rapidly developing field of mobile technology giving us access to these tools whenever we need to ‘write’, it’s safe to say that we no longer need to handwrite. Well, at least not in length. Don’t get me wrong, I still believe that students in the younger years of schooling need to learn to form letters as they learn to read them. However, gone are the days of cursive lessons, pen licences and dotted thirds. I believe that it is likely that handwriting will become a type of art form in the same sense that calligraphy is for my generation. 

So what does this mean for teaching and learning? Well, for anyone who has been the victim of a grammatically correct, yet contextually wrong, predictive text, or a ‘sometimes hilarious, sometimes awkward and sometimes downright embarrassing’ autocorrect (see for examples of any of these), the skills associated with proofreading and editing are going to be (and already are) essential for our students. 

Here are some tips that students should be learning and using to ensure they are able to communicate clearly and accurately whenever ‘writing’ using modern technology: 

  • learn to touch type – or at least learn to efficiently track what you are writing as you write it so that you can check the autocorrects and predictions that your computer is making as you go (just as mine has done 4 times in this sentence).
  • learn NOT to hit send, print, publish etc – give it time, think it through and most importantly read it over to consider your purpose and to check for errors. Then hit send, print, publish, etc.
  • understand your grammar – in order to know whether the autocorrect or prediction is correct, you need to know what is correct.
  • know spelling blends – English is an awful language to work with. It’s full of rules that apply most of the time, but not always. However, if you know what that tricky spelling might be, then chances are auto-correct or spell check with help you out.
  • use your tools – further to the above point, making use of dictionary or ‘look up’ tools built in to many browsers, word processors and some operating systems will allow you to check the meaning to ensure the word you have is correct.
  • READ IT OVER! – did I say this already? Yes, but it’s just so important that it needs to be said again.
Spending the time on teaching these skills and giving your students the chance to practice them, rather than on handwriting, will be time far better spent for both you and the students. 

Tech tools for ESOL

This post is partly a chance to share and partly a hope that you can share with me. I have a French speaking student in my class, who 2 weeks ago couldn’t speak a word of English. Over the last two weeks, I have simply been trying to build some vocabulary and basic phrases.

I am incredibly thankful for modern technology that has provided me with translation tools and teaching tools. Here are some that I’ve made use of. Please share any that you’ve used or know of that may be helpful in learning English for the very first time.

Google Translate: brilliant for translating words and simple phrases. I’m not too sure of it’s ability to translate more difficult phrases and chunks of information. It’s also got the ability to speak the words in the translated language – great for letting kids see and hear new vocab.

Spelling City: Great resource, not just for spelling practice, but great to build up the vocabulary for important daily words. Lots of different activities and once again reads the words. Some activities build up word recognition, while others work on understanding.

Professor Garfield: This one’s been very useful for building phonetic understandings and also has some stories that are read to the students.

iPhone App – English/Francais, Accio Pack: SOOOO handy for translations from English – French and French – English.

Have you made use of, or know of, any other useful apps or websites to help ESOL learners build up their English skills? Please share below.

Wordle for writing assessment

I had my class use Wordle this week as a great way to visualise the important things that they took away from our recent school camp. The students have recently written a recount from their week away, and once these were typed up, we copy and pasted them into Wordle to create a very cool visual. My main purpose for having the kids do this is to allow them to see which words, memories, events, etc stood out to them.

Here are some samples…


One interesting use of Wordle came about by chance when doing this activity. I could use Wordle as a writing assessment for word choice. For example, it is clear in this next Wordle that the student really (definitely, urgently, absolutely, certainly) needs to come up with more descriptive words than ‘really’ and ‘went’.

It was a great realisation for this particular student – she could actually see that ‘really’ was way overused in the recount. Both the student and I were able to assess the word choice of this writing piece without even needing to read what was written – so efficient.

This is certainly a tool I will be reusing for this purpose in the future.

Writer’s Workshop using Google Docs

Many of you would be aware of the writer’s workshop (a.k.a. writing workshop) method of teaching writing in the classroom. I have been using this method of writing instruction for a number of year now and with great success. However, one of my biggest issues with it is keeping track and on top of all of the writing that the kids produce and hence providing quick and direct feedback to the kids.

This year I have addressed some of these issues by moving my writer’s workshop from all paper based to all computer based with the help of Google Docs as part of the Google Apps for Education package.

This move has helped me in the following ways:

Direct feedback to students.

Direct, fast (as long as I check it) feedback to the students: Using a number of methods, I can quickly and easily give feedback to my students about their writing. We focus our revision and editing skills using the writing process and 6+1 traits of Good Writing. When the students have completed their first draft they share their writing with me in google docs and email me to let me know they are ready for advice. At this point I give feedback, usually in two ways.

Footnotes: These are great to be able to give the students advice or feedback about a particular point in their writing. For example, the students may have chosen particularly effective word choice or may need to reword a sentence for better fluency. At this point, I can insert a footnote and type my comment. It ‘hangs’ off the side of the document and the point I have inserted it, making it very clear to the student where I am commenting.

Organise writing

Summary Notes:To give advice on overall structure or other general feedback I will simply add a few points at the bottom of the writing piece, along with the date. After the writing has gone back and forth between myself and the student a few times, we can easily see the effort that has been put in by the student as well as the input that I have had in the writing piece.

Organising students’ writing, even when they’re working on it: One of my favourite features about Google Docs is the ability to store files in more than one folder at a time (something I wish Windows, Mac OS and other OS would start doing). This ability means that I can keep track of students’ work in any number of ways. Some of these ways are:

  • Student Folders: each student is given a folder and any of their work is stored here. Great when it comes to reporting time.
  • Writing tasks/independent writing: using these two folders I can sort writing by specific tasks that I have given or by the students’ independent writing choices.
  • Published writing: I am able to see which writing pieces have been through the whole writing process to published stage.

Easy peer feedback: One step at a time – the approach I have taken this year in introducing Google Docs to my students and teaching style. As such, I haven’t truly implemented this feature, but can easily see the ability for kids to share work with other students who can peer edit their work. This also has great potential to share work with other kids around the world.

Track progress

Track progress from first draft to published: With the revision history option, I can easily see the changes that have occurred in students’ writing. The kids can also see the changes they have made. This is something the kids love to see, especially if they have put in a lot of work revising and editing their writing.

The switch from paper to Google Docs for writing has definitely been one of valuable reward.

Reading Assessment EARCOS Workshop

Reading is important! I have just finished a 2 day workshop presented by Carrie Ekey on reading assessment and teaching. The workshop covered aspects of the reading continuum developed by Bonnie Campbell-Hill, a variety of assessment of reading methods (many of which weren’t anything new – I’ll get back to this), how to organise the myriad of assessment and a range of other aspects related to teaching and assessing reading.

As I mentioned before, many of the ideas presented are nothing new; guided reading, anecdotal notes, independent reading, just to name a few. This was assuring to me because these are many things that I am already doing in my classroom.

One of the things that really impressed me from this PD is that one of the best ways to fit in the huge amount of teaching and assessment that is required of teachers in today’s ever shrinking time frame is to teach in ‘workshop’ style sessions. What is a workshop style lesson? It is a chunk of time that is dedicated to a particular curriculum focus where there will be a range of learning and assessing happening, with different students involved in different learning experiences or assessment experiences. The responsibility of learning is pushed on to the children more and more, particularly as they get older. The role of the teacher in these workshop sessions is incredibly complex and varied.

Let’s take the example of the reading workshop that Carrie Ekey was presenting at this workshop. The session would start off with some type of explicit teaching from the teacher, focussing on finding word meaning in context for example. Some modelling of the skill would take place before the students are given some time to practice it under the close watch of the teacher. The students would then be encouraged to continue to practice this reading skill throughout the session and obviously, beyond.

Following this, there may be some independent reading time to allow the students to continue their reading, putting into practice the skill just learned. The teacher would now step into an assessment/teaching role by conferencing with individual students, finding areas that need to be improved, teach how to improve this and then move on to the next child.

The next step is to move into a period of learning experiences where the students move on to individual or group tasks that allow the students to develop reading and the teacher to assess and teach reading. Some examples of learning activities would include literature circles discussions, guided reading, practice tasks/worksheets, word study activities, etc. The teacher’s role during this time is varied from day to day. Some days the teacher may be conferencing with individual students, others would be overseeing literature circles discussions, others running guided reading sessions, and others taking anecdotal notes on students’ work.

The session would then finish with a form of summary. This might include paired reading with pairs of students reading together, the teacher sharing observations, or students sharing work.

These workshop style lessons have also shown great success in my classroom with writing and I have occasionally tried this in my maths classroom too, with some success. I need to learn more about how this can work in the maths classroom. What I do know however, is that this approach to teaching and learning is one that engages the students, encourages independence with their learning, and allows for skills teaching, practice and assessment in a manner that makes sense.