Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Inspirational quote of the day

...not that I'll be doing this every day, mind.

From the Accomplished Teacher e-mail: "If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need." --Marcus Tullius Cicero, Roman military leader and author

I hope everyone's holiday is going stupendously, and that Santa was kind!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

One step at a time...and sometimes the same step over

For the last several years, my professional development has been focused on instructional techniques that are good for all teachers, with a particular focus on Sprick et. al. for classroom management strategies, and Marzano for most everything else.  But in college, I mostly worked on strategies specific to second-language instruction, as that was going to be my focus.  There is absolutely no question that I'm a better teacher for being familiar with these strategies.

But recent experience tells me that I need to go back and bone up on some of my Spanish teacher skills.  Fortunately, last year I took a course for elementary certification, so I haven't forgotten how to do research.  I've pulled out Lee and Van Patten's Making Communicative Language Teaching Happen (1st ed.), my gold standard for applied language acquisition theory.  They're like Marzano sometimes, in that they do some more generalizing with specific support which are sort of more useful.  But reviewing through it, I'm finding lots of things I've forgotten in my rush to be teacher of the whatever (an award I'm not winning anytime soon). 

This week's focus: Have the learner do something with the input.  "Learners cannot be passive recipients of language," Lee and Van Patten tell us.  "Instructors should not simply talk at the learners or ask learners to simply read something.  The learner must be actively engaged in attending to the input to encourage the processing of grammar."  (p.107).

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

QR codes revisited

I've poo-pooed QR codes as a technology whose time had not come.  I've wondered what they might be good for.  In the last few weeks, though, I'm starting to re-evaluate them.  They might be useful in a couple of different scenarios.

1.)  I think I might have the students stealthily put up signs all around the school, labeling what things are in Spanish.  (Hallway, locker, fire extinguisher, water fountain, and the like.)  A QR code could lead a student to a website with an embedded audio of the pronunciation of the word.  I would rather that it simply triggered something in the QR reader itself which caused the phone to pronounce the word, but I think I'd have to write my own program for that.  Or maybe hire one of my more knowledgeable friends to do it.  Failing that, audio website.  Easy peasy lemon squeezy.

2.)  The last 30 minutes of our school day is spent in something we call academic centers, despite the fact that it's the only period in the day with no mandatory academic content, and nobody is in the center of anything, except by accident.  It's what we used to call study halls, which also didn't make any sense, because few people studied, and they didn't meet in the halls.  The point is that many of my colleagues feel that this time could be better spent.  A few of us have talked about much more flexible AC's than we have now: students could sign up for the "I have homework to do" AC, and they would go to the cafetorium and be left alone by their babysitters...I mean, educational facilitators.  (Didn't I see this movie once?)  But they could also sign up for "Café Internacional," where they would explore the world through virtual field trips, or possibly speak Spanish to people not necessarily in their Spanish classes all hour.  They could sign up for a Socratic seminar: "This week's topic, the Occupy Wall Street movement.  Please have these 3 articles read and come prepared to participate."  They could, I don't know, sign up to conduct independent experiments in the science lab.  Work on an art project.  Interview important businesspeople by Skype.

I've been thinking about this, trying to figure out how we could flexibly take attendance at various locations at various times throughout the school.  (This is the only part of the process the state actually cares about: our legal responsibilities in a study hall extend to making sure that approximately the same number of people leave as come in.)  Then I read someplace that QR codes were invented by one of the many Denso subsidiaries as a quick easy tool for inventory management.  I thought to myself, if you think about students as widgets, then taking attendance is basically inventory.  Teachers all have computers; lots of QR code readers work on phone cameras, computer web cams, all kinds of things we already have sitting around our classes.  We already give students ID cards that they never do anything with.  They also are supposed to have their planners all the time.  It would be simplicity itself to put a QR code into each of these--for purposes of student confidentiality and the like, it could be the student's ID number rather than the name.  Then all we have to do is make our QR code readers have a settable location (which will remember the last set location and default to that every time it's fired up), read the ID on the QR, add the student's name (or ID number) and the location to a database, compare that database to a previously-generated centrally-located database of student names and expected locations, time-stamp the entry, automatically notify any number of interested parties of discrepancies in the two databases (either by push notification or by sending an e-mail, or, ideally, interfacing directly with our attendance-taking software (which is proprietary)), doing this quickly enough that one unassisted educational assistant could do 150 of them in, let's say, 10 minutes (that works out to be, what, 4 seconds a student? Lots of time.), and doing it easily enough that even the crotchetiest Luddite on the staff can do it.  Easy peasy.

Anyway, it seems like an idea worth exploring.  (And yes, I know we'll never get 100% compliance with cards and planners.  (Edit to add: They could carry their code on (or in) their phones, which many of them always have, for all the difference it makes.) Frankly, that's the least problematic part of implementing this plan.)

3.)   For a little silliness:

If I did this right, if you use a QR code reader on your smart phone to read this on your computer (or vice versa), it will take you back to this post.

Code generated using: http://createqrcode.appspot.com/