13 February 2017

Online Students: How do you know what they know?

You could just assign a writing task to see what they can do. And they could just run the whole thing with a translator.

You could have them upload a video of themselves speaking. And they could script the whole thing--and then run it through a translator.

You could have them record themselves talking through a video or text interpretation on video. And then spend hours--even on double speed--reviewing every video for evidence.

Look, "Gotcha" is an unwinnable game in an online class.

So why not just ask them?

I'm used to knowing my kids before they walk in--I'm used to them walking in! Getting a feel for people I haven't met and won't meet (at least before we can arrange a time to meet at a local restaurant), it's a conundrum. I mean, I WISH I could design a curriculum that would work for anyone anywhere, but the fact of the matter is, that's not how I work. I have to know what tastes and personalities I'm dealing with before I can set a satisfactory direction for the course. Otherwise I fall into the same old traps, just like any face-to-face class.

Opening a dialogue in English has been the truest measure I have found to figure out what these new strangers can do. Just asking them what they have studied and what they do--and don't--feel comfortable doing has helped me A) put them at ease and B) decide where exactly we need to start.

I confess. I had no chill last semester. I told them as soon as we walked into the restaurant, we would speak ONLY Spanish, so I could attempt to simulate 90% TL, if only for one hour a month.

But it wasn't worth it.

Sing Along

Now, I still give them tasks to complete in Spanish from the get-go. My favorite, of course, starts with music. But instead of having them get the hang of Vibby and interpret right off, I used it as an excuse to see their faces, hear their voices. That's right, they have to sing Week 1--or at least recite. They say the words to the chorus from a song I hand pick from my list (I give them the words), and they pause between each line and explain in English what it means, then just quickly say in Spanish what they think of the song. This way I can see them, hear them, pick up on how script and translator-dependent they are without having to penalize them.

But this is just a hint--and an excuse for me to see their little faces. The real feedback comes from just asking, but with the right scaffolding.

AAPPL Graphics & Thinglink

I love, love, love the cool people I work with in my district. But I know they struggle with teaching for proficiency. So I know these kids are probably not coming to me with a firm grasp on the three modes or proficiency levels. Fortunately, I made some charts out of AAPPL rubrics so I could understand proficiency levels better.

So I shared these graphics with the kiddos in the form of three separate ThingLink images to help them start to figure out where they fit in the grand scheme of proficiency for each mode.

Their job was to add tags to show where they thought they were, like so:

A few notes on the logistics of this process:
  1. Make sure you set it so that "anyone" can edit it, so when you link it in whatever LMS you're working from, they will actually be able to add their own tags.
  2. If I were a moneyed person, I would get school accounts so everyone could mark it with a different color. Not being quite that moneyed, I did not indicate that they should change colors, though it was nice that a couple took it upon themselves to switch up theirs anyway.
  3. I did have them include their names in brackets at the beginning of what they typed and added tag examples with my own name, and the tags indicated where I expected they would be starting and where I hoped they'd end p.
  4. I only asked them to put one tag, but I really liked that most decided to mark in each category (for example, blue is one person and green is a different person--quite a range there with just one!)
  5. In retrospect, I think I would also do more to emphasize that this chart starts with the easiest at the top and gets more complex as it goes down. Some seemed confused. I did have them comment on a discussion about surprises, but I think I would have them just ask questions in the future. That might take care of some of the confusion more organically.

Now, I have met online or in person only with about half of the class at this point, but I feel like just opening up this dialogue, exploring proficiency visually and personally, has made this semester a lot more...worthwhile.

I feel like we can really hear each other now.

And not just because I made them sing Enrique first thing.

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