Web applications are fun for both teachers and students, but often both teachers and students can become too preoccupied with the tool itself and forget what its purpose ought to be: to support teaching and learning. Here’s a little guide to using three fantastic web applications successfully and effectively.
In fact, time wasting and lack of academic rigour are two criticism often levelled at the use of web applications in the classroom. However, just like any other tool, when used appropriately, these web applications will soon prove their worth to you and your students as an effective learning tool and I am certain they will become an essential part of your schemes of work.
Whilst the tool may change the principles remain the same. Let’s look at how to plan a series of lessons before we look at each of the tools in more detail, but first a note of caution:
Not a magic bullet
I use web applications regularly. Regularly does not mean so often that your class gets bored of them. To me regularly means once or twice every half term – roughly 6 weeks. I also vary the web application so that any single class uses a variety of tools throughout the academic year. In my experience, overusing any of the tools below may lead to your students quickly becoming weary of any particular tool, as the novelty factor wears off and their interest and engagement wanes. In order to stop the tool itself becoming an obstacle to successful learning, how you plan and deliver the series of lessons leading up to actually using the tool is therefore essential.
Approximately once every half term I will plan a series of lessons culminating in the use of one of these web applications. I generally follow this pattern:
- Our first lesson in the sequence focuses on revising the appropriate vocabulary and/or grammatical structures. At the end of the lesson, I set a relevant writing task for homework, with the aim of basing the eventual use of a specific web application upon this task. I make sure that pupils are made aware of what we are doing, perhaps by showing them examples of work by other students who previously used this particular web app, but I also make sure I tell them why we are doing it, for example “to increase the range and complexity of your Spanish”. Setting clear tasks that are perceived as useful is fundamental to the pedagogically successful completion of the task.
- In subsequent lessons we develop the topic further and I return their exercise books with highlighted errors and corrections to their homework.
- Eventually, I will take the class to an ICT room and introduce them to the web application in question, perhaps handing out individual user names and passwords if the tool allows for this. I will give them five or ten minutes to familiarise themselves with the app, however I will soon explain very clearly what they need to do. For example: “use your homework and your corrections to produce a 80 -100 words description of xxxx, ensuring that you use xxxx and xxxx”. As these web applications are available online, the task can be finished for homework.
- Finally, I will publish my students’ work in our blog and encourage them to peer-assess by leaving comments for one another.
So, which tools have been essential for me this half term?
Glogster has been a regular feature in my lessons for a couple of years now. Its intuitive interface and visually attractive results has made it a popular addition to our schemes of work for both students and teachers alike.
Since my students and I first started using it back in October 2008, Glogster has developed an EDU service that caters specifically for schools (under a freemium model), allowing teachers to manage classes and students to have their own accounts, through which they can share and comment on each other’s creations in the safety of a closed group.
Here is a recent example of Glogster that includes text, speech and video, courtesy of Raghav in Year 9 (13 years old). Which other tool allows your students to practice all four skills (reading, writing, speaking and listening) in the one activity?
Tip: these Glogster posters, or Glogs, can also be printed out, resulting in wonderful classroom displays.
This term I used Storybird with my Year 10 (14 years old), as writing practice. Storybird recently changed its policy to allow the creation and, crucially, publication of storybirds in foreign languages, which has resulted in it becoming one of my favourite tools in my box of tricks. With storybird, my students are able to write creatively in Spanish and share their stories with other students in their group. The tool allows teachers to create and manage classes and it allows students to leave comments for one another.
Here is an example of a story by Adam:
Tip: If you use the print screen function on your keyboard (or shift+command+3 on a Mac) whilst in full screen mode, you can then paste each page into a word document or powerpoint presentation, which can then be printed to create fantastic classroom displays.
Voki is close to my heart as it is the very first web app that I ever used in my classroom. Voki allows our students to create speaking avatars and it regularly features in my teaching, especially with the younger groups. Voki is also currently developing it’s Voki for Education scheme. I can’t wait what the futire will bring.
Here is a Voki by Max, from Year 9:
Tip: Voki is a fantastic way to set speaking homework. Every now and then, instead of the old writing tasks, you can ask your students to speak for a minute about a given topic. It’s a brilliant tool to assess speaking.
If you have any comments about the above tools or wish to share your own, I would love to know. Please leave a comment below.