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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

5 Favorite Apps for PBL Language Learning

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If you have an inkling to try your hand at project-based language learning (aka "PBLL”), you will need to stay organized, and help keep the students on track toward meeting our communication-based proficiency outcomes. Here are a few tips I have learned as a PBLL teacher.

1) Help! I need a management system!
My favorite app for managing the ebb and flow of communication between my students and me is Edmodo. There are other worthy options, but I have been using Edmodo for a number of years, and it feels like home now.

I post daily agendas on the Edmodo calendar, and I like that students can add notes to their own calendars as well. I post assignments, and assess them in the gradebook, leaving suggestions for improvement. I like to assign reflection prompts on a regular basis, so posting them on Edmodo means I don’t need to collect another piece of paper. What’s more, I can go home, sit in my comfy chair, read the reflections on my iPad, respond quickly to them, and keep students on track with their projects. I like that we can post students' final products, and share them with our sister classes in Martinique and in Marseille, knowing that our friends will see them and post comments. They really enjoy seeing the comments in French from our friends!

I also appreciate that students can send me notes and questions via Edmodo; I have set up notifications to come to my phone, so I can reply when I wish, usually right away since it entails only a moment or two to do so. Edmodo has really helped me develop good relationships with my students. Parents can follow their students as well. 

Did I mention that Edmodo is free? Yes, they have a few upgrades for which one can pay, but the most important tools cost nothing. Nice!

2) Reminders on Remind!
As I have reached the “mature” teacher stage of my career, I have become a bit forgetful! Luckily there is Remind (formerly known as Remind 101). I like that I can send a quick note to a whole class, or to just a few students at a time. Remind has added some nice new features as well, my favorite being that I can attach a file to the message, like handouts and the rubrics for our unit, and the students have them in hand right away. If a student says (s)he needs another copy, I simply send it via Remind. I like that I can send notes to help students prepare for presentation day, to bring their food items to share on holidays, or just to complement them for doing a good job. They like that the notices come right to their phones. Win win win! Did I mention that Remind is free? Yes indeed! Free.

3) Blending content on BlendSpace.
I love to use lots of authentic resources in the target language. There is little need for textbooks when there are so many multi-media options available on the Internet (I still use textbooks, just not very often). Blendspace is a great tool for creating a playlist of resources: photos, videos, text… For each resource, I can add some text or a question or prompt to accompany the media. Students click on each resource, see the prompt, and contribute to a class discussion right in the playlist. Other students can post comments in response to others. Once the playlist is assembled, I can embed the playlist on my class website or on Edmodo. Did I mention that BlendSpace is free? I am starting to see a pattern here!

4) Bulletin boards on Padlet.
I LOVE Padlet, and so do my students. I create a board, post a prompt with an accompanying image, link or document, and students post their replies, questions, or other contributions on the board.

We recently did a project on art and museums in Paris. To support students to learn to describe various types of artwork, I posted photos of paintings, statues, and other artworks on a Padlet board, and asked students to write descriptions. They were all engaged with their learning, and I had a document at the end as a formative assessment which helped me track their progress toward meeting the communication-based objectives of our unit. The next day, I  provided workshops on various aspects of the target language or cultural content which needed clarification. The feedback helped students to improve their projects. Did I mention that Padlet is free? Yup, free, just like the others! 

5) Flipping for FlipGrid!
I have one more tool to share. It is FlipGrid.com, and although it isn’t free (sorry!), it isn’t expensive either, not for what you get. FlipGrid costs 65$ a year, and for that, I get a great tool to help my students gain confidence with their speaking skills. I post a prompt or question, and students record a video reply. They can view their video before they submit. If they want to, they can re-do their video reply as many times as they like, until they submit the final response.

I have a lot of students who are deathly afraid of speaking in front of an audience. FlipGrid allows them, and the others who are more brave, to submit a speaking assignment which represents their best work. They are happy because they can do it even on their phone if they want. I am happy because I finally have an EASY tool to use to collect speaking assignments, and assess them on my iPad in that comfy chair I mentioned earlier. SO much more fun than grading those old grammar tests I used to give so very long ago. It may not be free, but it is well worth it to me, especially when I see the results. Priceless! 

What about you? What other tools have you found useful for your language classes? I would love to hear about them and share ideas about how you are using them to support your students to communicative-proficiency in the language you teach. Hope to see your comments soon!

Best wishes,
Don


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Comments (7) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Laura Bradley, MA, NBCT's picture
Laura Bradley, MA, NBCT
Middle school English/Digital Media teacher

These are great resources, Don - and not just for PBLL! I'm looking forward to trying BlendSpace. FlipGrid sounds cool, too, but I'm wondering about a free option. Have you tried MoveNote? It allows us (and our students) to easily embed video into a Doc or even an email, which would be a simple way for kids to record their speaking assignments and share or send them to teachers, classmates, etc. It sounds really promising, but I haven't tried it myself.

Don Doehla, MA, NBCT's picture
Don Doehla, MA, NBCT
2015 California Language Teacher of the Year, Co-Director Berkeley WL Project at UC Berkeley Language Center

Thanks Laura! And for the tip on MoveNote as well - I will need to check that one out. Sounds like a it is a good one to check out. More later!
Don

Evan Lai's picture

Hi Don! Great list of resources. I'm especially a big fan of Flipgrid!

I'm working on an language teaching app that I'd love for you to check out. It's called Colango (teacher.colango.com) and we are trying to bring social language learning to classrooms. We're currently looking for Beta testers so if you or anyone is interested please contact us! We would love any feedback you might have.

Bests,

Evan

Don Doehla, MA, NBCT's picture
Don Doehla, MA, NBCT
2015 California Language Teacher of the Year, Co-Director Berkeley WL Project at UC Berkeley Language Center

Hello Evan,
Thanks for sharing your project. Looks like a great idea! I see that you have an Android app with iOS in the plans for the future. I will be keen to see how it works out for you, so keep us posted! I don't have an Android device, so I suspect I am not the best candidate for Beta testing, unless I have missed something? Best wishes to you!
Don

Evan Lai's picture

Hi Don, you are correct we are currently only available on android but I'm actually looking for Beta testers for our full website launch on 1/25/15. We're bringing the android functionality to the web with more features and are looking for Beta testers so we can get some great feedback =) Does this sound interesting to you?

Tom_IHBCN's picture

I'd suggest Tackk. I much prefer it to Padlet. It's obviously not the same, but is great for PBL and for creating a simple "webpage" on which to display work and peer comment on it.

Spreaker (very like SoundCloud, which no longer works for recording on mobile) also wonderful for language learning speaking and listening practice. Probably in fact my #2 app for language learning.

Edmodo? Definitely also my #1!

Don Doehla, MA, NBCT's picture
Don Doehla, MA, NBCT
2015 California Language Teacher of the Year, Co-Director Berkeley WL Project at UC Berkeley Language Center

Hi Tom, thanks for sharing your favorites as well! I will check out your suggestions. We live in an exciting time for language-learning. So amy creative options, and so little time, right? Best wishes to you, and thanks for sharing,

Don

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