Educational Value of Kinetic Typography

I previously wrote a post about creating kinetic typography videos.  I love finding Spanish kinetic typography lyric videos because they A) are attractive and visually pleasing to watch and B) include Spanish lyrics and words so that you can match the Spanish audio with a word.  I have used these videos as supplemental content for a few years.

But this year I wanted to “up the ante”.  I wanted my students to have to make a kinetic typography video of their own–using Spanish songs and Spanish lyrics.  It was a hefty creative task that required some time from the students.  I just finished grading the final products and now I can reflect on the educational value of this project.

Focus on Spanish Lyrics

This type of video is a lyric video, which means the students had to spend a great deal of time with the lyrics of the song.  I did not give them a copy of the Spanish lyrics.  I gave them other lyric video examples that they could copy from or I think some of them just Googled for the Spanish lyrics to the songs.  Regardless, this creation required students to spend a great deal of time working with the Spanish words.  Even if they didn’t know what the words meant necessarily, it was valuable to have them spend so much time immersed in the target language.  I heard a few comments throughout the last few weeks that “I have that word in my song” or referencing that they learned different Spanish words that we didn’t learn in class just because they are used a lot in their song.  This was the main benefit of the project for me: a way to force my students to spend more time absorbed in the Spanish language.

Hearing Spanish Words

In addition to just working with the lyrical text, students had to work with the Spanish audio of the song. They repeatedly had to listen to their song, making them more familiar with the way Spanish sounds.  A few students commented that they can’t hear the original English version of the song anymore without hearing the Spanish lyrics in their head.  And some commented that they listened to it so often the Spanish song got stuck in their head and they kept repeating it.  Even if they didn’t know the direct translation of the audio stuck in their head, having Spanish of any kind floating around the brain is a great learning experience.

Matching Audio to Words

The lyrical text should be matched to the audio.  When students made their videos, they had to make sure the Spanish words appeared in sync with the Spanish audio.  This requires students to do a few different mental tasks at once (always of great educational value).  Students had to listen to the Spanish audio, look at the Spanish lyrical text in their presentation and physically get them to appear together.  This process of audio and visual matching is a great learning activity for them.  It isn’t enough just to have the Spanish lyrics or just to listen to the Spanish audio.  Having to take both pieces and work them together in sync really established a unique learning experience.

Content Creation

Aside from Spanish, a project like this is rewarding just because it allows the students to be content creators: authors of their own learning.  I gave them project parameters, specific benchmarks they were to be graded on but they were allowed to choose their own path of completion.  Some students chose to work together in small groups while others worked alone.  Some created their presentation using Powerpoint and others used Prezi or just IMovie. The finished projects I saw reflected the individual students: I did not receive two identical projects. Each project reflects the individual or individuals responsible for it.  My students that were a little more tech saavy used that to their advantage to create something really innovative.  Students that were less techy produced simpler projects that still met all project guidelines.  Allowing students to be content creators gives them the freedom to publish their own path to learning.

As a teacher, I’m satisfied with that the projected learning outcomes associated with this project were met. I’m proud of the creations my students ended up with and hope they are too.

Creating Kinetic Typography Videos

I wanted my students to create something new and interesting this year using lyrics to popular songs in Spanish.  I found a selection of songs in Spanish that include the Spanish lyrics.  But unlike most lyric videos on YouTube, these videos presented the lyrics in a stimulating and very visual way.  These types of videos are known as kinetic typography videos because the text moves and is interesting.

Here are some examples of Kinetic Typography:

I would create activities using the lyrics to these songs and noticed that the more I listened to the songs, the more engrained in my brain the Spanish lyrics became. I thought “Wouldn’t it be great if I could have my students do something that required them to pay attention to these lyrics?”.  So I decided to have them create kinetic typography videos.

I looked into the process and it can be quite advanced when you want the final product to be like the videos posted above. Most of the software used to create great kinetic typography 1) costs money and 2) requires training time that I couldn’t afford to do in the classroom.  But could a decent kinetic typography be created on a public school budget (aka: free)?

I figured out a way to do this by creating a lyrics presentation using a presentation tool as simple as PowerPoint.  You can animate or make the lyrics “appear” and move.  If you go through the presentation and play it while playing your song, you can sync up the movements so they match the lyrics.  By using a screenrecording program on your computer (like Quicktime), you can record your presentation.  You have just filmed a kinetic typography video!

I’ve listed the directions and process of building a kinetic typography video below.  Check back next week to see my reflections on this project as my students turn in their final products.

Below are the steps and directions that I gave to my students:

There are stages and steps necessary in creating a Kinetic Typography Video.

  1. Download the audio (Find a song to use)
  2. Take the lyrics to the song and create a visual presentation
  3. Film of your presentation (Screencast)
  4. Create a video using your presentation film and the song audio

Continue reading “Creating Kinetic Typography Videos”

The Paperless Classroom Experiment

My school has been 1:1 with laptops for 2 years now.  Eventually the tech coordinator and I believed that going 1:1 would gradually lead to a decrease in printing, photocopying and general paper use but it hasn’t really worked out that way.  Two weeks ago I was preparing my lesson for the next day and began printing some copies of example assignments I wanted to show my students.  The thought just popped into my head and I hit Command+P and printed without even thinking about.  Like a reflex.

So I challenged myself for one week to use no paper in the classroom.  I continued lesson planning like normal, but I had to find ways for myself and my students to work without the use of paper.  I just wrapped this up on Friday, so here are my main reflections on how it all went:

To each their own

Each of my students are different.  There are some students that thrive in a digital environment with hyperlinks and online filing cabinets.  Other students find that harder to navigate and understand.  I tried to, for the most part, give my students digital copies of everything the day before class in case they wanted to print them out on their own.  Is that cheating in a paperless classroom?  Maybe, but I felt like I had to give the students that option.  Almost no students chose to print anything out though.

Sometimes there is no substitute

Sometimes paper is just the best option.  This week I introduced new vocabulary to my Spanish 2 students.  They normally get a paper vocab sheet with the words.  They use that sheet as a reference when we do different activities and I’ve seen them use it for an easy way to study during lunch or before the quiz.  This week they just got a digital copy of the sheet.  I think it definitely impacted the way they studied and learned their vocabulary.  I wasn’t very pleased with assessments results associated with the vocabulary this week.  The students definitely seemed weaker without holding that solid reference sheet.  If I ever did decide to make the move to a 100% paperless classroom, this would be my biggest concern and condition to consider.

Just do it

Kind of like a diet or a lenten resolution, there were some times throughout the week where I just thought I could cheat or cut a corner here and there.  I could have the students write down those answers and turn them into me on paper real quick.  I could just make a classroom copy of this or that.  But this was a challenge/game for me, so I just did it.  And for the most part, everything was just fine.  I think the biggest obstacle in creating a paperless or paper-lessened environment is the decision to plan it that way.  It requires a decision from the teacher to go that route.  It becomes like a discipline behavior.

Worth it?

Sounds like a lot of work or willpower for the teacher.  So is it worth it?  There are certainly benefits to a paper-lessened environment.  I never took home anything to grade — every piece of assessment data I had was on my computer in one form or another.  Easily organized and accessed.  I used digital assessments (on Canvas LMS) vs. regular paper quizzes and that allowed the students to get immediate feedback.  They knew their score before I did.  Which makes sense since it is their score.  Physically less photocopying and printing makes my tech guy happier with the budget, so there are monetary concerns if you look at this large scale.  I also found that doing things this way made it easier to get things to students that were absent.  Normally I have a little table in the corner with handouts, and when I student is absent, they come and ask for a handout that they missed and we search through the piles until we find what they need.  Everything was online for everyone all week, so there was no lag in the distribution of materials.

Future Implications

I can’t go full on paperless.  At least not until the students get more accustomed to that lifestyle.  I only have them for about 50 minutes of their academic day.  When they leave me, they have to go into classrooms where paper exists, so it isn’t helpful to them to put them through that shock just for the heck of it.  But I am going to try and be paper conscious and create a paper-lessened classroom, with less photocopying and printing.  And I’m going to promote this with other teachers to try and create that environment everywhere.  Once the students learn to learn without paper consistently, we can talk about a truly paperless classroom

A funny thing happened on the way to the paperless classroom

I’m going to add this anecdote as a post-script to this paperless classroom blog.  It’s an interesting little thing that happened with my Spanish 3 class of mainly junior students.   Using Doctopus (a truly lifesaving Google Script), each student had a personal online Google Doc where they needed to take notes over Argentina.  I introduced the notes in class but students were supposed to read and take notes on their own outside of class and come back in two days ready to discuss and talk about the information.  As they got settled in to their document and to the online notes, one student asked why they just couldn’t work on this all together.  They had previous experience using Google Docs and Presentations to collaborate with each other and take group notes, and they wanted to know why they couldn’t just do that.  I explained that for future activities that we were going to do, I wanted each student to have their own individual copy of the notes.  I said that I would be checking their personal note sheet to see how they did—but if they wanted to find a way to work together they could.  Then I kind of stepped back.

First they tried to share their personal note taking sheets with each other, but I had blocked that option.  So then a student created a new document and invited the class to all be collaborators.  They worked together to take notes on that document.  Then they went through those group notes and copied them into their personal note taking sheets.  I watched them work through that and thought how transformative that was.  It was completely something that didn’t and couldn’t exist with only paper and no technology.  And it turned out great.  The notes they took were very good and the students were ready for the tasks we had in class later that week.  Certainly they did it because “it was easier” but I choose to focus on the fact that they wanted to collaborate and figured out a way to make it work.

Infographic Syllabus

A class syllabus reminds me of a good restaurant menu.  It is informative and should be easy to scan for the information that you want.  Design in my classroom syllabus has always been important.  Blocked text and paragraphs of info just aren’t that exciting.  Imagine going into a restaurant and getting a 8×12 piece of black and white paper with point 12 Times New Roman font.  What message would that send about the restaurant?

I’ve been dabbling with using infographics in my classroom as assessment tools over the past year and this summer came across some articles on infographic syllabi.  What if you take all the information that you normally share through a syllabus but present it visually, with a mixture of graphics, charts and text.  It’ll be easy to refer to and gives a great first impression of my classroom.

Our 21st century world is full of stimuli competing for our attention.  Never has design been more important in gaining and keeping the attention of a viewer as now.  The education world doesn’t need to be exempt from those principles.  Below is my attempt to create an infographic syllabus.  I’m not a designer but it accomplished what I wanted it to: 1) easy to refer to, 2) contains important information and 3) attractive graphic elements that gain the attention of the viewer.

Syllabus Spanish Infographic


What It Is I Do

I recently signed my contract to be a Spanish teacher next year.  That’s my official title when people ask me: Spanish teacher.  In simplified terms, that’s what I am.  But what is it that I do?  I just finished my 9th year of teaching and I’ve been doing some thinking about that.  These are the two most popular responses I used to give (and I’m guessing fellow teachers would to):

A: I teach Spanish to my students.

B:  I help students learn Spanish.

And I think I finally realized that these statements are not interchangeable or at all the same.  And somewhere along the line of figuring that out, I got closer to understand what it is I do and want to do.

Statement A

Within this viewpoint, the teacher is the one actively doing something: the teaching.  It’s a teacher centered statement, meaning that my job is based around the things that I do.  I do the instructing, the creating of assessments, the giving out of information.  I give “the learning” to my students.  I do it.  They are there to get it.  And that’s a fine construct, one that higher education and traditional educational settings are set-up for and encourage.

Statement B

Whereas in Statement A the teacher is in the limelight, Statement B shadows the teacher into a supporting “helping” role.  The people actively doing something here are the students.  They are doing and are responsible for the learning part.  They have to do that.  The teacher is there to help and make that happen.  The students are the stars of the classroom and the teacher is there as a coach, as back-up, to provide a path but not to just give information.

Neither of these perspectives is right or problematic and a successful teacher probably needs a mixture of the two, but moving forward, I’d like to say that I’m more Statement B than the other.  It’s a completely personal perspective, built upon your own educational philosophy. (click here for my philosophy).

Continue reading “What It Is I Do”

Approaching Education like

About this post: In April of 2012, I attended a workshop/session at Iowa 1:1 Institute in Des Moines, IA led by John Nash, Associate Professor of Educational Leadership Studies at the University of Kentucky.  The session was titled “How to Include Students as Co-Designers in your 1:1 Planning”.  As an introduction into why we need to consider students in the design and implementation of new policies and procedures, Nash drew a brief comparison between education and  It was a seedling that I’ve been thinking about for the past few months (while doing some online shopping) and this is where my educational philosophy has ended up.

Have you ever ordered anything from  It’s your standard online retail store, specializing in shoes.  Nothing glitzy or radically innovative on the surface.  And yet is stands as the model I think about when approaching my classroom and education in the future.

Customer Service

Zappos does the same thing that many other online (and physical) retailers do.  Where they separate themselves is in their customer service.  So why should education follow these footsteps?  Education is a service and teachers are in the service industry.  We don’t make anything; we don’t build anything.  Rather than focus on the things, we should focus on people we serve: our customers.

This can snowball into a larger debate: “Who is the customer?” in terms of education.  Parents? Community? Students? I feel like my profession doesn’t exist without my students.  I serve no purpose if I serve no students.  Students in our classrooms and in our schools are our customers, and too often education only refers to and insinuates their needs and desires.  (read more in a post by John Nash on Service Design and Education)  Zappos has become successful because of their commitment to their customers, addressing needs, considering feedback and creating an overall environment centered around the consumer experience.  Can educators duplicate that commitment?

Free Shipping

One things Zappos does to entice its customers is to offer free shipping, everyday and with no strings attached.  They make their product very easy to get.  It’s not that paying for shipping is that much of an obstacle if I really wanted a pair of shoes, but the fact that the company is willing to offer me that little extra in order to make their products more accessible does not go unnoticed.  Do educators send a message to the students that we think learning should be easily accessible?  Sometimes it feels like the system is setup so that students, parents and teachers are more concerned about the end product (the grade, the test, the score) than the process (the learning).  Those ends results are inevitable: there will be shoes at Zappos, there will be tests in education.  But focusing on those end details don’t necessarily create a recipe for success.  Schools and businesses have to find a way to connect to their consumer and think about the best way to deliver their service in an easy and pleasing fashion.


I go to Zappos to find shoes.  That’s not really innovative and can be done at most online retail shops.  One thing Zappos does real well is providing its customer with many different search options.  I can search shoes by size, by color, by brand, by occasion, by heel height, by material, by season, by accents – – you get the picture.  The end results is a customized shopping experience, built around options that I choose.  The searching options allow me to focus in specifically on what I want rather than searching through the exact same standard search pages that every other consumer does.  Do our students have the ability to customize their own learning experience or do we have them cycle through the same educational experience as every student?  Educational psychologists have done extensive research on personalized learning theories, most notably Thomas Dewey and Howard Gardner. Students learn better when they are personally invested in the material and the process.  Customization, options and differentiation is the way to do this.  Allow students to reach the end objectives through their own chosen path.  Zappos doesn’t care if I find the Franco Sarto Track book by searching through 100 pages, creating a customized search or  by searching customer reviews – – they just want me to get from point A to point B.  Each educational objective is a similar learning journey: start here and by the end, be here.  Let students play a role in the customization of their educational experience by giving them options and supporting that journey.

Return Policy and Follow-Up

Zappos is relentless in their follow-up to every purchase.  They want to know if the product and the experience was satisfactory.  And they truly care about that feedback.  I had to return a pair of shoes once because it was the wrong size.  They apologized, the return shipping was free and they sent me a new size immediately – – before I could pack up the old shoes and send them back.  It wasn’t about who’s fault it was – – there was no fault, just an unsuccessful purchase.  But they reached out, inquired about the purchase and immediately set out to improve my shoe buying experience.  Do educators seek out feedback from students about their overall educational experience, including policy, procedures, etc.?  This echoes a lot of what John Nash talked about in his workshop about including students in rolling out a 1:1 program.  We do these things in education ‘for the students’, yet many times never consult a student on the design and implementation of different programs.  Most professional development is designed to make us better educators ‘for our students’, but how often are students involved in professional development?

The extension of asking for feedback is following up and acknowledging that feedback.  How do we respond to student feedback?  Every shopping experience at Zappos might not work for everyone, just like each educational approach might not work for every student.  Zappos believes that if it doesn’t work for you, return it and they will do what they can to “get it right”.  Educators should make a similar commitment to “getting it right” for the students; gathering feedback and modifying the experience until the outcome is satisfactory for everyone.

Personal Interests

Last fall I bought a nice pair of black ankle boots through Zappos.  Yesterday I logged on and Zappos generated some suggestions for me based on my previous shopping experience.  They also have geographical information on me and suggested some shoes based upon the winter months in Iowa.  Maybe they know too much information about me.  Maybe it’s like an invasion of privacy.  I like to think of it more like they keep in mind my personal interests and use that information to make my next experience one I’m more likely to be interested in.  Do we know our students well enough to be able to create learning experiences that incorporate their personal interests?  I’ve never read a word of Twilight or Harry Potter, but I understand that many of my students not only have but are unnecessarily fanatic about them.  So every once and awhile I reference them and other pop culture phenomena in our activities.  This takes a cookie-cutter activity and makes is a more personal one that they students are more likely to connect to.  Being aware of student personal interests can also help out in the customization options I mentioned earlier.

Connecting with the customer and setting out to enhance their experience has a tendency to get a lot of eye rolls and criticism from the educational community because it’s too fluffy sounding.  We can’t allow students to dictate the future of education – – we have to live in the real world where there are mandates and standards, a common core and decades of educational research that shouldn’t be replaced in order to just put smiles on a 14 year old’s face.  And I couldn’t agree with that point more . . .

Quarterly Projections and Objectives

Let’s not make any mistake about it:  Zappos is in the business to sell shoes.  They have a bottom line, sales goals, quarterly reports, stakeholders, quotas and everything like that.  All those fluffy things they do to enhance the consumer experience are great, but in the end if they don’t sell X amount of shoes in a month, it really doesn’t matter.  Schools are much the same way.  No Child Left Behind or not, public schools will always answer to some state or federal standards.  Test scores matter.  Graduation rates matter.  In my own classroom, I have standards and objectives to reach in every unit.  The goal is to get there, to meet those objectives.  What pathway do I take to get there?  Zappos chose to reach those objectives by dedicating themselves to customer service.  By adopting that philosophy, I can reach my objectives while creating a positive learning experience for my students.  It’s not a choice between the two: meet educational objectives or make my students happy.  It’s symbiotic; each part enhancing the success of the other.

Not “Schools Run Like a Business”

Just Google “Schools Run Like a Business” and the literature from pundits will overwhelm you.  I don’t feel like this philosophical approach to education is promoting schools run like businesses.  Schools are not the place for a “no shirts, no shoes, no service” type of mentality.  Certainly poverty and funding play a huge role in educational success, and I’m not suggesting that poor performing schools go the way of WonderBread, leaving us with only profitable institutions.  It’s more about the mindset of successful business leaders and the philosophy behind building a successful business.  Guy Kawasaki, a venture capitalist tied to Apple’s success, cites these 10 steps for a successful leader in business: Be likable, be trustworthy, perfect your service, tell a great story, overcome resistance, make your enchantment enduring, be a great presenter, use technology, enchant up and enchant down (read full article here).  Which of those principles could not be applied to a successful educator?


Guy Kawasaki and Apple have been quite successful over the past decade or so.  So has  Unfortunately you’ll find enough people that believe that the educational system doesn’t experience that same amount of success.  I don’t think that things are categorically bad or broken right now, but I do think that schools can gain momentum if we approached education like Zappos.

“When you have two coffee shops right next to each other, and each sells the exact same coffee at the exact same price, service design is what makes you walk into one and not the other”  (31 Volts Service Design, 2008, cited in Stickdorn & Schneider, 2010, p. 33).

Why do students walk into our schools everyday?  Geography isn’t a good enough reason for me – – however unrelenting that reason is.  What experience do we offer students that other institutions don’t?  How can we be different?

For more on John Nash, please check out: and follow him on Twitter @jnash

Project Based Learning Experiment

Over the summer, I got an idea from someone in my Edmodo community in regards to project based learning and foreign language.  My friend Wikipedia had this to say about this new educational buzz theory called Project Based Learning: “the use of in-depth and rigorous classroom projects to facilitate learning and assess student competence. Students use technology and inquiry to respond to a complex issue, problem or challenge. PBL focuses on student-centered inquiry and group learning with the teacher acting as a facilitator”.

So with months of preparation, I created Misterios en Madrid.  This mystery project will serve as my concluding assessment project for Spanish 1 at the end of 2nd semester.  To test it out, I had my Spanish 2 class start the year with it.  I had the students working in groups of 3 or 4.  They would assess each other throughout the steps.

Misterios en Madrid had 4 parts, or pasos.  The first group to complete each paso received 100% and subsequent groups received a slightly lower grade than the group ahead of them.  This increased the urgency and brought a competitive component to the activity.  At the beginning of each paso, I presented the material and gave a final task that needed to be completed.  The paths each group took from the beginning to the correct completion of the final task varied.  The goal was for each group to complete that final task.

In order to complete the final task of each paso, students had to use a variety of materials.  Throughout all of the pasos, I used the following materials: written clues in Spanish, VoiceThreads in Spanish, Voki’s in Spanish, maps, pictures and other realia (authentic materials in the target language, such as party invitations, hotel information brochure and hotel receipts.)


  • I enjoyed the “hands-off” role I played during worktime on the Mystery.  The students had a lot of work to do during each paso.  I facilitated but did not lead.  The students really led themselves through the activity.  I was there, in the background, to catch them if they fell or to answer specific questions.
  • Students really had to think critically about the steps they needed/wanted to take in order to complete the tasks at hand, without me feeding them the steps and procedures.  I feel that in other contexts, teachers provide students with so many guidelines that they just move through the motions towards completion like widgets on a conveyor belt.
  • I had 17 different groups working on Misterios en Madrid and had 17 different projects or experiences.  Every group worked a different way and created their own path.  At first I worried that groups would try to hard to emulate each other (or the group they perceived as the most successful) but after the first paso was over, I felt that the students started just to do what worked for them and their group.
  • There were no “super groups”.  I was happy to see so much parity in Misterios en Madrid.  In one class, the groups that finished 1st and last during Paso Uno completely flip-flopped for Paso Dos.  I think that added to the feeling that anyone can and could be successful.  When I immediately split the groups, students expected certain groups to dominate and stifle everyone else, because in a traditional setting, these students do rise to the top.  But the variety of skills need to complete a Paso combined with the open direction concept left the door open for anyone to succeed.
  • I created a few extra credit opportunities for students to work on in addition to Misterios en Madrid to offset any bad days, miscues or unsatisfactory outcomes of the grading of each Paso.  One of the extra credit opportunities I gave was for students to Tweet with the hashtag #MisteriosenMadrid.  It created a social media conversation about our Spanish class activities.  I figured, I know some of my students are already Twittering, why not encourage them to Tweet about what we are doing?  It was a fun by-product of our activities and although it didn’t add anything academic to our class, it did add to our positive classroom culture and positive student interactions.
  • I’ve had successful students before but I never saw so many proud students at the completion of each task.  I would literally see sighs and smiles and looks of accomplishment and pride that I don’t normally see when someone does a super job on a worksheet.  (See more about pride below)
  • I asked some of my students to blog about their experience in our Spanish 2 Blog.  Feel free to read their comments.  One student, Brianna, writes an especially great blog about her group’s experience, recalling the steps, successes and frustrations they encountered.  Really, she says it better than I could.
Student Feedback:
I asked my students to sum up with Misterios en Madrid experience in one word.  Then I typed all of the words into a Wordle.  Common words used are displayed larger than words that only occured once or twice.
Student feedback regarding Misterios en Madrid
  • Other than the work “pointless”, I’m pretty pleased with the feedback.  The project based direction of the class was different, thus for some students, very challenging and frustrating and stressful.  It’s easier when the teacher can just tell you exactly what you need to do in order to get done with your work.
  • Although some of the feedback is quite negative (dumb, horrible, lame), I felt that each person at one point or another during the experience had a good moment; an ah-ha moment of pride.  While one girl told me that she had nightmares about this project and couldn’t stop thinking about it at night, I had another Tweet to all her friends about how “totally accomplished I feel having just finished 1st in #MisteriosenMadrid”.
  • But it was work.  Three weeks of non-stop work where there weren’t many places to hide or slink away and just hope the teacher doesn’t call on you.  You and your group were responsible for a task, and if that task doesn’t get done . . . completely on your shoulders.  That type of work is rarely welcomed by a fifteen year old, so I understand the feelings of “dislike”.
For a better understanding of what the students experienced, please read Brianna’s blog post on our Spanish 2 blog.  Like I said, she explains the student side of it better than I ever could 🙂

Sentence Proofreading Activity

My students are great at knowing all the separate pieces and rules of the language on their own but stumble when it comes to putting them together for the purpose of writing for communication.  Something that always has been a challenge for me is to get my students to edit and proofread their work.  When I give them writing corrections, I feel that the feedback is oftentimes ignored and no learning takes place.  Recently my students have been doing a proofreading activity that has provided many teachable moments and I am now seeing positive results.


Pre-lesson preparation: My Spanish 2 students have been learning about house vocabulary.  While we practiced vocabulary and descriptions in class, I posted a prompt on Edmodo for the students to write about.  They had to go to Edmodo (an online collaboration website for our class) and type just one sentence describing their house.  After they had typed their sentences, I printed them all off on to a piece of paper and we worked with the sentences in class.

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Entrance Ticket: When my students walked into class, each student took a piece of paper and had to brainstorm at least 5 characteristics of a good sentence.  I told them to think about what a Spanish teacher would look for in a perfectly written sentence and also what a 3rd grade teacher would look for in a perfect sentence.  They had approximately 2 minutes for this brainstorming.

Class Sharing and List Making: As a class, we took the characteristics each student generated to create a class list of qualities that a sentence needs to have.  My students were very attuned to the characteristics of quality sentences.  Every class identified punctuation, capital letters and proper spelling.  Most were able to speak about specific Spanish skills, such as proper word order, adjective agreement, gender agreement and correct conjugation.  This class sharing portion of the class was also interesting because many students wrote down good grammar as a characteristic of well written sentences but they couldn’t elaborate on what good grammar was.  They have been told over and over again that they need to have good grammar but couldn’t identify what good grammar meant.  Many teachable language moments came out of this class discussion.

Finding Perfect Sentences: After generating a class list of sentence qualities, each student received a copy of the sentences they had typed in Edmodo about their house.  I told the students how many of the sentences on the paper were perfect sentences, or sentences that had all of the qualities listed on the board.  They worked alone to try and read each of the sentences to find the sentences with no errors.  Since the paper I printed had each student’s name next to their sentence, there was a lot of personal responsibility for the sentences.  Most students focused on their sentence first to see if it was good or not.  Then I noticed that they zeroed in on the sentences of students they perceived as being smart and good at writing.  Once they had some worktime, we came back together as a class and identified all of the perfect sentences.

Levels of Errors: After the perfect sentences were taken care of, we focused on editing the remaining sentences so that they could become perfect.  I talked to them about the importance of the type of errors in these sentences.  For most of my high school students, minus 1 is the same as minus 25; if it’s not perfect, it is no good.  I drew a chart on the board of the 5 levels of sentences that I use when evaluating writing progress.


Peer Editing: I individually called on students to find the errors in the remaining sentences.  Most were able to recognize something wrong.  Sometimes I would give prompts, such as “This is a Level 4 sentence, so we’re looking for a small stuff”, or “Remember to check all of the qualities listed on the board to make sure that everything works”.  I found that the students were very good about finding the errors.  And they also enjoyed the labeling of the sentences in Levels.  While the activity progressed, I heard students debating whether or not a sentence was a Level 4 or a Level 3.  One said, “You just have to add a word here to make it correct, so it’s not that big of a deal.  It’s only a Level 4”.  The other countered with “But Level 4 sentences are so good that you just have to change the parts that are already there.  Forgetting a word is a bigger deal and it should be a Level 3”.  I did notice, however, that some students didn’t like that their sentence was being called out as a Level 3, or the lowest level in this particular activity.  While I know that those individual students didn’t like that part of it, I know that they seriously will learn from that mistake they made.  I also made sure that we spoke only about this one sentence written about that individual and not the individual in general.  Since each student was included in the activity, I felt that they were very respectful towards each other in that regard.

Post Formative Assessment: Some days later I would give a short slip of paper to each student at the beginning or end of class.  I would show them pictures of a house on the projection screen and ask them to write one sentence about that house, remembering the qualities of a proper sentence.  Almost no student made the same mistake on this sentence as he or she did previously.  The total number of correct sentences improved greatly and the students that did make errors made very small errors (Level 4 errors).  I was pleased with the outcome of this activity and will make it a routine writing and proofreading exercise in my lesson plans.

Edmodo Time Experiment

On an overcast Saturday in Iowa, I found it hard to stay interested in my school work.  I had plans to make, materials to develop and, every teacher’s favorite, papers to correct.  As I looked at some of the paper clipped, fringe ladened notebook papers in front of me, I had a thought.  I created a little game for myself to keep me interested in working for the next 3 hours.

Last week in school, I was running late with my first class of the day.  I quickly printed out homework for them to complete on paper.  However, with my later two classes, I had the time to upload the homework to Edmodo, an online classroom module where students can complete the homework online.  I asked myself: Is it faster for me to correct these assignments on paper or on Edmodo? And just like that I had a Saturday challenge to keep me occupied.

I set the timer and began to correct 18 of the paper copies in front of me.  It took me 23 minutes, 15 seconds to correct the sentences and write the grade on the paper.  It took an additional 1 minute 50 seconds to put the scores into my gradebook.  That is a total time 25 minutes, 5 seconds for one class of 18 students.  It’s approximately 1 minute, 40 seconds per student.

One student's Edmodo assignment.

I had more than 18 students complete the assignment on Edmodo, but to keep things equal, I only timed myself for 18 of the students.  In Edmodo, the students type their responses in a text box and the teacher has a comment box for comments.  I commented just as I would have on paper and graded the assignments.  I was done with that portion of my work in 16 minutes, 48 seconds.  I then had to transfer those grades over into my gradebook, but since the students are listed in Edmodo in alphabetical order, it took me only 40 seconds.  (The paper homework was in a random order.) The Edmodo grading took me a total of 17 minutes, 28 seconds.  That breaks down to only 58 seconds per student.

Concluding Reflection:

Pros: Edmodo looks like a clear winner in the department of time saving.  The difference between grading the paper copies and the online assignments was about 42 seconds per student.  I average about 65 students in my Spanish sections, which is about 45 minutes of time saved just grading the assignment and inputting the grades into the computer.  That is 45 minutes of “me time” that I can spend watching Bravo reality shows, painting my nails or chasing my dog.  And it’s 45 less minutes I have to spend in front of my computer or with nubby, fringy homework papers.  Also, the students get that feedback immediately.  They aren’t going to have to wait until Monday when I pass back the paper (which takes about 2 – 3 minutes of instructional time) to get their results.  These students can log-in anytime to see their score and their comments.

Cons: I like my Sharpie correcting pens because they make bright, dark marks on papers.  I like to draw in arrows or missing letters on the assignments so that the students see their mistakes and they pop.  In Edmodo, I am limited to making my comments inside of a text box, so my comments cannot be drawn directly onto one of their sentences.  In this particular assignment, students were writing sentences and I was assessing their sentence structure and grammar.  Being able to make visible corrections over top of their work is valuable and something that is lacking on the Edmodo side.  However, as a high school teacher, I usually carefully watch when my students receive these types of assignments back and most of them take a quick glance at the letter grade and start to crumple it up and practice their jump shot with the trash can.

Bottom Line: For future grammar assignments where I am particularly interested in word order, spelling and construction of the phrases, I would seriously have to think about sticking with the paper assignments.  The feedback options and the opportunity for students to learn from their mistakes should outweigh my basic need for more free time.  But I will not lie: the valuable of a teachable moment vs. 45 minutes of being able to kick back and relaxing creates an internal struggle.

Flying with StoryBird

I few months ago I came across an application called Storybird (thanks to my favorite blog Box of Tricks).  I knew that it was an online application that allowed users to make beautiful, children’s style short books.  While I thought that it was an amazing program, I was stuck knowing that I couldn’t use in Spanish, as the books can only be published in English.

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But then Storybird had a reinvention.  Storybird now allows teachers to create classes and setup accounts for all of their students.  These students can create and publish storybooks under this classroom umbrella.  And since the teacher controls that classroom umbrella, they can be in any language.  My Spanish students can now start writing short children’s stories in Spanish!

Here is the low-down on Storybird:

  • Choose from a sampling of internet artist storybook art to begin creating your book
  • Type in your text and arrange the photo/art however you wish
  • Publish and share books online