Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Friendly Conversations with Videopals

While taking my students outside the walls through Hangouts and various games/activities, I was really searching for more of a spontaneous opportunity for my grade 8 students, expanding their abilities to use listening and speaking strategies, being able to carry on a conversation, and voice opinions, thus meeting curriculum expectations and challenging them.  Corrie DeNure had talked about video penpals and organizing the files in Google.

I investigated this further and thought that I would like to pursue this with my grade 8s.  In January, I met up with Kayla Myers and we embarked on this adventure together; however, because she is at a smaller school, she needed to include her 8s, 7s and some of her 6’s. We each sent home letters to parents to make them aware of the project.  (Kayla was required to get more concrete permission.)  In my Google Drive, I set up folders for each one of my students which I shared with Kayla.  She shared each folder with a different one of her students.  We chose not to match the students according to ability, but rather, we randomly paired them.  This first set of folders was used to put in the students recorded conversations to which the 4 of us (2 teachers and the set of paired students) had access.  A second set of folders was created for each student and was shared only between the teacher and that student.  It was in this folder that metacognition reflections and grading rubrics/feedback pages were shared.

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For the rubric, we modified the open rubric that Jen Aston had designed for the Box of Lies. As well, we designed a metacognition page for the students to use to reflect on their growth.  These two pages along with the assignment were outlined and questions were answered, and we were off.  We would alternate weeks on listening and sending messages.

Students had the choice of doing either a video recording or just a voice recording which were completed on iPads (Voice Record Pro was used for voice only).  Students were not allowed to write out a script.  The recording was then viewed by the teacher and put into the appropriate folder.  After recording, students completed their metacognition and then the teacher marked the recording and metacognition using the rubric, giving feedback, and then putting it in the second folder for the student.

My students went first.  Many of them recorded their name and asked what their videopal’s name was and that was it - a 10 sec message.  We had a discussion on what a conversation was.  We brainstormed topics that they knew vocabulary for and could talk about.  I put these on wheels on the Smartboard and for the next two weeks, we started class with spinning a wheel, having a large group conversation on that topic, then the students partnered and then we discussed needed vocabulary.  For the most part, the conversations started to lengthen but students still struggled with their perception of fluency.  So Kayla and I made videos for each other and played them for our students as models.  Students heard pauses and corrections, and when asked how we remembered everything, I showed my students how I used a piece of paper to write down keywords and used some codes as reminders for what was said or asked so I could respond.  Many of my students went on to use this strategy for future recordings.

Students worked on this assignment for 4 months.  By the end of the time, most students were recording messages over a minute in length, and some over a minute and a half.  The use of strategies had grown, and they were making more connections to each other’s ideas and opinions and adding more information upon which the other person could comment.

Upon wrapping up this assignment, we completed a survey with our students which reflected on their experience and growth, as well as provided feedback to we teachers for future planning. Here are some of the questions and results:
1.Did you take advantage of this experience? - yes/no/could have given more effort
                                                                           76 / 2 / 22        
2.Did you like this activity?  - yes/no/it was okay
The following 3 questions were on a rating scale with 1 being little/none to 5 being a lot:

3.By doing this activity, how much more comfortable and confident are you with speaking with others in French?
1                                                         5
                     38% at 3 / 42% at 4  / 10% at 5

4.By doing this activity I improved my listening strategies:
1                                                                   5
                             32% at 3 / 52% at 4  / 10% at 5

5.By doing this activity I improved my speaking strategies:
1                                                                   5
                                 26% at 3 / 52% at 4  / 20% at 5

Overall, the students felt that this activity was successful in increasing their confidence and use of listening and speaking strategies (with a greater increase in verbal strategies now being used).

When asked “If I could do this activity again, I would…”, here is a sample of some of the responses:
I think I would ask more meaningful questions that I can really talk about and connect on instead of just, do you have a dog? What's your dogs name? etc.. I think I'd be neat to have had a better connection with X one that would make us better friends and I could've done that by asking questions about her personality.

Looked up more words to expand my vocabulary

If I were to do this activity again I would ask my partner more complex questions so we could have a better more beneficial conversation.

If I could do this activity again, I'd focus more on the fact that having a conversation in French is just like having a conversation in English. At the beginning I didn't know what to expect and I was all over the place with my conversations. I also don't think that I was conversing to my full potential in the start, so if I could change things, I would probably just be more confident and speak the way I would in English.

Finally, when asked “If I could change something about this activity I would suggest…”, here are the suggestions we received:

Live chats
Do the metacognition less
Start in September so we can meet them and know them longer
Do it more often - not have to wait for our week - answer as soon as we got a video back
Go and meet them

As teachers, we were pleased with our first attempt and saw the value in this type of activity.  We did, however, find the grading of everything onerous, and we are adapting some changes for the upcoming year.  We will use Google Classroom instead of our Drives.  We are going to start the end of September as suggested, and I am looking to do this activity with my grade 7s as well.  We will grade the recordings at the end of 4 sessions, and although all recordings will be viewed and considered, the students can select the one they want us to focus on for grading.  As well, the students will do the metacognition piece once during this time as having them complete it every time they recorded seemed to prove that they began to repeat the same comments and struggled to indicate their growth in their thoughts.  As well, we are going to add the lists of listening and speaking strategies to the bottom of the metacognition page so the students can check them off and continue to work on the strategies that they feel they are not using.  Every two months, we would like to do a live chat.

Having spontaneous conversations showed the students what they they were capable of or not, allowing the students to take greater responsibility for their learning.

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