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June 2015

Ready to Jump Into Blended Learning?
Carol Marcolini, CITT for Hampton City Schools
Laurie Smith, Retired CITT from Hampton City Public Schools

The advantages of creating a blended online class outweigh the time investment. Naturally, creating something new and making it work, personalizing it for you and your students will take time but once that initial investment is made, the benefit to you and your students make it worth the effort. Students will always know where to find the assignments, due dates, notes, and project descriptions. No more lost papers, or excuses for ignorance of assignments. Train your students to check the online class for assignments for when they are absent. Show your parents how to access the site so they can be part of your instructional home team. Advantages are easier grading and fewer papers/folders/stuff to carry home and back to school as well as less copying, less frustration for both you and your students. You will have increased time to spend in the classroom, devoting it rather to speaking and listening in the target language, which is the goal of every foreign language teacher. Read more... (PDF)

May 2015

Apps for 2015 and some others
Carol Marcolini, CITT for Hampton City Schools
Laurie Smith, Retired CITT from Hampton City Public Schools

Apps are powerful creative tools, interactive textbooks, and a universe of content that make for endless learning possibilities and uses. The world we live in is surrounded by endless amounts of information and as educators we have a duty to help our students master technology as well as subjects, as it applies to school and the future. Technology will be used in every aspect of our professional lives. There are many web sites that help you look at apps by category, uses, platform, dates, etc. Read more... (PDF)

March/April 2015

Technology Enables Authentic and Original Expression
Carol Marcolini, CITT for Hampton City Schools
Laurie Smith, Retired CITT from Hampton City Public Schools

Today's students are growing up as digital citizens. Yet so much instruction and independent practice remains old school. We need to allow them to express themselves with familiar tools in authentic ways. Let's build on ACTFL's three Modes of Communication: Interpretative, Interpersonal, and Presentational. How does technology support communication in another language? Read more... (PDF)

January/February 2015

Carol Marcolini, CITT for Hampton City Schools
Laurie Smith, Retired CITT from Hampton City Public Schools

What is twitter? Twitter is a social networking and microblogging tool that allows users to send messages, aka "Tweets," that are no more than 140 characters (all letters, numbers and spaces) in length. Tweets can include pictures, videos, links to websites, callouts to other twitter users (@), and discussion topics by hashtags (#). It can be used on a desktop/laptop computer as well as on a mobile device using the free twitter app (iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, Android device, any smartphone).

Twitter…   | Read more… (PDF)
Twitter…Getting Started   | Read more… (PDF)
Twitter…Etiquette   | Read more… (PDF)

November/December 2014

Creating Flashcards and Jeopardy from Flippity
Carol Marcolini, CITT for Hampton City Schools
Tracy Smith, Retired CITT from Hampton City Public Schools

Are you looking for a site with ideas and apps? Every day the blog Free Technology for Teachers provides teachers with free websites and resources that they can use in their classrooms. … Flippity can be used for many things, including making flashcards and a Jeopardy-style game. Read more... (PDF)

September/October 2014

Using Technology for Language Learning
Carol Marcolini, CITT, Hampton City VA Public Schools,
Laurie Smith, CITT Retired from Hampton City VA Public Schools

We spend hours planning engaging and meaningful lessons to do everything possible to assist in students' learning. Using the resources available, we craft activities for our students to practice speaking, listening, reading and writing. … What about when they are at home? What free or low cost resources are available to students? … Naturally, the resources you provide your students are meaningful, but allowing students to choose options to practice on their own encourages their dedication to learning the language as well as letting them target the resource that supports their learning styles. Read more... (PDF)

July/August 2014

Digital Citizenship
Carol Marcolini, CITT, Hampton City VA Public Schools,
Laurie Smith, CITT Retired from Hampton City VA Public Schools

However you use technology in the classroom, every teacher needs to teach their students how to be good digital citizens. Just like we want students to become active and thoughtful participants in the physical classroom, we need to include in our instruction our expectations for becoming successful and responsible users of technology.

Read more... (PDF)

May/June 2014

Google Is So Much More Than Email
Carol Marcolini, Hampton City Virginia Public Schools
Laurie Smith, Hampton City Virginia Public Schools, Retired

So you have a Google email account! Is it for work? Does your division provide it? Whether is it provided by work, or you set it up yourself, use this professional resource for more than sending messages and receiving attachments. With free resources that are universal and free of charge, Google is reliable and omnipresent.

March/April 2014

Using Edmodo to Increase Relevance in FL Instruction
Carol Marcolini, Hampton City Virginia Public Schools
Laurie Smith, Hampton City Virginia Public Schools, Retired

Edmodo provides a base to create excitement for your class through authentic engagement. It is 24 hour access to your teacher and your students. It is social learning. Edmodo is a great way to get students engaged and organized. It is free..... If you are new to Edmodo, it looks like Facebook so is easy to navigate and appealing. The website is

A few advantages.....a teacher can post the agenda and handouts on the class page, with links to the wiki and other resources. Students can also post files or videos to share. It's a great help when students are absent, as they can still access the class, get the agenda, and download any handouts. It becomes a paperless classroom.

January/February 2014

Effective Use of Screencasting in the Foreign Language Classroom
Carol Marcolini, Hampton City Virginia Public Schools
Laurie Smith, Hampton City Virginia Public Schools, Retired

Whether your school has adopted a Bring Your Own Device or a 1:1 initiative, almost every high school student has access to some digital device. Instead of fighting the trend, for we all know they have them and with them, let's leverage those devices to assist in their learning foreign language. For this article, we will focus on the most popular iDevice, the iPad. Of course, many students will have iPhones, which can use the same apps and activities. As strange as it may seem to some of us, the iPhone or other smart phone is a real extension of today's student's anatomy. They feel as lost without it as we feel without a watch. Let's address the skills we want the students to acquire in regards to the target language. Whatever we do in class, it only matters if it improves the students' ability to speak, write, read and think in the target language.

November/December 2013

Effective Use of Screencasting in the Foreign Language Classroom
Carol Marcolini, Hampton City Virginia Public Schools
Laurie Smith, Hampton City Virginia Public Schools, Retired

We welcome a team of writers for this column! Carol and Laurie will be sharing their ideas and projects with us through the next several issues of our e-newsletter. Please contact them through the editor if you have suggestions and/or questions. ~Editor

It seems everyone is making videos these days.
The truth is it's easier than ever to create videos for your classroom.
Apps for tablets and free web-based programs make screencasting simple for tech savvy and tech novices alike. And there are many hosting options to suit your needs.
6 reasons to create your own videos.
4 reasons to have students screencast.
Easy to follow directions to give you a head start.
Read more... (PDF)

September/October 2013

Review Games
Jamie Suria, Fairfax County Virginia Public Schools

One of the most important aspects of instruction is reinforcement. Our students always benefit from reviewing what has already been taught, and manipulating what they have learned in a variety of contexts. However, using the same methods to review material can become stale and doesn't appeal to the wide range of learning styles and aptitudes in your classroom. Luckily, there are a lot of resources available online to help you design games that will keep your review fresh and - most importantly - engaging! Read more... (PDF)

July/August 2013

Internet Sites to Bring Culture Alive in your Classroom
Jamie Suria, GW Graduate School of Education

The second ACFTL Standard for Foreign Language Education is Culture, making it the most important aspect of foreign language instruction after Communication. Most foreign language educators would agree that the ability to experience and interact with a new culture is also one of the most rewarding benefits of learning a foreign language. Fortunately, modern technology and the Internet are making it easier to provide our students with plenty of opportunities to experience the target culture.

Mi Vida Loca is an interactive video series produced by the BBC that is perfect for introducing low-level students to Spanish culture. The video series takes students on an intrigue mystery adventure to Madrid and beyond in 22 episodes (10 min. each), at a level appropriate for beginner Spanish students. Resources for educators (or self-directed students!), including explanations and activities for vocabulary and grammar, accompany each episode. mividaloca
Zambombazo offers a wide range of engaging classroom activities based on authentic cultural artifacts that can be found on-line, such as songs, videos, advertisements – even Tweets! The website can be navigated based on genre, country, grammar topic, or thematic topic. Zambombazo

French in Action is a video instructional series in French for secondary students. The website includes free access to 52 half-hour video programs which use active participation to increase French language skills and provide an introduction to French culture.

Destinos is a free video series from the same organization intended for secondary Spanish students that includes 52 half-hour videos.

News in Slow French provides weekly news articles along with recordings of native speakers reading the text – with two options of pacing in order to aid comprehension for lower-level students. Activities highlight French grammar and expressions. Podcasts and additional resources for learning French lessons are also available on the website.

It does require a paid subscription. However, educational discounts are available for schools, colleges, and study groups.
Slow German is a side project of Annik Rubens who produces the podcast Sleepless in Munich. The topics of her Slow German podcasts include everything from holidays to automobiles. The podcasts and transcripts are free. For an additional fee you can purchase the accompanying materials in PDF format, which include vocabulary, comprehension questions, and a cloze exercise.  An iPhone app is also available through the iTunes store. slowgerman

For a more extensive list of cultural resources in over 46 languages, visit Open Culture.

May/June 2013

Tech for Teachers: Internet Safety
Jamie Suria, GW Graduate School of Education

With children and adolescents spending more time online, both within and outside of the classroom, it is imperative that we explicitly teach students how to use technology and access media appropriately, and what they need to do to protect themselves online. As we introduce technology into the foreign language classroom, we must also raise our students’ awareness about online safety and digital security issues.

Teaching Internet Safety in the Foreign Language Classroom

When broaching a topic as important as Internet safety, it’s important that the material is comprehensible and accessible to students. For beginning and even intermediate language classes, you might consider using mostly materials in English to make sure students fully understand the information.

Using mostly English-language materials doesn’t mean that there isn’t opportunity to use the target language while discussing online safety. Consider tying your discussion into a larger thematic unit on technology and media. Provided with the necessary vocabulary and linguistic support, lower level students could create their own target-language materials for use in future years. This would be a great opportunity to introduce commands and discuss cognates, if your target language shares any technological terms with English.

Resources in English

img1Non-profit organization Common Sense Media is dedicated to providing trustworthy information and tools for kids, along with their families and educators, to make educated choices about media and thrive in our technological world.

Common Sense Media offers a completely free Digital Literacy and Citizenship Curriculum to help educators empower their students and their school communities to be safe, responsible, and savvy as they navigate the digital world. Standards-aligned lessons for all grades K-12 are available on a variety of topics including Internet safety, privacy, security, cyberbullying, and creative credit and copyrights. Many other great resources are available to educators such as classroom posters and toolkits for specific topics.


interactiveAn interactive, educational program created by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC), the NetSmartz Workshop provides resources for families and educators to help children ages 5-17 be safer on-line and off. With resources such as videos, games, activity cards, and presentations, NetSmartz entertains while it educates.

The Netsmartz Workshop Educators section contains online safety education kits for elementary and middle school teachers. Their free collection of teaching materials for primary, intermediate and secondary levels contains videos, lesson plans, and teachable recipes to help you create a dynamic Internet safety curriculum and empower your students to be safer online.


Resources in the Target Language

More advanced students can take advantage of the many target-language resources available regarding online safety, technology and media. Below are some examples of Spanish-language resources, just to give you an idea of what is available.

For other languages, consider starting with the government websites for target-language countries as many have resources available or can provide links to trustworthy non-profits that deal with these issues. For example, HabiloMédias (or MediaSmarts) is a Canadian organization funded by public and private sponsors with educational materials on digital issues such as cyber security and cyberbullying available in French and English.

Cimg2uida Tu Imagen Online is an online educational resource to educate Spanish-speaking students about online privacy issues. It is promoted by a group of institutions and organizations from Spain and various Latin American countries.

Taking and uploading or sending pictures using cell phones is a part of everyday life for most teenagers and, increasingly, younger children – whether they are in public, or supposedly private places such as a friend’s house. Cuida Tu Imagen Online is a fun and age-appropriate way to raise students’ awareness about topics such as use of personal data, social networks, digital privacy and “sexting.” It includes videos and an interactive trivia game that students can use to test their knowledge of Internet safety and privacy.


If you are looking for similar interactive sites in Spanish, there is also Navegación Segura which has a trivia game covering such topics as computer viruses, Trojans, spyware and cyberbullying.
img3  The Spanish government’s Office of Internet Security (OSI) provides information and support for avoiding and solving Internet security problems. Its website for protecting minors, MinoresOSI, contains useful links, programs, and educational resources for families and educators.
A great resource for the foreign language classroom is the MenoresOSI YouTube channel. Informational live-action and animated videos geared toward primary, intermediate and secondary students address such topics as protecting your personal privacy on social networks. These videos are a great way to introduce listening skills and media into your class, while still educating your students on safe online behavior.

However you choose to address it with your students, Internet safety is an important issue, and it should be discussed with your students continuously throughout the school year.

March/April 2013

Tech for Teachers: Podcasts and Listening Resources
Jamie Suria, GW Graduate School of Education

Finding authentic, quality listening materials that can spark student interest and motivation can be a challenge for any foreign language instructor, especially for the less frequently-taught languages. Luckily, there is a large variety of listening resources available online to fit any learning objective, in almost every language imaginable. Educators can take advantage of the growing library of free authentic and instructional podcasts to provide students with listening practice within and outside of the classroom. Students will also love to create and share their own podcasts, which integrates speaking skills and provides an authentic opportunity for performance-based assessment.

Podcast Listening Resources

top50 A wonderful place to start for listening resources is this list of Top 50 Podcasts for learning Spanish, French, Italian, German, Chinese and Japanese. This list includes conversational, professional and academic podcasts that make great materials for listening practice. Use this list for materials to accompany classroom listening activities, anchor activities, or independent listening practice.

The website was created to disseminate free information about world languages, as well as existing resources for learning and teaching materials. Their Innovative Language Podcasts and Mobile Language Learning resources provide free language learning podcasts and mobile apps to help your students with listening and other language skills. Podcasts, with accompanying videos and activities, are available for dozens of languages including Arabic, Chinese, English, French, German, Hebrew, Hindi, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish.

nclrc The NCLRC Language Resource Podcasts include exciting video and audio resources for foreign language educators, from our friendly staff here at the National Capital Language Resource Center. You can find podcasts of Summer Institute Highlights, Teacher Training, Global Careers, Hangout Interviews, Critical Languages and Webcasts.

For students with access to iPhones, iPods and iPads, the iTunes U app gives you an amazing new way for your students to experience and share multimedia resources. iTunes U is available no matter where you teach — at any college, university, or K-12 school. From the iTunes U app, students can view podcasts, video or audio lectures, as well as and take notes that are synchronized with the lecture, read iBooks and view presentations.

Podcast Creation Resources

Students love creating their own podcasts. Particularly in the foreign language classroom, podcasts allow students to show of what they’ve learned and allow you to evaluate their language ability using an authentic, performance-based assessment. There are many websites available for instructors to learn more about podcasting and help students create their own podcasts.

podcast The Podcasting in Education Wiki provides a wealth of information for educators that want to integrate podcasts and podcast creation into their teaching. The resources and links include ideas for using podcasting in the classroom, examples of podcasts by and for students, as well as tutorials and tools for creating podcasts.
scholastic This podcast tutorial from Scholastic Tech How To: Podcasts explains how podcasts work, and how allowing students to create their own podcasts will give students a voice and build their independence. It also provides 6 important tips for podcast creation including how to choose equipment, software, music, as well as editing, hosting, and getting noticed!

The tutorial at WebMentors Teacher Helpline: NYC Helpline: How To: Incorporate Technology in the Classroom Creating Classroom Podcasts points out that podcasts are more than just audio – they can include video as well! It also provides tips on how to adapt such multimedia projects for the typical classroom of 20 – 30+ students. Recording students as a form of documenting their learning gives them an authentic audience with whom to share their knowledge. Podcasts also give students the opportunity to become more independent and take ownership of their own learning.

These are just a few of the many online resources available to enhance students’ opportunity for authentic listening practice within and beyond the classroom. In class, using a variety of listening materials is exciting and motivating for students. Outside of class, podcasts and online listening resources give students the ability to take ownership of their learning and practice their listening skills independently. Students can even get in on the action by creating their own podcasts, which is not only fun for the students but is also an authentic, performance-based assessment for the teacher.

Let us know how you use technology to enhance listening in your classroom!

Jamie Suria /

January/February 2013

Tech for Teachers: Pronunciation and Speaking
By Jamie Suria
George Washington University Graduate Student

One of the most difficult communication skills to find time for in the language classroom is speaking. With more students in our classrooms, and more material to cover in the curriculum, dedicating time and energy to providing specific practice for speaking and pronunciation often becomes a low priority. Ideally students should be practicing their speaking frequently, which usually means practicing outside of class in addition to any in-class activities. Luckily, there are many resources available to language teachers to help their students work on their speaking and pronunciation skills inside or outside of the classroom. 

Pronunciation Resources

forvo Forvo is the largest pronunciation guide in the world, with millions of words pronounced in over 200 languages. Forvo is a crowd-sourced online dictionary where users submit, rate and share audio clips in order to practice proper language pronunciation. Audio files are mapped according to the speaker’s region, making it easy for students to learn and practice pronunciations from a variety of dialects.
bbclang BBC Languages Quick Fix offers a selection of essential phrases in 40 languages. The list of phrases varies slightly for each language, but they all include greetings, and thematic phrases and vocabulary (for example, Shopping or Food & Drink).  Students can hear all of the phrases pronounced and print lists of vocabulary to help them practice. The pronunciations can also be downloaded as MP3 files for students to practice at a later time using their computer or iPod.
nonetiks is an online pronunciation guide for 9 varieties of the English language and 9 other languages as well. It offers instant audio pronunciations with samples from over 40 native speakers. There are over 1,000+ free pages that students can use to improve and practice their pronunciation skills.  The site also includes a page of Suggestions for Teachers with ideas and activities to help you best utilize the site’s resources in your classroom.

Speaking Resources

ria Rich Internet Applications (RIA) is a collection of FREE online programs for recording, uploading, mixing, and interacting. The goal of the RIA project is to create tools that are informed by language acquisition research, and engage language learners in active learning. Using this toolkit, incorporating speaking and listening into your language class is easier and more flexible than ever! The tools can be used in many different ways: for in-class activities, student projects, homework, or assessment; and they will work with any textbook, language, and level. Best of all, the tools run in your web browser using Flash – nothing to download or install!
voxopop Voxopop is a voice-based eLearning tool used by educators all over the world. Voxopop “talkgroups” are a fun, engaging and easy-to-use way to help students develop their speaking skills. They’re a bit like message boards, but use voice rather than text and a have a specialized user interface. No longer confined to a physical classroom, teachers and students of oral skills can interact from home, or even from opposite sides of the planet! Teachers can configure talkgroups to be public, restricted or entirely private.
googlevoice Google Voice lets you set up a new phone number and voicemail that is tied to your Google account, not to a device or a location. Although it is not intended to be an educational tool, there are many ways it can be used in the language classroom.  Students can call the number and leave messages that can be emailed, downloaded as MP3 files, or embedded as HTML in web sites, wikis or blogs. Now you don’t have to worry about computer labs, recording equipment or software – all the student needs is a phone! For more ideas, check out this blog: Let Google Voice Rule The Classroom!

Online resources such as these make it easier for students to practice speaking inside and outside of the language classroom. When used in class, they can be a fun and exciting way to keep students interested in speaking activities and motivated to participate. Taking advantage of technology to allow for further practice outside of class is perfect for shy students, or when the schedule just doesn’t allow for enough speaking in class!

Next issue we will be looking at podcasts and listening resources. Let us know how you use technology to enhance speaking and listening activities in your classroom!

Jamie Suria /

Nov/Dec 2012

Tech for Teachers: Language Resources on iPod, iPhone and iPad
By Jamie Suria
George Washington University Graduate Student

There is no doubt that smartphones and tablets are becoming ubiquitous in classrooms around the country. Not only do many students have their own smartphones and devices, but more and more schools are providing teachers and students with iPads and iPods. With the recent release of the more affordable iPad mini, this trend will surely continue to grow.

Even if your school has not jumped on this bandwagon, knowing how to use such devices constructively is a great way to steer your students’ desire to use their tablets and phones in class toward productive activities.
The opportunities are truly endless. But just as with any tool in the classroom, it’s important to utilize it to enrich the learning process, not just make it flashier. Before introducing any technology into your lesson, ask yourself: “Is this enhancing my instruction?” “Is this enhancing student learning?” Unless you can answer both those questions affirmatively, it’s likely the technology will add more sparkle than substance.

Luckily, there are many ways that the potential for smartphones and other devices can be harnessed to meet foreign language standards and objectives. Many apps (and websites, for that matter) are available in multiple languages, giving students a chance to navigate a familiar environment in the target language.

Alternatively, many countries have their own version of apps that your students use every day. For example, La Bonoteca is a Colombian version of Groupon. Think about how much fun students could have searching for “deals” in different Colombian cities, converting currency and comparing the prices and products to what they find in their own city!

Educational Apps
Probably the most well-known way people associate smartphones and portable devices with language learning is with educational apps and games. A favorite on iTunes for foreign language is the MindSnacks series:


Learn Chinese (Mandarin) – MindSnacks Features 6 addictive games that build essential vocabulary & conversation skills. Includes one free level! Upgrade to activate all 50 levels. ($4.99, iTunes) (Also available for Spanish, French, Italian, German, Portuguese, and ESL.)

Beyond simple practice, think about how educational apps may supplement your instruction or allow students to be more efficient. For example, there are a variety of apps available that students can utilize instead of wasting time and paper on traditional vocabulary flashcards.


Flashcards* Create and share your own flashcards for free. Compatible with Brainscape and Dropbox to keep your decks up-to-date and synched across devices. (Free or $2.99 to remove ads, iTunes)


Flashcards+ Gain access to tens of millions of pre-made Flashcard sets all for free. Compatible with Quizlet and Course Hero. For $1.99 you can purchase synthesized voices to read your flashcards out loud. (Free, iTunes)

Authentic Apps
Exploring apps in the target language gives students an authentic and meaningful experience with the target language and culture. Apps are also a great way to appeal to your students’ personal interests such as sports, entertainment, or fashion.
To find authentic apps, use keywords in the target language to search for apps, such as noticias or actualité instead of news. Be aware that visiting the iTunes stores of other countries is a great way to generate ideas, but iTunes will only let you download apps from the store for the country in which your account was registered.
Here are some ideas for apps in the target language that your students might enjoy using for class activities or even just for fun!


RFI & MCD Listen to live international news in French and 12 other languages including English, Chinese, Arabic, Spanish, Russian, and Portuguese. (Free, iTunes)


Climatempo Find current weather and forecasts for Brazil, and the world. You can also watch videos and view satellite imagery. (Free, iTunes)


Liga de Fútbol Profesional: Aplicación Oficial Official Spanish Professional Football League app for the 2012-2013 season. Includes schedules, calendars, results and news. (Free, iTunes)


CNNMéxico News and stories about Mexico, the world, health and wellness, entertainment, sports, technology and economy. (Free, iTunes)


Le Follow all French and international news, updated in real time. (Free, $0.99 for full daily edition, iTunes)


TriviaStars, le Quiz des Stars & People by Voici Compete against friends and thousands of other players by answering trivia questions in French about celebrities. (Free, iTunes)


iCuoco - Ricette di Cucina More than 600 Italian recipes tested by professionals. Recipes include ingredients and quantities, servings, step-by-step directions, preparation time, cooking time, difficulty and photography of the finished dish. ($0.99, iTunes)


myDealZ - die Schnäppchen App Search for bargains and deals on this online German marketplace. (Free, iTunes)

For more great ideas on how to integrate apps into the foreign language classroom, check out The Best Apps for Foreign Language Education.
Let us know how you use apps in your classroom!
Jamie Suria /

October 2012

Tech for Teachers: Social media in the language classroom
By Jamie Suria, GWU Graduate Student of Education

Social media is all about utilizing technology to interact and communicate with people all over the world in real time. Social media technology includes not only social networking platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter, but also blogs, wikis, discussion forums, and any other user-generated content sharing platform.

Social media provides unique opportunities for language learners to build their interpersonal skills and interact with authentic language and native speakers. It allows students to connect with the target-language community in a way that could never be achieved through traditional media. Using social media is closely aligned with foreign language standards, particularly communication, culture, connections and communities.


Facebook is a great place to start using social media in the classroom. Most of your students already have a Facebook account, so you won’t need to give them a lot of guidance on using and navigating the site.

  • Many well-known language-learning sites such as Babbel and LiveMocha have Facebook pages and integrated apps, which allow students to benefit from some of their tips and resources without having to pay for their courses.
  • Have your students change their Facebook language settings to the target language (under General Account Settings) and encourage them to interact with their classmates in the target language by posting on each other’s walls and commenting on photos. Students will love learning how to “like” and give status updates in a new language!

For an interesting perspective on the social implications and community-building possibilities of using Facebook in the foreign language classroom, check out this article: Facebook in the Language Classroom: Promises and Possibilities


Twitter is another social networking site that many students already know. It is more common to interact directly with strangers on Twitter than a platform like Facebook, so there are many opportunities for students to work with authentic language and native speakers.

  • Get students involved by having them “tweet at” or about these types of Twitter users, or even celebrities and public figures such as Hugo Chávez. Invent a unique “hashtag” for each class period to include when they want to tweet information to their other classmates, get help outside of class or share interesting resources.

For more information about how Twitter works overall and how to use it in the foreign language classroom, here is a great presentation: Twitter for the Foreign Language Classroom - ACTFL 2010


Instagram is a great photo-sharing application that is integrated well into both Facebook and Twitter, which makes it easy to enhance what you are already doing with social networking sites by adding photos. In the language classroom, Instagram can be used to facilitate engaging, authentic communication between classmates.

  • Have students “play” Instagram versions of “Taboo,” “password” or “scavenger hunt” – giving students the opportunity to use their vocabulary and circumlocution skills during or outside of class.
  • You can also use Instagram to share photos as “teasers” to get students excited about an upcoming lesson (especially for culture-related topics).

For more ideas about how to use Instagram in your classroom, visit these sites: – A Billion Dollar Idea: Instagram and Language Learning and Picture This: Social media to improve Interpersonal Communication in the World Language Classroom


YouTube has already become a regular feature in many foreign language classrooms as a way to show videos in the target language and about the target culture. It is definitely a good resource for videos on a variety of topics, but with so much content available it is easy for students to get distracted and overwhelmed.

  • You can search for specific video-sharing websites and YouTube channels that are specifically geared toward the foreign language classroom to steer your students in the right direction. For example, the BBC has video and other multimedia resources in over 30 languages on their Languages page!
  • Don’t forget that the whole point of social media is for it to be interactive! Get your students involved by having them make their own videos to go along with almost any type of assignment. Just make sure to teach your students how to use the YouTube privacy settings so they can control who can view their videos.

Of course, these are the most basic and widespread forms of social media. There are many more amazing, but lesser-known, social media resources out there. Let us know if there are any social media tools that you have found useful in your own classroom or in your personal experience so we can share them in future articles!


July 2012

 Technology Resources Used During the Spanish Immersion Institute
Jamie Suria, GWU Graduate Student of Education

One of the foci of the Spanish Immersion Institute this year was finding and using new technology resources that we can take back to our classrooms in the fall.  Here are four of them, and all easily useful for just about any teacher at any level in any language.  Our participants enjoyed investigating these and other programs.  The descriptions come directly from the various websites.

Prezi is a cloud-based presentation software that opens up a new world between whiteboards and slides. The zoomable canvas makes it fun to explore ideas and the connections between them. The result: visually captivating presentations that lead your audience down a path of discovery.
If you wonder how other educational professionals use Prezi from K-12 all the way to University, how to get the best out of the tool in the classroom, or search for inspirational EDU presentations, visit:

PreziU offers more than just content to consume: you can share your best prezis, ask for feedback, submit your best practices and experience reports as articles and join discussions about Prezi using the forums.

Example of Prezi in the language classroom:

Our September issue has a tutorial on how to do a simple Prezi presentation.

ToonDoo is a cool, comic-creating tool from Jambav, a fun site for kids. Jambav is devoted to creating a unique array of free and customizable online games of educational value for children of all abilities. ToonDoo was the happy result of brainstorming session that was aimed at creating a new way of expression for those who do not have the talent to draw. You can now just drag-drop or click to create comic strips that express your views, opinions, angst or to just have fun, loads of it!

Example of ToonDoo in the language classroom:

Voki Classroom
Voki is a free service that allows you to create personalized speaking avatars and use them on your blog, profile, and in email messages. Studies show that using technology in education improves students' achievements. Voki is a unique tool to engage your students in creative expressions.

Example of Voki in the language classroom:

YouTube allows billions of people to discover, watch and share originally-created videos. YouTube provides a forum for people to connect, inform, and inspire others across the globe and acts as a distribution platform for original content creators and advertisers large and small.
YouTube is more than just a cute cat video site. It’s matured into one of the biggest resources for educational content ever. You can find videos that make the subject of your lesson more applicable to students’ everyday lives. You can teach students video production and editing skills through projects and upload the videos to your classes’ YouTube channel. There are tons of reasons YouTube should be a part of most classrooms.

Example of YouTube in the language classroom:

May 2012

March 2012

Tech for Teachers: Outlining the survey results
By Jill Robbins. Ph.D.
Second Language Testing, Inc.

In the last issue, we asked our readers to tell us about their use of instructional technology and what you'd like to know more about. Thanks to everyone who answered.  The survey will remain available if you missed your chance to respond earlier.

The responses included a few requests for information on some topics we've covered in previous NCLRC newsletters. One was about using Skype, and another was on ways to link students to other students internationally. We introduced Mixxer ( a service that uses Skype for connecting to language exchange partners. The article is at

In another newsletter article, we discussed several options for teachers who want to start collaboration with a teacher of a class abroad. Our article, Going Global with Technology lists exchange possibilities for world language teachers.  

A new topic that was requested by readers is iBooks publishing. Teachers have traditionally made their own materials and distributed them on paper. Now we're getting closer to a time when students (with iPads) will be able to access those materials digitally. Apple announced in January that it was releasing a new version of the iBooks program, iBooks 2, with expanded capabilities for textbooks that can be read and heard on the iPad. Teachers who want to develop their own e-text can begin by reading We'll investigate this further for a future column. For the iBooks app, or information on iBooks, see Or open iTunes and in the Apple Store, look for the iBooks app:

A related request was to learn if there are any iBooks for Arabic teachers. I found a couple of iBooks for learners of Arabic. Since yours truly is learning Arabic now, I will check these out and write a review soon. In the meantime, search the Apple App Store for Arabic:

Some of our readers responded that they want to learn more about online teaching / learning pedagogy. The University of Arizona Computer Aided Language Instruction Group (UACALI) has produced a free for non-commercial use multimedia CALL authoring system called MaxAuthor, which can be used to develop interactive language lessons. The article is here:

Another frequent request is for teaching resources and plan sites. In upcoming columns we'll look into some of these, such as Curriki – a curriculum sharing site; UNESCO OER wiki – Open Educational Resources, and MERLOT - MERLOT archives free, peer-reviewed language learning materials. Although MERLOT is designed primarily for university language instruction, secondary educators will find great lessons, activity and discussion ideas.

Other readers want to learn about using the iPad as an instructional aid and what iPad apps would be helpful to Spanish learners. Look for some reviews in upcoming columns. Please let me via the survey know if you have used any language learning apps for Android, iPad, or iPhone.

Suggestions from readers on other topics to be investigated here include:
• audio & speaking online programs
• sites to access classical literature in Spanish
• sites with grammar exercises for students
• educational sites and software programs to enhance teaching
• more Open Source resources
In the meantime, I'd like to share a section of my own site which has a number of teacher tech resources: You can explore resources for learning to use audio in the classroom, blogging, podcasts, and video in this set of materials.

Till next issue!

January 2012

An Open-source Answer to the Donated Computer Problem
Jill Robbins, Ph.D. Second Language Testing, Inc.

Let's say you're in a school with limited technology resources and a parent wants to donate a used computer to your classroom. How do you ensure that it can be used safely by your students without violating the privacy of the donor, and without incurring the cost of upgrades to the system and software? Open Source software can help: using the Linux operating system, which can be downloaded for free, you can install a new system, overwriting the previous owner's data, and obtain free software to accomplish everyday tasks.  Check with your school's IT staff to find out if they will approve your addition to the network before you spend time on installing a Linux system. Odds are that they will welcome your offer to add a computer that will cause them few to no problems with viruses, trojans, malware, etc. (and the IT folks will be impressed that you know about Linux!)

There is a special educational version of the Linux operating system called "Edubuntu,"  which includes a suite of software that will allow you and your students to do just about anything that can be done on another PC system. Included are programs that make flashcards, quizzes in multiple languages, typing tutors, graphics editors and desktop publishing, review of content area information such as math and science, and the typical Internet connectivity programs. There is even a program that will allow you to monitor the activity on computers in your classroom from a central location; you can see the screens on any computers you connect through this application.

If you're wondering, "Why should I learn to use a whole new operating system?" the answer is, once you have learned Linux you will no longer be dependent on the regular updates and changes in Windows or Mac operating systems. It works on the same principles as the other systems, so you will be able to apply your basic knowledge of using computer applications right away. You can try the Edubuntu operating system online, without having to install it on a computer. Go to and run a session to see how easy it is.

The desktop looks like this:

The Spanish autonomous community of Andausia has chosen Linux as the operating system to be used in all of its public schools. If you want to try this Linux system that operates in Spanish, it is called Guadalinex Edu, and is available from

Now, I'd like to ask for your input to this column. Please complete our survey below, and let the team at The Language Resource know what your challenges are with technology, what you'd like to learn more about, and what you'd like to see in this column. We'll let you know the results next issue, and start addressing your ideas then.

Thank you,

September/October 2011

July 2011

Yea, There’s an App for That, but …
… Where in the World is Patrick?
By John Ross

Following is a shortened version of John’s piece about finding and using apps with foreign language instruction.  A link to the full article is at the end.  Read further to find out about a featured columnist’s summer blog.

Yea, there’s an app for that, but…

It seems like many of the groups I’ve been working with recently—from schools on up to states—are going gaga over touch-screen mobile devices (especially the iPad and sometimes the lesser known Android Honeycomb and Dell Streak, among others). I have to admit they look pretty sexy, from a technology standpoint, but the fervor with which some educators are throwing limited technology budgets at them has me a little concerned.

I recently completed a review of literature for a state department of education that was investigating the possibility of an iPad pilot. I found out some interesting things about the app market that I thought worth sharing.

And the winner is…

Foreign language, actually. In a review of apps available in the education section of the iTunes Store in 2009, Carly Shuler from the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop found that the most popular content areas for apps were foreign language and literacy.

And the catch?

While the future of these lightweight, portable devices seem promising, there are also a few issues anyone considering implementing them should be concerned about. My belief is that these will be less of an issue over time, but there are some things to think about.

Perhaps the most important issue is that anyone can create and post an app. Honest, there’s a group that consists of moms and dads who have created apps, whether they’re educators, instructional designers, or even software developers.

My favorite review site for apps—so far—is Common Sense Media, that uses developmentally appropriate criteria at each age to review apps and other media, like television shows, books, and movies. You can check out their reviews and filter them by some helpful criteria at their review site (

Do Your Homework

If you’re interested in incorporating apps into your language teaching, just be sure to do your homework, just as you would with any curricular resource. It’s easy to find what’s selling well through the iTunes Store or Android Market, but even just a simple search for “foreign language” can be frustrating as it brings up many erroneous matches. The app descriptions are also often short and—again—most are focused on features rather than how well it supports learning.

Download PDF

Where in the World is Patrick?

Featured a few months ago in one of my TechTips articles, middle school Spanish teacher Patrick Wininger is on the move this summer, and you can follow him! Patrick is participating in a month-long class in Salamanca, Spain, and is blogging about his experiences. To make it more interesting, he’s taking advice from his students and sharing his experiences with them. They’ve done research on sites in Spain and are going to create travel guides in PowerPoint using artifacts he collects and shares once he returns.

Patrick said it would be great if some of you followed along through his blog. It’s also an example of how you or your students might consider incorporating other languages and cultures in a real-world learning application. You can follow Patrick at and invite your friends! I did.



May 2011

Make the Connection 
By John Ross

If you were in the classroom in the 80s, like I was, you might remember the early PCs that made their way into schools. We were so impressed with their rudimentary graphics and functionality, and the “awe factor” helped a lot of us overcome just how limited those computers really were. It didn’t take much to push them to the limit. And the educational resources…what resources? Those cumbersome machines with their lack of high-quality resources really soured a lot of teachers about technology in the classroom.

Fast-forward a couple decades, and the world’s a different place. The phone in my pocket is far more powerful than the PC in my first classroom and has a wealth of educational apps I can download.  There are an amazing power and variety of resources available to teachers today that we only dreamed about in those early computing days, even with just a single computer connected to the Internet. And, yet, I still run into those sour attitudes. That’s a long time to carry a grudge, especially for those that were probably just being born then.

A colleague of mine has helped me spread the word through a simple activity he does in his class with videoconferencing. In short, he uses ooVoo to work with students and to have them collaborate on a project. Handling a full webconference, using tools like Adobe Connect or Elluminate, can be a little daunting, but there are several free videoconferencing applications that can streamline the process and connect teachers across the hall or across the globe with real-time interaction.

World language teachers often seek ways to bring native language speakers into their classrooms. Using these free tools gives you that access from the classroom. Just add the native speaker! The number of videoconferencing tools and services continues to grow. Below are some of the most popular, in alphabetical order.

  • Google Talk. If you need to do something on the Web, it seems like Google has an app for that, and videoconferencing is one. Google Talk is cross platform and you can connect directly through Talk or from a GMail account or Orkut, Google’s social networking application.

  • iChat. Macintosh computers are delivered with Apple’s videoconferencing service, iChat, already installed. It was one of the first services I used and it was one of the earliest services that I know of that offered multi-point videoconferencing, that is the ability to talk to more than one person at a time (up to 3, not including yourself). iChat continues to push the envelope, though, and it’s offering more functionality, such as desktop sharing and support for sharing presentations (using Apple’s Keynote software) as well as photos and movies. (see

  • ooVoo. Another cross-platform service, ooVoo allows you to connect with up to 3 other people for free, although the plans many of these services offer change fairly often in order to keep up with the competition. You can send files (up to 5Mb), but one feature I really like is that you can send someone a URL to connect, and they don’t even need the ooVoo application, so it saves some time in those situations. (see

  • Skype. One of the early players in the market and one that keeps pushing the envelope, Skype may best be known for promoting its services to replace telephones. While it has many similar features to other services, of special note is the newly released “Skype in the Classroom,” designed specifically to help teachers from across the world connect (see Like ePals, you can find teachers conducting projects in many different content areas, but language acquisition is an obvious focus for many of these projects.

If you or your distant collaborators don’t feel comfortable on camera, all of these services also support voice only as well as text chat. Several of these services also support mobile devices, and of course devices like the newest members of Apple’s i-family (iPod touch, iPad 2, and iPhone 4) can use FaceTime videoconferencing. There are videoconferencing apps like Fring, for different kinds of phones, but I haven’t tried that one, yet. If you have, let me know how well it works.

I hope you take some time to explore at least one of these applications. Test it with friends and family and then consider a way to use them in your language instruction. Once you do, you may end up saying, “Sweet!”

April 2011

21st Century Skills Map Released 

actfl     techp21

I often get questions about 21st Century Skills. What are they? What do they look like? Well, now teachers of world languages have a little bit more guidance as to what 21st Century Skills might look like in their classrooms.

I suggest that the leader in this movement to define and promote these skills is the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (or P21), and P21 just announced the release of a new 21st Century Skills Map for foreign languages developed in conjunction with the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL). It is the newest in a line of skills maps for different content areas.

Perhaps, one of the greatest impacts P21 has had on dialog about education from classrooms to staterooms today is the need to move beyond basic skills instruction and to incorporate critical thinking and problem solving, communication, collaboration, and creativity and innovation. It’s been a major goal of mine with these tech tips to provide some suggestions for ways technology can help teachers of world languages incorporate these skills into their own classrooms, and ACTFL has now added to that conversation.

Instead of a long-winded review of the ACTFL World Languages 21st Century Skills Map, I encourage you to download it yourself. It’s free and can be found on the P21 website.   ACTFL has a wiki version here.

The Skills Maps are not intended to be the be-all and end-all of 21st Century instruction. Instead, they are good lesson ideas, activity generators, or conversation starters about how to address 21st Century Skills within the context of a curricular area. After some brief explanation of 21st Century Skills, you’ll find a variety of activities at three different levels: novice, intermediate, and advanced.  Examples are given for each of the primary skills and other skills, like information literacy and technology literacy, to name a few.

I recommend some of my graduate students review the Skills Maps in different content areas for ideas they might incorporate into their own classroom. I hope you find the Skills Map for World Language helpful. Let me know what you think!


March 2011

Bringing the World to Your Language Classroom: The ePals Global Community
By John R. Ross

epalsLanguage teachers have long had a variety of technology-based resources available to support their instruction. Language labs with audio and video recordings, texts and workbooks, and other supporting materials go well back in to the era of analog media, and the digital revolution has only increased the number and type of interesting and helpful resources available to support language acquisition in today’s classroom. When I ask language teachers what needs still remain, many respond that it’s difficult for them to find native or fluent language speakers that their students can interact with. Most have access to a wide range of print materials and recordings they can use with their students, but finding a way for students to really engage with fluent language speakers remains a challenge.

I have used ePals as one example that I encourage teachers of all disciplines to investigate, because the global connections it provides support multiple content areas and learning goals. In fact, ePals may best be known for successfully connecting classrooms from across the world so students (and teachers) can learn from each other and gain a better understanding the nuances of culture, society, politics, and exploring everything from what kids in other countries do for fun, have for lunch, and learn about in school. In fact, to date, ePals has connected more than 600,000 classrooms in more than 200 countries or territories—for free!

That all sounds good for some kind of classroom sharing, but I wanted to know if ePals offered specific services that could help meet that one big need—providing access to native or fluent language speakers. Dr. Rita Oates, vice president of education markets for ePals responded that this is one of the main reasons teachers sign their classrooms up for ePals. Need…meet solution.

One of the most common starting points for new members is the ePals Global Community, which is the traditional classroom connection that many people associate with a pen pal connection. But, of course, it has a 21st Century twist.

For the full article, download the PDF.

All A-Buzz: The 21st Century Language Classroom
By John Ross

teacherLast Fall I visited some schools in Henrico County, Virginia, which is on the outskirts of the Commonwealth’s capital, Richmond. During those visits I had the great fortune to observe a fantastic 21st Century lesson delivered by Spanish teacher, Patrick Wininger. Patrick teaches Spanish to seventh grade students and works in a district that has a one-to-one laptop initiative. While that may be a plus for technology integration, his lesson was an excellent example of varied and seamless technology use that not only supported skills often referred to as 21st Century skills, but repeatedly gave students practice in the critical areas of reading, writing, listening, and speaking Spanish. It was also one that could be accomplished in classrooms without the laptops, but maybe just not as efficiently. Patrick graciously agreed to a follow-up interview and has some great tips to share for incorporating technology in language acquisition instruction.

Freedom to Learn
Wininger notes that "It’s more about how you teach than the tools you use." Yes, his students have laptops, but in many places increased access to different technologies is blurring what one can do in the classroom and at home. He incorporates a textbook series with many digital resources, including handouts, recordings, presentations, and even a website where students can go online and listen to native speakers. The district has a web-based student information system, so students don’t even have to turn in homework at school. In fact, it’s probably better if they don’t because then his instruction can focus more on active language acquisition than checking homework.

During the 45 minutes I was in the classroom, the students quickly moved through a logical sequence of instruction that was building to an assignment they’d complete for homework. Students focused on action verbs and vocabulary and worked through writing, listening, and speaking (and reading, of course) supported by digital handouts, presentation software, digital recordings and lots and lots of interaction. The digital resources served as a basis, but all activities were customized and required students to create their own examples, to relate it to their own lives, and to speak with others. They spoke with each other, they spoke with Wininger, and they responded to the digital voice that hovered over the room, with reminders all the way through—by Wininger—of where they were headed, why they were doing this, and constant reminders about the connection between reading, writing, listening and speaking. And what were they going to do? Students had to build on the sentences they wrote during class to post a blog response related to a favorite hobby or pastime. It was practical, relevant, and used tools the students enjoyed.

For the full report on my visit, containing several activities and tips you can incorporate into language instruction—including building your own (almost) free interactive whiteboard—download this PDF of the entire article.

Voices from the Field: Stephanie Krajicek

John Ross interview of Stephanie Krajicek

StephanieLast summer I attended the ISTE conference (formerly called NECC) in Denver, Colorado. ISTE is sponsored by the International Society for Technology in Education and is one of the largest educational technology conferences. While I was there, I tried to attend as many sessions possible related to technology and language acquisition, which is where I met Stephanie Krajicek, whose enthusiasm drew people like a magnet to her poster session. Her presentation focused on Technology Integration for English Language Learners (ELLs) and was a colorful and engaging amalgamation of ideas she has used in her classroom and with other teachers. Now a graduate student at Purdue, Stephanie continues to provide training to teachers on using technology matched to the needs they have for working with ELLs. I was able to catch up with her after the conference by phone and she provided some great practical tips.


Focus on the Learning

Stephanie’s poster was brimming with colorful screenshots of student work using many different technologies, especially social-networking applications—those that encourage students to communicate and collaborate with each other. She notes that the problem is not having access to interesting and engaging tools, but finding the right one.

“Many students,” she reports, “may or may not have had access to technology, so you have that extra level of language teaching.” An example she gave was that a common standard is to compare and contrast main characters in a story, which can be difficult concepts for ELLs to begin with, but adding technology means you may have to teach them what it means to log on, what a mouse is, when to right-click vs. left-click. She cautions that you have to be able to determine how much content knowledge they are going to get out of a technology that is complex.

With the teachers she works with now, she starts with a specific project, challenge, or need they have in their classrooms, and then she finds tools to help them meet those needs. She focuses on what they have access to—right now—and how it can be used to meet their needs. She’s done her homework, too, and has amassed a list of many different tools that can be applied in different situations for students at varied age and language levels. You can find some of the examples she’s identified, presentations, and helpful tips on her blog at   

A Short List

So what are some of Stephanie’s favorite tools? Below are a few we talked about.

Storybird. ( Storybird is a collaborative site that is intended for families with younger children. One of the best aspects, according to Stephanie, is that the interface is really simple to use so you can get kids writing and creating short books literally by “clicking on the page and typing.”

The focus is on telling stories, but a benefit is that it allows ELLs to not only tell their stories but to share them. “Too often,” Stephanie admits, “teachers forget that final critical step of the writing process—publishing.” Storybird allows them to publish their stories for each other, their teachers, and their families. Since the stories “go beyond the teacher’s desk,” they carry greater weight and they have greater consequence. Students can also collaborate on stories and share them with each other during the writing process.

I visited the site and noticed that it is in “Public Beta,” which means that it’s free for now, but probably only until they can figure out a reasonable business model. There is drag-and-drop art of many different styles students can incorporate into their work, and they can put text anywhere they want to with a click of a button. Storybird automatically creates covers,  for those that might need that help, but they are also customizable. Your account tracks the storybirds you are working on, those you’ve published, and those you want to read, so you could actually create reading lists for students.

Webbing tools (concept maps). Stephanie notes that when teachers get caught up in teaching content they might overlook the need to help ELLs use higher-order thinking skills in the target language. Content requirements, especially in the higher grades, often include abstract terms, like compare and contrast, analyze, organize and others. Webbing tools provide visual supports for students to master skills like these using language and images that can visually be organized, linked, or highlighted. She likes to use them for prewriting, as well.

Many teachers have access to the popular Inspiration and Kidspiration software (Kidspiration is designed for younger students), but Stephanie has been using the web-based version of Inspiration’s concept-mapping software called Webspiration ( Like Storybird, Webspiration is in free Public Beta but the plan is that it will eventually be offered as a subscription service, hopefully with a break for schools, and following acceptable guidelines for secure use by younger students.

Webspiration is similar to its offline versions, and you can even upload or download files from Inspiration. But Webspiration adds the component of collaboration. You can collaborate synchronously or asynchronously, but Inspiration recommends you not collaborate with more than 25 people synchronously. In most settings, more than 3 or 4 might get confusing, anyway. There’s also chat functionality for additional real-time interaction. Collaborators do need an account, so you should follow acceptable use for setting up accounts for students.

Comic strip makers. There are several free and for-fee online and offline tools that allow students to make comic strips or cartoon-like presentations. The benefit for ELLs is that they are highly visual and give them an opportunity to practice English skills with simpler language. Plus, they’re fun and engaging. A short list follows (an Internet search will find many more):

Feed aggregators. Aggregators pull in information from different kinds of websites, such as news sites, blogs, and others. Google Reader is an example, but many e-mail programs also serve as aggregators. (You may find helpful the comparison of dozens of different aggregators found on Wikipedia.  The idea is that you can pull in information you are interested in from your favorite sites, or even set up searches for specific content that shows up in your mailbox—or reader—every day.

Stephanie notes that after a time of constant English use, ELLs can bog down and tune out. It’s just tiring to process all that information in a new language. Feed aggregators allow you to provide access to background knowledge in their native language to keep the learning going. Some of the things she suggests you try are:

  • Give students access to current events, those that parallel what you’re doing in your instruction, in their native language.
  • Provide extension activities for students who need enrichment.
  • Teach research and writing skills by having students bookmark and annotate websites, perhaps using a social-bookmarking tool like Diigo covered last month, and monitor their work. You can make sure they are finding relevant information, highlighting the most pertinent information, summarizing correctly, and making sure they’re not plagiarizing.

Walk the Walk

Stephanie had more great tips, both at ISTE and on the phone, so maybe we’ll hear from her again. When I asked her what higher education faculty could do to better help their teacher candidates learn about and use technology effectively, she emphasized modeling. She says that most of the technology experiences for many teacher candidates coming to her workshops is using Blackboard (or other learning management systems), but that’s not technology integration. That’s information management.

Since space is limited, Stephanie recommended—in a very 21st Century skills sort of way—that you might want to follow some higher education faculty that are modeling what they want teachers to do through social networking. One of her favorites is the English Companion Ning. She’d like to see something comparable for ELLs. A short list of sites she follows is below. Maybe we can all follow her lead and set up a feed aggregator to follow them. Thanks, Stephanie!

back to newsletter

21st Century Technology and 18th Century Techniques
By John D. Ross, Ph.D., Former classroom teacher who has worked in the field of educational technology at the state and national level for more than a decade. He is co-author of the textbook Technology Integration for Meaningful Use: A Standards-Based Approach and his book on online professional development will be published by Corwin Press in 2011. You can learn more about him at You can email Dr. Ross directly.

Moving Beyond the 18th Century

I had the pleasure recently of visiting several middle schools that are participating in a one-to-one laptop initiative. I was part of a team that went into classrooms to observe teaching and provide feedback to the schools and district. We visited several foreign language classrooms—both French and Spanish. The classrooms I visited were fairly ripe with technology, not just the laptops every child sported, but interactive whiteboards and many digital resources. These are what many people might consider rich “21st Century classrooms,” and our visitors included administrators from other schools and districts who may have been a bit jealous about the preponderance of technology. Unfortunately, the teaching I most often observed took little advantage of the wealth of technology. The instruction could have occurred 100, 200, or even many more years earlier.

One member on my team was a principal who had been a Spanish teacher. He concurred, but also said it was representative of how he had originally been taught how to teach. What we saw was very traditional, teacher-directed instruction that took little advantage of the available resources. Primarily, teachers lectured at the front of the room, using print-based handouts that had been digitized so they could be displayed on the interactive whiteboard. Students could access the forced-choice and fill-in-the-blank handouts on their laptops, but most used the paper-based versions even though their laptops sat unopened on their desks. Students were passively engaged and called upon one at a time to give their answer to questions that related to vocabulary recall, sometimes going to the front of the room to write an answer on the interactive whiteboard. That novelty didn’t seem to engage many students, though. That’s pretty passé to someone who can spend hours a day online pitting their skills with others from across the globe in a multi-user videogame.

These were language classes, and in the 45 minutes we visited each, there was very little language going on, especially when considering language consists of reading, writing, speaking, and not just listening. The students might have read 10 sentences total and underlined vocabulary. The worksheets had an opportunity to write out approximately 20 isolated vocabulary words, and the listening—besides the language immersion approach the teacher should be commended for—consisted of a digital recording that required students to “check off” whether spoken terms were masculine or feminine, so very little written language occurred, too. Students might have been called upon once—at most twice—during the entire class to respond, so there was very little speaking going on, and none in context, as they merely reported their vocabulary responses. It’s reasonable to assume that these students spoke no more than one or two words in their language of study in an entire class period.

You’re Not Just On or Off

In our discussions following the classroom visits, we considered ways to better monopolize on the digital technologies now available, so we can break the paradigm of the teacher-directed instruction we saw that provided so little opportunity for engagement in language (and other content). We did usually see a variety of activities within a 45-minute period, but if I had to sum up the instruction we observed using a single word, I’d say it was boring. I was bored. The kids were obviously bored.

The key is changing the instruction, not providing more tools. The tools are nice, and provide some unique opportunities, but most classrooms now have at least one Internet-connected computer that would allow teachers to bring the world to their classroom, if they felt comfortable changing their instruction. That change has to occur in more places than just that classroom, though.

There are several continuum theories applied to the adoption of technology in instruction. That’s important because it’s not like you are or aren’t a 21st Century teacher. You’re not on or off. Most of these theories suggest that teachers begin using technology by replicating what they are familiar with. That’s what we saw with the workbooks and handouts—that were just as effective either as paper or digitized—and the heavy reliance on response and recall of low-level information. But higher up those theories are stages where teachers create instruction that utilizes the technology in such a way that the instruction could not otherwise happen. The technology provides access to activities and information that are not feasible or not practical in an analog classroom.

Knowing when a teacher is at a lower stage of the continuum is important for supporting professional growth. You can’t expect these teachers to leap to the end of the continuum. But it is reasonable to expect them to move to a higher level of the continuum, maybe the next level at first, and then going on. It takes some skill training, obviously, but perhaps most importantly it takes an environment in which teachers are willing to take risks and are given the opportunity to practice new pedagogies and give up some of the control they may feel in more directed lessons. To a teacher, the term “student-directed” implies “I’m not in charge,” and that can be the hardest change to make.

I know these types of lessons may not happen every day, and building basic foundational skills is important, but we were invited to see the very best “21st Century lessons” from these teachers, not 18th Century lessons with 21st Century tools. So, what would we have liked to have seen?

It’s About the Skills, Not the Tools

To me, the workbooks and handouts obscured the real purpose of the class. They were not the best means to an end. They were an end to themselves. Why do students study language? To use it. They should be able to read and write the language and use it to communicate with others. Ultimately, we want them to be able to engage in language at a level where they are thinking and responding from the new language. How reasonable is it that these kids will go to an area where these languages are used and complete a fill-in-the-blank worksheet? Or to check off which words they hear are masculine or feminine?

Digital technologies allow you to bring the world’s resources to your classroom, not just scanned worksheets. You can bring in newspapers and video broadcasts from across the world. You can access images, audio, and video from government organizations, travel services, and educators from across the globe. You can find podcasts in many languages for students of all ages, or you can have your students create their own with free tools like Audacity or GarageBand. You can also store and organize all of these resources on a class website, a school file server, or using a social bookmarking site like Delicious or Diigo, so you’re not recreating lessons every year.

Real life is engaging. Walk through the halls of your local middle school when kids are changing classes, and you’ll hear lots of language and engagement. Bring it into your classrooms. Have your students apply their language skills, either with their own classmates or with those from another class. You don’t necessarily have to sign up for an electronic pen pal in another country (although it can be fun and engaging to do so). You might just want to pair your students in different classes, or with students in other classes in your district, just to give them an opportunity to apply their language skills with other kids their age. Focusing on their lives makes the instruction more relevant to them and will increase engagement.

They can participate in real-time interaction through common webconferencing tools like iChat, ooVoo, or Skype or they may create asynchronous interactions. If you have limited access to computers, consider broadcasting your streaming web video to the front of the class and using different students each time to lead discussions with those at a distance. Consider creating a class website, blog, or wiki, that allows students to communicate to each other during class and beyond. Students can journal or blog about their day-to-day lives using their growing language skills. You don’t have to share them with the whole world if you don’t want to, as students can create digital journals or portfolios that are only shared with other students in their class or with their teacher, such as developing a dialog journal in which teachers provide formative assessment of language use. And digital journals can include audio and video files to build language use in other areas.

If you do want to use worksheets and handouts, which do provide a level of practice that can be important for building vocabulary and other foundational knowledge, consider new ways to incorporate them. The students I observed went through three pages of forced-choice or fill-in-the-blank responses in 45 minutes. It should have taken about five. Have students share their responses with others and identify the most common misconceptions, or put them in a dropbox so you can monitor them but spend your instructional time on actual language production. Expose them to foundational information, but use class time to apply that information as much as possible.

The Format is Not the Test

After visiting many classrooms, and not just language classrooms, one of the visiting administrators verbalized a common concern. Teachers feel pressured to prepare students for end-of-course tests that are usually presented in forced-choice formats. True, but the catch is that these assessments—at every grade- and content-level—still address higher levels of cognitive demand. They’re based on standards and the standards in all grades and content areas go beyond identification and recall tasks. Teachers who simply use the forced-choice format but who do not present instruction or even find or generate questions at the appropriate level of cognitive demand have not prepared their students for these assessments. The format is not the test. How well prepared were these students who filled out three worksheets but might get only one opportunity to speak during an entire class period?

Yes, these formats are easier to grade, but you have to mix it up. If language requires application, you have to find opportunities for students to apply language in authentic contexts. If you’re shooting beyond application to synthesis and creation, you need additional opportunities, and creating forced-choice assessments at these levels is difficult and time consuming. In these cases, teachers can apply different assessment methods.

One quick and easy way to guide and evaluate learning is the use of checklists or scoring guidelines. These are often based on the presence (or lack thereof) of critical attributes. Did your dialog use at least five of this week’s vocabulary words? Did you find three relevant news stories? What is the level of accuracy of your translation? These make great job aids or guides for students and can be posted on a class website, file server, or other shared space where students can access them both in and out of classroom.

Rubrics are also popular, especially in more open-ended activities supported by technology, but take more time to develop and can be difficult for novice teachers. It’s hard, sometimes, to know exactly what makes a response a 3 vs. a 4, or basic vs. proficient. Having students co-create rubrics can be a great learning opportunity, but can take away from limited instructional time. Sometimes you may want to include them, and sometimes not, depending on how much time you have available in your curriculum. I am a strong proponent of sharing the rubrics up front to guide student learning and for ongoing self-assessment and monitoring, but one teacher we visited last week says she has found it helpful to let the students get started on their projects first and then introduce the rubric in the early stages of work so they are better able to understand what are the most important aspects of the rubric. In a complex rubric, they may place inappropriate attention to some categories over another.

If you’re new to rubrics and want some help, the best resource I know is RubiStar ( It provides rubric samples or allows you to quickly create your own. RubiStar has rubrics in many categories, not specifically foreign language, but reading, writing, and other language-appropriate categories. You can also access RubiStar en Español (

What Goes Around…

I want to conclude by giving some kudos to these teachers. They were doing what they thought was appropriate. They were using methods they were familiar with from their own days as students and perhaps from their language methods courses. And they all showed willingness to try new technologies in front of people they didn’t know! (Being observed always causes some anxiety.) I just felt like they were missing opportunities that the powerful resources they had access to could provide to their students. Given some guidance and support, though, and I think they’d all begin moving up that continuum.

If we’re going to move beyond 18th Century lessons with 21st Century tools, we need to provide our teachers with different examples. We need to engage them as we’d like them to engage their students. They need to see authentic instruction models and be given an opportunity to develop and practice them on their own. We can’t all get to the end of that continuum right away, but we can all move forward.

Please let me know if you’d like to explore any of these topics in greater detail. I’ve contacted a few exemplary teachers and some programs that incorporate technology in language instruction and hope to share some of their stories with you. I’d be glad to hear yours so we can all work together on determining what is the best way to use technologies to support instruction. As my good friend and colleague Joy Runyan says, “we’re all in this together.”

P.S. I want to send out thanks to Marlene Johnshoy from the Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition (CARLA) in Minneapolis, Minnesota, who providing the winning title for my upcoming book, Online Professional Development: Design, Deliver, Succeed! The book should be out in the spring from Corwin Press and Marlene will get her free copy then. Thanks to everyone who entered the contest. It was a fun way to get input.


December 2010

Don’t Miss the Bus!
Tech Tips by John Ross

Regardless of how you’re keeping track, the 21st Century is almost one-tenth over. Remember all the hoopla for the new millennium? Can you believe that was 10 years ago? An entire decade? We were worried about what the "millennium bug" was going to do to our computer systems, and educators were being encouraged to help students develop "21st Century skills." Well, a decade pretty much places us into that new century. Are we there yet?

My November TechTips article explored the 21st Century theme from a broad perspective, and I’m glad to say I received some great feedback! Some asked me to "just tell us how to do it," with "it" being technology. Others wanted to know more about "just what these 21st Century Skills are." Over the next few months I hope to provide some more specific strategies to help world language teachers not just get ready for the 21st Century but put them square in the driver’s seat in their 21st Century classrooms. We’re already there, after all. That bus may be on the road, but there’s still time to get aboard. I’ll explore some of the "its" but also have contacted several exemplary teachers whose stories I hope to share in subsequent articles. If you know of some additional exemplary teachers, please contact me. I’d love to talk with them.

"It" Is All About Learning

I get the "just show me how to do it" response a lot in my line of work, and I have to admit I’ve been guilty of saying it, at least in the past. I sympathize but want to shift that line of thinking just a bit. As I’ve mentioned, the "it" that most people want me to tell them about is technology, whether a laptop, a podcast, or some other application. They want me to tell them which buttons to press, which menus to use, which steps to follow, but technology varies, and it all changes so quickly.

I recently developed a workshop for a school that had just gotten new laptops running Windows 7, so I upgraded to that operating system and created some step-by-step handouts with screenshots from the latest version of Microsoft Office. What I didn’t know was that they didn’t have the latest version of Office, just Windows. My handouts didn’t look like their screens or have the same steps. What to do?

This is a pretty common occurrence in technology, actually. Trying to tell people how to complete a task in common software, like Microsoft Office, varies depending on which computer you have, the version of the operating system on that computer, and the version of the software. In a single workshop I can have Macs and PCs, two or three different versions of either operating system, and a similar range of application versions on each. All of these differences change the steps to follow. What I do—or try to do—is to focus on the learning, not the technology.

In this case, I took an activity like inserting an image into a document and I turned it around on them. I showed them some common places to find images. I demonstrated how I would insert an image on my computer, highlighting some common commands or menus to look for. We even talked about when and why to insert an image. Then, I told them to work together. They had to figure out how it worked on their computer and then share it with the rest of us. They could go online and find tutorials or ask me for help, but mostly they shared with each other. We revised the handout together which they could then use with students or other teachers in their schools. I got new handouts out of the deal, too.

That’s a simple—and true—story of 21st Century skills in action. It also demonstrates shifting the focus from teacher-directed to student-centered instruction. Instead of telling them what to do, walking through a handout step-by-step, ending up with cookie cutter products that all looked the same, my teachers had a very real-world problem to solve. They were going to have to teach these skills to other teachers in their district after I left! It was an authentic problem that required them to do a little critical thinking along with communication and collaboration. And some of their results were more creative than my solution, including one who posted her handout to her blog.

Beyond the Handout

Moving from teacher-directed to student-centered instruction can be a hard shift if you’ve never been given autonomy as a student. I started out teaching the way I was taught, and probably so did you. But just like my handout story above, you can take small steps and don’t have to give yourself over to full-scale student autonomy—at least not right away. Digital resources make this easier, because we’ve gotten to a point where there are more high quality materials and applications that are available 24/7. These give you more opportunities to interact with or engage your students in language acquisition in and beyond the classroom.

While sometimes a handout or two may be helpful, I’m encouraging moving beyond relying solely on prescriptive activities in instruction—whether that instruction involves teaching teachers or younger students. Think about when we use our own language skills. Maybe you’re trying to figure out a train schedule in a foreign country, or you’ve been asked to talk with a new parent who doesn’t speak English, or you’re going to chaperone a student group to another country. How often will you have to fill in a blank or answer a multiple-choice question in that setting? Now consider the situations where your students will use their language skills.

As I mentioned last month, it’s not all or nothing. There’s no cosmic switch that will help a teacher magically transport to 21st Century teaching and learning every lesson of every day. And sometimes, you may not want to. Language acquisition, like all content areas, requires foundational skills and knowledge, and sometimes students have to practice those. But we can move to more authentic and relevant instruction for our students, often relying on the many free digital resources available now.

What would I suggest if you wanted to do that? What would I do if I wanted to move to more 21st Century teaching and learning? Following are a few suggestions.

Set a goal and monitor your effectiveness. Remember, it is generally understood that teachers progress along a continuum as they learn new technologies. One of the best strategies to move forward is to set a periodic target to incorporate technology that promotes 21st Century skills (e.g., creativity and innovation, critical thinking and problem solving, or communication and collaboration) until you feel more comfortable and they become second nature. You can start a class discussion list or blog. You might incorporate a weekly podcast, that you or your students create or find. Or have students create newscasts—print, web, or video—in the language they are studying. You may want to conduct one of these activities once a week, or maybe try a longer activity once a month if you have limited technology access. If your students have access to laptops, I’ve seen technology experts recommend once a day.

Use what you have. We don’t all have access to interactive whiteboards or a laptop for every student, but that doesn’t mean we can’t create more authentic learning opportunities that rely on the digital technologies at our disposal. Using one computer a teacher can still create concept maps, digital stories, or explore web resources during whole-class instruction. It can become a student center during small group activities. When relying on a lab, plan ahead and prepare students during class before getting to the lab, so time is focused on applying language skills and knowledge, not the technology. Technology is not required to create 21st Century teaching and learning, but in this century we use technology for everything from shopping to finding medical breakthroughs. Technology is the way we do things in the 21st Century, so use what you’ve got.

Practice, but you don’t have to be perfect. I know, as a teacher, I want to be the authority and don’t want to look like I didn’t know something in front of my students. But when I visit and interview exemplary technology-using teachers, they all tell me, "I learn from the kids." All of them. Remember, technology is going to change. I planned a workshop on Delicious, the social-bookmarking website, which I have been using for years. When I got to the workshop, I discovered that Delicious is now owned by Yahoo! and registering was much different than when I had first created my account. You’re the learning expert. Keep the learning goals in mind, and when technology throws a wrench at you, use it as an opportunity to learn along with your students. You’re modeling valuable 21st Century skills when you do.

Find a buddy. You don’t have to do this alone. In fact, research on exemplary technology-using teachers shows that they don’t. These teachers have a network they can rely on to learn new things, bounce off new ideas, and even try new technologies and techniques with. It’s nice when your buddies are in your own school, but with technologies like webconferencing and web-based resources, including those from the NCLRC, you can find a buddy around the block or across the globe. You can communicate through webconferencing (e.g., iChat, ooVoo, or Skype), jointly create documents (e.g., using GoogleDocs,, or, and share your results (e.g., creating a podcast with Audacity or GarageBand or even uploading a video to YouTube or TeacherTube).

Technology Tip: Getting Your Act Together

In an effort to comply more with the "just show me how to do it" requests, I want to offer this real, bonafide technology tip. In the 21st Century, we have to deal with a lot of information, and now a lot of that information is found on the web. It can be hard to sort, store, and find when you need it. In order to deal with that information, I encourage you to set the goal of using a social bookmarking service, if you are not already doing so. It should help you get started in moving up the continuum.

Many of us are used to bookmarking information on our own computers, but what happens when we have to use a different one, or we buy a new computer? Yes, you can transfer bookmarks to new computers, but a more useful solution is to use a social bookmarking service. Essentially, this service allows you to store all of your bookmarks online, so you can get to them any time you want to, from any computer with an Internet connection.

They allow you to create tags, or groupings, so you can organize your bookmarks in different categories. Then you can share them (or not) with others. Coming up with the tagging scheme may be the most complex aspect of using them. You may want to do it by general categories (e.g., travel sites, government-sponsored resources, language practice, etc.) or organize them by lessons or units. This latter arrangement will take more planning and is probably something you might accomplish over time.

In homage to 21st Century skills (which encourage you to be creative, solve problems, incorporate critical thinking, and communicate and collaborate), I’m not going to tell you how to do it step by step. Each site contains tutorials and answers to frequently asked questions that provide that information. There are three social bookmarking services I know of, two that I use routinely and one that I have read reviews of that seems to be promising. You can decide which one works best for you, but I encourage you to use one of these free services to organize information for your language instruction and to model 21st Century skills for your students. Already use one? Be a buddy and help someone out who doesn’t, or check into one of the other ones. They may offer functionality you didn’t know about.

Social bookmarking services:

  • Delicious ( One of the earliest bookmarking sites with an easy-to-use toolbar you can add to your web browser. You do have to create or use a Yahoo! account for this service. Unfortunately, if you have more than one Yahoo! account, you’ll have to switch back and forth, which is cumbersome. This is my problem because I have a Yahoo! personal e-mail account and one I created just for trainings.
  • Diigo ( Another easy-to-use service that has really ramped up its social networking aspect. It also allows you to annotate websites, so you can highlight the most important information on the site for your students. There is an educator version ( that allows you to share your bookmarks with a class and does not require students to have an e-mail account. Unfortunately, because it does have this social networking aspect, which I think can be pretty useful, you may have to get it unblocked on some school networks.
  • iCyte ( I have only read about this service and viewed some of the tutorials, so I admit I’m not an expert on this one, but maybe you are and can let me know how you use it better. iCyte claims to be more than a bookmarking site, but both Delicious and Diigo are constantly evolving, so if you find a feature you like on one, chances are it will be on one of the others—if not now, then soon. Like the others, it appears to be very easy to use, allows you to annotate, and you can install the iCyte toolbar on your favorite web browser.

Creating and maintaining a social bookmarking site is a good way to get started with moving along the continuum towards more 21st Century teaching and learning, and it will help you organize all the information you collect, from the NCLRC and elsewhere. If you’d like to see one in action, please feel free to review the sites I maintain at the links below. If you do need some more help to learn more about social bookmarking, want to suggest additional topics, or just send some feedback, please feel free to contact me. I appreciate all the advice I’ve received.

John Ross
My Delicious account:
My Diigo account:

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