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After implementing my speaking project, what did I think?

How would you approach another project of this type differently given what you’ve learned here? I would definitely try a project like this next year.  In fact, over the summer I hope to create a series of lessons that incorporate drop.io and lingtlanguage – perhaps one or two per chapter.  I want the kids to get used to them and to start thinking about what we’re learning as a communicative tool that they’ll have to use.  For now it will be for this assignment but, hopefully, it can be with their penpals later and then who knows?  But making speaking assignments an integral part of each lesson, they will become more  comfortable, hopefully.  I will also try to work in a few of the other tools I talked about in the first post, but will need time to try those out so I can see how easy and effective they are.

What are the lessons learned that others might benefit from knowing about? Hopefully, if you listen to the audio post below, you’ll be able to avoid a few of the pitfalls we encountered.

  • First, I was shocked at how poorly my students followed directions.  This  led to many of the other issues we had.  So, warn them that, if they don’t follow the steps, they will suffer.  The first time I won’t have it affect their grades, but from then on it will.
  • Make sure students dial the drop.io number carefully!  Be sure they speak loudly.  Also, have a phone at the ready for kids who don’t have cell phones  or who don’t want to spend their minutes on the call.
  • On the lingtlanguage site, I had trouble getting the YouTube video I embedded to play at school.  You should definitely try all the links ahead of time – at school – because just because they work at home doesn’t mean anything.
  • Be sure students initialize the microphones correctly – maybe even type out the steps for them, even though the site walks them through it – so they don’t lose all the information they’ve entered into the site if they have to go back and initialize the microphones later.
  • I was really surprised by how difficult the students found plugging in the headsets (pink to pink, green to green).  Next time I’m sure it wouldn’t be as difficult for them, but I’m purchasing the USB mic/headset combo to avoid that hassle.
  • Finally, be sure to play back responses with the class the following day, stressing what they did well.  The kids loved hearing themselves and got a much better idea of what I expected by hearing good   from their classmates.

In what ways will you endeavor to do the same project again, and what will you change or not do? As I said before, I’m definitely going to use this again.  I’ll change the mic/headsets, print out copies of the mic. initialization steps and walk them through it on the LED projector in the lab BEFORE anyone logs in.  I would avoid the video for now, until I can determine if it is a streaming issue or a blocking issue and get it taken care of.  I would love to have the video capability – there is so much cool stuff out there – but I need to be able to count on it working.  I would also like to include some polleverywhere (polleverywhere.com)  or polldaddy (polldaddy.com) polls on there, but realized that I need to shorten the URLs because the linglanguage page cuts them off after a certain number of characters so they didn’t work.  Finally, I would leave oral feedback next time.  I didn’t this year because I couldn’t get any more lab time for the kids to go back in and listen to my recorded feedback; I just wrote it out.  But, I think I could do a lot more with spoken feedback – especially to address pronunciation issues.

But, I think this is definitely worth a try.  These sites aren’t hard to learn and the kids got a lot out of the experience!

Project Implementation

Click on the play button below to hear a description of my project implementation.kid with headphones 2


In the implementation, my students tried the following sites.

  • Drop.io is one site that allows students to call a number and leave a voice message for me. The site then compiles all of them into one easy place and allows me to listen to them anywhere I have computer access. It’s also free.Picture 2
  • Lingtlanguage.com is another site where I can create lessons that have a speaking component. Once I’ve created the lessons, the students just click on the blue voice bubbles to hear my prompt and then click on the white voice bubbles to record their answers.  They also left me written prompts, describing a photo I uploaded onto the page, and I embedded a French YouTube video which they were to watch and then respond to in French.Picture 1Picture 4

This is what the recording page looks like for the student. He clicks on the blue bubble to hear the prompt then on the white bubble to record. Once a recording is complete, the bubble turns orange to let the students know they completed the task successfully.

“I liked the phone-in site because I could do it whenever I wanted to and it was easy.”  (Amber, grade 11)

“When I called in with my cell phone, I was really relaxed and didn’t care if I made a mistake.”  (Jayson, grade 9)

“I liked the bubble site because I was able to re-do the recording.”  (Jack, grade 11)

“The internet activities are pretty helpful because I have time to think about my answer before I record.  It takes the pressure off.”  (Sarah, grade 9)

Techquest Research

When I started this project, I thought it would be easy to  find information on speaking in a foreign language classroom.  That  is, after all, our goal – to get our students to speak.  But, it was not easy to find information that was really about my topic.  I tried google and did get some information and tips from a few web-sites.  I also found products for sale that are designed to get students to talk more. These aren’t going to help me, though, since our budget at school is so tight!  I did find a great series of video / podcasts through the BBC that address this topic pretty closely and were very helpful.

Next I looked at MeL and tried to find articles or research that dealt with my topic.  It was difficult.  I don’t know how many combinations of words I tried and some yielded information that was close, but I didn’t get any real ‘jackpot’ hits. I tried many different combinations of “teaching, foreign language, speaking, students, classroom, increase” but wasn’t all that successful.

I then tried the MSU library system and got similar results to the ones I got with MeL.  Without good search words, I didn’t really expect better results.  I did find a few good articles on theory, though, which should be helpful.

Then I tried the tech websites (Edutopia, Tech and Learning, the Journal of Technology Education, Journal of Educational Technology, etc.) and found some ideas (SpeechWise, Skype, Googletalk, iEARN, Elluminate) that might help my cause, though I’ll need to investigate them further.

Finally, I searched  within the language journals (Modern Language Journal, ACTFL, JFLS, FLJ, CALL, etc.).  This is where I was able to find the largest amount of directly applicable information.

I didn’t find anything conclusive.  Many researchers believe that increasing the amount a student communicates in a meaningful manner using authentic speaking activities and a real need for communication (information that must be found) the more he will learn.  (Krashen, Chen, Zurawsky).  But, whether or not technology resources help to accomplish this is still being widely debated (Magnan, Hanna and de Nooy).

I guess this really surprised me  that there would be such varying opinions on the topic.  But, as I thought  about it more, it is understandable.  So many of these technologies are new and they change so rapidly.  A lot of the studies used small samples (all were under 100) making them less reliable and the idea of ‘improved speaking’ is so subjective that it’s hard to measure.  Also many criticize the blind use of  technology, just as we’ve been cautioned in class.

“Although she acknowledges the benefits of CMC in the classroom, Chun confronts the excessively optimistic view of the field, questioning uninformed uses of CMC and pointing out the challenges ahead to L2 CMC researchers. Blyth reviews the theoretical, methodological, and linguistic frameworks employed in CMC research. He cautions that, despite the current shift to sociocultural and ecological approaches, technological and psycholinguistic approaches still retain their relevance in the CMC field” (in Magnan).

But, enough of the anecdotal evidence points to an increase in speaking fluency, that I want to try it.  And, a lot of the complaints  about the technologies (difficult to leave immediate feedback, hard to ensure  student honesty, limited availability to resources) are ones I have with the old tape, partner activity ideas.  I think that some of them will be lessened by the technology.  And, if students are engaged, they’ll actually do the exercise – or so I hope.  It’s why I’m moving forward on this project!

  • An educational need or opportunityIn my French classes, my students are reluctant to speak. I would like to find a way to encourage their speaking and, at the same time, make them feel more comfortable. I need more low-anxiety, high-interest opportunities for student speaking. Now, I have students speak with partners but, I know that when I’m not hovering around a given group, often English is used instead of French. I also have students record themselves and then I take tapes home and listen to them. This is more effective, but time in the lab is limited and taking home thirty tapes can be difficult. Also, periodically, the tapes malfunction, causing further complications.

  • How I plan to address this educational issue with technology – I’ve been researching on-line resources and have come across a few that seem promising. Promising means that they are fairly easy for me – an old-timer – to use and will not require expensive equipment or software. Students can use them in school or home and they should minimize the malfunctioning issue. Also, I can access the sites from home and will no longer need to take tapes back and forth from home to school.  This should make my responses easier and quicker.

    • Drop.io is one site that allows students to call a number and leave a voice message for me. The site then compiles all of them into one easy place and allows me to listen to them anywhere I have computer access. It’s also free.

    • Lingtlanguage.com is another site where I can create lessons that have a speaking component. Once I’ve created the Picture 4lessons, the students just click on the blue voice bubbles to hear my prompt and then click on the white voice bubbles to record their answers.   The bubbles turn orange when the recording is complete.

    • Jing is another site where students can record themselves in a video which I or the class can then watch and listen to them speak.

    • audacity.sourceforge.net is another site where students can record themselves, edit what they record and then send the files to me as MP3 attachments.

    • Edu.glogster.com – an e-poster website that allows students to embed voice and video into there ‘glogs’ and then e-mail the files to me. I can view them at home, show them to the class or have students share them with each.

  • Relevant research and resources – While I was unable to find an exact match in the literature, I did find several studies that looked at the use of Internet resources (chat, IM, e-mail, listserv, online forms/threaded discussions, on-line quizzes/test and electronic journals, Web-based video-conferencing, to name a few) and their effect on language acquisition (Uzunboylu and Zurawsky ). While many of the findings are anecdotal and samples weren’t large enough to draw definitive conclusions, the consensus is that any tool that can increase the students’ use of the language and, at the same time, lower their anxiety about using it, is a successful tool. I’ll continue searching for relevant studies, but hope to build on what these researchers did and study the effects on my students’ speaking skills. And, best practice does suggest that the more frequently a student uses the language, the better and more confident he will become with it (Barner). It is also supported by the Brophy and Brabec. It will provide real-world applications of their language learning when they call and leave me a voicemail – they will have to communicate with me. It allows them to practice what we’re learning in class, something Brabec says students need to do at least 24 times if they are to achieve 80% competency of a skill. And, since the student responses will be easily accessible to me at home, I should be able to get feedback to the students in a more timely manner, something both Brabec and Brophy found to be key in student achievement. (See partial list of sources at end of post)

    • A plan for the portion you will implement during this course – since there is so little time before the end of the school year, I plan on trying the Internet resources where students record their voices and they are electronically sent to me (lingtlanguage.com, drop.io). I will create lessons using vocabulary we are currently studying, giving speaking prompts to the students. I think this will be easy for the students and that they won’t be too nervous.

    • The portion you will implement after this course completes – next fall I hope to keep whichever of the above sites work well, and to add the video component (through jing, edu.glogser and audacity). I also would like to find a way to link this with my existing pen-pal project that I use each year, so my students can record information and videos to send to their pen-pals in France.

    • How your project addresses the four common places of education:

    • Someone teaching – the instructor’s role will be key in the set-up of the website lessons. This will be done ahead of time and the instructor must insure that the tasks are within the comprehension and communication range of the students. Once the lessons are on the site, the students should be able to carry out the tasks will minimal guidance from the instructor.

    • Someone learning – the students will be second- through fifth-year French students. They will navigate through the activities virtually on their own, recording their responses, checking them for accuracy, sending them to the instructor. They will be the focus of and key actors in the lessons, provided they are given the necessary tools,  that the tasks are set up properly.
    • Some subject matter – This will be French II – IV. I will focus on listening comprehension and then speaking in response to the questions posted on the site. The subject matter can be varied and can be tailored to fit the vocabulary of any lesson.
    • In some setting – the students will initially perform these tasks in the classroom or school computer lab so we can work out any kinks and be sure the students understand what is expected.  But then, students should be able to perform these tasks anywhere they have access to a computer or phone.  This will really increase the flexibility of speaking exercises and increase  how often we can do them.
  • Cost – The only cost for implementing this plan would be for microphones.


Barner, Julie. “Improving Speaking Skills in the Language Classroom.” AP

Central.college board.com. Web. 22 May 2010.

Brabec, Kathy, Kimberly Fisher, and Howard Pitler. “Building Better Instruction: How

Technology Supports Nine Researach-Proven Instructional Strategies.” Learning

and Leading with Technology 31.5 (2004): 6-11. Print.

Brophy, Jere. “Teaching.” Educational Practices Series. Lausanne: International

Academy of Education, 1996. Print.

TE Editor. “Find the Gap – Increase Speaking in Class.” BBC. teachingenglish.org. Web.

Uzunboylu, Huseyin. “The Tools of the Web Assisted Foreign Language

Instruction” (ERIC)

Zurawsky, Chris. Foreign Language Instruction [electronic resource] :

Implementing the Best Teaching Methods, Research Points, Volume 4,

Issue 1, spring 2006 (ERIC)

Here is a WebQuest for upper-level French students in which they can use the grammar and vocabulary they’ve learned over their years of study to collaborate and interact with their classmates.


The Problem

I think I’m the problem.  No, seriously.  The problem I want to address is how to get my students to speak more in class.   I also need it to be a platform where they can get quick feedback.  I’m not sure how I’ll do this.  But, it is something I’ve struggled with for years.

Imagination is the Limit

“Sometimes it is not the technology that imposes the limitations but our own imaginations and ability to adapt technology to fit our needs.”

This quote could not be more true, where I’m concerned at least.  I am constantly constrained by my lack of imagination and lack of experience with what is available on the web.  I  don’t know if it’s because I’m older and didn’t grow up with technology, or if it is lack of experience, but I am constantly impressed and humbled by what others do with their classes and how they integrate technology.

A teacher in my department  showed my how to find and quickly download music videos.  She embeds them on her Quia teacher page so kids can watch them, do the exercises that go along with them and all without having to go on YouTube.  I want to to do that!

I struggle with getting my upper-level French students connected with native speakers.  I need a forum in which they can feel safe to communicate but also be held accountable so they really do answer.  The blog may be the answer!

Another teacher found a great site with French commercials, showing French people in French settings.  They watch and then record themselves (on the MP3 players) describing what they see.

In the Online Experience document, I like the idea of blended instruction, where the teacher serves as a guide for students, but they themselves use the technology to learn.  In order for this to work, though, each experience needs to be well structured and focused, so students know exactly what is expected and how  they are expected to reach that goal.  For someone like me, who is a newby at technology and hopelessly disorganized, it’s a daunting task.

So, I am very limited by my limited imagination – overwhelmed, even.  I want to get a handle on what  is out there and how I can use it.  I just don’t know how to overcome the hurdle of lack of imagination!

After looking at the different web 2.0 technologies, I can think of quite a few ways to integrate blogs into my class, as a stand-alone project or in conjunction with other technologies.  Since communication is my goal – encouraging uninhibited dialogue – a blog would present an environment in which students could communicate without the feeling of embarrassment if a word isn’t pronounced correctly.  It really lowers  the affective filter, allowing students to concentrate more on what they’re saying as opposed to how.

Bell describes embedding the learning in the technology – using it as a stepping stone, not an end in itself.  Blogging would do just that.  Students could communicate with each other, with students from France or another French-speaking country, or with me.  I could tailor the communicative assignments to fit the audience. It would definitely be CAI (computer aided instruction).

My WebQuest, for instance, will rely heavily on blogging.  Assignments will scaffold or build off of one another, requiring students to put together what they’ve learned over several years of language instruction.  I think it will be what Bell refers to as constructivist because the students will be the ones running the show.   They will be responsible for their learning, which will build on their own experiences and past learning.  I will merely serve as facilitator, hopefully working to keep things running smoothly.  I won’t be running the show.

I would love to use social networking sites to accomplish this, but they are blocked at our school and harder  to monitor, I think, since I wouldn’t be the one clearing the posts for ‘publication,’ the site webmaster would.

Since blogging is an essentially reflective activity, I guess I see it as helpful in both deductive and inductive activities.  It isn’t a very ‘hands-on’ medium, though.

But, by embedding something interactive into the blog – like a StAIR – or a link to a different site – like Quia – it could become very hands-on.

So, while I started out believing that blogs were really only good for verbal, reflective activities – not hands-on, creating activities – I’ve talked myself out of that idea.  Again, you’ve got to love how blogs make you reflect!

The Passé Composé

Click on the above link and open it in PowerPoint.

Follow the steps in the slides and let me know what you think.

Web-Based Collaboration

Our group decided to use Google.docs for our collaboration, since none of use had used either one very extensively.  Angela tried the form, Sari tried the docs function and I tried the presentation app.  The first thing that struck me was how simple it was to use the presentation app.  There are very few options, really – just the basics.   I think this might be a plus, though, for students, since it would limit the students’ temptation to play with the appearance of the presentation, instead of concentrating on the substance.  Plus, even a kid who had never used PowerPoint could quickly pick up how to use this.

I could see this used in both my English and French classes.  In English, we could hold discussions on Google.docs, share notes on what we’re reading in the presentation or spreadsheet function.  In French, kids could communicate in the target language back and forth with each other – like blogging – and other students could comment on or edit posts.  And if we split up an assignment among groups, presentation components could be posted as they’re completed and the order of the presentation could be changed, students could insert their information anywhere in the larger presentation.  Then, the finished product could be completed and viewed by everyone, with little bits of information coming from each person or group.

I think students will like the immediacy of their contribution.  They can open the doc or presentation, add their two cents and – bingo – it’s there!  It is immediate feedback.  Then, their peers can begin commenting immediately and giving them feedback.  They won’t have to wait for the teacher to get around to all 30 students.  Plus, it will be like a discussion without the intimidation of speaking in front of a group.  It will lower the affective filter.

There are limitations – the simplicity of the tools, our lack of access to computer labs at school, not all students have computers at home.  But, I think if we can get them into a lab, the positives would outweigh the negatives!

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