Supporting student communication with EdTech

At our EdTech Professional Learning Community session today, the topic was how we can use EdTech to support those students we all have, in every class and subject, for whom an alternative means of communication would enable them to really show what they have learned or already know.

Why use EdTech to support communication?

As an international school, we have lots of students who come from different cultural and language backgrounds and who might come to us with knowledge or understandings that they aren't able to communicate in one or both of our school languages - English and German. Many of our students are also very capable learners and excellent conceptual thinkers, but they may struggle to communicate their ideas and learning through traditional written tasks.

Whether you work in an international school or not, these student needs may be very familiar to you! In the past teachers and students were limited to what could be communicated in writing or through face to face conferencing, which places huge obstacles in the way of communication for both parties in terms of time and ability.

One of the elements I always find myself thinking about as a teacher is "what do I really want to assess?". This is particularly relevant to the PYP where we are often trying to assess or gauge a student's level of understanding of a concept or big idea. When we try to assess that understanding through a written form, like essays or a story, or through a formal presentation we run the risk of preventing our students from demonstrating conceptual understanding if they struggle with that written or oral form due to language, learning or confidence restrictions. Of course, these language skills are still important to teach and assess, but it doesn't always necessarily make sense to bundle them with the demonstration of knowledge and understanding.

In our EdTech Scope and Sequence, we break up the Communication strand into Learning Goals and Learning Objectives for Grades 1 & 2, Grade 3, and Grade 4 & 5, like this:

Grade 1 & 2

Learning Goal:

Communicate with various audiences using a range of digital technology (formats, tools and media).

Learning Objectives:

Students will use a range of digital technologies to share and communicate ideas and information.

Students will be introduced to, and will begin to use a keyboard to communicate.

Grade 3

Learning Goal:

Explore a range of technologies (formats, tools and media) used by others to communicate and contribute to cross/cultural understanding with a variety of audiences.

Learning Objectives:

Students will use a range of digital technologies to communicate ideas and knowledge for a specified audience.

Students will develop and use keyboard skills to facilitate digital communication.

Students will use digital technologies to communicate with others around the world under the direct supervision of a teacher.

Students will use digital technologies to reflect.

Grade 4 & 5

Learning Goal:

Communicate with various audiences by choosing technologies (formats, tools and media) to articulate meaning. Provide relevant, significant feedback to others. Contribute to cross/cultural understanding with a variety of audiences.

Learning Objectives:

Students will identify the audience and choose digital technologies to communicate effectively.

Students will publish and present original work using a variety of digital technologies, under the supervision of a teacher.

Students will continue developing keyboard skills to facilitate digital communication.

Students will use digital technologies to provide constructive feedback to peers.

Students will use digital technologies to communicate with others around the world for a specified purpose.

The first thing to note is that the goals and objectives are progressive: there are more of them and they require more independence as the student goes up the school. Secondly, yes, there's some stuff in there about typing, because as much as it hurts my heart, this is still a skill we need to teach our kids, and I see that in classes where kids are one-finger typing, and this is having an impact on their ability to communicate or complete their work. As an adult, I wouldn't be able to write this blog if I hadn't learned to type and we still need to give our kids that skill (in an age-appropriate way!). Finally, and most importantly, the objectives are very broad: we want our students communicating through technology for a range of purposes, where it makes sense, and with an increasing level of choice and independence, which requires them to make reasoned, logical decisions about the tools they choose, connected to their purpose and their audience. In order for them to, for example, achieve that objective in Grade 5 to support the Exhibition, we do need to provide them with access to a range of tools from Grade 1 up, scaffolding and teaching the skills they need to use those tools effectively.

Our hope as a school is that by introducing and using tools like the ones below across our curriculum, our students will be as equipped as possible to use technology meaningfully and effectively as they get older, in addition to all the benefits they get in the moment of being able to communicate in an enhanced way.

What EdTech apps and approaches can I use to support communication in my class?

In our PLC today we focused on four really adaptable tools that can work for any age group, in any subject:

Clicking on the images will take you to the product's website, and from there you can download them from the App Store. Of the apps featured, at the time of writing only Tellagami Edu costs money, but there is also a free version you can try out first.

Tellagami Edu

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I love Tellagami Edu, I have to be honest. I was introduced to it about a year ago at Eric Sheninger's Leading Digital Learning workshop at Luxembourg International School and whilst I was fairly sure it must be witchcraft, it was clear to me immediately that this app has huge potential and applicability to our student body.

Essentially, the app lets you customise a 3D avatar (a digital representation of a person or creature), called a Gami, to change its appearance, emotions and setting and then you can either add a message that avatar communicates in text form or, much more interestingly, through a voice recording. The 3D person you have made moves their mouth in time to your recorded words, and gestures with their hands and body language as well. It is almost eerily good in terms of how well the movements line up with your tone!

Here's a quick overview created by Tellagami themselves, and a short tutorial video:

The teachers at the PLC had some excellent ideas about how they could use Tellagami in their classrooms: how about creating a Gami who resembles a character from a book you are studying, and having that character tell you about their life and role in the story? Or, what about supporting shy presenters by giving them a way to present verbally without the pressure of standing in front of a group in real life? In Grade 1, the students learn about emotions and how they can express them healthily - a Gami can be customised to look angry, sad, happy, scared, silly, surprised or neutral and it would be a great idea to have the students match verbal tone and words to these facial expressions, for example.

In the free version you can only record 30 seconds for each Gami, whereas in the paid version it's 90 seconds and there are some additional customisation options. When the Gami is finished it can be downloaded to the camera roll as a video file, and from there uploaded to Seesaw, Youtube, or several could be sewn together in iMovie to create a longer story.

Stop Motion Studio

This is an app that our art teacher has used to great effect with Grades 4 and 5, but there is so much more than can be done with stop motion animation in addition to making art!

The app is very, very simple to use, it's free (bonus!), and it allows you to add voice overs, sound effects and music in-app. Again, when your project is finished you can save it as a video file and either share that through something like Seesaw or keep editing it in iMovie etc.

One of the ways stop motion animation can be used really effectively in class is to enable students to communicate process: for example, the water cycle, how a seed grows, or how humans migrated from one area of the world to another.

Our teachers also had great ideas about using stop motion to create stories in Grade 1 (but that would work in any grade!), integrating art and music by having students create an animation in art and then create their own soundtrack in music or as a tie in to instructional writing in Grade 3 or 4.

 
 

iPad Art Room has this amazing post which gives some beautiful and creative examples of stop motion animations, just to inspire you a little!

Imagistory

I've written a little about Imagistory before as it's a tool I wanted to use to support our English language curriculum in Grade 1, but it's a very versatile app that could be used across the school.

It is a very simple (seeming) app, which contains 7 totally wordless storybooks, with absolutely beautiful illustrations in different artistic styles. You can just flip through the books, or very easily record your voice telling a story to accompany the pictures, which can then be saved as a video file for export or editing. The wonderful thing about it is that the wordless nature of the stories means they can be used in any language, and told and retold as many times, in as many different ways as you can think of.

Our teachers immediately thought it would be perfect to support and develop story-telling and story creation skills in Grades 1 and 2, lending itself very well to links with our Authors & Illustrators unit. For EAL students it could be a great way to support them in developing vocabulary, confidence in speaking, and transitional words. The music teacher and I had an idea I'm really excited about as well: how about letting students play along or compose a piece to accompany the book as it is flipped through? Or composing motifs to represent characters in the story, that feature in a soundscape?

 
 

Shadow Puppet Edu

I confess, this app is not one I had used before with kids, but when I was researching apps to support communication I remembered that people at the Mobile Device Conference at the International School of Amsterdam back in October had spoken very highly of it and thought I'd give it a try.

The app is made by the same people who make Seesaw which, as you know, we love at my school, and the interface is similarly very friendly, very slick and very usable and of course it integrates beautifully with Seesaw to let you share your finished products there simply.

What this app essentially let's you do is create videos made up of images and shorter videos, that you can add text captions, audio voice overs and music to. You can also "draw" on the video to point things out with the magic wand function, and zoom in and out on pictures. Every gesture is recorded, so when you finish the project all your zooms and circling of things in each picture are recorded there. This tutorial explains it better than I can, and the app's website has plenty of examples of how you can use it in your lessons.

 
 

Our Grade 4 teachers were especially excited about this app, and thought it would be an excellent tool for students to create their own student broadcast, explain maths concepts, structure procedural and instructional writing, tell stories or give map directions. I love that this app, like the others, works equally well for fiction and non-fiction communication, and that its applications are so versatile.

EdTech PLC Resources

It was great to once again have so many teachers take time out on a Friday afternoon to learn something new and be thinking about how they can develop their use of EdTech in the classroom.

We discussed student need, shared some examples of existing practice, and some of the challenges and triumphs we face in the classroom, using EdTech to support communication, and then had a hands-on learning session about the 4 tools I wrote about above.

Here are the Slides from the session...

 

... along with the instructions for each station (click to access the document):

 
 

And the ideas our teachers shared during the session. Feel free to add some ideas of your own!

Made with Padlet

It was the last PLC of the academic year for us, and the last I'll be running for a while as I'm starting my maternity leave next week, but it was so wonderful to share ideas and see, once again, how far our school has come in a year! I am really looking forward to seeing how these tools are used in class, and I'd love to hear your ideas, questions and applications in the comments.

Sarah