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Month: February, 2014

Toondoo

Toondoo

This week’s blog is about the tool Toondoo. This site allows students to create their own cartoons and books online. The site is colourful and has great fun images, many of which are dynamic, in that they move during manipulation of the different features. For instance, there are little gears, like those in a machine, that move around in circles when information is being opened. This keeps the students attention when they are waiting for things to open. Keeping students attention focussed is a primary preoccupation of teachers and Toondoo understands this well. Children love cartoons and the idea of creating their own is a fun way of developing projects in their ESL class. They will be having so much fun that they forget that they are learning English. At the end they will be proud to have a finished project they can keep and show off to their classmates and parents.

The Quebec Ministry of Education requires that teachers encourage their students develop their creativity and Toondoo is an excellent tool with which to do this. Students are able to work autonomously on projects individually or in teams. The tool can also be used to create class projects where everyone participates in doing their part of the collective effort. The fact students can choose from a variety of characters to appear in their cartoon is, in itself, great, but studenst can also customize the characters by giving them different features such as hair colour and hair style, eye colour and eye shape etc. etc. The cartoon or book is also custom created by the student. For instance, the actual layout and background scenery is selected by the student. In this way the tool really makes for a personal experience. For instance, students can create characters that resemble themselves and their classmates, thus making for a much more meaningful experience.

The setup of the site is divided into: Toons, Books, Dooers, Tools, Compleetoons, Shop and Etc. When these are selected a list is given of the uses of each. I will give a brief description of the most important of the uses in terms of pedalogical purposes. In the category Toons the students actually create and save their cartoons. The fact they can save their cartoons on the site is very convenient. In addition they can also access their other cartoons they are working on here so we can see they the students can have numerous projects if necessary. I like the idea that the Toons and Books categories are divided into two separate parts because this keeps things more simple for teachers explaining to students what they should open. I also like the fact that the language in the toolbar is very simple and clear … ‘Toons’ , ‘Books’ etc. The Dooers category is essentielly the user profile area. In the Tools section students have tools that they, for instance, create characters with, before putting them into there cartoon or book. The Compleetoons section is where students can access cartoons that have completed.  The Shop section is not free and where high-resolution Toondoos can be produced … which of course is at the discretion of the teacher. The Etc. section is essentielly a collection of useful information that can help teachers and students better use the site.

Here are three sites that give other pertinent information with regard to Toondoo:

At http://teachinghistory.org/ I noticed an interesting comment that the fact that this tool eliminates some of the frustrations students may have when doing their own drawings. In other words this means the students are concentrating on the actual subject matter rather than the artwork which is of secondary importance.

http://www.teachersfirst.com points out that like any online use teachers shoul be concerned about safety concerns, though their editor did not see anything objectional. Teachersfirst explains that students should be prohibited from accessing the links to ‘popular’ Toondoos because there could be objectional context since it is open to the public.

At http://www.teacherade.com  there are two very simple but very important comments about Toondoo : that its easy to use and free. Easy to use is obviously essential when working in a class environment and particularly with younger children. Well free means free … so the teacher doesn’t have to ask the school direction for funds.

I will finish this weeks blog by saying that I worked with Toondoos with a group of elementary grade six students in intensive English and found the site to be extremely useful. I should point out here that is not a tool that can be used as a quick ‘filler activity’ because, although quite simple to use, it takes students a bit of time to get used to using the tool bars. In addition, the projects themselves take up a large amount of time. On the other hand, for longer projects Toondoos is a fantastic tool for teaching ESL reading and writing skills and, while the site does not have an audio element, the students practice their oral skills while talking about their cartoon or book, and if they present it to the class. Thus, Toondoos is an excellent tool for working on all three Quebec Ministry of education ESL competencies.

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Kindersite

This week I will talk about the website Kindersite which is a fun but very useful pedagogical tool for use in elementary cycle one classrooms. Some of the activities can be used with older elementary students. It should be noted here that it is aimed primarily at first language learners in pre-school but the level of the activities is appropriate for elementary second language learners. I should mention here that a slight disadvantage of the site is that it is most obviously a British site, so the accent and some of the vocabulary is ‘foreign’ to ‘Canadian English’. On the other hand, it contains a vast array of books, games and songs that are easily accessed from the homepage. The site is very colourful with age appropriate images. The activities are graded according to age, but with first language learners in mind. Never-the-less teachers can adjust to the differences, between first language and second language levels,  and use these gradings to select appropriate activities for different class levels and individual learners. The sound quality is quite good is the oral activities. The site is interactive, in that many of the activities allow the students to pro-actively participate. For instance the digital books can be stopped and replayed by the student. Students can also play games, where they can play alone or with a partner. Other activities include puzzles and e-cards. The e-cards are of particular interest to teachers who would like to have students create cards on special occasions such as birthdays, Christmas, Easter etc. This site is very practical also for teachers who wish to walk around the class and help students individually, while the rest of the class works autonomously on their own or with a partner. In addition, the fact that students can read the digital books and other activities at their own pace allows more advanced students to work more quickly while students having difficulty can take all the time they need. This means students are more interested in the activities and do not feel overwhelmed.

http://literacylog.blogspot.ca/2009/07/kindersite.html makes a comment that caught my attention about Kindersite: Kindersite’s stated mission is twofold: first, the proprietors want to provide a portal to safe, educational content for children ages 2-8; second, they want to provide data to facilitate research on how children use such online content and how it affects their learning. This statement shows the essential quality of safety with regards to the site, but also that the site is actively participating in pedalogical research, thus one sees here the site is very serious in its approach to learning.

http://www.media-and-learning.eu/resource/kindersite-project gives an interesting comment about Kindersite: The content that is found to be most engaging or requested by a child can be added to a personal list, via an updateable ‘My page’ mechanism. This feature gives the site a very personalized approach that both student and teacher can take advantage of. For example, teachers can tell students to go to their ‘My Page’ area to get materiel or ask students to place materiel in the ‘My page’ area.

http://www.teachersfirst.com/single.cfm?id=11413 mentions that Kindersite is an ‘award winning site’ although they do not specifically say what award. Never-the-less, this site gives a very positive review of Kindersite. They mentioned a couple of points that I find very relevant to teachers: that it is expanding to older children of 7-12 and that there are activities in seven languages. I briefly touched on the age factor earlier in my blog, but this expansion to older levels is most useful to primary school teachers. Concerning the multiple language issue, and obviously, as an English teacher, the other languages would not be used often; but, on occasion, students may be interested to take a ‘cultural excursion’ to these other languages. This could prove of interest, for instance, as a comparison exercise with English, though this may be frowned upon by ‘purists’ who refuse any word other than English. For the very young and beginner students, this would not be a good idea, but on occasion, with more advanced, enriched students, this may prove useful as a change. Other problems however may arise with access to the other languages. For instance, if a teacher has a student, say Hispanic, that student may do the Spanish activities rather than the English ones. Therefore, like any online activity, the teacher must be careful to closely monitor the students.

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Randall’s Cyber Listening Lab

In this weeks blog entry I will talk about the Website Randall’s Cyber Listening Lab and it’s uses as a pedagogical tool in teaching English as a second language. I have used this site for a number of years in my teaching of adult learners in secondary one through five and have found it most useful. The site itself is not particularly appealing in terms of aesthetics nor is it especially sophisticated but it is efficient. Basically, it offers a number of listening activities that are in the form of quizzes. Accessing the quizzes is very simple because they are there in front of the user when the page is opened. The quizzes are divided into ‘easy’ ‘medium’ ‘difficult’ and very difficult’. In each of these categories the quizzes are further subdivided into various subjects such as ‘Bookstore shopping’ ‘Baking Cookies’ etc. For these reasons teachers can guide students to the level that is appropriate for them and select subjects that are relevant for the work they are doing at school. Getting into each quiz takes simply a click of the mouse. Once in the quiz students find a control bar and a number of multiple choice questions below it. The control bar works just like that found in Youtube and therefore students can control when they want to start/stop the listening activity. The activities themselves are short conversations of about two minutes. It is very important to note also that the sound quality is excellent. Once the students have listened to the activity they can answer the multiple choice questions by simply clicking on the answer of their choice. Once finished, the student clicks on ‘Results’ and they are give a percentage score and a list of the correct answers. This website is an excellent means of building students’ confidence for listening exams. Teachers can encourage students, that are having difficulties, to do the easier quizzes then build up to the more difficult. The activities are short and the students self-correct, so they see instant results. The website TeachersFirst , which is extensively used by teachers, offers an important warning that some of the quizzes in Randall’s, that are related to such topics as ‘personal problems’, may not be suitable for young children. In general TeachersFirst gives an excellent review of the site and recommends it’s use by teachers.The website tewtjournal reviews different websites and they posted an article by Jarek Krajka, which was first published in the review Teaching English with Technology, vol. 1, no. 2, pp. 20-25. It gives similar information to that I have already given, but what I didn’t know was that Randall’s constantly provides new listening activities which is definitely a good thing. New activities also mean that  the site keeps up with what is happening in society. At the site esl-lab Fall 2008 issue, reviewer Minuta Botea points out an interesting feature of Randall’s, and that is its blog, which users are encouraged to use. This allows the site to keep up with suggestions provided by users and thus ensures staying relevant to user needs. I will end here by stating that Randall’s has been very useful in my teaching experience and especially for increasing students’ confidence for listening exams. Teachers may want to use the site as a filler activity, such as at the end of a period, or maybe as a complementary activity to a larger project, or, in fact, for any other activity they deem appropriate.