Teacher Tools: Online Survival Kit

I would like to note that I optimistically believed I would have the ability to time travel and post an essential online tool every few days as I try, fail, succeed, and otherwise muddle through the murk of online instruction. This is not the case, as I have over 120 students and every spare second is devoured by investigating new online resources, chasing wild whims and new ideas, actually teaching while troubleshooting and managing behavior and grading, recording and posting asynchronous lessons on top of all the synchronous, etc etc. It’s been a tornado of a two weeks, and the funnel cloud isn’t dissipating. So, like the rest of us, I do what I can.

Whether virtual for a time or traditionally teaching, a variety of technology platforms must be integrated into our curricula.  This is, after all, 2020—a wild ride of a year, but also one pushing us to be more innovative.  As I always tell my students: we must try and, if we make mistakes or fail, we learn and we grow.  Without taking chances, we stagnate, something against which we caution our own students…and there is enough hypocrisy in our world already.  Thus begins my sporadic series on tools I find essentially useful to our classrooms, now and going forward. Here is the miracle of Padlet, explained more in depth, with the World Language teacher especially in mind!

PADLET

A Brief Overview

Think classroom blog meets jigsaw activity meets Pinterest. Remember when we used to have students in class and would send them running around the room to slap a sticky note on the wall? Think that, too. With resourcefulness, imagination, and an internet connection, Padlet is a fantastic resource for interactive synchronous or asynchronous lessons. Combining text with images or videos, students can post, respond, or interact via “liking” or rating others’ posts. I prefer this particular platform as both a presentational and communicative medium: students post about something in the target language, then read one another’s posts and either comment or answer questions. It’s like a living bulletin board–it’s alive! Check out this page from Ditch That Textbook for a myriad of ideas for all content areas. (Yes, I am against textbooks for world language classes.)

How To Use It

From a teacher perspective, use your Google account to log in and create a “board.” On the unpaid version, you can create only three boards–with a bit of resourcefulness, this can be sufficient. On the free version, you can actually “earn” free Padlet boards. If you can obtain at least one board per class, there is really no reason to ever pay for Padlet; I am all for saving $$, especially as I am quite firm in my belief that education is a basic human right and as such we should all have equal access (monetarily) to all educational opportunities/universities….but I digress. What I meant to say: if you refer three people who just SIGN UP (family and friends, this will take two seconds), you receive another free Padlet board. If you go to settings, you will see this:

There you are! Padlet is also only $8.25 per month, which hopefully won’t break the departmental budget. It is a platform worth having, however you finangle it.

Once you have an account, begin creating! Once you create your first Padlet Board, be sure to browse through all settings. Between the settings button and your profile picture in the top right corner, you will see three horizontal dots. Click here >> change format. Brick seems to be most confusing, but also the default, so be sure to choose whichever format is best suited to your activity. To me, “stream” always seems most organized, but play around. Whenever I begin using a new online resource, I always allocate 20 minutes or so to explore and brain storm most efficient uses. 10/10 suggest. Also, when you share your Padlet Link with students, double check that the editing function is enabled! Plop that link onto Google Classroom with some introduction and instructions, and you are ready to roll.

IDEAS IDEAS IDEAS

THE MOST IMPORTANT SECTION

So, you’ve created an account and experimented with making Padlet boards. What do your students do now?! Check out the following extremely non-comprehensive list! **You can choose whether to have your students create accounts or not–with accounts, their names can be automatically included, which is the only true reason they would need to create an account. Otherwise, be sure to tell the students to be sure to sign their name to their work. Always have students create accounts with their school emails.**

About Me

Always, but especially starting virtually, it is essential to not only establish relationships with students, but also a positive classroom environment through and between students. With teaching a world language, this an especially useful time to intertwine content with humanity. To start off the year, we learned/reviewed names, how to say one loves or likes something, and where you are from. No matter what the level, this works and can be made more complex, level dependent. I also enjoy asking what students know about the content culture already, or any stereotypes they may know. A photo can also be added, and I always require commenting or rating.

Opinions

Because I create my own curriculum, I have full freedom in finding ways to connect to students’ personal lives and emotions. A variety of studies show that if you can combine learning with an emotional response, the content is more likely to embed itself in long-term memory. Thus, opinions at all levels in modified complexity are a perfect way to engage students. Even at the exploratory level, students can learn to ask what others think about a topic. Via Padlet, this quickly becomes an activity with the potential for game modification. Idea: Have students create a post asking 5 opinion questions, in conjunction with a photo. Non-game version: give an opinion on at least five other posts, picking and choosing from the questions you care about. Game version: You are a very opinionated person and want to share your thoughts with the world. Comment on as many posts and questions as you can in x amount of minutes. Go! For more advanced levels: Given an opinion, choose a position for or against. Give evidence as to why your opinion is the best. Then, comment on 3 agreeing and 3 opposing opinions, sometimes starting somewhat of a virtual debate.

Teach Each Other **MOST IMPORTANT**

Best practices. One of the ways students best internalize information is by having to teach it to others. This also lends itself to a feeling of empowerment–no matter the level of student, they can be an “expert” on a component of a topic. I love doing this with holidays: each student chooses a German holiday and “presents” it on Padlet, plus a 3-minute or so YouTube video about the holiday (in the target language for high levels). Students must then take notes on what they learned, then post facts they found most interesting in response. Another example: different countries with the same target language, or different states in, say, France. The students do the legwork with teacher scaffolding but also choose what is interesting to them, hopefully increasing engagement while promoting autonomy in learning.

Blog Post

As a type of blog post platform, students could be given a prompt and post on the Padlet. For example: You are going on a trip and want to give expert tips on how to pack. You are traveling to Germany and want to talk about your favorite cultural differences. You are a student of history and want to share an important historical point. You read a book and give a synopsis. You post a challenging math word problem and try to have your classmates solve each others. You choose favorite artists and post about their best works, then respond to others. Really, your imagination is the limit.


My philosophy: this is not for me to present information to my students, but a simple, engaging means for my students to share information, thus interacting with the target language in more of a real-world situation or truly thinking in depth about a cultural component. It can be a way to explore together, putting more learning into their own hands and enabling greater autonomy while helping one another. Padlet also provides me as an instructor a great deal of feedback–in which topics are my students intrinsically interested? What are they learning, and are they internalizing ways of communicating in the target language? What is going well, where can we improve, and how can I better my teaching? Grow. This is all about growth.

Best of luck with Padlet–hopefully I’ve provided you with some new thoughts! Please comment below with any interesting ways you have found to use Padlet, or any questions 🙂

*** Note on this post: Since beginning to write it a month ago, I found so many new and amazing resources to the point where, while I continue to use Padlet once every two weeks, this is less exciting. Coming soon: Educandy, flippity, wizer.me, PearDeck & NearPod, polling software, and JamBoard!

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