My class and I talk a lot. We ask questions, and we answer them. We share stories with one another. We listen, contribute, and learn.
For my students this is just a way to interact with one another, but as their teacher I’ve set up these opportunities specifically to help them improve their oral language skills. This past year we’ve taken all this talking and listening a step further by using video conferencing tools such as Skype
, Google+ Hangouts
, and FaceTime
in our classroom.
When I speak of video conferencing, I am referring to the use of the webcam on a computer to bring others into our classroom via the Internet. Some computers have built-in cameras, while others require you to attach a camera to your computer. But in either case, when you start learning through video conferencing you open your students up to new and exciting authentic oral language opportunities.
According to my British Columbia prescribed curriculum I must provide opportunities for my students to show that they are able to:
- interact with others for the purposes of exchanging ideas on a topic
- ask questions for clarification and understanding to demonstrate comprehension
- take turns as speaker and listener when interacting with others
- organize thinking by following a simple framework when presenting ideas and information
The First Grade Common Core State Standards pertaining to listening and speaking are as follows:
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.1.1 Participate in collaborative conversations with diverse partners about grade 1 topics and texts with peers and adults in small and larger groups.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.1.1a Follow agreed-upon rules for discussions (e.g., listening to others with care, speaking one at a time about the topics and texts under discussion).
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.1.1b Build on others’ talk in conversations by responding to the comments of others through multiple exchanges.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.1.1c Ask questions to clear up any confusion about the topics and texts under discussion.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.1.2 Ask and answer questions about key details in a text read aloud or information presented orally or through other media.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.1.3 Ask and answer questions about what a speaker says in order to gather additional information or clarify something that is not understood.
Video conferencing allows me to do everything mentioned above and more.
Video conferencing allows my students to share ideas with other students in different parts of the world. During our study with CHARLOTTE’S WEB, my students were able to discuss their favourite parts of the story with a class in Toledo, Ohio. Ideas were shared back and forth and students could agree or disagree with what was being said.
While working on a collaborative project focusing on sharing our school yard with other classes around North America, we had many questions about the school yards we were seeing around the world. One school yard in particular, from Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, Mexico was very intriguing to my students because it was so different than ours. By utilizing Skype we were able to ask and get answers to our questions from the children in Mexico. It was authentic and developmentally appropriate learning that promoted oral language skills.
Video conferencing also allowed my students to use their speaking skills to teach other children about Hanukkah. They shared information and answered questions. Their communication had to be clear in order to properly teach others about Hanukkah. My students have used video conferencing to talk about amphibians, community, peace, and favourite books. These are all examples of authentic oral language learning through video conferencing.
My students have also used video conferencing tools to read with adults from other parts of the world. In my classroom, twice a week we have community read, where I invite families in to read with their child. Often there are children without family members to read to. With a prearranged video conference my students read over a computer to another adult. This reading via video conference helps my students improve their oral reading fluency, and forces them to read with a clear voice at an acceptable pace.
My class has used video conferencing tools to bring experts in a field into our classroom, such as the time they talked with an app developer at Duck Duck Moose. The Duck Duck Moose developers taught my students how they make their iPad apps and then asked my students what they wanted to see added to the apps their company produces. My students, in clear voices, shared their wishes, and were equally excited to share what they had done with the app they were using. Again, the audience was real, the task engaging, and the oral language skills developed.
But how do you make this all work? To begin, you need to find someone to video conference with. I am fortunate to be very active on Twitter and so I can always find someone from my personal learning network to Skype with. But if Twitter isn’t in your comfort zone, start with someone you already know – perhaps your mother, principal, or the teacher next door. Make sure that you download Skype (or one of the other video conferencing tools) and that it works with your school district’s Internet access. (Some schools block access to one tool, but leave another one open.) This is something that you’ll need to check with the technology people in your building.
Once you have confirmed that the selected video conferencing tool will work in your classroom, do a practice run with the person you are connecting with. It’s not uncommon to have issues (that is the reality of using technology in a classroom), but knowing what issues may arise before you have your class with you will help you better deal with the issues if they occur once your students are present.
In terms of setting up the computer, it’s great if you can project what’s on the computer screen onto a bigger screen so all students can see it. Audio speakers help, too, if your projection device doesn’t include sound. I am fortunate to have Apple TV in my classroom so I can often Skype wirelessly. However, many times I need to hook up my computer (or iPad) directly to a projection device to allow it to work. When I can video conference wirelessly I have to face my students so they are clearly projected onto our friend’s computer. When I have to connect the computer to the projection device, then the class we are connecting with sees the backs of our heads, unless we turn around.
When I want one student to ask or answer a question on behalf of the entire class, I have them come up to the computer and ask their question in the camera. This allows for those on the other side of the call to clearly see and hear my students.
We typically run our video conferences in a similar manner. Each class takes turns sharing on the topic of the call. For example, when we were studying peace with a class in Northern British Columbia, we took turns sharing what peace meant to us. We would respond to their comment before providing them with information. This went back and forth until enough children had a turn to speak and share.
We almost always end our calls with curiousity questions about each other. In the case of the class in Northern British Columbia, we were curious if they had snow (which they did and we didn’t) and what time it was (they were one hour ahead of us even though we live in the same province).
Something to be aware of when video conferencing is that it is hard for young learners to listen for very long. In my grade one classroom, 15 minutes seems to be the norm, although sometimes we can last longer. My students know that if they are having trouble paying attention they are free to get up and move to another part of the classroom and do a quiet activity such as reading or writing. This helps my students learn the skill of self-regulation and for many sitting and being quiet for extended periods of time is something that is more difficult for them.
Interested in seeing how this might work in your classroom? Please check out this news video clip
where Angie Harrison, a kindergarten teacher in Ontario, Canada is Skyping with my grade one class in British Columbia, Canada.
If you've haven't given video conferencing a go, think about trying it out in the upcoming year! Karen Lirenman (@klirenman) is a grade one teacher in Surrey, British Columbia, Canada. She has been teaching for 20 years and discovered Twitter for educational purposes in July 2011. Her interests include utilizing technology, improving her teaching, and sharing with others. Karen spent the 2009 school year teaching in Melbourne, Australia. She loves to travel and is a five-time Ironman finisher. Karen's professional blog can be found at LearningandSharingwithMsL.blogspot.com.
© 2013 Karen Lirenman. Please do not reproduce in any form, electronic or otherwise. Oh, the Places They Can Go: Sharing the Journey to Destinations Unknown The Journey from Digital Literacy to Digital Fluency