The 4 online tools that changed everything for this innovative Spanish teacher — THE Journal

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The 4 online tools that changed everything for this innovative Spanish teacher

Friday, March 13, 2020 holds an indelible place in the minds of many educators: as the last day of normality in education. In many school districts, the pandemic cut classes short for the remainder of the school year, and we teachers knew that the way we connect and present information to students would undergo a fundamental shift.

That summer, I was determined that my Spanish students would not suffer. The pressure was on; it would be up to me to keep them engaged and learn in our new (online) model the coming year. So I dug deeper into the functionality of our Learning Management System (LMS). I have tried many other online tools and browsed YouTube videos to improve the delivery of the program. I also learned about the many benefits of Google’s suite of education products.

And since many of my students are familiar with Bitmoji (e.g. through texting), I’ve started using mine to inject more normalcy into their learning experience – dressing it up in school-spirited attire and even figuring out how to make her dance!

Spanish teacher Rosemary Martin created a bitmoji character with her school's gear to help connect with her students during pandemic school closures.

For the past two years at my school, teachers have taught online only, hybrid then in person. We have all had to experiment and learn to teach effectively in these contexts. In fact, even now that we’re back to nearly 100% in-person learning, the way we teach in-person has changed!

Online tools in an in-person setting

In particular, over the past two years teachers have come to rely on online tools, greatly deepening our understanding and use of them. I even recently remarked to a colleague that I was using online tools as much – if not more – in my in-person classes last year than when we weren’t face-to-face the year before.

Let me explain why. The first year and a half of the pandemic was a time when we teachers quickly (sometimes frantically!) discovered and acquainted ourselves with the technology at our disposal. As I mentioned, for many of us, summer vacation wasn’t exactly a vacation – it was time well spent studying online resources, tools, and programs that would be an integral of our students’ learning, academic continuity and success.

I have tried countless sites and programs online and found what works best in my current practice. I consider myself familiar with the trial and error of using many online tools, and the impact they may (or may not) have.

Now I know how to use them and when to improve the classroom experience. My students are also more comfortable with them and have come to expect digital learning. And because we use online tools strategically, I see the power, value, and relevance they have in our in-person classes today. That’s why I use them daily!

After winning Cypher Learning’s #NEOClearsTheList competition for innovative online learning, THE Journal invited me to share the online strategies and tools that have become indispensable to me in my Spanish classes today. Here are some of my favorites and how you can hopefully use them to your advantage too, whether you’re teaching a foreign language or another subject.

1) A learning management system

I came to rely on our LMS as the backbone of learning during distance and blended courses, and I still use it that way today. This is where I can post assignments and resources, making them centrally available as a “one stop shop” for students.

Our LMS is more than my notebook: it’s my center of communication with students, their parents, and any other stakeholders, so that I can keep them informed of learning progress. It even easily supports flexible, collaborative (team) and personalized learning.

In my classrooms and my school district, we use Cypher Learning’s NEO LMS. I encourage educators to use the LMS – it’s a huge time saver, especially for grading. Where appropriate, using online quizzes that score automatically saves me hours of grading time. And if students turn in their assignments late, the system automatically notifies me, and I can choose to change the grade based on the student’s Individual Education Program and/or other parameters I set.

I can make the necessary adjustments on a student-by-student basis, customize the grading rubrics, and also customize the “widgets” to highlight essential information on our class pages (eg a link for unlimited free tutoring). My students and I love how intuitive and visual the system is, which is especially important when students are learning any subject, especially a second language! ¡Qué good!

Below is an example of what homework might look like for students:

Screenshot of the NEO LMS dashboard and assignment for a student

2) Online educational games

The image shows what Blooket looks like;  the browser-based app allows students to create their own characters and participate in live game-based quizzes and assignments.We all know that learning and having fun are not mutually exclusive. In fact, introducing games into the learning experience tends to make lessons more engaging and memorable.

My students and I have come to love Blooket (similar to Kahoot) for quizzes and trivia based on live games. Students can create their own characters (called personalized “Blooks”) and participate in the activities available in class or alone. Some of our favorite games are Deceptive Dinos (where you can answer questions to dig up fossils or find out who took them), Gold Quest (where students answer questions to steal treasure from each other), Battle Royale (where you quickly answer questions to beat the other team), and much more!

Melvin G. Rodriguez