Mobile apps for teachers

My old Windows Mobile phone is still going and still doing a lot of work. It’s not just the app you add to your mobile but how you use the apps you have. I have a Windows Mobile phone that runs a mobile version of Excel, Outlook, Powerpoint and Word. Here are some things I do with my mobile:

ATTENDANCE

I keep attendance, scores and other student data on my computer using Excel and this Excel master file is very complex with a lot of conditional formatting, macros and formulas. But I can also do attendance on my mobile using the simpler Mobile Excel and by using the built-in synchronization features it will automatically update my master Excel file. This way I don’t have to take my computer to class.

VOCABULARY LISTS

I teach some smaller classes of managers or other corporate students. These classes are typically 1-6 students. When I want to create an experience[1] for my students and take them to a shopping mall or an interesting retailer like Ikea, I will write the new vocabulary on my phone in Word. Using Word I can make the text quite large. As new words come up, I write them on my phone and show them to the students. After our two-hour lesson, we say goodbye and go our separate ways but after we part I copy these new words to my phone’s SMS messaging function and send them off to each student. As my students are heading home they all receive the list of new words that we just learned that day.

Sometimes I have some vocabulary or other English points that I want to review with my students. Rather than simply writing this down in a notebook, which I often forget to check, I will write it as a Mobile Outlook appointment. This appointment will pop up at a scheduled time, the time when I will be teaching those students. So this material that I want to review with my students will appear “Just-In-Time”. Appointments can be set in Outlook on your computer and then will get synchronized automatically to your mobile.

VOICE RECORDING

In researching business English usage, I have visited trade fairs and used my phone to record myself talk to salesmen about their products. I can study the real language used in trade fairs, the types of business terms and sentences, and also my students can get an idea of real business conversations. (Photo: Maotai salesman who tried to sell me some famous high quality Chinese liquor.)

Although I usually use my computer for this, I sometimes use my phone to record students speaking at my first class with them. Then at the last class, students can listen to themselves to hear the difference in their English, before and after.

I have also encountered certain individuals from a country famous for scamming people through Emails that purportedly offer you a million dollars or so if you help them to transfer several million out of their country. These guys, not Chinese, have actually approached me on the street here in China and presented the same deal as the Email spam scam asking me to help
them in this manner. I have used my phone to surreptitiously record these guys trying to scam me. The English is business English and accent from a certain region in the world that my students need practice with.

MP3 PLAYER

Sometimes it is easier for me to load the lesson MP3’s into my mobile for playback in the class than it is to play them from my computer. This is especially so when I am teaching at a coffee shop where I usually go to teach managers.

SPEAKING PROMPTS

I have put many Conversation Questions[3] into my Mobile Powerpoint. I usually use this when I’m out Engineering an Experience or when having lunch with students in the canteen and I want to get them talking about something. I ask them to choose a number between 1-5 and then flip through the slides that many times to add an element of luck or adventure to the process.

BOB and SMS

After learning about how business uses Customer Relations Management (CRM) software to develop closer relations with customers, I decided to develop a Student Relations Management platform, I call BOB[2], to develop closer relations with my students. The purpose is to create a “presence” with my students, that I’m not just there for them two hours a week but I’m always around always trying to help them with their English.

I have developed macros on my computer to work with my Excel master file of student data. When I connect my mobile to my computer I can use my computer and macros to send SMS messages through my mobile to my students in the following manner:

* Practice English message – I try to get my students to speak English with each other outside of class. We have sometimes established lunchtime, when they eat lunch with classmates, as a good time for them to do this but they often forget. I have sent reminders to each student to speak English at lunchtime. By using the macros I have developed, I can also send each student a different question that they can ask their classmates to help stimulate discussions in English.

* Student updates – My macros can send each student their individual scores by SMS so they can be aware of how they are doing in class as far as quizzes, attendance, participation, etc.

* News flash – Sometimes a particularly good movie with relatively simple English is showing on TV. I will use SMS to notify my students and invite them to watch it with me by tuning into the program and then using a chat program to chat with me and other students while watching the movie at the same time.

* “Where are you?” message – I can do attendance at the beginning of class and then my computer will send a message to the absent students letting them know they are missing our class. Students realize they are not forgotten.

* Reminders – I can send reminders about upcoming tests or homework that is due.

* Nudges – Research has shown that American students who do not read during the holidays decline in reading skills during the holidays. I figure that my Chinese students probably decline in English skills during the holidays so I will send them an SMS message to remind them to do something in English during these periods. I have developed a whole set of reminders to send to them every couple days of the holiday with a different suggestion of something they can do to improve or practice their English.

* Coaching reminders – I have been coaching some of my corporate students. Coaching involves agreeing on specific study goals with students and then encouraging and checking up on students to help them hit those goals. For example, the student may say he wants to listen to an English mp3 everyday while going to work on the bus. Using Outlook’s appointment function, I can have my phone remind me every morning that the student should be doing this. Then at that time I can send an SMS to the student to remind him or check up on him that he is doing this. My phone’s SMS function allows me to create ten stock messages that I can fire off to my students. Appointments can be set in Outlook on your computer and then will get synchronized  automatically to your mobile.

All of this I have done with four basic programs: Excel, Outlook, Powerpoint and Word. It’s not just the app you add to your mobile but how you use the apps you have.

Notes:

[1] Engineering an Experience – http://goo.gl/i8Ttz
[2] BOB – http://goo.gl/ziWDK
[3] Conversation Questions – http://goo.gl/7uHw7

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>The Bob System: Tracking students for formative assessment

>

I am often called on to teach oral English. Unlike teaching written English where the students will be submitting a lot of writing samples, oral English offers less opportunity to sample the students’ English ability.
My primary interest in using the Bob System and some sort of scoring system is in formative assessment.
When I have a clear understanding of how they are doing then I have the ability to try to make my training more effective in two ways.

First, are my students “getting it”? Am I helping them to learn what will be useful for them to know?

Second, I can customize my training more to my students’ specific needs. I may not be able to give each student individual training (that ability and technology will be coming in the future) but I could segment the class. I want to know who is doing well and who is doing poorly.

When I know this I can offer extra training to those who need extra help. What about students who are doing very well in the class? Sometimes there is an academic ceiling in the classroom. Bright students cannot go higher because the teacher is teaching to the “middle level” of the class. But if we know which students are doing very well and how many of them there are then we can focus on their needs better by providing extra challenge.
Tracking this sort of information can be very useful in other ways, as of Action Research in the classroom. If you are monitoring many aspects of the student’s performance in the classroom and you have a student who always participates correctly, does the pairwork, groupwork, homework, listens and doesn’t goof off but does not seem to progress in their English from one term to the next then that would raise some very good questions for the teacher.

Of course, finally, the data that is collected can help in summative assessment. The teacher does not need to simply rely on a final exam for a score. The teacher will have a multidimensional way to look at the students.
[Photo: Some of my 300 college students that I taught weekly last term doing pairwork. Next term I will have 400 college students each week.]

>The Bob Project – Are we ready for mLearning?

>The idea of students interacting with an automated teaching system is central to the Bob project. Many other people are promoting an idea called mLearning or Mobile Learning:

“Given its definition m-learning could very well be a new form of personal learning that never ends, allowing more and more people to realize how much of our lifetimes on this planet are truly extended adventures in personal learning.

From MasterNewMedia.org
“The advocates of lifelong learning have been advocating this very change in how we conceive, design and deliver education. Individuals are constantly learning, searching, questioning and acknowledging new information from the environment they operate in, no matter what their interest or specialization is. Unless your work assignment is something that a computer or other automated machine could take over from you, an increasing number of work activities depend on your ability to learn and familiarize yourself with a continuosly growing array of new concepts and ideas.” [Photo: mLearning at a museum]

Some researchers are testing the use of SMS messaging in the classroom. That would be interesting. Instead of teachers telling the students to put their phones away they’ll be saying, “Turn to page 35, take out your mobile phone and send me a message on question #6.”

From Using short message service to encourage interactivity in the classroom:
“Interactivity in the classroom is reported to promote a more active learning environment, facilitate the building of learning communities, provide greater feedback for lecturers, and help student motivation. Various definitions of interactivity exist in the literature, alternately focusing on the participants, structure and technology. The PLS TXT UR Thoughts research project builds on existing definitions to define interactivity as a message loop originating from and concluding with the student. The authors chose to introduce mobile phones and short message service (SMS) within the classroom due to the ubiquity of mobile phones among students and the interactive potential of SMS. SMS is a low-threshold application used widely by students to quickly send concise, text-based messages at any time. The research presented involved students sending SMS in real-time, in class, via their personal mobile phones. Using a modem interfacing with customised software to produce SMS files, the lecturer can view the messages and verbally develop the interactive loop with students during class. The SMS are available online after class, allowing interactive loops to further develop via threaded comments.”

This is an idea rather close to mine about creating an audio tour for students at a popular student location like a shopping mall. It could even be interactive through SMS or MMS.

From Supporting Mobile Language Learning outside Classrooms:
“The continuous development of wireless and mobile technologies has allowed the creation of an additional platform for supporting learning, one that can be embedded in the same physical space in which the learning is taking place. This paper describes a computer supported ubiquitous learning environment for language learning, called LOCH (Languagelearning Outside the Classroom with Handhelds). In the environment, the teacher assigns field activities to the students, who go around the town to fulfill them and share their individual experiences. The main aim of this project, called One Day Trip with PDA, was to integrate the knowledge acquired in the classroom and the real needs of the students in their daily life.”

mLearning can be used by students outside the classroom to make an instant blog of what they see, feel and experience.

From Moblogging for ESOL
“M-learning is a powerful tool for ESOL (English for speakers of other languages). In a recent example, ten adult ESOL learners became ‘photo journalists’ for the college open day. They created a photo diary of events using camera phones and sent their pictures, along with captions, to an e-mail address that automatically published them to a publicly-available web site. To prepare for the event, learners looked at published photo stories on the Internet and analysed the language and content to learn about styles and structures that would be useful in writing their own photo diary. The project proved so successful in engaging learners that even the most hesitant members of the class (e.g. a lady in her 60s, who had never used a mobile phone before, and a visually impaired learner) not only took part, but also found the experience very rewarding.”

And of course, mLearning is being used to teach languages.

More ideas

Are these the actual tools that we will use in The Bob Project? No. These are actual wild and crazy ideas that will help us think out of the box and find the most effective way to build Bob. If we don’t get out of the box we won’t go anywhere.

>Bob: Deciding on a Participation Index

>After teaching some corporate students, and reluctant to hand out school-type “grades” but still needing something, I developed the idea of a “Participation Index” to have a measure of how involved the student was in the training. This experience gave me a different viewpoint on grades.

Attendance
At my college I had one student who came on the first day of class and again for the final exam. I promptly forgot him after seeing him the first time and wondered who he was when I saw him the second time. The class monitors keep track of attendance. Now I have the class monitors also keep track of attendance in my Excel spreadsheet. At the most basic level, if the students are in class they are (hopefully) going to learn something. The idea is to show their “participation”.

Class Interaction
But still some students are doing some other homework, reading something else, chatting with their neighbors, etc. Are they learning during this time? No. (Perhaps they already know. In that case it probably should be OK for them to do something else if it doesn’t disturb others.) The idea is not to punish students but to show their “participation” in the lesson. Some MBA course instructors give scores up to 40% of the students’ grades for “airtime”, visibility acquired on basis of class participation. In “Alternative Approaches to Assessing Student Engagement Rates”, Elaine Chapman at The University of Western Australia describes several ways of measuring participation and I’m thinking of using the one she describes as “Direct Observation”.

Homework
I have 160 students and sometimes hand out homework with each class. So I usually see if the students did the homework without seeing how well they did it. The idea is that applying themselves to the work is beneficial for their learning whether they got it all correct or not. We then go over the questions and answers together and everyone self-corrects.

Quiz
I want to use quizzes more effectively and more frequently to see if the students are “getting it”. When I haven’t done this I’ve been surprised how many students really didn’t understand (or pay attention).

Exam
To measure the take-away from the training. I’m having lots of other thoughts on this. While the school course teaches things like how to read the corporate year end report, I have found a lot of my students go out after graduation and get jobs as Nokia phone salespeople in a discount department store or other sub-entry level job. It is likely that a lot of what they learned is lost well before they get a chance to use it. I am thinking about not only not testing their comprehension of corporate reports but steering the course away from that sort of thing and focusing more on English that they will have more hope of using soon. If they don’t use it they’ll lose it. But to help them keep it we should teach what they’ll use.

>Bob – Effective student monitoring, formative & diagnostic assessments and differentiating instruction

>
A teacher lamented: “If, as is the case with many teachers, they have 10 or 11 separate classes once a week for one and a half hours – and, an average of 50 students in each class, – they see around 500 students for a total of approximately 26 hours during a full semester. If there is any super teacher that can focus on the performance of every one of their students under these conditions and, realistically, expect to achieve, even, 90% motivation then they have outstanding expectations.”

Different teachers have different ways to appeal to and win the hearts and minds of their students. Some teachers do it through the example of their professionalism, sometimes augmented by humor and love, and the confidence that the teacher is able to instill into their students that he will be able to take their English to a higher level.

But in large classes there are students who are slipping through the cracks. As you implied, how can they “focus on the performance of every one of their students under these conditions” rather than just, what I’ll call, “broadcast teaching”?

This past semester I was experimenting with a system I like to call “Bob”. In a way, “Bob” is a computer system I’m using consisting of an Excel file and Visual Basic program. But it is more an extension or appendage of me as a teacher and many of the things I’m doing with my students. Technology isn’t running my classroom but I am using technology to help me do what I need to do easier and better.

I must say it has helped me keep track of my students ten times better than before I began to use it. Of course, I’m a bit absent minded and always have trouble remembering things, people, names, etc.

For people who are interested in this sort of thing you need to know what to do after you gain the ability to closely monitor each student. For example, built into the system you would have some Diagnostic and Formative Assessments.

The next step is grouping the students or segmenting them. (Bob enabled me to develop the name cards or name tents that I spoke of earlier.) Then you can apply what they call “Differentiating Instruction” to better meet the needs of the students and their motivational triggers in a more individual way.[2]

I think most teachers teach to the middle level of the class. We don’t teach to the bottom students but we don’t teach to the top students either. We teach to the middle students. This is perhaps the normal effort of teachers. Teachers who make a greater effort may try to do something for students who are lagging. But there is also a significant number of students who are doing very well in our classes. If we don’t pay attention to their needs they will be stuck at an academic ceiling, possible boredom and lost opportunity to develop. We need to offer them a degree of more challenging work so they can climb higher than the class average to which we are teaching.

By effective use of available technology all of this is possible to the degree that I think you could manage 500 students.

I have a couple hundred students and until using this system I never felt I was really on top of monitoring them. The system is so powerful that recently I set up for a new group of only eight students and the system felt like overkill, too much for such a small group.

From this I can see how all of my students are doing at a glance. Areas that are in pink or dark pink indicate some areas of concern. Areas that are white indicate above average achievement. These colors appear automatically according to the data. If I want detailed information I can drill down into the data but the colored Dashboard provides a good overview.

The Dashboard is a summary consisting of totals or weighted averages of all the other data I’m tracking on other sheets like the daily attendance record (AT), classroom interaction (CIA), homework scores (HW), quiz scores (QUIZ) and bonus work.

It is a system I developed myself and is still a work in progress. It is an Excel file. In addition I’ve added programming elements that allow Bob to send out SMS messages through my mobile phone to 150 students automatically updating them on their scores.

>Jack Welch and the language classroom

>…well, OK, it’s not really Jack Welch talking about English teaching but it is adapting a couple of his ideas.

A couple of Jack Welch’s ideas that he expounds in his best-selling book, “Winning”, are how he uses every opportunity to appraise the people working for him and how he regularly fires the bottom 5% performers.

In my spoken English class I am using almost every exchange with students to help evaluate their English. I’m not waiting for the end of term exam or even quizzes. Especially after a pair or group work activity I like to call on a few students to tell us what they talked about, what decision they made about the situation in the activity, what answer they have to the questions they were to talk about. When they speak I may ask them a couple more questions and then I will give them a score which is recorded in my computer and averaged with other scores and indicators.

In this way I can get a pretty good idea which students are doing well in my class and which ones are not doing so well. When you have classes of 40-50 students there are always a few very naughty students sitting in the back of the class and a few very smiley and bright ones sitting in the front of the class. Both of these types of students distract you from the more unobtrusive majority, many of whom are rather quite although often with good English skills. Only by systematically checking all of the students can we find these students before giving them an exam.

This leads us to the next point…

Another practice of that Welch follows is firing the bottom 5% performers. The employees that are doing the least in the company get fired as a regular practice. Well, as teachers we usually can’t fire our students. But we can make a point of identifying exactly who the bottom performers are and trying to develop a plan to help them whether it’s extra training, extra homework, extra encouragement or whatever.

In every class there are students who are doing well and students who are doing poorly and many in between. Unlike something like a writing class or four-skills class there may be less evidence of exactly how the students are doing. The speaking class students are not turning in homework and usually no quizzes. What some teachers do is to just teach, teach, teach and give an oral exam at the end of term.

My suggestion is that teachers should use as many opportunities as possible to assess the students, formative evaluation. I have realized that in the past I let many of these assessment opportunities slip by. I now make full use of them.

As far as face goes, we must understand the significance of face in Asian society, respect that and take it into consideration in all that we do. But face saving is not a goal unto itself. There may be instances when we are unable to preserve face and do what our jobs require at the same time. If a student is struggling in the classroom we must try to help them. Of course, we’ll do everything we can to help him save face but his grades, his success in school and his success in life are not measured soley by the amount of face he retains. In fact, there are certain situations when it is better to lose face.

Concerning borrowing a page from Jack Welch, a captain of capitalistic-commerce, I believe he knows a lot about organization. I despise some of the snaky things Welch has done. If he is responsible for even half these things he should be tried as a war criminal.[1] I despise his attitude that business is more important than family.[2]

But that does not mean he cannot have good advice that can help us. After all, you or a friend of yours probably enjoy some of Hitler’s good ideas, right?[3]

[1] http://www.cleanupge.org/gemisdeeds.html
[2] http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/7305761/site/newsweek/
[3] http://ask.yahoo.com/20050308.html

>Bob: Continous assessment

>There are always some students who get more of the teacher’s attention, either through their excellent participation in the class or their bad behavior. But these characteristics can mislead the teacher as to how the whole class is doing. About half the students are more unobtrusive and are doing well or poorly. In fact, some people who seem like they are doing poorly are doing pretty well and some who seem like they are doing well are not doing well.

With my class list in my computer (or could be on a sheet of paper) I go down the list or hop around the list calling on every student. It may take from 2-4 days, but I get every student to answer some questions that were the focus of our pair/group work or questions put to the entire body. Sometimes when the students are doing pair/group work, I will take my computer (or list) and walk around to some of the students and interview them personally.

This way I will have a pretty good idea of how each student, even the quiet and unobtrusive ones, are doing in my class even if I have 40, 50 or 100 students.

I will also be very knowledgeable about which students are skipping class because I’m keeping this information on my computer and it keeps accumulative data with alerts to problem areas, although it could also be kept on paper, I will also know who has been missing my class for a long time.

I, too, had a similar problem as you. Two years ago a student came to my first class and then came to my last class for the exam. In the time between I had forgotten all about him. I was determined to not let that happen again and that is why I began keeping track of attendance on my computer.

But in any case, my suggestion is that in the speaking class we can use every opportunity to evaluate our students throughout the term to develop a picture of how each student is doing. Then, using that information we can segment the students into three groups. Doing well, doing OK, doing poorly. With that we can challenge the groups that is doing well to do better so that they are not limited by the “ceiling” of the class. The group that is doing poorly we can offer more attention, perhaps outside the main class or something else.

This is a way to more customize our approach to training to the needs of the class.

>Bob: Tracking students’ progress

>“Bob” is a computerized system to help you manage your class.

A teacher lamented: “I to try to collect the information on how my students were doing, but I still feel that I need a secretary or a volunteer to gather much of the data or at least put it into the computer as while I am doing those things in the class I losing focus on the other students and thinking about my next move.”

A secretary or teacher’s assistant is great but I don’t have one. The data can be kept on a list like the roster. I like to keep mine on my computer using an Excel spreadsheet. It is part of a bigger system I call “Bob”.

My spreadsheet keeps a running average so I can see how this student has been doing over a long period of time. Using Excel I can make the data cell or box change colors according to the data I enter. For example, if you give a student a high score then his box can be a certain color for “good”, lets say yellow. If you give him a low score then his box can be another color for “warning”, lets say red, to alert you that he is not doing very well. Then when you look at your entire sheet of score data if you see lots of “warning” colors and few “good” colors you can get an idea of how the whole class is doing.

In this way you can develop a sort of “dashboard” system just like when you are driving a car. Just as the indicators on your car (speed, engine temperature, RPM’s, brake fluid, gas gauge) can tell you how your car is doing and if there is anything that needs your attention, we can have indicators in our teaching that show us how our class is doing.

It doesn’t take hardly any time at all to enter in the data. I look on my list of names, choose one that I haven’t checked in awhile and call out her name and ask her the question that she should have been talking about during the pair/group work. If she hems-and-haws then I know she wasn’t doing the pair/group work.

For this particular class of students, if she gives me a fairly good but not perfect sentence I’ll give her a “9”. If she has a lot of trouble making a sentence I’ll give her a “6”. “7” and “8” fall in between. I only do this with 2-4 students at a time, like after pair/group work, so as not to hold up the whole class or bore everyone.

Alternatively, while they are doing the pair/group work I may walk around (with my notebook computer in hand or with a piece of paper and pen) and interview a student here or there. Even if a student comes to ask a question during a break you can make an evaluation and enter a score. To enter the data takes only a second for each student.

>Bob: The power of student name tents

>
“Bob” is a computerized system to help you manage your class.

It is not easy to quickly scan the classroom and know every students’ name and know if that particular student is doing well or not in your class. We usually know a few who are doing well and a few who are naughty but to know how all of them are doing without referring to our records is difficult.

I started using name cards, not like a “calling card” or “business card” but actually a sheet of paper with the student’s name on it, when I was having trouble remember the students names. I have a few classes with 40-50 students in each one.

Without name cards I found I was pointing at students who were looking at me but not those who were not looking or I was calling on the students whose names I knew but consequently there were a certain group of students that didn’t get called.

One way to deal with this is to call students from the roster and another way is to use name cards.

DESIGNING THE NAME CARD AND ADDING HIDDEN DATA TO IT

The name card is an A4 sheet of paper with the student’s name and number on it. The name is printed on the lower half of the paper and it is folded over like a tent. Originally I had students write their names on the papers themselves using a marker. Now I print out their names using the computer printer and I am able to add a little data to the name card.

After using these name cards for awhile I wished I could look at my students and not only know their name but know how they were doing in my class. Are they one of the quiet ones who is doing great or are they slowly and quietly sinking in my class? Are they one of the ones who said they have trouble understanding my instructions or are they one of the ones who has asked me to speak faster and more native-like? I was already using “Bob” to help me keep track of how my students were doing.

So I altered the name cards to look like this:

Sue — 21
Mark 17
John – 36

In the first case, I know his name is Sue and her number is 21. The double dash “–” means she is doing pretty well in my class and his scores on homework, quizzes, attendance and classroom participation all average out pretty high.

In the second case, I know Mark is number 17 and the absence of any dash means he is doing average in my class.

In the third case, I can see that John is number 36 and the single dash “-” means he is not doing so well.

This gives me a deeper understanding of my class. I can quickly throw very challenging questions to my upper level students. I can be more patient with my students who are struggling.

I use this dashing system of marking as it is not very conspicuous. For example, if I used stars as in grading a hotel as in a “five star hotel” it will seem more like a rating system and easy for students to compare each other. With my system the students are unaware that the dashes are indicators of their overall scores.

FURTHER IMPROVEMENTS

Optimizing the name cards a little further, I photocopied a 4-week Learner’s Score Card on the other side of the paper. Each week, the students fill in the data about how they used English during the week. I can view this information as I walk around the class by picking up their name card and looking inside the folded area.

I can also check the information at the end of the 4-week period when their Learner’s Score Card is completed and totaled. I’m not satisfied with my first effort at a Learner’s Score Card as I don’t think my questions were crafted carefully enough to give me the most useful data but I like the idea of getting maximum use out of the name card like this. I will certainly use some of the questions like:

In class last week,
Some things I learned:
Some things I didn’t understand:
Some things I liked:
Some things I didn’t like:
Some things I want to study:
Some things I need help with:
Outside of class last week:
I spoke English (where? to whom?):
I listened to English:
I read English:
I wrote in English:

I don’t expect you to copy this name card idea as it won’t fit all of your situations but perhaps some aspects of this idea might be helpful to deal with problems you face.

>Bob: Effective student monitoring, formative & diagnostic assessments and differentiating instruction

>“Bob” is a computerized system to help you manage your class.

Different teachers have different ways to appeal to and win the hearts and minds of their students. Some teachers do it through the example of their professionalism, sometimes augmented by humor and love, and the confidence that the teacher is able to instill into their students that he will be able to take their English to a higher level.

But in large classes there are students who are slipping through the cracks. As you implied, how can they “focus on the performance of every one of their students under these conditions” rather than just, what I’ll call, “broadcast teaching”?

This past semester I was experimenting with Bob and have written about it before. [1] In a way, “Bob” is a computer system I’m using consisting of an Excel file and Visual Basic program. But it is more an extension or appendage of me as a teacher and many of the things I’m doing with my students. Technology isn’t running my classroom but I am using technology to help me do what I need to do easier and better.

I must say it has helped me keep track of my students ten times better than before I began to use it. Of course, I’m a bit absent minded and always have trouble remembering things, people, names, etc.

For people who are interested in this sort of thing you need to know what to do after you gain the ability to closely monitor each student. For example, built into the system you would have some Diagnostic and Formative Assessments.[1]

The next step is grouping the students or segmenting them. (Bob enabled me to develop the name cards I spoke of earlier.[2]) Then you can apply what they call “Differentiating Instruction” to better meet the needs of the students and their motivational triggers in a more individual way.[3]

I think most teachers teach to the middle level of the class. We don’t teach to the bottom students but we don’t teach to the top students either. We teach to the middle students. This is perhaps the normal effort of teachers. Teachers who make a greater effort may try to do something for students who are lagging. But there is also a significant number of students who are doing very well in our classes. If we don’t pay attention to their needs they will be stuck at an academic ceiling, possible boredom and lost opportunity to develop. We need to offer them a degree of more challenging work so they can climb higher than the class average to which we are teaching.

By effective use of available technology all of this is possible to the degree that I think you could manage 500 students.