Monday, February 28, 2011

The Shlenker School - Final Report

Technology Improves Assessment and Instruction

The grant the Avi Chai Foundation awarded me has brought an enormous change in the way I teach and the way my students learn.
The starting point was a class almost bare of technology, with four student computers and a teacher desk-top computer. An investment in money, technology, training and a lot of hard work brought about an amazing turn-around within a year. Students from second to fifth grade now use mp3 recorders/players on a regular basis to record themselves speaking and reading Hebrew. I employ a laptop tablet to assess the students’ conversation in real time, and the BrightLink interactive projector is utilized daily in all the grades to enhance lessons. Technology is unquestionably integrated into teaching and learning in my Hebrew class, and is applied in diversified and authentic ways.
The BrightLink interactive projector with Promethean software is an additional technological resource which was purchased since the mid-year report (see attached). Its contribution to the development of language is enormous. It has enriched the students’ use of Hebrew language and made a huge difference in the way I teach. The BrightLink is similar to SmartBoards and Promethean Boards, but it projects directly onto any surface (doesn’t need a special board). It can also be used as a regular projector, so anything on my computer screen, from a reading text to a YouTube video clip, will appear on the whiteboard. The advantage for me is that I retain my white board as a writing surface, and can add comments or highlights etc. to the projected material with dry-erase pens, or add notes or pictures with magnets.
I use the BrightLink daily. During the summer I made many “flipcharts” to suit my students’ needs and continue to develop more. The biggest value of the board is that its interactive technology allows students to participate and practice language patterns in varied and exciting ways. For example: my method of teaching new vocabulary words used to be printed cards on a word chart. During the summer I converted them all to presentations on the BrightLink. There is no comparison when things are bright, colorful and attractive.

It is also easy to make clear visual displays of language concepts. To practice the word “rotze (want)” I prepared an easy language pattern board which the students manipulate to make their sentences.
It is hard for me now to remember how I could teach without the interactive board. Its importance to language development and instruction in my classroom is invaluable.

Fulfilling the Requirements of the Grant:

As a condition for the Avi Chai grant I was required to post regularly (at least once a month) to the Avi Chai Technology blog and describe my experiences. I’ve done so, posting at least once every month and twice a couple of months. My supervisor, Nancy Pryzant Picus, also included her observations in one of the blog postings. I also read and answered the comments posted on my posting. I enjoyed reading my colleagues’ postings, especially the ones describing introducing iPods into a school in Winnipeg. Though it was a high school, there were some similarities between their experiences and mine.

I was also required to write two lesson plans utilizing the hardware the grant provided my classroom. The following lessons show how the technology is used in a variety of ways (but by no means exhausting the ways I use it) as part of a couple of units in the 4th grade curriculum.

The Story at the Center of the Unit (from Chaverim B’Ivrit, Volume 3, p. 30):

חברים בעברית 3 - סיפור 8 - הקנית מילים חדשות

Time: 40 minutes
Prepared flipchart for on BrightLink projector (Promethean software); appropriate pictures for vocabulary; vocabulary list for homework; mp3 recorder/players
• The students will learn new vocabulary words needed to understand the short story which is the center of the unit.
• The students will be able to apply the vocabulary in conversation, drawing on previous vocabulary and using any language patterns available to them.
Setting the Stage: The students will be told in Hebrew:
היום אנחנו לומדים מילים חדשות.
Using the BrightLink projector (with Promethean board software) the words will be introduced one by one by pulling the “vocabulary cards” from the pile on the right hand side and “posting” them on the board one at a time. Words are not translated into English but meaning is demonstrated / illuminated by a picture, demonstration, or defined by a Hebrew sentence.

Check for Understanding: למעלה / למטה method - ask the students after teaching each vocabulary word to show their understanding with a thumb up or down.
Groups: In small groups, students will use the new vocabulary to compose their own sentences orally.
Check for Understanding: Teacher will listen to the conversations, marking quality of sentences on prepared chart on laptop tablet.
Homework: Distribute the vocabulary list. The students will study the vocabulary list at home daily until the end of the unit.
Accommodation: The teacher will record the vocabulary study list on mp3 recorder/player for students who are stronger auditory learners. They will be able to check these out overnight to download the material to their home computers.

חברים בעברית 3 - סיפור 8 - תרגול מילים

Time: 120 minutes (3 separate class periods)
Materials: Tanakh, dress-up clothes, props, colored construction paper, markers, glue, tape, and a stapler
• The students will review the biblical story of Abraham receiving the visit from God’s messengers and the announcement of the coming birth of Isaac.
• The students will practice using the new vocabulary by writing a short skit based on Abraham and Sarah story.
Setting the Stage: Tell the story, quoting from the Torah when appropriate and using Hebrew as much as possible.
Procedure: Set expectations and rules. Give out materials. Post vocabulary in a prominent place (use BrightLink projector).
Check for Understanding: Ask a couple of students to repeat the rules to make sure everyone is clear on what they are doing.
Groups: Students will write short skits and enact them. They will prepare appropriate props, costumes and stage set up.
Check for Understanding: Before being allowed to choose costumes and make props the group will check their writing with the teacher and talk together about necessary corrections and revisions (i.e. - correct their own mistakes). The script will need to be finished before the next step begins.

The performances will be videoed by the teacher on a Flip camera and shown later to the class on the BrightLink projector. The clips will be posted on the Hebrew blog for parents and students viewing and interaction.
Here's a link to the video of the students’ work from this lesson, posted on the Hebrew blog:

The relevant post is from April 22.

חברים בעברית 3 - סיפור 8 - הערכת הלמידה

Time: 40 minutes
Materials: Chaverim B’Ivrit Volume 3 books with the story, assessment sheet, mp3 recorder/players, a recording of the story on the class computers.
Objectives: The students will demonstrate their ability to understand a short story in Hebrew which contains the new vocabulary and language patterns by answering comprehension questions.
Setting the Stage: The students will be told in Hebrew:
היום אנחנו קוראים את הסיפור. היום יש בוחן.
(They would be notified and given a chance to prepare for the quiz by studying the vocabulary and reading the story at home before).
Procedure: The teacher will read the story aloud and hand out the assessment sheets. Students will be directed to choose: to answer in the traditional way, writing with a pencil, or dictate their answers to the mp3 recorder/players for the teacher to retrieve later. The students are able to use their books during the assessment; students are strongly encouraged to go back and look for answers in the story. Those who prefer can listen to a recorded version of the story on one of the class computers.
Check for Understanding: The process is familiar, but the teacher may want to ask a student to repeat the rules to make sure everyone is clear on what they are doing.
Accommodation: The process is geared to accommodate various types of learners, providing auditory learners with an opportunity to listen to the story rather than read it, and visual learners the ability to see their work in front of them. Students who are frustrated by writing love to be able to record their answers and finish at the same time as their friends. Students are allowed to sit and move all around the class area as long as focus is kept on task.
Additional activity: Students who finished their assessment before the end of the period are asked to write a short story on a topic of their choice using as many of the new vocabulary words as possible.

Assessing the Success of the Grant:

I returned to the grant request to see how we defined measuring our success:

Success of this program will include the following scenarios:

a. Reduction in actual assessment time by the teachers
b. Revision of curriculum to include differentiated instruction for a wider variety of learning outcomes
c. Increase in authentic audio learning materials for students
d. Increased level of fluency and vocabulary among students

Reduction in actual assessment time by the teachers

Time devoted to the assessment process had been cut by half because students are able to record their answers. Assessment used to take between one and two 40 minutes periods; it now takes 20-40 minutes. Before, students used pencil and paper, and many found the process of writing by hand long and tedious, involving much erasing and many false starts. Now mistakes are easy to correct and sentences are quickly recorded. Students who prefer to may still choose to write, but they usually are the ones who are not graphically challenged and they finish quickly. After class, I transcribe the recording and make my corrections as necessary so students have a visual trail of their answers and corrected mistakes. The saving in assessment time is the same in 3rd, 4th and 5th grades.

Revision of curriculum to include differentiated instruction for a wider variety of learning outcomes

The recording and listening capability appeals to the auditory learner, and as most classrooms are set with an unintentional but clear bias towards the visual learner, they create a more balanced learning environment.
Beyond this major fact, the technology allows a lot for differentiation in the classroom for both advanced and slower students. A few examples - advanced 1st and 2nd grade students: students record and listen to themselves reading stories. This is an activity which promotes reading fluency and comprehension. Other students in 2nd grades practice reading and love the novelty of hearing themselves read.
In the older grades weak readers also love the novelty of recording their voices and listening to what they’ve read, and routine fluency practice became a prize rather than a chore.
The recording/playing capabilities are also helpful when it comes to students whose reading and writing are limited because of learning disabilities, and are used as such in various ways (for example: to give instructions).

Increase in authentic audio learning materials for students

Students use mp3 recorder/players and the microphone recorders beyond the assessment process. These devices are used during class time in various roles to enhance activities: they may record themselves reading a story or sing a song and then listen to it, or produce Hebrew sentences using the vocabulary words studied at this time. They may compose a whole story and record it orally rather than write it down.
I recorded all the stories in the books we use and when we work on a story, students may, in addition to reading in the book, listen to the story being read to them. I also may record the questions for an assessment, especially if I feel the class contains many weak readers and this may help with comprehension.
Students learn prayers with the aid of recording. I record myself reading the prayer and the student listens to the prayer several times and follows in the Siddur. Another recording is of the prayer line by line, and the student listens, then reads the line back, then listens to the next line. Finally the student records himself reading the prayer and checks by listening and following in the Siddur.

Increased level of fluency and vocabulary among students

While it is hard to quantify and measure, using the mp3 recorder/players and especially the BrightLink projector, increased the level of fluency and use of language in the classroom. I attribute this to the incentive for the students to use the technology, the “fun factor,” the ease of acquiring more language with the aid of technology and the removal of unnecessary burdens such as writing by hand. I also attribute the improvement to positive peer pressure. There is an environment in class in which the students know that in order to use the technology they have to pay their dues – speak Hebrew. They see their friends do it and so they do it as well. Anecdotally I’ve noticed several students from 4th and 5th grade (who were in 3rd and 4th grade last year) who are now able, when directed to compose “a sentence using one of a vocabulary word list,” to compose several connected sentences using many of the vocabulary words. They enjoy doing it as a challenge to themselves, but it also indicates to me that the overall level of language use has improved.

The following paragraphs address other measures of the success of the grant as defined in our Grant request:

How will you measure increased language acquisition from this program?

Because assessing student achievement will be easier (and therefore quicker), we will expect to see an increase in classroom conversation and use of oral language. This will be observed and recorded during the supervisor’s regular visits to the classroom.

From Nancy Pryzant Picus, Director of Jewish Learning:

"In repeated visits in Ms. Shenker’s third, fourth, and fifth grade classrooms, I note the following:
1. Ms. Shenker consistently speaks to the children in Hebrew. They respond appropriately, either by answering a question, or completing the requested action.
2. On repeated occasions, I have observed Ms. Shenker’s students telling jokes or funny stories in Hebrew. This requires a level of language sophistication that I have not previously observed in her students.
3. Over the past several years, a yearly goal for Ms. Shenker has been to increase the level of authentic spoken Hebrew in our classrooms. While children often need to be reminded to speak Hebrew in class, during my visits I hear more Hebrew conversations between the children during games, group work, and formal classroom responses.
4. Students are able to carry on simple Hebrew conversations with me. The vocabulary I use is not confined to what they have learned recently; they have become adept at expressing themselves in simple Hebrew. Both this ability—and the students’ willingness to converse in Hebrew—indicate improved fluency. "

Currently, third grade students are expected to be able to express themselves orally and in writing on specific topics using at least four sentences. We would expect to see an increase to five sentences for third grade and up to seven or eight sentences for fifth grade.

Written assignments are given on regular basis. Students have different abilities in Hebrew but most students in a regular class are writing long and complex sentences (though not necessarily free of grammatical mistakes) as early as the end of 3rd grade. All grades have met the target as described. Some of the students have far exceeded it, writing (by 5th grade) twelve sentences on the subject of their activities after school, each averaging eight words.

Comparing similar student groups from one year to the next, we would expect each group to complete up to one additional unit (manah) in the Chaverim B’Ivrit series.

All grades except 5th grade finished ahead in the curriculum compared to earlier years. Because of the differences in students from year to year, it is not easy to make exact comparisons. Some years, the class may include several advanced students who run through the curriculum and in others the students require a slower pace.
The 2009-2010 third grade finished the school year four units ahead of the 2008-09 3rd grade group.
In 2009-10 we changed our 4th grade mid year from heterogeneous groups into homogeneous groups (Ramat Tavniot for the slower group and Ramat Sichah for the faster group) and I was assigned Ramat Tavniot. From this point of the year, this class moved at a much slower pace and comparison thus was no longer viable. When comparison is made until the point of regrouping, the 2009-2010 fourth grade class completed two units more than 2008-09 class.
The 2009-2010 5th grade continued to lag behind previous years and I finished the year with one unit less then I usually am able to teach. A significant amount of time was lost due to the different schedule (see mid-year report). This year we are back to a comparable 40 minutes, five- days a week schedule and comparing where we are at this point (beginning of November) to previous years we are two weeks ahead of our 2007-2008 pace, three weeks ahead of our 2008-2009 pace, and two weeks ahead of last year. This year’s group already completed a unit and a half more than their peers.
From these statistics, we can only conclude that using technology has added instructional time to the classroom. This has enabled the students to cover more material and learn more Hebrew.

Assessing Challenges since the Mid-year Report:

1. Technology: Hindsight is always 20/20. Knowing what I know now, I would choose mp3 recording devices that are easier for students to operate. However, I’ve learned how to train the students better, which words to use when instructing them how to operate the devices, and so on, so I experience fewer technical problems now. I continue to improvise to find ways to utilize them in different ways in order to compensate for specific problems.

2. Record keeping is easier now with a different style table. I also gave up on trying to write down so much information, and decided which data I really need.

3. All the stories in our curriculum have now been recorded and are available to the students.


The introduction of technology into my classroom has made the assessment process easier because I am able assess the students authentically, and in real time. In turn, this has increased classroom instructional time and accelerated the rate of learning in all grades. Technology has also aided in increasing the level of fluency and use of vocabulary by the students because of two main reasons: the ease of acquiring, practicing and applying new vocabulary was enhanced with the help of technology (BrightLink and recording/playing capabilities), and the technology provided a strong incentive to produce language in all forms for the students. The new classroom technology also helped in providing for differentiation in assessment and language acquisition activities for both advanced and slower students. I see the integration of technology into my classroom as a resounding success. I appreciate the opportunity afforded me by the Avi Chai Foundation.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Improving Hebrew Language Learning through Video - Final Report

The purpose of this project was to determine the value and efficacy of using student produced video as a means of making the learning of language and is vocalization more engaging to students. The video cameras used were of a new variety called by some, “flip” cameras. These are very small and fit easily in the hand and store their video in flash digital so there are not video tapes or other media involved. This simplicity is new and its impact on education is partially assessed in this study.

Here is the link to the project's final report. Comments are most welcome. -- David Mandel