Voices from the Field: Stephanie Krajicek

Stephanie KrajicekLast summer I attended the ISTE conference (formerly called NECC) in Denver, Colorado. ISTE is sponsored by the International Society for Technology in Education and is one of the largest educational technology conferences. While I was there, I tried to attend as many sessions possible related to technology and language acquisition, which is where I met Stephanie Krajicek, whose enthusiasm drew people like a magnet to her poster session. Her presentation focused on Technology Integration for English Language Learners (ELLs) and was a colorful and engaging amalgamation of ideas she has used in her classroom and with other teachers. Now a graduate student at Purdue, Stephanie continues to provide training to teachers on using technology matched to the needs they have for working with ELLs. I was able to catch up with her after the conference by phone and she provided some great practical tips.

Focus on the Learning

Stephanie’s poster was brimming with colorful screenshots of student work using many different technologies, especially social-networking applications—those that encourage students to communicate and collaborate with each other. She notes that the problem is not having access to interesting and engaging tools, but finding the right one.

“Many students,” she reports, “may or may not have had access to technology, so you have that extra level of language teaching.” An example she gave was that a common standard is to compare and contrast main characters in a story, which can be difficult concepts for ELLs to begin with, but adding technology means you may have to teach them what it means to log on, what a mouse is, when to right-click vs. left-click. She cautions that you have to be able to determine how much content knowledge they are going to get out of a technology that is complex.

With the teachers she works with now, she starts with a specific project, challenge, or need they have in their classrooms, and then she finds tools to help them meet those needs. She focuses on what they have access to—right now—and how it can be used to meet their needs. She’s done her homework, too, and has amassed a list of many different tools that can be applied in different situations for students at varied age and language levels. You can find some of the examples she’s identified, presentations, and helpful tips on her blog at http://eyeontransformation.blogspot.com/.

A Short List

So what are some of Stephanie’s favorite tools? Below are a few we talked about.

Storybird. Storybird is a collaborative site this is intended for families with younger children. One of the best aspects, according to Stephanie, is that the interface is really simple to use so you can get kids writing and creating short books literally by “clicking on the page and typing.”

The focus is on telling stories, but a benefit is that it allows ELLs to not only tell their stories but to share them. “Too often,” Stephanie admits, “teachers forget that final critical step of the writing process—publishing.” Storyboard allows them to publish their stories for each other, their teachers, and their families. Since the stories “go beyond the teacher’s desk” they carry greater weight, they have greater consequence. Students can also collaborate on stories and share them with each other during the writing process.

I visited the site and noticed that it is in “Public Beta,” which means that it’s free for now, but probably until they can figure out a reasonable business model. There is drag-and-drop art of many different styles students can incorporate into their work, and they can put text anywhere they want to with a click of a button. Storybird automatically creates covers, for those that might need that help, but they are also customizable. Your account tracks the storybirds you are working on, those you’ve published, and those you want to read, so you could actually create reading lists for students.

Webbing tools (concept maps). Stephanie notes that when teachers get caught up in teaching content they might overlook the need to help ELLs use higher-order thinking skills in the target language. Content requirements, especially in the higher grades, often include abstract terms, like compare and contrast, analyze, organize and others. Webbing tools provide visual supports for students to master skills like these using language and images that can visually be organized, linked, or highlighted. She likes to use them for prewriting, as well.

Many teachers have access to the popular Inspiration and Kidspiration software (Kidspiration is designed for younger students), but Stephanie has been using the web-based version of Inspiration’s concept-mapping software called Webspiration. Like Storybird, Webspiration is in free Public Beta but the plan is that it will eventually be offered as a subscription service, hopefully with a break for schools and following acceptable guidelines for secure use by younger students.

Webspiration is similar to its offline versions, and you can even upload or download files from Inspiration. But Webspiration adds the component of collaboration. You can collaborate synchronously or asynchronously, but Inspiration recommends you not collaborate with more than 25 people synchronously. In most settings, more than 3 or 4 might get confusing, anyway. There’s also chat functionality for additional real-time interaction. Collaborators do need an account, so you should follow acceptable use for setting up accounts for students.

Comic strip makers. There are several free and for-fee online and offline tools that allow students to make comic strips or cartoon-like presentations. The benefit for ELLs is that they are highly visual and give them an opportunity to practice English skills with simpler language. Plus, they’re fun and engaging. A short list follows (an Internet search will find many more):

  • Chogger. Create comics with drawing tools or by uploading your own images.
  • Comic Creator from readwritethink. Free online tool from the International Reading Association and the National Council of Teachers of English with templates for short black-and-white comics.
  • Comic Strip Maker. Create one-page, three-panel dialog-based comics using one of six character templates.
  • Make Beliefs Comix. Make three-panel comics you can print or e-mail using characters you can manipulate with simple click-driven commands.

Feed aggregators. Aggregators pull in information from different kinds of websites, such as news sites, blogs, and others. Google Reader is an example, but many e-mail programs also serve as aggregators. (You may find helpful the comparison of dozens of different aggregators found on Wikipedia.) The idea is that you can pull in information you are interested in from your favorite sites, or even set up searches for specific content that shows up in your mailbox—or reader—every day.

Stephanie notes that after time of constant English use, ELLs can bog down and tune out. It’s just tiring to process all that information in a new language. Feed aggregators allow you to provide access to background knowledge in their native language to keep the learning going. Some of the things she suggests you try are:

  • Give students access to current events, those that parallel what you’re doing in your instruction, in their native language.
  • Provide extension activities for students who need enrichment.
  • Teach research and writing skills by having students bookmark and annotate websites, perhaps using a social-bookmarking tool like Diigo covered last month, and monitor their work. You can make sure they are finding relevant information, highlighting the most pertinent information, summarizing correctly, and making sure they’re not plagiarizing.

Walk the Walk

Stephanie had more great tips, both at ISTE and on the phone, so maybe we’ll hear from her again. When I asked her what higher education faculty could do to better help their teacher candidates learn about and use technology effectively, she emphasized modeling. She says that most of the technology experiences for many teacher candidates coming to her workshops is using Blackboard (or other learning management systems), but that’s not technology integration. That’s information management.

Since space is limited, Stephanie recommended—in a very 21st Century skills sort of way—that you might want to follow some higher education faculty that are modeling what they want teachers to do through social networking. One of her favorites is the English Companion Ning. She’d like to see something comparable for ELLs. A short list of sites she follows is below. Maybe we can all follow her lead and set up a feed aggregator to follow them. Thanks, Stephanie!

eCoaching: Using Technology to Support a Statewide Coaching Effort

Over the past four years, I worked with the Title III staff at the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction (DPI) in my role as the director of technology for the Appalachia Regional Comprehensive Center (ARCC) funded by the U.S. Department of Education. North Carolina has one of the fastest growing populations per capita of ELLs in the country, and DPI had identified the Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol (SIOP) as a framework for helping teachers meet the needs of these students. Joanne Marino, Title III Consultant with DPI had taken steps to develop a statewide network of coaches trained in SIOP and the demand for coaches was tremendous. However, her limited resources prevented her from providing enough initial and follow-up training to meet the demand.

When designing the ARCC program, the management team had proposed something we called eCoaching, which owes much of its genesis to Dr. Sharon Harsh who became the director of the program. eCoaching uses readily available digital technologies to connect educators with accomplished peers to promote professional growth by building, expanding, or refining skills and knowledge. No specific technologies are dictated, instead, the idea is to use technologies that are available and appropriate that might help educators connect across school or district boundaries when it wasn’t reasonable, feasible, or even possible to do it otherwise. eCoaching is not a coaching model, but is intended to support existing coaching models, which is why the coaching effort in North Carolina was a good fit.

Over the four years, we learned several lessons that could be considered when you consider using technology to support professional growth. This was a large program, impacting every district in the state, and the results have been very positive. I think it’s a good example of using data to know where to start, but gently expanding experiences and skills. Following are some lessons learned.

Lessons Learned

Know your audience. The ARCC involvement began with an online needs assessment of the coaches that was instrumental in selecting the right entry point for using technology. With more than 270 responses, we found technology use for school-based activities was low. Participants who responded indicated they accessed computers both at home and school, but most often at school. Of the fairly long list of technologies we thought they might have available, the technologies they reported as being most comfortable with and had the greatest access to were e-mail, taking digital pictures, and searching the Internet. Few reported using social networking, participating in web conferences, or creating or posting to a blog or wiki—which was a technology DPI staff had first considered. This helped us to realize that if we wanted to support these people to develop their coaching knowledge and skills, we had to begin with activities similar to sending e-mails and searching the Internet.

Practice and learn. During the first year, we developed an eight-week online book study for a pilot group consisting of 20 members from the cadre. The book study used discussion software that was similar to sending an e-mail—one of our audience’s proficiencies. The book study was facilitated but conducted asynchronously with weekly deadlines. We did hold a kick-off webinar to introduce the discussion software and provided an orientation to the topic, including showing two classroom videos developed by DPI. At the end of the book study, the facilitator arranged to have the authors of the book participate in a second synchronous webconference so the participants could ask them questions directly. That was a unique benefit that technology afforded us, as the authors never had to leave their offices to participate. Nor did the participants, for that matter.

One thing we learned from the evaluation was that there was a lack of awareness about SIOP with educators outside of the coaching network, especially district administrators and building-level principals, and this made it difficult to get buy-in and support for the coaches. This volunteer group also graciously told us that if this had not been a pilot effort, they would have been reluctant to participate for eight weeks with no incentive or compensation. We also learned that about half of the school districts blocked all streaming media, so very few could view the videos at school (where most of them completed their computer time). We took all of these lessons into consideration when revising the opportunities for year two.

Speak their language. In order to build awareness and generate greater buy-in from key stakeholders at the district and building level, we delivered three one-hour webinars for superintendents and principals, not the SIOP coaches or teachers, so the language used and examples selected were targeted to administrators. We demonstrated why this was important by providing background on the SIOP process, some of the research and data behind it, figures on the growing ELL population and how that was impacting student achievement across the state, and what to expect if they wanted to implement it in their schools. The third webinar featured stories from several districts across the state that had implemented SIOP and were in different stages of implementation. They were able to use local voices and experiences to share information and actual materials with those on the webinar and it went on 30 minutes longer than originally planned.

Even a small incentive can be powerful. For the second book study, we planned a shorter four-week study of a book that included a DVD, so we overcame the streaming media problem. We hoped to get 20 participants. Everyone who participated would get the book with the DVD, and recertification credit. That credit was crucial as the response was overwhelming. We had to close registration two days early because we had more than 200 people register for the book study. We eventually ran three rounds of the book study with two groups of 25 participating per round. Joanne was able to have representatives from every district in the state that had originally registered and really raised the exposure of SIOP across the entire state.

Keep moving forward, but provide support. During year three, the team intended to move beyond directed discussions to trying to promote more open-ended interactions using social networking software. Title III staff created a Ning, which supports discussions through forums, various media, a calendar, and many other functions. We targeted two small groups (approximately 30 each) to participate in our new social networking experiment. The idea was that the participants would focus on specific components from the SIOP framework during the year and would have conversations about them, not necessarily formal coaching sessions. We provided support in terms of a SIOP subject expert and a technology expert who supported operational issues.

We learned that incentives are still important, but perhaps more important are facilitation, structure, and buy-in at the local level. The group with the most success had a facilitator who provided weekly structured activities using the Ning, with the greatest success demonstrated at the school where the assistant principal attended sessions with her faculty and they were provided release time to complete the activities during the school day.

Moving into the Future

The program is still growing and has moved to a closed, online collaborative site developed specifically to support coaching and mentoring called TeacherStudio. Users can upload or download lesson plans, implementation plans, videos, and other artifacts. A group of coaches from the larger cadre is excitedly developing or repurposing training materials that can now be posted in a single place and accessed any where in the state to supplement face-to-face or online professional development offered by DPI or these coaches. As powerful and promising as this technology appears to be, if it had been available when we started, we would probably have not have been ready for it. That needs assessment was critical for helping us to know what our target audience would accept and I feel like we pushed them a step at a time until they are now ready for this dynamic social environment.

This information is adapted from the upcoming book, Online Professional Development. Design, Deliver, Succeed! by John Ross and available later this year from Corwin.