Jul 012014

In a previous post on my Langwitches Blog, Learning in the Modern Classroom, I started highlighting our school’s attention to not only providing amplified learning opportunities, but also the creation of new forms of assessment to go along with these learning opportunities. I see a growing AND urgent need to develop new forms of assessment to support our pioneering teachers, as well our students.

Learning in the 21st century modern classroom is changing. Many teachers are frustrated as the required or available assessments have not caught up yet with their efforts of upgrading to new forms of learning. How can we assess new forms of teaching with old traditional forms of evaluations?  Teachers feel trapped between wanting to upgrade and prepare students with skills for their life outside of school, but are dumbfounded how to assess the learning in terms that parents, colleagues (other subject areas), teachers (as their students rise to the next grade) administrators (& school policy makers), feeder schools, other stakeholders or universities understand, value and accept.


We are in dire need of wrapping our minds around new forms of assessment, conceptualizing and developing these assessment tools, using them, advocating for them, sharing them and making them acceptable EVIDENCE OF LEARNING!

The classroom learning scenario (4th & 5th Grade) was a Skype call with Mike Fisher, I described in a previous post. Students were in charge of different jobs (true to the Digital Learning Farm concept from Alan November’s latest book “Who Owns the Learning?”)

Assessing students’ writing, thinking level , understanding, learning connections via a Twitter stream, did not end the assessment upgrade for this particular learning opportunity.

During the same Skype call, we paid special attention to how students interacted with their conversation partner (Mike in this case) . We were watching their body language, paying attention to their vocabulary, ability to articulate an idea, their conversation etiquette and ability to follow a conversation and interaction.

If working (and communicating beyond face to face interaction) on a global team is/will be a crucial skill for our students to posses, how can we assess the skills, support, coach and guide students?

I am looking for ways to UPGRADE & REPLACE traditional assessment forms. Heidi Hayes Jacobs suggests in her book Curriculum21 to use an upgrade model which

begins with consideration of assessment types, moves to content reviews and replacement, and then links both of these to upgraded skills and proficiencies (Jacobs, 2010, p.20)

I started by taking a look at Andrew Churches Skype Rubric (pdf), but wanted to focus more on the actual communication skills during the Skype call and developed the following Taxonomy of a Skype Conversation  as a guide.


Download the Taxonomy of a Skype Conversation as a pdf file.

How are you assessing  your students’ skills particular to Skype calls? Have you developed assessment rubrics? Please share with our Around the World with 80 Schools community.

Learning About Communities…Not From Textbooks

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Nov 182012

I recently wrote about Thinking About Learning Differently- Talking to Strangers, where I mentioned our third graders journey of skyping around the world to learn about different communities.

They have spoken via Skype with classes from a suburb of Los Angeles, CA , an rural community in Missouri and a city, Weatherford, TX. The latest connection was with Anna Faridaku, a teacher and children’s book author from Indonesia. Students took turns speaking with Anna, who was just amazing in connecting (via the screen) to the kids, answering and asking questions. She engaged them and pushed them to deeper thinking about similarities and differences about our communities.

They have now also spoken to a class from Prague, Czech Republic and we are working on our next connections with Argentina and New Zealand. Please contact me via Twitter (@langwitches), if you are interested in being part of the 3rd grade learning journey.

The goal is not to only collect cold data, but to:

  • make connections between the different locations and communities
  • learn about geography
  • talk “to strangers”, practicing speaking skills and conversation skills, be aware of body language…
  • reflect on how and what we are learning
  • invite a global audience (including parents and grandparents) to continue a conversation via the classroom blog
  • continuously becoming better at asking questions and learning that questions don’t stop at the end of a lesson, day, Skype call

Overcoming geographic boundaries

Conversations about Alligators in Florida and Prague :)

Two native Hebrew speakers meet across the Ocean

Documenting through various lenses


Using tools for synchronous and asynchronous collaboration

Formulating questions and collecting data

The comments on the classroom blog below came from family and friends of our students who continued to contribute to students learning after the call ended.

Family continues a conversation after the call ended

Skyping with Indonesia


It is time to THINK DIFFERENTLY about learning!

Learning to Talk to Strangers

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Nov 172012

Our third graders are learning about different communities.They have spoken via Skype with classes from a suburb of Los Angeles, CA , an rural community in Missouri and a city, Weatherford, TX. The latest connection was with Anna Faridaku, a teacher and children’s book author from Indonesia.  Students took turns speaking with Anna, who was just amazing in connecting (via the screen) to the kids, answering and asking questions. She engaged them  and pushed them to deeper thinking about similarities and differences about our communities.

Will Richardson talks about Three starting points to think differently about “Learning. In addition to “Thinning the Classroom Wall” and “Being Transparent”, he lists “Talking to Strangers” as one of the starting point!

Being able to connect and learn with strangers is an important skill for all of us, and especially for a generation that will be learning online for the rest of their lives.

The above image visualizes how we are taking learning about a country from only looking at a map and reading about it in a book to talking to a “stranger “who lives in that country. We still used the map and books for background knowledge and preparation, but information is amplified:

  • Information comes from a primary source
  • Information is fluid, not rigid, it will adjust to the questions the students have  (a book will only hold the information that editors have decided on including and will not magically switch in front of your eyes :) )
  • Information can take on directions, tailored to your students’ interests
  • Information can

“Talking to Strangers” is a critical skill to possess. It contributes to information fluency. It so dramatically contrasts the drill we heard over and over again from our parents. We used to be taught “DON’T talk to strangers” and now need the skills to do precisely that.

Disclaimer: I am not talking about talking to a stranger in a dark alley at night! :)

3rd Grade- Learning About Communities: Skyping with Indonesia from langwitches on Vimeo.

Getting Started with Skype Info-Flyer

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Feb 202012

“Getting Started with Skype” Info- Flyer.

The guide encompasses step-by-step help from Skype projects, preparing your students for a Skype call, transforming a Skype call into a Learning call to student job responsibilities before, during and after the actual call.

Get Started With Skype

Jan 092012
sharing-guinipigs-by ryancr

Teachers all over the world are using Skype in innovative ways. We will not hear and learn from most of these classroom learning opportunities.

Part of the reason I created this site, was not only for educators to find and connect with a potential Skype partner, but also give a space to teachers to document, reflect and share their skyping experience in the classroom.

Some AMAZING teachers are taking the time though to share their experiences and ideas with others to learn and grown from. Becoming part of a cycle which encompasses learning>experiencing>amplifying> sharing, is PART of 21st century learning (or simply the way we learn in the present!)

image licensed under CC by Ryancr- http://www.flickr.com/photos/ryanr/142455033/




The Excitement of Learning

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Jun 222011

As a teacher, you know when your students are excited about learning. It is what you work for. Is is part of the passion that makes you a true educator.

I had the honor of witnessing such display of excitement and learning a couple of weeks ago, as I spent a day of learning with educators participating in the Edweek2011 in St. Jospeh, Missouri. Not only did I want to talk to teachers and administrators about the opportunities of using Skype in the classroom, I wanted to show them first hand. I wanted them to experience the potential it could bring into their own schools by connecting, communicating and collaborating with others around the world. But the connection could not only be about the connection via Skype itself. How can we make a connection to curriculum content and 21st century skills and literacies? How can we turn an ordinary connection via Skype into a LEARNING CALL?

Using the concept of “The Digital Learning Farm: Students as Authentic Contributors”by Alan November, I had arranged a Skype call with Mrs. Yollis and her third grade students. Neither party knew the geographic location of each other. It was each groups’ goal to find their respective location by asking closed questions that could be answered with a “Yes” or a “No”. Mrs. Yollis had prepared her 3rd graders by distributing specific job responsibilities during a Skype call in order to work together to figure out the location of their connection partner.

I hope you will be able to see, hear and feel the excitement of learning these students displayed by watching the edited video recording (for time purposes) of the call.

Make no mistake, simply by assigning these job responsibilities to (groups of or individual) students will not automatically create a learning call, nor will it welcome such an open display of learning excitement into your classroom. The credit goes to Mrs. Yollis for having prepared here students with her own enthusiasm and thirst for learning the entire school year up until this point.

The learning call was well framed by preparing students ahead of time. All of Mrs. Yollis’ students had had previous experiences with authentic contributions to their classroom learning community. Just take a closer look at Mrs. Yollis’ fabulous classroom blog documenting and describing their shared learning.

During the Skype call, Mrs Yollis continued to guide and focus students on the task at hand. It was obvious to us “on the other side of the screen”, that students knew their job responsibilities and worked well together.

Once the call was over, the learning continued by reflecting on the experience on their classroom blog. Mrs. Yollis posted questions for her students to comment on. The class also received comments from teachers who had participated from Missouri as well as blog readers as far away as Australia.

image licensed under Creative Commons by Sean Nash

Image licensed under Creative Commons by Sean Nash


Read more about Mystery Skype calls:

Feb 062011

No lesson, no event and no learning should stand alone. We connect what we learn with our experiences of the past and store newly acquired skills, facts and experience to be retrieved in the future. Previously, I wrote about framing a field trip with Google Earth. I try to make the case of the importance to allowing students to learn to make connections, to not just expose them to a learning experience without pre-knowledge activation and reflection “to put things in perspective” to follow. In Assessment of Learning via Skype, I shared the following image

A Skype call should never be done in isolation. We should not treat a video conference any different than a field trip. The actual experience should be framed by pre-activities that activate prior knowledge and post-activites that give students the opportunity to reflect, create and connect these new experiences.

Credit for middle image “experience” by tombodor

I want to share with you a fourth grade learning experience. Last month I mentioned in the post “What do you have to lose?” how our forth grade teacher took the time to upload her students’ book trailer videos to her classroom blog. One of the authors of these books, Babara O’Connor, received a Google Alert of her name and book title which led her to the classroom blog. We were able to set up a Skype conference with her. I set up a test call with Mrs. O’Connor ahead of the actual Skype call with students to make sure that both of our video and audio settings were set up correctly. In the classroom students started brainstorming questions they would ask during the Skype call. We talked about questions that could only receive a “yes” or “no” answer and formulated questions that would solicit a more in depth answer. The entire class contributed in the brainstorming session. In the end the questions were narrowed down to 10.

1. What do you like to write about? 2. Where do you get your ideas to write your books? 3. When you write your books what inspires you and why? 4. What was your favorite book as a child and why? 5. How long does it take to write a book and why does the process take that long? 6. What is your favorite part of writing and why? 7.Do you believe you have to be a good reader in order to be a good writer? 8. Where did you go to school, and were you inspired in school to become a writer? 9. What is your favorite kind of genre and why? 10. If you had to turn one of your books into a movie which one would it be and why?

Students were assigned different jobs before the Skype call, such as greeter, introductions, videographer, photographer and individual questions. Student then “practiced” speaking their part ahead of time using PhotoBooth. They recorded themselves speaking slowly, clearly and looking into the camera. Their classroom teacher confirmed that this exercise made a big difference in their confidence level. Everyone was very excited when the Skype call actually took place.

Welcome Mrs. O'Connor to our Classroom

Recording our Skype Visit

Mrs. O'Connor shares books that inspired her to becone a writer

Take a look at the video below that shows a few snipets of the call. http://vimeo.com/18438258 In order to frame the Skype call as a learning call, the experience could not end when we hung up with Mrs. O’Connor. For students it would include blogging about it afterward to reflect on their experience and think about what they had learned from it. Students also got inspired to read more by Mrs. O’Connor after the Skype call. What did we observe as teachers? How can we take this experience to the next level? Although students were confident demonstrating speaking skills during the Skype call, it was a “back and forth”- “question and answer” session. We would like students to go beyond the ping pong method of “conversing”, but truly be part of a conversation. Not only did we need to go beyond asking questions that inspire more than yes/no answers, we will also need to practice responses that will go beyond: “Thank you” or “That is interesting”. Students were asked to reflect on their “learning experience” during the Skype call by commenting on the classroom blog.

After watching the video of our skype call with Mrs. O’Connor, I want to know your thoughts. Please answer the following questions in your comment: 1. What did you learn from our skype call? 2. What part of the skype session did you like the best? WHY was that your favorite part? Remember the components of our preparation: brainstorming questions, practicing with photo booth, talking with Mrs. O’Connor.

See a sample of student comments below:

Student Comments

We had a good lesson on how to write more reflective and reminded them of the commenting etiquette they had drafted for their class previously.

4th Grade Commenting Etiquette

As we were going through the comments in moderation, we noticed that they most students followed the etiquette beautifully for the the most part. We noticed that the week parts in the comments were:

  • Proper spelling
  • Check before you click
  • High level of vocabulary

We also noticed that an important component was missing in our commenting etiquette:

  • Add something…go more into details…explain yourself
  • Remember your worldwide audience (Not everyone who will read your comments, will have been in the classroom with us when the learning event had occurred)

We pulled up a few suggestions for comment starters and highlighted words to integrate in our comments.

Comment Starters

If you want to read more about teaching commenting, take a look at a previous post “Blogging Lessons on Commenting” on Langwitches.

Dec 042010

Our 5th grade teacher, Mrs. Z, and I are planning to upgrade a Social Studies unit about the American Revolution.

We want to expand the following content and exceed the standards traditionally taught in the textbook unit:

  • Identify and explain significant events leading up to the American Revolution.
  • Identify significant individuals and groups who played a role in the American Revolution.
  • Explain the significance of historical documents including key political concepts, origins of these concepts, and their role in American independence.
  • Examine and explain the changing roles and impact of significant women during the American Revolution.
  • Examine and compare major battles and military campaigns of the American Revolution.
  • Identify the contributions of foreign alliances and individuals to the outcome of the Revolution.
  • Explain economic, military, and political factors which led to the end of the Revolutionary War.
  • Evaluate the personal and political hardships resulting from the American Revolution.
  • Discuss the impact and significance of land policies developed under the Confederation Congress (Northwest Ordinance of 1787).
  • Examine the significance of the Constitution including its key political concepts, origins of those concepts, and their role in American democracy.

Our overall goals beyond the curriculum content is:

  • Action research- allow teachers to upgrade a traditionally taught unit
  • Allow teachers to learn, plan, work and teach collaboratively
  • Empower student learners by giving them ownership
  • Take learning off the pages of the book
  • Allow students to reinforce 21st century skills: communicate, collaborate, connect & critical thinking
  • Expose and reinforce 21st century literacies: basic (reading & writing), media, network, global, information
  • Find new forms of teaching, learning and assessment
  • Students becoming teachers
  • Bring in multiple perspectives
  • Reflection on upgrade
  • Share our learning with a global audience


  • Collaboration between 5th grade classes
  • Skype calls group2group, buddy2buddy
  • Debates via Skype- Role playing
  • Facebook page (off line) for founding fathers/King of England/colonists
  • Twitter-Students chronologically share what they learn (from protagonist perspective)
  • Interviews with subject area experts (university professors, authors, from England)
  • Social Production
  • Teachers teaching lessons to both classes/ groups


We are looking for the “perfect” collaboration partner(s) to help us “pioneer” learning about the American Revolution in the 21st Century. We are requesting the following criteria of our potential partner teacher/class:

  • 5th grade currently studying “American Revolution” in their curriculum
  • Teacher and students able to use Google Apps for collaboration
  • Teacher and students able to skype
  • Teacher and students willing and able to test new tools and methods
  • Tentative timeline for collaboration: January/February 2011
  • Committed to explore new forms of teaching and learning- Willing to test, revise, assess and share new forms
  • Dependable, detailed oriented, deadline aware, flexible

If you match our “Wanted- Poster” and are interested to partner with us on this adventure, please contact me to discuss possible collaboration.

Assessment of Learning via Skype

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Nov 212010

Skyping with students is great! They are learning…There is no doubt in my mind…!

Skyping Hub- Learning Hub

  • I know…I see motivation in their eyes… I feel excitement in the air…I hear them say: “How cool”, “That was awesome” or “When are we skyping again?”.
  • I know… all about the different skills students are exposed to and are practicing while skyping.
  • I know… that I am helping them learn differently than from a textbook.
  • I know… that I am preparing them for a work environment where they are expected to collaborate with colleagues and teams who do not live in the same country, nor continent and operate in a different time zone.
  • I know… that I am exposing them to a world, people and cultures beyond their horizon.
  • I know… that I am broadening their perspectives, tolerance and for someone who is different

…but… what about formal assessment and documentation of this kind of learning.

I enjoy helping other teachers get excited and comfortable using Skype as a tool to connect with other classrooms or experts around the world. I want to make it explicit, once again, that it is NOT about the tool, but about the skills and the learning.

In order to streamline the process of converting a Skype Call into a Learning Call and to make it more visual, I created the following images and handouts. Please feel free to use them in your own classroom.

You can download all of them as a pdf file here.

Credit for middle image “experience” by tombodor

A Skype call should never be done in isolation. We should not treat a video conference any different than a field trip. The actual experience should be framed by pre-activities that activate prior knowledge and post-activites that give students the opportunity to reflect, create and connect these new experiences.

Pre-Activities include:

  • Familiarize with geographic location, language, culture, age group, etc.
  • KWL Chart
  • Information Literacy (locate)
  • Google Earth (distance)
  • Google Maps (Street view)
  • Formulate questions
  • Distribute job responsibilities for actual video conference experience

Pre-Activities Job Description:

Have students prepare for a call by filling out the handout below. You can easily ask them to formulate and share questions on your classroom blog as well.

Depending on the geographic location, have students “orientate” themselves to WHERE they will be connecting to by answering the following questions.

During the Call Activities include:

  • Interview
  • Q & A
  • Image & Video recording
  • Blog (summarize)
  • Backchannel
  • Data Collection
  • Present
  • Share

During Skype Call Job Description:

I have written several times about engaging students during a Skype call by given them specific jobs and responsibilities. You can listen to my 5th graders explaining each job a little more.

Once the Skype call has ended, it is important to help your students debrief and reflect on their experience. As their teacher you will want to assess in one shape or form the learning that occurred. Is skyping making a difference in their learning? Have they learned something that could not have been taught via a textbook? What was the engagement and motivational level of your students?

Here are some ideas on how to help your students reflect on their Skype experience and help you assess their learning. Give students choices on how to debrief by offering or alternating using different media.

Post-Call Activities include:

  • Informal assessment: debrief right after the Skype call. Have students talk about what just happened. Read the backchannel log out loud and collaboratively add anything that was not documented.
  • Information Literacy (evaluate, analyze, categorize data collected)
  • Create documentary (video clip) from video clips taken during the Skype call
  • Create Photo Slideshow of images taken during the Skype call
  • Write reflective blog posts
  • (Paper & Pencil) Journal entries: Give students prompts
  • Create a Video recording from your debriefing session
  • Audio podcasting
  • Embed images and video into blog post
  • Share with parents (informal at home) or host a parent presentation session at school
  • Present to larger audience (entire school, community, conference)

Post-Activities Job Description:

Take a peek into a debriefing session after a Skype Call from a third grade class.

What are some of the activities you do to frame a video conference experience for your students? How do you document and assess the learning taking place with video conferencing?


It is important that we start documenting and assessing student learning (formally and informally) from 21st Century tools. Most assessments are not designed to take new forms of learning into consideration. The more data and documentation we have, the more we can move towards a new kind of “testing and assessing“.

Please contribute by asking your students to take the following survey about their learning via Skype. Once you have had your students take the survey, please e-mail me , so I can share the results with you.

Please disseminate the link to the survey in your own PLN by blogging or tweeting about it.

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