Saturday, April 23, 2011

Using Google Sites in Second Language Instruction (Guest Blog Post)

This post is cross-posted from Free Technology for Teachers where I appeared as a guest blogger this weekend.

I am a Canadian French Immersion Educator at École Wilfrid Walker School in Regina, Saskatchewan. That means that I teach students whose first language is English, in French. Students in a French Immersion program are taught all subjects in French starting in Kindergarten. By the time they reach middle years, they have strong oral, reading and writting skills in both languages.

As a second language instructor, I often find it a challenge to find relevant resources for my students that are both at their reading level and at their interest level. I teach Social Studies and Science to students in Grades 6/7/8. These subject areas are often a challenge at this grade level in French Immersion as most resources for middle years in French are written for first language readers in Quebec which means that the vocabulary and verb tense can be difficult to understand. Having students read a text and fully comprehend it can be a frustrating experience. Being a small market, publishers who create fantastic materials in English to support our provincial curriculum often ignore the Saskatchewan French Immersion market, as it is not profitable for them to produce the same resources in French. As a result, I have come to rely on online resources to support my instruction of our curriculum. How to present, share and utilise these online resources with my students is always a challenge.

As an avid user of technology in my classroom, my students and I have experimented with numerous sites and applications over the years to enhance our learning experience and to showcase our deeper understanding of curricular outcomes.

Our school division uses Google Apps for Education. All of my students have their own accounts that I can control. This has revolutionized how I teach and interact with my students. Through one platform, my students can access their work at school or at home. I can share documents and presentations and decide if they are public or private. They can email me their questions and comments and I can reply anytime I choose from my computer or even my phone. They can also build collaborative documents and presentations with their classmates. We have also cut back on printing costs because my students simply share their assignments with me for evaluation. No need to waste paper in my classroom.

Google Sites has become an easy way for me to share links and resources with my students. This year we have used this platform in numerous ways in both Social Studies and Science. Being able to easily create a site and have numerous editors has empowered my students to become responsible authors who are excited to learn about the world around them and share their knowledge in a second language. Knowing their site has the potential to reach a global audience adds an extra level of engagement.

My first experiment with Google Sites was to create a site to frame a project my Grade 8 students were working on about the ownership of water. Le GRAND Débat  linked resources and presented the steps each group had to follow to prepare for our class debate. It was easy for me to embed video tutorials and explanations into the site. Groups also created podcasts using their iPod Touch and Sonic Pics to introduce their arguments. Using Google sites for this project was very well received by my students. It was easy for me to create a site, use a template and add resources.

Other ways I have used Google Sites in my classroom include:
  • Building sites to showcase student projects: Grade 7 Mining project and Grade 6 First Nations Legends and Constellations project
  • Coordinating virtual literacy and numeracy centres where Grade 6 and 7 students work with Grade 1 and 2 students on different skills: Centres 1 and Centres 2
  • Students building their own sites to present their Science projects (modelled after Google Virtual Science Fair): La Foire de sciences virtuelle
  • Building collaborative inquiry driven projects. My students wanted to learn more about the recent disaster in Japan. We built this site in groups (Une catastrophe au Japon) based on questions we had about the disaster in Japan and making connections to our lives in Canada. We then used the site to promote our student council's efforts to raise money for the relief effort in Japan and to educate other students in the school about the disaster. They were rewarded by raising over $1000 for their charities of choice in a school with less than 250 students in two weeks. 
The more I use Google Sites in my classroom, the more I love it. I would be interested to learn how other educators are using this tool in their classroom with their students.

Joanna Sanders Bobiash is a French Immersion Middle Years Educator and Teacher Librarian in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada. Joanna maintains a blog entitled My Adventures in Educational Technology. Joanna is also on Twitter.