Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Vokis Can Bring out Student Creativity

(this piece was also posted at: Voki Guest Blogger/)

I still remember the first time I was introduced to Voki, I was at a tech conference. The presenter was showing a number of different fun, new, tools, but Voki stole the day. Honestly, I can't remember the next 20 minutes of the presentation because I was so busy having fun playing with Voki, recording myself, giving myself new outfits, sending emails back to my boss saying things like "Vokis are so much fun!" I was immersed in learning the new tool and practicing my digital literacy and fluency. It is the same for our students.

Voki opens up a world of hands-on creativity for your students.

Show any classroom of students Voki, and you will immediately see them trying it out in a myriad of ways. I had the pleasure of joining a student tech club after school one day and I did a quick demo of Voki. The teacher and I had a plan that they would use their Vokis to introduce themselves to me (a visitor for the day) and then we would share what each student did. It was a nice plan, and the students would have done it. But we quickly realized, we had set the bar way too low, these kids had more ideas about what they wanted to do!

Voki lets you have your Voki speak in several languages.

Some students immediately started playing with the language feature of Voki. While this tech club is in a richly diverse school, where many languages are heard every day, these students still had a great time listening to phrases spoken in languages they had never heard before.

Voki allows you to re-record until you like how it sounds.

Some students probably practiced what they wanted to say 5-7 times before they saved their Voki. This repeated practice is fantastic for English Language Learners and other students working on their oral language skills. Asking a student to re-read passages can be tiresome, but ask them to make a Voki and they will repeat the passage until they like how it sounds, over and over again.

Voki lets students play around with identity.

Let's face it, not all students are pleased with their self-image. I've seen students change their avatar dozens of times to find a "look" that they want to project. Don't overlook the importance of this! As students travel the weary path of adolescence and pre-adolescence, they crave opportunites to try on different looks and personas. Using Voki to do this is a safe and fun way to change your hair color, add an earring or see how a British accent sounds. Letting students play with these avatars as they complete a content-based assignment is as developmentally appropriate as free play in Kindergarten.

Voki is a great way to discuss Digital Citizenship.

Our students might not need our guidance when it comes to figuring out how to make a Voki, but they do still need our guidance about what makes a good and appropriate Voki. Voki is a fun way to get students talking about what make a quality presentation. If the assignment is to have an Abraham Lincoln Voki talk about three of the most important parts of his presidency, showing him with sunglasses on isn't the best way to convey your message. Likewise, students should never use Voki to share too much information about themselves or to embarrass others. It is imperative that we have these conversations with students and why not do it with a tool they love!

Voki can be used in any classroom:
Science: Make a Voki to explain the outcomes of a lab. (I've seen students do this for their Science Fair presentations!)
Social Studies: Choose a Voki of an historical figure and have them give three important facts about their lives.
English: Make a Voki that represents a character from a novel. Have them "saying" the theme of the novel.
Math: There is a lot of vocabulary in Math. Have a Voki provide definitions for key terms.
World Language: Provide a description of a person in the target language, see if the students can make a matching Voki.
Physical Education/Health: Let a Voki give facts about staying fit and healthy.

To get the most out of Vokis, make sure you give your students time to play when making their Vokis, you'll be surprised with the results!

Look! We got Nooks!

More and more eReaders are becoming the go-to devices for readers everywhere. We love the ability to carry 50 books at time with us on the airplane, to never lose our place because our bookmark fell out and to search names of characters to find when they were first introduced. That is why I was so excited when the English Language Arts department at the school where I worked decided to buy Nooks!
We decided to launch the Nooks in a 6th grade co-taught classroom. A number of the students in the class have Individualized Education Programs and many do not think of themselves as readers. Our goals were to get the students more excited about reading and to choose books that closely match students' lexiles (reading levels).
Our first day in the class, the reaction was more than positive. Students loved the layout of the device and had fun discovering all the features available to them. We all love to personalize our devices and Nooks are no different. Students learned (and taught each other) how to change the background image, adjust the font size to suit them and even adjust the orientation to the style they liked best. The ability to make a book their own was a new experience, and it makes a difference, having a book that you can change and modify increases student ownership in the device and increases their interest in reading the text.
Beyond the personalization of Nooks, students were able to practice a number of different during reading strategies. Students can highlight passages that they find significant, much the way readers in a book club will underline sections they want to share of come back to. Students can also use the embedded dictionary to look up words they don't know. For reluctant readers, the ability to find out the definition of new words without asking the teacher or physically using a dictionary (and thus showing the whole class you don't know the word) is a gift. Watching the students read on their Nooks, you can see them smoothly using all these techniques and empowering themselves to be better readers.
As this first class tests out the Nooks and we see the progress they are making, we look forward to expanding the use of the Nooks to more classes and for more novels. Students will be able to check out eBooks from the school library and the public library. We will be able to load novels that specifically match individual student lexile levels and increase their access to non-fiction texts. As we move forward, these devices will continue to give students access to relevant devices, literacy skills and personalized details which increases their interest and engagement with a wide variety of texts.