Fostering Meaningful Peer Collaboration with Digital Tools

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It is literally true that you can succeed best and quickest by helping others to succeed. —Napoleon Hill

We believe in students learning from and with each other, but effective collaboration rarely takes place in most schools. Students rarely want to share their work and have peers critique it. They don’t tend to get excited about peer editing or group work.

Outside of school, the scenario is quite different. Everyday, millions share the narratives of their lives through written words, images, music, audio, and video they post on various social networks. They eagerly crave  feedback in the form of likes, retweets, mentions, reblogs, and tags. The trend is to be more social and participatory and the web is evolving swiftly with new technologies, apps, tools, and trends to enhance these experiences. It’s time we tapped into the potential of these developments to engage our students in meaningful collaboration, research, and writing.

Collaboratively Creating eTextbooks

This year, I co-developed the Crafting the ePerfect eTextbook EVO Session. This is a 5 week free course for teachers that is taking place NOW till February 16th. Participants create the beginnings of a digital textbook that meets their students’ needs. They receive feedback, tips, and support from over 400 teachers worldwide as well as our 15 moderators- Lindsay Clandfield, Chuck Sandy, Özge Karaoglu, Jason Levine (Fluency MC), Jennifer Verschoor, Janet Bianchini, Sylvia Guinan, Debora Tebovich, André J. Spang, Jackie Gerstein, Terry Freedman, Jake Duncan, Dave Guymon, and Rubena St. Louis. Find out more by joining the Google Community, This is only the first week so you can still participate and receive a certificate.

Fostering Effective Peer Feedback and Collaboration

We are using Google tools and apps to foster meaningful collaboration and peer feedback. Teachers can use the same process to engage students in meaningful collaboration, research, and writing. The video below demonstrates our peer feedback and collaboration process using Google tools.

Recommended Google Tools and Apps

Google tools and apps are incredibly useful for improving students’ writing, research, and collaboration. These are a few shown in the video.

  • Google Communities- Participants can share videos, images, links, & more. They can edit their posts and include hashtags to organize information. You can create threads to categorize posts.
  • Google HangOuts- Up to 10 can collaborate through voice and video. They can screen share and create/edit documents, presentations, audio, and so much more. If you choose, record the meeting. When you end the broadcast, the video automatically goes to your Youtube channel. Students will love the fun features, such as making themselves into a meme or dressing themselves in virtual hats, ties, crowns, and other accessories. 
  • Google Drive- 15 gb free, create documents, presentations, spreadsheets, and forms. Integrate apps and scripts that allow you to do so much more like grade with a rubric, add voice feedback, draw, or calculate grades quickly.
  • Kaizena app- leave voice feedback
  • Goobric- a script that allows you to grade essays quickly with a rubric.
  • Research- this feature is located in your Google Doc under Tools. Find creative common resources to use, research scholarly articles, and cite in MLA/APA/Chicago style.

Our participants have been separated into peer groups. Each peer group has Peer Group Leaders. They are encouraged to meet up and critique their work weekly through Google HangOuts on Air sessions. This is the document we have provided them.

I invite you to participate in our session and experience the process. Even if you do not want to create a digital textbook, you could learn how to use various powerful tools to engage your learners in meaningful collaboration and peer editing.


Try one of these tools this year to foster peer collaboration and feedback.

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Filling the Gap by Joel Josephson

by Guest Author, Joel Josephson


Learning timeAs educators we are more than constantly frustrated by the interference of academics (with little or no experience of the teaching of children), politicians and administrators with little or no direct pedagogic experience in the education process.

Their solution to raising educational standards, almost globally, is to test children as a way to weed out bad teachers, so that children get good teachers. This testing regime flies in the face of all conceived notions of how to teach and motivate children to attain and learn.

But why do the powers that be, completely ignore reality and disrespect educators. It is even worse, they constantly zip of to Finland and other successful educational systems and then find a million reasons, ‘Why it wont work here’.

We know that testing of children produces failure, stress, teaching to the test, not learning or even more importantly today, learning how to learn.

But how did we get to this, why has education slipped out of the grasp of professional educators and in to the hands of amateurs?

I do not think there is a single answer, but I do think that educators are perceived to have left a vacuum in educational pedagogic theory and a vacuum is always filled, even with toxic ideas. From a scientific standpoint it is obvious that education is a social science without any clear room for a single ‘Law’. The children represent even more parameters than the possible teaching theories, from academic homes, deprived homes, immigrants, gifted, with special needs etc etc etc.

So without a ‘General law’ or even agreement on how to teach, we cannot prove that our ideas and methods are any better than the politicians.

I am going to use the Finnish school system as the nearest thing we have to a ‘General law’ to see the different methods they use to achieve the most successful school system on the planet. Finnish children consistently come top or very close to the top for science, reading and mathematics


  • The national curriculum is only broad guidelines


  • All teachers in Finland must have a masters degree, which is fully subsidized.
  • Teachers are selected from the top 10% of graduates. (In 2010, 6,600 applicants vied for 660 primary school training slots)
  • Teachers only spend 4 hours a day in the classroom, and take 2 hours a week for “professional development”
  • Experienced teachers are paid at similar levels to other graduates
  • Teachers are given the same status as doctors and lawyers


  • Finnish children don’t start school until they are 7
  • They rarely take exams or do homework until they are well into their teens
  • The children are not measured at all for the first six years of their education
  • There is only one mandatory standardized test in Finland, taken when children are 16
  • All children, clever or not, are taught in the same classrooms
  • Finland spends around 30 percent less per student than the United States
  • Elementary school students get 75 minutes of recess a day
  • 30 percent of children receive extra help during their first nine years of school
  • Finally, Finnish children spend less hours in school than most other developed nations

Reference link to the OECD data:,3746,en_2649_39263238_45897844_1_1_1_1,00.html

General Law

So lets try to build a ‘General Law’ or should it be called the Finnish Law. But before we go there we should remember that this huge advance in Finland occurred in the 70s before that they achieved average results and were not a wealthy or innovative country. This was a conscious change.

1. They started to change their system with the teachers and built a ‘Trusting’ regime were teachers are considered, and are, top professionals in their field. They respect the teachers abilities by letting them teach as they see fit, not to a rigorous, test orientated curriculum. The teachers work together and collaborate all day, every day, gaining support, and ideas.

2. Respecting early childhood as the base for all further human and learning development and allowing children to PLAY, learn to learn and discover how to become responsible members of society

3. Taking the stress out of primary and secondary education. There is no testing of the children or the teachers, there is very little homework, there is loads of support to overcome difficulties, loads of time to play, lots of bright committed, well-trained teachers who have the responsibility for their own teaching.

So what is the ‘General Law’ we can arrive at from this brief study?

Good effective education requires: Trust. Respect. Play, Learning to learn, Support.

Teach the teachers, very well. After you train them, trust them, respect them and leave them alone to do the job they are committed to.

Let babies and toddlers have a childhood free from ‘Teaching’. Provide them with opportunities to learn how to learn. Let them arrive hungry at the dinner plate of education with healthy appetites.

Children learn best in a stress free environment, without tests, lots of support (so it is difficult to fail or be a failure), lots of play, lots of great teachers.

Are our societies ready to implement this simple ‘General Law’ can politicians believe their own eyes?

Joel Josephson is the initiator/partner in 17 innovative European language projects. Joel is well known for his exciting and effective approaches to motivate language learners. Joel runs theEU_Educators Facebook group, that is sharing EU projects globally. He also founded the Kindersite Project early learning website, one of the first effective sites for schools. Formerly involved in high tech at the start of the Internet, he had 2 successful start-ups and consulted to technology companies. He has brought his understanding of technology into education by initiating many interesting projects with innovative uses of ICT. His Twitter handle is @acerview54.

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Tips for Connecting with Young Learners by Dave Dodgson

PEEK A BOO - Explore #331

Dave Dodgson who is currently based in Turkey shares this post with great tips….

Tips for Connecting with Young Learners

I never planned to teach kids. I was trained to teach English to adults and never pictured myself working in a ‘school’ setting with students who only came up to my waist. And yet, here I am now in my 9th year of working in a primary school! I have to admit that my original reasons for taking the job had little to do with education or advancing my career and I suspect that, just like me, many EFL teachers who work with kids ended up doing so by ‘accident’ with little or no training given beforehand.

Now, I should stress that I love my job and I have no regrets about the career move I made back in 2002 (although I thought I would at the time!) but the first year was difficult. I had never been around children much (I’m the youngest in my family) and had little idea of how to connect with them, motivate them or understand them. In those days, all I was concerned with was keeping order in the class and I achieved that by being strict – I shouted, warned, threatened and glared (using my height to full effect!) – but I soon realised that that wasn’t the way to go. I needed to ensure the kids felt secure and confident in their learning environment and that they saw their teacher as approachable and someone they connected with. And so, I set about making this happen and this is what has worked for me over the years:

Be on their level – literally!

Think back to your primary school days – do you remember how big the teachers seemed? Well, we seem even bigger when we are standing and the kids are sat at their desks! This can be intimidating for some children so it’s important to put them at ease. Whenever I go to a student’s desk to monitor, help them or answer a question, I crouch down and put myself on their eye level. Even a small gesture like this can out them at ease and help them connect with you.

Ask personal questions – and remember the answers!

It can be particularly difficult for children to connect with a foreign teacher who perhaps doesn’t know their own language that well so I always strive to find out personal information about my students, even when their level of English is basic. I ask about their likes and dislikes, their families, their hobbies, their favourite celebrities and so on, all of which can be done with basic language. I then ask them about what they told me, whether in the lesson or in the corridor at break time. This really helps them feel valued and listened to. Just last week, I asked one girl about her baby sister and if she was talking yet – her face really lit up and she proceeded to tell me all sorts of things about her sister and her family. She even promised to bring a photo in on Monday, which I look forward to seeing.

Tell them about yourself and share their interests

I used to avoid telling students personal details about myself. I’m not sure why – maybe I thought they would make fun or use it as a chance to distract me from the lesson plan – but it was an unnecessary self-imposed barrier. How could they connect if the personal information only went one way? I’m not saying you should stand in front of the class and just talk about yourself of course, but it’s important to find and share common interests. For example, my students with younger brothers and sisters love hearing about my 5 year-old son and we exchange stories about them; students with pets like to know about my cat; the boys like my football facts and they are often surprised to learn I used to watch wrestling! Although I’ve outgrown that a bit now, I still feign an interest. ;)

Keep your promises

Nothing can be more disappointing for a kid than when they feel let down by an adult. I experienced this early in my young learner teaching career when I promised we would start a story book on our syllabus the following lesson but then decided to wait until the following week. The class was really upset and had no interest in the lesson I had prepared instead. Even if these things seem minor to us, they can be very important to children so only say they will watch a video, play a game, do a project or have their work displayed somewhere in the school if you intend to follow through on it and are 100% sure it will happen!

Give them choices

Offering choices to students is a great way to make them feel a part of the learning process. If there’s only enough time left for one activity nut I have two or three more on my lesson plan, I’ll let them choose which one they want to do. When possible, I let them choose whether they want to work in groups, in pairs or individually. Sometimes, I even let them choose the topic for the entire lesson! This really helps show them that their teacher is willing to listen to them, is receptive to their ideas and is approachable.

Better that than some glaring, shouting, threatening giant!

What are your tips for connecting with kids? If you were not trained to teach kids, how did you adapt to working with them? Please share your thoughts in the comments section!


Dave Dodgson is an EFL teacher based in Ankara, Turkey, where he has lived for over 10 years. After spending the first couple of years of his career teaching adults, he started teaching Primary school children in 2002 and has never looked back (well, maybe he looked back a few times…) He is currently studying for an MA in EdTech and TESOL via the University of Manchester in the UK and is due to graduate in 2012. When not juggling with the demands of a full-time teaching job and distance study, he writes the odd post for his blog Reflections of a Teacher and Learner and spends as much time as he can with his beautiful wife and their 5 year-old son.
You can follow Dave on Twitter: @DaveDodgson

Try implementing some of these ideas and share with us your post about the experience!

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Happy New Year! Thank You!

Happy New Year!

Thank you my friends for being part of my personal learning journey in 2010. I have enjoyed tweeting with you, your comments, visiting you at conferences or events, seeing you in webinars, responding to your blog posts, and collaborating on education transformation. You have helped me reflect and I feel like many of you are family or lifelong friends. Thank you for sharing in my magical moments. There have been so many more since I became an active member of my Personal Learning Network! Thank you for being there during difficult times and to support academic projects!

Enjoy the following videos for reflection on the year! Have an incredible 2011 with amazing surprises and blessings! Thank you for blessing me with your friendship and inspiring me with your passion and dedication for teaching and learning!

In this video, Google shows what was searched:

Click on any to see the New Year’s videos worldwide:

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Help the Saltash School

For the most part, I keep this blog ad free. I often get requests to advertise on this blog, but prefer to be able to showcase projects I believe in because I think they are doing great things. If I back anything on my blog, I want you to know it is for a great cause or the product/service is truly worth having.

The Saltash schools are up for a call-in award. I have seen the amazing work Dan Roberts, @Chickensaltash, has accomplished over the years with his school. These amazing projects included the opportunity to listen to a guest expert from the Rain forest and a global project with a school from Nigeria.

They have a chance to win an award. It’s a call-in award that isn’t free but knowing Dan it must be a worthy cause!

Here’s how to vote:

Vote for schools in the Recharge the Battery project by sending one text message charged at your standard rate (if you have free texts it will cost nothing). Text the word RECHARGE to 07950 080 667 (or +44 7950 080 667 if dialing from outside the UK) If you are outside the UK then  your vote counts double.

If you vote, please leave a comment or tweet Dan so he can send you a thank you and tell the students where you are voting from.


Do a good deed to help someone else out for the holidays!

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