Textivate Reflections

I am not a fan of most tech in the classroom.  Kids already spend 5-8 hours a day on screens; there is an epic amount of fiddle-around time involved when loading programs and apps; kids with devices would waaaaay rather Snapchat than do their Spanish activities (and I can see why), etc.

That said, I do like using Textivate, which is a platform that allows you to upload stories (or whatever you use in your target language), and then have students do stuff with these activities.  There are all kinds of activities available, from Hangman games to re-order scrambled sentences from stories. You need the basic paid version ($50 or so Cdn. per year) to get full functionality. The best deal is the group membership, where you get 10 accounts for about $100/year– awesome for a dept.

Textivate allows you to assign (and score, and track) sets of activities called sequences great for homework).  You can also have challenges, where students choose activities and compete for points (the game generates a leaderboard, etc).

I like Textivate because it involves students reading and processing meaning, it is relatively low-tech, it is simple and reliable, and kids don’t need accounts, apps etc (it is doable on a phone).

textivate pic

Anyway, I have used it three times this semester with my Spanish 1s.  Recently, I uploaded a French story my colleague wrote, and I “played” the Textivate challenge to see what it was like being a student.  I am functional in French but not awesome at it.  Doing Textivate made me think. So, today’s question:  what are some guidelines for C.I. teachers using Textivate?

  1.  Make the stories short. The French story I uploaded was 107 words…and it was real work getting through multiple activities.  The Textivate limit is 500 words.  But a 500-word story is waaaaaay too long.
  2. Use only meaning-processing whole-language activities.  If your kids are reading whole sentences (narration, or dialogue) for meaning, this is helpful.

    So, I will not use the following activities:

    • jumble
    • space
    • snake
    • invaders
    • speed read
    • next word

Why not?  Well, these activities have one (or more) of the following problems.

a. They do not involve processing of “whole” language (sentences of narration, or dialogue).  Some involve separating strings of letters into words.  Others involve guessing.  These are not input processing.

b. They put pointless pressure on students (eg speed read, invaders).  I don’t know how rushing somebody will help them understand.  When I read in a second language, I find the opposite: I like to sometimes stop and go, oh that’s what ____ means.  I also find I can’t really “think” or understand any faster than I naturally do.  Mind you, I’m

c. They require students to have the entire story in front of them.  If this is the case, they can simply look for words and match, rather than reading.

3. Make sure that when students use Textivate, they do not have the written version from the class story in front of them.  This is so that they have to actually read the sentences, rather than just looking for one-word visual cues.

4. Mark the activities.  I find that if I don’t mark the challenges, some kids are like hey free time to Snapchat! so now I assign marks.

Anyway– props to Martin Lapworth for making a useful tool for C.I. language teachers.

Textivate Day 1

So it only took me two years, but here I am finally trying Textivate.

This is a website where you upload (copy and paste) written documents– called “resources”– of up to 500 words, and the site allows you to manipulate these documents into game-like activities.

For example, you have a ten-sentence story.  One Textivate activity involves the program scrambling the story, and then students have to unscramble it by sliding “story tiles” around.  The program starts with simple scrambles (6 tiles) and progresses into more complex activities.

You can do a bunch of stuff with Textivate, but I am focused on two:

Challenges are where you take a resource, make it available to your students online, put a time limit on it, and the students complete their choice of activities for points.  They sign up to the challenge (enter their name), then start doing activities.  The more complex the activity, the more points.

In a challenge, the kids can start wherever they want (easy or hard activity), and do the activities in any order. The easiest way to do this is to start simple (six tiles) and move along into harder activities.  If it’s harder, you get more points…but it’s also harder.

The program generates a leaderboard, so you can track scores in real time (or put them on the overhead).

Sequences are where you take a resource (e.g. a story), and you specify a set of activities and a sequence.  You can put a time limit on these also.  You can make them shorter (i.e. include only 1-3 activities) and use them as warm-ups etc.

Ok so how did it go today, our first-ever using Textivate?

  1.  I had 100% engagement.  The kids were fairly quiet and focused.
  2. There were some hassles re screen sizes– an iPad or computer would be better than a smartphone– but all manageable.
  3. You must not use iPhone private browsing mode with Textivate.
  4. You can really see who the readers are.  Slow readers move much less quickly than faster readers.  This actually turned out to be a problem (in a challenge) because speed of processing language is something I cannot change, and something students have very little control over.

Notes & questions:

  • In future, I think I am going to stick more to sequences than challenges.  All I really want to know is, are the kids reading and understanding? Competition is fun…if you’re fast.  If you are a slower processor (or less literate), you don’t have a hope in hell of beating the FPs, which is discouraging.  With a sequence, you can set time and scope.  All I really want is for them to finish.
  • I need to figure out a way of seeing whether or not the kids are actually reading and understanding.  What I saw today was, the kids with high marks did well.  Especially encouraging was watching the autistic kid, Bryce, who has a really hard time with noise etc, do well on the leaderboard.  But are they reading?  I think so…because with each new activity, the text is “sliced” in different places, so they have to look at meaning to sort it out.
  • This is going to be a great app for homework.  The kids can do a sequence from home (easier on computer than on phone), I can see who has done what, etc.
  • I have not yet played with matching activities, but it would be cool for first & second person reps (the Achilles heel of TPRS).  You have a question on one side and an answer on the other.

If you teach French, there is a basic French 1 story (unsheltered grammar) here.

I use the Ramirez books but because they are copyrighted I can’t share the stories from the books on Textivate.