Monday, June 7, 2010

Constructing oral narratives online

Ages ago, I participated in a R&D Project called TEO. I was a primary school teacher then, back in 1994. The project's main objectives were to develop a software to record narratives using a computer, and to use this application to practice oral language skills. The tool was called TEO - meaning Text Editor Oral. It worked under the old MacOS 9.

We used TEO in primary school but tested it also in special needs education and in Kindergarten. In primary school, students aged from 7 to 12 used it to record self invented narratives in French, which is the 3rd language that is taught in Luxembourg from 2nd grade up, after Luxembourgish and German.

In TEO, the narratives could be edited by adding and deleting recording parts, or by rearraging them using drag and drop. Each recording was represented by a simple icon that could be used for these manipulations, there were no complex soundwaves or timelines. The icons were automatically numbered so that you could easily tell if the recordings had been rearranged, if parts had been added or deleted.

The theoretical framework of the project was a constructivist view on second language acquisition, embedded in a multilingual context and based on a concept of 'Storying' - meaning a narrative approach to language production. Collaboration, using and sharing implicit language knowledge, students' voice, self-evaluation, students' control over their productions and autonomy were major tenets of the framework.

The tool was great and so easy to handle, that very young children had no difficulty to work with it without any assistance from elders or adults. The project was e great success, which means that students made enormous progress in oral French without a lot of instructive teaching. They eagerly constructed narratives with the knowledge they shared and were not at all afraid of expressing themselves in a language they hardly mastered, mainly because they were not forced to speak in front a class and they had full control over their recordings. If they were not satisfied with the sentence they produced they could just drop it and have another try without leaving traces of "failure". Anyone knows that this is reassuring but you seldom work under such conditions in school.

Of course you could misuse the application for drill and practice exercises but the overall project's framework and the teachers' views on language acquisition prevented such an approach.

The project lasted one year and was documented in a written report, three videos showing children at work and a multimedia CD-Rom explaining and illustrating the framework. Unfortunately the documentations haven't been reedited yet or put online, so that they aren't available any more except for my own report of that time which can be found online on my other website.

After the official R&D project was over, two additional Windows PC versions had been developed with the funding of two other projects, and a few teachers continued to work with it although the PC version was hardly running stable. There was no large scale implementation, promotion or distribution of it after that.

TEO was not forgotten but it didn't last long as nobody seemed to be interested to finance software maintenance in order keep pace with the development of operating systems, and software libraries. But that's the way things often go with R&D projects.

In the early years of EducDesign we wanted to develop a new version of the application for the Ministry of Education in Luxembourg but we got no funding for that either, so we finally decided to do it on our own.

Instead of TEO we called it Tiparlo which in Italian means "I speak to you". We created an online browser based version of the tool and added also some great new features like export into mp3, adding images and comments and setting access rights. It works fine with most common browser in their latest versions. Up until this year Tiparlo could not be used independently of a global OLEFA CMS/IMS based Website in which Tiparlo is part of an online software suite called Collaboration Server which contains other modules like Storyboard, Painter, Webbook and Wiki.
As some people asked us if there was no other way to get it, because they had no support from their schoolboard or the Ministry of Education to get an OLEFA based website, we decided to give it a try and offer Tiparlo separately. Well, it's online now and it can be found at

Its main objective is still to encourage authentic oral expression, communication and language reflection. Tiparlo is very helpful to keep track of someone’s language development or second language acquisition. It fosters cooperation and autonomy, peer tutoring, learning from one another, self-evaluation and critical thinking.

Tiparlo is perfect for minimal invasive language "teaching" and for second language acquisition in multilingual contexts where students share their explicit and implicit language knowledge in meaningful situations.

I know that a lot of teachers would prefer closed applications where students listen to phrases and words, repeat them and get a right or wrong, and a score. With such tools students can also work on their own and you don't need to spend to much time on their productions. The number of rights and wrongs says everything you need to know. But that's not the way I like to promote IT in school.

With Tiparlo it's different. It's not the teacher or the tool that controls the production and the learning but the students themselves. To evaluate the learning processes, you need listen to the narratives, consider the context in which the production process took place and have a discussion with your students. Now and then it may be interesting to film or to record the discussions among the students during the production process. Not with the "big brother is listening" approach but with permission of the authors, if you want to get a somehow authentic work and have a respectful relationship with your students. Such "teaching" demands a lot of effort, much more that if you use closed ready made applications, but the results are worth it and have much more impact on the language acquisition progress than forever popular drill and kill exercises, which in my view are an insult to the intelligence and the creativity of children, who always prove to be born language learners when embedded in a language rich context.

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Some Reading Milestones

  • Towards reflexive method in archaeology : the example at Çatalhöyük (edited by Ian Hodder) 2000

  • The Book of Learning and Forgetting (Frank Smith) 1998

  • Points of Viewing Children's Thinking: A Digital Ethnographer's Journey (Ricki Goldman-Segall) 1997

  • Verstehen lehren (Martin Wagenschein) 1997

  • Computer im Schreibatelier (Gérard Gretsch) 1992

  • The Boy Who Would Be a Helicopter. Uses of Storytelling in the Classroom (Vivian Gussin Paley) 1991

  • La cause des adolescents (Françoise Dolto) 1988

  • Scuola di Barbiana. Die Schülerschule. Brief an eine Lehrerin. (Edition of 1980) / read in German 1982
    Letter to Teacher by the Schoolboys of Barbiana (1970)
    Lettre à une maîtresse de'école, par les enfants de Barbiana (1968)
    Lettera à una professoressa (Original Edition) 1967

  • Vers une pédagogie institutionnelle (Aïda Vasquez, Fernand Oury) 1967

Documentary Films on Education

  • Eine Schule, die gelingt (by Reinhard Kahl) 2008

  • Les temps des enfants (Jacques Duez) 2007

  • Klassenleben (by Bernd Friedmann und Hubertus Siegert) 2006

  • Lernen - Die Entdeckung des Selbstverständlichen
    (Ein Vortrag von Manfred Spitzer) 2006

  • Die Entdeckung der frühen Jahre
    Die Initiative "McKinsey bildet" zur frühkindlichen Bildung (by Reinhard Kahl) 2006

  • Treibhäuser der Zukunft - Wie in Deutschland Schulen gelingen (by Reinhard Kahl) 2004

  • Treibhäuser der Zukunft / Incubators of the future / Les serres de l'avenir; International Edition (by Reinhard Kahl) 2004

  • Journal de classe, 1ères audaces (1), Les échappés (2), Sexe, amour et vidéo (3), L'enfant nomade (4), Remue-méninges (5) (by Wilbur Leguebe, Jacques Duez, Agnès Lejeune) 2004

  • Spitze - Schulen am Wendekreis der Pädagogik (by Reinhard Kahl) 2003

  • Journal de classe, (by Wilbur Leguebe and Agnès Lejeune; Jacques Duez) 2002

  • Etre et Avoir (by Nicolas Philibert) 2002

  • The Stolen Eye (by Jane Elliott) 2002

  • The Angry Eye (by Jane Elliott) 2001

  • A l'école de la providence (by Gérard Preszow) 2000

  • Blue-Eyed (by Jane Elliott) 1996

  • A Class Divided (by Jane Elliott) 1984

  • Eye of The Storm (with Jane Elliott) 1970

Past quotes of the day

For every problem, there is one solution which is simple, neat and wrong. Henry Louis Mencken

Traveler, there is no path. Paths are made by walking.
Antonio Machado

The best way to predict the future is to invent it. Immanuel Kant

The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them. Albert Einstein

To paraphrase a famous quotation, all that is necessary for the triumph of damaging educational policies is that good educators keep silent. Alfie Kohn

We used to have lots of questions to which there were no answers. Now, with the computer, there are lots of answers to which we haven't thought up the questions. Peter Ustinov

I had a terrible education. I attended a school for emotionally disturbed teachers. Woody Allen

A professor is someone who talks in someone else's sleep. W. H. Auden

When I was an inspector of schools I visited one classroom and looked at a boys book. He'd written, 'Yesterday, Yesterday, Yesterday, Sorrow, Sorrow, Sorrow, Tomorrow, Tomorrow, Tomorrow, Love, Love, Love.' I said, 'That's a lovely poem.' He said, 'Those are my spelling corrections.' Gervase Phinn

Real thinking never starts until the learner fails. Roger Schank

If what is wanted is a reexamination of schooling in terms of purpose, structure and process, then testing programmes are the wrong vehicle (...) Caroline V. Gipps

Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts. Albert Einstein

Act always so as to increase the number of choices. Heinz von Foerster

Another way of avoiding teaching is by relying exclusively on a textbook, workbooks, and other commercially packaged learning materials. Teaching is reduced to administering a set curriculum without giving any thought to the substance of what the students area learning or to their particular needs. H. Kohl

The right to ignore anything that doesn't make sense is a crucial element of any child's learning - and the first right children are likely to lose when they get to the controlled learning environment of school. F. Smith

Learning is the human activity which least needs manipulation by others. Most learning is not the result of instruction. It is rather the result of unhampered participation in a meaningful activity. - Ivan Illich

Too often we give our children answers to remember rather than problems to solve. - Roger Lewin

I have never let my schooling interfere with my education. - Mark Twain