How I use Carousel to encourage students to reflect on their learning

by Jane Basnett

Our latest guest blogger is Jane Basnett (@basnettj on Twitter), head of a large Modern Languages Faculty at a Girls’ Independent School near London. Despite the number of years at the chalk face Jane has never stopped learning — she completed an MA in Digital Technology for Language Teaching in 2016. Jane has also presented at TILT (Technology in Language Teaching) Webinars for the Association of Language Learning and provided one-to-one consultation for schools considering use of technology in the classroom alongside traditional methods. Read on for Jane’s thoughts on how Carousel helps her students with self-reflection.

At some point at the end of October 2020 I received a tweet from a colleague about a tool that harnessed the power of the retrieval roulettes, allowing students to reflect on their learning, and I was intrigued. That tool was Carousel, and I could immediately see how it had been developed with retrieval practice in mind.

Up to this point, I had approached retrieval practice in my class using a variety of methods. I have a number of go-to activities up my sleeve such as the following:

  1. Listing key vocabulary relating to a topic,
  2. Knowledge dumps on tenses, grammar points or topics..
  3. Finish the sentence — topic or grammar based.
  4. Connect four — asking students to connect four words on a topic to create a sentence
  5. Translation tasks
  6. What, when, who, with — creating sentences using this framework

I also make use of a variety of online tools that provide instant feedback for my students. These tools give me an excellent idea of the gaps in my students’ knowledge but I often feel that once the activity is over, students shut down the app and get on with the next task. Carousel adds an extra dimension that means that students must reflect on their answer and compare it to the one given. It means that the quiz is more than just a challenge to get through, or an activity to complete: it is a step in their learning, a task that highlights to students where they are in their learning journey — if you can pardon the hackneyed expression.

The very day I discovered Carousel I quickly uploaded my first spreadsheet using my retrieval roulettes that were already set up. These retrieval roulettes contain topic-based sentences to translate and grammatical questions asking students to conjugate a verb. Without doubt, this is useful and important for students and supports retrieval of prior topics that may have been covered in previous terms.

Example of a topic-based sentence question
Example of a grammatical question

It was clear to me that the real strength of Carousel lies in the students’ ability to read through their answer and reflect on it in comparison to the teacher’s response. I therefore re-evaluated my thinking on the type of question that I had posed. The questions I had uploaded would fit in easily on other apps and websites, so it struck me that with Carousel I had the opportunity to do something that could not be done elsewhere. There are not many sites that give students the opportunity to respond with longer answers, or with answers that might not be quite the same as the teacher’s answer, but that were just as valid. For example, in MFL we are always looking to get our students to use conjunctions to help create more complex structures, so why not get students to consider how to link two phrases?

Example of a question requiring the joining of two phrases

You can see that for my question I have provided a variety of possible answers, but that does not mean that I have covered every eventuality. What it does mean is that I have given my students something to think about when they weigh up their response in comparison to mine. If it means that they have to check their notes or ask me a follow up question then I know that they are really engaging in the task and that they are revisiting prior learning.

If I reconsider my usual retrieval practice ideas then why not do something similar on Carousel? Getting students to list key vocabulary on a particular topic (or perhaps key link words) would be a very good bit of retrieval practice before writing an essay on a topic.

Example of a question involving listing of key vocabulary within a topic
Example of a question involving listing of key linked words within a topic

The advantage here is that students are able to see immediately where they are at with their learning and I have an instant idea on gaps in knowledge which allows me to know the next steps I need to take in my planning.

Furthermore, I can focus on essay writing in a more granular way before going on to get students to write a longer response.

Example question on essay-writing
Example of a longer response

Clearly, the response to the open-ended question will give rise to answers that students may well mark as correct, even if their writing is full of mistakes. The benefit though, is that students have delved into their knowledge to write an answer in a manner which is low-stakes, and where the focus is on the doing as opposed to the outcome.

At this stage, I have mainly used the questions that I have uploaded because I am keen to use the ability to pose more open-ended questions. Working on translation and developing vocabulary are obviously key to learning languages, and these types of questions (which can be found in the community section of the site) are very useful. I hope too that the MFL community will also see the benefit of the more open-ended question or questions on how to improve writing as a whole and will contribute these types of questions too, as I see them as an integral part of effective language learning

My students, at all key stages, have reacted very positively to the introduction of Carousel to lessons. They have, more than ever before, understood the need to re-engage with prior topics and the need to reflect on their own work. They enjoy being able to revisit past learning through the flashcards and then like the opportunity to quiz themselves. Carousel will certainly play an important role in my lessons going forward.

Carousel is a retrieval practice and online quizzing tool that helps students to embed knowledge in their long-term memory.