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The digital age of teaching: You don’t need to be a digital expert

College student using computerShaun Wilden, a freelance teacher trainer and materials writer for OUP, gives us an insight into the role of the teacher in the digital age, as well as a reminder that you don’t need to know everything!

Twenty-first century teaching is no longer about the four walls of the classroom. There was a time when a learner of English had to rely almost solely on what went on within those walls. A really motivated learner might have been able to listen to the BBC World Service, see a film in English and, if they could afford it, buy an English newspaper or book, but the teacher’s role in the students’ language learning was key – they were the fount of all knowledge, the model for the language, the ‘one true source’. The classroom provided the space for the once, perhaps twice weekly, forays into an English-speaking world.

But that was before the coming of the digital age. Now, thanks to the Internet and the advent of digital media, a shift is happening in language learning and it’s a time for teachers to be excited, to embrace their new roles, and to watch and help as learning English moves into a new era.

Any technophobes out there might be tempted to stop reading, but before you do, consider this. Teaching has always adapted to its circumstances methodologically and physically, moving from lecture to pair work and from translation to communication, for example. Likewise, we have always tried to make the best use of any materials that we could get our hands on – from slate to whiteboards, from hand-written postcards to authentic magazine articles, from radio recordings through to DVDs.

Why do we do this?  Because we realize our students have needs and interests that run beyond the classroom. If we can spark that interest, we spark motivation. A motivated student is a better learner. And the digital age has given us the greatest opportunity yet to motivate our learners so they will engage with English in a way that most interests them and best suits the way they learn.

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5 Apps Being Used in the Classroom Right Now

Close up of smartphone on paperIn this post, Sarah Fudin, a community relations coordinator for the University of Southern California’s online Masters Degree in Teaching program, shares 5 mobile apps that teachers are already using in the classroom to aid learning.

Apple’s catchy tagline — “There’s an app for that” — is proving to be true in today’s classroom. Educational apps that are well designed and highly interactive engage students and make learning more enjoyable. A quick online survey shows that there are hundreds of apps available for every educational level, from pre-Kindergarten to college.

Many schools are putting iPads into the hands of students in the classroom. Even in classrooms where only the teacher has an iPad, Apple’s Video Mirroring technology allows the screen image from an iPad to be shared with the class via a projection screen or HDTV.

Here are five extraordinarily useful Apple and Android apps that are being used in classrooms across the country right now:

1. byki
byki AppMillions have people have used the byki (or “Before You Know It”) system to learn a foreign language. Byki utilizes spaced interval repetition to help users build a strong language foundation by locking words and phrases into memory. It’s a powerful tool for students and teachers in foreign language, ESL and TESOL courses. Programs for more than 70 languages are available for the computer and online versions of byki, though the byki Mobile app for Apple and Android devices supports only English, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Portuguese.

2. World Wiki
World Wiki AppThis Apple app provides quick access to detailed information about more than 200 countries around the globe. According to Macworld, World Wiki uses data from the official CIA World Factbook. Country data includes maps, flags, native language, motto and national statistics, with more detailed information about a country’s government, economy and geography also available. World Wiki’s presentation and depth of information make it a useful tool for teachers and students of all educational levels, with particularly innovative applications in the ESL / TESOL teacher’s classroom, where bridging the cultural gap may sometimes be challenging.

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10 Commandments for motivating language learners: #5 Promote learner autonomy

Asian girl sitting on the floor readingContinuing the 10 Commandments for motivating language learners series, Tim Ward, a freelance teacher trainer in Bulgaria, takes a closer look at number five of the 10 Commandments: Promote learner autonomy.

Thanks for the replies to the last couple of blogs, all in response to comments on two of the Ten Commandments for motivation. This time round, I want to turn my attention to just one, but it’s one of the areas that’s received lots of attention in the last few years: Dornyei and Czizer’s version reads: Promote learner autonomy.

Now, in general terms everyone’s agreed that learner autonomy is a good thing but the specifics of how to encourage it are a bit harder to pin down, not least because there are so many different levels at which autonomy works. So it’s with a degree of trepidation that I start this blog.

Best to begin softly: what is learner autonomy?

Easy enough – a workable definition is that it’s the readiness and ability to take charge of one’s own learning inside and outside the classroom. In ascending order of difficulty, the next questions go why? and how? So, why is it a good thing that learners take care of their own learning? (Bear in mind, by the way, that these are all discussions we can and maybe should be having with our students.)

There is a whole raft of answers from the more to the less obvious. Students only spend part of their time and a fraction of their lives in the classroom with us, the teacher, so learning skills they can use outside and in later life is doubly valuable – a point the Common European Framework is very strong on making. More than that, autonomous students will probably learn with more enjoyment, do better in exams, set their own targets, be more fun to teach, and so on…

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How ESL and EFL classrooms differ

Filling in formsIn her first guest post for OUP, Kate Bell, a writer and researcher, talks us through some of the practical differences between ESL and EFL classrooms.

You may think that teaching English is teaching English, whether you’re doing it in a Thai village or a suburban California school. And you’d be right, sort of. Many of the same textbooks, lesson plans, and online resources serve in both cases. Many English teachers go from one type of teaching position to the other, and back again. But there are fundamental differences between ESL and EFL classrooms. Understanding them will make you a more effective teacher.

An ESL classroom is in a country where English is the dominant language. The students are immigrants or visitors. The class is usually of mixed nationalities, so students don’t share a native language or a common culture. Outside the classroom, students have a specific, practical need for English, and ample opportunity to use it. Students have extensive daily exposure to English-speaking culture, although their understanding may be limited by their language skills.

An EFL classroom is in a country where English is not the dominant language. Students share the same language and culture. The teacher may be the only native English speaker they have exposure to. Outside of the classroom students have very few opportunities to use English. For some, learning English may not have any obvious practical benefit.  Students have limited exposure to English-speaking culture, most often through a distorted lens like TV or music.

Based on these definitions, we can see that there are important differences in the student population. Effective lesson planning must take them into account.

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Using the Teacher’s Book (Part 2)

teacher-holding-bookFollowing on from her first post, Why use a Teacher’s book? (Part 1), Julietta Schoenmann, a language teacher and teacher trainer with over twenty years experience, continues to explain the many uses of a teacher’s book.

You might agree with me when I say that one of the greatest challenges we face in our classrooms is managing mixed abilities. I’ve never met anyone who has claimed to have a totally homogenous class – at least, if they have they’ve kept it secret as everyone else would be incredibly jealous! Your course book will have carefully selected topics and activities that appeal to the majority of learners but no course book can fully cater to the needs of an individual class.

So what should we do? We need to have plenty of activities ready for students who finish a task ahead of the others; also for those who need additional practice with particularly tricky structures or lexis, over and above what the course book provides. A good teacher’s book will include extra activities for both these groups of students so you don’t have to waste precious minutes raiding the resource book shelves or spend ages trawling the internet for an additional grammar practice exercise.

Open a New English File teacher’s book on any page at random and you’ll find several examples of ‘extra challenge’ or ‘extra support’– perfect for those fast finishers or those who are struggling with new concepts. Here are the kinds of things you can ask students to do:

Let SS listen again with the tapescript on p 123. Deal with any problematic vocabulary (extra support)

Let SS role play with other symptoms and say if they are really allergic to anything, etc (extra challenge)

Let SS practise the dialogue first in pairs, both with books open (extra support)

Get SS to role play the conversation between Mark and Allie in pairs using the tapescript on p 123. Let SS read their parts first and then try to act it from memory (extra challenge)

(all taken from New English File Pre-Intermediate Teacher’s Book pages 96/97)

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