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5 Apps Every Teacher Should Have in 2014

Mobile apps

Image courtesy of Jason Howie via Flickr

Sarah Fudin, Community Outreach Coordinator for USC Rossier Online, shares 5 mobile apps that every teacher should be using in 2014.

2014 brings a new year and many changes in education nationwide. As innovative technology is developed, new and updated apps are making it easier for teachers and students to integrate technology in the classroom.

Here’s a list of the five apps every teacher should have in 2014:

1. Evernote

Evernote app iconPlatform: Android, iOS

Evernote is a great platform for organizing notes, pictures, and voice memos. For teachers, it can be a great tool for collecting media. Evernote allows a person to take a photo and add a note. All information is stored in easy-to-organize tabs for simple retrieval. How can this app be used? A math teacher might catch sight of some great buildings downtown to use as examples in his geometry class, and he can quickly capture and remember it for use later in the classroom. Equally, students can use this app to collect and store data for projects or homework.

2. Socrative

Socrative app iconPlatform: Android, iOS

Socrative brings a spark to class assessment. It takes three minutes for teachers to set up and 30 seconds for students to download on their phones. With this app, teachers have a variety of assessment tools they can use to gauge student process. Questions are shown on a screen, and students use their phones to answer the questions. Results are automatically tallied and stored for the teacher to review. One feature, Space Race, allows students to work in teams to answer questions. For each correct answer, their team’s rocket moves up on the screen; the first team to get their rocket to the top wins.

3. Shakespeare in Bits: Hamlet

Shakespeare in Bits: Hamlet app iconPlatform: iOS

Shakespeare in Bits is great for English teachers. With narration and animation that accompanies the text, this app allows students to read books with greater comprehension. The app also contains an analysis section complete with a summary, discussion of themes used and descriptions of various images.

4. School Fuel

School Fuel app iconPlatform: Requires iOS 4.3 or later and Android 3.0 and up.

School Fuel puts students, teachers and administrators within a school on the same page. This app serves as an interface that organizes all the apps that teachers are using while allowing students to access them at any time. Instead of teachers having students download apps from a variety of sources, students can simply use this app to view and access all the apps the school is using. Teachers can also look to see what other teachers are using and add apps to the database.

5. Springpad

Springpad app iconPlatform: Requires iOS 4.3 or later and Android 2.2 and up.

Springpad takes organization a step further; this app not only gives you access to everything you save on all your devices, but it also recommends different places and tasks to you based on what you already have. For example, if you have a list of school supplies you are working on, Springpad will give you local options of where you can buy those supplies. Every note, list or project can also be shared with other teachers and classmates to make collaboration easier.

For many teachers, downloading and learning how to use new apps can be a daunting task. This list can help you discover new tools to enhance your classroom in a more efficient way to jumpstart a productive new year!


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Webinar: Apps, e-books and digital resources for Business English

Pete Sharma shares some thoughts on mobile learning in Business English from his webinar on 28th February entitled “Apps, e-books and digital resources for Business English”. You can watch a recording here.

I’m teaching two groups of students this month. They are mostly young adults, from China. As I gaze round the classroom looking at my students, I’m struck by how many of them have a smartphone. Some have tablets. They seem to have these devices in their hands all the time – sometimes checking new words, sometimes using the Internet to look something up. Sometimes, they are ‘on-task’, but more often than not, they are multi-tasking, updating their Facebook page or text-chatting with a friend – and certainly not in English!

Mobile phones have been described as a ‘disruptive technology’. If a phone rings in the classroom, the lesson is disrupted. One teacher in Brazil told me recently that mobile phones were banned by law from being used his school, in his state. Last year, I visited a college in India where the following sign is displayed in each classroom: “No mobiles!” Yet it is clear that such devices have benefits, and certainly for Business English students who often travel a lot, usually with a smartphone, tablet or laptop… or even all three!

What then are the benefits of mobile learning for Business English students? What are the drawbacks?

In my webinar, I’ll first focus on apps. There are apps for just about everything, and we’ll look at some that are especially helpful for Business English students. These include apps which are good for vocabulary development, as well as apps for developing language skills such as speaking, listening and reading.

Then, we’ll look at how using e-books can add new dimensions to language learning. I’ll be demonstrating this with a popular title from the Express Series, English for Presentations.

Finally, I’ll be focussing on some of the many technologies and digital resources which can be used by Business English teachers, including VLEs (Virtual Learning Environments).

I’ll argue that, providing we start from the ‘pedagogy’, there’s plenty that technology can offer to enhance our teaching. I hope you can join me.

Watch a recording of Pete’s webinar here.


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White paper on Tablets and Apps in School

White paper: Tablets and Apps in SchoolThere is a growing interest in using tablets in the English language classroom. Teachers are interested in them for a number of reasons. Firstly, is their potential for the higher student engagement that comes with using a device that is interactive, intuitive and with scope to use a multitude of tools for personalised learning. Teachers also appreciate the benefit of having some course components that give instant feedback to students thus saving marking time. Another compelling reason is the ease with which teachers can create lessons for classes that are more targeted to individual needs.

If you are considering using tablets with your students, our new white paper Tablets and Apps in Your School is a great place to start your journey. It supports and guides decision-makers with the who, what, why, where, and how of implementing tablets.

Download your free copy of the white paper now.

The authors, Diana Bannister, MBE and Shaun Wilden are familiar to many in the ELT world. Bannister works directly within the education sector, helping schools implement and develop learning technologies, and is working on two long-term projects focusing on the use of tablets in European schools. Wilden trains teachers in the use of new technologies, as well as writing blogs, conducting webinars, moderating the #eltchat group, and delivering talks worldwide.

Bannister and Wilden understand that, for a school leader, it’s not just a question of whether the technology will benefit the students or if the teachers want it; they also need a vision for how they will be implemented – from introduction to training to maintenance and on-going cost. In the paper, Bannister and Wilden look at the questions that leaders need to ask themselves before embarking on a tablet programme, including, “Is my school ready for tablets?” and “Which tablets do we buy?”. Importantly, they also address issues of e-safety and parental involvement.

As well as parents, teachers need to be on board and open to the idea of adjusting their classrooms for tablet use. Bannister and Wilden suggest steps to take to ensure teachers are comfortable with the new technology and outline the benefits of starting small.

Perhaps the key issue for teachers is the use of tablets and apps for good teaching and learning. How can they help students learn English better? In the final section of this paper, Bannister and Wilden address this issue by setting out some guidelines for best practice. Most importantly, they outline the key questions teachers need to ask about tablets to ensure their use fulfils learning outcomes, and give a rationale for how specific apps can fulfil specific aims.

One of the most convincing arguments for using tablets in the classroom is the possibility for students to then take that learning outside of the classroom – they can use the digital materials they are familiar with from class on their own devices at home.

Bannister and Wilden conclude that tablet use in education is moving into the mainstream, but that we are still in an evolutionary stage. They recommend that school leaders do their homework and carefully consider not just the technology, but the impact implementation will have overall.

To find out more, download the white paper now.


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9 Questions for iPad Party Poopers

Potato Pals tablet in schoolPatrick Jackson, author of the popular Potato Pals series, questions the assumption that there’s an app for everything – especially where young learners are concerned.

My son Kai went for a sleepover with his best friend Aedan last night. As we were packing his bag, he asked if he could take his iPad with him. We said he couldn’t. “You’re going to play with Aedan. You don’t need an iPad”. Shock! Horror! As far as Kai is concerned, we are totally wrong about this and have done him a great injustice. He reckons that it’s just another toy and playing with an iPad with Aedan is just like playing with Lego or running around in the garden. I think not. I even rang Aedan’s mum and asked if Aedan was going to be using his iPad. I was delighted to hear that he had already been banned for a week for some unspeakable and unnamed crime earlier in the day. I didn’t ask what. I tell you – digital parenting in suburban Dublin is a mine field!

Thank goodness technology has not yet managed to replace most of what happens in old-style play. Where it replicates it we have a poor cousin to the real thing. There are apps that you ‘run’ on and apps that you ‘paint’ on but unless you are stuck on a long car journey, neither will be as fun or valuable as the real thing.

There are well-understood reasons why kids need to play ‘naturally’. They need to socialise. They need to move. They need to be creative. They need fresh air. They need to communicate in the wonderful way that kids do when they are playing and they need to get dirty. They need to be dancing to their own wild inner drums and until the unlikely day that technology catches up with the ‘real’ world, Kai’s iPad is staying on my desk (where I can play with it) for most of the day and particularly when his friends are around.

Apps are all around though and aren’t going anywhere soon. Parents, teachers and educational administrators are dealing with these issues all over the world. In our home, we deal with it with a sophisticated and continually negotiated system of time limits, rewards, checks and balances. We hardly even understand the system ourselves.

To make it more confusing, we distinguish between educational apps and those that we consider to be a pretty good waste of time or ‘just fun’. There are many that are virtually impossible to distinguish. We are totally aware that we could be wrong about many of the calls we make. We may indeed be denying our son a future in a world where a key skill will be catapulting different types of birds at distant pigs. Anyway, our current rules allow Kai a 30-minute iPad session in the morning before school during which he is allowed to do creative or educational things. Then he gets 30 minutes of free iPad time after his homework when he can do whatever he wants. The only things we forbid completely are games that show graphic violence. Incredibly, that is not the case for all of his classmates.

For language educators, apps are a hugely valuable resource. They will increasingly become part of how languages are learned. We are now just at the beginning of the mobile age in ELT and, for better or worse, it’s only going to become a larger part of what we do. Being able to sort out the digital chaff from the grain is going to be a key skill for the language educator. Knowing when to say “No. We can do this activity better in the real world” will be important.

The danger is that educational systems will err by replacing real world activities with cheaper, cleaner, more addictive tech alternatives. The irony is that in many cases in the ‘developed’ world, giving a classroom of children more time on tablets will save the system the time, money and the trouble of organising and cleaning up after real play while creating the illusion that this is preparing them better for the 21st Century.

We need to be able to recognise when an app can do the job better and in a more compelling way, and when it can’t. Some apps definitely enrich and support learning in a valid way. Some are really just addictive eye-candy or one-offs without any real lasting depth.

So what questions should we be asking when we look at an app? What should app authors and developers be aiming for as they work on the latest educational apps? What should teachers and administrators be asking as they make these important decisions?

I’ve found myself asking a few questions while working on an app for young learners that’s just arrived at the big party going on over on the App Store.

Does this app allow students to interact with the target language in a way that would be difficult or impossible to replicate in traditional ways?

Does the app offer students opportunities to communicate with friends and family beyond the classroom using the target language; opportunities that would not exist otherwise?

Can the app deliver authentic language in a more efficient way than by traditional methods?

Can students use this app to create personalised learning that puts them at the centre of the target language and helps them to tell the story of their own lives?

Is the app going to support home study and take-home sharing, building a bridge between the classroom and the home?

Will this app develop student autonomy; helping them to take responsibility for their own learning?

Does this app deliver existing materials in a more efficient or more compelling way and does it supplement and enrich those materials?

Is the target language delivered through the app in an integrated and linked way?

Does the app use a good variety of skills and engage those skills meaningfully?

It’s great fun at the app party now but it’s wrong to believe there’s an app for everything. As parents and educators we need to be able to think clearly; know when to be party poopers and know when to jump in and join the fun.

Patrick Jackson is an ELT author and teacher. He is author of the popular Potato Pals series, which has just been released as an app for iPad. You can download one story for free from the Apple App Store, with the option to purchase 6 more stories from within the app.


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How tablet devices can help with mixed ability classes

Indian woman a tablet PCShaun Wilden, a freelance teacher trainer and materials writer for OUP, considers how tablets and apps can help you encourage the less confident students in your class.

As a teacher trainer, I’ve often been asked how to deal with mixed ability classes. The asking teacher is generally of the opinion that mixed ability is something unusual. To me, it’s always seemed the norm, perhaps best summed up by this near twenty-year old quote.

We do not teach a group but (up to) thirty separate people. Because of this the problem of mixed abilities in the same room seems absolutely natural, and the idea of teaching a unitary lesson – that seems odd.”
Rinvolucri 1986, quoted in Podromou: Mixed Ability Classes

Mixed ability classes bring with them a whole manner of challenges for teachers to overcome. Students who perceive themselves as weak are often the ones that go unnoticed, the ones that are too shy to ask, the ones that don’t ask for the listening exercise to be played again and the ones who feel the pace of the lesson is too fast for them. Of course, should a teacher try and slow it down then those who are more confident complain the pace is too slow. Teachers have always been creative in finding ways to overcome the mixed ability issue. Be it through adjustment of course materials by subtle adaptations and grading or imaginative regroupings during exercises.

If, like me, you spend a large amount of your time reading about and using tablets in education, you’re bound to have run across the idea that tablets are the saviour to all things mixed ability. This, of course, is not true. However, perhaps tablets do offer some genuine alternatives for a teacher and their class. While we’re still a long way from most schools having class sets of devices, over the last couple of years we have seen a slow move towards tablet-based course materials. While some view this negatively, there are immediate advantages for the mixed ability class. Take for example, a listening lesson. Typically, such a lesson is more akin to a listening test.

The teacher establishes context, does a variety of pre-listening exercises and then presses play. Playing a few times but generally working with the class as a whole. Here’s where the mixed ability student falls behind: not getting all the answers and not asking for it to be played again. A tablet-based coursebook and set of headphones are a step towards overcoming this. Since every student has a copy of the listening, control can be handed over to them and they can listen as much as they like (and no one will know how much they needed to listen).

In this example from English File Pre-Intermediate you can see how the student is able to control the listening themselves

In this example from English File Pre-Intermediate you can see how the student is able to control the listening themselves.

Staying on the topic of listening, adding audio to reading texts is another way to help some students. In a class you’ll have students who enjoy reading, some who enjoy listening and some who have difficulty with one or both. A tablet-based coursebook gives them the chance to do both, giving the students a choice they wouldn’t necessarily have. Having the choice makes such a task more amenable to a mixed ability class.

In this example from Solutions Pre-Intermediate, you can see how a student is able to listen and read.

In this example from Solutions Pre-Intermediate, you can see how a student is able to listen and read at the same time.

A tablet-based coursebook also gives every student a voice. Not literally, of course, but a voice when it comes to working with, for example, pronunciation. As a digital book can do more than simply have the printed word, the students at appropriate times can record themselves and listen to their own pronunciation when compared to a model. In a large class, it is difficult for a teacher to be able to hear and react to everyone. Recording also builds the student’s confidence as it acts as rehearsal time, so if they are then asked to say something in front of the class they feel more able to speak.

As you can see in this example, from English File pre-Intermediate, a student is able to record and play back their pronunciation.

As you can see in this example from English File Pre-Intermediate, a student is able to record and play back their pronunciation.

All these tools allow for self-pacing. The ability to work at one’s own pace is a key element of differentiated learning. However to be able to measure and then tailor learning, the teacher needs to be able to get feedback on how a student is doing. A tablet combined with cloud storage can add a digital equivalent to material adaptation; for example, a teacher can use a word processor to create individualised questions for a reading comprehension. Saving a copy of the questions for each student to access them, do the text and re-save via a cloud link on their tablet.

There are a number of apps that can be used on a tablet to achieve this. For example, Socrative, a student response system, is an app that allows a teacher to create exercises, quizzes and games that they can then get each student to do on their device. As they do it, Socrative gives feedback on each student and how they are doing. It provides the digital equivalent of ‘Do you understand?’. However, unlike when asking the question to the whole class, feedback is telling you exactly how each student is doing. Or to put it another way, the shy struggling student is not put on the spot in front of everyone. In a similar vein, an app such as Nearpod allows a teacher to create presentations that cater for a mixed ability classroom, creating lessons that include listening, video and presentations. The presentation is sent to the students’ device and while they are working the teacher can get instant feedback on how the student is doing.

Once a teacher has this feedback, they know who needs what help and where. They perhaps then can use a tablet’s screen recording ability to produce personalised instruction.

By this point you might be thinking that using the tablet in this way is turning the classroom from a place of communication into one where the students sit silently staring at tablet screens. However, that is assuming I am advocating these things are done for the whole lesson, which is not the case. In the listening, the individualised listening is a small portion of a larger lesson. With perhaps the pre- and post-listening tasks taking place as they usually would. Using the student response app is only done selectively, perhaps taking up only a few minutes of lesson time. Furthermore, such assumptions overlook a third way tablets can help address mixed ability: project work.

Project-based learning (PBL) is coming back into fashion as a result of what a tablet and its apps can do.

In most books on the subject of projects you’ll find reference to mixed ability:

…they allow learners with different levels of competence to co-operate on an equal basis in the completion of the tasks the project requires. This goes some way to solving the problems of mixed-ability classes.”
Projects with young learners: Phillips, Burwood and Dunford, p7.

Project work leads to personalisation – another factor known to help confidence in mixed ability classes. All tablets can record sound, take pictures, and record video, giving the students tools that were previously difficult to get either in or out of the classroom. Collaborative projects involving things such as podcasting, film making, and digital stories need more than language skills to be successful. They involve good direction, a steady hand with the camera and an eye for design, so those that lack confidence in language can gain it by bringing those skills to the project.

An article in the Times educational supplement lists three categories of differentiation to help deal with mixed ability:

  • differentiation by task, which involves setting different tasks for pupils of different abilities
  • differentiation by support, which means giving more help to certain pupils within the group
  • differentiation by outcome, which involves setting open-ended tasks and allowing pupil response at different levels.

While teachers have been finding ways to do these things in the language classroom for years, using tablets can perhaps do this to levels previously never considered. Used effectively, and at the right moments in a lesson, they can help overcome what many teachers see as the difficulty of teaching mixed ability students.

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