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#IATEFL – Look out! It’s the future!

Villemard

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

David Pearce, a Digital Learning Manager at Oxford University Press, looks at the issues surrounding the implementation of digital technology in the classroom. David will be presenting on this topic at IATEFL 2015 on Sunday 12th April.

A charming image created in 1910, by the French artist Villemard, attempted to depict what a classroom would look like in the year 2000. To the right of the image stands a hand-cranked machine with a feeding chute at the top. A boy stands over the handle, cranking it round as the bewhiskered school master feeds books into the chute. Wires run from the machine to the ceiling of the classroom, leading eventually to headsets worn by the attentive pupils. Knowledge, ground out of the pages of the books and metamorphosed into some kind of energy, is transferred directly to their brains.

The scene says as much about the theory of knowledge at the time as it does about the imagined labour-saving transformations of technology. We are now less inclined to believe that learning is about the passive reception of knowledge. These days we think of knowledge as something actively constructed by the learner, and of knowledge as being only one part of learning, with skills like collaboration, communication and critical thinking forming as big a part, if not bigger, of what students need to learn. As for the technology portrayed, part of the charm of the image lies in how naïve the machinery seems to us, reflecting a time when the electrification of life was starting to become commonplace, it’s possibilities apparently boundless.

And yet Villemard was surprisingly accurate. A lot of the features of the 21st century classroom are as he depicted them. The classroom itself remains, there are still children seated at desks, and there is still a teacher presiding over events. And of course there are still lots and lots of books. We may not be grinding them into energy to beam straight into our students’ heads, but we are grinding their contents into data to go online, or into e-books, or onto interactive whiteboards. And perhaps we still hope that technology will somehow make the job of learning effortless – this is what the picture seems to say to me.

The centrepiece, however, is the machinery itself: for the time it is modern, bizarre, and a little bit fantastic. And isn’t this what a lot of us feel about the technology we’re expected to use with our own students? Although the technology depicted seems strange to us, is it any more bizarre than the actual technology we’ve ended up with? Just as Villemard was an artist working when electricity had become an everyday reality with boundless potential, we live at a time when the same thing is happening with digital technology. Making sense of its potential is not always straightforward.

My workshop – “Digital or Analogue: Making Choices About Technology in Lesson Planning” – is intended for those educators who want to bring modern technology into their classrooms, but who may be unsure about how or when to use it. There are lots of reasons why using technology might be difficult: a lack of expertise or confidence, inadequate equipment, poor internet connectivity – and sometimes simply not knowing where to start. In the workshop we will explore together how simple principles can be applied in our everyday teaching, and how small changes to our practice can build technology into what we do. Learning with technology may not be as effortless as Villemard suggested it might be, but teaching with it needn’t be a grind.


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Integrating video content in the EFL classroom with International Express – Part 2

Selexyz bookstoreFancy livening up your classroom with some ready-made video activities? This is the second of a series of four blog posts in which Keith Harding and Rachel Appleby share ideas for using the stunning new International Express video material.

Each unit of the course features a video directly related to the unit topic. Here, Rachel explores the clip from Pre-Intermediate Unit 10 – Selexyz bookstore, which focuses on using ‘will’ to talk about the future, Zero Conditional and 1st Conditional.

Before you watch

  1. Discussion in pairs

Before I play video in class, I find it useful to do plenty of lead-in activities to the topic. For example, you could start by giving students the following to discuss in pairs.

  1. Do you ever shop online? What do you buy?
  2. What are the benefits of shopping in real shops?
  3. Do you buy books or music online, or in shops?
  4. Do you think book and music shops will continue to exist in the future? Why? Why not?
  5. Describe your favourite bookshop. Explain why you like it.
  6. Check key vocabulary

Tell the students they are going to watch a video about a special bookshop in an historic building. Before watching the video, check they understand, and can pronounce, the following words. You’ll find the answers at the end of this blog post.

retailer, branch, archive, fiction, structure, design

  1. Number work

Focus on the following numbers from the video. You could dictate them, or put them on the board.

10%; 8%; 15; 13; 500; 1794*

First, check students know how to say them, and then ask them to guess what each number could refer to. You’ll find the answers at the end of this blog post.

* NB: This is a date, so it is pronounced “17-94”

While you watch

  1. More number work

Ask students to choose three of the numbers from above, and to listen, as they watch, for what they refer to. Tell them also to listen to compare their discussions from the beginning with what they hear.

  1. More vocabulary work

Do this exercise before watching the video again. Students work in groups of 3 or 4. Put the following words on the board, on cards (one set per group), or on a handout. Ask the students to try to remember what they referred to in the video. If they are not sure of the meaning of any words, they should check first in their group.

 

ancient

architecture

archive

atmosphere

branch

browse

ceiling

consumer

customer

design

experience

fiction

interior

non-fiction

relaxing

retailer

stained-glass window

structure

Give the students 5 minutes. You could give them dictionaries to check the meaning and pronunciation – in particular, word stress.

Next, play the video again. While they are watching, the students should:

  1. a) put the words in the order in which they hear them
  2. b) check what each refers to

At the end, ask them to compare their ideas in their groups, and discuss any they found difficult. Which words are usually associated with a bookshop or with a church?

After you watch

  1. A special shop, building or place

Ask students to think about a favourite or special shop, building, or place they would recommend to the others. Give them time to take notes and plan what they will say. Encourage them to use words from exercise 5 above. They should include:

  1. a) why they like it
  2. b) why it’s special
  3. c) where it is
  4. d) the best time to go

When they are ready, ask them to stand up and mingle with the other students. They should take it in turns to tell each other about their special place for approximately one minute. They should speak to at least three different people.

Ask them to sit down with a different partner, and compare what they heard. Which place would they most like to visit? Why? Are any of the places more interesting than their own? Why?

  1. Guess the word

At the start of the next lesson, give each student one word, on a card, from exercise 5 above. They should stand up and mingle, and explain or define their word to someone else, to elicit the word. In turn, they should listen to their partner’s explanation, and try to guess their word. They should then swap words, and mingle to find another partner.

I hope you enjoy trying out some of these activities in class! You can also find more on the video worksheet that comes with the International Express Teacher’s Resource Book DVD. All the worksheets are available for free here.

In the next part of this series, Keith Harding explores the Mercedes-Benz Museum, from the Intermediate level. Look out for it next week.

Answers

Ex. 2

retailer (n) /ˈriːteɪlə(r) / – a person or business that sells goods to the public

branch (n) / brɑːntʃ / – a local office or shop/store belonging to a large company or organization

archive (n) / ˈɑːkaɪv / – a place where historical documents are stored

fiction (n) / ˈfɪkʃn / – a type of literature that describes imaginary people and events, not real ones

structure (n) / ˈstrʌktʃə(r) / – a thing that is made of several parts, especially a building

design (n) / dɪˈzaɪn/- the general arrangement of the different parts of something that is made, e.g. of a building

Ex. 3

10% – the percentage of online shopping out of all consumer spending

8% – the increase in one year of internet sales

15 – the number of Selexyz shops in Holland

13 – the century when the church was built

500 – the number of years it was a church

1794 – the date when Napoleon took the church

Ex. 5

Numbers refer to the order each word appears in the video

ancient 10

archive 6

architecture 17

atmosphere 8

branch 4

browse 14

ceiling 11

consumer 1

customer 2

design 13

experience 18

fiction 15

interior 12

non-fiction 16

relaxing 7

retailer 3

stained-glass window 9


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Technology Enhanced Language Learning 

DeathtoStock_Medium10Aisha Walker, Associate Professor of Technology, Education and Learning at Leeds University, introduces her webinar, Technology Enhanced Language Learning, hosted by Oxford University Press on February 25th and 26th.

As I lead an MA programme in TESOL and ICT I frequently see draft student assignments that open with a sentence such as: “Technology is increasingly important in the world today.” The student may then go on to say that today’s learners are ‘digital natives’, that technology motivates and engages students and that all teachers should be using more of it.  Luckily, because we offer students the opportunity to get feedback on drafts before submission, I can catch these broad statements and ask students to be more measured and more critical in their approaches to concepts such as the ‘digital native’ or ‘technology for learner motivation’.

So why should language teachers make use of digital technologies?  I see two main reasons although there may be other pressures such as institutional policies (if a school has spent a lot of money on a new online learning environment, for example, they will want teachers to use it).  The first reason is that digital media are part of the way that we use language in the real world.  Much of our day-to-day communication is mediated by digital tools including email, SMS, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, What’s App and much more.  These tools are normal sites of language use and it is as important to explore these with learners as it is to explore older media such as newspapers and radio (now often online, of course).

The second reason is that technology can provide solutions to some of the problems that we encounter as language teachers.  For example, in the context of a single-language classroom there is little reason for students to communicate in the target language except that the teacher tells them to.  Digital tools may enable them to communicate with an audience outside the classroom, for example by posting blogs or videos either to a general audience or in partnership with a class of learners elsewhere.  Whilst I do not believe that technology is intrinsically motivating, novelty and variety do engage and motivate students.  Technology offers plenty of novel possibilities from new ways of presenting material to new games for language practice.

In summary, digital tools and media are part of everyday language use and should, therefore, be part of language learning.  In addition, the range of possibilities offered by digital tools mean that there are many ways in which technology can enhance language learning. But… ‘learners are digital natives’? It’s more complicated than that!

To explore how using everyday digital tools and media can be part of language learning, join us for Aisha’s upcoming webinar Technology Enhanced Language Learning.


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Why is writing so hard?

Solutions-Writing-Challenge-logo-WEBOlha Madylus, an experienced teacher and teacher trainer gives her thoughts on the first of our Solutions Speaking Challenges: ‘My students keep making the same mistakes’.

As teachers we may despair of marking our students’ written work and writing that ‘C+ must try harder’ at the bottom of their compositions, but let’s spare a thought for those poor students, who may after all be trying as hard as they can.

First let’s admit it – writing is hard!

They are on their own

Students face a number of challenges producing correct and appropriate texts. For a start it is usually a solitary task, often given as homework and therefore unsupported. In class students can find support from each other doing pair or group work and also from their teacher. Writing a composition for homework, they often don’t know how to help themselves.

*Consider allowing students to write compositions collaboratively in class, especially when writing long texts is new to them.

Topics can be uninspiring 

How easy would we find it to write something interesting (let alone grammatically correct) on the topics given. While practising other skills it is possible to be genuinely communicative and even have fun, but this is rare in writing practice.

*Consider allowing students to choose their own topics to write about; doing creative writing; tapping into the interests of the students.

Too much feedback is counter-productive

When it comes to motivation, students often feel a great sense of failure when they have writing returned to them covered in red ink, with each mistake highlighted. It is not easy to know how to pick yourself up and start again. If our students are teenagers this is particularly difficult. They may put on a show of not caring, but teens find criticism very painful and may feel great frustration in not understanding exactly how they can redress their weaknesses in writing.

*Consider being selective about what you mark; marking positively; reducing the word count of written tasks so that students can focus on quality rather than quantity.

Writing is a difficult skill even in our mother tongue – consider how often we have to write continuous impressive prose in our lives, especially when texting and emails encourage short abbreviated text.

There are many skills involved in producing good compositions. We should not expect students to be able to write well without breaking down the skills and practising them separately. Footballers practise shooting at the goal, dribbling, tactics etc. They are not simply asked to turn up at the match and play the game!

These are just some of the skills needed to produce good writing:

  • Correct grammar
  • Range of vocabulary
  • Accurate punctuation
  • Correct layout
  • Correct register
  • Accurate spelling
  • Good range of sentence structures
  • Linking
  • Imagination
  • Planning
  • Drafting
  • Proof reading
  • Communication

I am sure you can think of more!

Rather than expecting students to put all these skills together, we must consider how to break them up, practise them effectively and gradually combine them – on the journey of developing writing.

Students sometimes get register confused when writing. This activity helps them to recognise style/register.

Hand out this list to students, or pop in onto a PowerPoint slide and display each line one at a time:

Once upon a time…
I regret to inform you…
All my love, Boris xxx
She grabbed the gun and pointed it at Dillon.
 Add two tablespoons of sugar and stir…

Ask students to consider, discuss and then suggest where they think these are taken from and why. For example, the first one must be from a children’s story, because it’s formulaic.

To expand the activity, ask students to work in pairs and add one more line either before or after using the same register. Check together if they sound correct.

This type of task (which doesn’t have to take a lot of class time) helps focus students on the conventions of different styles of writing. It can be used if you notice that students are using incorrect register in their writing assignments to raise awareness.


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Teachers tell us the top writing challenges they face in the classroom

Solutions-Writing-Challenge-logo-WEBIn January this year we asked teachers from around the world to vote for their top writing challenge. Over 450 teachers took part and the results are now in!

With 23% of the vote, the most popular writing challenge was: ‘My students don’t want to write’. Many teachers felt that demotivation lay at the heart of this challenge, with students unable to see the importance of writing beyond the classroom.

Martina in the Czech Republic said: “Lack of motivation is hard to break. (Students) say they don’t need to write in their lives and what they need is to be able to speak English. They even say they’ve forgotten how to write by hand, and they don’t have computers in class.”

Maja in Croatia faces a similar challenge: “My students find writing boring because it usually takes longer than other tasks and they do not feel it is important, since they are not used to writing in their own language. They feel it is something they have to do for school and not something they would do in everyday life.”

Close behind with 21% of the vote, the second most popular challenge was: ‘My students keep making the same mistakes’. Jolinda in the Netherlands emphasised how frustrating this can be: “It seems to me that students do not refer to corrected work which makes me feel like my work is more or less superfluous. The students do not learn from their mistakes.”

Lenka in the Czech Republic was also able to relate to this challenge: “I feel that the more meticulously I correct my students´ writing, the more mistakes they make, even if I write examples at the bottom of the paper.”

The final challenge that made it into our top 3 with 14% of the vote was: ‘It’s hard to find enough class time for writing’.  Silvina in Argentina explains: “It’s difficult to dedicate enough time to written activities with only two lessons a week and groups of thirty students. We usually do as much as we can, but I know that the weaker students don’t get enough guidance or scaffolding from me, and sometimes peers are unwilling to help them.”

Hanna in Ukraine faces similar limitations: “The hours given for English classes are minimal, so writing is usually given as a home task, so checking it is rather complicated. I usually use some extra hours at home and use additional tools like Skype, email or blogs to check this writing.”

Join us as we dedicate a month to each of these three challenges. Through a series of webinars and blog posts, Oxford’s top teacher trainers will cover a range of strategies and ideas which you can use in the classroom straight away.

Challenge Webinar (session 1) Webinar (session 2) Teacher trainer
My students keep making the same mistakes 24th Feb 26th Feb Olha Madylus
My students don’t want to write 19th Mar 20th Mar Gareth Davies
It’s hard to find enough class time for writing 21st Apr 23rd Apr TBC
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