Having taught us that you don’t need to be a digital expert to teach with digital, Shaun Wilden, a freelance teacher trainer and materials writer for OUP, discusses how embracing the digital age can help you and your students.
As teachers, our role needs to evolve from being the ‘fount’ and the ‘model’ to that of helper and guide. We need to link our classroom practice with the wider world, accept that the four walls are gone, and show students how to extend coursebook topics into the real world. At the same time, we should acknowledge that for students to attain their full language learning potential it is important to let them loose on their own. Let them find out what works best for them.
I am sure we all agree that no matter how good a teacher we are, learning doesn’t take place solely within one lesson; we’d be fooling ourselves if we finished a 60-minute vocabulary lesson thinking our students would remember every word. Research indicates that 80 percent of learning is lost within 24 hours of the initial learning and yet, no matter how often we try to convey to students that opening their notebooks a little each day will help, we often seem to be fighting a losing battle.
But that’s understandable. With busy lives, students can be forgiven for not always opening their notebooks to study, or for not having their notebooks with them when they do have a moment. That’s life.
However, this is another area where digital material can help. Publishers now provide support to students in different ways. With workbook materials on CD-ROMs or online, students can load the material on to their computers and do the exercises in a five-minute break instead of having to remember where they put their paper notebook. Even the student who says they are too busy to study is running out of excuses. Listening materials, for example, can now be put on to mp3 players and Smartphones so students can learn on the move. And, of course, there’s a myriad of mobile learning apps now available.
Trust me, it works. Ask my student who went from A2 to C2 in no time at all once he realized he could study while commuting. Our students learn in different ways, lead different kinds of lives and we need to ensure that, as teachers, we channel into that.
To do this, we need to accept the digital age and see how it can help us and our students. We wouldn’t try and teach a language point without doing our research, and the same approach needs to be taken with digital tools.
Successful language learners tend to be risk takers, willing to experiment with language. It’s quite an easy parallel to make that successful teachers need to be experimenting as well. To those teachers who say they do not use technology, do you have a mobile phone? Do you email? Have you ever Googled? The answer is invariably yes and therefore you do use technology, you have just become so used to it you don’t notice.
Think about the first time you used a video or DVD in class. You were probably apprehensive about it but a few weeks later you gave it no more thought other than popping it into the machine and cueing it at the right place. Technology is here to stay. It’s as true as the fact that you can’t learn for your students. But in the digital age, you can help them learn for themselves – you don’t need to be an expert in technology, you’re an expert in English and that’s what students will always need.
So, I say look beyond the four walls, grab hold of all the tools, try them out and embrace this new era of teaching. By doing so, you’ll help to create confident and able users of English.