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Going Mobile: Choices and Challenges

teenagers-tablets-learningNicky Hockly is Director of Pedagogy of The Consultants-E. She is the author of several prize-winning methodology books about technology in EFL, and her most recent book is Focus on Learning Technologies (OUP, 2016). Today, she joins us to preview her webinar ‘Going Mobile: Choices and Challenges’, on March 15 and 16.

Using Mobile Devices with Students Effectively in the Classroom

Do you already use mobile devices with your students in the classroom? If not, would you like to? Perhaps your students use their devices regularly during your classes, or perhaps you’re just starting out – either way, there are several key things to keep in mind to make sure that things go smoothly.

Pedagogical considerations

First off, ask yourself why you’d like students to use mobile devices in your class. Answers might include: it adds variety to my class, in motivates my students, it enables us to do activities we couldn’t otherwise do in class, it supports their learning. It’s important to have a clear reason for mobile based tasks, and that these enhance the learning experience. You want to avoid using technology just for technology’s sake. Good, meaningful task design is key here, with mobile based activities supporting your syllabus and learning aims. You’ll find some examples of mobile based classroom activities on my blog here and here.

Good, meaningful task design is key… with mobile based activities supporting your syllabus and learning aims.

Logistical considerations

Of course, if you’d like your students to use mobile devices in your classroom, they will need access to devices! There are a couple of options. Mobile devices are becoming increasingly ubiquitous, and whatever your teaching context, your students are likely to have a mobile phone. This may be a smart phone, or it may be a simpler ‘feature’ phone (e.g. with photo and audio capabilities). Your tasks will need to be designed around the devices your students have. For example, if your students have feature phones, you can design tasks in which they need to take photos (e.g. of examples of English that they find in signs/restaurant menus/billboards outside of the classroom), or audio recordings (e.g. of spoken pair work, interviews, etc.). Students using their own devices is known as BYOD (bring your own device). You can find one of my articles about BYOD for the language classroom, with some activity suggestions, here.

But perhaps you teach younger learners, who don’t have their own mobile phones. In this case, some schools invest in a ‘class set’ of devices – that is, a set of 10 or 15 tablets, which can be stored in the school. Teachers then book out the class set for their students to use in pairs during class. The class set option is also effective if you are concerned about some of your students having devices, and some not, or about some students having the latest most expensive devices and others not. Finally, there is a ‘hybrid’ option. Here students can choose whether to use their own devices, or one of the school’s class set devices.

Technical considerations

These include having a decent Wi-Fi connection for your students in your school/classroom, especially if you want them to do activities or use an app that requires an Internet connection. Also, if you’d like your students to use a specific app for an activity, and you are using a BYOD approach, you will need to ensure that your chosen app is ‘cross platform’ – that is, no matter what sort of operating system (OS) your students have (Apple, Android, Windows…), they can all use the same app. If the app is not available for all OS, then you need to recommend similar apps for each OS, so that students can carry out the task no matter what device they have.

Classroom considerations

Teacher are often concerned about classroom management with mobile devices. For example, how to ensure that students don’t get distracted by their mobile devices, and start messaging their friends, or checking Facebook, instead of doing the task you have set? Setting engaging tasks with a short time frame, and ensuring that students need to actually produce something with their devices, can help mitigate this. Another concern that teachers have, especially with learners under the age of 18, is the inappropriate use of devices. For example, teachers worry about cyber-bullying, or students accessing inappropriate content in class, or taking unsolicited photos of classmates or the teacher and publishing these online. These are legitimate concerns. If your school intends to use mobile devices with learners under 18, it’s important that a robust digital policy is put in place beforehand. Parental permission needs to be sought for the use of students’ own devices, and many schools include an acceptable use policy (AUP) as part of their schoolwide digital policy. The good news is that you don’t need to create your AUP from scratch. There are plenty of excellent examples available online that you can adapt – simply search for ‘acceptable use policy’.

… set engaging tasks with a short timeframe, and ensure students need to actually produce something…

These are just some of the areas that teachers need to keep in mind when using mobile devices with their learners. Come along to my webinar ‘Going Mobile: Choices and Challenges’ on the 15th or 16th of March, where we will discuss these and other issues in more depth. We’ll also look at some more activities that you can do with mobile devices in class!


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Teaching English with e-books from Oxford Learner’s Bookshelf (Part 2)

Teaching English with e-books from Oxford Learner’s BookshelfShaun Wilden, a freelance teacher trainer and expert in teaching with tablets, shares his advice for teachers on making the most of the interactivity of digital coursebooks from Oxford Learner’s Bookshelf

Part 2 – How interactivity in e-books supports independent learning, pair work and whole class learning

Welcome back. How did your first lesson go?  Did the students get to grips with their new digital coursebooks?  Are you finding the right balance of use and non-use? I trust that by now the routine of using a different form of book is kicking in and it’s beginning to feel a little bit more normal. You’ve also realised that the digital aspects of your book can augment your usual teaching practice.

With that in mind let’s look at a lesson. We’ll use the e-book version of Headway Beginner, but you can apply the ideas to any coursebook you are using. If you’re not using e-books at the moment, and you’d like to try out the ideas in this post, just download the app for iPad or Android tablets, or go to www.oxfordlearnersbookshelf.com and try the free samples.

Let’s jump into the book and look at page 36, which is a vocabulary and pronunciation lesson based on the topic of languages and nationalities. In doing this lesson you are focusing the students on developing their knowledge of how to refer to different nationalities and language in English. By the end of the lesson, the students will have been introduced to a lexical set of nationalities and languages and had the opportunity to practice the pronunciation of each.  The lesson also revises question forms which appeared earlier in the unit.

Here’s a quick question for you, how many ways are there of getting to page 36? One would be to swipe through the pages (albeit that would take some time). Before you read on, stop and as I said in part one, have a play.

Answer alert! You can use the tool bar on the left of the page, and the page thumbnails and numbers at the bottom. Add swipe, bookmarks, and search and there is a navigation method to suit pretty much everyone.

Oxford Learners' Bookshelf navigation

Getting started with my lesson, I project my iPad onto a bigger screen and pinch zoom the photos so that they fill the screen and remove the text.  I don’t want them distracted by the text at the moment.  Getting the students to look at the picture, I elicit which country they think it is (they did countries in a previous lesson so this is revision). Using the pen tool, I can write some of their answers on the page as in the picture below.

OLB_write_page

Once the students have the idea, I ask them to work in pairs and with one of their tablets look at the photos and write which country they think it is.  We then get answers by again looking at my projected tablet.  As the students are looking up I use the first picture to move from country to nationality leading into exercise 1, in which students have to match the countries and nationality.  To complete this exercise students can use the pen tool.

Whether the course book is paper or digital it is important for the teacher to mix up how the students are working.  This helps meet the differing learning needs of the students.  Since we began with the students working as a class, heads-up with me, I ask them to do exercise 1 working on their own tablet. However since I don’t want it be a test-like atmosphere I encourage the students to support each other. I think this is important, as I want the students to learn to be independent and not always rely on their teacher for answers.  If you remember from the first post I like my students working in islands. I think this helps them work with each other. In this lesson, since the answers are in an audio script, the students don’t need me to formally check the answers.  I can promote learner independence while at the same time having the space to help those students who need it, by getting them to play the audio on their tablet.

However, there is a danger when encouraging them to work like this that students might take a long time to complete the exercise. As I don’t want them to take forever I change the projection on my tablet from the coursebook to a traffic light timer (for example Stop go or Traffic Light). The students then know that while the light is green they can work on the task, as the time expires the light will change to red signaling the end of the task. Being freed up like this I find I can give students more individual attention.

stop_go

Since one of my favourite classroom techniques is drilling, once we’re all ready students put their tablets aside and we do some choral drilling.  To add a fun element to this, I open the ‘too noisy’ app (iOS and Android).  This is an app often used to show a class that it’s making too much noise. However since I want the students to be confident when they drill I turn this on the head and get them to make as much noise as possible so that the app goes off the scale.

too_noisy

Digital coursebooks have the ability for students to record themselves so rather than having to put individual students on the spot, once I am satisfied with the group drilling, it’s back to the ‘listen and repeat’ part of exercise 1 on page 36.

Here’s another quick question for you. There are two ways the students can record themselves in the digital coursebook. Do you know both? Answer alert! Student can record themselves using the audio note or by using the recorder that comes up when a student listens to audio.

OLB_record

More confident students, who do not need to refer back to a model, can practise the pronunciation into the audio note. Alternatively students can listen to the audio, tap record and say the word after each one is said by the coursebook.  They can then play it back along side the audio to check their pronunciation.

One additional feature of digital coursebook audio is that the pace can be changed. If you look at the image above, you can see the plus and minus button on the audio toolbar.  Students who have difficulty in listening can slow the listening down and those who want a bit of extra challenge can speed it up.  If you were running a listening lesson from the front of the class you wouldn’t be able to allow so much flexibility to the students. Additionally this slow and fast can help a student with pronunciation.  Slowing down highlights how the word is said, speeding up helps students reach a natural rhythm.

A similar approach can be taken with exercise 3, which this time asks the students to match country and language in order to make true sentences. However given the students have been working in their books for a while now if you are looking for a bit of variety, it could be done in a more traditional way such as using cut up paper prepared in advance. Either way after doing exercise 3 as preparation, it’s time for my students to ‘test’ themselves. Books off, they make sentences (orally) for their group as per the model. However rather than always making true sentences, students can make them true or false for their classmates to decide.

Finally we finish the page by doing the pairwork in exercise 4. Rather than asking them to reopen their tablets, you can use your projected coursebook to orientate and instruct the students.  Students then do the task to get the idea and practice. However this first run through is also a rehearsal for recording.

OLB_record_pair

Once the students are ready, going back to the audio note they record themselves doing exercise 4. They can then listen back and assess their own performance. You can help, guide and point them in the right direction before asking them to do the task for a third time (again recording) to note improvements.

There you go, a lesson using a digital coursebook.  Not too dissimilar to what you’ve done before the digitalization is it? But before the naysayers pipe up, look at what the digital coursebook added. First of all the material was in one place so no need for extra audio equipment or finding a way to project large images to work in plenary. We added the ability for the students to record themselves, we didn’t have to control audio so they could work at their own pace. As a teacher I could work specifically with those that needed extra help while others could get on with a task. We still did group and pair work and we still got to do some good old-fashioned drilling.

Hopefully by now you’re getting into the swing of using the tablet. There are some obvious digital follow ups. By that I mean activities we can give the students as extension activities, just as you would do when using a paper-based coursebook. Obviously you can choose the ones that best suit your class but here are a couple of things to get you started.

As a class follow up for vocabulary I use the Socrative app to create a nationality or language quiz.  The students can then play the team game. (When you download the app look through what it can do). You will see a game called space race. This makes for a fun way to end the lesson and review the lexis of the lesson. By connecting to Socrative through their tablets they are automatically playing in teams which provides a different interaction to those already used in the lesson. If you are new to Socrative, note that there are two apps: one for the teacher and one for students. After creating an account, you log in to the teacher version to create and run the game. The students join in on the student version of the app.

Homework will be getting the students to use an app such as fotobabble to create their own photo as per the examples on page thirty-six.  They take a selfie and then use the language of the lesson to talk about themselves.  Here that task not only uses the coursebook as the impetus but also because students have to record their audio (for other students) it gives a communicative focus to the language revision. If students cannot take their tablet home, they can do this on their mobile phones or computer. Alternatively, another task is to get the students to take photos of things of different origins e.g. An English dictionary, Italian food. If you set this for homework, students come to the next lesson with photos that not only revise the language of the lesson but sets up the next lesson perfectly!

Right, there’s a lot for you to get trying out.  Feel free to leave me a comment saying what worked or didn’t.

 


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Teaching English with e-books from Oxford Learner’s Bookshelf (Part 1)

teaching English language with e-books and tabletsShaun Wilden, a freelance teacher trainer and expert in online tutoring, shares his advice for teachers new to using digital coursebooks in the classroom and offers practical guidance for getting the most from the Oxford Learners’ Bookshelf.

Part 1 – Preparing for your first lesson

If you’re starting to teach with digital, tablet based coursebooks for the first time, you may be wondering how best to get your students off to a good start. With this is mind here is the first in a series of blog posts to help you get started. Following the few key steps outlined below before you start, will have you facing your first digital coursebook lesson with confidence and a clear sense of what you are going to do and achieve.

Preparing the tablets

If your school is providing the tablets, make sure that the IT person who looks after the tablets has downloaded the free Oxford Learner’s Bookshelf app (OLB). If students are bringing their own, they’ll need to download the app themselves. For iPad go to the App Store, for Android tablets go to Google Play.

iPad_add_book (2)

 

 

Students need to register with Oxford, or log in with an existing account. Having an account means that your students’ e-books are safely saved in the cloud, and students can access them via the newly launched web player at www.oxfordlearnersbookshelf.com, as well as on their tablet. This video will show you what’s changed and how to register and access your books.

If you haven’t worked with a digital book before, open the OLB app and log in and you’ll see the Bookshelf  with the books that have been added. If you don’t see your book it might not yet be downloaded from the cloud. Look at the bottom of the screen and you can alternate your view between device and cloud. If the book is in the cloud, you can tap Download to transfer it to the device.

Ideally, the e-books will have been downloaded onto the tablets before the first lesson. They are quite large files, particularly the ones with audio and video, and can take a while to download. Your students can start looking at the books as soon as they start downloading, but it may take a while before any audio or video is available.

If the tablets are ready before the class, do check your own and some of the students’ tablets are working well before your first class. This gives you a chance to go back to the IT person to sort out any hiccoughs.

Getting to know your new coursebook

Tap on the cover of the book you want and it will open. If you compare it to the paper-based version of the book then you’ll notice the content is the same. Now you can breathe a sigh of relief as you realise all those wonderful lesson plans and activities you used last year are still relevant.

I can hear you muttering, how are they still relevant, we’ve gone digital. Well, the second point to remember is that you are not going to use the tablet all the time. Most of use wouldn’t use a paper coursebook for the whole lesson so why would we change that? As I am sure you have heard before, the coursebook is one of the many tools at the disposal of the teacher, digital or not. To maximize language learning we want to encourage interaction as this leads to communication so sometimes, perhaps more often that you currently think, you’ll be asking the students to switch off the tablet. Therefore those lovely laminated cards you have to prompt discussions are still going to make an appearance at some point.

So what are the differences? Rather than turn the page, a swipe changes it. Pinching can enlarge a picture or a text, something you can’t do with paper. Remember that when you want the students to look in more detail at a photo or when the student who has visual impairments needs a bigger script.

As a I talked about in a previous blog post, for most books listening is inbuilt and some even have video. Play around, click on some of the icons on the page and see what happens. As I say to my students, you can’t break anything. By the end of your playing make sure you also know how to input text into exercises. Now think about how you are going to show your students how to do these things, will you simply let them click and discover? If you have a projector in your class, do you know how to connect your tablet so that students can see your screen? If you have Apple TV or Google Chromecast, do you know how to reflect your screen so all can see?

There is of course one other feature that you need to get to grips with, the interactive tool bar.

OLB interactive tool bar

You should see it on the screen a grey bar to the left of a page. To open it, tap the white arrow and it will appear. Personally I use this as part of the orientation process in the first lesson. So let’s move on and think of that.

Student orientation

Tablets ready, book downloaded, time for the first class. We’ll assume that the school’s administration has already gone over how they are to be used with the parents and students. So you’re entering the room tablets at the ready. I tend to prefer students sitting in groups when using tablets so I arrange desks into islands rather than in rows.

If you do this make sure everyone has sightline to the board. The first thing I would do is leave the tablets to one side. It is after all the first lesson of the year, time for students to tell you what they did in their holidays and get out their mobile phones to regal everyone with photos of whichever exotic location they spent their vacations in. Remember that students are used to doing things on their phone as most probably are you.   There is already a digital know-how to tap into. But bear in mind that it would be wrong to assume that students have touched a tablet before and therefore know how to use it. So before we get going on the digital books we need to discover what they know. In true traditional classroom style, what better way to do this than a ‘find someone who’ exercise. You know the one I mean, students have a set of statements that they walk around the class turning into questions and searching for someone who answers yes.

Here are some (for an iPad) that I show on a screen and get students to do:

Find someone who:

  1. Can switch the tablet on
  2. Take a screenshot
  3. Search the iPad
  4. Mirror the iPad through apple TV
  5. Turn up the volume
  6. Turn up or down the brightness
  7. Lock the screen’s orientation
  8. Take a photo
  9. Open an app
  10. Close an app

Give students time to circulate and try and find people. Do feedback with the class, now is a good time to hand out the tablets so students can teach each other. This is where sitting in islands aids peer teaching. You can ‘check’ students are getting comfortable with the tablet by walking round to each island, offering advice and helping as necessary.

After this task, I get the students to put the tablets down, give them some paper (yes paper!) and ask them to come up with a list of rules / limits for classroom use of tablets. These include factors such as staying on task, not downloading apps (though hopefully your IT person has locked down the wi-fi or added a content filter).   This is like making a class contract but not simply covering rules about punctuality and homework.

It is now time to launch the digital coursebook and start getting the students used to the tools. If you need the students to make their own accounts to download the books then walk them through it using your tablet on a projector. If the books are already there, then get them to log in and start getting them used to the tools. It’s perhaps best not to go over them all in one lesson so as not to overload. On my tablet I project a word cloud of some of the tools like this:

Word cloud

(made with the Word Art app)

Get the students to switch on their tablets and tell them how to find their coursebook in OLB. They then work together to identify the features named in the wordcloud. When you’re ready to check the answers, switch your tablet to display the book and ask students to name the tools. If you are projecting onto a whiteboard you can of course write the name of the feature next to the tool.

So that’s it, I hope that’s helped you overcome any first lesson dread. When you think it about it, starting with a digital coursebook is not that different from any lesson using a new coursebook.   At first preparation time might increase but it will improve as you get more familiar with your material, the same as it would with when using the new coursebook. Often in a first lesson, a teacher does an orientation quiz and here it’s not different though we’re orientating to tools not the book itself. What’s more as I mentioned earlier, a lesson using a digital coursebook doesn’t have to be dominated by the book. Here we spoke, collaborated, mind mapped and perhaps most importantly we got the students communicating in English.

Right, now that’s the first lesson under your belt, time to get ready for the next one, which we’ll look at in the second post.


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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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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.