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Using smart devices in class – challenge or opportunity?

smartdevices1Thomas Healy is one of the authors of Smart Choice as well as an Assistant Professor in the Intensive English Program at the Pratt Institute, New York City. A full time instructor, he presents regularly on how to adapt traditional classroom materials to meet the needs of the Selfie Generation, and how to use widely available and easy-to-use digital tools in language learning.

In a survey of Smart Choice teachers conducted by Oxford University Press this year, 55% of teachers reported that they use smart devices regularly in class. In addition, 84% of teachers said they encourage learners to use the devices to extend learning outside of class. While the use of mobile technology in class is becoming more accepted, it is not without its challenges. Many of these challenges relate to practical matters of classroom management. How can we engage large classes, and make sure everyone is participating? How can we keep students on track? Can we use the devices in places without Wi-Fi?

When to use a smart device

I always feel that the challenges that I face in class, rather than just a decision to use digital devices for the sake of it, should be the determining factor whether I use smart phones in my class or not. With some classes it’s an easy decision, particularly in classrooms without any installed technology. Learners’ own devices enable me to incorporate videos, illustrations, and even texts into every lesson. Before class, I upload the content that I want students to view onto our Learning Management System- I use Facebook for this – and I can have students access the content during class.

If I am concerned about the focus of a particular class, I’ll have students use their devices for relevant parts of the lesson only. The rest of time, I’ll have them turn off their devices, or even better, put them away. With other classes, often smaller groups were I can be surer of each individual’s level of engagement, I’m more comfortable having learners use their devices at any time, especially to access online dictionaries. In this case, am I absolutely sure what a learner is doing online? No, but I know now that lack of focus demonstrates itself quite rapidly, and I can take appropriate action.

Keep it focused

For me, the key to keeping learners focused when working with smart phones is to [1] have time limits, and [2] insure that they have to create or complete something as part of the activity. Students, therefore, do not just observe something: they must do something too. This might mean commenting (for example, in the comments section of where I’ve posted a video) on what they’ve seen. My favorite activity is to have learners write something in their notebooks in a response to some online content, and then take a photo of their notes and share it on our LMS. This has several advantages. Firstly, knowing that they have to share their work with the class, students are more likely to complete an activity properly rather than engaging in inappropriate online behavior. I’m often concerned that if they don’t regularly write with a pen or pencil on paper, their basic writing skills, including handwriting and spelling, may suffer. In addition, the shared writing samples are very useful for peer reviewing and self-analysis. Videos of presentations and classroom discussions are equally useful to share. Content that has been uploaded by me or by my students in class can be accessed later. This is a very efficient and easy-to-implement way of extending the classroom into the virtual world. Activities like giving feedback to presentations can now be done outside of class. Additional activities can also be uploaded to provide specific practice for individual learners.

smartdevices2With the availability of mobile-optimized online practice materials, such as the On the Move material that accompanies Smart Choice Third Edition, online dictionaries and a whole range of English Language Learning apps, encouraging our students to use their smart phones outside of class is something we should all embrace. Having activities in class that involve the devices provides us with an opportunity to assist students on how to use them successfully. What, for example, do students do once they’ve looked up a word or phrase online?

I recommend that students make flashcards, either with apps such as StudyBlue or homemade cards which students can make by screen capturing the target vocabulary item in a sample sentence (together with a translation in L1) and an image. This approach is based on I.S.P. Nation’s meta-analysis of the use of flashcards and vocabulary.

smartdevices3smartdevices4

Make learning relevant

Another advantage of smart phones is the potential for bringing the real world into the classroom. Students have an abundance of photos of places, people, food and activities that we can readily link to the content of our textbook. Students can show images and videos to their classmates, and this content allows us to extend and personalize the target language in a way that motivates students and makes learning sticky. This kind of activity is ideal for settings without Wi-Fi.

As I figure out how to use mobile technology in class, I’ve become more interested in exploring the basic features of the devices, rather than using apps. For me, the ability for students to access content online, and their ability to record, share and comment on work that we’ve done together, provides an invaluable opportunity to extend learning beyond my classroom, to have content-rich lessons in every room, and to encourage students to learn by analyzing their own and their peers’ output. In doing so, I’m hoping to create an environment that reflects the interactive, collaborative and networked world which has become their natural habitat. In time, I’m hoping that smart devices will become indispensable tools for them in their English language acquisition process, both outside of the classroom and long after our shared time together is over.

Want to find out more? Join Thomas for a live webinar on how to use mobile technology in class on 12th or 13th October.

In this free-to-attend webinar you can expect to:

  • Learn practical tips and ideas on how to use smartphones purposefully with your students in the classroom
  • Look at ways in which students own smart devices can make every classroom a technology enhanced classroom
  • Bring along your own questions to ask Thomas

webinar_register3

 

References:

  • Smart Choice teacher survey, Oxford University Press, 2016.
  • Nation, I.S.P. Teaching Vocabulary: Strategies and Techniques Heinle ELT, 2008.

 


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How can I motivate unmotivated students?

IGS-00181940-001Ken Wilson is the author of Smart Choice and in all has written more than 30 ELT titles. We asked teachers from around the world who have been using Smart Choice what one question they would like to ask Ken. He will answer three of these questions in a series of video blogs this month.

For both teachers and students, a very large class can be difficult in terms of motivation and in terms of multi-level instruction. In this video blog Ken will answer two questions to overcome these challenges: “How can I motivate unmotivated students?” and “how can we adapt Smart Choice for different class sizes and classes with students of varying levels?”

Ken suggests techniques to increase student curiosity in class in order to engage learners with simple tasks, such as reading a text. He explains how teachers can devolve student responsibility to empower higher-level students to help other students.

 

 

References:

Wilson, Ken (2012). Motivating the unmotivated.

Oxford University Press (2016). Smart Choice Third Edition.


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The potential of smart devices in the EFL classroom

DeathtoStock_Medium5Thomas Healy is one of the authors of Smart Choice as well as an Assistant Professor in the Intensive English Program at the Pratt Institute, New York City. A full time instructor, he presents regularly on how to adapt traditional classroom materials to meet the needs of the Selfie Generation, and how to use widely available and easy-to-use digital tools in language learning.

Are smartphones a classroom management problem or a useful tool for language teaching and learning? Discover how smart devices can become a key part of the learning experience for your students with Thomas Healy.

In a series of video tutorials and three live webinars, Thomas will be presenting strategies for how teachers can use smart devices to enhance what students are learning in class, to provide meaningful opportunities for independent learning and to connect the English they are learning with the world around them.

Thomas’ first webinar – the potential of smart devices – will run twice and take place on September 7th (1pm BST) and September 8th (12am BST).

In this free-to-attend webinar you can expect to:

  • Explore smart device based activities that you can use to reinforce students learning
  • Look at ways in which students own smart devices can make every classroom a technology enhanced classroom
  • Bring along your own questions to ask Thomas

Thomas’ webinar will draw on content Smart Choice ‘On The Move’ activities, brand new smart phone optimized content available with Smart Choice Third Edition.

register-for-webinar


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Help! My students think their course book is too easy

ESL course book too easyWhat can you do if some of your students find the course book you are using too easy? Ken Wilson, the main author of Smart Choice Second Edition, shares his ideas.

I recently got this message from a teacher:

Hello Ken. I was wondering if you could answer a question. How can a teacher deal with using a course book that the students find too easy? My colleague is using Smart Choice Starter (an excellent series, by the way), but some of the students think it’s too easy. What advice do you have for her? Thanks in advance!

I imagine a lot of teachers find the book they are using too easy or too difficult for their class. Or for some of the class. So here are a couple of ideas to do something about it, assuming that changing the book or moving certain students to a different level are not options.

The book seems too easy for all/most of the class

Let’s imagine that you realise after a couple of weeks that the book you are using seems to be ‘too easy’, which basically means that the students already ‘know’ the new vocabulary and grammar content, or at least they think they do. A possible solution may be for pairs or groups of students to take responsibility for presenting some of the ‘new’ material to the rest of the class. Let’s say there are twelve units in the book and you’ve reached Unit 2, so there are ten to go. It’s clear by now that the book isn’t challenging them enough. Tell them – in their own language if necessary – that from now on, you would like them to be responsible for the presentation of some of the new material in the remaining units.

Put the students in pairs or groups of three, you decide which is best. Ask them to work together in their groups and look at all the remaining units in the book – give them 10-15 minutes to do this. Tell them to choose a unit that they would like to present. They should then tell the rest of the class what the new vocabulary is and POSSIBLY what the new grammar point is. It really doesn’t matter if there are too many or not enough students for each pair/group to have their own unit to present. The process is more important than the end product.

I have met teachers who express concern about their students looking at units later in the book. What if they’re too difficult? To these teachers I say – do you REALLY think you students haven’t already looked at every page in the book? They usually do it as soon as they get it, mainly to see if there are any interesting images. So stop worrying about that.

After they’ve had a chance to look at all the units, ask them which one they would like to present. Often more than one group will want to present the same unit, so they have to decide who does it. Let them decide by tossing a coin, arm-wrestling, whatever.  There will be some units that no one wants to present. Ask them why. If the answer is that the material looks boring, then you are well within your rights not to do those units. You should find alternative material to present the lexis, grammar and skills practice. And send a note to the publisher telling them what your students thought. Authors and publishers need lots of feedback, and teacher feedback is an essential part of the process of improving material for the next edition. It’s even better if the teachers are passing on the thoughts of their students. But let’s imagine at least some of the groups agree to present the material in different units. How should they do it? My suggestion is that they do it without the book.

In Smart Choice, the first page of each unit is devoted to presenting a new lexical set. Ask the students to find images of the key vocabulary from another source – Google images is a good place to start. Another excellent source of freely available photographic material is ELTpics (http://www.eltpics.com), a collection of thematically arranged photographs compiled and curated by ELT professionals. The point is, you should encourage your students to start the presentation with some graphics as back-up, preferably using PowerPoint, keynote or Prezi – whatever the students are familiar with. Some of the lexical sets may be more easily presented using mime or acting out techniques. Encourage the students to explore that possibility, too.

Let’s imagine a group of students have agreed to present the vocabulary from the next unit. Remind them at the end of the previous class and check that they have prepared the material for their presentation. The class begins. You ask the two or three students to take over. It’s an interesting moment – the presenters are a bit nervous and the rest of the class are a bit curious. The atmosphere is already much more interesting than it might be if you were doing all the teaching yourself! For guidance, tell the presenters to try to find out what the other students already know, showing them images or acting out/miming to illustrate the new words. Explain that ‘eliciting’ new words/phrases is a good way to start.

If the class is a monolingual class, there is every chance that the presenters will occasionally use L1 as part of their presentation. My feeling is that this is fine, particularly at lower levels. You may have a different opinion, but I feel that the occasional use of translation is very helpful, especially for beginners. If the presenters struggle at any point, step in and help them. But give them a chance to do it themselves. They will never forget the experience.

Objections

When I have presented these ideas in a talk or workshop, teachers have the following objections.

  1. You’re asking people to teach who have not been trained to teach.
  2. Some students might think – you’re the teacher, I’m the student, YOU should be teaching ME. There could be a rebellion.
  3. In a PLS or other institution where the students are paying, they may object and ask for their money back!

These are important issues to deal with. Regarding the first point, the fact is that your students may not do a very good job of presentation, in which case you have to step in and help. Don’t take over the class, just add some ideas and help to elicit information from the rest of the class. Regarding the second and third points, in the end it’s all about belief and trust. If you believe that what you’re doing is right and the students trust that you are doing things because they will benefit from them, they will accept any of the crazy methods you’re using. I tried this method of students teaching their peers many times when I was a teacher at a PLS, and I never had a single complaint from students about my methods. I hope it will work for you too!

The book is too easy or too difficult for a proportion of the class

This is a classic mixed-ability class scenario. In this case, I’m going to suggest that you get your best students to help you with the less able ones. Let’s imagine again there are fifteen people in the class. When you have a new class, how long does it take you to decide who are the ‘good’ students? Not long, right? So here’s an idea.

During the first two or three classes, make a mental note of who the top third of the students are. In a class of fifteen, this means five students. Ask them to see you at the end of the class. When the rest of the students have left the room, you tell the top third that they are really good – the best in the class. This is very nice for them to hear. But, you go on to explain, with this ability comes a responsibility. From now on, when you do group work, these ‘good’ students will make a group of three with two of the other students, ie not with another ‘good’ one.

So now, one ‘good’ student is helping two more challenged students. Three is much better than two, because the two can learn together from the better student. Meanwhile, you go from group to group, monitoring the work they are doing.

I hate to use words like ‘good’ and ‘bad’ to describe students, because all students bring something positive to the classroom, but I think you will see the advantage of this idea. At no point have I indicated to the class why the five are taking over, it will just happen.

Final thought

If the book is too difficult for ALL the class, then you do have a problem. If your feedback suggests that this is something that happens, and there is nothing you can do to change the book, then I will come back with some ideas to help with that situation, too.


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Using Facebook and Smart Devices for Blended Learning

Facebook icon with mortar board on top

Image courtesy of mkhmarketing on Flickr

Thomas Healy, is an English language instructor at the Pratt Institute, New York and at Kyung Hee Cyber University, Seoul. He presents regularly at conferences on how to use technology and social media in language learning. He is the co-author of Smart Choice Second Edition. In this article, he looks at ways of using social media and technology for blended learning.

A couple of years ago, I felt that my interaction with students was more suitable for kindergarteners, rather than my young adults.  My need to say ‘No!”, “Don’t do that”, and “Stop!” seemed to be ruining my rapport. Every one of my students had a smartphone, which they never wanted to put down or turn off. I didn’t even have a regular cellphone myself. Then I thought, “If I can’t beat them, I’ll join them.” I bought a smartphone, asked a student to show me how it worked, and embraced the digital age.

I soon learned that I could easily get lost and confused with the bewildering number of virtual tools, environments and applications. So rather than asking myself, “How can I use digital tools in class?” I asked, “What do I need?” I needed a place in the digital world

  • which my students and I could use from any classroom, technology-enabled or not, or even when we were on a field trip
  • where students could post videos of presentations and written assignments
  • where my students could find me and each other instantly and effortlessly.

Having analyzed the most popular social media platform, I chose Facebook as the hub of my blended learning environment. Facebook has most of the functionality of the Learning Management System provided by my school with the added advantages that it is much easier to use, and my students are connected to it all the time. I make a Facebook group for each of my classes. A Facebook group is a members-only, private space that is easy to create and access.

One of the most effective ways of helping students with their communication skills is through doing presentations. Through presenting themselves and watching others present, students become acutely aware of issues relating to vocabulary, pronunciation and eye contact, to name just a few. In the past, the presentations themselves and the feedback sessions ate up a lot of class time. Now, when students present in class they video themselves on their smartphones, and upload their recording to their class Facebook group. In class, we discuss how to evaluate the presentations but the actual critiquing takes place outside of the regular classroom. Students watch the videos and then give feedback using the comment feature.

We follow a similar procedure when peer reviewing writing assignments. One of the most important advantages is that students have a record of the feedback, which they can easily access.

21st Century learners are ‘prosumers’: producers + consumers. They are not content just to view something; they want to produce their own content in response. As much as possible, I use Facebook to make the projector in my class an interactive rather than passive experience.

I use Facebook as a presentation tool, and as a way to expand and personalize the contents of my lessons. I can upload my lesson visuals using Slideshare, or more frequently, by just uploading a series of screenshots to the Facebook group. Unlike with my Learning Management System, students can upload to the group too. We can personalize and expand a lesson by having them take photographs or scanning content and uploading it.

When appropriate, I have my students use the live chat function to answer, for example, grammar questions or other activities. By zooming in on student responses, the projector becomes an interactive rather than passive classroom tool.

The digital classroom can become too diffuse through the use of too many platforms and applications. Although I have added other tools over time, I try to maximize the functionality of Facebook. By focusing my students’ desire to share on language learning, it can be used as a powerful ‘academic network’.

To find out more about developing presentation skills in the classroom and ways smart devices and social media can be incorporated into the process, you can take part in Thomas Healy’s interactive webinar “Developing effective presentation skills” on either 8th November or 14th November. Register for your free webinar place now.