Verissimo Toste, an Oxford teacher trainer, joins us today to explore the benefits of using tablets in the language learning classroom.`
Whenever someone mentions using technology in the classroom, my first reaction is “Why?” And that was my recent reaction to using tablets. Why should students use tablets in the EFL classroom? How does it help them learn better? For me, the key is not the technology, it is learning.
Many teachers already use technology in the classroom. Many also use technology to take learning beyond the classroom. In this environment, I was curious about the role of the tablet in the EFL classroom. So, being a teacher trainer with Oxford University Press, I got some e-books, downloaded them onto my tablet and sat down to answer my own question: How do tablets help students learn better?
A few days and many hours later I had an answer; using a tablet can make learning more personal. The teacher can better appeal to the individual learner, to individual interests, individual learning styles, and individual difficulties.
So, knowing why, the next obvious question is “How?” There are many different activities. Here are two to introduce the use of tablets to your students:
Writing their own notes
Students can add their own personal notes to different parts of the coursebook or the lesson. For vocabulary or grammar, each student can write their own sentence relating the language to their lives. 25 students in the classroom will have 25 different sentences. This will make the language relevant to each one, expanding on the work done in class. For a reading or listening text, students can write comments or ask questions, individually interacting with the text.
After reading a text, ask your students to use the note and write 5 – 10 important words from the text. One week later, ask them to look at the words in the note. Do they remember how the words relate to the topic? If they do, it confirms their reading ability (and memory). If not, they can go back to the text. They may choose to change some of the words, keeping the total to no more than 10.
Equally, students can write 5 – 10 questions about the text, or 5-10 True/False statements. One week later they can use these as a comprehension exercise as they re-read the text. For me, what is important here is that using a tablet, each student is focusing on their own words, their own sentences, their own questions. They are interacting with the language at their own level, based on their individual needs.
Students can also record comments. Instead of writing 5-10 words or sentences related to a text, students can record the words or sentences related to a picture. Later, they look at the picture and listen to their words/sentences. Since the picture is connected to the topic of a lesson, students learn when they choose the words or sentences, when they record them, and when they listen to them later.
Using the pen tools
Students can use the pen tools to circle, underline, or highlight. In this way, they can focus on specific aspects of a text or language exercise. Again, 25 different students would focus on different words and sentences, personalising their work. For me, the pen tools help students bring out language patterns. Let me give you an example:
Students circle the subject and relate it to the verb, “George and I are”. By highlighting “going to”, students reinforce the “to”, which is something my students easily forget. They can then use another colour to highlight the verb, “throw”. Some students will use the pen to draw an arrow from the subject to the verb.
Ask students to do this with the grammatical structures they are learning. This will get them used to using the pen tools. Then, ask them to write sentences about themselves and their life using the structure they are learning. Having highlighted the form of the structure, students will probably make fewer mistakes.
Then, ask them to highlight the different parts in their sentences. This will lead students to notice any mistakes they have made and to be able to correct them.
These are only two activities to get you and your students started. There are many more you can explore as you and your students get used to using tablets in the classroom.
As your students use their tablets, they are personalizing their learning, adding to their lessons. Each student begins from the same starting point, but develops individually, adding their own content, and thus meeting their individual needs and learning preferences.
The key is to focus on learning, to help your students learn better with their
Shaun 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Shaun 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.
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.
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.
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:
Can switch the tablet on
Take a screenshot
Search the iPad
Mirror the iPad through apple TV
Turn up the volume
Turn up or down the brightness
Lock the screen’s orientation
Take a photo
Open an app
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:
(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.
Anyone who is involved in rail transport will know that stopping trains at stations wastes time, energy and money. Unfortunately, it is also necessary to let passengers on and off! Today, your students are highly-creative problem solvers. Their task is to work in small groups to design a high-speed train which doesn’t have to stop at stations, but which still allows passengers to alight and disembark.
After sharing ideas and reaching a consensus, each group prepares to present their solution to the rest of the class. This involves creating diagrams to reinforce ideas. When they give their presentations, you sit at the back of the classroom and film their performances.
Later, you show students the following video which illustrates an idea for a train which doesn’t have to stop at stations:
From teacher’s to students’ hands
Filming presentations and other performances can be a great way to motivate students and document their work. However, in the activity described above, the technology stayed firmly in the teacher’s hands. The result of this could be missed opportunities for student creativity, interaction, and learning.
By giving control of the video cameras to students, the activity could have been completely different. Rather than the traditional speaking-at-the-front-of-the-class format, groups of students could find their own quiet corners (either in or out of the classroom) and work together to create a video in which individuals communicate their group’s idea to the camera. The resulting videos can then be delivered to the teacher and later played on the classroom projector for everyone to see and comment on.
Here are some thoughts about why this second option may be favourable:
1. Students’ own devices
In many situations, students will come to class with video cameras already in their hands! Smartphones and tablet computers both have video-recording functions which are perfectly adequate for the classroom.
2. An open learning space
If students make use of their own video devices, the filming process can extend to outside the classroom. Assignments in which students create videos for homework become possible.
3. Less stress for students
Speaking English in class can be stressful enough for many students. When the teacher points a video camera at such learners, the experience can be even more intimidating. The camera may be less daunting in the hands of a classmate.
4. Technological control means creative control
If students control the technology, they can get creative. For example, they may want to think carefully about the filming location or props to include in the frame. They may also want to edit their work, include close-ups of visuals, decide what to leave in, decide what to take out, add credits, etc. In addition, with control of the technology, students can go at their own pace. They can film as and when they are ready. They can also do more than one ‘take’ in order to get the result that they are looking for.
5. Content ownership
Digital content is notoriously ‘slippery’. It does not deteriorate with time and can easily fall into unintended hands. Understandably, students may be concerned about what happens to videos that you create in the classroom. When students make use of their own video devices, they automatically become owners of the content. This can make the process less intimidating. In addition, if you would like students to share their videos online, they can choose to do so on their preferred video-sharing site.
6. Parental permission
Permission to film younger learners and teens can be easier to obtain if we can demonstrate to parents that we want them to make use of their own video-recording devices in and out of the classroom. As well as the ownership issue mentioned above, we can ask parents to take an active role in the video production process. For example, if we want students to upload their work, parents could monitor video content first before giving the go-ahead.
7. Reduced workload for the teacher
Perhaps the most important point to make! Tablets and smartphones can be regarded as all-in-one devices. Students can use them to create, edit and share video. There is no need to transfer video files from one machine to another (camera to computer, for example), a potentially time-consuming step that many teachers will be familiar with.
8. Engaged viewing
For some inexplicable reason, most teenagers that I have worked with engage better with video presentations than with live classroom presentations (see image above). With students’ attention, we can make use of the pause and rewind buttons for language feedback. This can include drawing attention to good language and communication, and error correction.
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.