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Learn English with Virtual Environments | Hidekazu Shoto

Students playing computer games to learn english

Communication with native English language speakers is one of the most effective ways to learn English, and using technology makes this possible. I teach English based on my “collaborative-communication model”, one that’s very effective for motivating my students. I use a wealth of technologies with my class such as Skype, Minecraft, and AI robots. I find them useful for not only teaching English, but for teaching 21st century skills as well!

Virtual environments

From my experience, virtual environments can be very effective language learning tools for students of English; they allow students young and old to experience new worlds, communicate, make friends, and build relationships. There are a wealth of tools out there that you can use, but I’m happy to say that I’ve had real success with my students using a combination of Skype and Minecraft (a game many students may already be familiar with). These digital environments offer students engaging opportunities to use English with native speakers and to use the language to achieve a common goal, such as constructing a digital building. Through these activities, students also develop their 21st Century Skills of communication, collaboration, imagination, and logical thinking. These four skills are necessary assets for learners that will help them to succeed in the modern world.

A typical lesson

Typically, students grouped together to make a team of four people, and they are given a task. I might ask the groups to construct a building, like the Kyoto World Heritage Site in Minecraft, before asking them to introduce it to students from overseas. To build something in Minecraft, students need to exercise their imagination, and think logically about the build and their resources. Each student is then given a role; Minecraft Leader, Programming Leader, English Leader, and Building Designer. Finally, they are given a deadline.

Most groups start off by discussing a plan, each student offering an opinion. These discussions continue throughout the duration of the build. Once completed, the group welcome overseas visitors to their digital environment, giving them a tour of their build and gathering their opinions on their work, all in English!

The simplicity and global appeal of Minecraft make it extraordinarily easy to introduce to the class. As a tool, it allowed me to break down subject barriers, combining English, 21st Century Skills, and programming. This is something I’m especially proud of achieving as from 2020 in Japan, the Ministry of Education plans to make ‘English’ and ‘Programming’ compulsory across all Primary schools. The techniques I’ve described combine these two educational programmes, which is great for teachers! And through the “collaborative-communication model”, students can improve their English proficiency in an engaging and motivating way. 


Hidekazu Shoto was born in Osaka, Japan, and is an English Teacher and Head of ICT at Ritsumeikan Primary School. After graduate school, he joined Ritsumeikan Academy as an English teacher, introducing ICT and technology into his English classes.

Hidekazu Shoto was a top 10 Finalist for the Varkey Foundation Global Teacher Prize 2019. Here’s why!


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Does technology work? | Nicky Hockly

Teaching with technology

In todays’ wired world, technology is an integral part of our work and personal lives. As teachers, we are often expected to use a range of digital technologies in our English language classes.

These expectations come from a range of quarters: from educational technology vendors, Ministries of Education, school directors, students, parents, and often from teachers themselves who feel they ‘should’ use technologies, especially with younger students/teenagers.

But in our rush to use technology in the English language classroom, the question of whether a chosen technology ‘works’ or not is frequently ignored.

What does research say?

Let’s start with a short quiz. Are the three following statements true or false?

  • Younger students (e.g. teenagers) are naturally better users of digital technologies than older students.
  • Contributing to blogs can help language learners improve their writing.
  • Digital technologies can help students with special educational needs.

Do you feel confident about your answers? Let’s see what the research says about each of these statements.

  1. Younger students are naturally better users of digital technologies than older students.
    Many people believe this to be true, but the myth of the ‘digital native’ (Prensky, 2001) has been thoroughly debunked by research. Young people are not automatically effective users of new technologies, although they may be confident with these technologies and use them for a range of (primarily friendship-driven) purposes. Young people may appear to live on Instagram, but they are often not good at evaluating the source and veracity of information they find online. They often don’t know how to write an email with the appropriate structure and tone. In short, younger students tend to be confident but uncritical users of technology. A large-scale research study (Fraillon et al.) carried out with 60,000 13 to 14 year olds across 3,300 schools in 21 educations systems/countries found that the ICT skills of young learners and adolescents were fairly low, and depended on a wide range of factors. These factors included: the impact of students’ home and school contexts, students’ individual characteristics, parents’ educational level and profession, the number of books and access to ICT resources in the home. Whether students received ICT instruction in school was another factor that affected their digital literacy. The bottom line is that younger people are automatically digital literate.
  • Contributing to blogs can help language learners improve their writing.
    Blogs have long been considered good for helping students develop their writing skills. When writing blog entries, students write for a real audience and with a communicative purpose; students can also interact with blog readers in a blog’s comment section. These are all good things for writing. Research shows that blogs can increase students’ motivation to write in English, although the research is less clear on whether the quality of their writing improves through writing blog entries. For example, it has been found that students with a lower level of language proficiency may benefit less from writing blogs than stronger students do (Secru, 2013). Nevertheless, the research into using blogs to develop EFL and ESL students’ writing is positive overall.
  • Digital technologies can help students with special educational needs.
    So-called ‘assistive technologies’ are used in inclusive learning in different disciplines, not only in English language learning, so much of the research has taken place in a range of subject areas. Overall, the research is promising. Tablets, for example, have been enthusiastically taken up by teachers working with special educational needs (SEN) learners because of their multimodal and tactile assistive qualities, as well as the ever-growing range of educational apps available for SEN students. In the field of English language teaching, research suggests that, depending on the learning materials or apps used and task design, learners’ engagement with language learning materials can increase (e.g. Cumming & Draper Rodriguez, 2013). The research also suggests that language teachers usually have a positive attitude to the use of assistive technologies with their SEN language learners.

Whatever the technology and whoever the learners, one thing is clear: it is important to review the available research in order to take an evidence-based approach to using technology with English language learners.

To what extent do technologies support language learning, and lead to improved outcomes for students? Join me in April for my webinar where we’ll take a critical look at digital technologies research and ask: Does technology actually help English language students learn better?


Nicky Hockly is the Director of Pedagogy of The Consultants-E, an award-winning online training and development organisation. She has worked in the field of English Language Teaching since 1987, is an international plenary speaker, and gives workshops and training courses for teachers all over the world. Nicky writes regular columns on technology for teachers in ETP (English Teaching Professional) magazine, and in the ELTJ (English Language Teaching Journal).


References

  • Cumming, T. M., & Draper Rodriguez, C. (2013). Integrating the iPad into language arts instruction for students with disabilities: Engagement and perspectives. Journal of Special Education Technology, 28, 4, 43-52.
  • Fraillon, J., Ainley, J., Schulz, W., Friedman, T., & Gebhardt, E. (2013). Preparing for life in a digital age. The IEA International Computer and Information Literacy Study International Report. Springer Open: Springer International Publishing AG Switzerland.
  • Prensky, M. (2001). Digital natives, digital immigrants. On the Horizon 9, 5. MCB University Press.
  • Sercu, L. (2013). Weblogs in foreign language education: Real and promised benefits. Proceedings of INTED2013, 7th International Technology, Education and Development Conference, Valencia, Spain, pp. 4355-66.


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#IATEFL – Look out! It’s the future!

Villemard

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Technology Enhanced Language Learning 

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

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

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

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

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

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


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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.