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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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Animate your Classes with Video! | OUP

Videos are a great resource for language teaching and learning!

Students enjoy watching animated shows and videos on TV, on tablets, and on phones. Videos can motivate students to engage with language, so it’s easy to understand why teachers want to bring more videos into their English classrooms.

There are strong pedagogical reasons for including videos in your language teaching. Videos bring language alive. Students can see and hear language being used in context.

Animated videos are particularly accessible because they make it easy to focus on specific language, and can appeal to a wider age range of students than live-action videos. Animated videos are ideal for providing language models with enough context to support meaning, and enough humour to engage students. Research shows that students respond positively to familiar characters, so if you use videos with characters students can identify, they not only bring the language to life but may also make students want to interact with the characters they’re watching!

Even with all of these great reasons to include video in English class, many teachers don’t. Why not? Teachers tell us that it’s hard to find interesting videos that use the language their students are learning. They aren’t sure where to look for appropriate videos, and when they do know where to look, they don’t have time to search through the videos available in order to find one that will work with a specific lesson. Often, the videos won’t work because the language is too hard, or the video is too long or too fast-paced. Even if teachers are successful in finding a video they think could work with their lesson, they often aren’t sure how to make the best use of it for language learning.

One of the most important things teachers can do when using a video in class is to make the video content as interactive as the rest of their lesson. We know it’s important for students to talk to each other, to ask and answer questions, to use gestures and movement to reinforce meaning, and to use language in a meaningful way. We should use videos in the same way. There’s no reason to make video watching a passive experience in class.

Here are some ways to make video watching fun, interactive, and effective:

  • Show the video without sound first. Then see what the students can remember about the video: body/hand movements and gestures, the situation and any words or phrases that they think are in the conversation.
  • Play the video with sound. Have students listen for specific words or phrases, and do something (like raising a hand) when they hear the target language.
  • Ask students a question before playing the video with sound. Have them listen for the answer.
  • Have students take a role and act out the video.

We’re excited that the 5th edition of Let’s Go will include videos to help animate your teaching. The conversation videos show students how to extend the Let’s Talk dialogues. The song and chant videos make the language even more memorable and entertaining by adding a visual component.

Two of the new videos are available for you to try out in class.

Extended Conversation Videos

The conversation videos extend Let’s Talk dialogues by adding relevant language students already know and showing body language and gestures in context. Interestingly, if students look closely, they’ll see characters using gestures and facial expressions that may be different from what they usually do. During the video, one of the Let’s Go characters always turns to the students to ask a question, in order to make students part of every conversation.

The video from Level One Unit Six is available for you to watch.

 

Here’s the transcript so you can see how familiar language is used to extend the basic conversation. The original conversation is in black. The added language is in red. Blue highlights the question students will answer.

[Cellphone buzzes]

Jenny: Hello?

Kate: Jenny?

Jenny: Yes. Oh, hi Kate. How are you?

Kate: I’m great. How are you?

Jenny: I’m great, too. It’s so nice today.

Kate: How’s the weather?

Jenny: It’s sunny.

Uh-oh. [thunder]

Kate: What was that?

Jenny: It’s rainy now.

Kate: How’s the weather today?

How could you use this in class?

  • Show the video without sound, and ask students to tell you what the conversation is about.
  • Play the video with sound. Have students listen and tell you what language they hear.
  • Have students answer Kate’s question, and then ask each other the same question.
  • Once students are comfortable with the language, have them watch without sound again, and tell you how Jenny is feeling based on her facial expressions
  • Let students role-play the conversation in pairs.

Song and Chant Videos

The song and chant videos make lesson language visible and memorable! Combining rhythm, music, and images allow students to use three of their senses and increases the amount of language they’ll remember. “Where are the bugs?” from Level One Unit Six is available now.

 

How could you use this in class?

  • Have students call out the names of objects they recognise in the video.
  • Have students decide on gestures for on, in, under, and by (e.g., placing a fist on a palm for ‘on’,). Students do the gestures as they listen to the song.
  • Have half of the class sing the questions and the other half answer. (Sing twice so everyone gets to ask and answer questions.)

Using videos that support your lessons can make the language more exciting, and real. The best videos for teaching language will reinforce the language you’re trying to teach. They’ll be short and will match your students’ pace.

Let’s Go fifth edition videos are all of these things – pedagogically sound, student tested, linguistically appropriate, short, understandable, and funny. Having the videos included with the coursebook units makes it easy to include them in your lessons.

Have fun animating your language teaching with Let’s Go!


Ritsuko Nakata, Karen Frazier, and Barbara Hoskins have spent 25 years working to improve the Let’s Go learning experience for teachers and their students. It is the only primary coursebook series that has had the same authors for all levels, resulting in a tightly controlled grammar syllabus that makes productive use of limited class time.


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#EFLproblems – Facing your technology fears

Close-up of frightened man with dramatic lightingWe’re helping to solve your EFL teaching problems by answering your questions every two weeks. This week, Stacey Hughes addresses a common fear: using technology in English language classes.

At the recent IATEFL conference in Harrogate, I spoke with many teachers who are still on the fence about using technology in their classes, and it is this EFL problem I would like to address in this blog.

For some experienced teachers, technology was seen as a gimmick. They couldn’t see any benefit technology could offer because the tried and tested activities they use had already proven successful. Other teachers I spoke with were nervous about the technology itself. Faced with the onslaught of apps, digital products and a host of crusading digital zealots, they retreated to the comfortable safety of books, pen and paper. For them, it was all too much too fast and they were overwhelmed.

I’d like to address the first of the two issues raised above before looking at ways teachers can ease into using technology.

Is technology a gimmick? It certainly can be, especially when it is used without thinking about how its use can enhance the pedagogical aim. There are many arguments for using technology: it is part of everyday life for many students, so it is natural to include it in lessons; it can make administrative tasks less time-consuming, freeing up class time or a teacher’s out-of-class work time; it renders some activities more motivating; it can put students in charge of their own learning; it provides access to information that wouldn’t be available otherwise; it allows students to practice and get feedback on language use… the list goes on. In essence, whether or not technology is a gimmick rests in the way it is used and for what purpose.

Here are some tips and things to think about when beginning your foray into using technology:

1. Start slow

You don’t have to use everything at once. Choose one device, tool or app to try this term or this year. It could be something as simple as asking students to email you their written paragraph or essay first drafts, writing comments on the papers in a different colour, using the highlighter to point out mistakes you want them to correct, then emailing the papers back to the students to correct for their final draft. For me, this method of feedback is preferable to handwriting comments because: I can write more; type-written comments are easier for my students to read (especially those whose L1 script is not Roman-based); I have a record of the feedback; students can’t lose their work (or if they do, I can simply email it to them again).

If you are feeling braver, try giving oral feedback on written work using Jing. My students responded positively to oral feedback because it gave them more listening practice. Have you always wanted to set up a class wiki, but baffled by the endless possibilities wikis provide? Start small: post up a text with questions you want students to read and answer for homework. Build the wiki over time.

2. Use the technology supplied with course books, workbooks and teacher’s books

If you are using CDs or DVDs, you are already using technology! Experiment with any online workbooks, student or teacher websites, learning games or mobile content. The benefit here is that everything is linked up, so teachers don’t have to think about how to relate the activity to the lesson aims. Don’t be afraid to let students take the lead with some of this – students are generally happy to help the teacher with the technology side of things. Course books also come with a degree of technological support from the publisher.

3. Use technology that is already in the room

Look at what you have available and then how you might use it. Be sure to include student cell phones and smartphones in your assessment. If you have a projector and internet access, for example, you can access interactive pronunciation charts for in-class pronunciation activities, or you can have an online dictionary at the ready for any vocabulary or collocations that come up in class. Keep these two open and running in the background (shrink them down) for easy access. Do quick image searches for vocabulary that comes up that can’t be explained easily – I once had the word badger in a text. I did a quick Google Images search, followed by a Wikipedia explanation projected on the wall – much more memorable than a simple explanation and I didn’t have to find a photo beforehand to bring to class.

4. Start with the learning aim

This is undoubtedly the most important thing to keep in mind. Put learning first and look for the best tool to use to aid that learning. Let’s imagine that you are teaching a Pre-Intermediate class and you want students to practice asking and answering questions. If students do this in pairs, it is hard to monitor everyone. Technology is beneficial here: students can video or audio record themselves (e.g. on their phones or tablets) and email you the recordings. You then have a record, can assess which students are able to ask and answer correctly, and can give directed feedback.

The added benefit of using technology in this way is that students are more likely to feel the task is purposeful and try to do it well. Creating a realistic context will add to the learning experience by showing students how the language they are learning in class relates to the real world: interviews ‘on the red carpet’, for example, provide a context and students can then do a blog write-up of the answers.

5. Ask yourself these questions:

What do I want my students to do or learn? Can technology help? If so, which technology? Is there something I can use that I already have or do I need to find something that I can use? Will using this technology benefit the students? If so, how? (If not, don’t use it!) How much time will it take me to learn this and is it time well invested? (i.e. Will students benefit proportionally? Once I have learned it, will I use it again and again?)

Invitation to share your ideas

What’s your technology story? Have you tried something out that you would like to share? Do you have any advice for those just beginning to take that first step into using technology? Please tell us about it by commenting on this blog.