10 factors that may (or may not) influence how successful technology is for you in a classroom

The list below — for the purposes of debate only — is for a forthcoming workshop I'll be doing (yes, I know, I did say I'd retired, but I couldn't resist the temptation to come out of retirement for just one day ūüėČ !).

Factors influencing success with technology

The question: Which two or three will make most difference to how successful technology is in your classroom?

Note that I'm not suggesting that these necessarily do make a difference — and in fact there are at least two in my list there that I would say make no difference at all.

Note also that I'm thinking your gender, your age, not that of your learners, though if you think that's important, feel free to say so. There's no right or wrong answer, though I will later suggest what my own answer would be.

Suggestions, opinions…? In the comments…

A couple of fun things because it's Friday

Here's something from Twitter which I "liked" and which gets funnier and funnier (ok, it may be hysteria ūüėČ !) the nearer it gets to the end of term:

That's not really one for class (unless you're in teacher training, perhaps) but here's one I'd wager would go down in the right kind of class:

I can picture a class I used to have laughing at it and then getting into a very serious discussion on the topic of "men" (they were all ladies, you understand ūüėČ !)

On a more serious note, the Visual Arts Circle looks like an interesting initiative and this, on visual literacy in language teaching is a long but interesting read.

Technology post-CELTA (3): Technology for teaching

The Axis of pEvil

The Axis of pEvil

In some of the (literally) hundreds of sessions on using technology that I¬†did on CELTA courses I used the term "Axis of pEvil", and suggested that ¬†— after your course has finished — you need¬†to get off it.

The Axis of pEvil is a series of things that all start with "P". It starts with a PC, which churns stuff out of the printer, which is then taken to the photocopier and possibly¬†also requires an accompanying PowerPoint presentation displayed on a classroom projector¬†— all of which your CELTA course may in fact have "taught" you to use.

It's not that you should never use any of those things — there's a time and a place for them (though, actually, come to think of it, a PowerPoint- and photocopier-free CELTA course would be nice!). But you want to get off the Axis of pEvil if it's the only road you travel in your time as a teacher.

Get in lane! Get in lane!

Get in lane!

Did we just ignore the warning signs?

We're 16 years into the 21st century and technology has kind of moved on. I strongly suspect that lots of us in ELT missed the warning signs. If it's only the teacher using the technology, it must feel really weird to people born this century (some of whom are now nearly 17!) whose parents parked them with iPads at a tender age (a really bad idea!) and who grew up on Facebook and Snapchat (etc).

I'm not a big fan of Kahoot but I think, post-CELTA, you want to look at it and be at least aware of how amazing it is that kids could do that on the phones that they're been itching to get back out of their pockets ever since the last time you told them to put them away. If you're not asking yourself how you could exploit the technology now back in their pockets (and not just as dictionaries!), you should be! If your CELTA course didn't raise that question, then it ought to have done!

People playing Kahoot on their phones is amazing; your PowerPoint, in comparison, frankly just isn't, no matter how meticulously you prepared it. A smart phone is an amazing thing — just think of¬†how many amazing things you can do with it. In comparison, a photocopier is a rusting pile of 20th century junk.

One of the ways in which, it seems to me, CELTA veers you off in the wrong direction is that you end up spending too long preparing materials, too little thinking how technology could be used by your learners for communicative tasks:

As a teacher, because — let's face it — you're frankly fairly badly paid in ELT, in most countries, you just can't afford post-CELTA to go on spending hours preparing lots of materials and perfect PowerPoints (an oxymoron).

So what lane should we have gotten into?
Fewer photocopies, less technology!
The road not travelled: less is more! 

For teaching you probably want¬†fewer photocopies than your CELTA course may have taught you to use; less use of Google Images;¬†less use of PowerPoint (preferably no use of PowerPoint — certainly far fewer slides than trainees seem to create, like 3 or under for any given class!). You probably want¬†fewer materials and less technology — particularly as used in the classroom by the teacher.

Partly, I suspect, the problem is the teacher's fear of technology: fear that it will go wrong and they won't be able to fix it if it does go wrong in class — so best stick to what we know, namely PowerPoint.

But what we really need to know about technology is not how to operate it — because our learners are going to do that (see next post in this series) — but how to exploit it so that, when they use it, they learn more, better. More than anything else it's a question not so much of our making good use of technology in teaching, as one of designing good tasks which technology can enhance for learning.

The lane we should have got into wasn't Runway 1, it wasn't a flight path, as teachers we aren't supposed to be the pilot — and we're not groundcrew technical support, either. What we are¬†(or should be) is aircabin crew, preparing and serving nourishing meals (better known as lessons), handing out assistance as and when required but what we don't want either is passengers sitting there meekly like sheep. And on ELT Airlines, mobile phones are allowed!

Good tasks from good materials
For what our learners could be doing with their mobile phones, I recommend this book (and this one is excellent, too!)

You can find ready-made tasks making the sort of minimal use of technology that I would advocate on places like Kieran Donaghy's excellent film-english.com and on the equally excellent ViralELT, both of which exploit materials to be found on YouTube or Vimeo (where the superb Vimeo Staff Picks are well worth following, perhaps via Twitter).  

Here's one example from Vimeo:

A Film by Vera Vaughn from Sorrel Brae on Vimeo.

For what you could do with that, see these generic YouTube tasks.

TOP TIP: Don't touch the technology in your classroom.
I mean that literally. Don't start and stop the video yourself: have your learners operate it for you. That's a first step in the right direction.

For more materials which, with a little imagination, can easily been turned into tasks for the language classrooms, I highly recommend spending¬†60 seconds skimming The Guardian (or the BBC, or some other big media site) every morning. Here's one that came from there — and, if you teach in Spain, you've got an entire lesson there, as everyone (and their Mum/their granny) knows the real way to make paella!

Here's another, same source: Hunting for hygge, a new ingredient in Denmark's recipe for happiness. What is the recipe for happiness? One of the generic tasks I've probably used most often in class: brainstorming our ideas and then comparing ours with those we then pick out of an article, and then discuss.

Another favourite source of brilliant ideas for speaking and writing activities is WritingPrompts on Tumblr.

Five vital considerations you need to make

1 | Don't use technology just for creating more "exercises"
Assuming, post-CELTA, that you're using a coursebook with your classes, your coursebook gives you the exercises. Technology gives you opportunities to be more creative.

Take songs, for example. You could just turn the lyrics into a cloze test (aka filling in the gaps) but pick the right song and you can actually get people to talk about it. Just the song (there's the technology, either via YouTube or by Spotify), no exercises or photocopies, and a couple of questions to spark the discussion — which will take you down the materials-light, conversation-driven path advocated by Dogme language teaching, another direction you want to explore post-CELTA.

Here's Bob Dylan, for an example:

You want songs that tell stories, songs with question marks in them. How about some Bobbie Gentry?

See also 50 Ways To Use Music & Song

2 | Ask yourself what your ROI is
ROI stands for return on investment and in business will usually be a question of money. In ELT, it's a question of time — your time! If you're spending an hour preparing material for a five-minute activity, your ROI is appallingly low. If 5 minutes skimming gives you one great headline that will spark an hour's class discussion, you're on the right track.

3 | You are NOT a graphic designer!
I work in a computer room: I see CELTA course trainees spending an awful lot of time looking for the perfect image and picking the "right" font size.

But, as a teacher, you aren't paid to do art or graphic design and the "right" font size won't make for a better lesson, or teach your learners any more English. The art of teaching is asking stimulating questions. It has nothing at all to do with your choice of font size!

4 | Understand how amazing Google Drive is
Of all the webtools I've used, firstly because it is so brilliant for collaboration — with peers and with learners — Google Drive¬†is unquestionably the best. Brilliant for learners giving collaborative presentations — but we'll come back to that one in the next post in this series.

See this for how to share Google Drive files.

5 | Ask yourself how you could exploit social media
Your learners are all on Facebook, right? Even though, at first sight, you might not want to be there with them, another question you ought to ask yourself is this: is there some way you could be exploiting the communicative possibilities of Facebook (etc) with your learners?

Next in this series, we'll look at how you might exploit a shared digital space (Facebook would be an example of that) with your learners.

See also:

And if you really must use PowerPoint, know what Death by PowerPoint is, and learn to use PowerPoint properly! These activities might be worth examining, for example.

More tips

See also
My top 12 sites for language teaching and learning

Coming up in this "Technology post-CELTA" series

Technology post-CELTA (2): Filling in the gaps CELTA left


TeachingEnglish.org.uk: one to bookmark, now!

Your CELTA course (CELTA: orginally, "Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults") is a short and intense month-long course and inevitably leaves a few gaps in the¬†knowledge that you will require as a language teacher — and as a job seeker (see previous post in this series).

One of my jobs for the last 10 years¬†and counting has been passing on jobs vacancies to trainees who have taken their CELTA course at IH Barcelona. Most¬†of them (approx. 300 a year) are TEFL jobs in Spain and I'd say 75% or more of employers specify that they want people with experience of teaching young learners and/or Cambridge exams — which CELTA really didn't prepare you specifically for.

So here are a couple of websites that I always recommend people that cover some of the same areas your CELTA course did — and some it didn't.

1. | Teaching young learners
The first is TeachingEnglish.org.uk (image above), which is produced by the British Council and the BBC, and which is great if you finish up teaching young learners, which the site divides into teaching "kids" up to 12, and teaching teens, with lesson plans, activities, articles etc. on both.

One Stop English

OneStopEnglish.com: your first stop site for many areas of English language teaching

You then have OneStopEnglish.com, which comes from the publishers Macmillan, which is also great for ideas and resources on teaching young learners (with resources again divided between children and teens), and many other things as well.

You have to pay for full access to it (details for individuals and for schools, and notice also the 30-day free trial option) but it's a site I always recommend (full disclosure: I've written articles on using technology for the site).

Both of the above two sites have the advantage over many things you'll find on the digital dungheap (aka the internet) that they've been produced by experts in the field.

TIP Where you're finding things elsewhere on the web, it can be helpful to ask yourself the question "What would [name of your CELTA course tutor/s] have said about this? How many ex-trainees have told me that works wonders?!

Technology isn't always the answer: one of the things I must have recommended most often on our post-course support group is reading books like these to help fill in those gaps.

And of course you also have workshops and courses that will provide you with useful ideas and knowledge (and look good on your CV). One of the most important things to do post-CELTA and for as long as your career in ELT lasts: go on learning to teach.

2. | Preparing learners for exams

Cambridge English exams

CambridgeEnglish.org: your go-to exams site

If you teach in a language school, particularly in Spain, but in lots of other countries around the world too, Cambridge exams are hugely important. The obvious go-to site is cambridgeenglish.org, which tells you pretty much all you need to know.

If you're going for an ELT job interview, at the very least know what's on the exams and what PET and FCE are and be able to explain the different levels!

3. | Technology

It's not about what the teacher does with the technology!

Something else your CELTA course probably didn't tell you: it's not a question of what you do with technology!

We'll come back to this in another post in this series but it's been my experience that CELTA doesn't really point you in the right direction as far as technology is concerned.

My big "problem" with CELTA is that it — rightly — focuses on teaching you how to teach, whereas I'd suggest that 21st technology¬†really needs to be in the hands of¬†the learners, not the teacher,¬†for it to be used most successfully.

Your CELTA course probably taught you that your classrooms ought to be learner-centred, didn't it? So why are you hogging the keyboard and displaying your PowerPoint? That's the equivalent, if you ask me, of your Mum posting stuff on Facebook for you and you only being allowed to watch!

For a website, or rather a blog, where you can find lots of ways your learners could be using technology, let me suggest my own blog here — or you could follow me on Twitter for more ideas on that ūüėČ !

But we'll come back to this one…

4. | Teaching 1-2-1
One other area that CELTA probably didn't cover was teaching one-to-one, private lessons (which you may well find yourself doing to make ends meet, as they tend to be considerably better paid what you get per hour in language schools).

You could Google that (though first I'd always search for results on TeachingEnglish.org.uk and the results on OneStopEnglish). But you might again want a book for that specialised area and there's Peter Wilberg's One to One: A Teacher's Handbook (LTP; Amazon) or Priscilla Osborne's One to One (Keyways Publishing, Amazon) for that.

Did CELTA not prepare you for any other key areas? Tell us in the comments!

Coming up in this series

  • Technology for autonomy
  • Technology for becoming a better teacher
  • Technology for learning English
  • Technology for teaching¬†English
  • Technology for filling in the gaps post-CELTA
  • Technology for finding work in ELT

Technology post-CELTA (1): technology for finding work in English language teaching

Get on Twitter!

You want a job? Get yourself on Twitter!

For many people, taking a CELTA course is the start of their career in English language teaching (ELT, aka TEFL). Post-CELTA, one of the first ways you are probably going to use technology for is to help you find that all important first job as an English teacher.

Here's a few tips, which come from many years of coming into contact — often thanks to technology — with many, many people looking for TEFL jobs.

  • What is your email?
    If you have an email address that sounds unprofessional, ditch it — and make that the first thing you do. Ideally, you want your own name. What you don't want is something like backpacker6@wherever.com (and I've seen far worse). The problem is this: do you want to run the risk of putting them off you?
  • Do you look¬†like a mad axeman/woman?
    While you're at it, get yourself a decent, professional-looking profile picture, use the same one¬†on social media if you're there publicly, and attach it to your CV. Note that "professional-looking" is virtually impossible to achieve with a webcam¬†(or a selfie-stick!), and you want it without dark glasses, the Eiffel Tower, your boy-/girlfriend or your cat (etc.). Your photo is the first impression you make — and you don't get a chance to make a second.
  • What's you digital footprint?
    You might also want to actually try searching online for yourself and see what you (and a potential employer) can find. What have you tweeted about? Do you have a public blog? Start restricting who can see what if necessary!
  • Is your CV perfect?
    Then you want to make sure your CV is up-to-date and typo-free, and includes your nice new profile picture, in a version that you can send to potential employers — best as a .pdf document
  • Are you on LinkedIn?
    Even if you're not really much into social media, get yourself on LinkedIn, with your updated CV and — two vital things — your location and your profile picture. Your location is important because LinkedIn will find you¬†and send you job offers based on that. Not all of them will be in ELT so if you do have other qualifications and experience, you want to decide whether or not to highlight them. And LinkedIn is for professionals — you really are expected to appear without your cat!
  • Is your¬†CV online elsewhere?
    There are lots of other places you can have an online CV which it can be interesting to provide a link to in the¬†resum√© you're sending to employers. I have mine¬†on about.me, which is a site I can recommend (though if I were actually looking for work, I'd spend some time and effort to tailor¬†it to the kind of job I was looking for). There are lots of others but note that you can be a bit too clever and fancy with some of them. I've seen some which probably didn't in fact impress any Director of Studies (DoS) who ever looked at them. (Perhaps it should be said that the average DoS in the average language school isn't… Well, let's just say that they are not usually a technological whiz kid.)
  • ELT jobs sites
    You then want to actually start looking for jobs, with¬†TEFL.com probably being the best, most scam-free site for TEFL jobs (and do beware of scams — which would include any job that requires you to pay to obtain it).¬†Some of the big school chains¬†(such as Bell, EF, International House) have their own recruitment sites which are well worth checking out. Some of them will require you to register — worth doing if you're seeking work.

First coffee, then breakfast, then Twitter, THEN class!

You're looking for work? First Twitter, then coffee, then the paper!

  • Get on Twitter
    If you're not on Twitter, you maybe want to be, at least until you find a job: you can be "private" and you¬†don't actually need to "tweet" — but follow TEFL.com on Twitter¬†(and other ELT jobs sites) and you can access the jobs before they're immediately snapped up.
  • And for your next job…
    Once you've¬†got¬†your first job — and are maybe looking for your next (!)¬†—¬†in your next interview it's good to be able to talk about something your learners have done with technology. I'd suggest that's more important than being able to say what you can do with technology, and some interesting project work your learners have done will probably be a plus against your name with any forward-thinking DoS.

Coming up in this "Technology post-CELTA" series