Best practice: have your learners use smartphones to make video

Flipped learning: technology is not about the teacher does with it!

Here's on I posted on Twitter this week:

The project and competition is here (you have only until 1st June to get your learners to complete it, so hurry!) and the book is this one, Film in Action, by Kieran Donaghy, who produces the ideas for using film clips in language teaching on the brilliant Film-English.com website.

Go to any language teaching conference nowadays and you're all but guaranteed to hear someone speaking about flipped learning and how it's the Next Big Thing. I'm sorry, I just don't buy it, not for language teaching. In ELT, I don't think we're paid anywhere near enough to be producing video content, no matter how easy smartphones have made that. Now getting learners to produce the videos — as in the competition — that's surely the way to go!

Here's another brilliant example of the sort of thing learners could produce, which I also tweeted this week, from Mike Harrison:

Can your learners — not you, your learners!!! — tell a video story in 6 seconds (or 15 if you use Instagram)?

A tweet from the Innovate ELT Conference this weekend quoting Ceri Jones suggested that we should "Ask not what your tool can do, ask what it can help you to do". IH Barcelona replied:

It seems to me that real innovation, revolution if you like, isn't going to come from tinkering with what teachers do or don't do, or from what teachers do with technology, but from what teachers get learners to do with technology.

Recommended | The other titles from Delta Publishing are well worth exploring. See also two excellent ones on technology — Going Mobile (Nicky Hockly and Gavin Dudeney) and Teaching Online (Nicky Hockly and Lindsay Clandfield).

On Twitter, as @Tom_IHBCN, I post a maximum of one thing a day which I think will be of interest to language teachers and/or learners.

Tape poetry task for creative classrooms

Above, the example of tape poetry that I showed in my session yesterday at the IH Barcelona ELT Conference.

Below, a slide from my presentation, with the task suggested:

Task with tape poetry

WhatsApp, Google Drive, and a (private) Google+ Community — the icons on the right, above — make great tools for the task, though there are lots of other possibilities.

Stages for the task

First, individually…

  • Learners find English poems they like — either by (a) searching on the internet or (b) by asking native speakers (other teachers in your school…? in a school in an English-speaking country…?) or (c) by you making suggestions (which you might want to do at lower levels — and we're probably thinking teens or above and B1 or above for this task)
  • They pick a line or lines from the poem that they particularly like
  • They share the chosen lines with the rest of the class. I suggested a WhatsApp group for that but also recommended school and parental permission if you're doing this with teens.
  • They then attempt to write their own line of poetry, perhaps best on a similar theme
  • And finally they share that via your chosen tool (Edmodo would work if you don't like the idea of mobile phones with teens, with the small groups feature in Edmodo being great for this)

I suggested in my presentation that in your task design, you want to consider what parts of the task you want your learners to do in class time, and what parts outside of class. I'd recommend doing all the above mainly outside class time (but personally never use the word "homework" to describe the task 😉 !

Then, in groups of up to 4…

  • In class, taking the lines of poetry they've already found and written, mash them up into a single poem, editing them in any way they wish — for which a shared Google Drive document is great
  • They then print and cut up the finished poem into its separate lines
  • In class, the learners agree on and perhaps sketch a design for and — then outside class — produce a background for the poem (artwork probably again best done outside class)
  • Next they post the tape poem (they'll need glue or drawing pins) somewhere suitable — a classroom or corridor noticeboard, for example. You probably don't want to suggest posting on a wall or door somewhere outside in the street, though wouldn't that be fun 😉 ?
  • With the aid of their mobile phones, they then photograph the finished poem
  • They then share it with everyone in the class, for which I've suggested a Google+ Community (you might prefer Edmodo with teens, for greater privacy), though Instagram is a great place to share it if you want the whole world to see the work
  • Vital Finally, everyone comments on everyone else's poems, and on the project itself.

Commentary
I say the last commenting stage there is vital because it requires the learners to use more language, as well as taking advantage of the communicative possibilities technology now offers us. All tasks making use of technology should have that last stage built in, as a requirement, in my view.

Above, I've highlighted which parts (those that are going to involve the learners talking to peers, negotiating and brainstorming, and those that will require you to provide help with language) are best done in class.

The vital point I wished to make in my presentation was that it's not the teacher but the learners that should be using technology and that they should be using it not so much for the technology as for the language its use can generate, and the tape poetry task presented here I hope is a good example of such things.

More about tape poetry
More examples of tape poetry on Instagram; on tapepoetry.com; on Twitter.

Recommended reading
Although I suspect it appeared before tape poetry ever did, Jane Spiro's Creative Poetry Writing (OUP 2004) has lots of ideas on how to get fun and language out of poetry — a word many of us probably initially turn our noses up. In my experience, however, poetry works in class, and even people who say they "hate poetry" will say they liked classes and tasks that poetry was brought into.

Would it work?
As I mentioned in my presentation, this was the one task presented that I've not actually tried out with learners. I'm sure it would work — assuming that you and your learners think classrooms should be creative places. You do, don't you?

Please do add comments, and — especially — if you try it out, and perhaps adapt it, do let me know how it went.

Going mobile? You should be!

There's another excellent book just out in DELTA Publishing's excellent teacher development series.

Like the others in the series, Going Mobile — by Nicky Hockly and Gavin Dudeney — is short (120 pages), user-friendly and well-organized, and full of practical ideas that the teacher can take into class and try out, with good sections on some of the challenges and issues that are likely to arise.

If you are a language teacher who has never had your learners take out their smartphones and use them for a classroom activity, the book is conveniently organised from "simple to more demanding tasks".

I'd always suggest starting with easy tasks if you're never made much use of technology in a classroom — in fact I never do anything complicated: you want language-rich tasks, not technologically-complex ones.

To give one example from the book,"Talking trash" has the learners "take a photo of rubbish and record the story of how it got there" — to be done in pairs, thus ensuring that the interaction, the negotiation and the other language practice opportunities are as important as the technology.

Getting learners to photograph and share things via a WhatsApp group works so well (apart from anything else as it's so motivating) and if you — they! — start to look, it is amazing what people throw away. An example:

If there are privacy issues (and there are!), an alternative to WhatsApp would be to have learners use their phones to take the photographs, but share via another excellent app, Tackk.

All language teachers should surely by now — 15 years into the 21st century! — be taking advantage of the technology learners are carrying around with them in their pockets. Apps like WhatsApp and tasks like podcasting (for which I'd recommend Spreaker) afford so many opportunites for language practice and learning!

In my talk at the IH Barcelona ELT Conference (February 6-7), I'll be arguing that, in language teaching, we've got lost: we've ignored the signs of the times and blithely carried on making photocopies while our learners are making SnapChats. You want — and need — your learners to "go mobile", and this book will help you into that process.

Find out more about the book (contents, sample activities, videos, etc) on the publisher's site.

Also highly recommended, in same series: Teaching Online, which Nicky wrote with Lindsay Clandfield.

Also of interest

Muddiest points on Edmodo

Muddiest point (see video above) has always been the classroom assessment technique (CAT) I've used most, in teacher training more than in language teaching.

When the excellent Classroom Assessment Techniques: A Handbook for College Teachers [Amazon] first came out in 1988, authors Angelo and Cross envisaged teachers collecting information from the learners on slips of paper or card. I've stopped doing it that way as I've found that it works great with an Edmodo group.

There are many ways you can use CATs. If you want the answers you collect to be anonymous, Edmodo isn't going to work for you; if you want to keep the answers "secret" in some way, it's not your tool either. Personally, I prefer to sacrifice anonymity, make it optional, share the answers with everyone in the group and have the learners help clarify the muddiest points mentioned in the replies to the group.

The Angelo and Cross manual is a book all teachers should read.

Great things in online HLT magazine

Here's a couple of non-technological things from a great little online publication, Humanising Language Teaching, which reaches me six times a year via email:

I'm not sure what my own favourite Mario Rinvolucri activity is (he did an amazing one at Encuentro Práctico here in Barcelona back in December when he got 400 people to chant Greek back to him); indeed, I've no doubt I do lots of his activities without realising they are his…

Of his books, my personal favourites are Dictation (which I still do, though it's unfashionable) and Once Upon A Time, both of which date back well over 20 years.

"Non-techological…" But I always ask myself, how could I do that with technology, and could I do it better?

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