21st century editors don't use scissors and glue

Learners with scissors and glue class paper

At Encuentro Práctico, a conference for Spanish teachers, back in 2009, I showed the photograph above (here, distorted to protect the privacy of the people in it), in which the learners are admiring their work — a "class newspaper", which has involved a lot of use of scissors and glue.

Back then, as in my session I was demonstrating what could be done with an interactive whiteboard, I asked the question, "Couldn't this be done with technology — perhaps by using the IWB?"

Last Saturday, I found myself showing the same photograph again — in the very same room — at this year's edition of the IH Barcelona ELT Conference; but the question in 2015, six years on into the 21st century, really perhaps ought by now to be "Why isn't this being done with technology?"

I gave this second example, of work done by adults on a Spanish course, in which they've again been using scissors and glue to produce a piece of project work to illustrate what the world might be like in the year 3000 AD:

Project work on classroom wall

As I suggested, we don't know what the world is going to be like in the 31st century but I think it's a fairly safe bet that — barring an ecological catastrophe — adults won't be using scissors and glue to do collaborative project work.

Below, the first of the tasks I proposed in my presentation as an alternative to the one-issue only, scissors-and-glue class paper:

Proposal for 21st century language learning

To expand on the notes in the slide from my presentation (above), my suggestion (designed for B2 or above) was to:

  • Use a digital space like Blogger or Edmodo (great with teens) or a private G+ Community (possibly better with adults) to publish the "paper"
  • Have learners, in groups of 3 and on a rota basis, take turns to post 3 things (any three things!) they think will be of interest to their peers
  • Have them decide what to post, though a YouTube "video of the week" has always proved successful in the classes I've tried this with myself or have had friends and colleagues try it with
  • Have generating as many comments (and hence as much language) as possible from their peers as the editors' principal objective

I suggest two rules:

  • One of the posts has to be coursebook (CB) related, so that the language on the topic/s seen in class during the week gets recycled and added to
  • Only one of the posts can be about football (important, for the sake of variety, if you teach in somewhere as football mad as Barcelona!)

You might want to add a "no-bullying" rule and personally I like to have a "no stealing images" (or text) and have the editors also produce any artwork (including photos) necessary to illustrate the week's posts.

What do you and your learners get from it?
Among the possible advantages of "technology" over scissors and glue:

  • It's more "real world" — in the sense that, unless your learners are children, few of them ever now use scissors and glue, but many probably do use tools similar to those suggested
  • It enables the learner to add multimedia: you can have only text or images on paper but with digital your learners can add audio, video, animation…
  • It's therefore (to many) exciting and therefore motivating — precisely because it's "21st century"
  • It makes a second issue happen: with a paper and scissors edition, that's most unlikely!
  • It provides for ease of editing: glue something in the wrong place and your learners may find themselves starting over | see also: how I correct
  • It's ongoing, providing you with a platform not only for this project but with a place where other project work can be published, too — such as some of the other ideas suggested in my session
  • It allows for — and requirescomments from peers, taking advantage of the communicative possibilities of modern day technology and providing a platform on which that communication can take place and be practised
  • It's collaborative and creative — and who doesn't want that in their classroom?
  • It's "social", involving sharing and the creation of an end product to look back on (perhaps over the whole term — or year!) and be proud of
  • Above all, it leads to the use and practice of more language, which is why we're in the classroom in the first place

Alternatives | Another of the tools mentioned in the session was Tackk, which would work well if the technology available to you in your classroom is only (?!) the smart phones in your learners' pockets (thanks to Montse G. for feedback on that).

You could also make your class "paper" 100% a radio show and use some of the amazing podcasting tools and apps that are available — I particularly recommend the Spreaker app.

Thanks are also owed particularly to colleagues Alex, Don, Kim and Rachel, and to Kate, for feedback over the years on this idea.

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3 Comments

  1. It worked really well Tom (with teens in Edmodo). You dont mention making it a bit of a competition: which team can get the highest nunber of comments. That worked well with mine!

  2. Yes, thanks Kim: Personally I wouldn't make it too open a competition, but I can see how that might well happen with teens more or less of its own accord — a good thing for motivation, I think.

  3. In the feedback to the session, someone said they would have liked some indication of how correction of errors should/could be made.

    See this post on that subject — which would be an important issue with this particular project.

    In fact, you could argue that it's a vital subject with all projects of all kinds but I do sometimes think that, as teachers, we get a bit obsessed with correcting everything (impossible anyway).

    For preference, I like to provide as much help with language (especially with vocab) as possible — and see my job much more as providing the sort of language help that will reduce the number of errors, rather than correcting things afterwards.

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