Self evaluation with an iPod

How beneficial is it for a student to evaluate himself or herself?

Many of modern studies find it a very beneficial skill in second language acquisition.  Merrill Swain lists self-monitoring as a key component in her output hypothesis. Mike Schmidt introduced his Noticing Hypothesis, taking note that learning cannot occur without the learner taking notice of what it is she or he is learning.  This was most relevant in a case study with a Japanese national living in Hawaii by the name of Wes who, despite being able to communicate in English, could not improve on his language mechanics, most in part because he was not taking notice that he was making mistakes.  And how could anyone take notice when language is being mistakenly uttered?  At least, mistakenly uttered in an academic sense?  First and foremost, they would have to hear themselves, but given the split moment it takes for us to speak, the evaluation data is gone, nothing more than a memory, if even that.

In comes the Apple iPod.

What is so great is that you do not need the latest and greatest iPod to put self-evaluation activities together.  The first generation iPod touch works just as great for viewing student videos as the latest.  Any iPod, let it be the classic, the nano, the touch, or even the shuffle from any generation handles MP3 files with ease.  What’s even greater is that students love to get their hands on these devices.  So the next question is, what do we evaluate?

As a teacher of English to speakers of other languages, most notably Japanese, I find the most difficult aspect of teaching is giving the students the opportunity to use English, and even when they do, these Japanese students tend to shy away.  To help diminish this shyness, I and other teachers have been constantly placing students infront of video cameras and MP3 recorders.  Not the ultimate solution, but after a few months their shyness seems to decrease.

The next step is to allow students to view and comment on what was recorded.  We use what is called a PMI (Plus/Minus/Interesting) Chart, developed by Edward De Bono in the 1970’s.  This chart allows students to list the positive aspects of what they see/hear in their recording (i.e. I kept my eyes on the audience, my /r/ has improved a lot since last time), the negative aspects (i.e. I still am having trouble pronouncing the word, “blurry”), and aspects that they caught that were interesting or surprising (i.e. I did not know that I was swaying back and forth while speaking).  Another evaluation we ask students to do is to look at the scores we (the teachers) awarded them and to comment on whether they agree or disagree, and to explain why with examples.

It is not common for students to have the opportunity to evaluate themselves, and I have found that most students are very honest with what they are viewing, though a few do tend to be rather passive in their remarks.  However, one thing is clear, and that is the students enjoy using the iPods in class and are now asking after every video/audio recording we make, whether the iPods are being used or not.  Since our original evaluation exercise 2 years ago, a variety of different evaluation activities have been used in different classes.  I will give more details about these in a later post.

For teachers, preparing the iPods can be a daunting and time consuming task, but it is highly recommended that there is one iPod for every student.  Again, iPods are popping up at second-hand stores and you don’t need the latest and greatest to perform this evaluation task.  Apple has also recently come out with Apple Configurator for OS X 10.7 that allows a user to mass configure and deploy iOS devices for classroom use.

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