Posts Tagged english

Exploring a more active and student-centered approach to vocabulary

Vocabulary is in general not fun. It mainly deals with rote memorization of words with little context or use in everyday conversation. For learners of English as a second or other language, many of the vocabulary words presented for study, especially as they reach intermediate and advanced stages of L2 acquisition, have little to no relevance to their language use. This is especially true for students who participate in courses designed for test preparation. In my case, I am responsible for TOEIC test preparation for high school students looking to enroll into universities that use the test as a proficiency check.

Test of English for International Communication (TOEIC) is especially popular in Japan and South Korea, and focuses on context derived from business encounters. I have been particularly interested in the effects the class (and in some ways the test) has on students’ motivation towards the L2 as they move through the year-long course, but I have also taken interest in how to best study vocabulary. Many publications print out vocabulary lists based on levels students want to achieve. What I have found is that none of these authors can really tell you which vocabulary will be used on the test. ETS has a published book of common vocabulary that I rely on for my lists. The challenge now is what to engage the students (or rather to get the students to engage themselves) into not only studying these vocabulary, but also how to use and manipulate them.

icon180x180Two years ago I began experimenting with Quizlet, an online service that digitizes study cards for not only you to see wherever you go with your smartphone or tablet, but also to share with others, either within a class or with the world. Prior to trying Quizlet, students were assigned sections of a vocabulary list and assigned to fill out a form for each word, then copies of these forms were made for other students in the class. A lot of paper and very time consuming. Though the pair forms still exist, students can now transfer their work to Quizlet for others to see. For, that solved one problem of peer-to-peer collaboration, and also reduced my time at the photo copier. But now, how to engage with it?

This year I experimented with group game/activity. I brought in iPads, 1 for every 4 students, and engaged in a gameshow-like activity. On the board were categories:

  • Example sentence
  • Word families (changing the word into different parts of speech)
  • synonyms
  • antonyms
  • similar sounding words

Students as a class decided the point value of each category based on what they felt which categories were easier or more difficult than the others (more difficult gave higher point value). The iPads were used as an answer board using one of the many Whiteboard apps available. Each group took turns deciding a category while the teacher decided on the word. Students could use Quizlet on their smartphones to review the word that was chosen. The feedback on the activity was positive and provided a ‘fun’ time for the class.

Though this activity is one to hold on to, I still ponder on its effectiveness in vocabulary intake. Surely it allows students to converse on the chosen words, creating valuable dialog, but it is difficult to understand if these dialogs support vocabulary intake or not. What I do know is that Quizlet itself is a game-changer, with one student, in an evaluation she wrote for the class, stated that Quizlet was useful for her, but would like to see it used in class more.

So the search is on. In the meantime, promoting to take full advantage of Quizlet and its many study activities is a priority, with the iPads coming out more often for group dialog on individual words is on the table.

 

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This day in Ed. Tech

In the late morning classes, one senior teacher was using an iPad as he wirelessly connected to a projector via AppleTV in order to demonstrate to students how to understand UNHCR country profiles as part of their Model United Nations training. As he gave a tour of the profiles, students used their smart phones to view the web pages being shown. On the other side of the room, an exchange student who does not have a smart phone was issued a school iPad connected to the room’s WiFi system for the activity.

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An oldie but a goodie: iWebKit

A web app framework allows anyone with little to no programing knowledge to create a website that is designed specifically for smartphone and tablet devices. There are a few out on the internet to choose from, depending a lot on your own taste and what you want to achieve with the web app.

In 2016, the Kansai High School Model United Nations is looking to implement a web app that can be used by participants to receive announcements and other information pertaining to the day-to-day activities.

To prepare this web app, I chose an oldie but a goldie. iWebKit was introduced to me by a fellow Apple Distinguished Educator while we were working together in an iOS integrated school a few years ago. iWebKit has not been updated in the last 5 years or so, but its simple UI and ease of use makes it a choice for me. There is also the nostalgia of the original iOS interface.

For this web app, we will be integrating Twitter for live announcements, Google Drive to access needed documents, Google Calendar to display the days’ events, and Google Sites to allow group editing of MUN draft resolutions.

I am a big Apple fanatic, but being able for a project like this to work on other mobile devices is crucial. iWebkit has been doing just fine with that.

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A Day of Tech in Multiple Classes

Continuing to record the use of tech in the classroom, I had the privilege today to assist two teachers in tech use, aside from my own use.

  1. Teacher A being given an iPad to be used as a debate timer using the app Presentation Timer, as well as a video player. This was his first use of an iPad in the classroom.
  2. Another teacher was given our electronic blackboard projector to show and demonstrate how to fill in forms for the students’ preparation for an abroad school trip coming up in February.
  3. Myself, placing a number of audio speeches on 3 iPads for students in small groups to listen to while practicing the preparation of a debate summary speech.

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Students vote, prefer small groups to whole class in video-watching activities

I started off my 2015 listening workshop class using the traditional approach of a class watching a video on the big screen and completing appropriate work. Last week, I broke them into small groups to watch videos on a group iPad while completing appropriate work.

I then asked in an informal manner which setting they prefer, and all who replied voted for the small groups. I would agree. I find the larger class to be very passive when everyone is sharing a big screen. As is the manner, students face forward, mouths shut, while their teacher lectures. However, when they are broken into smaller groups, interaction occurs, and the work seems to become more enjoyable.

It also allows more teaching moments for individual students as I can walk around and answer questions.

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QuickVoice for voice recording

IMG_0637-1A simple, free app for iPad, QuickVoice, allowed our students to record a short mock-radio infomercial about the effects of Malaria and how to prevent infection. As student groups came up to record, the rest of the class closed their eyes to pretend they were listening to the radio.

The recording I felt pushed the students to perform at a higher level than what they might have done given a slight rise in anxiety, but still doing so in front of classmates made the experience enjoyable.

QuickVoice® Recorder By nFinity Inc.

We also used a rather inexpensive Monaural Microphone from audio-technica.

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TED + iPad = productive small-group interaction

Every educator is familiar with TED and the vast amount of videos available online. Every educator is familiar with the iPad and the vast amount of apps available via iTunes.

In second language teaching, my institute are finding TED videos to be a valuable tool in both listening and discussion practice for two reasons.

  • 1) Students can relate to presented topics, and there are many topics from science to social media that both students and teachers can choose.
  • 2) Many presentations (not all) have a clear enough use of English that L2 students can follow, and even if that is not the case, transcripts are available at ted.com for students to follow, as well as closed captioning in a variety of languages.

I have always found the iPad (or any portable device) extremely useful in the classroom for its most simplest function, video and audio playback. I have used iPods in the past to allow students to watch videos of themselves and provide self-assessment of their progress over a school year.

IMG_0111At my current institute, I am responsible for a course titled English Workshop: Listening. Traditionally, students would gather in a room and watch a video on a big screen and answer questions from a workbook. This worked fine as there was plenty of teacher-student interaction before and after the video, but at the teacher’s pace. With 4 iPads at my disposal now, I am able to divide students into small groups to watch the same videos. There is still student-teacher interaction, but with two noticeable differences, one which was assumed to happen, and the other was not.

  • 1) Students were watching the videos at their own pace. This allows lower level students to be able to re-watch any number of times they feel necessary. For L2 learning, repetition is key, and watching videos on topics students are interested in makes the repletion a less daunting task.
  • 2) Students discuss what they are watching with each other. When students were watching together on a big screen, seldom did any of them talk to each other, but in the smaller, more intimate group setting, discussing what they were watching became easier. Even though much of the discussion is in their L1, the addition of this opportunity allows them to get a fuller grasp of the ideas presented, which can present further opportunities for L2 interaction with the teacher. There were also opportunities of more intimate teacher-student interactions that were 1-to-1, rather than teacher-to-class.

TED has been a great way to engage students in topics in which they are interested while still working through L2 activities, and iPads have given the students an opportunity to participate in a smaller, more intimate setting. As TED videos are available online, BYOD schools can take full advantage of the ease of availability.

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