Posts Tagged Internet

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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Kids are not as tech savvy as we might seem… Or just a different kind of tech?

Much like riding a bicycle, when learning, you have to start somewhere. This past week I have been preparing students for a winter homework assignment that is to be done at home over the winter vacation, using both Edmodo and Google Drive. I was expecting students to be excited and even somewhat relieved that they could use a computer or their mobile device to do homework, rather than spend hours writing it out on paper. The reality, however, was that most students have very little experience using computers, some of whom did not have any Internet accessible device at home. Watching these high school students use computers as we were signing them up for the services was astounding. Despite the lack of typing skills, students just did not want to touch the things. Checking email, typing in a URL, or even understanding the difference between right and left clicking a mouse were all foreign skills to many of them. They we frustrated, lost, and even a little scared with using the computers. I saw similar expressions when using the iPads and iPods for the first time, but after a few class sessions, students seem to be comfortable with them; but at the same time, these are still fairly new devices, and in Japan are still seen as some what of a luxury to have them, but a personal computer? Whether it be a Mac or a Windows machine, the computer has been around long enough to become a standard commodity… Or has it? Japan, despite being seen as a techno hub, still is very traditional in how business is handled, especially in education. Students are so used to paper, and expect teachers to guide them through all their work. Cell phones and other mobile devices are seen as distractions, and are even banned in many schools (mine included).

One of the ICT instructors at my school informed me that most students just don’t use email, because they have apps like Line, which is Japan’s answer to Skype. I use this app as well. Thinking about its workings, users don’t need to know how to type on a qwerty keyboard, how to send and receive email, how to enter URLs, or how to move from one tab to another. In fact, most mobile apps don’t require anyone to know how to use a computer. So then it’s not that the students don’t have access to Internet accessible devices, but rather that the devices they have don’t allow them to see the Internet the way I saw it growing up in the .com bubble. The GUI has changed, how the Internet is accessed has developed past the entering of a URL, and the traditional qwerty keyboard is going the way of the typewriter.

We have entered into a post-PC era.

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