In the latest guest post in the Technology in Modern Foreign Languages series, Lisa Stevens explains why she incorporates technology into her teaching and how using technology has enhanced learning in her classroom.
I love technology. I haven’t always loved it but over the last few years I’ve fallen in love with all things geekie and become a bit of a technochick, as I’m called at school. It’s true that ‘shiny things’ appeal to me but it’s more than that. I’ve become increasingly convinced of the importance of using technology in everyday life and, as an educator, that means in my job too.
I have many roles: mother (very important!), Spanish teacher in a primary school, Language Coach for my local authority, eTwinning Ambassador for the British Council, Apple Distinguished Educator, consultant and speaker – and in all of these I have seen the power of technology to make my job easier, better and more fun! For me, it’s not about using technology for the sake of it – there has to be a good reason.
As I was thinking about this, I thought back to a blog post I wrote last year about one unit of the Key Stage 2 Spanish QCA scheme of work and how we’d done it in our classroom. You can read the original post here.
In a six week period we used technology every week to enhance our learning. Without it we’d have met the objectives of the Unit – that’s true. However, it wouldn’t have been the same and I doubt that the pupils would have gained as much as they did from using all the tools we utilised.
So, what did we do and what did we use?
Websites – The unit was based on / inspired by Saint-Saens’ Carnival of the Animals, and I found a wonderful Spanish website which featured clips of each of the animals’ themes and also gave information about Saint Saens, the piece and the musical instruments used. This meant that I was informed as the teacher but the pupils could also have a look, surprising themselves as to how much they understood despite it being in Spanish!
YouTube - One lesson was based on the sounds animals make, and this I introduced with a clip from YouTube of a traditional Spanish song, Los pollitos dicen. This captured attention and set the pupils a challenge. What was our learning objective for the lesson? I might have just written it on the board and got on with the lesson but in this way, pupils were actively involved in their learning and engaged from the start. Plus there was much singing along. I use YouTube all the time and we are fortunate that it is not blocked in our LA – however, there was a time when it was, and then I just downloaded the clips using Zamzar or the widget on my Firefox browser for use in the classroom.
Sound recording – Linking with the cross curricular element of the topic, we made a ‘symphony’ – some may say ‘cacophony’ – using the rhythm of the animal names in Spanish and clapping. We recorded ourselves using Audacity on the classroom PC. This enabled us to listen back and assess our work. It also gave me evidence of what we’d been doing. And the pupils loved it! We used sound recording later in the unit too, with individual pupils recording themselves personal information as if they were animals. On that occasion we used Audacity on a laptop and a headset microphone.
Nowadays – how time flies!- we use Easispeak microphones about which I could rave for hours and frequently do. These are much easier to use in terms of portability, background noise and storage. Recording themselves was a novelty for the pupils (less so now that we do it often in Spanish) and had the benefit of allowing pupils privacy to speak without an audience to intimidate them, and also of motivating the more reluctant learners to have a go. They had pride in their achievement that I would suggest they would not have felt if I had simply asked them questions in class.
Podomatic – Recording the pupils proved to be not only practical but motivational . And we took it a step further. Using Podomatic, a free podcasting site, I made a school podcast channel – WCPS Spanish – on which we published the resultant sound files. Here’s the ‘symphony’ and some of the sound files – you can scroll forwards for more examples, all entitled Soy un animal (name). Using Podomatic meant we could publish on the school website and also meant that we had a presence on iTunes – a BIG thrill for the pupils who were full of it and wanted to check on downloads!
Interactive Whiteboards / Animated Powerpoint – Using technology isn’t just using spangly tools and hardware, it’s about using what you’ve been given effectively. And using your interactive whiteboard is one way of using technology all the time. Flipcharts allow pupils to be active in the lesson – rather than passively looking at the board, they can move items, group them, play games, find out if they are right or wrong using graphics and so much more. And using Powerpoint animations is another way of engaging interest. I used it in telling the story Querido Zoo – much easier to see than a book, with the animations replacing the flaps in the book.
Build your Wild Self / Avatars – Build your Wild Self is a wonderful site from the Bronx Zoo that allows you to make an avatar that is a hybrid animal. I’d discovered it before, but it really came into its own here. Pupils made their avatars then described them. They had the possibility of talking about body parts, animals, giving descriptions, talking about the noise their animal might make, where it might live and what it might like to eat. I posted an example I made up here. The pupils’ were less complicated!! Again, we might have drawn the animals by hand but this is time consuming and the objective of the lesson was description and links to adaption and habitat, so the tool allowed us to have fun whilst getting on to the crux of the task.
Animation – Each unit of the QCA schemes of work ends with a ‘celebration of learning’ and for this unit, inspired by Oscar Stringer, I decided to try some animation. Brave as I had 30 kids in the class and no support you might think, but using technology in my experience brings out the best in pupils who revel in the responsibility you give them to look after equipment and work together sensibly. Good job as we used my 3 day old MacBook about which I was extremely precious! I split the group into pairs, gave them a couple of farm animals and tasked them with getting their animals from one side of the ‘stage’ to another.
The resulting footage was then put into iMovie and each pair voiced their animals. The resulting film may not be the best animation ever – it’s very dark as we used the iSight camera on the MacBook and was filmed over two weeks so the scenery shifts half way through. However, the pupils were pleased with their efforts. Everyone participated. They’d cooperated, spoken Spanish and shown creativity as well as learned a new skill. And they’d done it with minimal input from me. Posting it to YouTube made them even happier, and they still check now for the number of times their work has been hit. More details are here.
So, that was just one unit – six weeks of work. For me, the use of technology made perfect sense on each occasion. It made sense to the pupils too. From feedback I received informally as I welcomed and dismissed classes, it was welcomed by parents who had heard about and seen what we’d done from their excited children. And, although it took time, it provoked questions from other members of staff who wanted to know what we’d been doing as the pupils had been enthusing about their tasks.
Perhaps we don’t use technology that often in every unit but it is now quite normal to record speaking activities, or make Voki, or use Voicethread or Wallwisher to collaborate and show what we’ve learned. And so it should be.
There’s a screencast of the session I delivered at the Primary Language Show last year in Liverpool talking about this unit here if you want to hear me talking about it!