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Ten tried and tested internet tools for teachers

Over the past academic year, my students and I have been experimenting with the use of a number of web based applications (often known as Web 2.0 tools). My aim has been to enhance our schemes of work by providing our students with new and exciting learning opportunities.

In my opinion, using technology effectively has clear benefits for both teaching and learning and can help to improve motivation by engaging pupils in activities which, perhaps, step out of their ordinary school experience and which show them that it is possible to teach and learn about a subject using tools similar to those they use daily outside school. In other words, we have tried to use the types of tools with which they are often already familiar.

I have written about each of these individual tools in separate posts, but I thought it would be useful to list the ten most used internet applications on one post. As ever, I aim to provide, not only a list of the web applications we have used, but also examples of practice which you may wish to follow or, indeed, improve upon.

Therefore, each of the entries below has links leading to lesson plans which have incorporated the tools as well as working examples of students’ work where appropriate. Without further ado, and in alphabetical order, my ten tried and tested internet tools for teachers are:

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Why do I use Web 2.0? Now that is a good question…

Leon filming student

I was delighted to welcome yesterday Theo Kuechel and Leon Cych who came over to my school to interview me and some of my pupils as they worked on a Web 2.0 project in our ICT room. Theo and Leon are filming a number of practitioners across the country in order to put together a number of case studies for an online CPD course on behalf of Naace for the Training and Development Agency for Schools.

Their questions made me reflect about why I use technology and Web 2.0 (nope, I don’t like that term either, but, hey, it’s all we’ve got) in my classes. Using web based applications has become so natural for me now, you could even say normal, that I always forget that those of us opting to enrich our pupil’s learning experience in this way are very much in the minority, for one reason or another.

Win/win

My interest in using web based applications to enhance teaching and learning started early. Having used computers a lot in a previous incarnation working for a large transport and logistics company, I already felt comfortable with the idea of using computers to help me manage teaching administration, such as assessment data or lesson planning, by the time I started my teacher training,

But it was once I was placed in schools as part of my teacher training, teaching real students, that I realised that ICT could make my life easier as a teacher in terms of administration, and also that pupils were actually engaged and enthused by the prospect of using computers in learning languages.

The use of web applications also allowed my pupils to use software which they didn’t have to install and which could be accessed from any computer as long as it was connected to the internet. This meant that they could work on the same piece of work, the same project, both from school and from home, allowing me to bridge the gap in between the two.

Examples of Web 2.0 tools applied to school work

Looking back to only five years ago or so, it is obvious that I have incorporated Web 2.0 into my schemes of work more and more without really noticing or even without having made a conscious decision to do so. It just happened, because it worked for me and my students. Nowadays, my classes do a project every two or three weeks which involves the use of Web 2.0 applications in one way or another.

These are some of the projects on which we have worked in the past year:

What makes these applications so special and why should you care?

The visual qualities of web 2.0 are very important. When I was a student, I went home after school and relaxed watching tv or reading a magazine. In comparison, the first thing my pupils do, however, is switch on their computers, not the tv. In their computers, they are faced with a world which is bright and visual, rich in images, video and sound.

Using web 2.0 at school taps into this world of theirs and allows pupils to express their creativity in a way which they find familiar, because these websites operate on the same principles of social networking and content creation and sharing to which they are already so used to. So, if we teach them in a way that reflects how they live their lives when they’re not in school, and if we help to ensure that the gap between their school life and real life is minimised, we then become better able to guarantee the commitment and engagement of the vast majority of our students.

Perhaps Prensky had a point after all…

In my experience, pupils come into secondary schools nowadays having already become very familiar with computers and able to easily navigate websites and communicate using the internet. If they are faced with new tools, they have a go and generally learn impressively quickly how to use them.

Yes, of course, this doesn’t apply to every pupil and, of course, they still struggle with spreadsheets and, of course, they don’t really understand what internal computing processes make the animations in Go!Animate come about. And does it really matter? If you think about it, they don’t have to know: you manage to drive a car perfectly well with only a basic understanding of how a gear-box operates or how the fuel is fed to the engine; you are probably perfectly fluent in English but, unless you’re a linguist, you might struggle to tell the difference between the indicative and subjunctive mood or the passive and active voice.

This doesn’t mean you can’t really drive or that you can’t really speak English, just that you don’t need to know the internal workings of how it is achieved, just in the same way a Formula 1 driver does not need to know the width of a piston or a writer does not need to know how many phonemes the English language has. Let’s face it, not everyone is going to be a Flash developer.

My inkling is that my younger students come to us already having developed something akin to web sytax, an internet universal grammar if you like, which they have often already mastered by the time they make the transition from primary. We, teachers, therefore ought to be able to make the most of what abilities these students already posses so as to transform the way we teach them.

Many thanks again to Leon and Theo for coming to see us and for making me think about why I do what I do. As ever, do feel free to let me know, by way of comment, what your thoughts are.

Photos by Theo Kuechel

Using Voki and a blog in a sequence of three lessons

I have recently been looking into motivating pupils, boys in particular, to speak in the target language and I have been studying the use of Voki and my subject blog as the means to achieve this objective. Having laid out the rationale for the use of Web 2.0 for this purpose in a previous post, I would like to explain exactly what I did in these three lessons and how I planned them.

I was very careful to introduce the idea of using Voki to my pupils so that they would be immediately engaged and enthused by the prospect of using it. I therefore decided to plan for serendipity and cheat slightly by making them think it was their idea to use Voki all along: I purposefully showed them a Voki during a lesson which had been recorded by my three year old son speaking in Spanish. I then waited until one of my pupils suggested that they could use Voki in their Spanish lesson, what a brilliant idea!

From this moment on, I deliberately tried to become a facilitator or a collaborator: a senior partner who would mentor them through the process of acquainting themselves with the new application and with the creation of their own Spanish-speaking avatar. After a quick demonstration in which I explained how to register on the website and how to obtain the necessary code to embed their finished Voki in our subject blog, we decided that it was really easy and that we should use Voki to practise the latest topic that we had been revising: My Town (Home and Local Environment).

I had, however, a main concern regarding using this method to achieve my purpose, which is encapsulated in this question: what evidence is there that using  ICT would be a more effective way to achieve my aims and objectives than standard teaching practice?

Given that my objective was to increase my pupils’ confidence in speaking Spanish, in answer to the above question I surmise the following: since it is generally agreed that ICT both motivates and enthuses learners and it has been firmly established that pupils’ motivation bears tremendous influence in the process of language learning and acquisition, it follows, in my opinion, that motivation and encouragement should, per se, be an objective to be sought as a language teacher.

Introducing the use Web 2.0 tools in the form of blogs and Voki into my schemes of work is therefore justified on the grounds that it will engage my pupils to a greater extent than traditional teaching methods and it will bestow in them a wish to participate.

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Using Web 2.0 to motivate boys to speak in the target language

I was recently the subject of a great culture shock: a year ago, I transferred from a girls’ school to an all boys school. Myths materialised and hearsay became reality as I had to completely re-think my approach to teaching Spanish so as to make it more fitting and more relevant to my new all male pupils.

It is a well researched fact that boys and girls prefer different learning styles and that that they have a different approach to their education: girls are generally portrayed as conscientious and hard working, while boys are often portrayed as lazy and indulging in an anti-education culture. There is a wide spread recognition that gender does indeed affect the way we all think, behave and learn (Maynard 2002).

When it comes to learning Modern Foreign Languages, boys have traditionally under-performed in comparison to girls, who consistently achieve the highest grades. Boys are frequently described as less interested in languages and are statistically more likely to drop languages altogether at Key Stage 4, when MFL cease to be compulsory. 

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So what have I been up to then…?

I haven’t written any posts on this blog for a little while. On reason is because I have wasted 2 two days fiddling with the style-sheet of this website (have you noticed it looks different?), but the main reason is because I have been doing a lot of reading and taking lots of notes for my MA’s first assignment which, I almost sure, will be entitled Using Web 2.0 tools to increase motivation and oral participation amongst boys in the Modern Foreign Languages classroom.

My research covers the following questions:

  • Why don’t boys like to talk in the foreign language?
  • Why use ICT to help with this problem?
  • Why use Web 2.0?

The first question is a little misleading. It is, of course, a generalisation. Some boys do enjoy speaking in the foreign language and often volunteer answers and put their hands up when asked to participate in the target language. Although the evidence of a gender divide when it comes to speaking is not clear, every language teacher is very familiar with those boys whose work is frequently untidy and often inaccurate; who constantly forget their books or lose their bags; and, most importantly, who are not motivated to speak foreign languages.

In my own experience of teaching in a girls’ school, I noticed that girls were generally keen to get on with language work because, principally, they were worried that they were going to underperform. They also responded positively to feedback by understanding and addressing the areas in which they needed to improve.

Now that I teach in a boys’ school, my perceptions of pupil motivation and organization have adapted to the reality that boys do approach language learning from a more practical point of view (it has to be worth learning); they lose concentration and interest more easily (they need variety); and they react adversely to negative feedback, appreciating instead encouragement and reward.

I aim to explore how I can exploit the fact that ICT is a powerful motivator to encourage young beginners (boys) into speaking in the target language with confidence, using Web 2.0 tools (such as Voki) to encourage creativity, reduce reluctance to participate in oral activities and to help teachers bridge the home-school divide: with these sort of Web 2.0 tools you can, for the first time, set speaking for homework.

The reason why I am telling you all this before I finally submit my assignment is because I would like you to help me with any anecdotal experience you may have teaching boys, whether it is in single or mixed sex classrooms. I am particularly interested in the strategies that you find work when it comes to motivating boys and whether you think that Web 2.0 tools can help with increasing boys’ willingness to participate.

What works for you?

 

Do you know of a teaching and learning resource you would like to share? Please do not hesitate to get in touch.

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