Teaching languages with technology: 2 reviews

9781623569334Two reviews of our edited volume on communicative language teaching with the interactive whiteboard (IWB):

Davidson Devall, K. (2015). Review of the book Teaching Languages with Technology: Communicative Approaches to Whiteboard Use. The Modern Language Journal, 99(4).

Guichon, N., & Merlet, E. (2016). Critique : Teaching Languages with Technology: Communicative Approaches to Whiteboard Use. Canadian Modern Language Review / Revue Canadienne des Langues Vivantes, 72, 1, 284–286 doi:10.3138/cmlr.72.1.284

Preview on Google Books

These reviews focus on different aspects of this collection of case studies from the iTILT project on the integration of the IWB in classroom foreign language teaching. Both pick up on Colpaert’s reminder in his foreword to the book that technology is only one aspect of the learning environment, and go on to highlight the pedagogical dimension of technology integration, and from there to teacher education concerns. Davidson Devall sees the potential of the volume to inform action research in IWB-supported language teaching, and for language teacher education with technologies other than the IWB, while Guichon and Merlet underline the importance of progressive appropriation of the technological and pedagogical affordances of digital tools.

This post offers some short quotations from each review, followed by a summary of some of our recommendations for teacher development given in the final chapter of the book.

Davidson Devall (2015)

This review in the Modern Language Journal considers its implications for teacher education “even in contexts different from those in the book,” that is, beyond the primary school classroom which is the focus of several chapters, and beyond the IWB itself.

As Colpaert states in his Foreword, “What makes IWBs [interactive whiteboards] very interesting is their unique position in the technological spectrum: on the one hand they feature a specific set of limitations and affordances, but on the other hand they easily fit within many learning environments as one piece of the puzzle” (p. xii). The editors of this volume seek to encourage further research and material development efforts for the interactive whiteboard by presenting specific applications and opening a dialogue for discovery learning amongst instructors and students.
[…]
As evident from the title, the book is intended for teacher education and development. The overview of the development of technology- enhanced language learning as well as pre- and post-reading reflective questions for each chapter provide excellent support for implementation in a pedagogical methods course.
[…]
the criteria for designing materials structured by Cutrim Schmid and Whyte could be helpful for use with other interactive technologies as they touch on “methodological principles,” “pedagogical activities,” “learner engagement,” “tools and features,” and practical considerations” (pp. 245–248).

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Guichon & Merlet (2016)

This review is in French and appears in the Canadian Modern Language Review. It notes that the book aims to suggest avenues for pedagogical exploitation of the IWB based on research rather than simply promote this tool, and that one of the most interesting aspects of the volume lies in the recommendations in the final chapter for the training of teacher educators.

D’emblée, que ce soit par le biais de l’avant-propos de Jozef Colpaert qui déclare que « no technology, not even the [Interactive Whiteboard] , carries an inherent, direct, measurable and generalizable effect » (p. xii) ou dans l’introduction de Shona Whyte qui prend le soin d’ancrer la réflexion dans l’approche par tâches, le lecteur est assuré que l’objectif de cet ouvrage n’est pas de faire la promotion d’un outil, mais de proposer des pistes d’exploitation pédagogique d’une manière critique et informée par la recherche et les données empiriques.
[…]
L’un des aspects les plus intéressants de cet ouvrage est qu’il fournit des axes pour guider la formation de formateurs à l’utilisation du TNI dans la classe de langue (c’est d’ailleurs l’orientation du dernier chapitre). L’enseignant, dont le rôle primordial est rappelé, est invité à s’engager dans une réflexion pédagogique, cherchant à impliquer réellement ses apprenants dans les interactions. Est ainsi souligné avec acuité l’importance du processus de l’appropriation de l’outil qui ne peut se faire qu’en se donnant le temps de l’expérience et en mettant en place des projets de formation par étapes. Le processus de formation gagne à inclure des phases de réflexion, personnelle ou collective, à partir de pratiques de classe contextualisées et répondant aux besoins et à la réalité des enseignants désireux de s’approprier le TNI comme un nouvel élément de leur environnement et de leur répertoire pédagogiques.

Supporting teacher education for technology integration

In Chapter 8, our conclusion to this edited collection, we propose the following principles for teacher education.

Principles and guidelines for IWB-supported language teaching practice

In work on teacher professional development elsewhere, we suggest a number of principles for the design and implementation of IWB training (Cutrim Schmid & Schimmack, 2009; Cutrim Schmid & Whyte, 2012; Whyte et al., 2013). This section will review these recommendations in light of the findings presented in this book. The present volume includes studies of IWB teacher training courses in Belgium and Turkey, which revealed interesting aspects of the challenges and complexities involved in such endeavors. Other chapters have also dealt with this topic indirectly, since all studies contained an element of reflective practice, a component of continuing professional development in both informal and institutional settings.

Although most of these principles apply to the majority of technology professional development contexts, the examples given to exemplify the guidelines are drawn from IWB-based studies. This will help readers understand how these principles can be applied to their specific context. We suggest five key principles to inform the design and implementation of IWB training programmes.

4.1 Pedagogical framework based on theoretical foundation

IWB training programmes should have a sound theoretical basis and a clear pedagogical framework.

All chapters have emphasized the value of IWB professional development rooted in established language learning theory. From this perspective, the affordances of the technology with respect to teaching goals constitute the best starting point for an attempt to understand the potential of the IWB. The first question teachers should ask is not “What can I do with an IWB in my language lesson?” but rather “How can I use the IWB to support language learning?”

4.2 Contextually embedded professional development

IWB training programmes should focus on teachers’ immediate pedagogical needs and be embedded in the work teachers actually do.

In most chapters, the participating teachers reflected on IWB use that was embedded in their own practice. The pre-service teachers in chapters 3 (Kegenhof) and 4 (Sailer) worked in tandem with practicing teachers, but their reflection is based on the materials they developed and the lessons they designed and implemented in this collaborative context. This approach allowed teachers to experiment with ways the IWB could support and enhance teaching, thereby gaining a better understanding of the strengths and limitations of this technology.

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4.3 Reflective practice

IWB training courses should create opportunities for teachers to reflect on their practice.

All studies presented in this book include an element of reflective practice, since participating teachers and teacher researchers were involved in critical reflection
through various means. The insightful discussions and recommendations provided by the participating teachers and teacher researchers in this volume underline the value of reflective practice as a powerful impetus for professional development, confirming much earlier work in this area (e.g. Mcniff, 1988; Bartlett, 1990; Wallace, 1998; Allwright &
Lenzuen, 1997).

4.4 Professional collaboration

IWB training courses should create opportunities to establish professional contacts and undertake collaborative projects.

Several chapters in this volume have dealt with the relationship between collaboration and professional development. Chapters 3 and 4 report on research projects within a larger professional development program for pre-service EFL teachers involving school-based research projects where pre-service teachers design, implement, and evaluate technology-enhanced EFL lessons in collaboration with in-service teachers (Cutrim Schmid & Hegelheimer, 2014). This type of professional collaboration has been widely recommended in the CALL literature to encourage the all-important integration of theoretical with procedural knowledge (e.g., Meskill et al., 2006).

4.5 Ongoing support for professional development

IWB teacher training courses should provide teachers with enough opportunities for gradual accumulation of knowledge and experience within their constraints of time and energy.

Although the majority of studies described in this volume do not have a longitudinal design, several authors emphasize the importance of providing teachers with the opportunity to construct knowledge gradually with the support of peers or trainers. In the area of materials design, we propose a list of 38 criteria for IWB-mediated teaching resources, organized in five main areas, which may be useful for teachers and trainers in developing and evaluating their own teaching materials.

Regarding classroom interaction, we suggest and illustrate a four-level interaction/interactivity framework which can inform the analysis of IWB-supported language teaching.

We believe that the language teacher plays a primordial role in effectively integrating IWB use in the language classroom, hence the priority given to high quality teacher education. Similarly, without attention to interactional opportunities both as these arise in instruction and through the careful planning of teaching materials, much effort devoted to IWB integration simply goes to waste. As Colpaert notes in his foreword,

“IWBs cannot generate a learning effect on their own, but they are indispensable cornerstones for creating powerful learning environments.”

We hope our contributions in this final chapter, together with the rich and varied classroom case studies in this volume, can inform and inspire language teachers throughout the world to make the most of this potential.

 

References

Allwright, D. and Lenzuen, R. (1997), ‘Exploratory practice: Work at the cultura inglesa, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil’, Language Teaching Research, 1, 73-79.

Bartlett, L. (1990), ‘Teacher development through reflective teaching’, in J.C. Richards and D. Nunan (eds.), Second Language Teacher Education. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Cutrim Schmid, E. and Hegelheimer, V. (2014), ‘Collaborative research projects in the technology-enhanced language classroom: Pre-service and in-service teachers exchange knowledge about technology’. ReCALL, 26(03), 315-332

Cutrim Schmid, E. and Schimmack, E. (2010), ‘First Steps towards a model of interactive whiteboard training for language teachers’, in Thomas, M. and Cutrim Schmid, E. (eds.), Interactive Whiteboards: Theory, Research and Practice. Hershey, PA: IGI Global, pp. 197-214.

Cutrim Schmid, E., and Whyte, S. (2012), ‘Interactive whiteboards in state school settings: Teacher responses to socio-constructivist hegemonies’, Language Learning and Technology, 16, (2), 65-86.

McNiff, J. (1988), Action Research: Principles and Practice. London: Routledge.

Meskill, C., Anthony, N., Hilliker, S., Tseng, C. and You, J. (2006), ‘Expert-novice teacher mentoring in language learning technology’, in P. Hubbard and M. Levy (eds.), Teacher Education in CALL. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, pp. 283-298.

Whyte, S., Cutrim Schmid, E., van Hazebrouck Thompson, S. and Oberhofer, M. (2013), ‘Open educational resources for CALL teacher education: the iTILT interactive whiteboard project’, Computer Assisted Language Learning, (ahead-of-print), 1-27.

Wallace, M. (1998), Action Research for Language Teachers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Transnational settings and multilingual approaches in CALL Teacher Education

IMG_1497Bianka Fuchs (Université Nice Sophia Antipolis),
Stina Hacklin (University of Eastern Finland, Finland)
Christine Schmider (Université Nice Sophia Antipolis)
Shona Whyte (Université Nice Sophia Antipolis)
Katja Zaki (Pädagogische Hochschule Freiburg )

Multilingual CALL: Multilingual Language Learning with Digital Media in Primary and Secondary Classrooms, Frankfurt, February 17-18, 2016

Abstract

The digital revolution and migratory movements are two of the main phenomena that have been changing and shaping Europe’s foreign language classrooms in recent years. Learning and teaching environments are characterized by hybridity in many forms: by an increased cultural and linguistic heterogeneity on one hand, and a wide range of potential multimedia arrangements on the other, though these need not be seen independently from each other. In order to prepare future teachers for those dynamic challenges and possibilities, an awareness of difference – and the correlated necessity of pedagogical and methodological differentiation, with or without CALL practices – is one of the key components of any competence model in teacher education.

In this context, the focus of our paper will rest on the perspective of future language teachers and their awareness of CALL tools – starting, however, with their role as “learners” throughout their professional development in teacher education settings. Consequently, we aim to discuss multilingual and multimodal CALL practices (cf. Levy 1997) in a transnational web 2.0 environment, which ought to enable student teachers to explore what they are later expected to adapt and apply – such as working with digital tools and tandem arrangements in their own teaching.

We begin with a short overview of the EU-LLP-Project SoNetTE (Social Networks in Teacher Education) which aims to virtually bring together teacher education students and in-service teachers in order to experience and develop research-based educational concepts through the use of CALL tools. The combination of an integrative CALL approach (cf. Bax & Chambers 2006) and differentiated study groups makes it possible for some 90 future teachers of English, Spanish, French and German to take part in a transnational blended learning environment, in which they study in subject groups and binational tandems (e.g., how to use audio-visual materials and correlated digital tools in the foreign language classroom).

On the basis of two case studies, we then aim to illustrate how these learning collaborations may be beneficial in many dimensions of a competence-oriented teacher education programme (cf. Hubbard 2002; Fitzpatrick-Davies 2003). The first is cultural: how the virtually multicultural learning environments create linguistic and cultural immersion contexts where future teachers gather a lot of knowledge of the target language and culture studied – as well as an reflective view on their own. The second is intercultural: the emphasis rests on how the topic in focus, too, is always discussed, negotiated and creatively re-constructed with learners (and future teachers) from other European settings, once again fostering key competences such as changes of perspective, a tolerance of ambiguity and critical judgement. Finally, we will discuss how the use of different multimedia tools which future teachers use in their role as learners in the course promises not only a profound insight, but also a reflective use of multimedia tools in their own future classroom – for and with linguistically and culturally heterogeneous learning groups, be it within national borders or beyond.

 

Keywords:

Transnational learning environments – digital media and multilingual practices – CALL in foreign language education – collaborative learning and virtual tandems.

References

Chambers, A., & Bax, S. (2006). Making CALL work: Towards normalisation. System, 34(4), 465-479.
Fitzpatrick, A., & Davies, G. (2003). The impact of new information technologies and Internet on the teaching of foreign languages and on the role of teachers of a foreign language. International Certificate Conference, Frankfurt. Retrieved from http://ec. europa. eu/languages/documents/doc495_en. pdf (October 11, 2012).
Hubbard, P., & Levy, M. (2006). The scope of CALL education. Teacher education in CALL, 3-20.

Levy, M. (1997). Computer-assisted language learning: Context and conceptualization. Oxford University Press.

 

 

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iTILT training: French participants

An iTILT teacher training session at a primary school in Antibes, near Nice, this month involved primary teachers and teacher trainers involved with language education and technology training, as well as newly-qualified secondary EFL teachers.
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Training materials included

  • the pilot version of the iTILT training manual, with its focus on task-based language teaching (TBLT)
  • the iTILT website, with

    • practice examples (video clip, description, participant commentaries, related clips, tags)
    • quick/advanced search functions, manuals in several languages, and sample IWB teaching resources
  • new video training materials developed in collaboration with our German iTILT partners in Schwäbisch-Gmünd.

We explained that this second iTILT project uses the same approach to teacher education, involving class films, learning focus group interviews, and video-stimulated recall session with participating teachers.  However, based on the first project’s results, we now have a focus on a new objective:

  • How can we encourage more interactivity and interaction in the IMG_1467foreign language classroom?

The goal is thus to consider not tools, but rather pedagogical factors.

During our review of the first iTILT project activities and findings, we examined two video examples in particular: the magic schoolbag (primary EFL, FR), hotel furniture (vocational French, DE).

The new project involves a teacher who was also part of the first one: here we see her in the same classroom at the same board as she used in iTILT 1.

The French project teachers are working on video communication in English as a lingua franca using class sets of iPads (primary) and iPods (secondary) to exchange short videos with partner classes abroad, as well as some live videoconference sessions.
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In keeping with our goal of developing TBLT approaches, the focus is on developing activities which include

  • emphasis on making meaning and exchanging messages
  • an information gap or other cognitively challenging premise
  • the opportunity for learners to use their own linguistic resources
  • a particular outcome for each task.

Taking to task(s): Task design and CALL

Taking to task(s): Exploring task design by novice language teachers in technology-mediated and non-technological activities

XVII International CALL research conference. Tarragona, Spain, 6-8 July 2015.

This paper examines language teaching and learning activities in EFL classes in the French secondary school context with the aim of understanding factors affecting the design and implementation of such tasks. Participants are pre-service teachers in a university Masters in Teaching English programme with a practical component involving classroom observation and teaching. These student teachers designed communicative activities following a common design brief which leaves the technological component open (Samuda, 2005). Data include teaching materials and activity descriptions, reflective writing, questionnaire data, semi-structured individual and group interviews, and practitioner analysis of learner language. Analysis combines coding of the resulting tasks (Erlam, 2015) with qualitative analysis of questionnaire, interview and reflective writing data. Results suggest wide variation in proposed teaching and learning activities, in the design process, and in reflection on classroom implementation in both technology-mediated and non-technological tasks.

Task design & language learning and teaching

The design of language teaching and learning activities as defined broadly with the terms “task” and “exercise” in the theme of the conference has recently emerged as an important issue in second language teaching research. Viewed as an element of materials development alongside implementation, evaluation, and analysis of materials (Tomlinson, 2012), task design has long been considered a practical activity which is “still largely a practitioner-led practice, not always informed by theories of learning” (Reinders & White, 2010). Task-based and task-oriented teaching have however begun to attract increasing research interest both in technology-mediated contexts (Doughty & Long, 2003; Thomas & Reinders, 2010; Van den Branden et al., 2007) and in non-technological environments (Bygate et al., 2001; Ellis, 2003, 2009; Johnson, 2003; Samuda, 2005).  Indeed, pedagogy and design, as opposed to the integration of technologies per se, have recently been identified by leading CALL figures as both current areas of interest and priorities for ongoing research in our field (Colpaert, 2013; Levy et al., 2015). The academic study of task design offers the chance to improve our understanding of language learning opportunities in the (physical and virtual) language classroom and our models of professional development for language teachers.

Practitioner involvement via action research (Burns, 2005), for instance, or teacher engagement with research more generally, can contribute both to this research enterprise directly and to continuing teacher development.  In recent reviews of research in this area, Borg (2010, 2013) highlights the role of teacher research engagement in helping teachers reflect on their planning and decision-making processes, and thus in promoting “new ways of thinking.” Research in task planning has examined one aspect of this process using think-aloud protocols to study communicative activities developed by expert practitioners and materials writers using the same prompt or “design brief” (Johnson, 2003; Samuda, 2005).  These researchers call for further work to include both more diverse contexts (beyond the commonly studied university or private adult ESL class) and data on the actual implementation of the tasks designed by participants.

The present study seeks to address this gap in the literature by investigating task design and implementation in state school settings and by looking at new teachers rather than expert task designers.  It constitutes a partial replication of the Johnson and Samuda studies to investigate how novice EFL teachers design and implement tasks with their learners and the technological opportunities and constraints of their own classrooms.  By avoiding a specific focus on technology in the design brief, data can be collected on both technological and non-technological tasks and information gathered on the impact of technological considerations on the task design process. In this way, the study sheds light on how new teachers take to tasks in the process of becoming ELT professionals.

Baralt, M., Gilabert, R. & Robinson, P. (2014) (Eds.), Task Sequencing and Instructed Second Language Learning, (pp. 1-34). London: Bloomsbury Academic.

Bonnet, G. (2007). The CEFR and education policies in Europe. The Modern Language Journal, 91(4), 669-672.

Borg, S. (2013). Teacher research in language teaching: A critical analysis. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Borg, S. (2010). Language teacher research engagement. Language Teacher, 43(4), 391–429.

Breen, M. P. (1987). Learner contributions to task design. In C. N. Candlin, & D. Murphy (Eds.), Language learning tasks. Lancaster Practical Papers in English Language Education, Vol. 7 (pp. 23-46). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall International.

Breen, M. P., Hird, B., Milton, M., Oliver, R., & Thwaite, A. (2001). Making sense of language teaching: Teachers’ principles and classroom practices. Applied linguistics, 22(4), 470-501.

Burns, A. (2005). Action research: An evolving paradigm? Language Teaching, 38(2), 57–74.

Butler, Y. G. (2011). The implementation of communicative and task-based language teaching in the Asia-Pacific region. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, 31, 36-57.

Bygate, M., Skehan, P and Swain, M. (Eds.) (2001). Researching pedagogical tasks: second language learning, teaching, and assessment. London: Pearson.

Byrnes, H. (2007). Perspectives. The Modern Language Journal, 91(4), 641-5.

Carless, D. (2009). Revisiting the TBLT versus PPP debate: Voices from Hong Kong. Asian Journal of English Language Teaching, 19(1), 49-66.

Colpaert, J. (2013). Sustainability and research challenges in CALL. WorldCALL Glasgow.

Cutrim Schmid, E. & Whyte, S. (2012). Interactive Whiteboards in School Settings: Teacher Responses to Socio-constructivist Hegemonies.  Language Learning and Technology 16 (2), 65-86.

Doughty, C., & Long. M.(2003). Optimal psycholinguistic environments for distance foreign language learning. Language Learning and Technology, 7(3), 50-75.

Ellis, R. (2009). Task-based language teaching: sorting out the misunderstandings. International Journal of Applied Linguistics, 19(3), 221-246.

Ellis, R. (2003). Task-based language learning and teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Erlam, R. (2015). ‘I’m still not sure what a task is’: Teachers designing language tasks. Language Teaching Research.

Erlam, R. (2013). Listing and comparing tasks in the language classroom: Examples of Willis and Willis’s (2007) taxonomy in practice. The New Zealand Language Teacher, 39,7-14.

Gurzynski-Weiss, L. (2015). Spanish instructors’ operationalisation of task complexity and task sequencing in foreign language lessons. The Language Learning Journal, (ahead-of-print), 1-20.

Johnson, K. (2003). Designing Language Teaching Tasks. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Krahnke, K. (1987). Approaches to Syllabus Design for Foreign Language Teaching. Language in Education: Theory and Practice. New York: Prentice-Hall.

Lee, J. (2000). Tasks and Communicating in Language Classrooms. Boston: McGraw-Hill.

Levy, M., Hubbard, P., Stockwell, G., & Colpaert, J. (2015). Research challenges in CALL. Computer Assisted Language Learning, 28(1), 1-6.

Little, D. (2006). The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages: Content, purpose, origin, reception and impact. Language Teaching, 39(3), 167-190.

Littlewood, W. (2004). The task-based approach: Some questions and suggestions. ELT journal, 58(4), 319-326.

Long, M. H. (1985). A role for instruction in second language acquisition: Task-based language teaching. Modelling and assessing second language acquisition. In Hyltenstam, K., & Pienemann, M. (Eds.). (1985). Modelling and assessing second language acquisition. (pp. 77-99). Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.

Narcy-Combes, J.-P. (2006). Deux modes de fonctionnement mémoriel en production langagière et tâches d’apprentissage des langues. Cahiers de l’APLIUT, 25(2), 77-87.

Nunan, D. (2004). Task-Based Language Teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Reinders, H. & White, C. (2010). The theory and practice of technology in materials development and task design. In: Harwood, N. (Ed.). Materials in ELT: Theory and Practice (p. 58-80). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Samuda, V. (2007). Tasks, design, and the architecture of pedagogic spaces. Unpublished plenary presented at the Second International Conference on Task-Based Language Teaching, University of Hawai’i. Available at: http://www.hawaii.edu/tblt2007/PP/presentations.htm.

Samuda, V. (2005). Expertise in pedagogic task design. In K. Johnson (ed.), Expertise in second language learning and teaching. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 230–254.

Skehan, P. (1998). A Cognitive Approach to Language Learning. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Thomas, M. & Reinders, H. (Eds.) 2010. Task-Based Language Teaching and Technology. New York: Continuum.

Tomlinson, B. (2012). Materials development for language learning and teaching. Language Teaching, 45(2), 143-179.

Van den Branden, K. (2009). Diffusion and implementation of innovations. In M. Long & C. Doughty (Eds.), The handbook of language teaching (pp. 659–72). Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.

Van den Branden, K. (2006). Introduction: task-based language teaching in a nutshell? In K. Van den Branden (Ed.), Task-based language education: From theory to practice. (1-16). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Van den Branden, K., Van Gorp, K., & Verhelst, M. (Eds.) (2007), Tasks in action: Task-based language education from a classroom-based perspective. Cambridge Scholars.

Whyte, S., & Alexander, J. (2014). Implementing tasks with interactive technologies in classroom CALL: towards a developmental framework. Canadian Journal of Learning and Technology, 40 (1), 1-26.

Willis, J. (1996). A Framework for Task-based learning. Harlow: Longman.

Bio data

Shona Whyte is associate professor of English at the University of Nice where she teaches EFL and TEFL and researches classroom interaction, interactive technologies, and teacher education. Recent work focuses on the integration of the interactive whiteboard by language teachers (Implementing and Researching Technological Innovation in Language Teaching, Palgrave Macmillan; Teaching languages with technology, Bloomsbury).

Making learning happen: interactivity and interaction

After a frustrating couple of days battling with organisational and practical/technical issues only tangentially related to the teaching and research activities I enjoy, yesterday brought an unexpected respite.  I taught a class on a teacher education topic I love, with a group of motivated, capable trainees, and we had a rare moment of technical serendipity – the server let us boot and surf on the lab computers, our SMART board was glitch-free, and everyone had their e-mail addresses to hand.

We worked on interaction and communication in teaching languages to young beginners, using the interactive whiteboard (IWB) as an example.  We were able to view all the resources I had earmarked and tackle all the activities I had planned in plenary, small group, and larger group configurations.  On reflection afterwards, though, I wonder if I joined the dots across the various parts of the afternoon to make my main argument clear.  Leaving room for participants to draw their own conclusions is one thing, following your own inner logic without explanation is another.

My session outline was this:

  1. introduction
    What is interactive learning? What do we mean by interaction in the second (foreign) language classroom? Why is interaction important?
  2. the interactive whiteboard
    – the basics
    – the iTILT project: manual, resources
    – IWB practice examples
  3. interactivity framework: from drilling and display activities to simulation and communication
    – analysing interactivity and interaction
    – live communication with young learners

We began with examples from the twenty-odd participants enrolled in this inservice EFL course – all generalist primary teachers who teach all subjects to pupils aged 4 to 10.  I wanted examples of “great things” that had happened in their classrooms – as learners or as teachers.  They mentioned

  • the satisfaction when 6 year-old new readers point out words in the street during field trips
  • the motivation and pleasure in learning from a charismatic, humorous university lecturer
  • the pride in an overweight pupil’s achievement in dieting and being able to run for 10 minutes
  • the sense of comradeship and collaboration during interschool events and performances

The common themes seem to be the sense of achievement and pleasure in learning, both of which can feed into any discussion of communicative language teaching and classroom interaction.

I shared some videos of good moments in my own language teaching experience with young learners

  • very young learners reciting “One, two, buckle my shoe” in pairs to the camera, with evident enjoyment and fair success
  • a class reconstruction of the story “Two Monsters” where one pupil amazed my by putting together this long string: “red monster and blue monster throw big stone”
  • a pupil’s retelling of his version of this story to the class using his own drawings for support

All the examples showed me as the teacher that learning was taking place; with the hindsight of the teacher trainer, the second two seemed more communicative and interactive, and probably more conducive to actual language learning.  And this should have led to a short discussion of my introductory questions

  • What is interactive learning?
    Learning by doing, participating in an activity that makes sense to participants: reciting a rhyme being less interactive than trying to retell a story
  • What do we mean by interaction in the second (foreign) language classroom?
    Using the target language to express meaning and convey it to others, as opposed to naming objects, for example
  • Why is interaction important?
    Many (most?) theories of language acquisition are based on interaction with language samples, or attempting to understand and convey meaningful messages (again, rather than memorising and reproducing individual sounds, words or sentences).

In the second part of the 3-hour session, participants worked in small groups to apply an interactivity framework (which I am developing in research with Euline Cutrim Schmid) to examples of language teaching at the IWB collected in the iTILT project.  This framework encourages teachers to consider different types of interaction among teachers and learners and the functions each might have in language learning and teaching.

In parallel, groups of 7 participants took turns at hands-on activities at the IWB.  Most were new users, so we started with a bottom-up approach where the board is used for free writing, and words then moved, grouped, resized, using colour, shape and handwriting recognition tools.  Then we took the opposing, top-down perspective, using iTILT teaching resources to show how full teaching sequences can be prepared for classroom implementation.

Again, while these activities seemed to run smoothly and participants were all able to e-mail their analyses of an IWB video and appreciate some of the basic affordances of the tool, perhaps the bigger picture of language interaction was lost.  My recent research findings as well as experiences in training teachers to use this tool have convinced me that pedagogical practice is much more important than technical know-how.  On the other hand – and quite unsurprisingly – teachers tend not to be open to pedagogical change until the technical aspects are under control.  Thus we all focus on the tool, and its purpose – to support target language interaction with young learners, in this case – takes second place.

If only initial tech enthusiasm could immediately provoke methodological epiphany …

I did my best to plant the seed, though, with a closing example of video communication in a primary tandem project which shows how technology can provide both opportunities and support for genuine communicative interaction.