A New Layer of Mixed Ability Learners Compounded by a New Lexical Field
Our initial premise that some students would be familiar with Apple icons, touchscreen technology and multiple gesture screen management because of their out of school use of iPads and iPhones, proved correct. However, equally correct was our concern that other students would be totally new to it all. Whilst this created an obvious opportunity for student to student interdependence and co-operative learning, it also encouraged an undesirable level of mother tongue in English classes. In addition, if teachers were to use iPad based getting to know you activities, this group rapport building needed to be intertwined with both iPad training and ‘vocabulary for iPad’ slots. Hence, classes started off with a Keynote Presentation naming multi-gestures such as pinch, drag, tap etc. This lexical set was then recycled on subsequent days via A Pro+ Flashcards. Unfortunately, different Apps use an array of instructional language such as accept, reject, submit, enter, load, next, etc. which can cause stumbling blocks during none teacher fronted, lockstep lessons.
Hence, whilst blog and Twitter accounts of iPadogogy, suggest that the iPad and its Apps are leading to more student centred classrooms and student led workflows, this does not seem to be so readily the case in classrooms where students have a very low level of English. We have found that it is now necessary to not only pre-teach the key vocabulary of the EFL task, such as introducing yourself to others, but it is also necessary to teach the instructional language that a particular App requires. For example, before students used Puppet Pals to create a dialogue with the dual function of practicing asking and answering questions to share personal information with their new classmates, the teacher needed to use A Pro+ Flashcards to familiarize students with words such as accept, reject, use and replace, which do not occur in instructional rubric outside technology driven classrooms. Our experience so far, suggests that students who are confident iPad users ignore unknown vocabulary, progressing through exercises, whilst iPad newcomers are hindered by the wide variety of commands. One solution is to sit experienced and inexperienced iPaders together, but as previously mentioned, a downside for the EFL classroom is that all aid so far has been given in the mother tongue. Hence, a syllabus aim is to identify the communicative meta-language needed for student to student iPad instruction such as:
What do I tap now?
How do I get back to my work?
Use the arrow in the top right hand corner.
Who will I email this to?
This will need to be given in addition to the usual classroom communicative meta-language that students are encouraged to use such as
Who is in group one?
What is the answer to number three?
Who wants to write this down?
Who wants to start?
Can you look up this word in a dictionary?
Our initial impression is that four levels of ability are emerging when teaching through iPads:
Students who are competent iPad users, have comparatively good levels of English and so finish tasks quickly.
Students who are less competent iPad users, but have comparatively good levels of English and so finish tasks in average time.
Students who are competent iPad users, but have comparatively good levels of English and so finish tasks in average time.
Students who have lower levels of proficiency in both iPad use and language and who struggle to finish tasks.
One challenge for the teacher is to provide fast finisher activities for the first group of students that does not require a lot of setting up. So far, we have used the Apps Spelling City, onto which we have uploaded unit based key vocabulary, Note and Sound Note. Students need to be encouraged to bring headphones for Spelling City as words and sentences are vocalized aloud and can be a distraction to others. Fast Finishing students have also been encouraged to summarize what they have learned in writing or orally, using Note and Sound Note, accordingly. Fast finisher activities were boarded and explained to the students, before the main learning task started. The danger is that fast finishers may start playing non-educational games, thus losing learning opportunities. Fast Finishers can also check their answers against an answer key and then be asked to mirror their answers onto the board and be prepared to talk though them, taking the role of co-teacher.
Another challenge is to provide enough scaffolding and support for the last group of students. At present we are trying to decide whether it is better to group such students together and encourage them to actually finish a task at their dual iPad/language level, so that they learn through doing, or to pair them with a competent user for immediate support. Initial observations indicate that competent iPad users tend to complete the task for their partners, reducing learning opportunities for the inexperienced student. One solution may be to divide the class into experienced and inexperienced iPad users in some lessons, providing the experienced iPaders with integrated skills workflows for self-study, whilst the teacher takes inexperienced users through a series of integrated iPad training and easy level language tasks in lockstep.
Levels of Task Focus and Time Spent on Task
Regardless of ability, students seem to be more engaged in completing tasks through iPads, especially when there is a polished, finished product that can be shared with a wider community of learners. For example, possessive ‘s was introduced to beginner students using a teacher created Scribble Press book. Students were then sent on a college wide scavenger hunt to photograph things that belonged to people and places. This served the dual function of orientating students to the campus, and providing a haptic experience of ownership and the possessive ‘s structure. To create an information gap and prevent all students swarming the college in unison, small groups of students can be given different scavenger hunt lists. Students returned to class to create their own Scribble Press books writing the owner in blue, ‘s in green and possessed noun in red in order to increase their ability to notice the grammatical form and meaning. Students then regrouped and presented their books to classmates from different scavenger hunt groups. Although this activity took 45 minutes, students remained on task and were eager to produce grammatically correct, meaningful sentences and share their books with others. They were engaged with the target language in written and spoken form again and again, and will be in the future when the books are used for recycling purposes.
Another example of student engagement took place in a co-authoring writing lesson. Students were divided into four groups, with each group being provided with details about a university student’s life. In groups they worked to understand and internalize the information. They were allowed to write down key names, dates and numbers in Note, before being re-grouped so that each member of the new jigsawed group had read a different text. Students took turns at recounting the information from their texts from memory. They then returned to their original groups and shared the information they had gained about the student, Antonia. The Socrative App was used to provide a multiple choice quiz which focused on both the content of the reading and key language structures such as like + gerund and possessive ‘s. E.g. Content Focus: What does Antonia like doing in her spare time? Language structure focus: Which sentence is correct: a) Antonia’s brother’s name is Mark b) Antonia brother name is Mark. The beauty of Socrative is that it provides instant feedback on the answers students have chosen, allowing for on the spot identification of student misconceptions and remedial explanations. Students were then asked to write an account of Antonia’s student life in threes in Note. Key information such as names, boarded by the teacher, provided scaffolding, but all texts had been collected in. Past experience shows that students are not necessarily keen to produce summaries of information covered in class, but co-authoring on the iPad seems to engage students more. Students went to Settings, General, Accessibility, Large Text, 40, so that the emerging text was easily read by all three members of the group. They also took turns and being the typist and the teller. Each group was asked to add two pieces of misinformation about Antonia, giving other groups a reason to read their work. Finished texts were then emailed directly from Note to all members of the authoring group. Students finally formed new groups and read each other’s summaries to find the miss information. Students remain engaged throughout this integrated skills lesson and showed initiative to facilitate learning. For example, one jigsawed group photographed other group members key words in Note, at the initial sharing of information stage.
Thus, on concluding the first two weeks of teaching EFL through iPads, it seems to be the general consensus that students are spending more time on tasks than they had previously, even though some tasks are taking a lot longer to carry out than they used to with a course book, pen and paper. Hopefully, this means that deeper learning is taking place.
Recap of Key Ideas
Teach iPad rubric vocabulary prior to using an App.
Introduce communicative classroom meta-language enabling students to use more English during lessons.
Identify iPad-competent and iPad-newcomers and decide on a seating strategy.
Board fast finisher activities that require little teacher supervision.
Run some lessons in tandem with competent users carrying out a series of iPad based tasks independently, whilst others are given lockstep iPad tuition.
Students are putting more effort into their work and they take the form of polished, finished products such as books, iMovies, and presentations that students are proud of and that are more readily sharable with a broader learning community.