Monday, 18 March 2013

The Connected Classroom

This was the title of a recent webinar I attended.  It was presented by Russell Stannard of fame.

Russell Stannard
What is 'the connected classroom'?

It's about connecting what we do in class with what we do outside of the classroom.  Russell is particularly interested in using technology outside of the class and is always looking for ways of getting students to do more speaking practice.  It's so easy nowadays for students to record themselves and send the recording to the teacher.  This webinar focused on three ways to do this.

How do we 'connect' our classrooms through speaking activities?

  • Prepare the speaking activities in the class, but get students to do the recordings at home.
  • The key is motivation - this requires thorough preparation and practising the speaking activity in class.  Vocabulary, grammar, structures, etc. should all be practised.
  • Start by sharing a recording of your own with the class.
  • The more you connect the class part of the activity with the homework part, the better the students tend to do with the recordings.
  • Plan the whole lesson, including the homework, as one.
Examples of 'connected' speaking activities
  • Providing personal information
  • Talking about a best friend
  • Talking about your daily routine
  • Making a 'shopping channel' recording, e.g. selling your telephone
  • Describing an object which is important to you
  • Talking about a picture
  • Sharing a timeline of your life (or the life of a famous person)

Benefits of 'connected' speaking activities
  • Students can work on their recordings at their own pace and repeat the activity as often as they need to.
  • Students get to speak English outside of the classroom.
  • They are useful for students to build up a portfolio of their work (particularly good for showing improvements in speaking ability over time).
  • They are great for encouraging students to be more autonomous and to take responsibility for their own learning.
  • They are useful for assessments.
  • They are a great way to practise for external exams.
  • They can be used for individual students, pairs or, even, small groups.
This is a very easy-to-use tool whereby students can make recordings and, when they are happy with the results, they can e-mail them to their teacher.  There is also the facility to embed the recordings (in a wiki or blog, for example) or to download them (as an Mp3 or WAV file), which is useful for students to build up a portfolio of their work.
With vocaroo, recordings can be up to five minutes in length.  The simplicity of the tool means that it's very good for use with low-level students.
This tool allows students to record video as well as audio, so is great for recording adverts, for example.  Recordings can be up to ten minutes long and can be e-mailed to the teacher.  It is a more sophisticated tool than vocaroo and is better for higher-level students.  Unfortunately, mailvu does not allow you to download the recordings, but they are kept online for 365 days before being deleted.
This tool allows you to upload video, powerpoint, pictures, word documents, etc. and then add your voice to it before sharing on the internet.  It is a great way for students to practise presentation techniques.  It is free for recordings of up to 15 minutes.
Potential problems with 'connected' speaking activities
  • Have students got access to the internet?
  • Have they been given enough guidance to make the recordings?
  • Do they have an appropriate framework to work with?
  • What are you going to do about giving feedback?  You could give general feedback to the whole class and then play the best examples in class (with the students' permission) or you could try using peer evaluation.
Don't let these potential problems stop you, though - the connected classroom is the way forward!

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