Thursday, August 03, 2006

Going out on a limb

Ok, what I'm about to say may sound strange, even heretical to some teachers but I believe it to be true. Within the next couple of years the most important thing a student will need to bring into the classroom (pen and paper aside) will not be their text book but rather their mobile phone!

To more traditionally minded teachers, who make up the vast majority of educators here in Greece, such an idea is just plain crazy. How could a phone possibly replace a well-crafted and thought-out book? What could our students possibly learn from a mobile except for linguistically stunted text messaging of the kind, "m8 u at skl."?

I argue my case based on two main ideas.

Text books are rubbish

1 Most of the books I use, at least at more advanced levels, are dire in the sense that they are designed to appeal to educators' pre-existing prejudices (grammar - good, activities suspect etc. etc.) rather than incorporating the latest advances in learning theory.

2 As they are written for a global market the subject matter is designed not to offend anyone. Not a bad thing in itself. However, the result is material that is tedious in the extreme and usually lacking in any kind of interest to my students, who, believe it or not, are not interested in bee keeping Shropshire or the state of national parks in Bolivia.

3 On purely linguistic grounds, such books assume that all foreign learners of English face exactly the same linguistic challenges when preparing for exams such as CPE or ECPE. This is ridiculous as each L1 (mother tongue) has its own differences to English and produces its own difficulties for a person learning, not to mention individual needs.

4 Text books focus disproportionately on the written rather than the spoken word. It's cheaper to produce a book with lots of vocabulary exercises than one rich in audio or visual material. The problem is that exams test all the different skills (listening, speaking, reading etc.) . As a result you have a course book that spends 80% of its time preparing students for just 40% of the exam.

Mobile phones are wicked

So what can a mobile phone offer us that a text book can't?

The latest generation of mobile phone incorporate mp3 players, audio and video recording capability, a camera and most importantly compatibility with a PC as standard. This mean that they can be used in literally hundreds of different ways in the classroom. More importantly this technology offers students the possibility of creating their own material and practicing language skills in ways that are far more interesting

Sample ideas

These are all ideas that I have used successfully with my students over the last year.

1 Use your mobile phone to take five photos from your everyday routine. Write a short description of each and post it on your blog.

2 Use your mobile phone to listen to the latest audio book chapter (in mp3 format) I gave you and write a summary.

3 Do the listening exercise in the book, then use the transcript at the back to say it yourself. Repeat this till you are happy with your performance.

4 Get somebody to video you and your friend doing the FCE interview. Listen to it and transcribe what you said. What mistakes are you making ? What can you do to improve your exam performance ?

5 Download a four minute CNN podcast , listen to it and tell your partner the main ideas

6 Listen to a speech from American Rhetoric, use the transcript to perform it yourself. Try to sound as much like the actor as possible.

7 Students create their own 30 second TV spot. They then post it on YouTube

8 Students create their own CNN podcast.

9 Students create their own music video using Windows Movie maker. Students post it on YouTube.

10 Students take five random pictures of their neighbourhood and write a story that incorporates all of them. Post it on your blog.

Of course, other skills such as reading and writing are not really covered in such exercises, but there are many other sources of up-to-date material on the net which are students will find relevant to their lives.


dorapap said...

I have a friend who'll find your ideas totally crazy! She can't work without a textbook!! But I do agree, mobile phones can be used in many situations!

teacher dude said...

I totally distrust any teacher who can't do a lesson without a course book. There is something seriously missing from their professional development. Harsh, I know but true.

aaron said...

Great ideas Dude... Keep 'em coming....

Students can also send their cell phone photos directly to Flickr. You can give the whole class a theme and have them go out and capture that theme, tagging the photos with identical, yet class-specific, tags for display and commenting.

teacher dude said...

Thanks for the hands up on Flickr. I'll keep it in mind.