Soon, we will have another BrazTESOL Brasilia seminar for the local educational community. The main topic of our seminar is “Teaching in a Brave New World”, which entices me to connect it to what I’ve been talking about in my presentations, the need for us, teachers, to explore new digital possibilities in the classroom without overlooking the urgency of tangible, concrete experiences for connected, meaningful learning.
I’ve been a tech advocate for years, but always saying that technology has its place in the classroom, but can never replace the human connections, movement and flow. I’ve seen trends come and go, hype around certain tools. However, what really stays from all the tech cycles is careful planning and sound pedagogy. Nowadays, when I walk around school and see all those projectors on, with teachers in front of the class, I ask to myself, has this really made any significant change to the learners’ experience? Wouldn’t it be better for students to be interacting, manipulating photos or slips of paper rather than sitting there watching a sequence of Power Point slides flip on the screen? No, I’m not against PPTs. In fact, I use them in class. However, many might think that just because I love tech, my class is full of digital fireworks that allure students. A total misconception. My class is one of laughter, relaxation, connections and constant interaction, one in which the students explore, fail, try again until they smile with their own achievement.
Of course, I don’t reach every single student in the same way. And that’s where I guess the incorporation of technology can give a renewed vitality to learning in so many different directions. Whatever option I have, though, it is in the sense of making learning tangible for students, be it in terms of visualization of a concept, manipulation of language, exemplification of how structures work, playing with learners’ own voice. In this interplay of digital and tangible, I always start with very basic things to more sophisticated tries. You might be wondering how. There’s no magic formula or great surprise. When I mean simple, I really mean it.
- >> I always use images to tell a story and invite students to practice a certain structure based on the story I just told. By doing that, students connect, they don’t feel it is just boring practice, and they use language for a meaningful task.
- >> When students ask a question, ask them to get their cellphones and search for the answer.
- >> Ask them to record and listen to themselves. They are always amazed by what they hear and become more aware of their own production.
- >> Use a communication system that goes beyond class time. “What’s app” is working marvels with my adult group. They are always talking to each other in English. Not always am I the one to answer a query. Leave space for the group to find their own solutions. Tech tools are powerful allies for community building.
- >> Use the screen and visuals as prompts, not lectures. Make them create something with any tool they have within their reach. Let them record, take photos, draw, make a video.
- >> Textbooks are frameworks for learning, so use them together with digital tools to make the book pages come alive in its own updated version (i.e. if the topic of the book is fashion, use the structure in the book, but give space for apps that students can build their own wardrobe or digital magazines they can visualize, learn about new trends and explore the vocabulary and language structure related to it).
- >> I always carry dice in my teacher bag. Why? You can project a scene, an image a text, and use dice to play a game or do a task in which students have the screen prompt but are also touching, moving something. Our brains love variety and movement.
- >> I use my network on Facebook and Twitter to jazz up my lessons with curious, unexpected, cultural aspects of life from real people.
To teach in this brave new digital world, we must keep doing what we’ve always done well, with sound pedagogy and the willingness to be there with our students, adding to the recipe a touch of digital concreteness to let learning genuineness and tangibility be part of the success formula in our classrooms. The secret to achieve it? Materializing the tech experience into palpable activities and empowering learners with agency.