Innovative Practice - Do you speak technology?

5th April 2013 at 01:00
Use a variety of platforms in school and at home to engage the Facebook generation in language learning

The background

Will Harvey, languages and enterprise specialism coordinator at Didcot Girls' School in Oxfordshire, is always on the lookout for new ways to ignite the interest of the Facebook generation of students. He uses technology to inspire and engage students and ensure they can access language learning whether they are at home, on the bus or using an iPad or smartphone.

The project

Harvey's key focus is to ensure that lessons are a mix of activities and video content: "Students find real news clips or a music video more relevant than the 'made for' language learning resources."

Skype helps students to understand the value of their language learning as they chat with classmates across Europe. Collaborative tools such as PrimaryPad, a web-based word processor, allow students and teachers to work together in real time. Students learn from each other in a chatroom-type setting by answering questions such as: "Name three things you have learned today."

Lessons often begin at home. Students are provided with lesson material in advance, recorded in either a video or audio format, and are expected to watch or listen to the file before coming to class. "When students arrive, the groundwork of a lesson has already been completed, so learning begins in earnest as soon as they set foot in the classroom. This means we can maximise teaching time by extending learning through practical exercises," Harvey says.

The use of technology is also important when developing students' listening, reading, speaking and writing skills outside class. Although it is easy to point students towards good content on the internet, it can be more difficult to set homework that tests listening and speaking skills. But Didcot Girls' School has implemented the latest technology, a cloud-based language lab called SANSSpace from ConnectED, which means that students can access all the functionality of the school lab from home.

The girls can view the video or audio files used in class outside the school day, as well as submitting homework assignments in video, audio or written formats via the lab.

Tips from the scheme

When planning a language lesson, include a mix of activities that will capture everyone's attention. Choose topics that are relevant and engaging.

Students benefit enormously from working together. Ask your class to divide themselves into groups and assign a leader to manage an activity.

Regularly set homework tasks that challenge students' language skills in different ways. For example, ask them to relay words learned during a particular class to family members. Encourage students to submit an assignment in an alternative format, such as a slide show, short film, blog entry or even a podcast.

Use different kinds of technology to keep lessons fresh and exciting.

Evidence that it works?

Technology has radically transformed the type of homework that Harvey now sets. "By not limiting the exercise to paper, I am able to inspire creativity, which has had a dramatic and positive impact on motivation," he says.


Approach: Using technology to engage the Facebook generation in language learning

Started: 2012

Leader: Will Harvey, languages and enterprise specialism coordinator, Didcot Girls' School


Name: Didcot Girls' School

Location: Oxfordshire

Type: Secondary

Pupils: 1,250

Age range: 11-18

Intake: Socially inclusive

Ofsted overall rating: Good (2012).

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