Chatting in a foreign language with the help of a podcast increases students' ease and confidence, Stephen Manning discovers.
Perhaps the most obvious use of podcasts in the classroom is to study foreign languages, something that Neil Jones has been exploring with his A-level pupils. Neil, deputy headteacher at the Elliott School in Putney, south-west London, felt that it was the best approach for getting pupils acclimatised to conversation and listening in French, German and Spanish.
"We found that listening results at AS-level weren't the best and really needed improvement," says Neil, who is also a languages lead practitioner for the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust. "There were lots of factors, but an important one was lack of practice with vocabulary."
Pupils began experimenting with podcasts in October last year, initially as an audio magazine covering school events and showcasing work, and also school trips. From this, the idea developed of recording the school's three foreign language assistants French, German and Spanish talking on various topics, or being interviewed by Neil. Now these new recordings are made weekly and put on the school website, accompanied by a downloadable worksheet.
Neil borrowed the idea from a website called notesinspanish.com, in which a Spanish wife and her English husband chat about all sorts of topics. "It's a great website. The husband made a lot of mistakes, and was corrected, which the pupils liked."
Classroom technology in all forms still has to overcome its gimmicky status. Certainly, the bulk of gizmos in schools seem to be thrown at pupils well before A-level, the idea perhaps being that its main purpose is to grab their interest with something shiny and new.
Certainly, Neil agrees that motivation is the main point of the exercise the kids enjoy accessing the material in this way but argues that, for language learning, this "ears-on" approach will pay off over time.