I think I finally got it right: the near-perfect combination of engaging, educational, and fun.
Because I have been so swamped by my EdTech courses and other efforts, I haven’t taught the Access students as much as I would like. I was thrilled to meet with them again and see how much their English skills have continued to improve. They are awesome.
I’ve said before that they are great students: motivated and respectful. They are warming up to me, which means they are more willing to talk, discuss, and answer my questions. I’m also getting less nervous which helps. They work really hard, and I mean really hard. Tomorrow is Saturday, the only day off public schools in Nepal. It’s their only day to sleep in and yet they will meet for their Access class at 6:00. That’s a.m. Motivated! That’s in addition to coming after school during the week for 90 minutes each class. They told me tonight in their government schools they attend during the day there are between 50-70 students per class. It must be refreshing to be in a small class of only 20!
Their classroom is simple but fully functional. Its walls are covered by their recent writings and holiday drawings. Today one wall showcased handmade Valentines cards, since they also learn about American culture and holidays. Often they start the class by singing, “She’ll Be Coming Around The Mountain” or “Oh, Susanna!” It’s great.
I’ve tried different things with these students along the way. Some have worked, some haven’t. It’s always a struggle to figure out what I can teach that will really help them. None of them have computers at home. They have limited time at the Cyber. I think I’m finally on to something.
I decided to use technology directly related to their field of study: English Language Learning (ELL). If you’re wondering why I haven’t thought of this before, I have. I’ve tried. But this semester I’ve designed some technology integration strategies for ELL students that I thought might prove beneficial to them.
[I also received a different projector (thanks to a grant from GSA) that allows me to mirror everything on my iPad. The projector I’ve been borrowing is battery-powered, amazing HD quality, and the size of an iPhone. It’s still great, but it has two drawbacks: 1) it’s not bright enough for bright daylight, and 2) it only works through certain apps like slideshows or presentations.]
I began with what is, in my opinion, one of the best iPad apps released to date: The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore. This is an app that demonstrates what is truly possible with a tablet. It’s a phenomenal blend of video, eBook, interactivity, and sheer genius. If you haven’t experienced it, you really should. I used it to prompt a discussion on how they think such an app could help them boost their English language skills [it shows text on each page while it reads].
Next, I asked them to reflect on learning English for the past 15 months and rank the following concepts from hardest to easiest: conversation, writing, grammar, speaking, and vocabulary. Both classes marked grammar as the hardest with vocabulary as a close runner-up. Easiest was writing and then conversation. I was thrilled with their responses because the two hardest tasks, grammar and vocabulary, are the easiest two to support through technology. How exciting! My mind began racing with ideas for future implementation.
I divided them up, sending half off to the four computers in the next room to explore websites listed on their worksheet. The others stayed with me and we explored some fun apps on the iPad.
They loved it! Everyone had a chance to interact with the iPad, which takes them all of one second to figure out. Just for fun I tried some really basic apps that I use with my young children. I took care to explain that even though I knew these apps are really easy and below their level, which they are, I still feel it’s helpful to hear native English speakers (which they hardly ever do), practice pronunciation, and review vocabulary. We practiced animals and colors using Fun English and Flashcards. They giggled and laughed and competed against each other. It was great. Then I moved up to SpeakingPal, which allows them to listen to a quirky video conversation and complete a quiz. This was more on their level and they enjoyed trying to beat their previous score. Just for fun, I tried a speech-to-text app called Dragon Dictation, which really struggled deciphering their accents but gave us all some good laughs. If we had time, I threw in a few extras (like Stack the States and Scribblepress).
Time flew by, they were active, engaged, learning, and having fun. I came home feeling like in some small way, I had made a difference.
As always, the honor is mine.
P.S. These are their new bags — aren’t they great? They gave me one too!