Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Using technology in the language classroom

On January 18th, 2014, TESL Toronto presents 'Technology for Teachers' - a one-day mini conference featuring a line-up of great workshops to help ESL practitioners embrace technology in language teaching and learning. While the spots are filling in extremely quickly, there are still some spaces available. If you haven't registered yet, it's time to HURRY UP to be able to attend the event. The conference brochure is available at TESL Toronto's website to download. Click HERE. 

As an introduction to my workshop at T4T - "Teacher friendly tools for blended learning in the LINC classroom" - I'd like to publish a phone conversation I had with Rob McBride, the Project Leader at LearnIT2teach, about the role of technology in ESL Literacy instruction. Check out LearnIT2teach podcast page to listen to a series of fantastic interviews with ESL professionals about their experiences in teaching with technology. Click HERE to access the PODCAST page.

This is a transcript of my phone interview with Rob McBride, project manager at LearnIT2teach.
Q 1: Can you tell me a bit about your teaching? How long have you been in ESL and what kind of teaching do you do?

A. 1. I have been teaching adult ESL for 9 years. 3 years ago I started working with the ESL literacy students. Little did I know that my practices would change forever. Since then my teaching has evolved: it has become more student-driven, I wish to think - more creative, and more authentic. I have been motivated by finding solutions to the classroom challenges and providing more learning opportunities for the students. I have never stopped learning myself and have also started educating other teachers about ESL literacy principles of instruction by mentoring TESL students, blogging, tweeting and presenting...

Q. 2. Teaching ESL Literacy, what are some of the special difficulties of that?
A. 2. Majority of students that arrive in the ESL Literacy classroom are learners with the interrupted formal education or no formal education at all. In the context of the classroom this means that these students lack those critical learning strategies and this hugely affects their ability to succeed in the mainstream ESL classroom. Developing learning strategies and metacognition can be a very lengthy process. Without some feasible practices in place ESL literacy instruction can be very frustrating for both: teachers and  learners.

Q. 3. What role do you see for technology in teaching Literacy? Is it a helper?
A. 3.  Technology is a great tool in a teacher's hands. While working with some educational technology at the ESL literacy level I have been able to observe how beneficial it is for my class. There are multiple advantages for the learners who are developing their initial reading skills. They can work on their own pace, fully participate in all the activities, develop their learning autonomy, choose from a variety of exercises addressed to different learning styles, read interactively, learn in a safe environment and work with the students-generated content. ( such as (1) individualized instruction, (2) encouraging full participation, (3) developing learner autonomy, (4) addressing different learning styles, (5) encouraging active reading, (6) creating safe learning environment, (7) generating student-driven content. )

Q. 4. Were you able to find online ESL Literacy materials to use in your program?
A. 4. Yes and no. In the beginning, I though that there isn’t anything that can be used for adult ESL literacy instruction, but, along the way, I discovered  some outstanding online resources.  By the way, All of them are listed on my course with a short description. The problem with the resources is that they are very  limited, and, as you know, the majority of them are designed for early literacy and aren't practical in an ESL literacy classroom where adult students need English for their survival in Canada. I did use children's literacy resources but with a different approach. I have been motivating students in my class to enjoy those games, videos and songs together with their little ones at home. Once accomplished, this is a great way to learn English while bonding with children.

Q. 5. What motivated you to create your own blended online course?
A. 5. I started working on designing a blended online course for my ESL literacy class more of the classroom management considerations and the need to provide extra learning opportunities and practice for students with reading difficulties. I started with the idea of creating an online support for the classroom curriculum. ESL literacy classes, especially in the computer room, can be very difficult to manage, looking up resources online can take a very long time, therefore I wanted to create an online space where I could have all the resources in place that can be easily accessed and transferable from classroom instruction to self-study at home.

Q. 6 What motivated you to do the LearnIT2teach training?
A. 6. First time I learned about the LearnIT2teach project was at the TESL Toronto conference in May 2011. It was a fantastic opportunity for me to grow professionally and develop my teaching skills at a new level. I was thrilled with the idea of being able to create my own online activities.
It was free and I could do it in my own time (I will be honest with you, the majority if the assignments I completed when my family was asleep). Indeed, this training has opened many doors for me professionally and socially. I am so grateful to my mentors who have provided the training and support way beyond and above all my expectations. A special thank you to one and only John Allan!!!

Q. 7. What is Ms. Lana’s Literacy?

A. 7. Ms. Lana's Literacy is a free open source blended online course that I have been creating for my ESL literacy learners. It targets at all four language skills with a special focus on developing initial reading skills in adult ESL students with reading and learning difficulties. I used Blogger as a platform for my course to make it easily accessible by ESL literacy learners in the computer lab and at home with their children. The activities on the course reflect the needs, interests and language that emerge in my literacy classroom. It is open for anybody and I am constantly updating it with new links and activities.

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