Audio in the MFL classroom

Having written about the need for a languages lab in my last post, and contemplating the necessity of one on twitter,  local primary school colleagues tweeted that they had found a way to help me around the issue:

So, having had a look at the “23 Interesting Ways (and Tips) to use audio in the classroom, I thought that you might like to take a look too, so I have added the slideshare below:

What do you think? Does this go far enough toward enabling us as MFL teachers?

We already use lots of audio in the classroom, so some of these ideas sat very comfortably with me. For example, I have used musical countdowns and music to encourage an activity or calm one down since I began teaching. I have also used tunes that pupils already know but with new lyrics, in order to learn vocabulary. (Have a look at the Register Routine song or the Lateness Routine song here, or the Daily Routine Song here). I have also set words to a beat in order to help the children remember them, and tap the beat back at them in order for them to remember a word. Creating their own audio is something that can be very fulfilling in an MFL Classroom too – Audacity is a great (free) tool to record voice, and as Joe Dale demonstrated recently at MFL Show and Tell, SongSmith is also another great tool.

I guess I am still trying to find an answer to the question in my previous post. Do we really need a languages laboratory? I still think the answer is yes…….What about you?

The Digital Languages Lab

You remember the old languages lab don’t you? The big room, with the individual booths where pupils put on their headsets and listen to the audio recorded to the cassette in the booth?

Really? You still remember them? Gosh, your memory is good.

The department of which I am head embraces using technology in the classroom, and we are part of a school that is lucky enough to have Promethean IWBs aplenty plus lots of ICT support from the UCST/ULT group that we are part of. We are proud of our use of technology, and I know that many of us love to use engaging new technology in the classroom – in fact, today, I covered an ICT lesson for a colleague and found Year 9 creating Prezi’s on the future of technology. Cool!

So, languages labs. Unfortunately, our languages lab is approximately 18 years old, and, by machine standards, it is as they say “past it”. In fact, it is far beyond that – it is dead. As a dodo. Summer 2009 was the last chance for us to be able to use cassettes for the listening part of the A Level examination, and, with the new specification course we will never have cassettes again. In fact, this summer we caused a wee bit of chaos for the examinations officer as he tried to ensure that we had sufficient ICT bookings for the required time sand days, so this term he has been kind enough to purchase mp3 players for the department. This allows the pupils to do a listening exercise in lessons and get used to the machines,  before putting them to use in the exams.

For a long time, we have been considering a new digital languages lab, but, for one reason or another, it is still not a possibility. We have the space, but the new equipment and furniture, along with the software would cost a pretty penny, so for now, I am considering other options.

Earlier, I tweeted out to my PLN a question where I asked for an estimation for how much a digital lab would cost, and in amongst the replies came plenty of other ideas to avoid the purchase of such a lab, which got me thinking. Why do we want a digital languages lab? My predecessor wrote the following a few years ago:

  • Essential replacement for worn out existing language lab.
  • Necessary for external examinations.
  • local competing schools all have new ‘labs’, giving them a facilities edge
  • Software permits transfer of all analogue audio to digital format: this can then be made available to pupils via the new Learning Platform as well as be accessed directly by staff in each classroom (equipped with speakers) – this makes the cumbersome cassette players obsolete and vastly improves sound quality and ease of use for staff.
  • Pupils can work individually with downloaded video clips, web-based exercises and interactive multi-media tasks – this is particularly beneficial for VI form students, for whom exercises involving the latest news clips can easily be created.
  • The suite fully complements the new Learning Platform, since it encourages pupils to use their own area as a digital resource bank, accessible from anywhere.
  • Pupils will be able far more easily to chat online (in Target Language) and video conference with link schools regionally and abroad.
  • Pupils would be able to create their own audio files, recording their own answers to departmental questions and be able to upload them to use in a variety of ways.
  • Nationally ‘mfl’ is at the vanguard of the educational digital revolution, since the subject’s very content matter must reflect contemporary society and be authentic (the latter especially has been placed in a whole new sphere by the Internet age) – our mfl department is a digital department and has often been the first to implement new ICT technologies (interactive boards, data projectors, network based internal management, audio files on the shared area…), yet we are now stalling since we are unable to take the next step to integrate multi media resources and expand pupil and staff access without the new software and a specific ICT suite.
  • Given the current staff in the department, we are ideally placed to progress with this.
  • The ICT suite would be available for other departments, again complementing the whole school ICT development plan

So – as you can see, plenty of reasons for the provision of such a lab. But maybe we are being narrow minded by enclosing our learning space in a room? In fact, are ICT rooms becoming obsolete? Should we be considering the use of netbooks or laptops for each pupil? Or at least to have class sets available for regular use in each department? I know this is something that some schools do, but when considering my school and the layout of my department I over two floors wonder if this is a valid option?

@tomsale suggested the use of iPods with iTalks, all of which can be put online and on the school VLE. In fact an iPod Touch or iPhone, combined with internet access could provide many of the things we need, however, I worry that there would still be times where we would like to have access to a full size screen and keyboard, for example, when doing a piece of writing. I think there would be other issues with having a class set of iPods, such as, how to add things quickly and effectively, adding new apps in order to take advantage of tools such as voice recording etc. I have often thought it is a shame to ‘waste’ the technology most pupils have sitting in their pockets. They tend to have the latest phones, or at least have the ability with their phone not only to voice or video record, but to access the internet. Unfortunately, by pupils using their own technology they can often be tempted to use the tool for other, non-educational uses – such as texting their friends – when they should be doing a piece of work, so for now, I think this idea is not feasible.

I apologise now if my writing has become a bit rambling, but I have begun to write what I am thinking, and the thought I have now is that actually, a computer is still the best option. It would enable me and my pupils to have access to the teaching and learning tools that we require, but why should we make these computers permanently stuck to a desk? A trolley full of computers that can be connected wirelessly to the school network and internet would allow us to do nearly everything we would also want from a languages lab, plus a whole lot more (if the network filters aren’t too strict!). The only thing left to consider is how to record all of the cassettes that are gathering dust on the shelves without it taking a very, very, very long time? In fact, do we even need any of those cassettes anymore?

What do you think?

MFL Show and Tell in Coventry Part 2

As promised earlier in the week, here is a more in-depth post about last weekend’s MFL Show & Tell get together in Coventry.

Firstly, I must say a huge thanks to @jjpadvis and @joedale who, together, organised the venue and ‘chaired’ the event for just over 20 people. We began the day by sipping (a much-needed) cuppa and introducing ourselves to our online ‘friends’. For me, one of the great things about the day was to finally meet in person people who I have begun to rely on so significantly through my PLN. Over the last few months I feel as though I at least ‘know’ them a bit (ie. if I saw them on the street I would know who they are) because of having seen their faces and heard their voices in the MFL Flashmeetings, but to meet face to face, and to have the chance to share ideas with like-minded people was brilliant.

After the caffeine fix and a comical attempt at us all trying to get online (cue laptops and macbooks and frantic typing combined with cries of “it’s not loading!”) we sat down and began to come up with some ideas of what we wanted to discuss. Typically, we all wanted to be able to talk about everything, so instead of breaking into small groups, we discussed things generally, kicking off with Isabelle Jone‘s Easi-Speak microphones. I was very excited (!) to see these in action as I am currently waiting for my own set of 5 to arrive in school to unleash upon my unsuspecting pupils. For those of you that have never seen them, they look like normal microphones but can also record voice and create sound files that can quickly be uploaded to the computer and adapted to whatever needs you have. (I have to admit though, I am just a tiny bit jealous of Isabelle’s pro versions!)

A natural follow on from this conversation was to look at other digital voice recorders – something which has been on my radar for a while too. With the new style speaking assessments we need to be able to record pupils without it being much hassle, and as we need to submit two assessments to go towards a pupil’s speaking grade, being able to electronically record and store their work is a sensible option. I will be looking into the purchase of these very soon.

I am afraid I cannot remember the exact order we discussed everything, but after a brief distraction with my dalek-sounding voice changer(Question: How can you make pupils speak? Answer: Let them feel as though it is not them speaking) @josepicardo gave us the low down on Edmodo. Edmodo is a safe environment to use as a platform to communicate with pupils and I have used it with my Upper VI and Year 10 pupils, however, after José’s demonstration I realised that I had not been making full use of all of the features – I have now updated my profile to receive an alert when anything on the page changes (eg. a pupil writes a comment or uploads a homework) and I want to start making use of the assignment feature for pupils to hand in work. I used Edmodo in a lesson a few weeks ago, in conjunction with Etherpad (a collaborative tool that allows multiple editors of a page) with the Upper VI where they not only had to hand in (electronically of course) an essay on environment, but they then had to translate each other’s in Etherpad, which I could correct from my PC, but they could see onscreen as well.

José also showed us how he has begun to develop his department’s blog with examples of Xtranormal videos produced by students and we also had a sneak preview of something he has been working on which is a private communication platform between the teachers he has added (eg. his department). Looks like it could be the next Twitter for Teachers guys……

After lunch we heard some presentations from a variety of teachers, including @joedale who spoke about moblogging (and he used Cool Iris to present with – a tool I would definitely like to look at more), @suzibewell who gave as an idea of how she used Skype in the classroom to connect to a classroom in another country, and she also did some things on French phonetics which got me thinking about phonetics in Spanish. Initially I thought that pronunciation in Spanish isn’t a massive problem for English speaking pupils, but throughout my lesson’s this week I have been even more aware of the lack of ability to make the ‘J’ sound, how some vowels sound together in Spanish (eg. causa) and the silent ‘H’. @valleseco was kind enough to tweet me a link to some resources she has on her site and on a blog for her pupils, and @lisibo has suggested I look at Rachel Hawkes – when  I get a moment this is something else I will research some more.

@Kath52 enlightened us with her use of wikis and blogs in the classroom to enhance pupils’ learning, and although I knew of some of the games/sites used there were two that I had not used myself – Quizlet and StudyStack – and it got me thinking about developing more games, not only for use in the classroom as an activity, or as a ‘testing’ tool, but also as a learning tool. Therefore, I have already begun to develop a few more games for my pupils to practise current and relevant vocabulary. Apologies that for now, I only have Spanish games! I will try to add some French stuff soon.

@icpjones gave us a presentation on her favourite tools for CPD in the MFL Faculty – I particularly liked how she compared the old style paper bulletins that used to be received in pigeon holes to how we can communicate now. And as she said towards the end, what will the future hold? The key thing from her presentation (for me) was to start considering Diigo instead of Delicious as a bookmarking site. As a newbie, I started my Delicious page which currently has over 450 pages bookmarked, and I also made one for my pupils so they could easily find revision tools, however, I would like to look into what Diigo can offer, especially as I know it is relatively easy to transfer my bookmarks over. Maybe I will keep Delicious for the pupils, and develop Diigo for me. Again, watch this space!

I gave a quick talk about ways to use Wordle in the MFL classroom and also showed my bag of tricks to the group. These include :

  • my faithful lion, Leo, who meets and greets every class I teach (he could even teach them sometimes, but I don’t want him to have too much power….),
  • a bicycle horn (various uses, especially to let a pupil know you have heard them speaking in English when they should have been using the target language!),
  • a very tactile ‘ball’ (if pupils have grown out of Leo, older pupils tend to like to catch this in order to answer a question/have permission to speak);
  • squidgy eyes and ears (to help with the pronunciation of ‘hay’ and ‘ir’ in Spanish – you could also use a soya sauce bottle and Bisto gravy granuals for ‘say’ and ‘visto’ if you want to go down the route of an item for each word….),
  • clackers and ringing mallets (to let me know when a team wants to answer a question, of course), and
  • my most recent acquisition – fly swatters. Pupils can come up to the board, and either on the teacher’s command, or a pupil’s, they have to be the first to whack the picture. Just don’t do this on a SMART board…).

We rounded off the talks with an example of SongSmith from @joedale and examples of using  Crazy Talk in the MFL classroom from @valleseco – I shall definitely be giving all of this a go sometime soon. In fact, I am downloading Crazy Talk as I type.

Thank you so much to everyone for sharing such innovative and forward thinking ideas. I love teaching languages, and I love using technology to help with learning and teaching (read what I have to say about it on my group’s newsletter on page 15 ) and without you all, I do not think I would be half the teacher I am today.

PS – José – I hope you don’t mind I have used one of your fab pictures in this post. The other pictures from the event are all on flickr.