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Poll everywhere - Natecla London

Poll Everywhere from Natecla London event

At the recent Natecla London e-ESOL event I demonstrated a text polling/text wall activity that seemed to raise a bit of interest. It’s called Poll Everywhere and I’ve only ever used it in presentations to teachers, but it’s started me thinking about how I could use this with learners.

Poll Everywhere: features

First, a quick description of what it does; the application is available online and as a freemium model (I didn’t pay for any of the premium features – you shouldn’t need to). The premise is simple, you set up a question and the application gives you some codes and a phone number. This lets people send their answers via SMS; these then appear on a website which can be shared – either online or through a data projector. You can set up multiple choice or open questions – multiple choice questions give you a graph of responses, while open questions display participants responses (up to 40 in the free version).

SMS are charged at a normal rate (in the UK); if your learners have inclusive text messages in their phone contract they won’t have to pay. Replies can also be sent via Twitter or online which may be more convenient or cheaper for some learners.

Multiple choice

In terms of classroom use the multiple choice questions can be used in a similar way to IWB voting handsets which some providers may have invested in. There’s a nice stock of lolcats-type images on their Facebook wall pointing out that they, ahem….  may not be the best investment - in case you like that sort of thing.

I can think of some ways that these could be used in class:

  • As part of a learning check – learners are asked to vote anonymously on a multiple choice learning check question – this can then be the stimulus for further questions. This could also serve as a recap in a follow-up session.
  • Deciding the course of a lesson – learners can vote on options for the next stage of the lesson.
  • Feedback on the lesson – how did you find the lesson? You need to plan the question that you want to ask your learners carefully, but it could be very effective.

I’m sure there are loads of possibilities, I’d love it if you added your ideas to the comments at the bottom of this post.

Open Questions

Text entry questions are more flexible; we used this at the conference to get suggestions for how to use technology in class - you can see the results here.

  • Get learners to submit spelling suggestions to tricky words.
  • Get learners to contribute short sentences, questions etc.
  • Get learner to submit a word that they have learnt during a lesson.
  • Get learners to submit vocabulary on a topic.

Again, there are loads of possible uses, and again, I’d love it if you add them to the bottom of the page. These polls could then be shared via a class blog or VLE.

SMS Polling vs Mini Whiteboards

Of course, these could also be done with mini whiteboards (Have I told you how much I like mini whiteboards?). SMS polling adds anonymity, ‘saveability’ and a bit of novelty value, and takes away some simplicity as well as possibly adding SMS charges. Which is best for your context depends on how important these factors are for your learners and your context as well as the task that you choose.

Situated learning

I’ve been doing quite a bit of reading on mobile learning recently and one thing that is often cited as a major benefit is the way that m-learning can bring learning from the classroom into learners’ lives.

I wonder if there are ways, particularly with the open response questions that learners could be given ‘homework’ where they have to text in responses to situations they find outside of lessons

  • “Text us words that you had to look up”
  • “Favourite English word of the day”
  • “How many different ways do people say hello to you?”
  • “Have you seen a good advertising slogan?”
  • “Have you seen a sentence in the present perfect?” [or any other target form]
  • “Text us every time you hear someone use [X] word”

What I’ve read about situated learning suggests that this may make it easier for learners to relate their classroom learning to their lives and in turn to be able to use presented language more fluently.

As this is SMS based, most learners will already have the equipment required, even the oldest phones are suitable, though there may be some concerns over SMS costs.

Incidentally if you are interested in mobile learning and ESOL, I really recommend that you read about the MASELTOV project - they’re putting together some very interesting ideas to support migrant language learning which look pretty revolutionary.

A free, flexible tool – ready for your imagination

Having used this, I’ll be honest, I can’t really see any reason for buying IWB clickers; this seem to do the same but cheaper, and generally much less hassle. That said – there are lo-tech ways of doing many of these things. Novelty value does work for a bit, and the anonymity can change the dynamic of activities. Being able to save, record and share learners’ suggestions easily has a lot of positive points.

What I need to think about now is how to exploit it outside the classroom – there are a lot of approaches being developed if all your learners have iPads; most of mine don’t. This is a relatively lo-tech and cheap technology.

The key thing here is, like many flexible tools, is coming up with ideas for using it – I’ve added a few suggestions here – but I’d love to know what you think – or if you have a found a different or better site for doing this – I don’t get paid by Poll Everywhere, so I’m happy to look at any packages :) .

'Find the 2 Construction workers' by europeaantje (Creative Commons via ELTpics on Flickr)

‘Find the 2 Construction workers’ by europeaantje (Creative Commons via ELTpics on Flickr)

Construction Literacy?

I have supported a number of construction students at the college where I work. When supporting these learners’ literacy skills, it can be difficult to find relevant contexts to enable them to practice writing skills, If anyone has any ideas, I’d love it if you could add them in the comments section below.

Independent Traders…

One idea that I have found useful is to get learners to design a website to promote themselves as a tradesperson. There are a number of reasons why I believe this is effective:

  • is relevant to the context that learners hope to be working in after they have finished studying at the college.
  • It is a form of literacy that will support their future work as independent tradespeople
  • It forces them to use relevant vocabulary for the trade area that they are working in.
  • It gives learners an opportunity to showcase themselves and their skills in a form that can be published – this can be a validating and motivating experience.

Now, I have neither the skills or time to teach my learners to become HTML5 whizzes – that’s not what the courses are about anyway, so I’m very grateful that there are some good solutions to create sites very quickly and easily:

  • Google Sites - Now, this should be great – it looked very simple to use when I logged in to it, but for some reason I can’t work out it just wouldn’t work on a student login. It’s worth having a look at this resource – but do check that your learners can access it; mine couldn’t.
  • Weebly - this was the site that I ended up using. It’s a free site that allows learners to create their own websites by slotting in different modules. This means that learners can add text, images and also embedded content, such  as Google maps, polls, YouTube videos and others.  It’s a really simple site – so the user interface doesn’t really ‘get in the way’ of the literacy exercises. There is a catch that you need to make sure that learners watch out for. The site shows some of the ‘pro’ features fairly prominently (video/audio players & customised URLs, etc) and if learners try to use them it will prompt them for payment – make sure that your learners are clear that they don’t need to pay anything and that they shouldn’t enter any details. Overall I would say that this is a minor issue and doesn’t detract from the exercise, but you will need to consider your learners.

A catch that is common to any site that learners create, is that they will have to be careful with the copyright of any images that they use should the resource be published. There is a cautionary tale here: ‘Bloggers beware, you can get sued for using pics on your blog‘. This of course is another opportunity to suggest that you have a look at ELTpics (see my post here)

The lesson

When I tried this lesson with Painting and Decorating learners, the procedure was as follows:

  1. I asked learners to have a look online to find websites for local decorators.
  2. I gave the learners a grid where they could record the information on the websites, what they liked about the websites and what they disliked about them
  3. Ask learners to design their own websites, bearing in mind what they saw from the sites studied.
  4. Support learners language work as they are creating their websites.

I’ve mentioned this post as being about supporting learners who are preparing to work in different building trades, but I’m sure that it is relevant to many learners in further education. Please share your ideas below, it’d be great to see what people are doing.

Related links

http://www.skillsworkshop.org/ - still the best place to find resources for supporting learners’ functional skills

http://tlp.excellencegateway.org.uk/tlp/fs/fs-resources/index.php - Being Functional resources to support functional skills.  Some of these resources are a bit outdated and some are a little unimaginative, but it’s worth having a look through to find things to use.

http://jasonrenshaw.typepad.com/jason_renshaws_web_log/vcal-literacy/ - some great ideas for supporting the literacy of vocational learners from Jason Renshaw who teaches at a TAFE in Australia.

I’m no neutral, but….

I’d like to share something with you that I think is quite good, though you will have to have a look and judge for yourself. I’ve been involved with it so I’m not exactly unbiased and I don’t want to be accused of ‘astroturfing‘. Anyway, This post is about ESOL Nexus, which is a portal for ESOL teachers and learners in the UK from the British Council – you can access it here:
http://esol.britishcouncil.org/

What is it

ESOL Nexus has come out of a European Integration Fund-backed project to support third country nationals (ie. Non UK & Non EU nationals) learning English – there’s more information on their site here: http://esol.britishcouncil.org/about-esol-nexus.

The site does this by providing self-access materials for learners alongside resources to help ESOL teachers.

It’s quite an ambitious project and has around 40 ESOL practitioners working together to keep producing materials – so there’s plenty more to come!

What’s there at the moment?

There are a number of resources and lesson plans which have been specifically written for ESOL learners in the UK as well as relevant content from the British Council’s other websites.

E1 Beginner resources

  • The Town – a set of lessons for beginner E1 reader & writers to help them talk about their local area.

Language at Work

  • Being Self-Employed – Here learners can listen to an ex-ESOL learner who has set up their own business in the UK. This recordings used are authentic and unscripted and are accompanied by language practice exercises. The level is around E2-E3.
  • Voluntary Work – more authentic listening exercises, this time we hear about volunteering in an Oxfam shop. This resource helps develop listening skills and knowledge of lexis commonly used in shops, especially when talking to customers.

UK Life (Citizenship)

  • Driving – this helps learners understand about the documents they need to drive. (Driving Licence, MOT, insurance etc.), how they can learn to drive, and, completing the citizenship aspect, an exercise on court reports for people who drive without documents. The activities are aimed at different levels from E1-E3. This is an area that is relevant to many learners and is fairly ‘document heavy’, there’s a real need for literacy skills to be able to understand the different rules and regulations.
  • Fire Safety – These resources help learners to understand advice on how to stay safe at home. There are vocabulary exercises on smoke alarms and general fire safety advice. The resources are aimed at different levels from E1-E3.
  • Parents’ Evenings – These resources help support learners discussing their children’s progress at school and are aimed at E1 learners . Many ESOL learners are often frustrated by not being able to communicate with their children’s teachers, these resources should support them with this.
  • Politics – these exercises explains the UK political system from the voters’ perspective, explaining how governments are elected etc. This could obviously be very useful in citizenship lessons.

These resources were written specifically for the UK ESOL context and all resources provide interactive online activities as well as printable PDF versions of the resources so they can be used in different contexts.

As well as the content which has been specially written for a UK ESOL context, there are a number of resources from other British Council websites. The project originally started by because there were a huge number of resources on British Council websites, such as Teaching English and Learn English. ESOL Nexus started out by assessing the suitability of existing British Council resources, which among other things led to the presentation below… That was the first thing I did as part of it all (along with Mike Harrison, Amanda Wilson and Callie Wilkinson).

What does it bring?

As mentioned above, I’m not the most neutral commentator, but I think this site is a useful addition to those available for ESOL tutors. There are some great websites for teacher-contributed resources – Talent and Skills Workshop are probably the best examples of these, but there is very little commissioned content available specifically for ESOL tutors (ALO Scotland might fit this criteria). Hopefully this will act as a complement to the resources already available. The interactive self-access resources and audio based materials are something different to that already available. If you haven’t seen Talent or Skills Workshop, go and check them out – there are loads of fantastic resources there.

Previously, there haven’t been many self-access sites designed specifically for ESOL learners in the UK – I can only of Esol courses ,London online, and ESOL UK – (digibooks, ESOL Leeds, Citizenship videos and English for Food Hygiene) . Though, of course BBC Skillswise can be useful (even if it is aimed more at Adult literacy groups). There’s a list of resource sites on this page.

This seminar from Dot Powell, the project director, discusses some aspects of review and development of teaching and learning materials.

I’d love to know what you think about them – do you think this site is on the right track, or is it just more of the same? How could it improve?

Also, what websites do you use with ESOL learners? Are there any that I should add to the list?

Traffic Light CV

Should I stay or should I go?

Just hope your learners are a bit more decisive than this…

Non-linear writing

Some texts are easy – you start at the beginning, and you end at the end – but are there loads of texts where it’s much better to start somewhere else – sometimes that’s in reading (you could try something like this: Argos lesson). However, here I want to look at texts that are written in a non-linear way.

CVs are are challenging text type for most learners; the power imbalance between the reader and the writer means that conventions and function become very important. There is a clear function in that a CV is the writers attempt to show that a) they are a suitable candidate for a job and b) that they are more suitable than anyone else (who has applied). However unlike an advertisement, it is important that CVs remain within the boundaries dictated by convention.

This means that learners often see CVs as being merely informative, recounting a ‘neutral’ history of their professional and academic life. We should also remember that these conventions are very much culture bound, varying from one country to the next. The amount if self-promotion you can do on a UK CV is different to that in other countries. (for more on cultural differences in the job application process – interviews rather than CVs, see Roberts, Celia & Sarah Campbell, 2007, Talk on Trial)

Red Amber Green

To try and get learners to focus on this I decided to use the following template to support them: Traffic Light CV. It is a word document that I either add to learners’ VLE page or (in small groups) let them copy from a USB stick. I did try sharing it via dropbox and creating a link in bit.ly – but that was blocked by the college filter.

The idea is that it in order to write a CV effectively, it is best to start from learners’ experiences and relate this to the job that they want. For this reason I colour-coded the template.

I assumed that I wouldn’t have to help learners much with their personal details (at this level) so I left that red to come back to later. The key bit is the amber section (ok, it’s yellow). I don’t want learners to think about their skills and profile until they’ve picked out the key features from their experience and education.

I get learners to find a job ad, or preferably, a person specification. To find sample person specs just add “person specification” file type:pdf to your search in Google for the job title. After this I get them to list their studies, and/or work experience in the green bit of the template, before adding three things about the job or course that correspond with something in the person specification.

Then it’s easier for learners to go back and put something in the skills and profile sections of their CV. I do always make it clear to learners, that they then have to think of the design of their CV and change the colours back!

A worthwhile approach?

What do you think of this technique? Do you think it could be productive? Do you think it could work for other text types?

Links

I also wrote these CV writing exercisee here and here for ESOL Nexus.

There are some nice CV writing activities here: Next Steps ( thanks to Charlotte Assomo for the link)
This is a nice CV exercise from Skills Workshop: 21 Questions

Cover letter exercise

If you are looking for an exercise to support learners in writing cover letters – you might want to have a look at this page I created http://travelfunctionalskills.wordpress.com/

Back to a topic which is becoming an ‘occasional series’ – What can you do with Prezi and why is it worth using? (see here and here )

This presentation is from a professional development session I led at another local college this week. NB the bit.ly links link to examples on my Moodle courses – you won’t be able to access these; where resources were created for this session, I have made and included screencasts – I haven’t done this for examples of student work for obvious reasons.

The session was about sharing ideas of best practice for using Moodle/VLEs creatively with ESOL learners – I was focussing on what could be done, rather than showing how to do it (there was a hands-on practical session after mine showing people how to do these things for themselves). You can see my session plan here: Moodle for ESOL Session plan and the handout here: Moodle for ESOL Handout

If you have read my other posts on Prezi, you may remember that I think a possible advantage of the application is that you can create a non-linear presentation file which can be accessed outside the session according to the interest of participants. This is the closest that I have managed to get to this idea so far, the presentation is organised as a mind map with no specific beginning and end and more content than I could show in a 90 min session. The idea being that participants could return to it, find a part they were particularly interested in and look at in more depth (see here for more on mindmaps). Part of the reason I’m posting it here is to see if that works, or is worthwhile – let me know what you think in the comments below.

Having said that, I had a linear plan for my session (see the session plan) and used a linear path through the presentation. This meant the session followed my plan – the next thing to try would be to continue to develop the Prezi file and try giving a truly non-linear presentation “OK, what would you like me to show you next…?” (Prezi for Dogme, anyone?) – whether that would be useful or desired by session participants (or learners in class) is another question, of course….

Anyway the topics I planned to look at were the following:

  • ‘Moodle Techniques’ you can use across the VLE:
    • Internal and External Linking
    • Embedding Content
    • Uploading Audio and Video files
    • Adding labels
  • Forums – for :
    • practising specific language points
    • to facilitate interaction with online content.
  • Wikis & Assigments – for tracking, assessing and giving formative feedback to learners.
  • Feedback – to allow learners to reflect on audio or video files that they have created.
  • BDC e-templates (read more here) – interactive exercises

I intend to keep adding to this as I think of more things – but I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas – I’d be really grateful for any comments you could add below.

Health and safety - Framework for a discussion

Now, I usually like my posts to be about things that you could pretty much pick up and use straight away with your classes, but there is a bit more speculation I. This on of what I think might be possible in the not too distant future… Bear with me here…

Not just for my learners….

I have just started as a student a fairly full-on full-on course (Cambridge DELTA at UCL) and I wanted to find a better way to organise my notes. I’ve probably never been taught how to take notes and generally have just written loads of stuff down. So far it has worked well enough, but I have this nagging feeling that there must be a better way to do it. After spending quite a while pointing out to learners how useful it can be to use mind maps and other graphic organisers to plan their work,I thought I might give it a try myself (see exploratree for some great ideas for using graphic organisers).

Notetaking

I’d found my iPad quite useful for making ‘write a lot of stuff down’ type notes and I could use the resulting scribblings (tappings might be a better word) to write blog posts with. This is a development from what I normally do with handwritten notes, which get stuck in a folder and occasionally skimmed through. Nevertheless I knew that there were some mind mapping apps available for the iPad and I thought that they could be a good use for my tablet. So far I’ve been impressed – it seems a really logical way of organising concepts and most crucially it’s easy to add new ideas in at different points when revising. It also allows you to create very large unwieldy maps and then zoom into the bits you need. In case you’re wondering how big you can make them, there’s an example of my course notes at the bottom of the post. I’d guess it is probably not for everyone, but I’ve been convinced to stick with it.

Killer App?

Having been trying this for a week or so, I’m starting to think that this might just be the “killer app” for tablets in the classroom. Mind mapping can be done very simply and cheaply with a pencil and paper – it’s probably the best way to do a quick, simple mind map. However they soon get huge, messy and generally unwieldy. One way to overcome this is by using an online mind maps such as bubbl.us which allows you to rearrange things and zoom in and out to look in more or less detail. This means that you can create massive mindmaps which are still usable. The problem is that you end up tied to a PC or laptop. Now, this might just be a generational thing, but I can’t sit in a lecture or class tapping away on a laptop or desktop without getting really self-conscious and to be honest I can get easily distracted (not coincidentally my most effective writing usually happens on an old laptop that has no internet access) . Mobiles could be less intrusive, but their small screens are not really ideal for complex mind maps (though there are plenty of apps available for them). Tablets, on the other hand, seem really well suited to this very visual genre. The touch screen makes it easy to manipulate the image and add ideas. It’s easy for learners to show and compare their thoughts. If tablets (not necessarily Apple-Flavoured) become accessible enough for them to be common in class, I suspect that this is something that will become widespread. This might be a way off for most groups, but I’ve been doing a lot of 1-1 support this year and I’ve found my iPad very useful. Tablets are great (and a bit more realistic) for that context.

iThoughts

The app that I’ve chosen is iThoughts for the iPad. I chose it because most reviews seemed to suggest that it was the best option and it comes out top when you google “iPad mindmapping”. At £7, it is a bit expensive for an app, but it’s still only seven quid. There are quite a few alternative apps out there (some free), so you might want to do a bit more research than I did.

Leaving the competition to one side, I would recommend iThoughtsHD in its own right for these reasons:

  • it has a really intuitive & simple user interface
  • There are plenty of features and editable options to create maps (colour, image, links, tasks, etc)
  • It links smoothly with cloud service (I use Dropbox all the time, so this is a big bonus for me
  • It has ability to export as an image, PDF (very useful) or as one of any number of alternative mindmap formats (not so useful for me – but if you use mind maps a lot this might be a crucial feature)
  • You can cut and paste maps as text ( appears as a bulleted list in text)

However, there are lots of different apps out there, likewise I’m sure here are good options for android as well.

Classroom ideas

So if you are lucky enough to have a class full of learners with the required hardware (unlikely perhaps) what could you do? Please add your own ideas in the comments section below but these are a few that I’ve thought of:

    • Great big vocabulary maps around a particular topic – get groups to compete to see who can make the biggest (but actively encourage them to steal each other’s ideas)
    • Get learners to break complex texts down into mind maps, then ask them to reconstruct the original text orally or in writing
    • Track learners free speaking in order to return to topics to add more content (the picture at the top of the post is an example of this).
    • Working out what questions they want to “ask the text” before trying to use a long text or website for research. This could make learners less like to copy (or cut and paste) the source text.
    • The old favourite – planning for writing or giving presentations.

Further Reading

http://www.teachingvillage.org/2010/02/10/mind-mapping-learning-and-teaching-with-both-sides-of-the-brain-by-hobie-swan/

http://www.asian-efl-journal.com/PTA/Volume-53-raj.pdf

http://hbo-kennisbank.uvt.nl/cgi/fontys/show.cgi?fid=4166

I’m sure you’ve got loads of better ideas than mine – I’d love it if you could share some in the comments below….

The big one!

Students vs iPhone

Gigs Today

Listen with your Phone

Decoding Sound

Since attending a talk on developing listening skills by Philida Schellekens, I have really been thinking about the way I teach listening. The talk is detailed in this post and is based on this report. The key part of Schellekens’ findings is that too much effort in language teaching (especially within the UK Skills for Life curriculum… another story) is spent on comprehension of spoken words, rather than on decoding the stream of language into those words.

Since listening to the talk and reading the report, I’ve been trying to think how I could bring more of this into my practice – this is clearly an important step in the listening process that I had been rather neglecting up to this point. In her report Schellekens gives some references for reading about this process – the suggested texts are:

  • Field, J. (2003). ‘Promoting perception: lexical segmentation in L2 listening.’ English Language Teaching Journal 57/3.
  • Field, J. (2003). Psycholinguistics. London: Routledge.
  • Field, J. (2008). Listening in the Language Classroom. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

I am going to be honest – these look fascinating, but I haven’t been able to get to a library recently; as soon as I can I want to read these texts (and may have to come back and change this post… or at least write a follow-up). If you are familiar with Field’s work and it appears to you that I am labouring under a misapprehension please comment below, I think this is a crucial area for equipping learners to deal with life in the UK.

Awareness Raising

While I haven’t been able to read these texts yet, I felt that I could follow some of the advice that Philida gave in her talk. One of the approaches suggested was dictation – this is an activity that I feel I don’t use enough with my groups – not sure why, I have just never got that used to using it and so I haven’t thought about it enough to use regularly (perhaps like a learner who has just been taught a new language point, and is starting to understand it, without yet actually being able to use it in their own language practice.) The point that Philida makes is that if we look at the difference between what is said by the teacher in a dictation and what is heard by the learners, we raise awareness of the way that English sounds work, particularly in terms of connected speech and word stress.

Authentic Listening

My lesson was with a Level 1 ESOL group, who are looking at the general topic of ‘News’. You can see the unit from the DFES-produced ‘Skills for Life’ materials here. I use some things from the materials, but I find them a bit chaotic and uninspiring. Luckily for this topic there are plenty of authentic materials floating around, the problem is that much of it is at a high level and challenging for learners to access. I particularly wanted to develop learners’ listening skills but was concerned that authentic news clips could be tricky for learners at this level.

Being a ‘multimodal’ news platform, the BBC is a very good source of topical resources as many of the stories are accompanied by video or audio – I chose to look at this story: Scotland storm blackout hitting thousands. I wasn’t interested in the text, just the video.

Word Cloud of Transcript (created at http://www.wordle.net)

The first step I wanted to take to make sure that the recording would be accessible for learners was to create an introductory activity to ‘activate schemata’ and also to work on some of the vocabulary in the text. I transcribed the recording and created a wordcloud in Wordle. I gave this to learners and displayed some images taken from the Guardian’s coverage of the story. This allowed learners to predict what the story would be about and also ensured that they could identify some of the vocabulary that they would encounter in the text.

Taking on the machine

Following this, I decided to introduce the text by dictating the first section of the text to the learners. I had recently seen a learner use the Dragon Dictation app on their iPhone to help them in a lesson, and had been wondering if there was a way I could harness this in a lesson. I mention Dragon on iOS because I had the hardware and the app was is free… But it is far from being the only app of its kind and I am sure there are similar things available for other smartphones, tablets, PCs or whatever. Google particularly seem to be developing tools in this area. Having studied a tiny bit of language engineering on my Masters (click here for details) I remembered that when I did Machine Translation Error Analysis it was not unlike marking learner’s English – the patterns in the kind of mistakes made by the machine, can sometimes give you a clue about the way language works. I supposed that something similar might happen with dictation and wanted to try something out. I would pit the learners against my iPhone in a human vs machine contest!

Human Tape Recorder; Electronic Ear

I used the ‘human tape recorder’ process (described here) to dictate the first few sentences to the learners and as they were checking what they had written in groups I dictated the text for a final time into my phone headset, emailed myself the results and displayed the resulting text through the data projector.

That’s the far for a bridge behind me nothing is cross that bridge when of Scotland’s major bridges nothing has crossed it since 1030 this morning I recorded a gust of 84 miles an hour and that was enough of the people in charge because it down it had been close the high sided vehicles up to that point

A lot of the differences between the text Dragon created and the one I read out were similar to those in learners’ own texts and the highlighted certain features of spoken English:

  • weak pronunciation of has
  • differentiating vowel sounds in one and when
  • difficulty in identifying final -ed
  • weak pronunciation of for for the people
  • differentiating between close and because

The text from Dragon was useful as it gave us a point to compare to the learners’ texts as it had been through the same process. Hopefully it was also re-assuring that the machine was no better than the learners at this task.

At this point I don’t feel I did enough to practice identifying these sounds on the lesson, but it raised awareness in the learners – they were then able to find answers to the listening comprehension questions from the original text. I also now have a better idea of what I should look at in terms of developing learners’ listening skills.

What’s next?

The question that this raises is whether there are any other applications of computational linguistics that can be simply and usefully employed in the classroom…. Here we tried to understand why the computer had made the mistakes it did – could this be done with Google translate? Would it work better with one of the more rule-based systems (usually powered by Systran)? Could learners use voice recognition to hone their pronunciation? Is it just a piece of pedagogically irrelevant techno-bling? I’d love to see your ideas…

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