Friday, 17 August 2012

Something new for back to school

One week into the new school year already. And I am still fumbling to find the online tools that I want to use with my EFL groups this year!

I like blogs, and will use one for my "own" English group again. The structure of one joint class blog, with links to students' individual blogs and our course schedule in the sidebar, worked really well last year, and I want to repeat that. But for the rest of my groups, I will have changing groups and courses every 6-7 weeks, and 14 of them during the whole school year. Setting up 14 separate blogs for such a short duration really seems too much handle, and a bit of a waste to me.

I need something with easy access for students, where I can post/upload/link material outside the textbook and where students can easily interact with each other to put their English into real use. Possibly also for publishing some student work. I thought of a wiki but even that seems too heavy a solution for my needs at the moment. I'm more and more leaning towards a Facebook group or page. I should ask my students how they would feel about it. I have this suspicion that they might feel that school is invading their free time network by suddenly posting homework assignments and other school-related info on Facebook. But it would be so easy! No need to spend class time explaining how a new tool works, no separate sign up procedures and new passwords, no hassle! (I assume all my students are on Facebook - I may be wrong!)

Why do I want to have an online "place" for all my courses then? My main urge is to move beyond the restrictive textbook, and the numbing busy work of gap fills in them. Topical, up-to-date online material is so much more interesting and relevant! Just this week I read quite a provocative guest post by a high school senior in Scott McLeod's blog. This student's criticism on teachers and textbooks is rather hash:
...the more and more they use textbooks, which is the easy way to do things, the worse they will become at teaching and inspiring their students to actually want to learn. That is why textbooks have become the crutch of high school teachers. They are so incredibly easy to lean on, but if they were taken away many teachers would be absolutely lost because they have not challenged themselves to create more of a 21st Century learning environment in their classrooms.
But I must say, I agree! Interestingly, a young Finn also wrote about language teaching/learning in high school in our local paper last weekend. According to her, she never learned to really express herself in a foreign language with the help of the eternal worksheets and translation exercises that she was bombarded with in every language class. When she was faced with a real foreigner who asked her something, she simply couldn't say anything because she didn't have the cues or ready-made alternatives to choose from given to her on a piece of paper!

I wish to activate my students to REALLY use the foreign language for interaction and communication. That's what I need a social networking tool for.

Photo: Tesco by thinkretail on Flickr