Thursday, 9 January 2014

Energizing the classroom

With Finnish high school students, too often the problem arises that the atmosphere in a classroom drops into apathetic lethargy, especially in morning or late afternoon lessons during the dark winter months. For a teacher, it's frustrating trying to activate such groups of dozing off teens. Asking questions, and ending up answering them yourself, or seeing some students totally preoccupied with their smartphone messages, or Facebook updates on their tablet,s is tantamount to soul-destroying. I know, look in the mirror! Give some serious thought to your last century methods!

Luckily, there are now some easily accessible and adaptable online tools to wake your students up from  such stupor. The latest one I've tried is called Kahoot.

It is defined as a "game-based blended learning & classroom response system". With Kahoot, a teacher can create quizzes, discussions or surveys, with multiple choice answers. You can even add pictures to your questions, and Kahoot is working on facilitating adding videos, too. The teacher also sets the time needed to answer each questions, e.g. 20 or 30 seconds. A completed quiz or survey is then projected onto the classroom screen, students sign in on their smartphones, tablets or laptops, using a key number given by their teacher and a nickname, and the game can start.

The teacher is in charge of moving on from question to question, students read the question and the alternative answers on the screen and click the answer on their touch screens. The programme even provides suspense-creating background music while the students are choosing their answers. Once the given time is up or once everybody has given an answer, the programme automatically shows the score - i.e. how many answers for each alternative. This is a good time for further explanations and clarifications if the teacher realises that many students didn't get the right answer. After this, an important part follows: the nicknames of the top 5 fastest students are revealed! Initially, I was a bit doubtful whether 16-19-year-olds would find this type of activity rather childish but the few times I've tried it so far, I have been positively surprised. The competitive urge seems to be very strong, especially among boys, I've noticed!

At the end of each game, the overall winner is revealed on the screen. What I find very good, is that nobody will have to feel afraid of failure as it's only the top 5 who get mentioned each time. Nobody knows how the rest did, or who scored the lowest.

What have I used Kahoot for then? I prepared one grammar quiz to check if the students had learned how to use the English genitive correctly. It went very well. The students seemed enthusiastic. Everybody was involved. And you should have seen the excited, smiling faces all round the classroom! The shift of energy levels was remarkable. I was also pleased with the chance to get instant feedback of what they had learned and what still needed to be re-explained. This group were 1st-graders in a Finnish high school, i.e. 16-year-olds.

Today I experimented with our seniors (18-19-year-olds). I was a little bit concerned that they would find it a waste of time, but quite the contrary. I was introducing a text dealing with BBC documentaries on indigenous tribes around the world, which we will study in our course book. We talked about indigenous peoples in general at first, and the students then watched a YouTube video from this BBC series, depicting the very tribe in Ethiopia that they would read about in their book. I asked them to listen carefully to all the information given about the tribe, and also watch carefully for all sorts of interesting details as they would be quizzed about their observational skills afterwards.

After the video viewing (some 9 minutes), I asked each pair of students to switch on either a smartphone, a tablet or a laptop. This year, our school has adopted the BYOD system and we have a well-functioning wi-fi system all through the school, so no problem here. The group were a little bit mystified at first as smartphones are not often used in class. They soon got into it, though and we played this Kahoot quiz, which just asked simple little trivia questions based on the video.

The language content of this activity wasn't very impressive but I feel it did the trick of introducing the topic in a fun and certainly engaging way. It happened to be the last lesson in the afternoon, and the whole group got wide awake and took part eagerly. Also these older boys showed their competitive spirit!

I am definitely going to use Kahoot in the future, too. The programme also includes a simple thumbs up / thumbs down evaluation feature at the end of each game, and so far the students' feedback has been very positive. What's more, for busy teachers there are thousands of public quizzes prepared by others available for anyone to use, so it's worth browsing whether something might suit your lessons. 

Luckily, in our school system, we get to teach totally different groups 5 times a year, so I don't think this will get boring very soon!

1 comment:

william max said...
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