I`d like to start my post this week by showing you all a short video I found on Youtube.
It shows how technology, for the past decades, has been present in the educational process and how far it has gone. I remember learning English and at that time the state-of-the-art devices in the classrooms were the cassette players and the VCRs. Nowadays, as a teacher I am taking advantage of DVDs, computers and cellphones to enhance my students`learning experience.
When teaching a language, we teachers are always concerned about balancing the quantity of time devoted to the different skills so that students can develop their fluency in a homogeneous way, aren`t we?. The two texts I read this week mentioned CALL with a focus on listening and speaking and what research and studies have shown as far as effectiveness is concerned. As a matter of fact, one of the interesting facts I learned was that the most often used skill in everyday life is actually listening(40%), followed by speaking(35%), reading(16%)and writing(9%).However, advances in instructional technology have gone further for the least used skills, reading and writing. In fact, the internet is out there, students have instant access to millions of different authentic reading materials and lots of educational softwares can be found in which students can practice language through writing.
Nowadays,fortunately, a lot of softwares and websites dedicate their activities to the other skills, like listening. One of the greatest advances has been the division of the listening into 3 parts: pre, while and post- listening activities. It is very common to find very well-organized and planned pre and post-listening activities in websites like ELLO (www.ello.org) and Randall`s ESL Cyber Listening Lab(www.esl-lab.com. Such websites display authentic as well as pre-developed materials and many experts point out advantages and disadvantages regarding their nature. Should listening material be authentic or artificially produced? Students can certainly benefit from produced material by picking up standard pronunciation, articulation and stress, but it seems that authentic material can be more beneficial because you can be exposed to different accents, language variations not learned in books and how speech is actually produced (including all fillings, pauses and speaking strategies). In fact, one very interesting comment I remember is that maybe authentic material can actually be easier to understand if you take some factors into consideration. In pre-produced materials, speakers do not repeat information and do not pause frequently. On the other hand, authentic listening materials may come with natural pauses and repetitions of ideas that may build up to a better comprehension of what is being said. Also, another topic brought up has to do with the use of visual aids. It is believed that a message in a listening activity is easier to grasp if there is an image, like a video of a person gesticulating and using body language to emphasize certain ideas. Today I attended a lecture in my school by an international guest scientist called Janet Zadina (www.brainresearch.us), a brain specialist, and she said "we listen better with our eyes!". Although her talk had the human brain as the main issue, I could totally relate that to what we were studying. I took this picture using my cellphone as she talked about listening and "seeing"at the same time:
As we can see in the slides she used in her presentation, a visual image can help understanding and remembering information up to 55% more than if you were just listening.
In the text that dealt with speaking skills, it informed us that compared to the other three skills , it still has a long road ahead in terms of improvement and advances. To be very honest, I didn`t even know there were certain materials that helped students improve their speaking. One of the big issues is to figure out how students can have real authentic interactions with machines and how these machines can recognize accuracy in one`s speech. They are very effective when correcting and teaching pronunciation, you can even record a sentence and have the computer correct your delivery. However, computers still can`t recognize well variations when speaking and actually respond naturally to anything a student says to the machine, as it would occur in a real face-to-face- conversation. Here is an example of a software intended to work on the student`s speaking abilities:
As you can see, students can record their sentences, but the sentences have to be the ones the computer suggests, you cannot add words to it because the program would not recognize it as being correct.
One thing I have learned: we have come a long way when we look back and I loved the way the first video I suggested you to watch said: "this is just the beginning." I couldn`t agree more with it and I am sure lots of interesting advances will take place in the near future!