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MFL and digital technology – Revolution or just faster evolution?

Published on 23/05/14

Modern Languages departments have always been happening places. We have our finger on the pulse of our students’ lives and the international context in which we all exist.
Modern Languages departments have always been happening places. We have our finger on the pulse of our students’ lives and the international context in which we all exist. We look at the past, the present, the future and the ideal! We teach PSHE, Citizenship and Critical Thinking courses in beautiful foreign tongues, with lashings of in-built cultural enrichment.

Modern Language teachers are by nature supremely flexible

The content of our subject is constantly in flux - as lifestyles change so does language. Course books go quickly out of date – when I started at the Stephen Perse Foundation in 2004 the German textbook referred to the Deutschmark and the GDR (pre-1989!), and ‘hobbies’ included activities such as stamp collecting and listening to one’s Walkman. In 2014 students learn about “im Internet surfen” and “SMS schreiben” (texting). The environment, which used to be an A Level theme, is covered in the GCSE spec now, and we encounter far fewer role-plays at the post office - no-one sends telegrams anymore! Now have the verb googeln and the past participle “gegoogelt”, there’s also recyclen and recycelt (the past participle).

Modern Language teachers are adaptable when it comes to technology.

I started my teaching career with the OHP & OHT – meaning I performed the famous “strip-tease” when revealing vocabulary or answers! I also had A4 flashcards and a black board. Listening exercises involved carting a tape -recorder machine around school with the cassette pre-wound to the correct spot. We are also capable of dealing with the unpredictable: the technology doesn’t always work, the cables have been fiddled with, the computer says no, or can’t open the file. We have learnt to be cool, calm and have a contingency activity ready. iPads have helped with this enormously: students are already holding a device on which they can do preparation / consolidation / extension work at their level, at the drop of a hat. Not a moment is wasted and differentiation happens instantly and naturally.

Over these past few years, we have moved from cassettes to CDs to mp3 players to mp3 files & SoundCloud. The digitalisation of listening files and the recording of spoken language has been revolutionary. The quality of the listening recordings over loudspeakers through the IWB & computer is excellent. In visual terms - when introducing vocabulary, we can display a board-full of high resolution pictures, if we are doing the weather we can watch the actual weather forecast of a certain country, or, if we are practising cinema dialogues, we can imagine ourselves abroad in our exchange partner’s town and check the actual films on that evening.

Logistically in the MFL office we always had the “Russian computer” with a Cyrillic keyboard. Now on the iPad we all have access to whichever keyboard we need and don’t have to faff around to find the accents for our language. Year 9 & 10 Russian students recently won prizes in a national Russian competition for their work which was produced on iPads.

Modern Languages Teachers are communicators.

We communicate digitally with our students. We share useful apps, we tweet interesting news and articles and we blog about our activities.

Oral work used to be recorded on cassettes. We have now moved to digi-recorders and Voice Recorder Pro on the iPad. Oral work can be shared through Google Drive with colleagues and students. We can set oral tasks and students can record themselves speaking in the TL. Modern Language teachers can access all these files from their iPad and listen to them, correct pronunciation individually, give feedback. This has been invaluable for the preparation of their oral exams as well as teachers being able to listen in private to their students’ spoken language work and help them improve.

Modern Language Teachers are creative and inventive.

As colleagues we have always shared ideas for games to introduce and consolidate vocabulary. However, with the digital dimension, it has been much easier to share ideas and work across the languages- so much is transferable and it is easier to adapt online – Keynote presentations / Pages documents / Google Drive. Discoveries we make can be shared immediately. We look at national forums too- such as TES resources. We have been challenging ourselves with trying new apps out, new ideas, and doing a show and tell session about once a term. Recently we all made an Explain Everything presentation for a ML meeting. We all learnt by doing.

There is a feeling that we are all in the same boat, some of us have explored more than others, but we have all experimented in some shared areas and some different areas. There is a feeling of empowerment. We are experienced teachers, we draw from the iPads and internet what is best for our teaching and our students. We can keep up-to-date more easily, the worksheet with Take That or Vanessa Paradis can be easily adapted to One Direction, from High School Musical to Twilight to Benedict Cumberbatch to ?! This helps to engage our students more and keeps our topics relevant. We recently discussed for example MOOCs in German universities and we were able to find relevant material online from this year and watch an introduction for a German university’s MOOC.

Our film is called “Buzzing about Languages” – it was filmed last July 2013 and is a summary of the different apps we were using. Because of the changing world, almost a year on, we are using those apps and also adding new ones to the list.

Modern Language Teachers are risk takers.

We might not be using the modern technology as often as the students are, it is after all important to maintain a balance, but we are open to having a go and finding what works for us. At the end of the day in languages you still have to learn those verb endings and vocabulary. There’s no way out of that! Thankfully google translate is still keeping language teachers in a job….

Top List of Apps from the MFL Dept

  • Keynote – pulling up pictures from photo roll so helpful! Useful for A/B partner-work- with questions & picture prompts.

  • Book creator – Good for presenting images & sound.

  • Slideshow lite – good for short presentations (30 secs)

  • Animoto – good for recap

  • Haiku Deck – photos on this don’t have licences on them, good for public presentations

  • Google Forms – the “new” Socrative, good for surveys, can add videos and then a test

  • Sound Cloud – good for sharing and commenting on recordings, can type in comments. NB security settings, good for storage

  • Story Maker HD – gd for clothes descriptions

  • Face it Lite – for appearances descriptions

  • Skitch – enables teachers to do corrections on the ipad, can be used for labelling things (i.e. what someone’s wearing)

  • Pages – highlighting and adding virtual sticky notes to explain mistakes/grammar point more clearly – NB send back to students as a word doc, on the print out memos can be seen then, not on PDF

  • QR codes/ i-nigma / aurasma – fun treasure hunt –style activities

  • Storybird – recent Spanish example of story in the past tense

  • Notability –there is a facility to speak over it too.

  • Tellagami / puppet pals / morpho booth – great for oral activities

  • PhotoCard – very popular for written homeworks, a recorded speech bubble can be added

  • Socrative – grammar quizzes become space races. Students love competing, teachers get a breakdown report straight away

  • Quizlet – excellent way to upload vocabulary before reading a text, watching a film excerpt, doing a listening. Again there are racing opportunities to help with motivation – both against themselves and their classmates.

  • Reflector – sharing each other’s screens, work, photos for presentations. Cable-less bliss!

  • Pic Collage – great for posters and cartoon strips.