One of the most inspiring sessions I’ve witnessed in the last two years on the use of new technologies and language learning took place at Language World 2007 when I first heard about the amazing work of pupils and staff at Heathfield Foundation Technology College and Shireland CLC in the West Midlands.
A shining example of the educational value of podcasting, digital video work and other collaborative projects, their shared journey has so far produced a wide range of positive learning outcomes, culminating in the ‘phenomenal results’ achieved by the pupils this summer in their Spanish GCSEs.
Now in its fourth year, the project has allowed the pupils to not only develop into able linguists, but also become confident and independent learners who are more than happy to give their views on what helps them with their language learning.
For this reason, I asked Lesley Haggar-Vaughan, e-Learning manager at Shireland CLC and Julie Adoch, Head of Modern Foreign Languages at Heathfield whether they would be willing to bring the gang down to this year’s Isle of Wight Conference and I was delighted that they agreed.
Below are the recordings of both the presentation and podcasting workshop they gave at the conference, plus their two legendary sessions from Language World 2007 and 2008 which together provide a convincing argument of the learning benefits of using new technologies in the MFL classroom as recommended in the recent Dearing review.
Listening to the pupils describe how technology helps them to take an active role in their learning is a joy to hear, as is their support for traditional textbooks for reinforcing grammar and learning vocabulary.
“In my opinion using technology really helps you develop into the language. Some people may think that using new gadgets and technology with children will hinder their progress in learning, but most children actually grow up using this type of equipment anyway and get used to it. So it actually gives them an incentive to work like it did for me.”
“I find that subjects that always use textbooks and nothing else, they’re not really diverse. They get boring after a while. So you need to keep changing, to keep it interesting which technology does.”
“I enjoy learning interactively in the classroom, using whiteboards, computers, games and textbooks. Textbooks are really good for your vocabulary and your grammar. Yes, I do agree with that. Computers and games however, get more kinaesthetic learners to be involved.”
The collaboration with Shireland CLC began when the pupils were in Year 8 and Lesley invited them to come to the centre and create digital videos of restaurant role plays and fashion shows that they had been practising in class. With careful planning and support from foreign language assistants and sixth formers to keep everyone on task, they shot the clips in small groups and each pupil played a role in the production and editing process. Pupils were encouraged to be creative and use props and humour in their scenes to embed the language and make it more memorable. When all the films were completed Julie would have a ‘cinema lesson’ with drinks and popcorn where everyone could celebrate their combined achievements and enjoy each other’s efforts.
Building on this success, the pupils then started exploring the potential of audio and reinforcing language by podcasting role-plays which they could then listen to again and again. This seemed particularly popular for the less confident ones who were shy appearing in front of the camera, but were happy to record their voices and publish the results on iTunes to a worldwide audience. Using iPods and docking stations meant that they could rehearse and listen back to their scripts before making a definitive version for broadcast.
Next, staff at Heathfield decided to roll out the project across different languages in the department by investing in their own equipment and forming an innovations group to forge cross-curricular links throughout the school. This has resulted in the best uptake of languages at GCSE Julie has seen in the last seven years.
The pupils are now involved in creating a Spanish GCSE revision website to pull together all their prior learning in one place and to act as a model for others in and out of school. Each pupil has taken on a different role in the project such as creating games, proof-reading scripts and adding downloadable content supported by staff from both establishments.
Over the last four years, Julie and Lesley have found that digital video and podcasting are excellent tools for promoting pupils’ productive skills, improving fluency, pronunciation, accuracy and intonation, as well as developing memorisation skills, independence, creativity and collaboration. If you are still not convinced, listen to the pupils speak for themselves. They know how to personalise the curriculum and create distance learning opportunities. They’ve been doing it for years and it’s us who need to catch up. Listen and learn!