Technology in your classes – Barbara Sakamoto

Technology is anything that wasn’t around when you were born.Barbara Hoskins Sakamoto

Alan Kay

I remember when video cassette players were the new tech toys in teaching. Schools wanted teachers to use videos in class in order to provide an edge in attracting students.  Teachers wanted to use videos because they were a new and exciting way to teach. The problem was, no one really knew how to use the things to do anything but watch passively. It took time for teachers to move beyond watching movies in class to using video as a tool to improve teaching practice.

Technology –in whatever form –is just one of many resources available to me as a teacher.  Since I only see my students for short time each week, I want to make the best use of that time.  A bit part of this is using my resources in the most effective way possible, whether I’m deciding to include a card game or an interactive website in a lesson. When I evaluate lesson resources, I always ask two questions: Is this appropriate for my students?  Does it improve on what I’m already doing in class?

Is it appropriate?

Sometimes it’s easy to tell if a something is appropriate for your students. You don’t give young learners unsupervised access to social networks, or you don’t ask students who haven’t learned the English alphabet to input large amounts of text. Tools can be appropriate or inappropriate because of the ages and skill levels of your students.

Sometimes, the decision about which tool is most appropriate depends more on which one makes the best use of your preparation time and your students’ class time. I’m a digital immigrant (who often feels more like a tourist than an immigrant) so every technology tool I consider has a learning curve. Before I can use something in class, I need to learn how to use it myself. I want to focus on tools that are simple to use, and rich enough that I can use them again and again. Generally, I want use tools to support the skills I’m trying to reinforce, rather than tools that become the focus of our lesson.

Finally, appropriate can refer to which tools are the best for a specific teaching context or group of learners. For example, I teach a few classes for senior citizens at a local community center. There’s no Internet available, and most of my students haven’t even applied for a tourist visa to the digital realm. However, they all have mobile phones, and most have electronic dictionaries. In this case, the tools they have available and are comfortable using are the most appropriate. Students can send English messages with their phones, we can compare English translations of Japanese words between different dictionaries (or compare pronunciation, or even check the built in encyclopedia). I can use my smart phone to find photos on Flickr to illustrate something we’re talking about, or do an online search to answer a question in class. I can bring in a digital recorder and my computer and we can use Power Point to create a narrated digital book. Or I can bring in a camcorder and we can record a video that I can upload from home. Rather than lamenting what I don’t have, it’s fun to figure out how to make the most of what is available.

Does it improve on what I’m already doing in class?

Pedagogy comes before tools. Teachers can and do have great lessons without technology. If my students are already speaking, and listening, and reading, and writing, and thinking, it makes sense to include a technology tool only if it will enhance what’s already going on. On the other hand, it would beequally silly to overlook any available resource that would help me do my job better. I’ve found that including even small amounts of technology can significantly improve my students’ learning experience.

Being able to create a digital comic strip as a final writing project makes the revision process complaint-free for my young teens. When my young learners see a camcorder, practice becomes rehearsal rather than repetition. Self-introductions become performance rather than speaking practice. Creating digital books makes writing fun for my emergent and reluctant writers. Putting book reports in blog posts gives students a real audience. Creating a collaborative alphabet book teaches my kindergarteners that English comes in many accents, and that children around the world are learning the same things.

In every case, adding a touch of technology improved on what I was already doing in class. And, because digital projects are online, they’re easy to share with parents, grandparents, and other teachers. If you’d like to see examples some of my students’ projects, please explore the workshop pages on the Teaching Village wiki [] or on our class blog, My Corner of the World. []. If you’ve used a technology tool to enhance your lessons, please share your experience in comments. I’d love to learn how you’ve incorporated technology in your own lessons!


About Barbara Hoskins Sakamoto

Barbara has taught both English and ESL in the United States, and EFL in Japan for more than 25 years. She earned her BA from Western Oregon University and her Masters in TESOL from Northern Arizona University. Barbara has conducted workshops throughout Asia, the U.S. and Latin America, and is co-author of the best-selling young learners Let's Go series (Oxford University Press). She is also a founding member of the JALT Teaching Children special interest group. Her motto is "Always try new things," so these days, when she's not teaching, writing, or giving workshops, you'll often find Barbara online exploring the potential of social media for professional development. If you'd like to explore with her, you can usually find Barbara on her award winning blog, Teaching Village.