Barbara Hoskins Sakamoto

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!


Published by

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.

20 thoughts on “Technology in your classes – Barbara Sakamoto”

  1. Very thoughtful post, Barbara!

    Indeed, technology must be seen and used as a collaborative tool to enhance the learning process and as a vital springboard that will trigger intrinsic motivation ,which, in turn ,will push students to internalise input, at first, and then to maximise learning output.
    Social media will have their say in achieving their goal, provided that we, as instructors ,teach them to use them wisely..

    1. Thank you, Paraskevi! I really like your goals, and it’s wonderful when technology can be a collaborative tool to trigger intrinsic motivation and internalize input. Sometimes, with my young learners, it’s more a reward to encourage them to work hard. Without my saying anything, students will “rehearse” what they’re going to say before recording (more than I could possibly get them to repeat the same language without the reward of the video camera) and then ask me to re-record until they approve of the final product. They focus on the task and don’t notice how much English they’re using in the process.

      How do you use technology and social media in your classes? I’m always keen to learn new ways to internalize input and maximize output!

      1. Well, thanks for the reply, Barbara!

        Twitter: For instant news bulletins and links related to the websites with advanced classes:
        Facebook: For announcing presentations of projects and posting reviews afterwards
        Soundcloud: For recording speaking tasks (after they’ve been rehearsed in class) and posting the embedded code on our school blog
        Popplet: For uploading online projects in a spiderweb using you tube videos, images, posted comments, audio files-a complete presentation of it online
        Pimpampum net/Bookr : For preparing and presenting reviews of a topic.

        Many thanks!

  2. Couldn’t have said it better, Barb! As you know, I am an enthusiast of technology and the many benefits it can bring us inside and outside the classroom. But it’s essential we are critical thinkers about it and analyse the real benefit – and need – of it. I’m an enthusiast, but am very afraid of the use of technology just for… well, using it!

    Another very important point you raise is being comfortable, knowing how to use the tool well before taking it to the classroom. I recently tried a new interactive whiteboard equipment (little gadgets we can do instant polling with the students) to class and gave up after 2 failed attempts. Will take my time over the holidays to get to know the tool so I can properly use it next semester.

    We never stop learning and relearning, do we? 🙂

    1. I love the ways I’ve seen you use technology in your teaching, Ceci! I hope to become as comfortable with tech as you are…someday 🙂

      Comfort has been a big issue with my older students. They’re becoming quite fascinated by my iPhone, but still, it took nearly six months to create a class list of email addresses so I could send messages to the group. The students who had Internet at home did have an address, but most had never used it. Once I had the list completed, I discovered that most never checked email on the computer, either. They use their mobile phones. So, now our class email list consists mostly of mobile phone addresses.

      It’s a learning process for all of us 🙂

  3. I love and agree with every word you have written.
    I must admit that like two years ago I experimented a big crisis with my job as a teacher, I felt lost and lonely and wanted to change but didn´t know neither which way to take nor how to do it. So I opened a Twitter account. My first tweet was “Can anybody tell me what web 2.0 mean?” – Silence! – I am not sure what it means yet, but I know what it is about now.
    So my journey into technology started and I became anxious to be able to follow the “new trends”. It has brought a fresh air into classes, teenagers helped me work out some tools, like prezi, which we used for project work. Now, my commitment to teaching regarding technology is “I will use tech as long as it helps the purpose of our lesson”
    I would say that the internet is an incredible source to get information, to listen to people from different parts of the world, which ends up in understanding differences, conflicts, big challenges in the world, or simply the joy of seeing what people are doing in other places. Watching the bbc 1 minute world news for more advanced students, creating an ebook has changed the way my students look at writing, watching movie clips is always exciting, yet I always have a plan that goes beyond understanding the words.
    One big challenge with tech tools is that sometimes, I finally learn how to use one tool and how it can be applied to my lesson plans, when many other new tools are introduced which seem to work better, so now I try to keep some balance regarding the time I spend on learning how to use one tool
    Thanks Barb for this wonderful and interesting opportunity to reflect upon technology.
    PS: I see balance in everything you write and say!

    1. Thank you for the kind words, Debbie! I do have to watch how much time I spend learning how to do something. I’m slow at learning how to use new tools (age, probably) so it really has to have potential for me to take time away from other things to learn how to use something new.

      I see balance in all that you do, too 🙂

  4. Thanks for your reflections on tools in class for improving learning English at any level.
    Your idea to implement mobile phone applications is very interesting and practical too.
    The use of Internet can be accessible and related to any topics you want to present in
    class to your students. Visualization may be effective and real to introduce, discuss and
    create materials and texts.

    1. I’ve had a lot of fun figuring out how to use my iPhone for Internet access in classes that don’t have Internet. I’m sorry that I held off on getting a smart phone for as long as I did because even if I’m the only one with the access, it really increases our options for class activities.

      Could you explain a bit more about how you use visualization to introduce, discuss and create materials? It sounds fascinating!

  5. So, you’re a tourist, eh? I think you’re more of an expatriate, hehe.
    Must be great to see these little ones turn in “rehearsal” after “rehearsal” to get that Oscar-winning “performance”!
    Love the post, Barb!

    1. I do a passable imitation of someone who knows what she’s doing, most of the time. But, it doesn’t take much to remind me that I’m usually working at the outer reaches of my skill set.

      The discovery of the rehearsal paradox was quite by accident. Students had drawn pictures and written introductions of friends, and I wanted them to read them aloud. My video camera was sitting out on the piano, and students got the idea that I planned on recording them, and took it from there. As they started practicing in earnest, with lovely pronunciation, and then started organizing themselves for recording (who would speak, who would prompt, and who would record) I just stood back and pretended that it was my plan all along 🙂

      1. When a Martin Scorsese sees a Marlon Brando going into a brilliant off-the-cuff performance, even though it isn’t in the original script, he doesn’t shout ‘Cut!” 😉

  6. Over the years I have become a hi-tech skeptic with regards using it in the classroom in front of groups of students who are young and not advanced in the subject they are learning. I say this despite having been a computer operator, and spending 3 years developing software for mathematics teachers. I guess it’s all the gizmos that require electricity that I have become opposed too. This is not to say they should NEVER be used but should be limited to a very great extent.
    The tactile interaction between people is just about the most powerful form of interaction one can have. The human face is the most complex and interesting image our eyes take in and I don’t mean on a screen. It must be live. Babies learn their mother tongue from their mums not screens. In fact they can’t learn from a screen.
    In general I find the use of electrical gizmos a distraction and obstruction between me and my students. Diverting students attention away from face to face communication, especially with respect to language learning, is doing the students and the teacher a great disservice.

  7. Hello Barbara!
    I must say I like (and agree with) everything you said. Technology is one of the options offered – if you find it to be the most appropriate and useful resource/tool for a task, for achieving the goal(s), then that’s the right choice; and opposite, if you find some other teaching materials and resources more practical and applicable, of course you’ll go for them.
    Unfortunatelly, I don’t have a chance to work in a well-equipped school, so the range of my choices, when it comes to technology use, is narrow.
    Thank you for the great post!

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