In his entry on technology on the A-Z of ELT blog, Scott Thornbury rightly points out that there are “good reasons for integrating technology into language education, and there are bad reasons.” When it comes to technology, we’re always looking forwards: the newest hardware, the latest update, the best app.
Rarely do we look back at what once was. Should we perhaps be
doing exactly that?
In order to understand how our industry has grown, ELT teachers need to possess a solid grounding in what came before: an appreciation of the effectiveness of the Communicative Method means understanding the flaws of the Grammar-Translation Method, for example. However, a retrospective look into the past shouldn’t always result in a negative outlook – not everything from ‘back then’ was bad.
An example of this is the Audio Lingual Method. This approach was flawed in that it prescribed to the view that grammar is the ‘skeleton’ upon which sentences are built; teachers would provide learners with grammatical structures. Learners would then substitute words within this structure in order to produce meaningful utterances. Flawed as that may be, Audio Lingual teachers did give us one useful thing: language labs.
Getting learners to record their speech provides both us and them with a wealth of opportunities for correction, syllabus design and reporting.
First and foremost, recording what learners say and playing it back to them is a great opportunity for Delayed Error Correction (DEC). Many teachers already collect samples of good and bad language to feedback on at the end of a stage or a lesson – why not take real-life, real-time samples of what learners say in class?
A natural argument against this is the matter of learners being shy or even embarrassed. However, I think this format of DEC could be even more powerful than the useful whiteboard approach. No matter how much effort we afford in our ever ongoing struggle in encouraging learners to become independent learners, we will rarely persuade them to write down samples of their own speech at home for DEC. It’s important to point out here that when we look at errors in sentences, most often it is the learners themselves who provide the correction, not the teacher. So, recording what they say and getting them to self-correct – is that not a skill which could easily be transferred to outside the classroom, especially given how many of them have smartphones, iPads and notebooks?
Knowing what our learners can and cannot do is priceless information for teachers: why teach them something they already know when we could dive in with a lesson on the unknown? Most teachers are well adept at identifying their learners needs. However, it is impossible to listen to all learners during a speaking activity in pairs. Collecting samples of their conversations to listen to after the lesson provides the teacher with an insight which they are not usually afforded.
Finally, getting learners to complete tasks and activities which are recorded at the beginning of a course or the school year, then again half way through and then once more at the end should give empirical evidence of their enhanced skills, fluency and accuracy. Don’t only use this for your own record, show it to students – let them see or hear their progress.