Homework in a Digital Age
Last week’s evening eltchat was dedicated to homework and I tried, which is not always easy in 140 characters, to explain how I think homework is changing in the digital world. The idea came to me from Salman Kahn‘s maths videos that form the basis of his innovative Kahn Academy (see the video above).
Ingenious but simple: flipping the classroom
Like most ingenious ideas Khan’s idea was actually quite simple. He began making videos talking about maths and explaining ideas, which he posted on YouTube to help his cousins. As he says, they actually preferred the “video version” of their cousin to the original! The reason being that they could watch the videos as many times as they wanted and were not overawed by having a clever, demanding “teacher” in front of them. There is also the advantage of not having classroom rivalry either when you watch a video at home. Later on maths teachers began to use these videos asking their students to watch the videos at home before class, so that they could spend more time in class experimenting with maths problems and helping the learners with the actual problems they were having in solving them etc. This is what Khan calls “flipping the classroom” so that the theory, rules, explanations can be done as “homework” and the classroom time can be used to “practise”.
Applying this to EFL teaching
This particular TED talk, like many, was one that stayed with me and has had quite a profound effect on the way I teach. I began, as you probably know, doing online courses on WizIQ (scroll down to the bottom of the page to see recorded classes) earlier this year, and whilst the digital classroom is a marvellous thing, it is definitely, I would say, a space to experiment with language rather than a space to discuss theory too much. I began by doing lighthearted, fun conversation lessons and then added the support of a blog and this is where theflipping the classroom bit comes in. You will see, if you look at the lesson pages on this blog, that I now think of “home work” as more than I perhaps did in the past. For many of the lessons there are activities to do in preparation “pre class work” and then there is “follow up work” to do later, which often involves sharing photos and writing or commenting on other students’ work etc. on noticeboards like this one. In this way the work learners do outside the classroom merges with the work they do inside it. Of course, not everyone does the preparation work, and that is their choice, but the ones who do are definitely at an advantage in the lesson and get a lot more out of the whole process (besides winning most of the quizzes too 🙂 )
Tracking it all
In the eltchat someone asked me how I track it, and in a way, I’m in the fortunate position of not having to track homework. Most of my students are adults or young adults who are motivated to come to the online course. In my normal face to face work I teach university students who are “tracked” by means of exams, but once again, the amount of homework they do is entirely up to them. Having said that it is very easy to see who has done the pre class work, because they can contribute the most and are generally more relaxed and confident in class. The follow up project work is easy to see as well, because it is posted online, such as the examples on the noticeboard above.
Not only in a digital world
This way of flipping the classroom has filtered into my face to face work as well, though, where we integrate follow up work into class, in a sort of spiral approach. In the summer course I was doing in Bolzano recently with a group of B1-B2 level university students who need to pass a B2 entrance exam to study at the university, we also had a class blog and many of the posts on the Me and My Country Noticeboard came from them. Most of the work we did was face to face, but I took the work they did online and commented on it with a self correction code (Using the programme Markin. One of my favourites), and I posted this document for learners to work on (again at home) and we then looked at their ideas together in class. To see this document follow this link and look at lesson One. Then click on the link: Your Introductions and you will see the document that marking produced.
These students particularly appreciated the chance to prepare in advance for lessons by reading grammar rules and studying vocabulary etc. (This was easy to do as we were using The English File Intermediate Coursebook which provides very useful preparation work for students.) The day after the eltchat, in fact, I was monitoring my learners’ work in class and it struck me again quite forcibly that we had a lot more time, in this way, for micro teaching slots to concentrate on particular problems that they were having, putting the language into practice, rather than clarifying new language points. One example of this is that I noticed quite a few learners having trouble with the idea that “have” can be a lexical verb, and they couldn’t put it into an utterance like:
If I had had more time…..
Fortunately we had enough time to stop and focus on this, looking at how “have can be a lexical verb and also an auxiliary. This was not something that I had even considered might cause problems but the learners were having a lot of difficulty. Flipping the classroom, then, gives us the time to be even more learner-centred, seeing what happens when learners experiment and helping them to understand how to say and write the things they want to.
It goes without saying, of course, that the activities they do both for preparation and follow up activities should be relevant to their needs, and an integral part of the whole learning process, and there are so man ways of doing this. I’m looking forward to exploring more.
If you would like to see more of the things we said on this subject I can recommend Sandy Millin‘s excellent summary. (Follow the link above). So, happy home work :-).