How to be a language teacher in the digital era: addressing the needs of digital natives

 

The course “Teaching languages in the digital era: the best apps, web platforms and ICT solutions for learning languages” took place in Bologna from 14/11/2021 to 20/11/2021. There, 11 participants from Czech Republic, Romania, Spain, Belgium, Lithuania, and Poland had the pleasure to met each other: Veronika and Daniel from Brno University of Technology, Monica, Lilianan and Alexandra from Liceul de Informatica Tiberiu Popoviciu, Antonio from San Marciano José Colegio diocesano Santa Cruz, Ella and Sofie from Heilig Hartinstituut Heverlee, Rita form Public Service Language Centre, Jessie from CVO Semper, Radomil from Technikum TEB Edukacja w Bielsku-Bialej..

At the very beginning of the course, the teachers shared a mutual need to improve their skills and toolbox to get closer to digital native students.
 
 Their main expectation form the course was to explore websites and learning apps to promote students’ motivation and participation in the language class. Several specific language-related expectations were also highlighted, such as:

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 “Learn tools for debates and boosting critical thinking”
“Create a video about grammar topics using interesting graphics”
“Create a range of vocabulary exercises as well as listening comprehension tasks"

Participants explored the potentials of Google Jamboard to create visually captivating lessons and whiteboards. They also used it as a tool to present themselves in a digital way.

imageSeveral tools were then explored with the aim of discovering the power of multimedia and videos in teaching languages. The teachers found Powtoon extremely engaging thanks to the cartoon effects and engaged in creating grammar presentations and videos to recap content. Participants found then Canva and its user-friendly interface as one of the best options to get started in creating engaging worksheet and explainer videos in few click thanks to the may templates available.

Two platforms were then explored to start using game-based learning in language classes. Quizlet and Baamboozle are both making use of flashcards as a tool to practice vocabulary and grammar. Participants had fun particularly testing the Live version of Quizlet and creating their own board games in Baamboozle.

Tools for creating lessons around videos were also tested. Both Ted-Ed and Ed-puzzle allow teachers to turn videos into real listening comprehension tasks by adding questions, notes, voiceovers and discussion prompts. 

A powerful platform to learn language in context and train students in building and motivating their argument is Kialo. Participants became highly engaged in testing it, first devising motivating discussion prompts and then taking part into each other debates, and found it very useful either to improve writing and argumentation skills and to prepare for an essay or a classroom discussion.

 

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Other useful web platforms which we explored were Weebly, to get started in web design without the need to code, Socrative, to ask students quick questions and get immediate feedback on their level of understanding, Mentimeter, to create interactive presentation and brainstorm vocabulary.

To use the word of one of our participants, “Before the course I had no idea there were so many great resources available virtually for free”. The tools discovered and practiced during the course all provided an opportunity for teachers to rethink the delivery methods of their language classes, with the aim of getting closer to the (technological) world our students live in.


 

 

How can we transform the learning process into a game?

 

Did you know that play is considered a crucial component of cognitive development from birth through adulthood? Think about your favorite games: isn’t it true that you never get tired playing them? Being it hide and seek, puzzles, construction games, board games, there are invisible threads linking our memories, experiences and feelings in connection to playing games and they are all linked to the intrinsic motivation and engagement they trigger in our mind! 

A reflection on how playing shapes our learning process and our socio-emotional development was exactly the starting point of the first edition of the course on Gamification and Game-based Learning that took place in Bologna from 1st till 7th of August. Seven participants joined the course: Maria Paula from Universidade de Aveiro in Portugal, Letitia and Cecilia from Liceul de informatica Tiberiu Popoviciu in Romania, Feliciano from IES Pintor Juan Lara in Spain, Valentina, Radoslava and Svetla from Osmo SU ''Arseni Kostentsev'' in Bulgaria and Laura from Younet in Italy. To get to know each other, they created a personalized avatar to share with the other “players” their experiences, contributions and expectations for the course. After reflecting on how learning happens through games, the group explored the most important differences between gamification and game-based learning through an interactive quiz that allowed them to confront with real classroom examples.

The training moved on analyzing the Octalys framework for Gamification. To use the words of our participants “Octalys is for life” as it provides a uniquely complete and universal framework to understand how games drive motivation and engagement. The participant explored this theoretical framework through a practical and game-based approach including a Quest List to accomplish. Finally, the group discovered what are the common type of game users by simulating a role play scenario.

Having acknowledged that maintaining students’ engagement and reigniting their enthusiasm for learning are probably among the main challenges we face as teachers, we asked ourselves: why can’t we take all the fun and engaging elements found in games and applying them to the educational environment? The reply came through a two-day simulation of real-life adventures and experiences. Our participants discovered the benefits of repacking academic content and deliver it through an escape room experience. During a practical session, the trainees were able to test on their own the mechanics behind the creation of an escape room. 

PictureThen, it was time for an outdoor scavenger hunt in Bologna, a practical experience that allowed the group, as one of our participants said, to learn and see new things I hadn’t noticed before. After having walked around Bologna with an “eye of discovery”, laughed and engaged in all sorts of challenges and missions, the participants were eager to start planning and creating their own game-based urban trekking experience for their students!

Finally, the stage was left to the participants to share their best practices and classroom examples of game-based lessons and activities. We discovered how to create engaging self-study and interactive lesson with Livresq thanks to Cecilia’s contribution, how to transform a simple Padlet into a game-based platform with Letitia’s example, how to create games with Learningapps and Hot Potatoes thanks to Svetla’s contribution and finally how to create an engaging escape room experience thanks to Felix passionate approach to his subject, history. 

 

PictureThe group spent the last hours together practicing on the tools explained and discovered during the  whole week, so as to start creating something relevant and immediately applicable upon their return in their classes. Finally, the group engaged in a game-based evaluation of the course using the inspirational touch of the Dixit cards to transform their experience in Bologna in a creative (and mysterious) story.

 

To leave the final word to our participants… The course was truly helpful to understand the principles of gamification and game-based  learning, because I learned how to use tools and apps in a real gamified educational environment.

The Trainer - Sara Natalini

Learning to think outside of the box!

 

The last and warmest week of July from the 25th till the 31st we hosted a group of teachers eager to take part in the course Creativity for the future: promoting Critical thinking and problem-solving in the classroom. They came to Bologna to share their experiences from different European countries: Maria from Inicijativa za engleski jezik i kulturu in Croatia, Inga from Peetri Lasteaed-Pōhikool in Estonia, Spela from Zavod sv. Stanislava in Slovenia, Catalina and Alina from Liceul de informatica Tiberiu Popoviciu in Romania, Camelia and Simona from Scoala Gimnaziala Nr. 3 Cisnadie in Romania, Claudia from CEDRU Association in Romania, Galina, Iskrena, Gergana, Bilyana and Silviya from Emiliyan Stanev Secondary School in Bulgaria. 

PictureThe week started with developing an understanding on the importance of 21st century skills and particularly the 4 Cs (communication, creativity, collaboration, and critical thinking) in education. The teachers engaged first in a survey to find out what best practices are already adopted in the group and then in practical activities to lay the groundwork for further exploring creativity and critical thinking.

The group was confronted with few initial creativity challenges, like turning as many blank circles as possible into recognizable objects, to understand the principles of creative thinking and answer the underlying question: how can we make our teaching more creative and help our students to express their unique points of view? The answer came by practicing multiple tasks and activities like brainstorming, visual exercises, lateral thinking. We learned how even the simplest task, as giving a definition, can be accomplished in a creative way. It is just a matter of challenging ourselves to think out of the box and questioning our assumption to be able to see things from different angles.  

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The group went on analyzing more in depth the concept of critical thinking through practical activities applicable in the classroom. The most relevant challenge was trying to remember a definition of Critical Thinking with a Broken Telephone exercise with which it ended up being simply “a process”. This was not only an incredibly fun moment forging the group 

Motto for the whole week but also a true eye opener on the weakness and ineffectiveness of traditional memorization-based education and the need to adopt a more challenging, practical and critical-consumer approach to education.

It was then time to practice the questioning and debating pedagogies to foster critical and creative thinking skills in the classroom. It was with guessing and speaking games but also with the support of ICT tools that we learned how to apply these traditional pedagogies in a more innovative and engaging way. 

imageThe group was then ready to apply and put into practice all the principles and knowledge acquired to engage in challenging problem solving tests and activities. For instance, do you know how to put a giraffe into a refrigerator? The most straightforward would simply open the refrigerator and put the giraffe in, somebody would try to find a very big refrigerator, but the most creative ones would use a giraffe puppet or would take a picture of it and put it in the refrigerator. This and other practical problem solving games tested helped the group acknowledge how sometimes the answer is in front of our eyes or easier than expected, but most of all that everybody perceives reality in a different way, that multiple solutions are possible and we should not be afraid to discover them and use our imagination!

Participants finally shared their emotions about the course that was recommended for school staff that needs a little bit of warm environment, easy ideas, time to express creativity and start a new school year with fresh air in their wings. Because,  all in all, the course concluded a lot of different activities in order to fulfill the real goal – think creatively.

How can we make our classes more supportive and manage them effectively?

 

imageAfter sharing their expectations, contributions, and fears, they started to discuss what a Supportive Classroom is like. The teachers shared their opinions based on their experience from the school routine. One of the most interesting topic for them was the relevance of Social Emotional Learning in creating a supportive classroom and the importance of teaching our students about Emotional Intelligence, a concept developed in great details by D. Goleman. We explored the 5 pillars of EI: self-awareness, self-control, self-motivation, social skills and empathy. During the practical exercises, they created awareness maps, worked as “emotional investigators” to feel other person emotions and feelings, and practiced their empathic communication.  

Later on, the group moved to the topic of Group Dynamics, another essential detail to look after when strengthening Classroom  Management skills. There were discussed supportive classroom settings with the funniest membership and collaborative activities, which were evaluated as helpful and valuable both for school and everyday life. Besides that, exercises about growth mindset was a big part of practical language activities. Then, the group explored several Differentiating Instruction methods: our participants spent the day reflecting how to make their lessons more interesting, cooperation with pupils more productive and how to create a motivating environment for everyone by analyzing 4 elements of teaching: content, product, imageprocess and environment. 

imageThen it was time to practice different ICT tools, an essential support to a Flipped Classroom approach. They had the opportunity to test one tool for video lessons, one tool for studying and revising concepts and one final tool to share interesting resources in a more engaging way. One the last day, we delved in Conflict Management conversations, specifically how to approach the conflict and communicate during the conflict. Teachers concluded the part by putting to test their conflict management skills taking part in a role play. To celebrate the ending of our week together, the group made a summarizing collage which presented everything they learnt during this active and effective week of training.  

PictureOf course they studied a lot, but during their free time, they also had the chance to explore Bologna city centre and parks, Florence and even the Italian seaside! After all, it’s summertime in Italy and this can only mean sun, travelling and ice-creams!
 

What better way to conclude if not by leaving the last words to one of our participants?