Monday, May 30, 2016

Selfie Videos as a Tool for Language Learning

photo credit: Körsbärsblommorna i Kungsträdgården 2016 via photopin (license)

Being a teacher for some time, I have seen first hand the impact the adoption of technology has had in teachers' and in students' lives. Having that in mind, one cannot deny that it is important to adopt technology for teaching. In line with this premise, I would like to share something I learned in one of the many interesting presentations at the 2016 TESOL International Convention & English Language Expo in Baltimore, USA. This practice-oriented presentation (by Loni Thorson, Kyla Masciarelli, and Christine Discoe) was entitled "Using Selfies to Promote Language Learning."

What the presenters pointed out was  that technology is what students want. Linking the drive to communicate with the technology available to us, selfies are a trend in the world today.  One point in favor of using selfies, the presenters argued, is that video chat is a growing trend. This is really true and the proof for that is that if we look around, we will see people making either video or picture selfies almost all the time. Besides that, video chat through Face Time, Skype or other channels are quite frequent among learners young and old. Educators have to admit that this is a sign that people in general are comfortable with this technology. This brings us to the first argument they presented in favor of using selfies as a means to learn a language: classroom  comfort.

Classroom comfort informs us that in order to have effective and authentic tasks, students need to be comfortable with the assignment. We observe that students are very comfortable with their cell phones. Actually they are uncomfortable if they don't have them. Social comfort is also important. Students need to be comfortable with the technology (cell phone).  Being digital natives, students are used to seeing themselves in videos. They want that image to be curated. We want students to want their image to look good., they want to sound good, their pronunciation to be good, they want their image to look good. We teachers want students to want their image to look good. So, they have a natural desire to self-correct in terms of how they sound and how they look.  This is exactly what we teachers want.Video chat is a comfortable environment for them.

When people make a selfie video, they generally explain their surroundings and they give an update on what they are doing, they also explain if they are having a problem or if they are sick. All this updating creates a one to one interaction and, as a result, it increases comfort between students and viewers. A comfortable relationship with the teacher is created through this open communication channel. Besides that, it also creates comfort between students as they see themselves and their classmates in the videos. As time goes by, students that might  not have been happy with how they looked or sounded, feel more comfortable seeing and listening to themselves. Some report never have listening to or seeing themselves before. As they report feeling more comfortable doing that.

Why are selfies important?
Some reasons that make us convinced that using selfies in the language is useful relate to comfort and attention. There are two types of attention: inward attention and outward attention. They are mutually exclusive and you cannot have the two going on at the same time. Why is it important to understand this concept when making selfies videos? While making a selfie video, students do not only direct themselves outward, but they also have to direct themselves inward to see what is happening to themselves. They correct themselves during the video and sometimes after the video. This kind of attention works as meter against which they evaluate their performance, and as a result, they record multiple times just to make sure they get it right. They are aware of their own self-presentation and they make more selfies as assessment or a class task, they get more confident of their performance and become more confident and fluent speakers.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

How to Help Adult Learners Deal with the Stress of Speaking

Have you ever had a student in your class struggling to survive until the class is over? Or having a blank when speaking even when they volunteered to participate?  How would you deal with it? This situation can be quite uncomfortable for everyone in class and can be a good reason for a student to definitely quit a project of learning a foreign language.

Having difficulties speaking in class or exposing your ideas in another language to others is not uncommon, but suffering almost the whole class period can hamper the learning process and influence the atmosphere of even a light and productive class.  It´s not easy, if not impossible, to measure the degree of stress one is going through, but there are some steps you can take to help students deal with this stress and feel more comfortable in class.

First, the problem has to be spotted.  Many times, what seems to be an ordinary difficulty is, in fact, a freezing sensation that blocks a student´s thoughts and exposes them to their peers. This happened by chance in one of my groups this semester.  A student of mine confessed at the end of a class that she had been suffering the whole class because she was afraid of speaking and that it was always a relief to see that the class was over. I was really surprised. I had noticed she had some difficulties expressing herself, but not that it was so painful. Helping her find the words that escaped from her mind while she was speaking wasn´t always enough to enable her to express her whole message, and adding comments to her broken speech to call the groups` attention to me and ”save” her from her long pauses and embarrassment wasn´t a solution to this problem either.  So, this situation became a challenge to me.

The next step is to approach the student and find out what is causing all the anxiety. This way, the student can not only become aware of the real sources of the problem and face it, but also see the teacher as a support they can count on. Most frequently, the fear of speaking to a group, being on the spot and being negatively evaluated are the causes for anxiety and stress.  The brain´s capacity to process ideas is affected and the situation gets even worse when the required oral production is in another language.  The result is long pauses, stuttering and difficulty in formulating a coherent speech. My student´s case was specifically related to speaking in English, for she had the preconceived idea that she wouldn´t be understood and that her pronunciation and vocabulary were worse than that of her colleagues. 

Finally, show the student concrete techniques to develop their speaking abilities so that they can become more confident and lower their anxiety of speaking.  One way is through improving their listening skills by doing exercises from specific sites, such as Breaking News English, BBC or English Central, watching movies and listening to songs.  Not being able to understand what is being said at normal speed or being afraid of mispronouncing words are barriers to effective communication and also food for failure and nervousness.  Ten to fifteen minutes of listening practice a day will certainly help improve speaking. Also, taking every opportunity in class to practice in pairs and in small groups before speaking to the whole class and changing partners frequently will help the student get used to different accents and speed, and to gain fluency and   confidence as well.  Another helpful tip is to control the speed of speech

When someone is on the spot, their breathing gets faster, they start perspiring, becoming nervous and speaking faster.  Speaking more slowly will provide better breathing and a chance to organize thoughts, hence lowering nervousness. The teacher´s role is crucial to set a light, sympathetic and supportive atmosphere in class, showing interest in and respect for each student´s challenges.  In the case involving my class, although my student was a bit of a perfectionist and took her performance very seriously, she ended up learning to laugh at her mistakes, becoming more relaxed and motivated.

These relatively minor attitudes can make a big difference in the learning process and should be addressed to the whole class in the beginning of the course and reinforced through the whole semester.