Sunday, 14 August 2011

The Greatest (and Cheapest) Mobile Gadget - the Post-It Note

It struck me the other day that while I am somewhat obsessive about technology in the classroom, my favourite mobile device is something decidedly low-tech: the post-it note. While I'm quite happy to go in to my lessons without my mobile phone, my laptop or my tablet, I would never go into my class without a small stack of post-it notes. This blog post is a short hymn of praise to the cheapest and most versatile gadget available. 

How can the post-it note be used in class? Well, here are some of the ways I use them on a daily basis....

I use them to.... 

....write my lesson plans on. I'm not a big one for writing lesson plans down these days, but my memory is so flakey that I do need to write down a few notes of the things we need to do in class. A post-it note is perfect for that, and it's doubly useful because I can stick it somewhere I might actually see it, such as on the edge of my computer monitor or smartboard.

I use them to.... students. Either by writing down numbers on them and then getting them to find the person/people with the same number or by using different colored post-it notes and they have to find the people with the same color. Or combine the two (if you have large groups), where they have to find people with the same color AND number

I use them to....

....give feedback during the lesson. When students are engaged in speaking tasks/discussions, if I hear something that needs to be corrected, I will often write it down on a post-it note and then stick it on the desk of the person it applies to. They really appreciate that personal attention and it also doesn't disrupt the conversation they are having. I also use it for noting down mistakes/interesting things heard during monitoring for later discussion/feedback.

I use them to....

...Give students choice about whether they want feedback or not. So I will give them a couple of post-it notes, they put either a cross or tick on it, then they choose one of them to stick on the desk and that decides whether they want the teacher to intervene and correct or not when they are speaking in groups.

I use them to...

... Play a variety of warm-up activities. Such as Snowball, when students write some personal information on a post-it note, screw it up and then throw it around the class. They then pick one up, read it out and people have to guess who it is.

I use them to....

...Help with pronunciation practice. One common activity I do is to put the stress pattern of the word on one post-it notes, the word on another. Do this with a lot of words, give out the post-it notes randomly then students have to walk round the classroom either saying their word or humming the stress pattern. They have to find their partner in the class.

I use them to....

….Help remember names in the first few lessons. Quick and easy way to help remember names, get them to stick them on their chest with a post-it note and gradually remove them as you remember them!

I use them to....

…..Check understanding of the lesson/training session. Sometimes I give students/trainees several colored post-it notes and when giving a presentation or some information to them, they can hold up different colors depending on whether they understand or not (e.g. blue means I understand, green means I don't understand, red means I have a question to ask. 

I am looking forward to a paperless future in the classroom, but I don't plan on giving up my post-it notes anytime soon.

Friday, 5 August 2011

QR Codes in the ESL Classroom

Over the last few weeks I've been training a group of Korean teachers here in the UK as part of a development programme organised by their Ministry of Education. As it's been recently announced that Korean schools will be completely digital by the year 2015 and all textbooks will be replaced by tablets or laptops, I've been exposing them to a variety of different technologies and web 2.0 tools to help them see how they might apply them in their own classroom context.

Among the tools we've used are Posterous Groups as a way for them to share pictures and experiences; Google Docs as a way of sharing materials and handouts; we've also discussed the value of digital storytelling via various web 2.0 tools and they all created a Voicethread in one of the sessions.

In the classroom I've been actively encouraging them to use their mobile devices, either smartphones, tablets or laptops as a means of checking words or as a way of finding information out about the topic we're discussing.

One thing I decided to try on this course was the use of QR Codes as a form of peripheral learning. These are basically barcodes that can be read by mobile phones and contain embedded information that the phone can decode. It can be a link to a webpage, a chunk of text, an SMS message, a calendar event, pretty much anything you can think of. Most mobile phones have free QR code reader apps available for them. For example on Android, you can download QR Droid (my personal favourite), QuickMark BarCode Scanner or  BeeTag QR Reader. On iPhone there is QR Reader, QR Scanner and numerous others. To actually create a QR Code there are various websites, my personal favourite for ease of use is QR Droid. it took my a matter of seconds to create the QR Code below, which contains a link to this blog.
I'd never really been impressed by the idea of QR Codes, I'd read a lot of things on the web about them but it always seemed quite a complicated procedure to extract a fairly simple piece of information such as a weblink or a calendar event. The old proverb about using a hammer to crack a nut came to mind.

However, after reading this excellent article by Kimberley Hogg explaining how she used QR Codes to create a direction-based treasure hunt with her ESL students I decided to give them a go. By  the way, the advice she gives in her article about how to accustom students to using these codes is really fantastic, I strongly recommend you read the article to find out more.

I decided against preparing a structured activity with the teachers, instead I decided to just put lots of codes around on the wall with different information embedded in them. For example, some of them were links to instructional You Tube videos about teaching, some linked to our online course documents and others were part of a quiz on Britain I'd created for them. I put ten questions on different QR Codes around the room and they had to use their phone to decode it and find the question. Once they'd done that, they had to find the answer, then send the correct answers to our group blog. Below is one example of what they saw on the wall.

Most of them were not familiar with QR Codes, so I helped them download the relevant app and then explained how they could read them. On each paper on the wall I included some information about the app they needed to download.

I wasn't really expecting much interest from the teachers, but I was pleasantly surprised just how many actually downloaded an app and read the codes. In fact, when one of the quiz questions was removed from the wall (by mistake I think), several of them came up to me and asked me to print it out again and put it back up. When I asked them why they liked doing the tasks with the QR Codes, they said things like, 'it's different', 'mysterious', 'a puzzle'.

And really, that is the appeal of them I think. In the end all I'd created on the wall was a series of normal quiz questions but the QR Codes made the process much more appealing to the teachers. How long the novelty will last is difficult to tell, but it definitely is still a novelty for most students so we might as well exploit that while we can!

Possible uses in the ESL Classroom 

Here are some ways that I think QR Codes could be used in the classroom:

  • As I did with my group, posting up questions to answer. These could be language questions on vocabulary/grammar etc, general knowledge questions or discussion questions. Students could be encouraged to create their own QR Code questions as well. 
  • Posting up answers to homework
  • Creating a treasure or scavenger hunt. Students are sent to one QR Code, they are provided a clue which then takes them to another. The individual or group that finishes first is the winner. This would be particular good for practising things like direction language. 
  • Embedding links in QR Codes to useful websites for students to visit to improve their English. 
  • Posting up calendar events that are taking place in the school. 

I think there are many other possibilities, these are just a few that spring to mind. In researching about QR Codes, I found a few online resources very helpful. 

I plan to use them a lot more in the coming term and get feedback from students as to how interesting/useful they find them. I would love to hear from any ESL teachers who are using them to learn more about how they can be used to enhance language learning.