This series is inspired by a conversation between Mike Hogan and myself about examining the controversies in ELT. We wanted to consider the different positions taken by different members of the industry. However, to do so, we’d need a debate, a disagreement of sorts. And it became apparent that we either tend to agree with members of our PLN (flying creatures of the same feathers and all that), or would keep an open mind and be fairly polite and supportive of one another (that is why we tweet and blog). Seeing that, the only way to get a real debate going was to actively play Devil’s Advocate (DA).
The following debate took place as an Instant-Messaging Chat on Skype. The statements of here are of the DA and in no way represent my beliefs about teaching. This is merely a tool to spark a dialogue between you, the reader, and all those involved in this project. You can find previous instalments of DA here.
So the ninth victim on the hot seat is Shelly Terrell.
Shelly Sanchez Terrell is a teacher trainer, author, and international speaker. She is the host of American TESOL’s Free Friday Webinars and the Social Media Community Manager for The Consultants-E. She has co-founded and organized the acclaimed educational projects, Edchat, the ELTON nominated ELTChat, The Reform Symposium E-Conference and the ELTON nominated Virtual Round Table language and technology conference. Her prolific presence in the educator community through social media has been recognized by several notable entities, such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, UNESCO Bangkok, and Edweek. Her award winning education blog, Teacher Reboot Camp, is filled with training resources and free materials for teachers. Keep an eye out for her book, The 30 Goals Challenge for Educators published by Eye on Education. Find her on Twitter, @ShellTerrell. Shelly has taught English language learners at various levels since 1998 in the US, Greece, and in Germany. She currently presents and hosts workshops on integrating technology effectively with young learners and adults. Shelly holds an Honours BA in English and a minor in Communication with a specialization in Electronic Media from the University of Texas in San Antonio and an Honours MA in Curriculum Instruction ESL from the University of Phoenix.
Chia: Hi Shelly, thanks for sparing some time to be here today!
Shelly: Thanks for inviting me.
Chia: I’m just really honoured to have you here because I know that you are huge in the field of technology for Young Learner (YL) education all around the world.
Shelly: Yes, I do support teachers using technology to effectively help their kiddos learn.
Chia: But don’t you think that kids today just spend way too much time on their computers already as it is? Why are we encouraging them to do that more often?
Shelly: Unfortunately, that is more of an issue that falls on parenting and I think teachers need to be cautious when we make these assumptions. Plus, I believe effective technology integration involves engaging parents and asking their participation in the technology for learning journey.
Chia: Are you suggesting that teachers have no responsibility for keeping their students away from all the technology that surrounds them? That it is their parents’ duty to strike that balance?
Shelly: What I mean is that parents need to know how to help their children use technology effectively to learn…
If we assume that parents are allowing their children to use the technology too much at home then we address these issues. I host parent technology workshops at the beginning of my classes where I ask parents their fears of technology.
I show them what technologies I plan on using. I get their permission and we come to an agreement of sorts of what we are both comfortable with.
Chia: But why go through all that effort just so that we could use some of that technology in teaching? Children were learning effectively before, without the use of all this technology. Aren’t we just using technology for technology’s sake? Aren’t we just using it because it’s there?
Shelly: See, I don’t believe that children were learning effectively before. I think that for a long time many classes are filled with teachers lecturing and I think the ICTs today help our kids get out of their microcosm and begin to learn about the world. If we don’t teach them to communicate and problem solve effectively with technology, then when they become adults and must use it in their careers and future, they won’t use if effectively. We see signs of that already.
Chia: Interesting. Let me address the first point you made before going on to the second…
In the more traditional approaches, classrooms were quite teacher-centred and there was too much of ‘transmitting of information’ going on. That, I totally agree with. We’ve since moved on to an era of ‘learning by doing’ and focusing on the student-centred classroom.
However, by using technology, aren’t we simply replacing the ‘lecturer’ with ‘technology’, and turning the classroom into a ‘technology-centred’ one, instead of a ‘student-centred’ one?
Shelly: There are many technologies that are now put in the hands of learners. One of the ones I am a huge supporter of is mobile technology. It’s hard for a teacher to lean over the student and take control. This dynamic of having it in the hands of the learner means it supports student centered learning.
Whereas there are some technologies I would agree that when teachers are trained improperly would support teacher-centered teaching. One example is an IWB.
Chia: But I envision student-centred learning to be one where the student is at the centre of it all, with the teacher mediating and supporting the learning process. With mobile technology, since it’s hard for the teacher to monitor the situation and contol it, wouldn’t it simply serve to cut the teacher and other students off in an anti-social kind of way?
For example, wouldn’t it be harder for the teacher to know if the student is really doing the task that has been set and not just texting their mates?
Shelly: This is an issue of teacher training which is really important to the effective integration of technology with learners. In my training, I suggest teachers do things like have students go on scavenger hunts with the devices. This promotes bringing the real world in the classroom, illustrates learning is all around them, and also gets students out of their seats moving around. This is an example of an effective way to use technology support learning. W
I’d like to address the issue of managing off tasking as well…
Chia: Yes, go on.
Shelly: Students will go off task even without technology. They will daydream, write notes, etc. A teacher who properly knows how to facilitate and be a guide will walk around while students work in pairs or groups or complete short tasks. This again deals with training. It is easier to manage students who are doing hands-on tasks rather than an entire group at once we are lecturing to.
Chia: But surely some of these hands-on tasks are tasks that make the teacher so redundant that learners can do them at home (as homework, for example). Why waste precious classroom time fiddling with gadgets instead of milking every moment the student has with the teacher as their guide?
Shelly: At home students will use technology and they will rarely have any guide either than their friends. We have problems like cyberbullying and texting that resulted from this. It is important kids learn to use the technology in effective ways with a mentor and the classroom offers that opportunity.
Chia: Could you expand on the effective ways YLs could use technology in the classroom?
Shelly: One way is to collaborate with peers worldwide. I address that in this post.
One example is that my 4 to 6 year-olds in Germany skyped with Emma Herrod’s 5 year-old son, Thomas, in the UK. Thomas showed my students how to create an origami box. This was hands-on, my students got to interact with another child from another country, and they also got to communicate in English in a more natural way.
Chia: Was this an English language lesson?
Chia: But instead of wasting all that time setting up the Skype call and ensuring the technology was working right, you could have showed them how to create an origami box yourself, couldn’t you?
Shelly: No. That is more teacher talk time. They got to interact with a child around their age and heard and tried to understand that child’s accent and culture. They were speaking a child’s language if that makes sense. It was a child’s conversation in English between two cultures and that is more effective and powerful for learning than my teacher talk any day.
Chia: Wait a minute…let’s not demonise teacher talking time too much…
Any FLA (First Language Acquisition) research would tell you that the feedback and scaffolding given by adult talk is part of what promotes acquisition. Surely teacher talking time is useful for YLs in SLA (Second Language Acquisition) too?
Shelly: Yes. The teacher will talk but I’ll play devil’s advocate. Teachers already use tons of teacher talk time and so I rather take the stance to make teachers aware of that because the least likely thing most teachers worldwide do is have children communicate with other children around the world and I think that is what needs to be highlighted, shared and promoted. My goal isn’t to make a teacher feel better about their use of TTT but to make them aware that more time can be spent in getting children to use ICTs to communicate in English with others.
Chia: YOU are playing devil’s advocate? Now I’ll be out of a job…
So, technology can provide YLs with opportunities to communicate with other young ‘uns around the world and help them realise about the world out there.
Anything else that technology can do that the teacher can’t?
Shelly: Teachers can use technology for so many learning issues like diversifying instruction, getting students to problem-solve and learn about others worldwide, teaching to various learning styles, and more but at the end of the day one of the most important things to remember is what Bill Gate’s said, “Technology is just a tool. In terms of getting the kids working together and motivating them, the teacher is the most important.” I don’t believe in technology replacing teachers. I believe it can help teachers.
Chia: Fair enough.
But let me take this debate in a different direction.
The constant use of computers, game consoles, and mobile devices are giving rise to some not-to-be-ignored physical ailments ranging from bad eyesight to RSI, not to mention the mental issues such as ADHD. YLs are already exposed to these electronic devices for the majority of their time awake. Should we really be encouraging them to spend more time dong so?
Shelly: Part of my job is to inform parents and I think this is happening already but working with parents we can help teach them about balance. I limit the time we spend in the classroom with technology. It’s not an everyday thing. The most important is for kids to play, get out of their desks and move while learning. We sing songs, play games, do fingerplays, color, and many other activities that don’t involve technology. I also give parents options for out of the class exploration in my wiki. You will see tech based activities as well as options to play with the children and learn English. http://englishstorytime.pbworks.com W
Chia: Thanks for the link!
You see, the problem I have with the internet and modern technological devices is that it seems to encourage a short attention span and spawns a generation of restless kids.
Shelly: I understand but I like to take a proactive approach. If I don’t teach and train the students and parents how to effectively balance or use the technology then this problem will continue. Perhaps, it is because parents weren’t taught when they were children how to balance and I believe through guidance and addressing these issues we can help solve these problems.
Chia: Well, most of these parents we are talking about didn’t have the internet and mobile devices to contend with as children, so I doubt if we know about striking the right balance, or what that balance might be.
Speaking of which, what would you say is the right balance, anyway?
Shelly: I believe we start how we use any tool. For example, a pencil is a tool and if kids spend a majority of the class time sitting down writing that isn’t healthy. It’s the same with technology.
We give kids tasks where they move or don’t stay dormant in front of a computer for more than 15 minutes. I think more research is needed but I tend to try to get kids to use the technology for 5 minute increments like record a short video, record their voices, or take a picture.
This is for very young learners but as kids get older they can have a little more access. This depends on the age level as well. I refresh myself with the stages of development. John Piaget is an excellent source. Then we do other things like sing songs, have story time, etc. The technology is only used if I believe it will be more effective for that particular section of learning.
Chia: Well, I’m more a Vygotsky kind of girl myself.
Let me clarify.
While Piaget believed that the development of a child takes place before learning occurs, Vygotsky saw learning as arising from interpersonal interactions.
By speaking aloud to oneself, the thought process acts as a mediator, enabling the child to plan actions and thereby bringing about the learning process.
It is through interpersonal interactions and its accompanying sociocultural influences that prompts the intrapersonal.
I know you mentioned the use of Skype to encourage interactions with other children around the world earlier, but other uses of technology, on the other hand, seems to be rather anti-social to me.
How can this aid development?
Shelly: I’m a big fan of Vygotsky as well. I think his learning theory is very effective. But the point is we need to reflect on how kids develop and how we use technology and how much time they spend in our classrooms with the technology.
Chia: But do you find that technology encourages anti-social behaviour?
Shelly: Again, that is on how we choose to use the technology. The teacher makes the choices. For example, we can decide if the children we teach will play a game for 30 minutes to learn particular the alphabet or we can choose if they will use something like VoiceThread to crowdsource the alphabet. Barbara Sakamoto has a perfect example of this.
Chia: Wow. Seems like quite a lot of effort just to get students learning the alphabet. Won’t the alphabet song do the trick? It did for me as a kid…
Shelly: Every kid learns differently. The children in Barbara’s voicethread learned new words, were exposed to different accents worldwide, and have a digital Alphabet book made with others that lasts a long time. Moreover, they were having fun and motivated to continue learning with others and continue their exploration of English words.
Chia: Now, I know this is going to sound like it’s contradicting what I said earlier, but bear with me for a moment and hear me out.
We’ve been talking about limiting the time that a child should spend using technological devices, and I’ve been saying how the nature of the internet tends to give rise to short attention spans, right?
Chia: In fact, with the advent of apps of mobile devices, even games are starting to get shorter. A student of mine who develops game apps for mobile devices revealed to me that gone are the days of Role Playing Games and strategy games. People now want shorter puzzles and games that they can whip out and play with on their short train rides or while waiting for friends.
Games like Angry Birds, Bejewelled, Cut the Rope, Guitar Hero, etc are good examples of that.
So while shorter games, shorter clips on Youtube, and shorter blogposts (this sure ain’t one) can capture the attention of the young digital natives better, and can allow teachers to limit the time spent on using these electronic devices, does it not lack pedagogical continuity?
What I mean is when we used to watch Sesame Street on TV, there was a beginning, a middle and an end. It was pedagogically sound as it didn’t just present language to us. It allowed for time to absorb, practise and recap.
A short 3-minute clip of Oscar the Grouch on Youtube just isn’t going to have the same pedagogical credibility.
Shelly: I think when using technology in a classroom you can only use short bits to make sure that the teacher has time to scaffold and guide the student with the technology. Technology used at home for self-learning is entirely different. I think young learners need constant guiding and scaffolding with the technology. I’m not too comfortable with leaving a young learner to watch or play a video game or mess with an app with no one around. I think that’s a bit lazy.
Chia: So you think that parents should constantly monitor their children’s use of technology then?
Shelly: Yes I do believe that. I don’t mean recording all the information but I do believe it is important to be in the same room a child is playing a game or exploring the Internet or even watching a television program.
Chia: No computers or TVs in your future children’s bedrooms then? ; )
Shelly: Nope! I plan on playing with my children constantly
Even if I’m worn out!
Chia: And will you be playing with them with the use of an iPad? ; )
Shelly: Yes! I will!
Chia: I so envy them! Will you play with me and my iPad too?
Chia: Okay, I’ll quit fooling around now. ; )
Chia: Thanks so much for spending time with me today and letting me challenge you…
You’re a hard nut to crack though, Shelly, coz you are just so balanced in your views.
Shelly: LOL! : )
Chia: At the end of the day, as you said, technology is a tool for us teachers to exploit, but should never become the tail that wags the dog, wouldn’t you say?
Shelly: Yes! Well said!
Chia: But could I at least get you to admit that in the wrong hands, technology in the classroom can become a way to simply wow the students before its novelty factor wears off?
Shelly: I will admit that without proper teacher training that is always the case with any learning tool whether it be a pencil, the slate, desks, books and so many other tools we’ve seen that have been used to drill children into believing learning is boring, tedious, and difficult when really it is being curious and learning to explore those curiosities and having the chance to do just that to see where it leads.
Chia: A fantastic summary to a well-balanced argument!
Shelly: Thanks for expanding my thinking. Always great to run ideas off with a very resilient and beautiful Devil’s Advocate
Epilogue: Shelly’s opinions are her own and do not represent any organisations she is associated with. Chia was trying to play DA but Shelly’s views were so balanced and logical that it was hard not to agree with her.