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Technology Project Based Teaching & Learning

As promised in the previous post, I am going to share an idea, although it has not been tried or tested by me.  Perhaps some other English language teacher has done something similar to this: developing English language learners' information and communication technology (ICT) skills while developing their English language skills.  This is kind of like a hybrid of content-based instruction and task-based instruction.  The content includes academic and workplace language regarding ICT, whereas the tasks can vary.

For the sake of continuity from the previous post, the example task for this blog is more linguistic:  teach another group of English language learners (in their own classroom, in another classroom, or to future students in their current class) a grammar rule and demonstrate its usage as authentic to your life as possible.  Although some novice level students may be able to do this, I would aim this task at intermediate speakers.  For advanced speakers, I would make the task more complex, perhaps focusing more on pragmatics (social language or academic language) than grammar.

Before I begin, this lesson is based on the assumption that a class has at least moderate accessibility to video cameras (such as those on almost every cellphone these days) and computers with digital editing software (on all Macs and most PCs these days).  This accessibility is either provided by the school or department (such as computer lab) or by the students themselves, but not all students need to have their own technology.

For this type of lesson, there would be two pre-tasks, linguistic and content, both separate and integrated.  The ICT content pre-task is the longer one and may actually be a pre-task for the entire course or for an entire unit.  For example, if the task is to create online videos for the target audience, students could do several of the following ideas:
  1. Watch online videos about English language grammar
  2. Critique the online videos about English language grammar in terms of style, clarity, length, etc.
  3. Watch online videos in L1 (if possible) and English about how to record and edit videos
  4. Do a jigsaw activity if some students are already experts in recording videos, uploading videos, and editing videos
  5. Practice using ICT language (make this objective very clear to students)
  6. Discuss issues of privacy and sharing videos (for linguistic reasons, spend more time with this on advanced students; with intermediate students, the teacher may find him/herself lecturing too much)
  7. Familiarize students with the school's computer lab (if it has one)
  8. Practice recording, uploading, and editing videos 
  9. Check comprehension of the task instructions
The grammar pre-task acts more a like an extended comprehension check.  This is where some elements of the flipped grammar classroom may come in.  After being assigned a grammar rule to teach, students could study the rules from their books or other sources and then check their understanding with the instructor.  However, it is the teacher's job to make sure they understand the grammar rules early on.

Grammar Video Rubric10 points5 points1 point0 points
Length5 minutes long>7 minutes long,
<3 long="" minutes="" span="">
>10 minutes long,
<10 long="" seconds="" span="">
0 minutes long
Grammar Rulevery easy to understand with lots of examplessome of the examples helped me understandvery confusingmissing
Presentation Stylevery fun and interestingsomewhat interestingvery boringno presentation
Presentation Organizationvery easy to followI got lost once or twicevery confusingno presentation
Presentation Languagevery professionalsometimes formaltoo casualnot in English at all

The main task is learner-centered and mostly learner autonomous.  The trick is for the teacher to find the best location for this task.  If you're a teacher that has an accessible computer lab with online video editing capabilities in your school, then you're lucky and you're set.  If there is at least one student per group that has a camera (most likely as part of a smartphone, these days), then you are also set.

In small groups, students create a video demonstrating the rules and functions of a certain grammatical item. Connect pre-task idea #2 to a rubric for the task.  Here is a suggested rubric, but perhaps there are better ones out there.

The rubric above has been simplified in language for the students.  The students will use this rubric for a reference to develop their video.  It will be used again in the post-task.  According to this rubric, the maximum number of points if 50 for meeting the highest standards of each category.  The minimum number of points is 0 for simply not having a video.  I would include a bonus category for technological savvy, so nobody gets penalized for their technological mishaps.  Perhaps later in the course it can become part of the rubric if and only if all students are clearly showing development in their technological skills.  I do this to remind myself that I'm a language teacher first and a content teacher second.

The role of the teacher is to help students create this videos but not to the extent that the teacher is doing most of the technical work.  If this happens, there wasn't sufficient practice in the pre-task phase.  The teacher can meet each group and give helpful tips, specifically linguistic help.  If the teacher is noticing similar errors across groups, then he or she can prepare a little instruction in the post-task phase and not penalize students for it during their presentations.  However, if these errors are vital to get correct for the task to succeed, then the teacher should intervene during the task in a manner in which the teacher feels is most appropriate.

The time limit for this task depends on how much time you have with the students.  For example, if you have two 90-minute sessions with them, I would give them at least a day and a half.  This also depends if students will work on this project outside of class.  Keep in mind, I am thinking about intermediate students with low to mid technological proficiency.

The post-task begins with two activities: 1) viewing each group's classmates, and 2) evaluating each group's presentations based on the rubric.  For activity #2, students should individually score the videos and then consult with their group members.  This is like a think-pair-share cooperative learning activity.

After each group has evaluated all the groups' videos, then the class can perform another jigsaw activity in which one member from each group gives and provides feedback.  Once this is done, the class can compare their feedback with the teacher's feedback at the end of the jigsaw activity.

Finally, the teacher can conclude with teaching points based on common errors across groups and with positive feedback on language and technology skills for the whole class.  From here, the teacher can decide if the class is ready for more (challenging) technology-related English lessons.

I've based this lesson based on my experiences teaching content-based instruction at Sookmyung Women's University's TESOL Certificate Program in Seoul, Korea and at the ESL Institute at the University of Wisconsin at La Crosse.  It's also inspired from my reading and understand of task-based teaching and learning by Jane Willis and from my graduate studies at UMBC and the University of Iowa.


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