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Published September 11, 2011 | English (Second Language)

SAILing with DECclic

My involvement with information technology is not around programs but more in developing an approach, a philosophy. What can I do to make my teaching of English as a Second Language relevant to students in changing times? How can I use resources in my school Cégep de Baie-Comeau to produce interesting results?

Moodle's logo

One advantage of technology and the Internet is that you can find specific answers to questions quickly. When I'm in my office and I have DECclic on, I always set up a chat room. On many occasions students chat about their essay, asking quick grammar questions from home. Giving information informally, particularly about grammar, allows students to apply these principles in real contexts. Students get the information that they need when they need it and not general rules.

Bamboo pen & touch Wacom tablet

Bamboo pen & touch Wacom tablet

I find paper a waste of time. I actually refuse hard copy. I'm not walking around with papers anymore but only a USB key and a graphic pad, one of those little Bamboo four inch by six inch units from Wacom which emulate your computer screen. You download your students' essays from DECclic all as one group, and then you can correct them using the graphic pad. Right now all mistakes are highlighted in yellow which is less aggressive than red, but I'm working on using different colours. A grammar mistake will be green and a pronoun mistake will be blue. You can just change the colour of whatever you're highlighting because students receive corrected essays as Word documents. (Text by Paul Fournier explaining the new Benchmarks testing in English. The file has several notations made using the Wacom tablet.)

This past session I started experimenting with saving time by giving computer-based listening and speaking exercises. Our computer lab is equipped with the SAIL program from Merici College. My advanced level students do a first listening exercise generally based on the CBC program "Definitely Not the Opera". It's great for pop culture but not too dated so you can re-use it without having to reinvent the wheel.

After the listening exercise, students do a speaking exercise based on the short story that they were supposed to have read previously. There are pretty serious discussion questions where students must use the story to defend their point of view. The following week, I take recorded answers to two of those questions verbatim, and put them on SAIL, to create a listening exercise. In the following speaking exercise, students respond to those issues. They're not allowed any notes, but if they paid attention the previous week and read the assigned story, they have ample information to come out with a two to three minute answer. This is a way of encouraging student attendance and ensures that they're working. Using SAIL I take fifteen minutes for the whole class instead of taking a whole week to do a speaking exercise in small groups.

Benchmark levels percentage equivalents
Level percentage
Level 12 100%
Level 11 98%
Level 10 95%
Level 9 90%
Level 8 80%
Level 7 70%
Level 6 60%
Level 5 50%

I evaluate students by giving the new English benchmarks levels percentage equivalents. If you score Level 12, you're equivalent to an educated Anglophone. A Level 12 is 100%. Level 11 is 98%. Level 10 is 95%, Level 9 is 90%, and Level 8 is 80% etc. When I correct, I circle relevant information and write comments about mistakes as I listen. I find that this is very fast in terms of correcting, and students get an idea of what the percentages represent and why they got their mark. By Week 5, students have done one or two speaking activities and one or two writings as well. Then, I meet them individually and explain why they're an intermediate or advanced and how to get better. I've worked with our techies here so that we have the space on our server to save all of this work for reference because audio is heavy in terms of space.

In principle, I don't like exams which are based on memorization because I find that encourages short term learning which doesn't get embedded. Also, if you get students used to accessing correct information on their own, you stand a better chance of getting them to remember it. Because everything is stored on DECclic, whenever students write an essay for me, even on a final exam, they always have access to what they did before. If the student is concerned about their writing, they can go back and review. Although I'm not allowed to help students on the final exam, I can go back to earlier essays and re-explain those mistakes with no penalty.

Technology has allowed me to experiment with a whole range of different things and not be too afraid of failure. About a year ago, I started to use embedded YouTube videos in my electronic exams. In theory it should have worked because I tried it as a student before the class. Furthermore I was using DECclic's Exam Studio which is quite dependable! What I didn't realize is that when you incorporate two different kinds of answers into questions related to the video, such as a multiple choice and a short text, the exam bugs. Although everything worked well when I tested it, in reality nothing was getting recorded. Students would answer their questions online and then go back to check them to discover that nothing had been recorded. The one thing that experience taught me was to always have a paper backup for whatever you're doing in terms of electronic testing.

What I have learned from these experiences is that curiosity and experimentation are good things and that teachers need to ask themselves how they can adapt and how they can make their classes more engaging for students and waste less time. Students forgive you your failures, and technology permits you to innovate and stay motivated with your successes. This also allows me to lead by example. How can I expect my students to take any risks in class if I'm not prepared to take any risks as their teacher? Constantly stepping out of my comfort zone is one way that I keep my passion for my profession.

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