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mLearning Using Smartphones in the EFL Classroom: It´s Possible!
I cannot blame them: (fun) learning can happen without technology but, to be honest, I have never asked myself why I have to integrate some technology in my classes or if I will be competent enough to handle behavior, as I had already had my own personal experience back in 2001, when I had a Mac desktop computer in the classroom, a notebook provided by the district to exchange teachers, and my students had access to laptops either in the library or in a cart to take to our classroom. How can I not be aware that technology was there to stay, no matter the budget cuts or the change of administrators: language, science and even P.E. teachers used computers to teach back in those days!.
Since I came back to teach in my home country, I was told by my former american colleagues that those computers were left aside and replaced by Ipads, Chromebooks and/or Surface tablets pcs.
By 2009, my days in american classrooms were over so since I re-started teaching in my home country, it did surprise me that the integration of tech tools in the English as a Foreign Language class was already explained in any Teacher´s Books in any coursebook at any level -CEFR A to C-, even though not many teachers knew how to do so or not doing anything at all.
However, my innovative spirit told me to do something and that was in 2011 when I first asked my students to use their smartphones (mainly Blackberries) to look up for words in websites such as www.dictionary.com or practice any of the four skills in http://learnenglishteens.britishcouncil.org/ complete online quizzes for special days like April Fools Day or Halloween. It was obviously extra practice because we depended on the availability of the internet connection (3G data) at that time of day.
Some smartphones´educational apps are not easy to spot unless you get to test them enough to be sure of what you will be doing or get instructed in the correct way.
After some years of trying to do things right in my classes by taking every single course, attending several webinars, reading from the experts, having full control of my students´ work and behavior and support of my administrators, I can say I am qualified give some useful advice and recommend three of the many apps which made a big difference in the engagement in my classes.
There were some students who obviously could not log in so easily, and that turned into one of the best moments. Students started to help each other, giving instructions in English and using the target language beyond the classroom context! Collaboration and willingness to help other was key to that success.
My most successful app for language and grammar practice is www.socrative.com. You can either download it easily on your phone or work on your computer. Socrative Teacher and Student are the two options. Once you create your log in user name, with the free version you can upload, create, re-create, build, re-build, copy any type of activity. I used to create them on my laptop and once they are finished under the Socrative Teacher website, you are given a code which you immediately change into a Classroom Name and Activity!.
I got so used to it that I even added, deleted, reshaped, corrected most exercises on my phone app.
Students download the Socrative Student app and log in with the Classroom Name and start solving the activity as easy as one, two, three. The great advantage here is that once they log in, you automatically see them in the "room" as well as their score and progress.
You can even make them race with color rockets, which is an extremely fun activity!.
I am proud to say that these children responded wonderfully! Almost all of them worked hard all year and completed all of the activities in the class...if they could not do so due to high data usage, they would complete at home either with their phones or computers.
My second suggestion is www.buncee.com which is a fantastic free tool for presentations, tell and/or create stories or any other graphic with the possibility to add video, voice and many other features you may want or need. The app is only available for Apple phones but it is still possible to use it on your smartphone if internet is available. Aww, Buncee!! You will love it!
My third suggestion is Voki for computers or Android/IOS app, which helps shy or introvert students have a voice through an avatar customized by themselves. This is wonderful for language, grammar and fluency practice without talking in front of a camera.
A great way to compile all these wonderful works is my number one savior-tool which has been Padlet for many years now!.
The school I work at has its own website with protected username and passwords for security reasons, so teachers are asked to share all online work through it. I simply log in and upload my work under the corresponding class and level.