Friday, 25 November 2011

Talk to the cat? Learn with a sock?

A lot of people think that childrens' apps in iPhones etc are 'just games'. Well, they can be, if you don't take advantage of them.

A while ago I used a voice recorder in class for a couple of different tasks, and I was pleasantly surprised that the students were very keen to hear themselves. Not only that, they were also critical listeners (much more than me). They got competitive about the time taken, and passing the recorder around in a question/answer drill accellerated the activity nicely too - more fluent and natural.

There is quite a debate about the pros and cons of reading out loud. Yes, it is not a usual feature of English usage, but there's little other way we teachers can monitor what the children are able to read/pronounce. NB Not 'understand'! I have always asked my students to read their homework after we have checked/marked/corrected if necessary. I don't like the whole class speaking at the same time - how can I hear everyone (and for the same time I don't speak when they do)? Instead, I will repeat the sentence after the students, to reinforce their pronunciation. If I model first, they are not reading, are they?

Reading a lot out loud is counter productive. I do not want a performance - so we do not do this with our graded readers. Readers are for fun & internalised consumption (instead, I really like to milk the workbooks/quizzes etc which we use for follow up, vocabulary development, finding grammar patterns, spotting rhyming words etc)

A big bugbear here in Japan is conformity. In my classroom, this manifests as everyone trying to speak at the same speed, pitch, cadence. The dreaded katakana-isation. One of my classes does this so much I pulled all my hair out last week - extending the last syllable in their responses in a falling sound which is horribly unnatural. Still trying to iron that particular issue out, but my one hour a week versus the rest of their exposure to badly done English = feeling a bit like King Offa with his dyke.

Talking Tom, and a number of other "Talking...." apps are very useful indeed. Basically a voice recorder with attitude - an animated cat does a few moves and doen't like being poked or punched (who does?) - so children are allowed to do that after they have done the job. And the job is? Read your sentence through, from start to finish, without pausing. If you pause, the cat will repeat what you just said. Daft? Yes. Annoying? Yes. Judgemental? No. Does it work with longer utterances? Not really. All I want with my young students for now is for them to get to the end of their sentences once they start. The cat repeating their production is funny, but not useful for pronunciation (the voice is distorted). It IS useful for intonation though - usually very difficult to provide feedback on. It picks up all chatter and giggles, which is nice as it breaks the also means everyone has to take a breath before they start. Good. Students realise they need to preview the entire line that they are going to say, and you can see them nodding their heads as they practice internally with the beat they want to use. So we are getting word level stress and sentence level? How cool is that?

(Our pre-school age learners enjoy Talking Tom et al as well - it encourages them to speak up and try out silly phrases because the cat is just as silly as they are. They love to hear their own made up words repeated perfectly! Very shy children will talk to the cat much more quickly than to me or another adult!)

I wanted to share a Sock Puppet video too - but to do that I have to pay Y85 per scene. What a rip off - lots of fun and very creative, but could get expensive as we have a lot of talented actors at Luna. I like this tool because it has to be collaborative, planned, and quickly executed (30 second limit on the free version). Hope to share somehow, soon.

What's the best use of a voice recorder you have found?
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