Is it all about the now? Authenticity and Currency

Reading Time: 7 minutes

How do time and authenticity interact

It has been a long time since I wrote about authenticity… or at least it feels like it anyway. In truth I have a few chapters which aren’t even published yet which discuss this favourite theme of mine, but because I was on sabbatical last year (if you can call it that) and because I basically didn’t really do much work last year except here and there, it feels like many moons have passed since I mused and reflected on the concept of authenticity from the perspective of language teaching.

Yesterday I was out walking my beloved dog, Pippin, and listening to some Nirvana. There was a line in the song that said “That’s old news” and this got me to thinking. Old news is an interesting expression, it’s something of an oxymoron. News, by definition, has to be new. So old news can’t really be news. I instantly started thinking about the lessons I teach which incorporate elements from the news or current affairs. Now that I’m back to teaching after a year off, it’s interesting how much I realised I enjoy thinking about my classes and planning materials for them.

The first big change in the news to have happened since I was last in the classroom in the academic year of 2019 is obviously the timely end of Trump’s presidency. Nobody was more relieved than me to be rid of this toxic, bloated, deranged orange billionaire. But, there is now a Trump shaped hole in many of my lessons. I used to teach a class on the discourse of racism, in which we take Teun van Dijk’s ( 2008) work on disclaimers and denial in the discourse of racism, and utilise some of the principles to analyse articles and speeches.

In the class, the example I have been doing for the past four years was Trump’s famous presidential announcement speech, June 16, 2015, in which he spouted vitriolic nonsense about Mexicans being “rapists”. I am including the handout I use as well for anyone interested.

Currency as an attribute of authenticity

I am going to talk about this lesson in terms of authenticity and currency. For anyone unfamiliar with the term, currency is one of Feda Mishan’s 3Cs of Authenticity (along with culture, and challenge (2005: 44–64)) from her brilliant book Designing authenticity into language learning materials. I have always found the concept of currency to be particularly helpful when I think about materials and authenticity. Basically, currency refers to the temporal dimension to authenticity, which she particularly elaborates with respect to the changing nature of language use, although she does also associate it with topical issues and current affairs. In my own writings I have already slightly developed on this idea, when I wrote;

“If I do a lesson about John Lennon in December, it would have more currency than doing the lesson in, for example May, because I could use the opportunity to mark the anniversary of his death. I could also ask students to talk about their own favourite musicians, and the dangers and stresses that fame brings. Currency not only refers to the ‘up-to-date-ness’ of the materials but also their topicality and relevance.”

(Pinner, 2016: 79)

With the departure of Trump, I thought this might be a good time to discuss “old news” and currency in relation to authenticity. I think this lesson is perhaps one of the best I had in terms of helping the students understand and apply Van Dijk’s framework for identifying racist discourse. It was always fun to teach, and the students enjoyed putting Trump under the microscope and coming to the unwavering conclusion that Trump was indeed being racist in his speech. The lesson had a video, it had an academic text behind it, and most of all it had currency.

This year, I can probably still get away with using this lesson, but what about next year? And the year after? Clearly, with Trump no longer current (as in serving as president and regularly featuring in news and media) this lesson is going to start aging quickly. In other words, I need to find a new, more contemporary racist figure to analyse.

But, currency is not simply a matter of updating your handouts now and then. This could quickly become exhausting. Whilst I am very happy with the idea of The Living Textbook (meaning we are always updating the materials we wrote for class), it would be nice to be able to create materials which can be used for more than a few years.

Materials and “Old News”

When a teacher creates a lesson based around a newspaper article, they do so knowing that they will very likely only be able to use those materials once, or at best a handful of times. Why? Because the news will soon lose its currency, and thus an aspect of its intrinsic authenticity will also be lost. Students are not going to get excited by a random newspaper article that you had lying around for years. They need “New News” in order to connect with the topic, find relevance in it in the world, validify and authenticate it. This is a shame, as I am sure anyone who has made a lesson plan from a newspaper knows that it can be quite time-consuming. I’ve always found that using newspaper articles in my classes was a good way of getting students involved in something going on in the world and brining it into our class. And, of course, newspapers are part and parcel of the “classic” definition of authenticity. Please note, I am NOT saying newspapers are authentic in and of themselves. They are not. But, I think we can all agree that it’s a bit of a shame to design classes around a news story and not to be able to get some kind of mileage out of it.

However, let’s consider a slightly different perspective. What if the newspaper article was from August 6, 1945?

Despite being over 70 years old, this article retains its currency simply because of the historical importance of the event.

Another example might be a paper from September 11th, 2001.

Such articles will likely always retain their authentic currency, simply because these stories are not news but history.

Does this mean I can keep using my Donald Trump lesson then? Can I say that this was a historical speech?

The issue is a little more complex than that. I think Trump’s presidency is very likely going to be remembered in history (hopefully for the right reasons). However, I personally might feel that Trump was old news still rather than being history, simply because we need more time to pass before we can gauge how history responds to the event, how people reflect on it, and importantly how much people care about it! This is especially true in terms of the demographic I teach. I need to consider how 20-year-old Japanese university students feel about Trump and whether they still care, now or in a few years’ time. My feeling is that for my students, they wouldn’t be very interested in analysing Trump anymore now that he’s no longer president.

This is why currency is such an interesting concept, and does not simply equate with how recent something is. I would argue that, keeping with the US president theme, Abraham Lincoln has more currency than, say, George W. Bush. I feel that students would appreciate a lesson on JFK more than they would on The Donald, and this is because of currency. Lincoln and JFK belong to history, whereas Bush and Trump are simply in the past.

Currency Vs History

The problem with this conceptualisation of authentic currency is that it might discourage teachers and materials writers from using stories from recent current affairs because of the way they will age quickly. We are already very aware of how international textbooks are constantly needing to be updated. Photos of students in the 90s just won’t cut it for a coursebook anymore. Photos, typography and graphic styles are all easy identifiers of the age of a textbook, and publishers are certainly under the impression that their customers will not want to spend good money on an ancient textbook. Opening a textbook and seeing a photo of someone using a chunky laptop or sitting in front of one of the big CRT monitors instead of a flatscreen is likely to inspire a snort of derision, not a good starting point when the teacher is trying to get their students to invest in the content. Not only do styles and fashions change but also so does language. The fact that materials need updating is as inevitable as the fact that languages themselves are constantly evolving and updating.

So, should materials writers simply avoid anything from current affairs? Should textbooks be filled with articles on the moon landing and speeches by Martin Luther King Jr.? (I chose both those examples as they are widely used in textbooks). I think it would be a shame if we let currency slide in favour of history, but it’s true that something historical will retain its currency for longer than something which is merely ‘news’. The balance is in the sweet spot somewhere in-between. There are new news articles all the time, but certain topics retain their currency and recur in the news regularly. Issues about gender equality, racial discrimination, the environment, social justice. Critical topics such as these will always have currency and it will not be hard to find news stories to link to these issues.

I have also experienced a kind of “noticing” effect when teaching about certain topics, much as Richard Schmidt started noticing new vocabulary items everywhere once he had learned it. When I am talking about a certain topic with one of my classes, it’s never long before a newspaper article with direct relevance to that topic jumps out at me. Recently it was the resignation of Olympics Committee President Mori for making sexist remarks, which fits very nicely in with my class on feminism and gender issues. The lesson is there already, but this provides an up-to-date reference point. I might show a slide of Mori in the class, but it’s easy to change and update.

Unfortunately, the Trump lesson isn’t going to be so easy to update. That lesson has lost its authentic currency I fear, so I will need to redesign it. But as I’m doing so, I will bear in mind these reflections on currency and try to get something which has a good mileage. Any suggestions would be much appreciated!

References

Mishan, F. (2005). Designing authenticity into language learning materials. Bristol: Intellect Books.

Pinner, R. S. (2016). Reconceptualising authenticity for English as a global language. Bristol: Multilingual Matters.

Schmidt, R. W. (1990). The role of consciousness in second language learning. Applied Linguistics, 11(2), 129-158.

Van Dijk, T. A. (2008). Discourse and power. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.

Virtual Laboratory: Authenticity and Metacognition

Reading Time: < 1 minute

Recently I was invited to contribute to the Virtual Laboratory on Cognitive Approaches to L2 Instruction by the Universities of Heidelberg and Kent. It’s always nice to be given an invitation, and of course I accepted. Here is the video of the lecture, and my slides are also available for download too (with embedded audio).

Here is the abstract for the talk.

Dr. Richard PINNER
Sophia University (Japan)

Authenticity and Metacognition in L2 Learning

A talk for the Virtual Laboratory on Cognitive Approaches to L2 Instruction: Bridging theory, Researches and Practice

Slavisches Institut, Universitaet Heidelberg


AUGUST 8, 2020
17:00-18:00

(Central European Time, ex. Berlin, Paris, Roma)

Access:

Password:  HEIDELBERG

Abstract:

In this video lecture, I will discuss the issue of authenticity in L2 learning and teaching. I will outline the way authenticity is (somewhat paradoxically) simultaneously over-simplified and overly complicated. In order to explain the definitional problems and conceptual paradoxes of authenticity, I will present the authenticity continuum, which is a visual attempt to understand authenticity as it relates to language learning from both a social and contextual perspective. Authenticity is an important aspect of self-in-society when learning another language, and I will discuss the way that metacognition and metacognitive strategies are an essential aspect in the creation of a culture of authenticity within the language classroom.

You can access the slides from here

If you would like to ask any questions or continue the discussion, you can either do so here on this site, using the YouTube comments or you can talk to me through Twitter @uniliterate.

Hope you enjoy the talk and I look forward to hearing from you!

Social Authentication and Teacher-Student Motivational Synergy

Reading Time: < 1 minute

I am very happy to announce the publication of my 3rd book (4th if you include poetry).

This book talks about social authentication, which (following on from van Lier, 1997) is the process when a group of people all commonly engage in the process of authentication.

Here is the link to my author profile on Routledge. You can order the book from your favourite multinational evil chain or small independent bookseller.

https://www.routledge.com/authors/i18977-richard-pinner

This book is actually based on my doctoral thesis, and is in-fact an extended and much improved version of the thesis. The original thesis was 80,000 words but for the book I had 120,000 to play with. I added more detail for both Spring and Autumn semesters of the narrative, included added details about the authenticity of the speaker video rating exercise, and also in the autumn the time when we had a guest speaker visit our class. I included more analysis and data (especially on classroom dynamics) but the main new contribution is a whole new chapter featuring vignettes reflecting on the topic of teacher-student motivation from teachers around the world! Thanks to all my vignette authors for contributing!

Well, please take a look and message me if you have any questions, either through email or, preferably, engage with me on Twitter @uniliterate

Risking authenticity: Energy Return on Investment in Language Teaching

Reading Time: 2 minutesScreen Poster presented at the BAAL 2018 conference, York St John’s University, UK|
British Association of Applied Linguists

Abstract
Studies repeatedly show one of the most crucial factors affecting student motivation is the teacher. Teacher and student motivation is both positively or negatively synergistic, implying that to motivate students, teachers must also be motivated themselves. This paper presents an exploration of this relationship through a narrative of evidence-based practitioner reflection on teaching at a Japanese university. Field-notes, journals, class-observations and recordings were employed as data for deeper reflection by the teacher/researcher, triangulated with data from students, including short interviews, classwork and assignments. Approaching authenticity as either a bridge or a gap between positive teacher-student motivational synergy, this paper provides a practitioner’s account to examine the social dynamics of the language classroom. Core beliefs were found to be crucial in maintaining a positive motivational relationship. Motivation will be approached from an ecological perspective; that is looking at the connections between people and their environment, incorporating the natural peaks and troughs of the emotional landscape of the classroom and situating that within wider social context. Particular emphasis is placed on the concept of authenticity as the sense of congruence between action and belief, and the way that teachers construct their approach according to a philosophy of practice. I posit that authenticity can either work as a gap or a bridge between positive student-teacher motivation. In other words, when students and teachers both share an appreciation of the value of classroom activity, the learning is authentic. This presentation reflects on these complex issues and begins exploring them in context. This paper attempts to be as practical as possible by sharing lived professional experiences from the classroom. Samples of students’ work will be shown that indicate their level of engagement in class, with a discussion of strategies employed to help them maintain motivation, such as reflection and tasks involving metacognitive strategies.

Pinner2018BALL_EROIScreenposter

Using and Adapting Authentic Materials to Help Motivate Students

Reading Time: < 1 minuteTo those who attended the 2017 workshop entitles Using and Adapting Authentic Materials to Help Motivate Student 「学習意欲を高めるオーセンティック教材の活用法」, the main site page for this workshop is located at https://uniliterate.com/training/workshops/authenticity-workshop/#.WYwT6YiGPIU

You can download all the handouts of the materials, as well as the slides and other documents from the link below at learn.uniliterate.com. This is an online extension of the course, and allows you to post comments and continue the discussion with other participants.

You can access an online version of this course here. You can access the course as a guest, but you will need the password – Authenticity4649

If you would like permanent access to the course, please email me!

It was a wonderful experience to work with you all, and thank you again for taking the workshop and I sincerely hope it was both authentic and motivating for you as well!

The Future of Foreign Language Education in a Global World: Exploring Motivation and Autonomy

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Part 1: The Future of English Motivation in a Global World

The International Symposium held at the University of Toyama on February 19th 2017 was an event which brought together not only many prestigious speakers, but also attendees whose own research has made a valuable contribution to the area. As such, the conference was both accessible and yet well-informed and insightful, with many lively and active discussions both during and between sessions.

In particular, the morning session saw a special seminar with Ema Ushioda, entitled The Future of English Motivation in a Global World, in which she talked through many of the issues that are addressed in a forthcoming issue of the Modern Language Journal, co-edited by Ema and Zoltan Dornyei and due to be published in 2017: 101(3). In particular, this special issue looks at the motivation to learn languages other than English. Ema’s special seminar sought to examine the role of English in a multilingual world, which began by drawing and expanding on Graddol’s book English Next (2006). Graddol talks about the ‘new orthodoxy’ of English, which implies the disappearance of English as a Foreign Language (EFL) as English becomes more and more a ‘life skill’. Instead of EFL, English instruction will become more integrated into educational systems around the world, particularly in the form of Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) and English as a Medium of Instruction (EMI). English becomes part of the curriculum, not as a foreign language but as a method of instruction in and of itself. In other words, the ‘new orthodoxy’. Graddol’s book is well-known now, having been published just over ten years ago, and already there is much evidence that his predictions are coming to light. However, (as Ema says, there is always a ‘but’), there is also a very visible multilingual turn in Applied Linguistics, which perhaps rode on the waves of the social turn. In other words, a move away from psycholinguistic, cognitive and monolingual approaches to language. Much of early Second Language Acquisition (SLA) research focused on what has often been termed the ‘deficit’ view of L2 learning. Such a view posits that our L2 will never be as good as our L1, and thus implies that L1 users are ‘better’, which leads to the adoption of native-like norms for setting the ‘standard’. Such a view has been criticised in many different ways, not only because the reality of a native-speaker is based on a myth (Davies, 2003), but also because it leads to a range of practices within ELT that disadvantage the majority of English speaker/users in the world (Braine, 2010; Holliday, 2005; Lowe & Pinner, 2016; Medgyes, 1994; Reves & Medgyes, 1994; Swann, Aboshiha, & Holliday, 2015).

Ema also discussed the fact that the mounting pressure to learn English has actually been shown to damage the motivation to learn other languages (Dörnyei & Ushioda, 2011). This is deeply entwined with an ‘instrumentalist view’ of language education. In other words, we learn English for the purposes of acquiring greater access to social and cultural capital. We need it, want it, know it will make our lives better. And yet, as this places great pressure on us to learn the language, it de-emphasises other languages and ‘non-standard’ varieties, and it may also inhibit personal autonomy to learn English. At this point in her seminar, I wanted to raise my hand and tell Ema that you could almost say that English becomes a ‘disembodied language’, a point I have often made when examining the idea of Global English in relation to authenticity (Pinner, 2016). In fact, in her talk Ema was mainly talking about motivation and autonomy, yet for me I felt there was a great deal of overlap here with the concept of authenticity as well. As I have discussed in my doctoral research, authenticity, autonomy and motivation seem to form a dynamic triad (Pinner, 2017). Of course, Ema knows all about this, as she is my supervisor, but her talk was already very ‘meta’ and mapping the complexities and intricacies of the global position of English as a ‘world auxiliary language’ (Lo Bianco, 2014) to her own, much more personal, individual and contextually-based approach to motivation and autonomy (Ushioda, 2011a, 2011b, 2015, 2016).

Ema pointed out that such an instrumentalist view of learning is not, in fact, unique to languages but a worrying trend that can be seen throughout education. Ema talked about the new Teaching Excellence Review to be put in place in the UK next year, in which one of the assessment criteria are graduate employment rates. This highlights the fact that education is often seen as a means to an end; there is a utilitarian focus which downplays the humanitarian role of education. Fostering individuals with the capacity for critical thought is not the role of education as the government (and hence many institutions reliant on funding) see it. However, this view is more likely to be held by those who work as teachers. In other words, Ema’s special seminar highlighted the global dynamics, mixed-messages and socio-political agendas around English language education. She drew heavily on Lo Bianco (2014) notion of ‘domesticating the foreign’ to show how local and global policies entwine in the language classroom.

Fundamentally, Ema’s main point was that reaching native-like proficiency was not a realistic or meaningful goal for many learners in global contexts. The affordance of English for gaining social capital is important, but similarly with the world moving more toward super-diversity, English educational models would be better served if they were to highlight a multiple competencies approach to learning. Another aspect is that learning should be made personally meaningful, and people should learn to speak as themselves.

Although I fundamentally agree that the native-speaker model is a serious problem for English language instruction and that it has led to the disadvantaging of the majority of English speakers, it may also lead to other forms of discrimination as a result of the entangled ideologies at work in the world. In many ways, it boils down to social and cultural capital. People make judgements about us based on how we speak; and thus it may be disadvantageous for students to focus on learning English that could be seen as deviant, especially if this makes them hard to comprehend. This argument has been made many times; it is the crux of the Kachru-Quirk argument, and also the central justifications between Jenkins’ Lingua Franca core (2000). Also, the issue of language tests (which are based on ‘standard’ notions of the language) are another obstacle.

However, I don’t think that Ema was advocating that we encourage learners to speak in a way which is incomprehensible (although this argument was voiced during the Q&A). I think rather that Ema was promoting the same idea that she put forward in her persons-in-context relational view of motivation (Ushioda, 2009), which resonates with van Lier (1996) call for awareness, autonomy and authenticity as part of the interactions in the language classroom, both of which imply sociocultural approaches to learning and ecological perspectives to language. The key is that a person does not need perfect English, and it is important for students to have realistic goals about themselves and the levels of proficiency they actually need. This has been discussed in very interesting studies by Matsuda (2011) and Kubota (2013), both of whom found that Japanese learners might do well to assess their own goals in relation to what they need to achieve with the language, rather than aspiring to be simply ‘like native speakers’.

Overall, the talk was fascinating and gave me a lot of food for thought. In the next post, I will discuss Ema’s Keynote speech which discussed whether teachers should see themselves as motivators.

 

References

Braine, G. (2010). Nonnative Speaker English Teachers: Research, Pedagogy, and Professional Growth. London: Routledge.

Davies, A. (2003). The Native Speaker: Myth and reality (2nd ed.). Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.

Dörnyei, Z., & Ushioda, E. (2011). Teaching and researching: Motivation (2nd ed.). Harlow: Longman Pearson.

Graddol, D. (2006). English next : why global English may mean the end of ‘English as a foreign language’. London: British Council.

Holliday, A. (2005). The struggle to teach English as an international language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Jenkins, J. (2000). The phonology of English as an international language: New models, new norms, new goals. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Kubota, R. (2013). ‘Language is only a tool’: Japanese expatriates working in China and implications for language teaching. Multilingual Education, 3(1), 1-20.

Lo Bianco, J. (2014). Domesticating the Foreign: Globalization’s Effects on the Place/s of Languages. The Modern Language Journal, 98(1), 312-325.

Lowe, R., & Pinner, R. (2016). Finding the Connections Between Native-speakerism and Authenticity. Applied Linguistics Review, 7(1), 27-52. doi:10.1515/applirev-2016-0002

Matsuda, A. (2011). ‘Not everyone can be a star’: Student’s and Teacher’s beliefs about English teaching in Japan. In P. Seargeant (Ed.), English in Japan in the era of globalization (pp. 38-59). Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Medgyes, P. (1994). The non-native teacher (Revised ed.). London: Macmillan.

Pinner, R. S. (2016). Reconceptualising Authenticity for English as a Global Language. Bristol: Multilingual Matters.

Pinner, R. S. (2017). Social Authentication and the synergies between teacher and student motivation: an Autoethnographic inquiry into the interaction between authenticity and motivation in English language teaching at a Japanese university. (PhD Doctoral Thesis), University of Warwick, Warwick.

Reves, T., & Medgyes, P. (1994). The non-native English speaking EFL/ESL teacher’s self-image: An international survey. System, 22(3), 353-367.

Swann, A., Aboshiha, P., & Holliday, A. (Eds.). (2015). (En)Countering Native-Speakerism: Global Perspectives. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Ushioda, E. (2009). A person-in-context relational view of emergent motivation, self and identity. In E. Ushioda & Z. Dörnyei (Eds.), Motivation, language identity and the L2 self (pp. 215-228). Bristol: Multilingual Matters.

Ushioda, E. (2011a). Language learning motivation, self and identity: current theoretical perspectives. Computer Assisted Language Learning, 24(3), 199-210. doi:10.1080/09588221.2010.538701

Ushioda, E. (2011b). Motivating learners to speak as themselves. In G. Murray, X. Gao, & T. E. Lamb (Eds.), Identity, motivation and autonomy in language learning (pp. 11 – 25). Bristol: Multilingual Matters.

Ushioda, E. (2015). Context and complex dynamic systems theory. In Z. Dörnyei, P. MacIntyre, & A. Henry (Eds.), Motivational dynamics in language learning (pp. 47 – 54). Bristol: Multilingual Matters.

Ushioda, E. (2016). Language learning motivation through a small lens: A research agenda. Language Teaching, 49(4), 564-577. doi:10.1017/S0261444816000173

van Lier, L. (1996). Interaction in the language curriculum: Awareness, autonomy and authenticity. London: Longman.

 

International Symposium on Language, Autonomy and Motivation in Toyama

Reading Time: < 1 minuteThe Future of Foreign Language Education in a Global World: Exploring Motivation and Autonomy

Dr Ema Ushioda will be in Toyama, Japan in February giving a keynote speech on motivation and autonomy. Other plenaries include Lorna Carson, Yoshiyuki Nakata and Luxin Yang.

The free event takes place at Toyama University, Sunday 19th February 2017.

The smart way to use Smartphones in the language classroom

Reading Time: 8 minutes

Originally Published as The smart way to use Smartphones in the language classroom. Modern English teacher, 25(3), 2016.

 

Smartphones and mobile communication technology are continuously evolving, becoming more and more a part of everyday life. Love them or hate them (and for many it may be a bit of both) smartphones are incredibly versatile pieces of technology. At any one time, we can carry around in our pockets a digital library of ebooks, audio and visual files, not to mention apps for education, entertainment or work. My smartphone is not the newest model but on there I have had skype conversations with my family 6,000 miles away from the park where I am walking my dog, I have proof-read articles and replied to urgent emails from colleagues and students, I have even composed early drafts for articles. I have also played games which help me to remember Japanese kanji, and used the Japanese dictionary to help me to maintain a conversation about difficult topics I am not used to speaking about in a language I am still learning. Of course, I have also spent (or wasted) less productive hours on my phone reading posts on Facebook or watching YouTube videos that make me laugh. The fact of the matter is that a smartphone is a powerful, personalised communication tool which allows connections between people and information, and this can be harnessed in the language classroom, if the right approach is applied.

Initially when smartphones started to appear in students hands in my classroom, I (like many teachers) found them to be extremely irritating. It was obvious that Student X at the back of the classroom was not paying attention to the instructions about the task I was setting up, they were paying more attention to their crotch area, where the smartphone was nestled. It is always obvious when a person checks their phone in secret, and as teachers we are naturally aware of our students in a way that they often do not give us credit for. The same is true of other social situations; it is generally seen as bad etiquette to ignore a person who you are face-to-face with in favour of your phone. There are several articles already about how phones are ruining face-to-face conversations (Drago, 2015), and from my own personal experience this is not hard to see why. When I worked in a language school in London I often had to resort to taking students’ phones away from them in order to keep them focused on the class. My friends who are teachers in High Schools in both Japan and England have also reported this, with one friend telling me that her school collects all the students’ phones in a box before the lesson can even begin! However, if used in the right way, smartphones can be a very useful tool to support and extend language learning opportunities, precisely because they are designed as communication tools.

There are simply thousands of apps for education, and a large proportion of these are dedicated to learners who use multiple languages. If you are not sure which of these to use, why not turn that into a task for the class and have the students try them out and present their reviews to the class. The students could put it to the vote after their research presentations, the chosen app might then be used for homework assignments. It would not only be very informative for everybody, but also empowering for the students to have a direct input on the way the class is taught or the choice of materials to use for class. This is also a good way for teachers who feel less tech-savvy to take further steps towards a blended classroom environment, in which technology has a comfortable and supportive supplementary role.

One of the most obvious and effective ways of using smartphones in the class that I have had enormous success with, is to use them to allow students to go on a mini-webquest when I am introducing something or activating schemata about a topic. For example, I might ask my class “have you ever heard of David Bowie?” and right there and then, using their smartphones the students can quickly do a search for the great late Starman and find out enough about him to move into the next stage of the task. Students who already know about the topic can still benefit from this by checking certain facts, and then of course the group discussion can take place as usual with smartphones safely back in the students’ bags. I have had unexpected benefits from this approach, for example in a class for the English Literature department where I work, I asked the students to learn something about Raymond Carver (the American short-story writer) and one student learned that it would have been his birthday on that day. These serendipitous moments add what Freda Mishan (2005) calls ‘currency’ to the tasks; an element of authenticity which is dependent on time-relevance. Of course, this achieves nothing which could not already be done in a CALL room, but here the smartphones are simply a handy tool rather than the computers being the central medium in-which to conduct the class. These schematising mini-webquests can also be more flexible than CALL room time as they require almost no forward planning and can be done on the fly.

Smartphones are not only potential tools for use during the class, they can also be very useful for self-access learning and homework type activities, as I touched upon earlier. Many teachers have accounts with apps such as Quizlet, which allows the creation of vocabulary flash-cards and multiple-choice questions. Teachers can set up classes in Quizlet which their students can join. This has many advantages, such as very accurate monitoring and instant feedback. The teacher can see who has done the tasks and what their score was without having to do any marking or checking of homework with a red pen. Many leading textbooks also offer apps and media-content specific to their units, and this might be a more engaging type of out-of-class activity to set for homework than photocopying the activity book. A further advantage is that these activities can be done whilst busy students are on the move, although this may have implications for the amount of cognitive engagement they can invest and retention. Although mobile learning (mLearning) is a popular buzz-word and has some success reported in the research (Cavus & Ibrahim, 2009; Stockwell, 2007), I am still rather sceptical about how deeply we can learn something while on the move. However, having the option allows for a more flexible approach and accommodates students with different life-styles and learning preferences.

In a similar way, it might be useful to set-up a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) such as Moodle, or create a free class learning site using a service such as Weebly, edublogs or SchoolRack. If you use PowerPoint (or another presentation platform such as Prezi) then you can set up ‘remote presenting’ which allows students (either in the classroom or at home) to follow your slides on their smartphone whilst you are presenting. This could be useful for large-classes or other situations where the slides need to be made more accessible, for example if students are sight impaired (see Robert Lowe’s article in ETp for further practical suggestions for sight-impaired students). This way also can be a step towards a paper-free classroom, something the environment and future generations will thank you for (or so we are led to believe, as I will return to later).

Another useful way to use smartphones in the class is to incorporate them into information-gap tasks. Instead of preparing two versions of a handout, Partner A can simply visit one link and Partner B visits another. I have taken this further also, and put students in groups where they each watch a different video or listen to a different song, and then the group describes the video and when we watch them all back as a class, the groups have to match the other groups’ descriptions to their videos. Tasks like this would not have been possible if it were not for the students all having their own personal media-viewing device.

This brings me to one of the possible limitations with using smartphones as a whole-class activity. I have had a few classes where one or two students do not have a smartphone, and in this case it can seem rather awkward. If one student does not have the smartphone because they cannot afford one, then it could raise issues of discrimination and this might prove to be problematic. It is therefore worth checking before-hand what percentage of your class has a smartphone. Also, some students may be on limited packages and the amount of their data-usage needed for classroom tasks may also cause problems. Needless to say, many classrooms may be in areas where the reception is weak or limited as well, which would make a class based around streaming video into a quagmire of frustration. Of course, the number of smartphone users and the network facilities and packages on offer are very contextually dependant, and therefore many of these ideas will need to be tested and adapted to each country or teaching context. Where I teach in Tokyo, it does seem that in the past five years the amount of students holding smartphones with unlimited packages and with access to high-speed internet has increased to such a high percentage that if the students come to class, they are almost guaranteed to be carrying their smartphones.

Not only are smartphones becoming more ubiquitous, but also many schools in developed nations are now offering iPads and other tablets for students to use in class, and these often come with a host of apps and online tools to use both in-class and for self-access study. These are reported to be particularly beneficial to students with special needs (Ellis, 2011). Such institutions need to not only supply the hardware, but they also need to provide training and support for teachers and students alike in terms of how to get the most out of these technological tools. The institutions also need to provide a robust wireless network so all the end-users can access the internet at the same time and do the high-bandwidth-dependant tasks which educational apps usually require. Needless to say, although it is becoming more common for students to receive tablets as part of their enrolment, it is still much less common to see them being used effectively as an integrated part of the classroom. Schaffhauser (2013) has a useful article with tips about how to effectively adapt the personal iPad design so that it can be at an institution. However, at this early stage, it can often seem daunting to people to move the classroom too far away from the traditional models which require people to interact with either books or each-other. Many teachers, parents and even students are likely to ask ‘what’s the point?’ if they are looking at a screen when a piece of paper would do the same job. It is misleading to talk of the paperless classroom as an environmental initiative, when there is of course a carbon footprint attached to an iPad just as there is to a textbook (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: sources according to a Green Office Report at the University of Wageningen in Holland
Figure 1: sources according to a Green Office Report at the University of Wageningen in Holland

Whilst the iPad still comes off best according to the statistics (which are necessarily generalised and based on averages), it is important to note that many of our students will use all of the above devices, rather than just one, and so relying more on technology does not off-set the use of printed materials. Of course, smartphones are not even listed here, and so they would represent yet another large expense in terms of C02 emissions.

In summary, smartphones are certainly finding a place in the classroom practices for language teachers and learners, and they offer versatility and flexibility of tasks. They also offer a distraction from what students should be doing, but I feel that this is not particularly made worse by students. Ten years ago, I had to call out students for looking out of the window too much, and I still have students doing homework for other classes when they should be working on the task I have set. Smartphones are often given a blamed for taking away students’ attention, but this may not be entirely a new phenomenon. In my experience, smartphones are certainly something to utilise for language learning, and as technology moves forward I feel more and more language teachers will be grateful of them for the opportunities they can offer for language learning, both in the classroom and for supplementary study.

References

Cavus, N., & Ibrahim, D. (2009). m-Learning: An experiment in using SMS to support learning new English language words. British Journal of Educational Technology, 40(1), 78-91. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8535.2007.00801.x

Drago, E. (2015). The Effect of Technology on Face-to-Face Communication. The Elon Journal of Undergraduate Research in Communications, 6(1), 13-19.

Ellis, S. (2011). Teaching the future: How iPads are being used to engage learners with special needs. Screen Education, 63, 60-64.

Green Office Wageningen University. (2014). What is the best device for reading in terms of CO2? Retrieved from https://gowageningen.files.wordpress.com/2014/04/co2-footprints-of-kindle-vs-ipad-vs-books.pdf

Lowe, R. (2015). Integrating blind students. English teaching professional, July(99), 16-18.

Mishan, F. (2005). Designing authenticity into language learning materials. Bristol: Intellect Books.

Schaffhauser, D. (2013). Tips for effectively managing your iPad classroom. THE Journal (Technological Horizons In Education), 40(5), 7.

Stockwell, G. (2007). Vocabulary on the move: Investigating an intelligent mobile phone-based vocabulary tutor. Computer Assisted Language Learning, 20(4), 365-383. doi:10.1080/09588220701745817

Authenticity 2.0

Reading Time: < 1 minuteAt the MATSDA (Materials Development Association) conference held in June 2016 in Liverpool, Freda Mishan gave a presentation entitled Authenticity 2.0.

As language use today moves increasingly into digital fora – social media, social networking and so on, accompanied by an internationalisation of the language most associated with the Internet, English, the concept of ‘authenticity’ in the context of language samples and language use becomes ever more evasive. One route for achieving authenticity in the language learning context can be found, ironically perhaps, in the work of pre-digital theorists such as Van Lier (e.g. 1996), who maintained that authenticity was not intrinsic to learning materials themselves but was a factor of the learners’ engagement with them and of the tasks enacted with them. This conception of authenticity is a perfect fit for the digital era, where more and more of the language use is in interaction on a plethora of different media and applications. In the digital era, therefore it is to interaction and task that we turn for our ‘authenticity 2.0’.

Below is the Prezi for her session.

It seems to me that the relevance of Authenticity, reactions and Online Communication will be something to keep an eye on for the foreseeable future. Getting back to the older, more philosophical definition of authenticity for language learning seems to be the best way of keeping the issue up-to-date for the digital-era.

The connections between authenticity and native-speakerism: Students’ reactions to international English varieties – CELC 2016, Singapore

Reading Time: < 1 minute

Presentation Summary and Resources

In this post you can find my slides, audio from the presentation and also the link to the original questionnaire which I used with my students to find their reaction to different varieties of English.

Here is the full audio file

Here is the questionnaire