Beyond the classroom walls

While attending the National Convention of MEXTESOL here in Morelia, I had a most pleasant surprise. My students had achieved something we all struggle towards as teachers in Mexico: interaction and communication outside the classroom.

This is the way it happened:

While at the convention I had left my first semester beginning students (30) and my high-intermediate students (45) something to do in order not to have them lose contact with English the two days I missed classes with them, Thursday and Friday. The project I left them was to upload a  picture and talk about it on Fotobabble, a free online Web 2.0 tool.

Of course, beginning students talked about their families and friends, referring to ages, likes and favorite things of the people in the picutres they chose. The upper level students chose any famous person, dead or alive, and talked about what they would do if they won a day with their chosen person, and included how their facial features indicated what type of personality they had. The framework in Fotobabble provides a minute to record a talking photo, so beginning students left one minutes and advanced students left one minute talking quickly or two minutes.

The results transcended farther than I imagined. The first brave souls who posted were computer-savvy students who had no fear about posting in an online context, something that was new for all of my students. As I checked in periodically over the next few days I saw other students listening to each others’ entries.

The sharing of listening podcasts relating to their photos helped them to access English outside their classroom. Some students had more than 20 hits on their Fotobabble podcasts, which showed that their work was listened to more than 20 times. My students were accessing English in order to fulfill their homework requirement, but they were listening to English outside the classroom.

When we came back to school on Monday, I noticed that they had a lot to say to each other about what they had listened to, including questions about the family members in the pictures they chose, or why they chose certain celebrities the advanced students had chosen.

As we started out our class, I asked them if they had had difficulties in uisng this new tool. They all responded with different answers, according to their level of technological expertise. Most of them admitted to spending more time stressing out about the assignment than actually doing it. Then I pointed out to them that spending time outside the classroom exposing themselves to English did not always have to be academic. They had enjoyed sharing each others’ work and looked forward to the next tool.


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