This week I’ve been asked to offer thoughts on what apps might be most suitable for using iPads in language classrooms. It’s a natural question and one to which a number of answers suggest themselves, but fundamentally, it is interesting to note that we still seem to consider iPads as vehicles for delivering apps to the consumer. This is one function iPads can fulfil well, but it is far from the full picture.
As I teach a once-a-week language class myself, and as I still try to keep attendance at my evening adult education classes at least one trimester a year, I maintain a close interest in the pedagogy in language classes. There are some apps that I would consider using were I still teaching languages full-time: Latin Builder, for example, is a good way to develop linguistic and strategic competence skills by using pre-written Latin sentences to retell well known Greek myths. But apps that appear to have very little to do with language learning form some of the most valuable tools in the toolkit when they are used by skilled teachers. Last year my grade three and four Mandarin class used Pages and PuppetPals HD far more than they used Chinagram, Flashcards, En-Cn Dict or any of the other apps we bought and downloaded in the assumption they might be useful! This spring, the only app I’m going to make compulsory is Evernote.
On a recent visit to Hurst, a colleague and I were struck by how many of the teachers were using apps that ostensibly were unconnected with the subject matter. Yet they worked beautifully because the teacher had identified an appropriate and weighted use for the app in the specific context they planned to create. In one case, it was as a slate for holding up suggested answers to teacher question prompts (see above). If that sounds as though the iPads were merely being used to substitute the functions of the previous technology, let me observe that the ability to screenshot the students’ answers and save them to the camera roll allowed for the creation of flashcards for a further activity later in the lesson.
We’re all aware that there are some game-changing apps out there that can seriously transform learning and redefine the tasks students perform in schools: that same day in Hurst I sat in on part of a geography lesson in which a student teacher led the class in collating real-time temperature data from the Met Office’s website and recording it on a map app to show the effects of global warming. But even in this lesson it was the simple spreadsheet on which the data could be tracked and analysed that was the killer app.