Nowadays, it is pretty common that technology plays an important role in the world language classroom. Our guiding resource ACTFL offers a position statement regarding the use of technology. “ACTFL acknowledges and encourages using the potential of technology as a tool to support and enhance classroom-based language instruction.” At the same time, ACTFL “recognizes the pivotal role of a qualified language teacher to incorporate and manage the implementation of technology so that it effectively supports the language learning experience.”
Language skills support communication, but our language classroom instruction provides so much more than language skills. Our classrooms open the door to cultural experiences and global connections. And certainly the use of technology is a platform to make this possible. In a sea of new apps and programs, educators still have a choice of using technology or another different instructional method. And we know there are circumstances when either would be the most effective use of time.
In making personal, meaningful connections across borders, there are many options, both high-tech and low-tech. Regardless of the amount of technology that we use in our classrooms, our main goal is still to give students a reason to want to speak in the target language. Many times it’s building relationships that will encourage students to strive for increased proficiency.
Let’s look at some student connections made through using technology first. Padlet is an app that allows students to collectively or independently post information and videos regarding a topic. Here, for example, is a classroom project where students used Padlet to introduce themselves to an American classroom. The students in France were able to practice their English in a written format and recorded their message orally in French for the American students to hear. The American classroom then responds back to the French classroom in a like fashion.
This activity offers not only practice in their target language but also helps establish relationships between the two classrooms. In addition, students realize that communication is the key goal. They learn to except that they might make mistakes just as, perhaps, other students did. Students build relationships while realizing what it’s like for others to learn a second language. They learn to take risks and become more motivated to be understood.
What would the low-tech lesson look like? There still is value in paper and pencil. Let’s admit it, no matter how technology-driven our society has become, it still is wonderful to receive a letter or a package in the mail. Plus, one can learn a lot about another person and/or culture based on things like hand-writing, or stationary, or even a postage stamp. Cultural comparisons can stem from just about anything.
Another way to build relationships as we consider high-tech options is one that has been around for some time: Skype. This tool has been a means to opening doors to experts, other classrooms, Peace Corps volunteers, and more. The connections are endless and are a springboard for further discussions and/or continuing relationships.
Classrooms can Skype a professional, such as someone from ENAR (European Network Against Racisim) in Belgium, on topics of racial discrimination in the European Union. Skype an on-location volunteer from the Peace Corps to discuss education for girls in Ghana. Discuss and compare global environmental issues with a classroom in Beijing. Skype–or other video programs–brings the world right into our classrooms.
How might this look in a low-tech lesson? A likely possibility would include an in-person visit to a classroom. Due to distance and logistics, this is not always a possibility but can certainly have its benefits. To make comparisons regarding world issues, students may interview local experts and compare that with what they learn from classrooms in other countries.
As educators, we know that building relationships with our students is often an important part of student retention. But that is only one part of it. We also must help students to build relationships outside of the classroom. If our objective is to create kids who are interested in the world and who value communication in another language, then building those relationships will help them leave our classroom, inspired, motivated, and prepared to take on global challenges…and, of course, to continue on their language journey.