Following on from last week’s interview, Supporting Teaching through Technology (Part 1), Miguel Armillas tells us more about technology and the classroom.
How do your students use their phones in class? Can phones be useful classroom devices?
Cell phones were prohibited in my school. Some teachers say ‘They are a distraction’ or ‘They take pictures of teachers and students to post on the Internet.’ But, the truth was that every student was carrying a powerful multipurpose computer in their pocket, and we were not able to take advantage of it. They could use their phones to check vocabulary, search for information, take pictures of the information on the blackboard, download documents or make recordings.
Therefore, two years ago, I made the decision to ask the School Council to allow the academic use of electronic devices. Now smartphones and tablets are used in almost every subject.
On the first day of school, I also introduce some apps to the students that I think would be useful such as, WordReference, Twitter or YouTube.
In English class, we mainly use Smartphones to check vocabulary and pronunciation by connecting it to the classroom speakers and taking photos of the board. But we also use it to write poems (#SAFAhaikus) and micro stories in small groups (#SAFAtinies) to post on Twitter during “Haiku Day” or “Tinies Day”. When a student is wearing a T-shirt with any motivational message written in English, I take a picture of it (no face) to later post on Twitter (#TshirtEnglish). Students like it a lot.
You use Twitter as a professional development resource. What are some pages or people you follow?
My Twitter account is @miguelarmillas. I have been using it since 2007, so I consider myself to be an expert user. There are millions of Twitter profiles, but I try to follow no more than 50-60 accounts, and I regularly review my list making the effort to only keep those which best match my interests. A high percentage of them are ELT accounts, but I also follow ones related to education, my town, and technology. I never follow student profiles. My followers list is available on my Twitter profile.
Currently, I have 597 followers who keep an eye on my English tweets. Most of them are former students and 95% of my tweets are in English. In fact, most of my tweets are “retweets” of posts I consider interesting to my students, but I normally add a comment to them. I also post important information related to my classes and educational law. Sometimes, I even post other things that have nothing to do with English.
Another thing I use Twitter for is academic instant messaging with students. They can contact me about doubts or questions. The common language is English. That is the rule to contact me outside school. And you know what? Students use it correctly.
I created a Twitter account for the group I am in charge of and our department has its own Twitter account @DptoIngles, as does our school @safasanluis.
What are some classroom resources you ‘can’t live without’?
My laptop, my smartphone, loudspeakers, projector, and Internet access if possible. I also use WordReference, DEL (Diccionario RAE), Dropbox, Google Drive, Gmail, Evernote, Pixlr, and OfficeSuite which are “must-have apps”, together with YouTube, and Twitter. I have improved my English a lot thanks to podcasts (ESLPod.com) and the YouTube channel Engvid.com, which I also use in class.
What are some ways that you motivate your learners to study English?
Well, motivating students is the most difficult part. I try to make them feel both my positive energy and my excitement while teaching. Getting on well with them helps a lot, too. I try to use the gadgets and tools they use in their daily lives to keep them in their comfort zone. Working in groups on tasks they find difficult, like writing, has proven to be effective, as well as making them correct their work in groups. Admitting my mistakes if there are different points of view is always well received. I also try to persuade them to view mistakes as something ordinary. “Mistakes are welcome,” I usually say. “They are necessary to improve”, “Everybody learns how to walk by falling down many times.” The finish line is exams. And, last but not least, I make an effort to always enter and leave the classroom smiling. Making sure there is a good and relaxed atmosphere, but under control, is very important.
Apart from this, I offer students different ways to improve their term mark by doing voluntary extra work, like making school videos, doing oral presentations, and writing opinion articles, haiku poems, or micro stories. Their work is always shown both in class and posted on the Internet to share with everybody. Please visit www.tenzine.com.es for further information.
What are some of the biggest challenges you face in the classroom?
My biggest challenge is improving my motivational abilities and completing the established programme.
Any advice you would give to new teachers?
You need patience and interest to improve day by day until you get to the point that you are proud of yourself and your lessons. You are always your best critic, for sure. Listen to the students and look at their faces.
These links are some of the special activities that Miguel does with his students:
#SAFATinies – tinies is the distinctive name I gave to micro stories written by my students