A ‘recording session’ for English learners

In March (when I had the idea for this blog but NO time) I taught a two week (30 teaching hours) ‘Ferienkurs‘, which is a holiday course for you non-German speakers out there 🙂 I teach this holiday course at the university every semester break and the courses are usually well-attended as the students have more time and less semester-stress.

During this semester course I was freshly post-dissertation (having just handed it in the week before the course started) and fully motivated to use a bit more technology in class than I usually do. I have used the great teaching with technology resource book Teaching Online by Nicky Hockly with Lindsay Clandfield in previous lessons and wanted something from it that would fit in with the topic of the first couple of days of the course.

The topic was, firstly, ‘Making Academic Requests’ which involved looking at how to make to the point requests of academic staff. This led on to the second lesson entitled ‘Studying at the university of….’. This lesson involved the students practising how to talk about what a university has to offer its students.

The aim of the lesson was for the students to ‘produce’ a promotional video for the LMU (their university) in the style of the video watched in class. I say ‘produce’ because, of course, I didn’t ask them to film Munich and edit their own videos 🙂 But they did record themselves saying the text for the video.

The lesson started with the following YouTube video: Undergraduate Student Life at the University of York which introduced the students to the language of talking about a university for a promotional video.

As said earlier, the idea for the lesson came from Teaching Online. The task in the book is called Subtitle Oscars and focuses on subtitling a short film clip in English. The tools needed for the book activity are: a video sharing site, a subtitle creator site and the course site or email.

I didn’t want the activity to be completely online and individual as the one in the book because the course was face to face. So, as all teachers do, I adapted the activity to suit my students’ needs, the course and the classroom environment we were in.

I am lucky enough to teach in the Multi-media Language Laboratory (MSL as it is known) at the LMU, which, as the name suggests is a large computer room (36 computers in total) with a master teacher computer, two projectors and a whiteboard (which used to be interactive but it wasn’t being used by teaching staff and was therefore removed and replaced with a ‘normal’ whiteboard). The computers are linked with the teacher computer and the teacher can control the students’ computers, view their screens, show their screens to the whole class via the projectors and a lot more. The computers are Windows PCs and therefore equipped with all the usual programmes and features one associates with a PC.

1. The students were split into 3 groups (A, B and C) and each group had a video to work with. These are the three videos/topics:

Group A – Living in Munich

Group B — Taking classes in Munich

Group C – Getting around Munich

The videos had been uploaded to YouTube by Wayne State University’s Junior Year in Munich programme. They are great, short videos which promote Munich, the university and living here to American university students.

2. The next step was to show the students their group’s video. I didn’t let them listen to the video, just watch it, as I didn’t want them to be influenced by what was said in the more professional version.

3. I told them to make notes on the images that were shown in the video and how they linked together. They also needed to pay attention to the length of the video. The whole class watched each of the muted videos twice.

4. In their groups, the students then compared their notes, discussed what they should say and worked on a short text which fitted the topic of their video. We had looked previously as the structure of such a text, i.e. a short, general introduction, use of positive adjectives and a sentence or two to round the video off.

5. I went around and monitored what the students were writing, giving help and guidance wherever necessary, but at the same time not interfering too much in the content of the text. The students also had access to online dictionaries and google on their computers, so they could work fairly independently.

6. Once texts were finished, I told the students to practice saying their text to each other. I have often noticed that students do not practice their spoken texts enough, and this becomes apparent when they have to give a more formal class presentation. Also, students often get nervous when they know they are going to be recorded, so practising was an essential part of the task.With the online dictionaries at their finger-tips, which have a pronunciation button that allows the student to hear the AmE or BrE pronunciation, individual pronunciation queries can easily be checked. I also wanted the students to work on sounding positive and for their partners to give feedback on their pronunciation and intonation.

7. Once the students were ready, they could follow step by step instructions, which I had written on their Moodle platform (in the form of a text page), on how to record themselves. We used the Voice Recorder which is installed on every PC and the students could then save the audio file to a folder on the computer that is available to all Users and the teacher alike.

8. I gave the students enough time to record and re-record themselves if they weren’t happy with the first version and also to listen back to the final version.

9. Before the end of the lesson, I played each of the videos again and muted the sound on YouTube. Simultaneously I chose a couple of students from each group and played their recording over the video. The results were fantastic. The students had written great texts and had tried very hard to inject enthusiasm, pace and intonation into their voices. A couple of students even managed to match their text to the images that were on the screen. The students were thrilled by each of the recordings and gave each student a rapturous round of applause for their work.

10. As I wasn’t able to play all of the recordings (time does eventually run out…), I saved them all onto my USB stick and listened to them at home in the evening. I was amazed again at the quality of their work, so I gave each student some feedback and handed this out in class the next day.

11. In the next class, I gave the students the opportunity to listen to some of their partners’ and other class members’ recordings along with the videos.

All of the students really enjoyed the activity and the slight pressure of possibly being chosen to play to the class made them take much more pride in their text than I believe they would have done without. The only downside to the task was one of the older students (probably mid-40s) telling me mid-class that she didn’t like the activity and found it boring! It was a shame she felt this way, but I don’t think she was a confident computer-user and therefore felt a little overwhelmed with the instructions and having to record and save her work on an unfamiliar computer. What also didn’t help was the fact that she recorded herself once but the microphone was switched off and therefore nothing played back to her when she wanted to listen to her work. Students can get de-motivated very quickly when they feel that they can’t keep up with the rest of the group. In this case, the rest of the group was in their early-20s and rather computer savvy.

I learnt a couple of important lessons from this activity.

1. ALWAYS check the equipment before letting students loose on a task that involves technology. I had checked that the video recorder was on the computers and how it worked, but I took it for granted that the microphones on the headphones (they look like those a call centre worker wears) would automatically record the students without them having to do anything. Unfortunately, some of the headphones were not switched to the microphone function and as a result some students’ texts weren’t recorded. Luckily, a switched-on student realised what had to be done and he made an announcement to the class which rectified the problem.

2. You can’t please everyone all of the time. Just because I think an activity is going to be interesting, fun, valuable, creative and so on, my students will not necessarily feel the same. The student who didn’t enjoy the activity, although she was very much in the minority, was one of those students who are very vocal and could affect the group dynamics a lot. Her response to the task was overheard by quite a few students and I was worried that I had lost her confidence in me and in the lessons and that her attitude may affect some of the other students. Luckily, it didn’t and she stayed for the rest of the course, so it didn’t put her off completely.

This photo was taken the next day and shows my bag ready for class with some MAOAM sweets in there. I very often give my students little sweets as a reward if they have done some especially good or difficult work (done it well) – it really motivates them and they know that I appreciate their hard work. Therefore, I handed out the MAOAM sweets in class, along with their feedback slip, the day after the ‘recording session’ 🙂

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