martes, 8 de marzo de 2011

Evaluating and selecting websites for teaching English

Everything about language teaching seems to be systematic. We select the materials we use in our lessons following quite a few protocols: we think of the aims of the lesson, what we want the learner to do with language by the end of the lesson, the type of activities needed to achieve such aims, the characteristics of the students, their capabilities, strengths and limitations. We, teachers, also think of the resources our institution has to offer: whether it has a computer room, an internet connection, or if the head of the institution is open and willing to have us using the web in or out of school. In selecting websites that might be useful for the learning of English, we also have to consider all these aspects, and even more, since when using the web, our students are dealing with an entirely new sort of communication means. I mean, most of our learners are used to using the web, as I have said in a previous post, on this blog; however, we know that most of our learners are not into conscientious learning when they long on Facebook, or MSN, Twitter, Skype, etc. So, basically, the same principles of careful planning we take into consideration when designing our lesson without the web apply when attempting to use it. Internet is, in the end, another tool that serves our didactic purposes.

Yes, I liked writing that: Internet is [just] another tool that serves our didactic purposes, and as such, we must dedicate as much attention to the selection of the sites we’re planning to use as we do when looking for a text to be read in class, or for a film clip to have a video activity. What I liked the most about this part of the module was that I had the chance to see a way in which such selection I have been talking about can be done in a systematic way, with evaluation criteria… Yes, it all takes some time, but, seriously, what carefully planned activity for our class doesn’t take some time, hours, perhaps, to design?

Integrating the web

Using web resources in our lessons is not as easy as it seems, but we, teachers, are used to complicated endeavors, aren’t we? I’d say that we have to think of lots of details in our daily teaching practice. When we think of an activity that might be useful for our learners to practice some language point, or develop some skill, we already spend some time thinking of the most appropriate ways to incorporate such activity into the plan of the lesson. Now, web resources add an extra difficulty, in my opinion: we should train our learners to handle the resources we want them to use to achieve the goals of the class. You might think that most learners are even better users of a handful of web tools; however, they may not be using them for learning purposes, but for mere fun.

When I look for web resources, I don’t really pay attention to the URL of the sites I log on. That’s what I’ve done so far, I mean. For some strange reason, I had the feeling that .org websites were not reliable, and that they were supported, most of the times, very specific causes, which were out of the English Teaching field. The truth is that I had never stopped to think about such a tiny detail as the URL of a site; now I do, and, yes, I have looked through quite a few .orgs that are very good, and that offer some great contents.

I also used to think of web teaching and learning resources as plain internet sites that provided materials for teachers who wanted to have ready-to-take solutions for their lessons. I knew that internet is the greatest source of authentic materials; I think I just didn’t have the willingness/eagerness to do something about my natural predisposition against using the web for learning purposes.