It was the beginning of the trimester when I decided to start a special project with my students in Course 5, a class that has around two hundred hours of instruction in English. The reasons for that decision were to improve students’ pronunciation, mainly, and intonation. This is because of the low performance and fears to speak in the last courses, Courses 8 and 9. When students get to the 8th or 9th course, they usually are reluctant to speak the target language because they know their vocabulary is low, they mispronounce words, and they are not used to speak the target language. I also know this because I have been teaching 8th and 9th courses during the last two years. Therefore, I decided to teach 5th courses in order to help solve the problem.
The project began at the beginning of the term; in the fourth week in this course. Every course is fifty hours long. Our language center does not have a syllabus; courses are based on commercial textbooks, three different editorials. Regular courses are an hour a day while the intensive courses are two hours a day, on weekdays. I have four groups of around 20 students in each group. This is Course 5.
Developing the Project
Students were shown some digital stories in order to expose them to native speakers' real stories and real language use. Later on, they were taught the basics of recording or narrating in ©Microsoft PowerPoint. It was emphasized to narrate not to insert audio files because they had to send their work to me through the e-mail. They also received a basic and brief course on how to use ©Windows Movie Maker.
It can be assured that these brief introductions to Powerpoint and Movie Maker were not enough but students are like fish in the water when the topic is technology. I know this because once they started to use those tools they asked me a lot of questions and became engaged in learning them thoroughly, especially Movie Maker.
As an additional help, I told the students to type their script in Word or Powerpoint due to the help they get with the target language. It could be assumed that some of them did not understand and know about the correction tools in these programs (software). Some students asked what those red and curved lines under some words or fragments were. They were told that the emphasis was on pronunciation and intonation, as well as content. Some students suggested doing their video using their cellular phones or digital cameras. This was accepted and optional since not all the students have the economic possibilities to have these gadgets.
Working on their Projects
The process was simple. As a first activity, they had to deliver their script before recording it. This was done to allow and do some peer correction on their work. Their work was not corrected by the teacher; instead, they were helped through correction symbols. Students were not told of every single mistake they had because it was going to be kind of disappointing and they could have stopped doing the task. You may find some mistakes but not important in their communication. Students were told to use some extra help when the teacher was not at hand, that is, they were told to use the dictionaries on CD-ROMS in the self access center or to use MSN Encarta online dictionary for pronunciation and meaning of words.
A lot of different final works were received. Students received feedback about their pronunciation and intonation. They were asked how they felt about this project. Most of them said it was interesting to notice the different stages in the task. They emphasized that this way helped them improve their pronunciation.
It is important to tell you that some learners delivered their work three or four times before the final version. This was because the quality of the sound, students breathing on the microphone, low volume, mispronounced words, and/or outside noise. Most importantly, their pronunciation was not acceptable and, some samples, the content was different from previous deliveries -in the peer correction stage.
Finally, I asked the permission of some students to upload their final work and share with other teachers and students. They agreed on this, so I'm glad to tell you about them.
Important Aspects and Variations
Some students suggested not talking about themselves in order to protect their privacy, instead, they suggested and did a kind of retelling a cartoon, a movie segment, a video clip, and a kind of translating from Spanish to English what people were saying in documentaries. Other students asked to deliver their work as a karaoke song. I agreed and received a few of them. By the way, I downloaded KARAFUN (I heard about it in Web Classroom 2.0). It is not a commercial promotion but I have used it successfully in class. I told learners about it, they downloaded it and used it for their projects. To make this work, you need the karaoke final version and the audio file of every presentation.
After three weeks in this project, I can say that about half of the students really cared and improved their
pronunciation and became aware of some difficult sounds to produce. Some of them started to use Windows Movie Maker in their assignments from their schools -most of these students are in high school- with recognition from their teachers and success in their homework. Therefore it could be concluded that it was and still is a successful project. I said half of them really cared because I noticed that the other half prefer not to complicate their lives and due to the project was an additional activity where they got some extra points for their final grades. The trimester is about to finish next month.
Other students are really busy since this is the period for semester evaluations in their schools and they have a heavy load of work. These learners sent their work with (a lot of mistakes, some of them) but were not interested in correcting them or doing the project again. I gave them feedback on what their mistakes were, asked them to correct their work and talked to them and got the common responses that it was a lot of work for 2 points. I told them that they should care for autonomous learning and got the replies that they do not have time because this is an optional subject in the professional training. Oops!
Even though only half of the students –around 50- were helped through this project I can say that it was and still is a success!
Carlos Raul Lopez Reatiga
Important: This project was designed to help students take advantage from technology not to teach students how to use technology. OK?
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