Sharing learning resources with students is a great way to utilize technology in language teaching. Like a lot of teachers, I compile resources that I find that I think will be suitable for my students to utilize as they try to challenge themselves outside of the classroom. And I’ve organized my resources into a kind of mind map that enables me to locate the kind of resource I might recommend to a particular student or a particular class. Now I wasn’t always so generous, and certainly not always so organized in the ways that I recommended resources to students. In fact, I was probably very conservative about protecting resources rather than sharing them early on in my career.
I’d like to share with you a story of how my perspective on this began to shift. I was teaching in Japan, very early in my career there. I remember that in one class at Athenée Français a very prestigious language school that I taught at in the first part of my career, there was one student – he was a bit older than the rest. sitting in the front – named Mr. Imamura. He was very attentive and did his best to participate throughout the class. And one day, very early on in the semester, he came up to me after class, and says, chousen shitai (挑戦したい). I want to challenge myself. At first, I didn’t understand. I thought maybe the class wasn’t challenging enough, or that my teaching style wasn’t appropriate for him. But as we talked further, I realized that he wanted to do something else, outside of class, to further his learning. So he asked if he could borrow the cassette tape we were using in class that day. And so during lunch break I went to the language lab and, utilizing the technology of the day, made a copy of the cassette and gave it to him. And I thought that would be the end of it.
But the next class he comes back with a very neatly handwritten paper and hands it to me, and says, “Please correct this.” What he had done was transcribe, to the best of his ability, the content of the tape, which was a lengthy conversation. And at the same time, he presented me with a go board – igo (囲碁) in Japanese. And being new to Japan, I was very curious about most things Japanese, and I asked him, “Do you play? Can you teach me?” And he says, “Oh, I only play a little.” And later I found out that he was a grandmaster of go and even went on to become the first Japanese international master, international champion of the go tournament.
So I’m sharing this story with you to show a couple of things. One is that in our teaching it is good to find ways to challenge individual students. And I think to do this we want to address three questions: the Why, the What, and the How. The Why is really the central question: why are we giving students recommendations for outside resources, why are we giving them recommendations to use other technologies to supplement their learning. The closer we can get to the students’ motivation, understanding their own reasons for wanting to challenge themselves outside the classroom, the better equipped we are to recommend exactly the right resources. We also want to be, as teaching professionals, sure that the activities they are engaging in outside the classroom tie into the classroom, and indeed have solid underpinnings that are going to help them to learn. The next question is of course: the What? That seems to be the easiest question because of the plethora of resources that are available online, that we simply need to point students to any of these resources. But the What refers to simply choosing the one best initial resource to focus the students on, to allow them to find accessible learning opportunities outside the classroom. So even though I, for example, have assembled something like 360 different resources , I only try to choose one or two or three to present to students at one time to select the ones that are most accessible to them. And the third question, very important, is the How? The How refers to the way that we transform the resource or the contact or the stimulus into a learning experience. That usually involves setting up some kind of task, some kind of activity, that has a tangible outcome, preferably even a collaborative outcome with other students. In this way, there’s something observable that the teacher can look at, give feedback on, and convert into a valid form of assessment.