Category Archives: Teaching approaches

Supporting Teachers New to the ELT Profession – #AusELT Twitter chat, 4th March 2018

Our next #AusELT Twitter chat is scheduled for this Sunday 4 March 2018 at 20:30 AEDT. You can view what the time is in your location here.

Blindfolded teacher with one hand behind back image

A new teacher can feel like they’re starting out blindfolded with one hand tied behind their back.

The focus of the chat will be on supporting teachers that are new to the ELT profession and we are looking forward to hearing your stories whether you are new to the industry or not. We would like to extend a welcome to all new and experienced teachers and hope that this will be an opportunity to get a few tips together that novice teachers can follow.

We will structure that chat around the following questions:

  • What has helped you as a new teacher?
  • How can new teachers support each other?
  • How can experienced teachers support new teachers?
  • How can new teachers grow in their careers?

We look forward to engaging with you on Sunday.

3 teachers with a #loveteaching sign

Share your love of teaching!

New to #AusELT? New to Twitter?

If you’re not sure what to do, get in touch with any of the #AusELT admin team on Facebook or Twitter (eg @heimuoshutaiwan ) or by leaving a comment below.

Here are some posts that should also help you get started:

[Photos taken from by @CliveSir & Daniela Krajnakova, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial license,

This post created by @heimuoshutaiwan & @cioccas

Using phonics in the adult learning context (#AusELT Twitter chat summary)

The last #AusELT Twitter chat of 2015 was on the topic of using phonics in the adult learning context.

With apologies for the long delay, you can now read the summary of what we discussed and pick up some great resources. Enjoy!

This post by @sophiakhan4

Getting away from grammar – Upcoming Twitter chat Thurs 4th June

Our next Twitter chat will take place on Thursday 4th June 2015 at 6.30pm Perth time [click here to check the time elsewhere in the world] and will be on the topic of ‘Getting away from grammar’. We are privileged to have this chat guest-moderated by Daniel Midgley, Lecturer in ESL and Applied Linguistics at Edith Cowan University, WA, and known to many of you through the Talk the Talk Podcast.  Daniel has put together this blog post for your pre-chat reading and has posed a few questions for us to discuss on Thursday. Enjoy!

grammar-389907_1280Getting away from grammar

Guest post by Daniel Midgley

English language teaching is notable for its variety. There are so many ways to go!

  • Our teaching can take a lexical bent, where the focus is on words and phrases
  • We can focus on the situations our students will find themselves in,
  • We can use a functional approach by working on the kinds of speech acts our students need to perform, like requests, introductions, compliments, and so on
  • Or we can work on the skills of language — reading, writing, listening, and speaking — along with the strategies that helps students acquire these skills.

And yet, despite this variety, we always seem to come back to the same thing… grammar.

Grammar is important — it helps us say things we haven’t heard yet — but sometimes it seems that as teachers we revert to a grammatical approach as some kind of default. We like teaching grammar because it makes us feel like real teachers, especially if we’re new. Our students like it because they feel like they’re getting what they should. And employers like it because grammar is what teachers are “supposed” to teach. Open an ESL textbook, and there it is — grammar. Sometimes it seems like a bit of a stuck record.

And teaching grammar might not even be the best approach. It’s so unlike the way we learn a first language. When we’re young, we learn from hearing words, phrases, and sentences in context. We repeat them over and over, we try out new things, and no one minds if we walk around talking rubbish. But when we get older, teachers say essentially, “Here, let me show you how to perform morphological and syntactic manipulations in a way that’s as unlike learning your first language as possible.” Then we wonder why learning a language is so difficult.

I noted this article with some interest. It’s hyperpolyglot Tim Doner, talking about his experience learning languages.

I began my language education at age thirteen. I became interested in the Middle East and started studying Hebrew on my own. For reasons I still don’t quite understand, I was soon hooked on the Israeli funk group Hadag Nachash, and would listen to the same album every single morning. At the end of a month, I had memorized about twenty of their songs by heart — even though I had no clue what they meant. But once I learned the translations it was almost as if I had downloaded a dictionary into my head; I now knew several hundred Hebrew words and phrases — and I’d never had to open a textbook.

I decided to experiment. I spent hours walking around my New York City neighborhood, visiting Israeli cafés to eavesdrop on people’s conversations. Sometimes, I would even get up the courage to introduce myself, rearranging all of the song lyrics in my head into new, awkward and occasionally correct sentences. As it turned out, I was on to something.

Notice how, rather than studying grammar, his approach seems to focus on input, input, and more input. Words and phrases come first, and then his brain does the work of inducing the grammar in the background.

Of course, this is one person’s anecdotal experience, but is there anything here we can use? Or is this just a guy with an unusual aptitude for language acquisition?

Here are some discussion questions, just for starters:

  • Have you managed to get away from grammar in your teaching? Do you teach in a way that puts something else in the foreground? If so, what else is taking the place of prominence?
  • What’s your language learning experience? Was the grammar instruction you received helpful, or was there something else that worked better?
  • Is it necessary to have a grammar focus in mind, and to design tasks with that in mind? Or can we play it as we go, explaining the things that come up naturally?
  • What’s the difference between the way you teach (or learn) and the way you’d like to?
  • What, if anything, can we take away from Tim Doner’s experience?
  • What research are you aware of on this topic?
  • Or can the grammatical approach be defended? Change my view!

Thanks for reading, and I’m looking forward to discussing these issues with you as part of our #AusELT Twitter chat!

Daniel Midgley teaches applied linguistics and language acquisition at Edith Cowan University and the University of Western Australia. He started teaching EAL/D back in the days when it was ESL. He is also a presenter for Talk the Talk on RTRFM 92.1 in Perth (

#AusELT chat summary: Using L1 in the classroom (6/3/14)

Embed from Getty Images
#98957410 /
The March #AusELT chat was about using L1 in the classroom and was skillfully moderated by @forstersensei and @SophiaKhan4.

Currently, there is much emphasis on the communicative learning and task-based approaches to language teaching, which both encourage students to communicate in English the majority of the time. These approaches saw a big move away from the grammar translation method of the 1960s, which some of us, at some point, might have been subjected to in school. However, more recently there has been a shift, or at least discussion, on the use of translation in our communicative classrooms and how it might be useful. This is not a regression towards grammar translation but rather a question of using students’ L1 at certain points in the lesson to aid communication and learning.

This is also a hot topic among English language teachers. Some believe that allowing students to use their L1 in the classroom in certain learning situations, such as translating difficult concepts or arranging and organising activities, can improve the flow of a lesson and increase students’ confidence in using English. On the other hand, some teachers are totally against any language apart from English being used in the classroom. The biggest reason for this is that they are faced with multilingual classes, and while translating and preparing activities in their L1 may work for some of the students, others will be left out if they are the sole speaker of their L1 in the class.

During this #AusELT chat, there were lots of suggestions for how teachers can use students’ L1 to aid learning but also some cautions about making sure that L1 use is appropriate and monitored closely by the teacher. The question of English Only policies in English language schools was brought up and there was serious opposition to the idea of teachers having to monitor and enforce these kinds of policies, as well as reasons why allowing students to use their L1 outside the classroom could be seen as a positive thing.

L1 in the classroom

The chat started with @forstersensei’s question: Is it ok for sts to use L1 in the classroom in an Australasian context? Why/why not?

There were mixed responses to this, with @Penultimate_K saying that ‘it’s unreasonable to expect them to exclude their L1 if they use it to access learning’, although the point was made by some that using L1 to help with learning doesn’t work as well when the class is mostly multilingual.

@SophiaKhan4 thought that in multilingual classes, the ‘use of L1 can make sts with other mother tongues feel excluded’. Controlling student use of L1 in the classroom was thought to be difficult for teachers and some suggestions for helping with this were mixing nationalities on tables in multilingual classes (@Penultimate_K), and @forstersensei has used a demonstration to multilingual classes of ‘how uncomfortable it is for others when L1 is used’ by teaching part of a lesson totally in L1.

English Only Policies

The conundrum of whether or not to allow students to use their L1 in class contrasted to the overwhelming consensus about the controversial issue of ‘English Only’ policies in schools when the next question was raised: How do we feel about insisting on an “English only” policy in class/at school? Responses were very much against forcing students to speak English outside of the classroom:

I am very much against it – especially when they are in the school but not in class.’ and ‘Don’t get me started: fines, red cards, other humiliations like singing in front of the class’ (@Penultimate_K)

‘Don’t feel right doing this with adults. In my class it can be my decision but at school??’ (@SophiaKhan4)

‘And break time could be when ss talk about what they’ve learned in L1?’ (@thesmylers)

After some more discussion of whether or not teachers should ‘police’ English Only policies in their schools, the chat moved on to the usefulness of L1 in the classroom. Most teachers seemed happy for students to use L1 in class in certain situations. For example, @cioccas said that she is ‘happy for Ss to use L1 in class if it helps them with something that they can’t quite grasp with my explanation in Eng’, and @SophiaKhan4 thought ‘we need a better, deeper discussion of the issue with sts’ and that we need to ‘talk to Ss about when and how L1 is of benefit in L2 acquisition #evidence-based #respectful’. @cioccas took this a step further by relating the responses she got from her students when she asked them about using their L1 during lessons

Tips for L1 use in class

The next question for discussion was: Assuming we can somehow abolish “English only” on school premises – any practical ideas for encouraging (not policing) L1 in class? Participants responded with lots of useful tips:

‘in multilingual class I get Ss 2 teach each other 5 things in L1. Then the explain what they are saying in Eng. FUN’ (@forstersensei)

If S uses L1 to get help with something from another S, I often ask them to then try to explain in English, so I can clarify’ (@cioccas)

‘Supply lexical items to SS who are having difficulty understanding’ (@Penultimate_K)

‘I believe @breathyvowel is fond of having SS do pairwork in L1 the first time before shifting to English’ (@michaelegriffin)

‘Having Ss explain to you what they are talking about when you hear L1 makes them explain in L2…they feel like teachers’ (@forstersensei)

Recommended reading and useful sites – explores English as an international language, and how and why it has become so dominant – ‘A groundbreaking reconsideration of translation in English language teaching, this book is a survey and critical assessment of arguments for and against translation in different teaching contexts.’ (from Book Description)– Scott Thornbury’s experience of teaching using translation – for a blogger’s question about whether they should change to an English Only classroom with lots of good ideas in the comments – interesting article on a teacher’s experience with getting his students to assess his L2 (Korean) with the idea of encouraging students to give each other feedback on their L2 (English) in class – #KELTChat summary on using L1 in the classroom – #ELTChat summary on translation with lots of positive ideas for using L1 in the classroom – article on some research conducted on using L1 in the classroom – one teacher’s reflection on L1 use in the classroom – blog post about reasons for changing from no L1 in class to judicious use of L1 – a TED talk on how we should be more accepting of the native languages of our students – uses Google Translate to translate individual words in the subtitles of movies and TV shows

This summary by @thesmylers 

IATEFL wrap-up by James Pengelley

Thanks to #AusELT member James Pengelley, who presented at IATEFL 2014 in Harrogate, for this guest post.


Healthy debate at IATEFL?

Sitting in the lower rows of the auditorium at Harrogate’s conference centre on a windy English Saturday afternoon, there was a distinct sense of survival that filled the air. With many delegates already on their journeys home, the few of us that had stayed to see the closing plenary session took a moment to acknowledge the intensity, the constant stimulation and the sense of achievement that comes from the onslaught of IATEFL week: that final hour, a final moment of collective stillness, being caressed by Scottish poet and novelist Jackie Kay’s rolling poetic words.

It was then that I realised, from all the information and ideas to have been exchanged, shared and cascaded throughout the TEFL world, my final memory of Harrogate 2014 would be Jackie’s image of an African man trying sincerely to wrap his head around the semantic, physical and mechanical implications of lesbianism. Oh…oh…oh…oh…oh…oh…oh….she recounts.

But then, as I have come to appreciate very quickly, that’s just how things roll at IATEFL.

The hardest part of the IATEFL experience, as my group of conferencees decided during our week together, is always going to coming back to the real world. Answering those questions.

How was IATEFL?

Did you go to some good talks?

Will you give us a debrief, or run an INSET?


So then, in all seriousness, what did I take away from the week? It’s hard to clarify all of that into one post. 500 speakers tend to have an indescribable amount of information to summarise (can you imagine walking into a room of 500 teachers and trainers and asking them collectively…Well, what do YOU think about teaching?). But as hindsight dawns on me, and the world of Twitter still to reach its IATEFL afterglow, these would be my take-home themes from IATEFL Harrogate 2014.

1. We need to demand high…of ourselves

To be perfectly honest, I have not jumped onboard the Scrivener/Underhill Demand High institution. But I did bear witness to a number of call-to-arms in the likes of Russell Mayne’s talk on pseudoscience, Steve Brown’s discussion on ‘preflection’, Cecilia Lemos’ adaptation of formally assessed observation programmes in Brazil and Alastair Douglas’ presentation on “One CELTA for all?”

The underlying current that tied these together was a need to truly question why we do what we do. Russell’s point being that unsubstantiated educational concepts (namely NLP and multiple intelligences) have formed a significant part of teacher education despite a total lack of objective data to validate such a prominence. Cecilia, Steven and Alastair each called on their own observations and experience to call into question elements of formal observations and CELTA assessment criteria and left me with a real concern: Do we need to spend more time looking at and investigating our profession empirically? If so, this would require us, as a collective, not just to question but to explore and quantify some of the concepts and ideas we take for granted – effectiveness and use of core features of “communicative” teaching such as concept checking questions (“ls this person talking about the past, present or future?”), instruction checking questions (“Are you going to write or speak to your partner first?”), or criteria-based observation assessment are some that come to my mind immediately. To say that I will be watching this thread eagerly at next year’s conference is a gross understatement.

 2. The Future of teaching

No discussion of IATEFL Harrogate would be complete without an acknowledgement of the chaos that followed Sugata Mitra’s plenary session: a landscape that continues to simmer online, on Twitter and the blogosphere nearly one week on.

Until Saturday morning, I was non-committal on the potential of platforms like Twitter have in a professional setting. And then, as a physicist-cum-educator took the stage at an international language teaching conference at the precise moment I was trying to locate any willing Australian citizen amongst the audience to witness a postal ballot for a federal Senate vote, a realisation dawned on me. The reality of being connected has total transformed the way people are present at large gatherings: the social interaction side of these events has been entirely slipstreamed into an existence of total, continuous and viral discussion.

Nonetheless, as the Twittersphere played its part in upholding the democratic process, the following was unfolding at the same time in response to Mitra’s plenary:


Screen shot 2014-04-12 at 8.27.36 PM

Screen shot 2014-04-12 at 8.19.46 PMScreen shot 2014-04-11 at 11.44.55 PM

Now how often, in any industry, do you get to witness an event that draws such accusatory motions from people generally regarded as leaders and role models? Indeed Hugh Dellar would, only 20 minutes later, walk onto the same stage and label Mitra’s talk “a neo-liberal, wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing-capitalist-takeover of the state system”. Them be fightin’ words.

I mean, in which industries other than politics and, evidently, teaching?

I feel it should be stated, and stated very clearly that heated and impassioned debate is a very healthy sign. Let me also state, that as I understand Mitra’s work, there is no suggestion that teachers ever be replaced (as many people may have understood), but rather, that SOLE – Self-Organised Learning Environments – in which students are given almost total permission, space and internet access to explore answers to questions that they set themselves – might increase access to a greater number of students in geographically, physically and culturally remote/distanced areas. The entire principle is based upon the notion that it will be most effective for those who are in greatest need.

There is a serious implication of this model when applied to mainstream schooling in developed countries, and the idea that perhaps we have been making assumptions for a long time that might not be correct is evidently upsetting for a lot of teachers. Fair enough. Remember, though that Mitra never claims this to be the solution, but one possible solution for a very serious problem.

But here’s the clincher. If we are to take away one message from this year’s IATEFL, what we need, as Hugh Dellar mentioned only minutes after going on the attack, is more reliance on knowledge, and less reliance on discussions of methodology (if anyone was at my talk on “Rethinking CLT” you’ll have heard the criticisms many people had of typical “communicative” methodologies and their assumptions). And that means evidence. We all have a responsibility to our profession to both listen to and demand high of each other, but until we have, or produce our own empirical evidence to substantiate our impassioned beliefs, surely there is something to be said for being supportive, and engaged and open-minded, as we would be on any other day in the classroom.

blogpicJames Pengelley is a teacher and teacher trainer with the British Council in Hong Kong, having previously worked as a senior teacher in Bogota. He was the recipient of the IH John Haycraft Scholarship for Classroom Investigation at this year’s IATEFL conference.


Twitter: @hairychef

‘Hype, hope, and what are we actually meant to do with it all???’ Attitudes to edtech.  Part 2 of the #AusELT chat summary ‘The mouse that roared? Issues with edtech in ELT’ (6 Feb, 2014)

Photo: Victoria Boobyer @eltpics

Photo: Victoria Boobyer @eltpics

This is the second in a series on 4 blog posts summarising the many issues that were raised in the recent #AusELT chat with Scott Thornbury on the subject of edtech in ELT. The title quote is a comment made by @eslkazzyb during the beginning of the discussion. References or links have been included as far as possible but let us know if we need to make corrections or additions.


@Eslkazzyb gave us a neat summary of the different attitudes towards the use of edtech in our #AusELT community. The ‘hype’ is the technoevangelism – the idea that you have to use tech in ELT because it is ‘better’ and that means, whether you like it or not, you should embrace it and incorporate its use in your lesson planning. This is definitely an idea that has frustrated and annoyed a lot of teachers.

Then there’s the ‘hope’. Edtech has its supporters too – some are approaching it cautiously, beginning to see benefits where before they saw none, gradually coming around to the idea that there might be some scope for the inclusion of tech in the language learning classroom.

Others (the technovores!) are the early-adopters. Not necessarily technoevangelists, they are the daily users, those who have fully integrated edtech into their daily teaching, manage to get the right blend for their blended learning and appreciate the advantages that it brings, while acknowledging that there can sometimes be a downside. These people already have an idea of ‘what we are actually meant to do with it all’.


There is a push to use edtech but it isn’t necessarily coming from educators. There were suggestions that blended learning is driven by publishers and corporate training/e-learning (@ElkySmith), by sales and marketing (@tamzenarmer, @Penultimate_K), and that there is a perception that this is something that the learners want – students are meant to be motivated by tech so we’ll sell them tech!


@thornburyscott stated that ‘we need to be suspicious of technology when it is being co-opted by multinationals to commodify education for profit, as in the US.’ This need for suspicion extends to directives that we ‘must use tech’ or ‘tech improves teaching/learning’ with @harrisonmike making the point that we should show the quote below to anyone who tells us this is so:


@Penultimate_K mentioned that it seems that often the choices we are meant to be making when it involves tech have been curated for us and there are ‘so many lists of what we’re meant to do/need.’ You don’t need to look very far to find ‘The Top 10 Apps to Use in Class’ or ‘7 Effective Ways to Teach Language with iPads’ and, of course, this leads to a ‘race for money’ (@trylingual) by the developers of those apps and the makers of those iPads, and along the way the need for those tech tools to be pedagogically sound is lost.

@thornburyscott supported this idea as tech being the driver rather than the tool with this 2003 quote from Diane Laurillard:

“Technological innovation is driven by many factors, but not one of them concerns a pedagogical imperative.”

And the results of the hype? Confusion and frustration. The decision to use edtech or not, to believe in its advantages or not, can divide teachers (@Eslkazzyb). Both @ChristineMulla and @roboloughlin mentioned the sense of demoralisation that teachers experience when you don’t live up to the expectations to use tech. In some cases, teachers can even be penalised for not including tech with @harrisonmike commenting that Ofsted (the UK Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills) will not grade a teacher as ‘outstanding’ if tech is not used. This also brings us back to the problem of where the expectations are coming from: from accrediting bodies such as Ofsted, from students, from managers, or from sales? If you don’t make the effort to use tech, then who exactly are you disappointing? @thornburyscott commented that ‘teachers are often blamed for not instituting tech, but maybe they don’t see the need?’ and too often this blame is coming from technoevangelists who ‘lose sight of the learners and the learning’ (@ElkySmith) and who may not even be teachers.

The pressure to use tech can often be seen in institutions with blended learning courses, where teachers feel an obligation to use, for example, the Interactive Whiteboard, just because it is there or just because content has been developed for it. This can result in reduced teaching quality when the focus becomes ‘having to use the IWB’ rather than the learning objectives. There can also be avoidance, ‘When we got IWBs, teachers wanted to use them just for effect. Many just avoided them and used the WB’ (@MerMac) and use that has no real pedagogical benefit, ‘often only use IWB to display IWB notebooks of Word documents – and to project the Internet.’


‘It is easy to feel that the edtech tide is going out and you’re getting stranded’ (@ElkySmith) but there is hope for those who are feeling somewhat left behind. @trylingual asked ‘Can teachers change this? Are we responsible?’ and the answers seem to be ‘yes’ and ‘yes’.

If we take @ElkySmith’s view and consider technology ‘equal alongside all [the] other methodological technologies’ then it becomes a slightly less daunting prospect. It isn’t ‘a silver bullet’ (@Shaunwilden) but another tool to add to a teacher’s repertoire. The fact is that rarely do teachers use edtech wholesale.

While the plethora of edtech (the tools, the apps, the sites, the techniques) can be daunting, the majority of teachers are working to get past this and see the potential. It’s the difference between not writing off IWBs because you’ve been pushed into using them but also not writing off IWBs because you don’t know how to use them effectively (@SophiaKhan4 and @thesmylers).

And let’s not forget the students in all this. @thesmylers asked about what the students expect and @Eslkazzyb commented that she hadn’t seen the demand for the use of edtech that she had anticipated, which made her wonder about how much impact its use has on engagement and motivation. If this demand has been exaggerated, then the onus is off teachers to provide tech-centred lessons all day every day, and return to a pedagogically-focused class with tech as just one tool among many at the teacher’s disposal.


@mattellman pointed out that yes, there might be hype and hope, but there is no actual evidence of disappointment and that learners have a lot more access to English now via edtech. Technofundamentalism is not restricted to the sphere of ELT – it ‘pervades all sectors of society’ (@english_safari) and there are many who feel there are benefits to be gained from it while maintaining a balanced perspective.

The teachers who feel the most hope seem to be those who have been able to harness the tech as a tool rather than a driver and who perceive the use of tech in ELT as augmented learning rather than blended learning (@Innov8rEduc8r & @forstersensei)

Augmented learning can be implemented either by teachers or tech developers or a combination of the two. The teachers will look for pedagogically sound applications (@ElkySmith) and the developers will create ‘tech specifically designed for ed rather than tech which could be used for ed’ (@Penultimate_K) or as @forstersensei put it, ‘don’t sell tech, sell education and let tech be incorporated.’

@lukeealexander pointed out the liberating effect of using free tools (‘if you know where to look’) and also commented that he perceived tech ‘as a site of contestation rather than (a) monolithic force for neoliberalism.’ Tech can be time-saving or let you expedite the exposition stage, freeing teachers up to engage more with students. Tech can bring breadth to your lesson content.

@innov8torEduc8tor summed up the balanced approach best with this idea:




Coffield, F. & Edward, S. (2009). Rolling out ‘good’, ‘best’, and ‘excellent’ practice. What next? Perfect practice? British Educational Research Journal, 35 (3), June, pp. 371-390. Retrieved from

Laurillard, D. (2002). Rethinking University Teaching: A Conversational Framework for the Effective Use of Learning Technologies (2nd ed). London: Routledge/Falmer.

McCann, U. (2008). Universal McCann Social Media Tracker Wave 3. Universal McCann, New York. Retrieved from

Postman, N. (1993).Of Luddites, Learning, and Life. Technos Quarterly, 2(4). Retrieved from


This summary by @Penultimate_K

“What is the problem to which this technology is the solution?” Part 1 of the #AusELT chat summary: ‘The mouse that roared? Issues with edtech in ELT’ (6 Feb, 2014)

Question Mark Key on Computer KeyboardThis is the first in a series on 4 blog posts summarising the many issues that were raised in the recent #AusELT chat with Scott Thornbury on the subject of edtech in ELT. The title quote is drawn from Neil Postman. References or links have been included as far as possible but let us know if we need to make corrections or additions.


Scott (‪@thornburyscott) started by outlining his position based on his recent #AusELT blog post:

‘The framing of digital technology as a generally “good thing” has become an orthodoxy within education thinking’ (Selwyn, 2011). Yet history of edtech has been one of endless cycles of ‘hype, hope and disappointment’ (Selwyn, 2011, p. 59). Witness: radio, TV, films, microcomputers, language labs, IWBs. Now mobiles, tablets, one laptop per child.

Techno-fundamentalism: an uncritical faith in the inevitable benefits of technology. Does it pervade ELT? I argue that it does. Typically it takes the form ‘101 things you can do with Blogster/Wordle, etc.’ Is this the way to make pedagogically sound choices?

Better to ask ‘What is the problem for which this tool/aid/app is the solution?’ (after Neil Postman)

So what problems have you encountered for which some technology has provided a solution? Specifically:  1 input, 2 output 3 interaction 4 feedback 5 motivation and (possibly) 6 data. How does technology solve these?

This summary looks at what the chat participants had to say on those 6 areas (NB: some of the areas have been collapsed together, not because they don’t deserve individual attention, but because the issues are related and ran together in the chat).


No one would disagree with ‪@lukeealexander that “tech provides sts in TEFL contexts far more authentic material/input than 10-15 years ago.”

Participants were also quick to point out that “tech allows more universal access to corpora, from Google all the way to Corpus of Contemporary American Eng for example” (@ElkySmith) and that “explaining vocab, particularly abstract ideas, is much easier via images online.” (@forstersensei)

‪@thornburyscott stirred the pot again, suggesting that while digital media may offer massive input, it is at a low level of engagement:

“The Web is a technology of forgetfulness” (Nicholas Carr)

@sophiakhan4 agreed and suggested that it also often offers a low level of language development: “Lots of beginner and elem stuff – tapers off noticeably above intermediate level.”


I thought people might have a bit more to say about the extent to which edtech really helped their learners produce meaningful language in meaningful contexts, but it was a fast moving chat and it seemed to fall by the wayside somewhat – although some of the issues return in the section on FEEDBACK (below).

Several participants were positive about the the role tech can play in promoting interaction:

  • “Found tech wonderful for real-world communication tasks – real-meaningful-purposeful tasks” (@Innov8rEduc8r)
  • “interaction . . . learning beyond the classroom is a big plus. Apps, social media (when used properly) & online tools” (@forstersensei)
  • “Have just set up a wall for an exam class to link and add to. Faster comm from me to them, them to each other (I hope) . . . I find it great to allow SS to come together and solve problems. Fosters autonomy and builds a team.” (‪@ChristineMulla)
  • “I love to use pages and walls for exam classes – they use them to share photos, ideas and chat using target language.” (@PeloKaren)

@MeredithMacAul1 agreed with this, having experimented with Moodle forums to get students adding comments on a topic, but she added that it was “difficult to get everyone to participate.”  @Eslkazzyb agreed and commented that students “really have to see value very explicitly to participate.”

@trylingual took a neutral position: “Tech has brought the real world into my classroom. But it does not solve everything and often creates more issues.”


Participants were quick to pick up the connection between output, interaction and feedback. Arguably, in terms of language learning, output and interaction always requires feedback of some kind, whether that comes from the teacher, the software, a friend, or some other source.

  • “Feedback is the big Q for me. St seem to like using authentic tools, e.g Facebook, but less interested in feedback loop . . .” (‪@Eslkazzyb)
  • “Computers aren’t ready to respond to real output. Still need people” (@SophiaKhan4)
  • “Feedback is an issue for tech with a closed design. i.e. Only one correct answer.” (‪@trylingual)

‪@thornburyscott, as ever, had a quote to hand:

“Conclusion: CALL products ‘are not yet able to offer an alternative to human support or interaction’ (Nielson 2011).”

However, chatters were keen not to throw the baby out with the bathwater:

  • “Agreed.. but they can assist. Socrative is a great example of a tool that can be programmed w/ feedback.” (@forstersensei)
  • “How [else] to collect audio samples from all Ss in one short lesson so you can give individual feedback, individually? (@cioccas)
  • “Tech can b used 2 facilitate feedback between sts eg mobile phones to record and send speaking task, other st gives fb” (@lukeealexander)

‪@thornburyscott agreed that recording students output seemed to be at least one positive use of mobile phones for example, though @GwendaAtkinson queried the wisdom of winding up with 100 recordings to grade at home. @cioccas, however, thought that “recordings used like taking home papers to check” was a good idea and noted that we can provide audio feedback instead of written.

‪@thornburyscott was also quick to jump on the fact that tech doesn’t correct writing, “nor give-at-the-point-of-need feedback on meaning.” @ElkySmith proposed that this was just a matter of time, though @cioccas was less optimistic: “I’ve seen tech that tries & if that’s the future I’m worried.” @forstersensei felt that edtech could still assist, nonetheless, and suggested trying Kaizena for providing oral feedback on writing (according to  @trylingual there is a plug-in for Google Docs that does the same).

@IH_Barcelona also suggested that if the problem is getting feedback from learners, then Google forms is a “brilliant, easy, useful” solution.


I’m not sure motivation and engagement are the same thing but for the purposes of this Twitter chat, they were certainly closely intertwined.

Tech is engaging – but where’s the evidence?

@Shaunwilden started off with: “I’m not sure if it is a problem per se but [tech] definitely helps engage sts.” @Innov8rEduc8r agreed: “Engagement was sky high with tech for my sts. And desire to improve pronunciation, grammar was also high.”

@thornburyscott wasn’t willing to take this as evidence: “If technology engages learners, where is the proof? Questionnaires (Do you like using mobiles in class?) are unreliable . . . Better to assess motivation by degree of attention, time-on-task. Evidence is not good . . . I’d just love to see some evidence that students are more engaged.”

There were many responses:

  • “My proof would be watching lessons before and after” (@Shaunwilden)

Where’s the evidence that ANY tool is engaging?

@TomTesol set the cat among the pigeons by drawing an analogy with textbooks: “Where’s the proof that textbooks engage learners?“

‪@thornburyscott was quick to respond: “Textbooks don’t engage learners either. Other learners do. And teachers.”

@Eslkazzyb thought the analogy was very valid: “The skill is in the T using the book and tech to suit their learners’ needs & interests.” ‪@SophiaKhan4 agreed that whether textbook or tech, “life has to come off the page/screen. They can help but not alone.”

As a final word on this topic,  @forstersensei implied that the combination of textbook and tech might be the best of both worlds: “digital textbooks can be much more engaging than photocopies . . . add interactive content” – however, the jury was definitely out on the whole area of this kind of blended learning tool (more on this in Part 2!)

Whether tech is engaging or not depends on . . .?

Returning to the problem of motivation/engagement, participants were clearly divided on whether they saw tech as essential or not.

Admitted technophile@Innov8rEduc8r was all in favour: “Engagement was never really an issue if I designed projects that catered to their interests and needs . . . My students were more engaged – more attuned to their English skills – and where they needed to improve – and had a sense of agency.”

On the other hand, admitted Luddite @Eslkazzyb wrote: “Interestingly I don’t see as much drive from Sts as expected. They seem to prefer solid lessons with or w/o tech . . . Tech did not necessarily add to levels of engagement for my classes . . . Seems some of the most simple ‘low tech’ ideas are often most effective.” ‪@Penultimate_K agreed, putting it in a nutshell: “I’ve never had a student come to me & complain that they don’t use enough edtech.”

@Innov8rEduc8r wrote: “Wonder if our approach is affected by our own engagements with tech. Me: I love tech” and @tamzenarmer thought there was definitely truth in this: “The teachers in my institution who love tech most can get Ss to engage.”  @PeloKaren summed it up: “It’s like any topic/idea: if the teacher is engaged in it the students will be more engaged – but it has to be balanced.”

Is there evidence that tech is NOT engaging?

‪@thornburyscott then widened the scope of the discussion by equating motivation to attention and arguing that the internet as a whole may be contributing to reduced attentiveness: “Motivation = attention. But Internet fosters ‘continuous partial attention’ and reading online is typically ‘shallow.’”

@trylingual didn’t take this as read, asking: “Can we install better habits? Have these phenomena been verified to be present in all st populations?”

‪@thornburyscott  referred to a study that tracked more than 100 very motivated students using online self-study software. The study found that only 5 of those students completed the course. This rang bells for several chat participants. @cioccas said: “I’m not surprised given most self-study courses I’ve seen. Still need humans for real support, FB, etc.” and @SophiaKhan4 felt that it was “easy to enroll [on an online course]/buy a package. But w/o real-life feedback [it] is meaningless in long term . . . much easier  to enroll & feel like that is an achievement than do the work & finish.”

However, the quality of the self-study package that the study evaluated was questioned, with @IH_Barcelona asking “Was the fault with the course design or the technology itself? . . . Was the online experience primarily a technological one? Or a social one? Social way more likely to ‘work.’” @forstersensei asked: “Was there a concrete outcome in the course? ie. a degree? If not, why do it?” and he also added “Tech can’t be the sole medium . . . better as a support.”

And there you have it. If you have some more ideas in response to Scott’s 6 questions, please let us know in the comments. Part 2 looks at attitudes to edtech in more detail, including ‘technofundamentalism’ and how teachers really feel about the implementation of blended learning programs.


Postman, N. 1993. Of Luddites, Learning, and Life. Technos Quarterly, 2(4). Retrieved from

Selwyn, N. 2011. Education and Technology: Key Issues and Debates. London: Continuum.

This summary by @SophiaKhan4