March 1, 2010

My ‘Tell Me More’ Experience

This text was initially published by Profweb under a CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 International licence, before Eductive was launched.

I’m a French Second Language teacher at John Abbott College. We’ve been using Tell Me More for about three years now.Tell Me More is a commercial Internet site for language instruction designed in Europe which is very popular in American universities and has a quite impressive repertory of communicative activities, grammar exercises, pronunciation exercises, etc. The teachers choose which exercises to send to students, and Tell Me More sends back a detailed report on what the student has and hasn’t done.

When we decided to adopt Tell Me More at John Abbott College, job one was to convince colleagues to use it. The human brain craves routine, and changing paper drills for electronic ones was not as simple as it seemed. Luckily, a few brave souls had the courage to dive in and discovered that the water was great! Tell Me More wasn’t all that complex to use. Furthermore, using Tell Me More was not an obligation, and at the start only 3 or 4 teachers opted in. Now, nearly all the teachers in the department have come on board.

The boys who hate writing find themselves in front of a computer screen, can forget they’re in class and see themselves gaming at a video console.

Personally, what counts is the reaction of my students. The biggest surprise turned out to be the lackluster boys in the less advanced levels. You know the type, the ones who won’t do their homework no matter what it is, how much you assign or how important the material is. The boys who hate writing find themselves in front of a computer screen, can forget they’re in class and see themselves gaming at a video console. These students who are so afraid of the teacher’s reaction, even if they pretend otherwise, can make errors that no one else will find out about. They do the exercises over and over until they get them right. Someone told me that it’s not just because they can be done over. For me, if a student expends the effort to redo an exercise repetitively and reads the feedback, I’m happy! In my class, I require 10 hours of homework on Tell Me More during the semester. The great majority of students do it with no complaints whereas they didn’t do a quarter as much when the work was on paper.

Tell Me More website

There’s a lot of discussion about how boys are out-of-place in today’s classroom and that they need more solutions that target their needs as well as more physical exercises and more concrete examples. I think that modern technology is beginning to meet these needs. If a screen can help them, why not! The girls aren’t left behind either. The majority of them also like Tell Me More.

We’ve done surveys to find out if our students are satisfied. The results were overwhelming. I could present a lot of statistics, but I’ll give two examples of what happens in class that tell it all! When I work with Tell Me More in class, I need to announce that the class will be finishing soon. I have had to literally push students out of the lab because they hadn’t realized that so much time had passed and didn’t want to stop. A student, who came to my office before the semester began, asked if a course used Tell Me More because if not, they weren’t going to register for it and wait another semester. In short, word of mouth is positive!

Of course, Tell Me More is not the ultimate solution. It doesn’t replace teachers; it helps them. There is always the computer-phobic student and the one who gets someone else to do their work. Sometimes there are also minor technical problems which ruin your day. I am certain, however, that when Alexander Graham Bell’s first telephone didn’t have impeccable sound quality and people complained that the sound was horrendous, he didn’t give up; he just made it better!

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