April 23, 2020 Let Your Students Do The Talking!

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

Imagine connecting with a second language teacher from around the world to design a speaking activity for your students. This is exactly what, an Internet platform, does: it gives your English Second Language (ESL) students the opportunity to actually speak and do the activity that was developed with that teacher’s ESL students. For example, Francophone students from the Cégep de la Gaspésie et des Îles de la Madeleine could chat in English with students from Indonesia. This stimulating pedagogical approach encourages the use of English language in an authentic context. Other language matches will be possible as well. Thanks to a grant from the Entente Canada-Quebec this platform is being developed and will be available as of Fall 2020.

How does it work?

A CEGEP ESL teacher creates a profile on the Worldchat platform indicating some search criteria – for example, 30 intermediate students. As the teacher hits the “MATCH!” button, several pins appear on the platform’s world map indicating potential collaborations with a teacher who has a similar group across the globe.

Several pins appear on the platform’s world map indicating potential collaborations with a teacher. (Screenshot by the author)

Let’s suppose the CEGEP teacher chooses an ESL teacher from Japan. The two teachers get in touch via the platform to discuss their pedagogical ideas. Afterwards they create their group course on the Worldchat platform and invite their students to create a profile. The teachers discuss their students’ strengths and decide on possible pairings – for example, a shier Quebec student with a less shy Japanese student. The pairing can be done manually, or automatically by the system. Teachers can create their lesson plan together or use lesson plans offered on the site.

Student pairing. (Screencast by the author)

After the students have been informed of their partner’s name, they can make an initial written contact using the Worldchat platform and then have to complete the learning activities organized by their teachers – the goal being oral communication in ESL.

Let your students do the talking

A learning activity on could require students, for example, to have 5 meetings lasting 30 minutes each over a period of 2 months. The virtual meetings take place directly on the Worldchat platform, using the video feature that also records, with their approval, students’ conversations for safety reasons.

Continuing with the example I mentioned before, since most Japanese students do not speak French, and most Quebec students do not speak Japanese, they would have no choice but to communicate in English. Rather than stating their thoughts in their mother tongue when the other does not understand (as can happen in ESL classes where students share the same 1st language) here students have to find a way to make themselves understood in English. This greatly increases their motivation as well as their ESL skills. Furthermore, students have the possibility to access their chat history and watch their video conversations to assess their flow, content, pronunciation, grammar and vocabulary skills. For instance, a teacher could give students a speaking evaluation rubric and ask them to:

  1. watch their video conversations
  2. self-assess their performance
  3. list their strengths and weaknesses
  4. set objectives to improve at the next meeting.

The weekly discussion topics can range from their country including the landscape, festivals, food or wildlife. Also, the discussion questions (prepared by the teachers or selected from the resource page) appear next to the video box so students can keep track of the pedagogical task during their conversation. Should there be technical issues, a live chat on the video page can be used as backchannel communication or simply to type new words and expressions.

The discussion questions appear next to the video box so students can keep track of the pedagogical task during their conversation. (Screenshot by the author)

After each meeting, students can be asked by the teacher to:

  • write a report
  • submit it directly through their course page (where the teacher can give interactive feedback like on Google Docs),
  • verbally summarize in class what they have learned from their partner,
  • collect their impressions and learning outcomes in the form of a portfolio.

It is up to the teacher to decide whether the speaking activities count for marks.

Studies show that this type of teaching encourages students’ intrinsic motivation, resulting in better academic performance and higher levels of personal satisfaction. In addition, the interactive nature of information technology has a motivational influence on the development of student skills. therefore uses information technology to create a virtual community that encourages openness to the world through interactive and stimulating pedagogical activities aimed at improving their mastery of the English language.

The classic model of ESL instruction is to address the four skills separately – reading, writing, listening comprehension, and oral communication. In college, these skills are often worked on and assessed individually, whereas in an authentic context, they are complementary. helps to practice listening comprehension and speaking skills. At the same time, the ability to communicate via email and chat on the platform increases their ability to write as well as read in English.

A trial run

A pilot project was carried out at the Cégep de la Gaspésie et des Îles during the fall 2018 session. In an ESL level 100 (beginner) course, 27 Francophone students were paired with 27 Vietnamese students. The teachers had prepared five activities that took place over a two-month period. The students contacted each other by email to schedule an appointment on Zoom. Then, they had to discuss and report (in the form of a Google Doc journal) on the assigned weekly topics.

The results were exceptional: beyond the new friendships that were forged, the students learned about each other’s culture as well as reflected on their own. An increased interest and mastery of the English language was noted. One student who had to change groups even asked to stay in the group to continue what had been called the “cross-cultural project”.

During the pilot project, a beginner levelVietnamese student wrote a short report about her meeting with a Francophone student from the Cégep de Gaspé. (Screenshot by the author)

The experience at the Cégep de la Gaspésie et des Îles in the fall 2018 semester has had many positive impacts, particularly on teacher motivation as well as student motivation, perseverance and success. But, during the trial, the teachers noted some issues that will be addressed by the Worldchat platform. For example, the students used different email accounts, which made communication difficult at times. In addition, teachers had no way to track student interactions and could not verify when (and if) virtual meetings had actually taken place. On the Worldchat platform, information will be centralized and verifiable. Teachers will be able to perform these much-needed follow-ups and verifications to ensure that instructional activities are conducted effectively to encourage in-depth learning. For example:

  • students will be informed that their video conversations are recorded
  • students will join using a unique access code provided by their teacher
  • it will be possible to report a user
  • access to will be granted to teachers once they have demonstrated that they are from an official educational institution. could therefore become an integral part of the educational activities in the ESL curriculum or in any other language course.

The next step

We are currently networking with teachers from colleges and universities around the world to promote this global pedagogical tool; we invite you to do so as well. I am looking to launch the platform in the fall of 2020 and would appreciate any suggestions you might have.

About the author

Anne-Marie Lafortune

Anne-Marie Lafortune teaches English as a second language at Cégep de la Gaspésie et des îles. She has taught in France, South Korea and Australia. She has also done research on the cognitive approach at Lehman College in New York and is currently working on the impact of distance education and Community of Inquiry. She received the 2018 award from the Canadian Association for Teacher Education for her research in this field. In October 2019, thanks to Cégep International, she went to Finland to exchange on pedagogy with colleagues from the University of Helsinki. She has also obtained a grant for the implementation of an active learning class (CLAAC) at the Cégep de la Gaspésie et des Îles in 2019-2020.

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