It’s a teaching approach – combined with FlipGrid – that’s lead to profound shifts in my student’s speaking skills, and their confidence in front of a camera. I’ll detail how we did it, key tips and learning moments along the way.
As an English as an Additional Language (EAL) teacher, I’m always looking for innovative ways to help improve my adult students’ pronunciation and self-confidence. Oona Marie Abrams suggested the tool Flipgrid (thanks Oona).
The impact has been marked. In all my years of teaching in the adult sector I’ve not seen anything have the same affect as the teaching approach I employed with Flipgrid.
Flipgrid is a video-based tool. Teachers set up prompts for students to respond to via an app on their digital device (or via a computer with a camera attached). I devised a teaching approach that worked particularly well with my adult students.
It’s important to note that my approach didn’t come together all at once. I adapted changed, and incorporated new aspects along the way across the term. My students were also critical in terms of teaching me many things along the way.
My Flipgrid Teaching Approach
So to start off, I came up with a single question prompt, related to what we were currently studying. This relevance was key. It meant that students were already familiar with key vocabulary and language structures relating to it. They had also been involved in whole class and small group discussions about the topic.
- Key Setting Tip – Within Flipgrid settings, I turned on moderation. This meant that only I saw the videos not the whole class. My students are usually not keen on others seeing them on video so this setting was key to their initial participation. Interestingly, there was a really positive step forward on this front later in the process.
After modelling responses to question, students worked in small groups to write their own short answer
- Key Teaching Tip – I purposely kept the video length short – up to 1.5 minutes maximum. This kept the task within reach of each student.
I then conferenced each student. Together we practised saying their response. With difficult words I broke them down, demonstrating how to pronounce each section. We also worked on fluency, and how to present themselves on camera.
- Key teaching tip – Consider recording yourself (on the student’s device) as you read the student’s answer on their device. That way they can listen to you while they’re rehearsing. This approach really helped a lot of my students.
Students then rehearsed a number of times – including at home. They often told hilarious tales of themselves doing housework and reciting their answer aloud.
Then it was recording time with students working in small groups to assist each other. I moved around the different groups, taking note of how they were approaching the task, and helping where I could.
Key Recording Moments
Many students were unfamiliar with how to take selfies or videos of themselves.
Many students didn’t know how to place themselves within the camera frame, or where the camera lens was actually located – so they were often looking off camera.
Students often taught each other: best places to record (for lighting and low background noise); and best places to position their camera. Often students watched each other and if someone worked out the best stance, angle, or position for filming (so they look good) then they’d copy it.
Students often asked each other how they did specific things in their video, like how to keep the camera steady for filming. Here they’d found a ledge that was just at the right height for their face and shoulders.
Students writing big cue cards then attempting to hide them when they saw me. I laughed and praised them for their ingenuity, using a strategy that would help their performance. And I took a photo to show the rest of the class.
I watch a student helping another with their pronunciation. They say the word over and over again. As a result, the student is much more confident and clear. They obviously benefit from the immediate demonstration and feedback in terms of how to say specific sounds.
Students Review then Submit
After recording their video, students are able to review it and record it again if necessary. Then the video is submitted.
Review and Feedback Time 1
At this stage, students brought their script to me. We sat together and watched their video. I commented on the positives in terms of:
- their level of self-confidence;
- their showing of personality;
- their speaking – in terms of pronunciation, fluency, and intonation;
- their placement on camera (ie. if they could clearly be seen, and not just their chin, or ear as we had on a couple of occasions)
Here I purposely encouraged them to go for it. If I saw any evidence of them trying to be a bit more ‘out there’ personality wise, or using a bit more intonation, I gave them lots of praise (as I wanted to see more of this).
The other crucial aspect was highlighting errors and demonstrating how to improve.
I noted pronunciation errors on their page and signalled the part of the word which they pronounced incorrectly. Often I would break down the word, show them how to say it, and record it on their phone (if they were having a lot of difficulty with it).
I also demonstrated how they could show more self-confidence, and improve camera placement. Here we would rehearse a number of times.
Key Teaching Tips
As my students’ scripts were short, I was able to work with many in a short time. I also gave students independent tasks to complete if they’d finished recording and were waiting to conference with me.
With students often reading word by word and lacking fluency, I gave a demonstration lesson. I guided students through some set texts based on what they’ve written. I demonstrated which words to emphasise, which words run on (like they’re almost one word) and which words they should chunk together.
Later I noticed some students had marked their scripts, copying the strategies I’d demonstrated. What I’ve taught them has been really helpful, they say. And it’s obvious in the improvement in their videos.
Interesting Teaching Moments
One student is incredulous, they can’t believe that they just recorded their video outside and now it’s on my (teacher) computer in the classroom.
Students crowd around my computer to watch each others’ videos. They give feedback, and clap and praise each other. There’s a palpable sense of community in this moment, such tremendous support for each other. They actually get where each other is at and celebrate the steps each has taken.
Students are then encouraged to re-record their video, taking on board the feedback they’ve just received. As their scripts are reasonably short, and the process is always positive and supportive, students are always keen to give it another go.
Review and Feedback Time 2
I’ve been using this teaching approach for more than a term now, and this second stage of the review and feedback period is always pretty exciting. It’s here that I’ve seen tremendous shifts in students’ skills and confidence.
Again they bring their script (with my feedback marked on it) and together we watch their re-recorded video. Here I want to see if they’ve taken on board the suggestions given. I want to see if they’ve endeavoured to improve their pronunciation, fluency and intonation.
MAJOR Student Developments
Hearing marked improvements in pronunciation, fluency and intonation after just one period of feedback. Even when students can’t quite get the pronunciation 100% (given that some sounds were particularly difficult for students to make) there was a significant improvement in intelligibility.
Seeing students who were too scared to look directly at the camera, having brief glances at the camera. Then over time, increasing the amount of time they look at the camera.
Seeing students daring to show more personality, embracing their quirks. This is MAGIC.
One student practises over and over at home. Her recording is near perfect on second attempt. We’re both so excited. It’s her best effort yet. And the smile on her face – MAGIC.
A student is getting more comfy in her own skin. She’s smiling more, a big shift from ever-so-serious mode initially. She’s using more intonation on specific words and NOW she’s waving to the camera and using more gestures (really capturing her personality). I keep encouraging her to show more personality and it’s working. It’s so exciting to see the shifts.
A student sits like a professional news-reader. I can’t believe what I’m seeing. She speaks ever so clearly. There’s a confidence, a presence, an assuredness that is really surprising to me. She beams throughout the whole feedback session.
A student improvises on camera, based on her initial script. She speaks clearly and confidently. Her preparation stage is critical. I ask what she does. First she learns the key words and phrases in her script. Then she practises them over and over again, They’re the foundation for her later improvisation.
Key Things Noticed
Across the term, students enthusiasm for receiving feedback on their videos never wavers. They won’t let me miss them out. It seems they value this one-on-one time and the opportunity to get specific timely feedback that they immediately work on to improve their skills and level of confidence.
A number of students have devised their own systems for recording pronunciation on their scripts, that others pick up on and use. They continue to learn a whole range of strategies from each other that improve their speaking skills and build their presence on camera.
Students seem to rehearse much more beforehand (in class and at home). There are far fewer pronunciation errors in their recordings later in the term. As a consequence, I give more time to fluency. Here students respond well to demonstrations by me and begin to speak less slowly and less word by word.
The Power of Feedback, Support and Community
To see the power of specific, timely and demonstrated feedback that is acted on immediately has substantially impacted my teaching approaches around oral language development.
Our time working with Flipgrid is one of the most joyous, fun times of the week. To see the development in student skills and lifts in confidence is wonderful. I’m often blown away by what I see, particularly since the shifts occur in such short periods of time.
And lastly, the impact on the sense of community in our class has surprised me. When my students gather around my computer to watch each other, we laugh a lot, we clap a lot, and we get really excited at what we’re seeing and hearing.
Students are genuinely happy to see their class-mates improve, to see friends take big steps forward in aspects that have really challenged or scared them. They’re also incredibly supportive of each other throughout the process, often being quite generous in the time they give to help each other. I’m keen to see where we can head to next.
There are many useful teaching resources at Flipgrid which are tailor made for time-poor teachers.