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Pushing the Edge

Using Seesaw in the Adult English Language Learner Classroom

Screen shot of Seesaw features with Pushing The Edge logo

Seesaw offers so many possibilities in the English Language Learner classroom. Here I describe a Photography project that built students speaking, reading and writing skills.

This year I have been trialling Seesaw in three adult English Language Learner classrooms.

My Certificate 3 class had a mix of skill levels. The other two classes were preliminary classes, one with students at the very early stages of learning English, and the other with students at a slightly higher level. 

In a THREE PART SERIES, I will briefly detail how we used Seesaw, along with our key likes and learnings.

PART 1: Seesaw as a Language Experience Tool 

In our preliminary English Language class – Liz Meyers and I sought to build students’ speaking, writing, and photography skills via a language experience project. 

Each week, we introduced a theme (such as colours, everyday objects, and shapes) using visuals. We taught associated vocabulary and simple sentence structures. We then encouraged students to take photographs connected to the theme. For example, different coloured objects around our campus. 

We supported students where necessary as they took photos, helping them frame what they wanted to photo, and assisting them with keeping their device stable and steady. Students then returned to the classroom with a series of photographs.

They chose their favourite photo which they uploaded to Seesaw. Next, we elicited a simple sentence about the photo (using the sentence structure we’d pre-taught) which they wrote. We then video recorded the student (in Seesaw) pointing to the words (on the page) as they read the sentence. These photos and recording were then shared and discussed as a class – via the timeline in Seesaw.

Key Learnings

Use a Small Teaching Group Approach

We had one teaching group (focused on using Seesaw) while the other students worked on independent tasks. 

This small teaching group approach enabled us to work one-on-one with students and to tailor our support and feedback to each. It was instrumental to us understanding where each student was at, teaching at their point of need, and seeing significant improvements in their skills. 

We also learnt early on that students needed to have a task to complete when they came back in to class. Otherwise they could be waiting a while for us to get to them.

Ensure Time to Act on Feedback

Once we gave feedback to students, we ensured that they had time to act on that feedback straight away. In our project, this meant identifying key pronunciation errors (that impeded understanding), modelling correct pronunciation and then asking them to re-record their sentence again. 

This feedback based approach lead to significant improvements in our students’ pronunciation and intonation, just as it did when I trialled it with Flipgrid with my Certificate 3 class.

Ensure There’s an Audience and Purpose

Regardless of the project, it’s important to ask ‘what can we create or make’? and ‘who can we create or make it for?’

For us, our photography project was geared towards an end of term exhibition, where students would display their best photos and talk in simple sentences about such with another teacher. This real world purpose gave students incentive for participating in the project, and working to improve their skills. It made our class work more meaningful and important.

Teach a Process

During the first two weeks of the project, we came up with a simple teaching process. We then repeated this process each week whilst changing the topic. That way, students knew what was going to happen (process-wise) in each teaching session.

With students just beginning to learn English, this simple routine contributed to them feeling more comfortable (in class) and more willing to participate.  For future though, I would create a visual poster illustrating the step by step learning process that I (the teacher) and the students could refer to. Seesaw itself has a number of useful teaching posters that could be used or adapted for such.

It’s also important that students gain familiarity with the steps in the tech process. As you teach, keep referring to the process – ask them, ‘what do we do first’, next etc? Again, having photos labelled showing the step by step process would be helpful for reference. Then once students are thoroughly familiar with the process consider varying it, or adding more elements to it.

Teach Camera Basics

Don’t assume that students know how to take photos well or how to hold a tablet – just because they have a whole swathe of photos on their devices. Observe what they do when they’re taking photos, and teach from there.

Be Okay When the Tech Goes Awry

As a long time user of tech in the classroom, I know it rarely goes according to plan. Apps don’t work properly, the wifi network goes down, the Android version of an app is different to an Apple one, you get the picture.

And since we’re often not thinking clearly when the tech starts going awry, it’s important to invest in pre-planning. This involves imagining some worst case tech scenarios and devising what you’ll do in response. 

And remember, it doesn’t mean you’re an incompetent teacher if the tech bombs, or does something different to what you expected, or you hit up against the limits of your know-how.

Take a breath, and endeavour to problem-solve in the moment. If you can’t figure out what to do, make some notes, take some screenshots, then google the hell out of it later.  It’s likely there’ll be lots of other people who faced the problems you’ve just experienced.

Teaching With Seesaw

  • READ PART 2 of my Teaching With Seesaw series

Digital Literacy Resources

Digital literacy is a key teaching passion of mine. Check out the posts I’ve written below.

Digital Storytelling

Speaking and Presentation Skills

  • Flipgrid is another tech tool that I’ve used to improve my students’ presentation and speaking skills. It’s had a tremendous impact and in this blog-post, I detail my teaching process, and my key learnings. 

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