Access Your Memory First!

This morning I was listening to my favourite podcast – The Whitehorse Inn – as the hosts talked about a book released last year called “The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains” by Nicholas Carr. It sparked my thinking a bit as I can relate to the general premise of the discussion – our attention span and ability to concentrate on doing one thing at a time is changing; diminishing. They also cited the article written by Carr in 2008 called “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” and I particularly picked up on the mention of memorisation and the idea that with Google and smartphones with us constantly, why bother memorising anything?

This discussion has caused me to reflect on my own students’ learning and especially my desire to have more technology in the classroom which is sometimes overshadowed by the fear that, sometime in the future, with so much technology, we won’t need to actually learn another language. I am finding this to some extent in my classes which have access to technology: the students are constantly lured by the ease of Google translate, not just for looking up words, but as a massive crutch when doing any kind of classwork. I don’t mind them looking up the odd word here and there and in fact, the ability to have the words spoken is a really useful tool in learning the pronunciation. What is more worrying is the students who sit with the computer open and constantly turn to Google before even having thought about what the translation is. They are accessing Google translate before accessing their own memories!

Moving on from this fear, I want to outline what my ideal classroom would look like with a pedagogy that works, coupled with the technology that I love (despite my fears). I am becoming more and more convinced of the success of the Flipped classroom model meshed with the MYP philosophy of Inquiry-based learning. It’s always been a struggle in teaching a foreign language to move away from the “sage on the stage” and become the “meddler in the middle” (thanks Erica McWilliam for those great descriptions). With the extremely practical Flipped classroom and the more conceptual Inquiry learning, I think there are exciting times for learning ahead in my classroom and indeed the teaching of languages in general. I plan to go into specifics in future blog posts, as I actually implement these practices more and more in my teaching.