Reflecting Learning: A Classroom Experiment

 I teach conversational English to sophomore college English majors in Dalian, China.  We have been working on a lot of things this year, one of which has been “conversational presentation style”.  It has not been easy.  My students tend to be very formal when assigned a topic.  What I have instructed them to do is prepare an introduction to the main issues of the topic, different perspectives about it, and then their own opinions.  They should also include discussion questions for the class.  But most have only presented chunks of text they found on the Internet about the topic, either through memorizing it or reading.  I finally found a way for them to get talking!  Using a web-based audio-visual program called Yodio, I had my students create and present personal stories from their lives.  What a winner this experiment has been! 

Yodio displays photos with audio you can either record by calling their 1-800 number, or by uploading a file.  Each photo requires a separate audio file.  There are both advantages to this and disadvantages. One major advantage is that it helped my students to create storyboards.  First, they were to write a script of their personal story, then break it in to pieces and plan images to go with those pieces.  After that, they needed to find pictures and record their audio. 

Students recording practice stories with their mobile phones

This was the first time many of them had heard their voices recorded.  It was also the first time they had heard themselves speaking English.  The need to record small chunks of audio helped prevent them from getting to overwhelmed with the “record-delete-record” cycle.  That cycle is also very helpful.  They did their very best to make sure their pronunciation was as good as it could be.  Some forgot to check whether they wrote grammatically correct scripts, but they worked very hard on making the recordings sound good.   One student said he recorded his audio 50 times.  His English benefitted from his efforts.  The main disadvantage to having one audio file for every photo is that the students want one continuous audio line so they don’t have to worry about variations in their recordings.   They also have a more difficult time including music, though some did it with some creative problem solving. 

When the students deliver their Yodios to the class, I ask them to introduce it by answering these questions:

  • What inspired you to tell this story? Why is it important?
  • What technical considerations helped or hindered the project?
  • What did you find most challenging? What was the highlight of the experience for you?

Students listening to their own voices telling stories in English

I also allowed the students who have not yet presented their Yodios to ask questions of the students who had just presented so they could learn from each other.  It turned about that the students learned a great many more things than I expected.  After a whole year of trying to get them to work together, they were seeking each other out to ask for help.  Those with more experience using computers were offering help.  One girl said that she had a great reluctance to do the project because of her fear of the computer.  After the project, and help from her classmates, she found it was much easier than she expected, and though she hasn’t completely overcome her fear, she is much further down the road.  They learned the benefit of planning work through the storyboard.  Many reported that the highlight of the experience was going through the struggle of creating, and then the feeling of accomplishment. 

Here are some of the great examples.  I wish I could post all 90 students’ work here.  Some worked harder than others, but they all put their hearts into their work. 

Rose – tells a story with a moral
Martina – created hand-drawn pictures with Microsoft Paint for her story
Cornelia learns to fly – a charming story from childhood
Felix tells a horror story!
Izzy donates blood
Una goes to Tibet

On a final note, one of the most heart-warming things about these stories is that they show the real China.  These students tell stories from their childhoods, their studies, their failures and their triumphs.  They are utterly human.  Over the past 16 weeks we have discussed the purpose of life, truthfulness, the media, the war on terror, globalization. and other such topics.  One conclusion that they keep coming to is that the earth is one country, that we are all its citizens, and should behave as such.  I am honored to be associated with these students, and hope that you will explore their home from their perspective, through their stories.  I will share your comments with them.

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Digital Stories from students « Amalia on Purpose

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