“Mind the App!”: Book Review

"Mind the App!"

“Mind the App!”: Book Review

When I first started to experiment with tablets and mobile devices in the language classroom, I initially had to teach myself the various applications and tools available at home before attempting to incorporate it lessons. This was a laborious process of finding one particular application to suit an activity for the lesson, trialling it prior to the lesson, planning the stages with this application, featuring this application during the lesson and then reflecting on its suitability for next time. Obviously, many of the applications that were recommended were from colleagues at work or other educators on social networking sites. What was lacking was a book which I could refer to that recommended useful and suitable websites or other tablet or mobile applications that could be used for possible lessons. In some aspects, it is a job in itself attempting to stop students – and some teachers – using smartphones in class, especially when the teacher is attempting to engage their learners and they have the head buried in the lap and their eyes fixed on a screen in front of them. However, there is one book which may help teachers seek an alternative with their learners.

One publication available from the Resourceful Teacher Series, by Helbling Languages, “Mind the App!” (2012), written by Thomas Strasser, attempts to cater for teachers keen to use applications in lessons. This book contains 5 Chapters with 39 different lesson ideas with corresponding applications. The 5 Chapters attempt to offer the reader five different aspects of teaching depending upon the focus of the application:

  • Chapter 1: Teacher Tools;
  • Chapter 2: Visualisation;
  • Chapter 3: Collaboration with 9 suggested lesson ideas;
  • Chapter 4: Audio with 4 suggested lesson ideas; as well as
  • Chapter 5: Writing with 7 suggested lesson ideas.

Prior to the 5 chapters, there is a brief introduction that offers teachers some background reading on the use of technology and how it has developed over the years. Thomas looks at the development of the internet and also makes an argument suggesting teachers should use Web 2.0 in the classroom. The term, Web 2.0, now refers to the current nature of the internet, with users sharing and interacting via different platforms such as Wikis, Social Networking or Blogs to name just a few. He proposes that Web 2.0 supports learners as it is interactive, creative, etc. and also develops the students’ digital literacy. Concerns related to the use of technology and the internet are also highlighted – these include privacy, plagiarism, as well as copyright issues. In the final part of the introduction, some general areas of advice which include a recommendation of using the same username for every application to avoid confusion, equipment that could be used for some of the lesson ideas later on in the book, or having the technical expertise required by students and teachers.

The First Chapter

Teacher Tools”, has 6 suggested activities which could be used for possible lessons. Some of the activities included in this chapter assist in the creation of an online quiz, the sharing of presentation files that students could download, the creation of a class/teacher YouTube channel as well as the making of vocabulary games which could be exploited in class or outside of class to name just a few. Each activity throughout this book has suggested lesson stages to consider and the guide helps readers get to grips with some of the more technical issues to consider.

Chapter 2

Visualisation”, contains 13 suggested websites to stimulate lessons with more visually appealing activities. One of the first websites recommended is Wordle, which is a popular website that could be used to create word clouds in support of vocabulary or reading activities. As with most lesson activities in this book, Thomas recommends similar applications which could be used to achieve a similar result. For example, with Wordle, Thomas suggests two other websites that could be used to create word clouds which could then be used in a similar way in class to achieve the desired results. Another application that the author recommends, within the second chapter, is the use of Prezi as a presentation tool for teachers or students.

The Following Chapter

Collaboration”, is related to the fostering of group work and student relationships within the classroom with nine different applications. Some of the collaborative tools support the teacher in creating a digital ‘mind map’ – rather than a ‘chalk-and-board’ approach to brainstorming with learners – developing an electronic voting tool to analyse learner opinion as part of a discussion topic, or students working together to complete a writing task in real time using the same application. The activities are very well laid out in the book with the author supporting teachers who have limited experience using the recommended applications.

Chapter 4

which revolves around the topic of “Audio”, recommends four online applications to assist in the development of spoken language with students. There are a few ideas within this chapter, yet the subject of getting students to speak could have been exploited a bit more with additional activities. Nevertheless, some of the applications recommended included the use of Voki, which essentially is a speech production website and smart device app, but is aimed for learners who are more self-conscious and unwilling to vocalise their English. Another wonderful idea is creating a school radio and getting students to work towards a broadcast which could then be replayed by learners, parents or friends online with access to the unique link.

The Final Chapter

Attempts to give the reader seven online application ideas related to skill of “Writing”. This is my favourite chapter as it really encourages both teachers and students to use some of the applications as they are incredibly engaging. Some of the online application tools include the creation of an online classroom/school book, the creation of a personal learning diary, and making a cartoon or storyboard with accompanied text. It is a wonderful last chapter in this invaluable resource book. Readers will be enthused to incorporate some of the suggested online tools and applications within future lessons.

The final few pages in the Appendix include some additional websites to consider should the reader decide to learn more about online resources for the EFL classroom. There is also a quick reference guide to all the lesson ideas from the book, the applications which are recommended and the corresponding page number. It is an ingenious and inspiring book filled with some recommended applications that could be used in a range of wonderful lessons, focusing on particular skills and systems inside or outside of the language classroom. It is a very useful book for teachers who wish to incorporate more engaging lessons with technology and applications but need the support to do so. The book is also supplemented with online resources available from the publisher’s website dedicated for this publication.

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