Using Clickers in Language Instruction – An Example from Spanish

In spite of including experiences from not one, but two language instructors in my book, I still haven’t found any studies exploring the use of clickers in language classrooms for my bibliography.  And, if you check out the column to the right of this post, you’ll see the various disciplines I’ve covered here, and language instruction is not well represented.  (This very post will be only the second in that category.)  Since I’m pretty sure clickers have incredible potential in language instruction, you can imagine how glad I was to see a recent blog post about clickers in a Spanish class at Georgetown University!

The post is a report from Ellen Johnson, a PhD student in applied linguistics, who teaches and coordinates Spanish courses at Georgetown.  After hearing about clickers at a workshop hosted by Georgetown’s Center for New Designs in Learning and Scholarship (CNDLS), Johnson experimented with clickers in her language classroom.  Not only did she experiment with clickers, she collected some data useful in helping her judge their effectiveness.  Here’s what she did:

In a nutshell, 58 students enrolled in Beginning Spanish courses participated in the study on ser and estar. They were introduced to their uses in context, practiced answering questions using clickers with around 20 slides while viewing their performance in relation to their peers, and then completed posttests and reflection questionnaires.

Johnson also had colleagues observe the classes, and the feedback from both students and instructors about the use of clickers was very positive.  The students were particularly enthusiastic about getting immediate feedback on their learning, and Johnson’s fellow instructors thought the clickers had potential for helping them target their feedback to their students “in a more coherent manner.”

Students raised a couple of concerns in their feedback, however.  They thought that the clicker questions made it difficult for them to take notes during class.  Making clicker questions available to students after class is something I’ve mentioned here before, and there’s a little evidence that doing so is, in fact, very important since it allows students to review clicker questions later.  Knowing that clicker questions will be available online after class also frees students from having to take as many notes during class, which is likely to help them spend more time actually thinking during class.

Johnson’s students also noted that clicker questions don’t allow students to practice their speaking skills in a language class.  That’s a good point, but given the experiences of the language instructors I interviewed for my book, it would seem that clicker questions work very well for listening, reading, and writing skill development.

The main concerns raised by language instructors in Johnson’s study were logistical ones.  They worried that the technology would be difficult to start using or might fail during class.  I don’t know what system they use at Georgetown, but I know there are easy-to-use and reliable systems out there.  Also, Georgetown doesn’t seem to have a full-scale clicker implementation, one where students could be expected to purchase clickers at their bookstore, as is the case at many US colleges and universities.  That creates a logistical barrier, as well, since clickers would have to be distributed and collected each class session.

Thanks to Ellen Johnson for sharing her experiences with clickers.  I would be interested to hear more uses of clickers in language courses.  What kinds of questions and activities work well with clickers in those settings?  And why do you think that clickers aren’t more widely used in language instruction?

(I should also note that Ellen Johnson’s post appeared on a group blog from a group of instructors at Georgetown exploring the use of clickers this spring.  Take a look at previous blog posts for more interesting discussion of teaching with clickers.  This “community of practice” is another example of the value of fostering discussions about teaching and learning across the disciplines.)

Image: “Pink AC Bienvenidos” by Flickr user lopolis / Creative Commons licensed

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *