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EFL and ESL: Using the Smartpen to Enhance the Productivity and Effectiveness of ESL Instruction

On March 1st 2009, Emily Wartinbee submitted an extraordinarily 34 page Capstone Essay about EFL and ESL Classrooms as part of her Teaching & Learning Capstone Projects at the Peabody College at Vanderbilt University.

Her essay is titled “The Value of Technology in the EFL and ESL Classroom: Using the Smartpen to Enhance the Productivity and Effectiveness of ESL Instruction

Here are a few excepts:

A tool like this [the Livescribe Smartpen] provides such benefit in the educational setting, especially for a student learning another language. To begin with, the laborious process of note taking is made easy with the Smartpen. Because the pen can record what a teacher says while the student is writing, there is a recorded audio synchronization to the information that the student has written (Livescribe, 2007). After a student takes notes, he/she can tap on the page and hear exactly what the Technology in the EFL and ESL Classroom instructor was saying at that time during class. This is especially important for ESL students who may need extra repetitions from the instructor, or extra work on proper pronunciation.

The smartpen also acts as a reference tool and language assistant for an ELL. Pronunciation is made easy for a student with the audio to text conversion. A student can tap on a word and hear exactly what it sounds like when said aloud. Because you can record yourself saying a word and have the computer compare what you said to how the word should actually sound, the pen allows for personal pronunciation practice. Unlike many digital voice recordings, the pen does not change pitch when the rate is slowed down and no distortion of pronunciation occurs (Livescribe, 2007). Containing a dictionary, the smartpen can give the translation into another language with a simple tap on the word. Paired with an interactive workbook, students are able to take a handson approach to learning another language; students take part in a number of activities that fall loosely under the categories of matching, multiple choice and fill in the blank (Nunan, 2005).

Please see Appendix 3.1 [shown below] for examples of a worksheet that corresponds with the pen. Instead of having to wait days after handing in a homework assignment to receive any feedback, the smartpen allows for immediate, corrective feedback. A student can hear in the headphones whether or not he/she has made a correct response to a question in the workbook right away. Homework can be scored almost immediately with increased accuracy while saving teachers time to focus on creating meaningful lessons and activities for students.

If you are an ESL or world languages teacher I’d like to encourage you to read Emily’s essay and then comment on it here as both would benefit your colleagues and many, many students.

Later this fall (2009) the Livescribe store will open and one its first offerings will be a 180,000 Spanish-English translator so that you will be able to write words (and hopefully phrases and entire sentences) in one language and have it immediately spoken in the other language and displayed on the Livescribe Smartpen display as text.

I’ll bet there are some forward-thinking world language textbook publishers out there developing next generation tools based on Livescribe technology. Then we owe it to our world’s children to make these tools available to all language learners regardless of their ability to pay for them themselves through schools, libraries, and other equalizers.

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