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Since his students began using Quizlet, English teacher Tristan Thorne
has noticed an improvement in their ability to learn – and use – new
Quizlet is a learning app - a computer program you use on your mobile
It can help users build and test their knowledge of English words and
terms. Quizlet has word sets for millions of subjects. And, it is
quickly becoming a useful mobile tool for language learners.
Thorne teaches at Columbia University in New York City.
Thanks to learning apps, Jeff Strack, another English teacher, has also
noted improvement in his students' ability to remember information.
Strack teaches at Hostos Community College, also in New York. He and
Thorne are part of a growing number of language educators adding mobile
apps to their classes.
Smartphones make smart students
Strack and Thorne seem to agree that the days
when teachers would not permit the use of mobile devices are gone.
"…because smart phones are so common and because students want to use
them and also because there are so many great apps and technology out
there that can address language-learning objectives – I think those are
all really good reasons for why instructors should at least attempt to
use some apps."
When they use apps, language learners interact with language differently
than in a traditional classroom. Users act on or respond to something,
instead of just listening to new information.
Thorne believes that apps can help learners become more actively
involved in learning. For example, each week, his students are required
to add vocabulary words into Quizlet for others to use.
He says some apps also make it easy for students to identify their
language strengths and weaknesses.
The biggest improvement Strack has seen in his students is their rate of
participation. They are much more active in whole-class or small-group
discussions, he notes.
"Apps…involve all students in the activity," he says, "whether it's a
presentation, game, quiz or practice activity."
Something for everyone
Many learning apps are designed for students of all ages and levels.
Some are designed for group activities. Others support independent
learning. Still others are ideal for homework.
Thorne says he especially likes Quizlet and three other apps: QR Codes,
Socrative and Evernote.
A QR Code is a kind of sign that a smartphone can read with its camera.
When the phone recognizes the information, it takes the user to a
website, image, video, or anything else you want to share.
Thorne says QR Codes can help bring real-world materials into the
classroom. For example, color printing can be costly, but QR Codes
enable students to see color images or infographics, he notes.
"…If we create a QR code of something like an infographic or an image
that was used in this morning's NPR article, students can scan the QR
Code and instantly bring that infographic to their phones and explore
and click around."
Evernote lets users store and share notes, images and recordings in one
Teachers can also use Evernote to give homework. Thorne often asks his
students to record their reaction to something from class. Then, he
listens to their recordings and adds his response.
He says the best reason to use Evernote is that it helps students to
identify their language strengths and weaknesses.
"Which, you know, is one of the first things instructors need to do is
to…find ways to get students to notice the errors or the particular
language challenges they have."
Thorne says Quizlet is a powerful tool because of the many ways it can
improve a student’s vocabulary. The app uses flashcards, spelling
quizzes and other methods to build and test learners’ vocabulary skills.
And, learners can use Quizlet on their own.
"…the usual or traditional method of vocabulary studying is to….write it
down in a notebook and review for five or ten minutes a day just looking
at it. But, you're not actually engaging with the form and the meaning
and the use of the vocabulary."
In Socrative, teachers can create timed learning games. Then in class,
students compete individually or as part of a team against classmates.
One game Thorne's students love is called Space Race. In this game, if a
team answers a question correctly, their rocket moves forward. The team
whose rocket gets to the end first wins.
Also, teachers can use Socrative as an “exit ticket,” a question they
can ask students about what they learned in that day's class. Students
write their answers on their mobile devices. Then, the teacher can show
the answers on a shared video screen.
Technology with a purpose
Thorne says that, when teachers do use apps, it should always support
"What it boils down to is: are we using technology for a real purpose?
And is it something that we could not use it? Are we using technology
just to use technology or is there an underlying reason behind it?"
Experienced teachers know what works in the classroom and how technology
might support the learning goals and class environment, he says.