When I first went to school, the dominant teaching aid was blackboard and chalk. That is almost half a century ago. Back then, the statement “The best teaching aid is a piece of chalk” is likely to cause bafflement to teachers. “What else?” would be their common response. Today, however, teaching aids abound. From a simple letter set painstakingly cut out by a devoted teacher, through electronic projection equipment, DVD sound systems, televisions and computers, to the latest interactive whiteboard, they introduce a wealth of variety and differing impact to today’s classroom. Any discussion of this statement will therefore be remiss if I do not introduce and examine some available alternatives and their benefits and limitations. Such examination should include factors such as versatility, ease of usage, impact on students (grabbing their attention), teaching material preparation time and effort and, of course, financial cost.
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Let us begin with the ubiquitous chalk and blackboard (including its modern equivalent, the marker and whiteboard). This is a truly unique development from the days of Socrates, who resorted to writing his thoughts and ideas on sand with a stick when discussing issues with his disciples. It is a versatile low cost tool that can be used to all language components and skills, from writing strokes of each letter (cursive or print) to grammatical structure. It also encourages teacher spontaneity. Amongst the blackboard’s ardent supporters is one teacher who wrote:
Basically, anyone wishing to learn how to converse is much better off being with a group of other people than they are sitting in front of a computer. Also, it is not clear that use of a computer is going to help anyone learn how to write (as opposed to type) which really does come in handy sometimes. And lots of board provides lots of reasons to get up and move a bit.
(Lindstromberg, Mar 2002)
Sadly, like all tools, it is only as good as its user. A teacher who can write beautifully, draw decent pictures, and keep his sentences horizontal on the blackboard could conceivably not require additional teaching aids to conduct his classes. Unfortunately, not every teacher can write or draw well. I know for certain that my handwriting (described by a former boss as “chicken scrawl”), if printed carefully, is at best barely legible. The pictures I can draw are also unlikely to elicit the kind of attention from my students that an actual object (or photograph of said object) can. Even the best of drawings cannot compete with an actual object which can be seen, touched, heard, smelt and occasionally, tasted. Let us now look at some complementary, alternative or substitute teaching aids by examining various teaching situations/methods. 1.
Teaching vocabulary, word recognition and sentence building Flashcards and word cards are tools that can be used for this. Very low in cost and easy to make, they add an element of mystery when used correctly, allowing students to think and guess in the few seconds before it is revealed. Magazine pictures and realia makes new words we teach come to life. Students are very often able to relate these to real life situations very quickly, thus shortening the learning process. Also, bringing in realia can liven up a class and imbed the word taught in the students’ minds. As an example, which student can ever forget the word “durian” if one was brought into class when teaching this word? 2. Reinforcing the lesson
Here, Songs & Rhymes and Games & Puzzles come in handy. Songs could be conducted with or without the aid of a DVD player, depending on the familiarity of students with the song chosen. They give students much fun and enjoyment while getting intensive practice on many aspects of language. They are also more likely to remember these language aspects better. Games and puzzles serve a similar purpose – making learning and remembering what students learn enjoyable. Many types of games are available and they can reinforce learning elements ranging from vocabulary (adjectives, verbs and nouns) through listening, speaking and writing skills. 3. Supplementing/substituting the blackboard
Primarily visual aids, these include the overhead projector (OHP), slide projector (almost going the way of the Dodo), and the latest computer projection equipment. A quick check on the internet shows that these can cost anywhere between USD100 and USD2000, not including the screen. Exorbitant cost aside, the OHP and computer projection equipment can, technically, replace the blackboard. OHP sheets can be prepared in advance or blank, to be written on during the lesson. This is the closest to the blackboard. The advantage is that the teacher is facing the class when doing so and is thus better placed to gauge the class’ attention level and behavior. The disadvantages are that it requires a power cord, generates a fair amount of heat, and often requires some training to use effectively and efficiently. It can also breakdown.
The computer projection system requires that all materials be prepared in advance prior the lesson. These can then be presented a bit at a time in accordance to the pace of the lesson. The clearest advantage is that the projected material is type-written and can be set at a font size most suitable for the classroom in use. It can also be used to do slide presentation using Power Point or similar software. A further advantage is that material on the internet can be easily downloaded and adapted for classroom use. However, unpredicted changes in lesson plans are not accommodated and the teacher will have to revert to the good old chalk and blackboard. It is also not suitable for teaching handwriting. Learning to use the computer projection system is even harder than learning to use the OHP. 4. Listening and Reading Skills
The traditional method of introducing students to other English speakers (native or otherwise) is by inviting a speaker. This is often limited in scope and frequency, and especially difficult in small towns. The logistics involved are also relatively heavy. The radio, DVD recording system and television are tools that can enhance listening skills with much less work required. The range of speakers is also greatly increased. Cost of such equipment is certainly higher, but, in my view, the price differential is well worth it. This is especially so if a low to mid price set of equipment is purchased. Students can be recorded reading a text and given the DVD for home review on their own or for review with the teacher in private. This is to avoid the student feeling humiliated in front of his or her classmates. Presenters (be they news broadcasters, political leaders or even the neighborhood grocer), can be recorded and played for students to listen to and augment their listening skills.
This capability is certainly beyond that of the simple chalk and blackboard. I will therefore conclude that while the chalk and blackboard remains the backbone of the language classroom, it alone is no longer enough. Today’s world moves at an increasingly faster pace. As teachers, we must keep pace with such development so that what we teach our students are as close to what they may (or already have) experience (d) in the real world as possible. In fact, chalk and blackboard aside, computers have been programmed to take over some part of a language teacher’s work with some success.
To be able to do this, as Oxford et al. 1998 suggest, teachers should learn ways in which technology can help them improve their language instruction, be able to deal with technology effectively, develop competence in teaching students how to use technology and learn with cognitive styles are better with which kind of class activities and with which technology application. (Rocchetti, Marta Albani, 2000-2001)
Seriously, with so much to learn for the forward-looking and technically savvy teacher, the chalk and blackboard issue does, in my mind, pale in comparison. Bibliography:
Magglestone, Patricia, Planning and Using the Blackboard, G. Allen & Unwin, 1980
Jones, J.R.H., Using the Overhead Projector (Practical Language Teaching), Heinemann (1982-12)
Wright, Andrew, Visual Materials for the Language Teacher, Addison-Wesley Longman Ltd, June 1, 1975
Yadav, Deepak, “Modern Teaching Aids”, IndiaStudyChannel.com, http://www.indiastudychannel.com/resources/146402-Modern-Teaching-Aids-An-Innovative-teaching.aspx, last updated 4 Nov 2011, assessed on 28 Apr 2014
Lee, W.R. & Coppen, Helen, Simple Audio-Visual Aids to Foreign-Language Teaching, Oxford University Press, Inc., New Jersey, 1964
Rocchetti, Marta Albani, “Thesis on Computers in the English Language Classroom”, Università degli Studi di Bergamo, 2000-01, Tensionline,
Lindstromberg, Seth, “Chalkboards vs. computers in the language classroom”, HLT Magazine, Year 4, Issue 2, Mar 02, http://hltmag.co.uk/mar02/lind.htm
Dr. Shekkeris, Nick, Using computers in the English Language classroom, Pefkios Georgiades Primary School, http://www.pi.ac.cy/imeridaTPE2012/files/parousiaseis/EnglishLanguage_imeridaTPE_3mar12.pdf