Friday, 28 August 2009

ARTICLE REVIEW - Task 2 (10%)



(a) Title : Using Technology to Help ESL/ EFL Students Develop Language Skills

(b) Journal : The Internet TESL Journal, Vol. IX, No. 3, March 2003

(c) Authors' name :

1) Renee Ybarra, C.C. Lambert Elementary (Tustin, California, USA)
Rybarra7 [at]

2) Tim Green, California State University (Fullerton, California, USA)
tgreen [at] or " >">


In essence, the authors of this journal article posit that computers can be used as a constructive tool to help the English language learners (ELL) develop their language skills as well as to supply them with meaningful language experiences. This article enlightens the advantages of utilizing computer-assisted instruction (CAI) with English language learners. Based on the various research findings put forward by the authors, the following benefits are evident in improving vital language skills such as verbal interaction, vocabulary development, reading and writing. Liaw (1997) conducted a study where computer books were used. These computer books are interactive stories which appear on the computer screen as an actual book with text and illustrations. Students may opt from the different alternatives to read the story which include real voices that read aloud, music and sound effects. Readers manage to follow along since the texts are highlighted. Liaw (1997) analyzed the types of speech they used with each other and found out that they engaged in various modes of language functions. Additionally, the quality of the talk was not omitted. Liaw (1997) measured the amount of computer related talk and story related talk. Though initially, there was a lot of computer related talk, however students later become engaged with more story related talk as they become more familiar with the software and format of the stories. Therefore, the study concluded that computers do assist ELL to develop their language functions. Besides that, computers can also be used to facilitate English beginners to develop their vocabulary. Kang & Dennis (1995) conducted a study in Seoul, Korea on 5th grade students. The studies were definitions, picture & context. They were assigned to three groups wherein the 1st group learn English vocabularies with the aid of definition written in Korean (merely rote memorization), the 2nd group was given definitions as well as pictures, and the 3rd group was given a situational context exploiting the English words followed by definion & pictures. Though primarily the 1st and 2nd group scored higher than the 3rd group, subsequently, after a few sessions, in testing their retention, the 3rd group significantly surpassed those of the first two groups. Kang & Dennis (1995) concluded that the "context" group subjects require more time and ultimately, the contextual approach is unmistakably proven to be much more effective in promoting meaningful long-term recall of vocabulary. Apart from that, CAI also increases interaction with texts, attention to individual needs, and increased independence through an ability to read texts they would not otherwise be able to read" (Case & Truscott, 1999). Landerholm, Karr, and Munshi (2000) created a three year program wherein one child in the program read nearly 300 books in one year (Landerholm, et al. 2000). Last but not least, computers can help ELL develop their writing skills where Trenchs (1996) ultimately discovered electronic mail complements the classroom curriculum. The students are self-motivated to use their new language in an unfamiliar but creative way. The major benefit of using e-mail as a language learning activity is students exercise meaningful language learning & authentic text.


In my book, the findings documented in this article do extensively interest me since I am a technology enthusiast myself. In fact, personally, I think it is fairly alright to make use of the technology to facilitate the teaching and learning of ESL in Malaysian context as we could never adjust to the present way of teaching and learning English. Since this journal article has affirmed through various studies that the benefits of using technology to develop learners’ language skills are evident, I think that it is possible to utilize the technology in Malaysian classrooms. The tools will aide teachers in such a way that the teaching and learning process will become much easier and time saving. As stated by the authors, the technology does not only facilitate learners in core academic subjects such as reading and writing but also in improving their vocabulary and verbal language development. Employing technology in the teaching and learning of ESL will make the processes become much more interesting because most students nowadays are bored with books. Therefore, if computer books are utilized, they will become more fascinated to learn English language. Ultimately, I find that this article is well written since the article reveals tremendous results which are important first steps as well as guidelines in ensuring the teaching and learning of ESL in Malaysian contexts become more efficient.

Friday, 7 August 2009

Website Evaluation - Task 2 (10%)


1. What does the application attempt to teach?

This interactive website attempts to teach ESL learners the English grammar and vocabularies without neglecting the four important language skills which are listening & reading, speaking and writing. Besides that, it also attempts to serve the purpose as a fun study site for ESL learners who wish to learn or improve their English proficiency. Apart from that, this website will also be useful to native English speakers who might be interested with the many enjoyable activities provided. It is full of learning activities such as exercises, proverbs, word games, quizzes, puzzles, anagrams, slangs, a random sentence generator and other computer assisted language learning activities.

The website in question also exposes learners with information which covers a whole wide range of topics. For example the differences of basic colours in both American and British spellings, baseball terms, body parts, cooking, geography, sudoku, dinner table items and the list goes on and on. As students carry out the activities, not only will they get to improve their command of English but they will also get to widen their knowledge.

This website does not only benefit the learners but also ESL teachers across the globe. Teachers can employ the interesting activities provided here to be executed in the ESL classrooms or simply recommend the URL to their students so they can preview the website on their own. Hence, teachers will no longer find it difficult in cracking their heads to think of creative activities to give to their students. ESL teachers can always make use of the activities provided as they are or they can alter the activities to suit their students' level of proficiency.

This application is created in such a way that the activities are fascinating enough which will encourage the students to keep on trying. Therefore, it also encourages ESL learners to learn in a non-threatening way. The activities are easy enough to be understood by the students, according to their levels and students will not even realize they are learning the language because the activities created for them are in the forms of games which are fun and stress-free.

2. What sorts of things are the application users expected to do with regards to learning the content?

The users of this application are expected to do the activities in the forms of puzzles and games, listen to a speech as well as read, listen to a song and sing, do some pronunciation exercises, practice writing, and so on and so forth.

The application is accessible to all learners. It is free for all users and it does not demand them to sign up. So learners and teachers do not have to go through the signing up, obtaining password processes which might get on certain users' nerves.

Other than that, this website provides practice to students in the form of flash-based games and flash quizzes. So once students are done practicing, they can test their understanding by clicking on the quizzes' links, and they will be directed to the quiz page. All they have to do is just read the instructions and complete the quiz. Users will get feedbacks there and then. So they get to see their performance because scores are provided. There is no limit to the try-outs so if they aren't satisfied with their performance, they are allowed to try the exercises again.

Apart from that, with regards to learning the content, users are expected to download MP3 files if they wish to learn more. As for teachers, there are scanned pages of text books as well as table of contents prepared for them. Should they run out of ideas since the text books are only distributed in Japan, they can have a look at the rough-scanned pages for reference.

3. What sorts of computer skills are the application users expected to have in order to operate/access/use the application?

Basically, this website was created to be a user-friendly website, thus, there is no need for advanced information or skill in order to use or operate the application in the website. Basically, the user must only have the basic skills of using computer and internet, and other skills too. Here are some of the skills required (besides the basic skills):

i) The user must be able to use the word processing software such as Microsoft Word to manipulate, create, store, and retrieve the written information in the website. This skill is very important as the user must know how to copy the written information in the website, and then transfer it into another form. Besides that, by having and knowing how to use the word processing software, the user might be able to edit it.

ii) The user must be able to use email to communicate, and to share or express ideas with the community in the website.

4. While you are “playing” / “accessing” / “assessing” the application, does it remind you of anything you do in a classroom, or with a teacher, or with a fellow classmate, or in self-study?

Yes it did remind me of the things I did before and during practicum. I used to watch the videos uploaded here (you can also find them uploaded in Youtube) to get some tips on teaching grammar items to my students. This game provides users with lots of crossword puzzles. I used crossword puzzles in my microteaching assignments. I realized that doing crossword puzzles is so much fun. During practicum, I had to create the crossword puzzles myself, and photocopy for each and every one of my students after I have introduced them with the lesson. I loved to use crossword puzzles to enhance their knowledge. And I’m glad that my students loved them. Other than that, the flash games pretty much remind me of the insignificant games I used to play online because they're almost identical. The only difference is that the games here are educational, purposeful and meaningful. The games with the time limits remind me of sudoku puzzles I often play online.

5. Can you pinpoint some theories of language learning and/or teaching underlying the application?

One of the recognized theories underlying this application would be the AUDIOLINGUAL METHOD. This method focuses more on the oral-based technique highlighted by drills and pronunciation practice. For example, in Speaking section, users are required to listen & repeat podcast, daily listen & repeat, and practice American English pronunciation. In addition to that, some of the principles of Audiolingual method underlying this application are structural patterns are taught using repetitive drills and there is also dependence on mimicry.

Apart from that, this application associates the activities or exercises with THE GOUIN’S SERIES METHOD. It is a method which teach users directly (without translation) and conceptually (without explanations or grammatical rules). The exercises as well as explanations (which users depend on only watching the videos) are only explained in English. So non-native users who may find it rather difficult, have to by hook or by crook, master the grammatical items or do the exercises in English language.

Besides that, explanation that was video-ed exclusively in the target language also projects that this application adheres to THE DIRECT METHOD. It is similar to that of Gouin’s Series Method where there is no translation between first and second languages. Also, it has little analysis of grammatical rules. One of the principles in Direct Method which is highlighted in this application is that both speech and listening comprehension were taught. Apart from that is correct pronunciation and grammar were emphasized; for instance where students are asked to listen and repeat each word 2 times to help brush up on their English pronunciation.

The explanation provided for the users also reflects COGNITIVE CODE LEARNING. It emphasized a conscious awareness of rules and their applications to second language learning (Brown, 2001). In order for the first-time users to complete the activities, they need to understand the rule explanations beforehand.

6. How well is the constructivist theory of learning applied to the chosen website(s)?

What is meant by constructivism? The term refers to the idea that a learner actively constructs knowledge and understanding with guidance from the teacher. As users utilize this application, teachers or parents can monitor their progress or guide them whenever possible. Besides that, VYGOTSKY'S ZONE OF PROXIMAL DEVELOPMENT is also utilized. Vygotsky who was once a social constructivist himself argued that children develop logical and rational concepts if they are involved in a dialogue (more of interpersonal skills) with a skilled helper. Thus, in Vygotsky's theory, people and language play key roles in a child's cognitive development. Teachers can help monitor students' progress in carrying out the activities. Teachers could perhaps assign them to work in pairs or in groups of three so that when the tasks are too difficult for the users to master alone, they can seek for assistance either from the teacher or their more-skilled peers.

This closely links to the concept of SCAFFOLDING which means changing the level of support where a more-skilled person (teacher, parents or advanced peers) adjusts the amount of guidance to fit the child's current performance. Scaffolding does not only consist of assistance from teachers, parents or peers but can also be clues, and hints which the users of this application will make full use of in order to finish the activities started. After previewing this website, it is realized most of the activities do not attempt to simply pour information on the users except for the videos which explain the grammar rules and drills. The application provides ample instructions, hints and guidance for students to move on their own. This lets the users to explore and discover the grammar rules themselves in a fun way. It is better since users do not have to be passive learners where the teachers will require them to sit still and they are forced to distinguish and memorize irrelevant as well as relevant information. Using this application, the users are trained to be active learners where they are anticipated to reflect and think critically in order to complete all the puzzles and other interesting activities.

Also, Piaget once emphasized that children learn best when they are active and seek solutions for themselves. He did not reconcile himself to the idea that children should be treated as passive receptacles. The activities provided in this website promote the users to make discoveries and reflect on them. For example vocabulary lists with games and puzzles. Other than that, constructivism promotes active learning which is "LEARNING BY DOING" which the application has attempted to develop. The users who use this application and want to do the activities themselves will consequently result to getting involved with active learning.

7. In 1980s and early 1990s, there was a major debate on ‘whether the computer was “master” of or “slave” to the learning process (Higgins and Johns, 1984). In relation to your evaluation – was the computer a replacement for teachers, or merely an obedient servant to students?

In my book, the computer is neither the master nor the slave to the learning process and definitely not obedient servants to students. Based on my evaluation, I personally think that it is an effective tool to assist teachers and students to teach and learn more effectively. The replacement in question does not necessarily connote replacement in a negative way. The way I see it, computer may be a replacement for teachers but in a positive and helpful way. For example in creating appealing task sheets rather than having the teacher writes the activity on the board which will without doubts bore the students to death. In addition, the computer assists teachers to save so much time (i.e to show pictures, slide shows, videos, etc). Additionally, non-native speaking teachers who aren't proficient in the second language but wish to teach their students effectively will find computers truly useful. For instance, they can watch videos on the computers or use the internet, or computer software, just to name a few.

Computers also can never be obedient servants to the students. To simply put it, computers can only aid students in completing their tasks more effectively. Like I have noted earlier, with computers, not only non-native teachers but students can make use of computers to serve them as a tool in improving their English proficiency.

Additionally, computers are only programmed to serve certain functions. Even though teachers may need them, computers can never function to replace the roles of teachers. And this applies to the students as well. Students can never demand computers to be their obedient servants especially in relying entirely on computers to finish their homework.

8. Would you like to use the application yourself in your future work?

Yes? Give reasons:
No? Give reasons:

Yes. I do believe that new technology really plays important roles in any field, especially in teaching field. Even for the time being, i am using the application for my educational purposes. Last semester, this application has already helped me a lot in preparing interesting lesson plans and activities for my students. This application also, in my opinion, not only can be used for high school students, but for all levels. It can be used for educational purposes at home, e.g in preparing activities for children at home.

En masse, I believe that I will use the application in the future. There are many reasons that encourage me to use the application in the future which are:
i) its user-friendly application
ii) its up to date information and application
iii) interesting and communicative application

9. Suggestions/Recommendations:

To date, this application is very useful for all users around the globe as its contents manage to attend to all groups of learners. I like this application very much and I personally would use it in the years to come to educate my students or my children. Nonetheless, I have some recommendations to put forward. They are as follows:

a) In terms of instruction – I would like to suggest that the program type needs to be more simulation and problem-solving based

b) Surface features – the quality of the screen formatting which includes the color and the title is not that enlightening. I think the website designer needs to take this matter into serious consideration as the colors used for this application are rather dull. It is important in attempt to attract younger users. I recommend that the colors used need to be varied but not so colourful or avoid from using too many loud colors.

c) Content – so far, the contents used are not so consistent with classroom syllabus. Teachers may need to modify before using them in the classrooms.

d) Social characteristics – I like the approach inculcated in this application as it encourages users to compete fairly and positively. I have mentioned before that certain activities require users to finish them within the time limit allocated. So users will be encouraged to compete not only with their peers but themselves. Nonetheless, this application is rather cultural bias. For example in Listening & Reading activity, there are American stories for students to listen to as they read. I would like to recommend that the application designers could provide other cultural stories such as Asian stories. This way, users who range from various cultures will be more interested if their stories are used as well. In addition, users can gain valuable knowledge as they learn.

e) Motivation & instructional style – I like this website because it encourages students to be involved actively with the learning process.

f) Characteristics – this application does not provide students with the support they might need. Subsequently, i would suggest if students get the answer wrong, there should be supportive acclamation such as try again, good, well done, or brilliant, just to name a few. I think the website moderator could have included those supportive feedbacks to motivate students to try again. It also doesn’t have corrective feedbacks. Therefore, I recommend that they should include some corrective responses for instance, “you shouldn’t use this form because it’s in the past, therefore you should use past tense form”.
Other than that, I would also like to suggest that this application will provide its users to have their own profile where they can upload their pictures, videos, etc. Just like the website evaluated by a friend of mine, Syidah where the users could have their own social networking page. I think this is beyond brilliant since users all around the world could share their experiences and thoughts with each other. Not only that, teachers may benefit from this as they can share a lot of information, post teaching aids and lesson plans, tips or methods on teaching, advice, etc.
Furthermore, I propose that the application designers should have more than one means for users to contact them. Besides having e-mail, it is not wrong to have a forum where users could ask anything should they get their wires crossed. By so doing, teachers could also tutor their students online as well as discuss with other teachers around the world on how to improve the teaching and learning of ESL.

For that reason, this website could have been better if all of these matters are taken into account. Be that as it may, I still like this website.