By Hala Arraby

13 December 2013 - 15:34

Teacher Hala Arraby observed that her students were more interested in learning English when she used technology.
Teacher Hala Arraby observed that her students were more interested in learning English when she used technology. Photo ©

Mat Wright

This week, the UK and Israel agreed to work together on a project to train Israeli teachers. We asked Israeli teacher Hala Arraby, who took part in our Routes to Excellence teacher training programme, how it works and why teachers should develop their digital literacy.

Why should teachers use technology in their classes?

As a young English language teacher, I recognise how important it is to use technology in my classes. My students need to be able to interact in English in a digital world, and they are more likely to be engaged in classes where they use 21st century tools.

I started out with the basics - YouTube and an interactive whiteboard. At first, it was quite tough to integrate technology into the more traditional style of teaching that is common in Israel. It's typical here for classes to be less interactive, with learners answering closed questions and completing worksheets, and most tasks being assessed through summative tests.

To my surprise, my students' reactions to using technology were good - they were more interested in learning English than before. For many of them, English is their second foreign language, and not an easy one either.

Teachers need to learn, too

I was approached by my English inspector and asked if I would be interested in becoming an accredited British Council teacher trainer for the Ministry of Education in Israel. I jumped at the opportunity to learn new techniques and develop professionally.

In July, I took part in a training course on how teachers could use technology better. This course is a part of ‘Routes to Excellence’, a teacher training and development programme run by the British Council and the Ministry of Education in Israel. It emphasises teaching before technology. To make the transition from teacher to teacher trainer, I learned how to motivate teachers and students, make more effective observations, give peer feedback and encourage students to communicate.

The British Council uses the latest English language teaching pedagogy, which encourages students to be actively involved in how they learn. They taught us to focus on group work using  interactive online learning tools such as linoit and tricider to encourage ideas and discussion.

One of the most significant parts of the training was getting feedback on our teaching. We were put into pairs and asked to prepare a mini-lesson, which we then delivered to the wider group. We received feedback on this lesson from the British Council trainers and from our peers. This was challenging, but extremely helpful. Observation does not happen nearly enough, and is vital for developing as a teacher and a teacher trainer.

How to train other teachers to be technologically savvy

The training provided me with confidence to become a teacher trainer, and train teachers who have more experience than I do. Of course, it also improved my own classroom teaching. Teaching other teachers how to use technology is not always easy. Not all participating teachers have computers in their houses, making it difficult for them to access the websites and to learn to use online tools effectively. Many teachers in Israel lack experience in learning technology. This course was particularly helpful as it offered a combination of teaching theory and practice, as opposed to other courses that are more theoretical in nature.

Now I train teachers how to use technology in their English lessons. I teach them how to create and work with wikis, blogs, Voki and VoiceThread, which they can use during lessons. We discuss the importance of digital literacy, cyber wellbeing, evaluating websites, mobile learning, using office software and social networking in the classroom.

The approach encourages teachers to reflect before, during and after a lesson on whether they've achieved what they wanted to, whether learners are engaged and what needs to change. This is something I try to impress upon all of the teachers who take part in my course.

The teachers that I train say that their students really enjoy surfing the web for specific information, posting grammatically correct passages, checking, commenting and collaborating with each other through online audio and writing tools. Technology and teaching are two parts of one body. They complete each other and ensure that students have the best experience when learning English.

The Routes to Excellence programme is now supported by a 'memorandum of understanding' between the UK and Israel, and will reach most English teachers in Israel – including teachers in the Druze, Bedouin and other Arab communities – and more than a million pupils over five years.

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