PENpal Supports Focus on Oral Language Skills

PENpal and the gentle art of ICT
When I was an undergraduate, ICT was in its infancy. Essays were still hand-written, and mobile phones, let alone Smartphones, were a device from the realms of science fiction. Our language lab consisted of headphones and cassettes (anyone else remember those?) and sometimes, slide decks and patchy satellite news channels. By the time I completed my teacher training, ICT was much more accepted, as a concept, but was still taught as a separate module. And by the time I was finishing my Master’s dissertation into how effective ICT was as a language learning tool, for my target language, we had progressed as far as a few CDs and a couple of websites.
Where it’s a question of teaching and learning oracy skills in particular, some of the innovative devices now available can really bring language to life. Using PENpal, or the wireless-enabled Classroom Pen, means that a learner can hear a familiar voice. This can be especially reassuring when acquiring new vocabulary, whether you hear a teacher, family member, friend – or even your own voice.
You, or the student, can read or listen to a text, repeat as often as needed, and record your own voice to check pronunciation. The recordings can provide easy and authentic evidence of progression. It can even make assessments easier – record, and then listen and mark at leisure. The microphone option makes it possible to project your voice to a classroom – ideal for those who are a little shy or have naturally soft voices.
Research has highlighted how important oracy is as a life skill. It’s essential to get your message across, work with others to express and refine ideas, and use vocabulary in an effective and appropriate manner. Talking about what has been learned also helps children discover their particular style of acquiring knowledge – what new words or phrases did they encounter? How are they going to use them in their daily lives? Do they have a new favourite word or phrase, and if so, why? Was the technology easy to use? What did they like about it, and what did they find a challenge?
The PENpal technology can also be used effectively in group work. Students (or teachers) could create posters, photo books, bring their own artwork to life for classroom displays, or expand on concepts in textbooks. Focusing on the curriculum in a holistic way makes it easy to incorporate, support and reinforce other subject areas into language learning. If pupils are learning about how colours work in art, for example, or learning how to grow watercress or other items from seed as they discover where food comes from, or finding out about our solar system, you can focus on those areas too. The possibilities are, literally, endless.

Education Endowment Foundation, Oral language interventions, 24 January 2019, [accessed 15 February 2019]

Williams, Y. (2018), Oracy is a crucial skill – we're in danger of producing a generation unable to speak in public, Times Educational Supplement (online), [accessed 15 February 2019]