Within the frame of the research project ARK&APP (2013–2015) two quantitative surveys and 12 qualitative case studies are conducted. The present case study is the third of three case studies in English, and the ninth of 12 case studies in total. Three research questions have guided the study:
- How are educational resources used in teaching practices?
- How do educational resources foster engagement and learning among students?
- What role do various educational resources play in interactions between students and their teacher?
The study here presented was conducted in spring 2015 in a Norwegian primary school. Our researchers observed one teacher and two separate groups of 33 5th grade students in all of their English lessons (EFL/ESL) for three consecutive weeks. In the observed teaching, the students worked with developing their oral language skills. The students participated in a variety of tasks and activities designed to help them learn 10 words the teacher had preselected. More specifically, they practiced vocabulary linked to the topic “spare time”, and used this vocabulary in relevant speech acts. To begin with, the learning activities were centered on familiarizing students with the chosen vocabulary, and on understanding word meaning. Later on, the students produced sentences using the vocabulary in question. Our analyses of the video data collected show great variation in the use of educational resources across teaching activities. In particular, ten flashcards with relevant English vocabulary printed on them play an important part in close to all interactions between teacher and students, and between students working in pairs. Together with the teacher’s PowerPoint presentations, a computer game and various apps for iPad, these teacher-made flashcards make up the resources the students use in order to reach their learning goals.
Our analyses of classroom interactions indicate that the use of flashcards structure the conversation between students in such a way that they stay on task without losing focus. Furthermore, in teacher-student interactions, these flashcards, as artefacts, become important means for creating new sentences. Thus, the flashcards hold a vital function in the students’ progression throughout the teaching sequence.
The analyses presented in this report, highlight how educational resources designed by the teacher play a central role in full-group conversations, as the teacher employs these resources to foster interactions designed to stimulate learning. The teacher’s PowerPoint presentations provide the students with access to visual, auditory, language-based and non-verbal resources they can utilize when working to make sense of the new vocabulary. In full-group conversations, the teacher draws on her students’ personal experiences by linking the meaning of difficult words to concepts already embodied with meaning in their world.
Our analyses of interactions in the classroom indicate that it is the 10 flash cards which structure the classroom conversations. The teacher uses the flash cards to demonstrate how her students can form sentences by organizing the words sequentially, and write new flashcards if needed. By organizing the words in a certain order, the students themselves can structure sentences into a longer text. Because they function as scaffolding artefacts, the flashcards gain an important function in the students’ progression throughout the observed teaching. This is consistent with previous research which indicates that simple tools can be useful for facilitating interactions to promote learning in the classroom. In the observed teaching, a collection of ten flashcards became the central teaching resource, as they facilitated collaboration between teacher and students, and encouraged student-active ways of learning, in accordance with principles for language learning accentuated in the research literature.
When the students participate in group- and pair tasks, they work energetically and focused with their learning activities. During these activities, the teacher observes what her students do, and she uses the observations to further adapt activities to match student progression. As the students work individually, forming sentences using flashcards which they later record on an iPad, they need more guidance and support to maintain progression in their learning.
The present case study provides new insight into the function iPads can serve as one of several educational resources in schools with shared iPads. Our main finding is that tablets may aid learning when used as one of several educational resources. However, it seems that in this particular study, the teaching had not capitalized fully on the potential of tablets as a resource in language learning. Our results are primarily relevant for schools with similar supply of technology, and not necessarily for schools where students have individual iPads (the 1:1 model).
The results from the pre- and posttests indicate that all students increased their understanding of and ability to use the 10 words in a sentence. However, the analyses also show that it is problematic to measure the learning outcome in this case study, oral skills, by means of pre- and posttests that are to be answered in writing.
In short, this case study indicates that it is possible to create genuine student involvement, across work forms, with flashcards as the main educational resource. Over the course of several school lessons, this simple resource functioned as the main source of learning, as it powered differentiation as well as structure and development through various learning activities.