The last few weeks have been especially busy, with a memorable 6 day visit to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia in late May.
Nothing prepares the first time visitor for the searing heat of the Middle East, with daily temperatures hitting 44 degrees (the night time being relatively ‘cool’ at just 32 degrees…) During my visit, I had the opportunity to visit two large schools in the capital, and met a large number of great teachers. One thing that made this trip special was spending several hours sitting in on classes. It was fascinating to see the teachers in action in a culturally unfamiliar setting, and truly encouraging to see such enthusiastic and responsive students, the ones I met being aged between 12 and 16. Their level of English was generally excellent, and they were keen to try it out on me, as I was repeatedly asked where I was from (Leeds UK but resident in Poland – that confused them!) and if I supported Manchester United. (I don’t…)
A striking memory from the classroom visits was how the schools had truly embraced technology in the classroom, and were using it to great effect. Many teachers I have met prefer to stick with what they already know and resist using new methods in their teaching. They see technology as frightening and complicated and constantly worry about it going wrong. The Riyadh teachers however had taken the leap of faith and discovered just how much work it can actually save, and how it can make classroom management and the learning experience that much more effective.
All the classrooms I visited were equipped with Interactive Whiteboards, projectors and sound systems, and even though not all used IWB software, all used laptops connected to the projector to great effect.
- Classroom management was made so much easier when giving instructions. All the students were focussed on the coursebook page on the board as the teacher set up activities. The familiar alternative is for the students to bury their heads in their coursebook during instructions – often on the wrong page!
- Feedback was quick and easy. Answers to exercises were flashed up on the board in exactly the right place. This made it easier for the students to check what they had written in their books.
- Student participation was increased. Especially in some of the younger classes, the opportunity to come to the front and write on the board served as a great motivational tool – they clearly loved using the software, and were actively involved.
- Teachers had used great creativity in sourcing material from the internet (for example photos), and this made the teaching of vocabulary quick and easy. In one lesson, which was about the advantages and disadvantages of living in cities, the teacher had downloaded pictures showing different aspects of life in Riyadh, thereby personalising the vocabulary input at the same time. This fitted in perfectly with the principle of starting with what was known to the students, before moving on to the new.
- Cassette players have long been absent from many classrooms, but here even a separate CD player was nowhere to be seen. Controlling the audio directly from the computer saved the time and hassle involved in carry a separate CD / Cassette player – as well as that of rewinding tapes or finding the right track on the CD. One teacher had further personalised the audio track by adding a slide show of images from the web that were relevant to the recording.
The experience of seeing all this in action convinced me more than ever that technology has its place in the classroom – of course not to replace the teacher, but to supplement what we do in making our lives easier and the learning experience richer and more effective for the learners. What’s more, learners expect to interact with technology in all spheres of life nowadays, and it’s worth thinking about avoiding the situation where they feel as though going to school is like going back in time.
A final and compelling objection to technology of course is the cost. My feeling though is that just as it’s now possible to buy a DVD player for 10% of its 1995 purchase price, something similar could well happen with classroom technology – and it’s no doubt started already!
So that’s some of what the Great Teachers in Saudi Arabia are doing. More Great Teacher stories to follow soon!
My thanks go to the teachers and students of Al Rowad and Al Manahij Boys’ schools in Riyadh for their hospitality, good food and excellent coffee during my visit.