A little experiment with Padlet. Of teacher myths and learning reality

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I often read on the Internet or hear from ‘techy’ teachers of the presumed learning benefits of various Apps. More than often, when I investigate those claims with my students they are down-sized. The truth is that the way adults’ cognition – especially teachers’ – interacts with a learning tool often differs from an adolescent’s.

A few months’ back, one such claim was made in my presence. The context: an ICT training session in which one of the participants criticized Google classroom based on the fact that, unlike Padlet, when a student works on an assignment the other pupils cannot see what their peers are writing and consequently the opportunities for learning would be drastically reduced.

Reflecting on that claim on my way home I thought about myself, an avid and highly motivated learner of 8 languages – would I, whilst doing a Padlet task, actually actively look at my class mates’ output so as to learn from it? My answer was: possibly not, maybe a fancy idiom might attract my attention and would ask the teacher about it, but nothing more than that. But maybe students would; so I decided to put my colleague’s claim to the test.

The next day I asked students from four of my Spanish classes (2 year 8 and 2 year 9 groups), immediately after creating a padlet wall to which all of them had contributed, to note down in their books or iPads three language items they found in their classmates’ writing which they found interesting and/or useful. Two weeks later I asked them to recall the items they had noted down. Guess what? Only two of the 68 students involved in this experiment actually remembered something (one item each). Not surprising. Even when a student does notice something in another learner’s output they must do something with it for some degree of deep processing to occur and retention to ensue.

I also asked my students how often they actually look at what their classmates write and ‘steal’ useful language items from them. The vast majority of them replied ‘very rarely’ or ‘never’. Yet another mismatch between teacher presumptions and foreign language learner cognition.

The lesson to be learnt: not much is known as yet about the way adolescent foreign language learners interact cognitively and affectively with many of the Apps currently used in many MFL classrooms. ‘Experiments’ like mine should be carried out as often as possible in order for teachers not to be misguided by Internet myths. Padlet can be a useful App, no doubt; but assumptions about what learners do with it, should be rooted in evidence not simply wishful thinking.