Epsom College – The Sanako Experience
When parents of pupils come into one of our language classrooms and see headphones with microphones, the inevitable question seems to be whether it’s “one of those things with tapes where you answer questions recorded by the teacher”. In essence, it is, of course, because the principle of the language lab is still as valid and valuable as it has been since its invention. The good thing is that it is no longer up to the poor physics teacher to service it, who was in many institutions the only person with enough technical expertise to delve into the myriad of wires of the labs of old. And even though we are seeing a wonderful revival of vinyl recordings for all the right reasons at the moment, I somehow don’t think the same will be the case for cassettes.
Flexible and blended learning is the key factor.
This article is not meant to be a description of all the technical possibilities of the Sanako Study 1200 System, the Sanako website, guide and not least the experts at Sanako can demonstrate those much better than I could; hence in the following lines I would like to point out a few aspects of using the Sanako lab that we find crucially compelling.
The absence of wires in the Sanako Study 1200 system (at Epsom the software is installed on Microsoft Surface Pro 3 devices and wireless network) cannot be overestimated when it comes to the one most crucial user, the teacher, and one essential factor in teaching nowadays – time. Pupils take a tablet and a set of headphones each when they enter the room, log on with their usual school credentials, Sanako launches automatically, and within 3 minutes the class is ready in the virtual corridor on the teacher’s screen. The simplicity of this is particularly important for those teachers who are not the most confident with technology, and who might therefore not consider using a language lab. Once logged on, there are a plethora of activities which can be done, in groups or individually, which takes me neatly to the second point I wish to make here.
Teaching time, not only in language classes, is limited, and up to Yr 11 pupils will have on average three hours of language lessons per week, and therein the most important factor often suffers, which is time on task. Through the individual allocation of tasks, and focus on those facilitated by the wearing of headphones, pupils will have a greater exposure time to language production in the lesson than might otherwise be possible. And speaking and recording answers with (positive!) time pressure, similar to a real-life situation, or indeed an oral exam, is only one skill among many that can be practised.
At Epsom, the realistic aspect of quick exchanges is particularly important, as we offer CEFR exams, such as the DELF-DALF, from Yrs 7-13, in addition to UK qualifications, or as stand-alone exams, and therein spontaneity and authentic situations are an important part of the philosophy of those exams.
From the student perspective, the fact that spoken replies are not overheard by other pupils (unless used as examples of good practice) is hugely beneficial on a psychological level, because pupils can lose their focus when put on the spot by the teacher, in front of the class. Building up confidence in this way is a natural process, and once reassured individually by the teacher that the answer is correct, even a shy pupil will be ready to contribute more and more in class.
Lastly, the advantage of conducting public listening comprehension exams at AS/A2/Pre-U level on the Sanako software is a considerable improvement over other technical means, again, for teachers and pupils alike. Exam boards will still issue the material on the day of the exam on CD or in some cases as MP3 download, and making the recordings available to students via the Sanako Study 1200 is easy, secure and allows the candidates to use bookmark functions to repeat certain sections of the recording comfortably, and above all, with the result that they are saving time.
The ambient noise of touch pads on a Surface Pro device, or the clicking of a mouse is certainly less intrusive than that of portable CD players in an exam room. To improve the situation further, it is certainly beneficial for the candidates to use a fixed-position language lab, often in an air-conditioned and quiet room in the school, offering better focus than a big exam hall, especially regarding technical support and invigilation.
I would be very happy answer any questions that may ensue from this text, and hope that the aspects mentioned will be beneficial for language teaching and learning in the future – especially given the current political situation.
Head of Modern Languages and French – Epsom College