Teaching in a Brave New World: From Digital to Tangible


Soon, we will have another BrazTESOL Brasilia seminar for the local educational community. The main topic of our seminar is “Teaching in a Brave New World”, which entices me to connect it to what I’ve been talking about in my presentations, the need for us, teachers, to explore new digital possibilities in the classroom without overlooking the urgency of tangible, concrete experiences for connected, meaningful learning. 

I’ve been a tech advocate for years, but always saying that technology has its place in the classroom, but can never replace the human connections, movement and flow. I’ve seen trends come and go, hype around certain tools. However, what really stays from all the tech cycles is careful planning and sound pedagogy. Nowadays, when I walk around school and see all those projectors on, with teachers in front of the class, I ask to myself, has this really made any significant change to the learners’ experience? Wouldn’t it be better for students to be interacting, manipulating photos or slips of paper rather than sitting there watching a sequence of Power Point slides flip on the screen? No, I’m not against PPTs. In fact, I use them in class. However, many might think that just because I love tech, my class is full of digital fireworks that allure students. A total misconception. My class is one of laughter, relaxation, connections and constant interaction, one in which the students explore, fail, try again until they smile with their own achievement.

Of course, I don’t reach every single student in the same way. And that’s where I guess the incorporation of technology can give a renewed vitality to learning in so many different directions. Whatever option I have, though, it is in the sense of making learning tangible for students, be it in terms of visualization of a concept, manipulation of language, exemplification of how structures work, playing with learners’ own voice. In this interplay of digital and tangible, I always start with very basic things to more sophisticated tries. You might be wondering how. There’s no magic formula or great surprise. When I mean simple, I really mean it.


  • >> I always use images to tell a story and invite students to practice a certain structure based on the story I just told. By doing that, students connect, they don’t feel it is just boring practice, and they use language for a meaningful task.


  • >> When students ask a question, ask them to get their cellphones and search for the answer.


  • >> Ask them to record and listen to themselves. They are always amazed by what they hear and become more aware of their own production.


  • >> Use a communication system that goes beyond class time. “What’s app” is working marvels with my adult group. They are always talking to each other in English. Not always am I the one to answer a query. Leave space for the group to find their own solutions. Tech tools are powerful allies for community building.


  • >> Use the screen and visuals as prompts, not lectures. Make them create something with any tool they have within their reach. Let them record, take photos, draw, make a video.


  • >> Textbooks are frameworks for learning, so use them together with digital tools to make the book pages come alive in its own updated version (i.e. if the topic of the book is fashion, use the structure in the book, but give space for apps that students can build their own wardrobe or digital magazines they can visualize, learn about new trends and explore the vocabulary and language structure related to it).


  • >> I always carry dice in my teacher bag. Why? You can project a scene, an image a text, and use dice to play a game or do a task in which students have the screen prompt but are also touching, moving something. Our brains love variety and movement.


  • >> I use my network on Facebook and Twitter to jazz up my lessons with curious, unexpected, cultural aspects of life from real people.


To teach in this brave new digital world, we must keep doing what we’ve always done well, with sound pedagogy and the willingness to be there with our students, adding to the recipe a touch of digital concreteness to let learning genuineness and tangibility be part of the success formula in our classrooms. The secret to achieve it? Materializing the tech experience into palpable activities  and empowering learners with agency.





6 responses to “Teaching in a Brave New World: From Digital to Tangible”

  1. Fantastic, realistic – thanks for sharing and inviting us for reflection.

    1. Carla Arena Avatar
      Carla Arena

      Glad you liked it, Gilmar, and would love to have you share your own ideas here. How do you go from digital to tangible?

  2. Carla, you managed to pinpoint extremely pertinent issues regarding the intersections between learning and technology. I’ve also read some awesome stuff on that subject on TeachThought.com and your post has helped me make some interesting connections on the subject. Thank you for that!

    1. Carla Arena Avatar
      Carla Arena

      Dear Clarissa, nice to hear that you found it relevant. As teacher trainers, we really need to focus on the intersection between sound pedagogy and technology. We need to understand that technology is one more tool in our toolbox. What really makes the difference is good teaching!

  3. Dear Carla:
    I’ve been following you for a while because I found what you do in your classes is so similar to what I have been doing all my life as a teacher (EFL and ESL). I think your classes are at some other level and maybe with more quality than my work with my students, but so similar and I am so thankful for having the chance to share and learn from what others great ones share, too! So many ways to reach all types of students/learners (especially at school, where they study English sometimes as a mandatory subject, you know..) and technology has helped me these past years. Before becoming a rookie techy teacher, I did use some other methods, which actually work nowadays, too. Greetings from Buenos Aires!

    1. Carla Arena Avatar
      Carla Arena

      I guess that´s the trick, Fabiana, understanding that it is not a matter of using tech or not, but how we are able to connect to our students in meaningful ways. A rewarding challenge!

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