More Edutainment, Please!

“Whose video camera is that?” I asked one of my ESL students. “It’s mine!” he replied. “Wow, that’s a nice camera,” I thought to myself. “I like making videos,” he continued. Such was the impetus for creating teacher-student DVDs with grammatical structures reflecting my class curriculum.

Sure, class DVDs are fun and entertaining, but the most significant reason to incorporate them in the curriculum lies beyond just “fun.” Similar to several other community colleges in California, Cuesta College’s ESL program ranks low in success and retention. Santa Monica College reports in spring 2005, “ESL/Basic Skills Course Completion: Success Rates for ‘92=62.4%, ‘97=56.5%, ‘02=55.7%. In [a] ten year period overall success rates have decreased by 6.7%.” As a result of trying to counter this low ranking, I’ve increasingly adopted games, various multimedia, songs, skits, role-plays, videos, and now DVDs into, my daily lessons. All these activities contribute to edutainment!

Understanding the difference between international, English-language learners and ESL students is important for ESL instructors at community colleges. Years ago, I made the mistake of approaching ESL students with the same curriculum as international students. In general, international, English-language learners have, at least, completed a high-school education in their native language. In many cases, they have some form of financial sponsorship while here in the USA. Class attendance and homework completion usual isn’t much of a problem. They sometimes study for TOFEL exams and aspire to complete AA degrees or even a 4-year university degree. ESL students, on the other hand, often have a limited high-school education in their native language and modest financial support. Attendance and class completion is sometimes difficult. They frequently have two or three jobs and even have a few dependent children. Most often they study English to get a better manual labor or service industry job. Bette Brickman and Richard Nuzzo address these issues in their report International versus Immigrant ESL Students: Designing Curriculum and Programs To Meet the Needs of Both (1999). ESL students often require a more edutainment-friendly approach, rather than rigorous academics.

Ian Hewitt, author of Edutainment: How to Teach Language with Fun and Games (1996), describes edutainment as simply using the fun factor to make language learning engaging and lasting. Although Hewitt primarily focuses on games, I have defined edutainment for my classes to include a variety of multimedia and activities. Several instructors and authors have highlighted the merits of edutainment. Students can learn as thoroughly with “fun and play” as they can with “work.” The risk of monotony and boredom lie in mechanical drills, blind parroting, and routine exercises. A foreign language must be brought to life by situations, gestures, handling or touching things, actions and incidents, pictures, dramatization, interesting stories spoken or in print, and not least by contests and games (Kranz.) Games, songs, puzzles, etc. offer effective ways to teach in an entertaining and educational way.

In addition to games, puzzles, and songs, multimedia has also played a role in edutainment. Students learn in different ways and through a variety of different mediums. Although multimedia has often been considered computer-based learning, more recently many educators view multimedia to include various forms of communication. “Blending of visual, textual and auditory information enhances the environment for the learner and aids in the understanding of information.” (Bettles and Tousignant) The benefits of multimedia in the classroom are engaging and motivating material, opportunities to try new things, heightened project-based learning, enhanced audio/visual learning, and the showcasing of student-generated work. One student said, “I find more traditional methods created more stress and did not motivate me. It's more interesting with computers and other technology. Otherwise it would be boring.” Of course, we educators want our students to learn, and absorb academic material. But we ESL instructors also need to keep our students returning to class, and multimedia plays a crucial role in this process.

Quite often ESL instructors, who finish their university master’s degree, enter the ESL field approaching their students with rigorous academics. After all, this is what many ESL instructors experienced as graduate student themselves. Approaching international English-language learners this way may often be effective. But ESL students benefit from an edutainment approach.

After both filming and showing my class DVD, the students expressed great enthusiasm and interest. Obviously, my DVDs lack Hollywood gloss. The production quality is modest. The actors, the students themselves, possess limited English proficiency. However, my class DVDs offer my students benefits that other DVDs simply cannot. I’m becoming increasingly convinced that edutainment is exactly what our ESL students need.

Cited Works
Kranz, Dieter. Review of Edutainment: How to Teach Language with Fun and Games (1996).

Lingolex review of George Woolard’s Lesson with Laughter (1996).

Bettles, Sue & Tousignant, Louise. (August 2000) Literacy Net Newsletter. Multimedia in the ESL Classroom.

Multimedia in the Classroom.

Benefits of Using Multimedia in the Classroom

Santa Monica College Student Equity Report (spring 2005).

Brickman, Bette & Nuzzo, Richard. International versus Immigrant ESL Students: Designing Curriculum and Programs To Meet the Needs of Both (1999)

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