How mobile pedagogy can support diverse learning needs in multilingual contexts while providing a professional development tool for teachers

Ms Joanna Norton | Presentation (PDF)

Keywords English 


This presentation will present ongoing research underpinning Keywords English, a language and literacy app, to demonstrate how mobile pedagogy can address diverse learning needs, while providing a Continuing Professional Development (CPD) model for teachers.

Given the challenges that the academic language of school presents for English language learners (ELLs), even after socio-economic background has been taken into account – according to the OECD in 2006 and 2009 – linguists from Trinity College Dublin, carried out an extensive body of research into current classroom practice at the secondary school level. Working with 250 teachers in 85 secondary schools over a two-year period, researchers deployed techniques of corpus linguistics to analyse curriculum language to develop an extensive collection of learning materials for use in English language support and mainstream subject classrooms in order to support all students with the academic language of school.

From 1996, I started to incorporate mobile pedagogy into my lesson planning and saw the potential of adapting proven research in the areas of language and literacy for mobile technology. Because of an acute shortage of realistic and accurate data on mobile pedagogy, many teachers and policy-makers are reluctant to implement appropriate strategies. Therefore, to validate our hypothesis, we are testing the Keywords app in both Ireland and the UK with science teachers, English language teachers as well as special educational needs teachers, all at different levels of incorporating ICT and mobile technology into classroom practice. We are testing in a variety of learning contexts, from whole class teaching in an academy, 1:1 learning in a state school, Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) in an after-school club for dyslexic students, English as an Additional Language (EAL) students in independent schools as well as spontaneous testing with young people ‘on the street’.

In order to move learning from lower to higher order thinking skills, teachers involved in the study are provided with clear models of how their students can create their own content, independently, using mobile devices. Examples of work will then be shared with teachers via social media and other relevant sites. Our objective is to create a body of best practice in the area of mobile learning, an area that will interest policy-makers given its cost effectiveness.

A third objective of the study is to investigate potential business models. Preliminary research indicates a B to B (business to school) and a B to B to C (business to school to parent), where the school either shares the cost with parents or passes the cost on to them, are potentially the most viable. Testing the Keywords app in international markets will begin in 2014. This will provide feedback on the potential of the model to scale.

At all stages of development, the Keywords app has been informed by pedagogy. Therefore, at the start of the presentation, I will ask participants key questions related to the challenges teachers face today. This will help to contextualise the data from the study and provide participants with an opportunity to reflect on their own classroom practice and strategies for implementing mobile learning.



Joanna Norton is an English language teacher, teacher-educator, technologist and mobile content entrepreneur.

With deep domain expertise teaching in today’s diverse multilingual learning environments, she started using mobile technology in the mid-1990s to provide a differentiated learning experience for young people at risk of underachievement. As a teacher-educator and technologist, she is acutely aware of the absence of pedagogy in current mobile learning initiatives and talks frequently about the subsequent level of skepticism among teachers, in relation to the perceived lack of validity of mobile learning. As a mobile content entrepreneur, she is developing mobile apps (Keywords English) to support all young people with the academic language of school.

The underpinning methodology of the Keywords app is the result of a two-year research study, which deployed the techniques corpus linguistics to analyse curriculum language, in order to identify the keywords young people need to know for each subject. This methodology also takes into consideration the needs of content teachers, who are now tasked with supporting the language and literacy needs of all students, at a time when class sizes are increasing, and budgets decreasing.

She argues passionately that all teachers are committed to meeting the learning needs of their students and they recognise the role that mobile devices play in the lives of children young people. However, teachers will only engage with mobile technology when there is clear evidence that pedagogy and not technology is at the core of learning.



Twitter: @KeywordsEnglish


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