This review was first published in the Winter 2019 edition of the ETAS Journal. Many thanks to ETAS for allowing the review to appear on this blog.
Ready to Run, from Digital Learning Associates (DLA), is a platform providing video-based lesson resources for ELT classrooms. Its resources are marketed as ‘engaging and authentic video experiences’ which cover a range of real-world topics. Ready to Run is a subscription-based service – each video lesson includes printable materials for students, teacher notes and video transcripts. The platform recently won a British Council ELTon for Innovation in Learner Resources.
The resource catalogue for Ready to Run is generally easy to navigate, although better tagging might make searching for relevant resources more efficient. There are currently about 10 videos available at each CEFR-aligned level (A1-B2). The digital content itself is certainly varied, and likely to be engaging for a wide range of learners. Videos are high quality, a suitable length (most around three minutes) and have been well-edited. The videos are initially sourced from vlogs, TV programmes, and other authentic broadcasts, and then are adapted for classroom use. The selection of topics is inclusive and relevant – it is good to see that the platform offers resources that address issues such as immigration, refugee crises, climate change, and minority groups. Topics are dealt with sensitively, and follow-up project-based tasks on the video content encourage learners to explore these topics in greater detail. The willingness of Ready to Run to deal with some topics that tend to be avoided in global coursebooks is certainly a strength.
An intuitive platform, high quality video, and carefully selected content are all positives for Ready to Run. However, it’s fair to say that the way these resources are marketed is slightly inaccurate. One issue is the claim that these materials are ‘authentic’. Delve into the FAQs on the Ready to Run website and this statement is clarified. The initial videos that are sourced for materials are authentic, but they are then re-edited as an ELT asset, with most having levelled narration added. DLA argue that this makes the videos ‘more suitable for use in a classroom environment’, although some practitioners may question the grading of both task and text. Either way, the adaption of these text to make them pseudo-authentic appears to have devalued some of the materials. This is most noticeable at lower levels. While some of the A1-level videos feature natural language from speakers in the video, these segments are often short. Instead, heavily graded narration takes its place, which at times seems unnatural.
The supporting materials for each video follow a pre-, while- and after- watching format as standard. Prediction and preparation tasks are generally engaging, comprehension activities serve their purpose, and follow-up tasks (including reflection questions for critical thinking) do encourage learners to engage with the video content and share personal responses. However, even with graded texts, DLA could do far more to exploit these videos as a listening resource. For example, few lessons include activities involving decoding natural speech. Few lessons encourage learners to notice salient features of connected speech used by speakers, which may aid learners’ listening skills – particularly at lower levels. On the whole, where pronunciation features are addressed, the accompanying teacher notes fail to provide detailed guidance on how teachers might raise learner awareness of these features.
Less experienced teachers who feel less confident in explaining features of connected speech would certainly benefit from more support. The same is true of the suggested project-based follow-up tasks that are provided in the teacher resource. Too often, these represent just an idea for a project. There is not support or scaffolding provided for learners, or for teachers in setting up such a project. While some teachers would enjoy that freedom, some wouldn’t. Arguably, a subscription-based resource should offer more support for it’s paying users, rather than less.
On balance, Ready to Run does have its positives, and if my institution were to pay for the platform I would certainly make use of the higher-level resources on offer. Video content is engaging, and would likely prove a good springboard for discussion, drama, role play and creative project work in class. Personally though, I wouldn’t say that this resource is particularly innovative. There are plenty of other sites that provide teachers and learners with useful video-based resources, many of which utilise unedited authentic video. The grading of authentic videos may be an innovation, but this may not be considered of pedagogical value by some teachers. I’m on the fence with the ‘grading the text’ debate, but I would still like to see Ready to Run offer more comprehensive supporting materials. That would mean really exploiting its rich listening texts (graded or not): drawing more attention to salient features of connected speech, further practice of decoding natural speech, and far more supporting notes provided for teachers, especially for project-based tasks. Without that, I feel this platform is still a work in progress.
Feature image from this article of teachingenglish.org.uk.
Here is a review of a similar platform, Fluentize.
Here are 20 video sites for the EFL classroom.