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21st Century Skills in ELT Part 1: The rise of 21st Century Skills

Blended and cooperative learning in EAP

Shaun Crowley has worked as an EFL teacher and a marketing manager for an international ELT publisher. He is the founder of www.linguavote.com, an e-learning platform for learners of English that features social learning and gamification. Follow Shaun on Twitter: @shauncrowley

In ELT we often regard our profession to be independent of teaching subjects like maths and science. That said, many of the approaches and materials we use are influenced by wider trends in education – from constructivist thinking in the 80’s that influenced the publication of Headway, to the recent “flipped learning” approach that’s inspiring some EFL teachers to rethink blended learning.

In American mainstream education there is an increasing emphasis on a concept referred to as “21st Century Skills” – a collection of various competencies that are regarded as being important for success in life, such as critical thinking, collaboration, communication, digital literacy, creativity, problem solving, environmental awareness and self-expression.

Now let’s be honest – it’s a bit of a buzzword, with a meaning that’s open to interpretation. But the essential concept is pertinent: the ability to combine the subject you’re learning, with the skills and awareness that you need to apply your knowledge of the subject successfully.

In ELT terms, I would interpret 21st Century Skills as:

  • Analyzing, synthesizing and evaluating materials written in English
  • Developing a “voice” on a topic and expressing it in English
  • Researching materials and solving problems that are presented in English
  • Being creative in English and taking communicative risks in pursuit of fluency
  • Collaborating in diverse international teams, communicating in English
  • Respecting international cultures and sensitivities
  • Presenting yourself professionally in English
  • Being able to use software to express yourself in English
  • Being able to navigate software and digital content that’s presented in English
  • Having the self-discipline to study English independently, and “learning how to learn”.

This probably isn’t an exhaustive list but already it is clear how relevant 21st Century Skills are to ELT, particularly in today’s interconnected world where English is the lingua-franca.

And when we look specifically at the expected outcomes of English classes in schools and universities, it is even more evident that 21st Century Skills have increasing importance.

21st Century skills and the changing ELT landscape

When I first started promoting ELT materials 10 years ago, there was a sizable market of end-users we playfully referred to as “EFNAR” (English for no apparent reason).

These days, English is considered in most places as a foundation subject, a universal requirement for success in later life. Students are aware that English is a necessity for their CVs, particularly if they harbour ambitions to work for an international company.

In many countries, English has become a preparatory subject in universities, partly because of the rise of English medium instruction on undergraduate and postgraduate courses.

These trends have implications on the type of English students must learn, but they also have implications on the interpersonal, cognitive and technical skills that students need to apply to function effectively in English.

Meanwhile, our students’ online worlds are bringing 21st Century skills to the surface even when they are at home… in gaming (collaborating as part of an international team on the Xbox), social networking (sharing thoughts with an international audience), and internet browsing (being able to quickly evaluate the validity of English websites found on Google).

So if we ask how ELT will be influenced by future trends in mainstream education, I would suggest that 21st Century Skills will become a lot more integrated into the language learning process.

What might that look like?  In my next posts I will offer four ideas for integrating some of these competencies in class and as part of a blended learning curriculum.


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10,000 hours of English – how do you teach yours?

students critical thinkingToday, we feature a post from a guest blogger. Irina Lutsenko is a teacher of English from Saint Petersburg, Russia. Over her 10 years in the profession, Irina has taught teenagers, university students and adults. The courses she has taught include General English, Business English, IELTS preparation and TOEFL preparation. In this post, Irina explores how learning English can be much more than just following a course book, and how to fit ‘extra hours’ of English into the learning practice. 

Being a teacher of English, I deal with piles of course books on a daily basis. Course books are really engaging these days, and I inevitably draw a lot of inspiration from them. Sometimes, a single sentence can start a long train of thought. In this post, I’m exploring one such instance, which led to a surprising realization! Lesson 9A in English File Intermediate (Third Edition) centers around the topic of luck. In this lesson the students read a text called ‘A question of luck?’ which explains why certain people become extraordinarily successful, and what factors contribute to their success.

Have a look at the final paragraph of the text:

10000hours

I don’t know about the specific number – 10,000 hours seems a little excessive! – but the theory behind it makes a lot of sense for language learning.

When deciding to embark on the journey of learning English, many students pin their hopes on the teacher and the course book. Unfortunately, just going to classes and following a course book is not enough. You do need to put in a lot of extra hours to become a successful language learner.

So how can you increase the amount of time you spend on English?

We’ll need to do a little maths here. Let’s say you have English classes twice a week and each class is one and a half hours long. That’s three hours of English a week. If you don’t do anything else – that’s just three for you. However, you can (and should) add the following:

Do your homework. That’s at least one hour per week. I love giving my students ‘enormous’ (in their words) homework. That’s at least one to two hours more. Add: three hours.

Start your day with a TED talk. These are short – 15 minutes on average, which gives you around two hours more per week if you start every day from listening to a TED talk. Add: two hours.

Read or listen to something in English on your way to work / school. Read a book if you go by metro or listen to an audio book if you go by car. Optimistically speaking, your way to work / school takes 30 minutes, multiply it by 2 and then by 5. Add: five hours.

Watch a series and/or a film in English. Most episodes of most series are only 20-30 minutes long. One episode each day multiplied by five working days gives you two and a half hours. At the weekend, watch a film. Add: four and a half hours.

Do some speaking. Find an English-speaking partner online, speak to your friends, join a Speaking Club. Add: one and a half hours.

Let’s throw in an additional hour for times when you check some vocabulary and/or make notes. Add: one hour.

Adding these together comes to seventeen additional hours of English – plus three hours of classes with a teacher. Combined, they total twenty hours of English a week!

It is overwhelmingly obvious that students who put in twenty hours of English a week will be more successful than those who put in just three. The extra hours – tens turning into hundreds, hundreds turning into thousands before you know it – they truly work wonders!


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Integrating video content in the EFL classroom with International Express – Part 4

ievideopart4Fancy livening up your classroom with some ready-made video activities? This is the final part of a series of four articles in which Keith Harding and Rachel Appleby share ideas for using the stunning new International Express video material. Each unit of the course features a video directly related to the unit topic. Here, Rachel offers ideas for using the clip from Upper Intermediate Unit 6 – PleaseCycle, which focuses on conditionals.

Before you watch

Try out some of these ideas to get your students thinking before they watch.

1. Discussion

You can focus on cycling from a number of angles, for example, you can think of it as a sport, a relaxing activity, or a method of commuting. Or you could discuss cycling equipment, safety issues, or infrastructure (for example, cycle paths). Find out quickly, open-class, how many of your students…

a. own a bike

b. cycle regularly (why/why not?)

c. participate in biking activities

2. Decide if these statements are true or false:

a. There are more bicycles than residents in the Netherlands.

b. In Groningen (in the Netherlands), the station has ‘parking’ for 1,000 bikes.

c. Spain has over 100 bike-sharing schemes.

d. The ratio between the number of cyclists in a city, and the number of bike-car accidents, is in inverse.

e. An adult regular cyclist has a fitness level of someone 20 years younger.

3. Brainstorm benefits and barriers

Move the discussion more closely to the video content by focusing on the benefits of and barriers to cycling. Put students into two groups: one group brainstorms the benefits, the other the barriers. Elicit 1-2 ideas per group, for example:

Benefits: keeping fit; saves on petrol

Barriers: you may need a change of clothes; lack of cycle paths

4. KWL Chart

Again, before they watch, you could do this with the audio. It’s an idea that works well with most listening or reading texts. Ask students to fill in a “KWL” chart: this looks at “what I know already, what I want to find out”, and – later – “what I’ve learnt”. Ask them to complete the first two sections alone (Know and Want), and then compare with a partner. Then, finally complete the third section (Learnt) afterwards (see exercise 8). This is very student-driven, as they are effectively making their own comprehension task.

5. Check key words

Tell the students they are going to watch a video about a new London scheme which aims to get as many people cycling to work as possible. Before watching the video, check students understand, and can pronounce, the following:

a. workforce

b. initiative

c. portal

d. gamification

While you watch

To maximize the learning opportunities, you need to set tasks for the students to focus on. The following exercise is taken from the video worksheet that comes with the International Express Teacher’s Resource Book DVD. All the worksheets are also available for free here. You just need your Oxford Teachers’ Club log-in details to view them.

6. Multiple choice

videocontentIEpt4

After you watch

7. Quick questions

Ask students for an immediate response.

What did they think?

Would they like to be involved in such a scheme?

Would PleaseCycle work for their company? Why/Why not?

How competitive would they be?

Would they encourage their company to register, and log their trips on the app?

8. Return to the KWL Chart

Go back to the KWL chart (see exercise 4) to check and complete part three.

Refer back to the “benefits” and “barriers” lists they brainstormed too.

9. Going into more detail

Before playing the video again, ask students what they can remember about Aegus Media, and Stravel. Both are mentioned in the video. Watch the video again, asking students to take notes about each company. Afterwards, let them compare notes in small groups.

Use the following questions to focus their ideas:

a. What did Aegus Media achieve using PleaseCycle?

b. How was their success measured?

c. What plans are there for Stravel?

10. Create a proposal

Each small group should imagine they are working together at a company. They need to create a proposal to convince the company managers to start using PleaseCycle.

Answers:

Ex. 2

a. T

b. F: 10,000

c. T

d. T

e. F: 10 years

Ex. 6

1. a

2. c

3. c

4. b

5. c

6. b

7. a


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Continuing language learning: the role of L1 literacy in secondary L2 language and literacy development

Frustrated student at work in classroomMany secondary second language learners face numerous challenges as they develop language and literacy in a second language at the same time they are learning subject area content in that second language. Fortunately, L1 academic literacy is not separate from L2 academic literacy. They are both manifestations of a common underlying proficiency. In this post Dr. Marylou M. Matoush, introduces her forthcoming webinar highlighting the ways that academic language and literacy proficiency can be developed through active reading, writing, speaking and listening in either or both languages.

Secondary schools are commonly structured as if all students need the same type of instruction, for the same amount of time, across the same curriculum. While this is far from ideal, it may not seem too problematic in some second language and literacy instructional settings, such as foreign language classrooms, where second language (L2) learners share somewhat similar first language (L1) language and literacy knowledge.  However, the structure of secondary most schools can be very problematic in where diversity reigns.

Many teachers of second languages are painfully aware of the fact that the emphasis on “sameness” built into most secondary schools is at odds with the needs of L2 language and literacy learners, who are remarkably diverse. They know that it is not uncommon to find secondary school settings where L2 learners who have never been to school may be sitting, in at least some classes, among L2 learners who are partially literate in one or more languages, L2 learners who are fully literate in L1 but not in L2, bilingual students who are also fully biliterate, and native English speakers who also display a wide range of literacy development.

These teachers of second language learners also know that there are often notable differences between individual learners who happen to fall in each of those categories. Learners may begin second language instruction with very different first languages. Then, first language and literacy use is gradually mixed with second language and literacy use, in ways that are necessarily unique to each individual.  As learners develop their abilities to use their languages and literacies, the varied effects of cultural backgrounds, life experiences, personal interests, academic background, linguistic understandings, and literacy skills accumulate with each passing school year.

Fortunately, becoming biliterate involves developing an interlanguage that is flexible enough to be useful in various L1 or L2 language and literacy contexts and the process underlying that development takes place in a generalized fashion, although not in the synchronized or linear fashion suggested by school structures.  Therefore, despite considerable diversity among students, academic language and literacy learning that must occur alongside content learning can be grounded in single set fundamental principles:

  • Languages and literacies and the strategies associated with meaning making are interdependent, not separate. Reading, writing, listening, speaking, and viewing are all meaning based ways to communicate and compliment one another. Integrating them enables students to make flexible use of them as they make meaning of academic content.
  • Academic learning in one’s first language and academic learning in one’s second language are also interdependent, not separate or isolated from each other. Instead, they are manifestations of a common underlying proficiency that can be developed and applied to reading, writing, speaking and listening about content in either language. Further, since the use of L1, mixed language, or a student’s developing interlanguage represent varying manifestations of a common underlying proficiency, affording students opportunities to choose among them as they learn academic content enhances L2 academic language and literacy learning.
  • Active participation in actual language and literacy activity serves the needs of all students as they acquire language and literacy, but is particularly valuable for L2 students who may need the active support available from both teacher and peers that collaboration affords. Further, active languaging drives thinking just as thinking drives languaging and literacy. Therefore, carefully designed collaboration among flexibly grouped students can work to create an age-appropriate, cognitively compelling setting and exposure to diverse ideas and perspectives for diverse learners.

The forthcoming webinar will briefly discuss that interdependence among languages and literacies and the transferability of L1 literacy strategies to L2 learning. It will also present specific strategies and techniques that are effective for supporting academic second language learning during active languaging while reading, writing, listening, speaking and viewing.

register-for-webinar


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Teaching a lesson with e-books

Asian woman sitting using laptopHave you ever used e-books in your English classroom? Stacey Hughes, our Professional Development Services teacher trainer, tried out a lesson with adult learners using an e-book on the Oxford Learner’s Bookshelf. Watch the video below to see how she got on

I was really excited about trying out the American English File e-book and also a little bit apprehensive. My excitement came from knowing students would be able to watch the video at their own pace – pausing if needed to take a note or jumping back to catch something said. I was also interested in seeing how often students used the repeat function for the audio. This ability to focus bottom-up on a phrase or word was a real bonus since my students came from different countries.

At first, I was slightly nervous about using the Oxford Learner’s Bookshelf tools so experimented with the different tools and functionality. I wanted to find out what was possible and also get comfortable with using the tools. I did some of the exercises as a student would. To my surprise, I enjoyed using the audio notes the best and I wondered if fast finishers might be encouraged to create some audio notes about vocabulary that would help them study later.

During the lesson, I found I could do the same activities that I’d always done, but with some that I wasn’t able to do before. I really liked that the students could watch the video and listen to audio and their own pace and I was also pleased that students could check their own work automatically. One thing I did miss was having something to write on, so next time I’ll bring in a flip chart or shrink the e-book when I need to write on the Interactive Whiteboard.

See how my lesson went here:

Are you interested in using e-books with your students? Visit www.oup.com/elt/fingertips to see our wide selection of coursebooks and Graded Readers available via the Oxford Learner’s Bookshelf. We have e-books for all ages, levels, and interests.

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