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Boosting student confidence and performance with online practice tests

Asian woman sitting using laptopAhead of our webinar showing teachers how to use the online practice tests available on www.oxfordenglishtesting.com, Stacey Hughes examines the benefits of online practice tests and explores how they can help prepare your students for their exams.

If you have ever taught an exam preparation course, you will know that students who take such a course tend to do better than those who don’t. These courses do several things. Firstly they help students become familiar with the structure and content of the exam. Secondly, they teach exam strategies – whether to skip a question and come back to it, for example, and how to approach different sections. Also importantly, they draw students’ attention to the assessment criteria so that they know how they are being marked. The topics raised in exam prep courses mirror those on the exam, so students who take these courses will have the advantage of having thought about and built knowledge and vocabulary around them. A final important benefit relates to confidence. Exam prep courses build student confidence when taking the exam.

Why use online practice tests?

In an exam preparation course, students will naturally want to practice taking the exam, and this is where the online practice tests available on www.oxfordenglishtesting.com are highly beneficial. In practical terms, because most of the test is automatically marked, teachers are saved marking time. This means that teachers have more time to spend giving valuable feedback on the speaking and writing parts of the test. Online tests are also easier to manage both because they don’t require the photocopying that paper tests do and because they can be taken by the students at school in a computer lab or at home. The results are stored and managed in the learning management system, so teachers don’t have to worry about carrying around a lot of student test papers.

Focusing your students on the exam

Teachers have the flexibility to assign the test in test mode or practice mode, giving them the added benefit of using the tests as a testing or learning tool. In test mode, students complete the test without any learning support, the same as they would in the actual exam. Test mode is useful towards the end of the course to help students get mentally prepared for exam conditions.

Helping your students learn from their mistakes

In practice mode, the tests can be used as learning tools. In practice mode students can:

  • get tips to help them answer the questions before submitting their answer. This extra layer of scaffolding supports students’ thinking about the right approach to arriving at the right answer.
  • get feedback on each question. This is beneficial because students learn the rationale behind correct and incorrect answers and strategies for dealing with each question. The extra support can also build confidence in weaker students. Because feedback is immediate, the response and context are still fresh in the student’s mind and this means the feedback is more likely to help students learn from their mistakes.
  • use the online dictionary. This extra learning tool in practice mode can help students build their vocabulary and get to grips with content and topics.
  • listen to their recording of the speaking section and re-record if they are not happy with the result. This feature gives students multiple opportunities to record and can build their confidence. There is also a useful language section to help support their speaking if they need it.
  • see a sample answer to the writing task once they have written their own answer, allowing them the benefit of seeing the type of response expected without hindering their own creative thinking.
  • do part of a test and finish it later. The teacher may also choose to assign just one part of the test. This flexibility allows teachers and students to focus on one particular task or section and can be a more manageable way to approach the test.
TOEFL iBT OPT support features

Practice mode gives students extra learning support

 

Tracking your students’ results

As students work through the test in test mode or practice mode, it is automatically marked and the results are sent to the markbook. The online markbook shows the score for each section and also which questions each student got right or wrong. The teacher can choose to allow the students to see their scores on most parts of the exam, and speaking and writing papers are sent to the teacher to mark. There is a space for the teacher to type in comments and a grade for the speaking and writing sections which the students can then view.

How can you use online practice tests during your course?

One approach would be to assign a practice test in test mode at the beginning of the course just to introduce the students to the format and to provide a springboard for discussion about the test: How many sections where there? How did you approach the … section? What sections did you find easy/difficult? Why? Were there any sections you weren’t sure about or didn’t understand? Did you feel you had enough time to complete all the sections? How did you feel about speaking on the topic? etc. At this point, the teacher might choose NOT to let the students see their scores since so early in the course low scores may be demotivating. The same test could then be used in practice mode with the teacher assigning different sections at different times after some work in class on strategies for completing them. The results of these attempts will be sent to the markbook so that the teacher can see if there is any improvement, and this information may be shared with the students. Towards the end of the course, the teacher could then assign another online test in test mode to get students mentally ready for taking the exam. This would also highlight any weaknesses that the students need to work on.

It’s easy to see how the online practice test can become a learning tool which help students become familiar with the exam, learn strategies for completing the different sections and gain confidence. The tests can be an effective additional tool in the exam course to help teachers and students prepare for their exam.

Ready to start using online practice tests?

To find out more about using the online practice tests with your students, including how to assign the tests, track your students’ progress, and see their results, register for our webinar Making the most of online practice tests on 1st May 2014.

You can also find out more about online practice tests at www.oxfordenglishtesting.com, where we are running a special 50% off promotion on practice tests.


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Video cameras in the hands of learners

Asian woman using video cameraJamie Keddie, author of Bringing Online Video into the Classroom, looks at the benefits of handing over control of the video camera to students. Jamie will be hosting a webinar on this topic on 15th and 16 April.

Filmed presentations

Anyone who is involved in rail transport will know that stopping trains at stations wastes time, energy and money. Unfortunately, it is also necessary to let passengers on and off! Today, your students are highly-creative problem solvers. Their task is to work in small groups to design a high-speed train which doesn’t have to stop at stations, but which still allows passengers to alight and disembark.

After sharing ideas and reaching a consensus, each group prepares to present their solution to the rest of the class. This involves creating diagrams to reinforce ideas. When they give their presentations, you sit at the back of the classroom and film their performances.

Later, you show students the following video which illustrates an idea for a train which doesn’t have to stop at stations:

From teacher’s to students’ hands

Filming presentations and other performances can be a great way to motivate students and document their work. However, in the activity described above, the technology stayed firmly in the teacher’s hands. The result of this could be missed opportunities for student creativity, interaction, and learning.

By giving control of the video cameras to students, the activity could have been completely different. Rather than the traditional speaking-at-the-front-of-the-class format, groups of students could find their own quiet corners (either in or out of the classroom) and work together to create a video in which individuals communicate their group’s idea to the camera. The resulting videos can then be delivered to the teacher and later played on the classroom projector for everyone to see and comment on.

Group of adults watching class presentation

Here are some thoughts about why this second option may be favourable:

1. Students’ own devices

In many situations, students will come to class with video cameras already in their hands! Smartphones and tablet computers both have video-recording functions which are perfectly adequate for the classroom.

2. An open learning space

If students make use of their own video devices, the filming process can extend to outside the classroom. Assignments in which students create videos for homework become possible.

3. Less stress for students

Speaking English in class can be stressful enough for many students. When the teacher points a video camera at such learners, the experience can be even more intimidating. The camera may be less daunting in the hands of a classmate.

4. Technological control means creative control

If students control the technology, they can get creative. For example, they may want to think carefully about the filming location or props to include in the frame. They may also want to edit their work, include close-ups of visuals, decide what to leave in, decide what to take out, add credits, etc. In addition, with control of the technology, students can go at their own pace. They can film as and when they are ready. They can also do more than one ‘take’ in order to get the result that they are looking for.

5. Content ownership

Digital content is notoriously ‘slippery’. It does not deteriorate with time and can easily fall into unintended hands. Understandably, students may be concerned about what happens to videos that you create in the classroom. When students make use of their own video devices, they automatically become owners of the content. This can make the process less intimidating. In addition, if you would like students to share their videos online, they can choose to do so on their preferred video-sharing site.

6. Parental permission

Permission to film younger learners and teens can be easier to obtain if we can demonstrate to parents that we want them to make use of their own video-recording devices in and out of the classroom. As well as the ownership issue mentioned above, we can ask parents to take an active role in the video production process. For example, if we want students to upload their work, parents could monitor video content first before giving the go-ahead.

7. Reduced workload for the teacher

Perhaps the most important point to make! Tablets and smartphones can be regarded as all-in-one devices. Students can use them to create, edit and share video. There is no need to transfer video files from one machine to another (camera to computer, for example), a potentially time-consuming step that many teachers will be familiar with.

8. Engaged viewing

For some inexplicable reason, most teenagers that I have worked with engage better with video presentations than with live classroom presentations (see image above). With students’ attention, we can make use of the pause and rewind buttons for language feedback. This can include drawing attention to good language and communication, and error correction.

To find out more about using video in the classroom, register for Jamie’s webinar on 15th and 16th April.


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Webinar: Making the most of the Business Result Online Interactive Workbook

Business people having discussionKeith Layfield, lead editor on the Business Result series, introduces his upcoming webinar on 17th April entitled “Making the most of the Business Result Online Interactive Workbook“.

Have you used the Business Result Online Interactive Workbook, and are you getting the most out of it? Are you interested in using online resources to provide self-study material, supplementary classroom material, or a more interactive blended learning package?

My upcoming webinar is suitable for any teacher of Business Result. I will be providing practical help and ideas for using the Online Interactive Workbook, whether for self-study, classroom material, or for blended learning.

The webinar will provide an overview of the following:

Online practice and other resources

Business Result Online Interactive Workbook is a motivating self-study item that supports and develops themes from the Student’s Book. Each unit offers a series of interactive exercises practising the main sections of each unit – Working with words, Language at work, and Business communication – which are marked automatically and added to each student’s gradebook.

The interactive exercises also develop a number of skills: email writing and extended reading, plus there are video activities and discussion forum topics to encourage free writing practice. And there are extensive student resources – unit glossaries, sample emails, class audio – plus a unit test for each unit in the Student’s Book.

In the webinar, we’ll explore how you can make the most of these features, inside and outside class.

Gradebook and communication tools

I’ll also be exploring the automatic gradebook, which gives students and teachers instant access to grades. It saves time on marking and enables teachers to quickly track progress of all students.

Each unit of the Online Interactive Workbook has its own discussion topic related to the theme of the unit. This encourages communicative and collaborative learning, as students (and teachers) are able to read and reply to discussion topics. During the webinar, we’ll look at how to get the most out of this, and we’ll also focus on the ‘chat’ functionality, which enables students and teachers to communicate outside class.

The Online Interactive Workbook also allows teachers to add, create, and manage their own content. Teachers can add their own tests, create their own discussions, assign due dates for activities to be completed, add new activities, and many other things using a number of teacher tools.

So as you can see, the Business Result Online Interactive Workbook provides teachers and students with an exciting range of resources and tools to choose from! I look forward to exploring all of this with you in more detail during the webinar.


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eFeedback: ICT tools I use to give my students high-quality feedback

Using Evernote on an iPhone

Image courtesy of Heisenberg Media via Flickr

Mohamed El-Ashiry takes a look at four online tools that have helped him deliver high-quality feedback to his students.

Upon introducing tablets into my classroom, the biggest gains I have received have been in assessment and feedback. In my experience, ICT tools facilitate the process of giving timely, relevant and effective feedback to my students. Brown & Bull (1997) argued that feedback is:

… most effective when it is timely, perceived as relevant, meaningful and encouraging, and offers suggestions for improvement that are within a student’s grasp.”

Black & William (1999) wrote that:

… improving learning through assessment depends on five, deceptively simple, key factors:

  • the provision of effective feedback to pupils;
  • the active involvement of pupils in their own learning;
  • adjusting teaching to take account of the results of assessment;
  • a recognition of the profound influence assessment has on the motivation ​and self-esteem of pupils, both of which are crucial influences on learning;
  • the need for pupils to be able to assess themselves and understand how to ​improve.”

I use a variety of ICT tools in my classroom, all of which the students can access from their tablets or mobile devices. I will introduce the four main tools I use and explain ways in which they have facilitated assessment and, more importantly, giving feedback in my classroom.

1. Socrative

Socrative is an immediate student-response system, where students access the teacher’s ‘room’ using the ‘room number’ and the teacher can push out multiple choice questions, true/false questions, or short-answer questions. The teacher can also assign full quizzes and exit tickets. I have found that when using Socrative, projecting my screen to the students makes it even more beneficial, as they can see the statistics and class responses that are shown on my screen. For example, when asking a short answer question, students can see all responses being submitted, which I then use as a basis for an evaluation exercise: students look at all submitted responses and vote on the best ones, whilst giving reasons why.

This is a very useful literacy-building exercise and I use it to show model answers and what makes a well-structured written response. This process enables me to give immediate feedback to the students, and actively involves them in the process.

My favorite feature of Socrative is definitely the ‘Exit Tickets’ though, as that gives me an immediate pulse-check of the class’s learning, which I can then immediately use to adjust my teaching for the next lesson.

2. Edmodo’s ‘Quiz’ feature

Edmodo is a class learning management system (LMS) that is designed for schools but still looks a lot like Facebook (which engages students more due to its familiarity). I have often created quizzes and polls on Edmodo. When using the ‘Quiz’ feature with my students, Edmodo allows you to show them the answer key once they have submitted their responses. Students also immediately get their score on the quiz. This automatically gives the students timely and relevant feedback, as the assessment has only just been concluded and is still fresh in their minds. I also project the statistics Edmodo compiles for me in front of the class, and we discuss those statistics to highlight strengths and areas for improvement.

3. Google forms (& Flubaroo)

I wrote before about how I use Google Forms in my classroom. I often use the “Flubaroo” script whenever I create a quiz or test using Google Forms. Flubaroo automatically grades the quiz once the students submit their responses, and can also email them their score, a copy of their responses, and the answer key. I then project the spreadsheet of the student responses in front of the class and we discuss the most well-constructed answers. This is another example of how an ICT tool such as Google Forms has enabled me to deliver timely and immediate feedback on my students’ assessments.

4. Evernote shared notebooks

I published a blog post before about how I use Evernote in my classroom. As I have a ‘Premium’ account with Evernote, I can create notebooks for my students that we can all edit and contribute to, even if the students only have a ‘Free’ account. I have benefited immensely from this feature, as I created a set of notebooks for my history class where the students would do all their work. I would then be able to add voice notes with my verbal feedback or even annotated rubrics/checklists for the assessments.

I have noticed that most of the talk about eLearning and tablets in classrooms revolves around engaging students more with learning and encouraging them to create multiple things. While these are very valid benefits of introducing ICT tools into the classroom, I personally believe the biggest benefit can come from how these ICT tools can facilitate the process of assessing student learning as well as delivering timely and meaningful feedback to the students on their learning.

References:

Black, P. & Wiliam, D. (1999). Assessment for Learning: Beyond the Black Box, Assessment Reform Group, University of Cambridge, School of Education

Brown, G., Bull, J., & Pendlebury, M. (1997). Assessing student learning in higher education. London: Routledge.


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The value of Virtual Learning Environments for Business English

Business person using computerPete Sharma explores some of the different Virtual Learning Environments suitable for Business English teachers.

A colleague recently asked me: “Which VLE should I use with my Business English students?” This started me thinking that there are, in fact, many ways to support the work that teachers do in the classroom. In this post, I’ll take a look at some of these exciting options.

At one end of the spectrum is using a full-scale Virtual Learning Environment. This is a password-protected area on the internet which is used to store and deliver digital materials such as texts, interactive activities, audio, video and links to websites. A VLE is often called an LMS (Learning Management System) or CMS (Content Management System), and contains communication tools. For example, a teacher can post a message to a forum for students to answer in their own time (asynchronous communication), or use instant messaging (synchronous communication).

Two well-known VLEs used by universities are Moodle and Blackboard. Such platforms have a large number of features, such as ‘quiz-makers’. Creative teachers can make their own digital materials with authoring software such as Hot Potatoes, and upload these to the platform.

On my last course, I used the website Edmodo, which is free and easy to join. It is easy to use and allows you to communicate with your students between classes, and post links to websites and other teaching materials you wish them to look at. This was perfectly adequate for this particular course and group of students.

It is important to remember that a VLE is empty until you add material. Let’s look at a different option. Many course books have an access code at the back, allowing access to publisher-produced materials on a web-based platform. Students can download audio files, or do online interactive exercises. Tracking tools allow teachers (and training managers!) to see which exercises students have worked on, and how much time they have spent on each one.

There are other options. Some of my colleagues use Dropbox to share materials. Teachers running writing courses sometimes start a class wiki. A wiki is a website containing editable pages, so students can collaborate on a piece of writing.

There is a lot of choice, and it is important to support your course with something which works for you.  Maybe you want to offer your students 24/7 access to their digital materials, or perhaps you want to create material yourself. Whatever you decide, it is impossible for me to imagine a course which is simply ‘done in the classroom’, without being able to provide autonomous learning opportunities outside class, too. And busy Business English students, who often travel, will appreciate this course enrichment more than most.

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