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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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World Environment Day: Going paper-free in your EFL Classroom

guest-contributors-oup

This Friday, June 5th, marks UN World Environment Day, a day recognised to encourage worldwide awareness and action for the environment. With the theme this year being: ‘Seven Billion Dreams. One planet. Consume with care’, it’s worth looking at our every day practices, particularly in the classroom, and asking where we can conserve and reduce our consumption of resources. With the online resource of our Oxford Teacher’s Club and thousands of digital materials ready for download, we thought this week would be a great time to put together a collection of articles supporting paper-free and digital English language teaching. 

Teaching a lesson with e-books

Teaching with Web 2.0 Tools (Part 1)

Teaching with Web 2.0 Tools (Part 2)

Teaching with Web 2.0 Tools (Part 3)

Flipping and Creating Video Presentations

Getting English language students to practise out of class

How do you use OUP digital resources in your class?

Using Social Media and Smart Devices effectively in your classroom

#EFLproblems – Facing your technology fears

The value of Virtual Learning Environments for Business English

Edmodo: Introducing the virtual classroom

5 Apps Every Teacher Should Have

So you want to teach online?

White paper on Tablets and Apps in School

Adapting online materials to suit your students

Using blogs to create web-based English courses


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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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Teaching with Web 2.0 Tools (Part 3) – Web Tools for Writing

tablet e-book english language classroomMagali Trapero Turrent is an ELT Editor at Oxford University Press, Mexico. She is the co-author of several books published by OUP as well as a teacher and former OUP Educational Services teacher trainer. In her posts, she shares her ideas for using Web 2.0 tools to develop learner’s language skills.

It never ceases to amaze me the eagerness with which young learners begin the writing process—from tracing letters to learning to write their own name or their pet’s name. At that stage, the writing world seems so exciting—and it continues like this when they start forming sentences and, later, a complete paragraph. However, maintaining that zest for writing as they grow older is a completely different dynamic. As complexity increases in their development and more demands are placed on their attention, the desire to communicate in writing begins to decrease. But it does not have to be that way. Young learners love to tell stories and their imagination seems boundless. Yet, what sometimes seems missing is that much desired audience—the very reason for writing—and the knowledge on how to transform thoughts into an engaging, coherent and cohesive text. While we cannot escape the necessity to scaffold the writing lessons (Kendall & Khuon, 2006), we can certainly make the reason to write a lot of fun for our learners through the use of Web 2.0 tools.

Scaffolding our writing lessons depends on the purpose for writing (e.g., inform, keep in touch, persuade, entertain, express emotions, remind, etc.) the text type and other elements we need to consider when planning lessons. It is also useful to provide our learners with a model of the intended final product.

Because it is difficult for young learners to create content, prompts such as pictures, music, maps, real objects, short videos, or story starters can give them support as they activate prior knowledge on the topic, in addition to vocabulary and other linguistic elements they will need to complete the task. In providing a model for the final product, it is advisable to do that with a reading activity that shows the target text type and ideas about shaping content.

Two of my learners’ favorite award-winning, free, creative writing tools are Storybird and Pixton. With Storybird you can create a class and add students to it. You can also create specific assignments with a large assortment of illustrations to choose from. You and your learners can create poems, short picture stories or books. The advantage that Storybird and Pixton provide is that the image prompt can be chosen by you or your learners to begin brainstorming right on the page since it can be edited as many times as necessary. This is truly a lot of fun. Storybird and Pixton can be used with computers, tablets and smart phones through the mobile apps. The final version of the short story, poem, book or comic strip can be placed in your social network site or blog, or it can even be emailed.

webtools3fig1

Figure 1: Sample Storybird picture story development page—Images courtesy of Storybird and FranBravo.

Prompts used for scaffolding, such as sentence starters or word banks, along with the large assortment of beautiful illustrations found in Storybird and Pixton can be highly motivating and engaging for your learners. And it is just as motivating for them to have a large audience, including family and friends—as opposed to only their teacher. As a matter of fact, the Storybird poem function provides a word bank along with punctuation marks for learners to drag and drop to create their poem. Of course, you have to make sure that the vocabulary is familiar to your learners and let them know that they can also use their own words.

webtools3fig2

Figure 2: Sample Storybird poem development page—Images courtesy of Storybird and novoseltsev.

In planning a creative writing lesson to celebrate International Day for Biological Diversity, you can encourage your learners to write a picture story, a poem or a comic strip using Pixton— like the ones shown in the images. These activities can be collaborative. Pixton offers a user-friendly, fun way to develop comic strips. It contains a wide variety of characters to choose from and backgrounds.

webtools3fig3

Figure 3: Sample development page – Courtesy of Pixton.

I can attest from experience that when students know their work will have a large audience, they work very hard during the editing stage to develop a fine publication. I certainly hope that your learners feel as excited about these award-winning creative writing Web 2.0 tools. Remember, good writing skills are usually the outcome of diverse and constant exposure to good reading materials as well as systematic practice.

In the next article in this series, we will explore the use of Web 2.0 tools for reading activities.

 

Reference and Further Reading

Kendall, J. & Khuon, O. (2006). Best Practices. Writing Sense: Integrated Reading and Writing Lessons for English Language Learners (pp. 16–36). Portland, ME: Stenhouse.


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Mexico Teacher’s Day: The Role of the Teacher in the 21st Century

schoolgirl-using-laptopLysette Taplin is an experienced English language teacher, editor and author of a number of ELT materials. Ahead of this year’s Teacher’s Day in Mexico, she discusses the changing role of the teacher and the implementation of digital tools in the classroom.

Teacher’s Day, celebrated in Mexico on May 15, honors the role educators play in providing students with quality education. Ten to twenty years ago, that role was to be the primary information giver who stood at the front of the classroom “pouring knowledge into passive students who wait[ed] like empty vessels to be filled”[1]. However, now that the 21st century is well under way, our role needs to shift towards becoming a facilitator: giving students an idea, a topic to discuss and providing them with the confidence to communicate. This type of teaching is known as student-centered learning, and has been favored in recent years as it puts the students’ learning experience at the center. Our responsibility as teachers is to make sure our lessons are tailored to the individual needs of our students, understanding that each student is unique and that they come with prior knowledge and their own perceptual frameworks. I’m not saying that we need to completely relinquish the traditional role; there are certain moments in the classroom when teacher-instruction is necessary, but we must encourage learners to contribute and communicate using their own ideas. The next Steve Jobs or Bill Gates may be sat in your class, but if we spoon-feed them the information, they are never going to reach their true potential. Today, being an English language teacher is not just about teaching students the language, but teaching them how to think critically, how to communicate and collaborate, and how to be creative: the famous 4Cs.

We also need to take into account that our world and consequently our lives are becoming increasingly more digitalized. Students need to learn how to use technology and with recent advances in web tools and apps, technology-based methodologies, such as blended learning, hybrid learning, the flipped classroom and MOOCs, have attracted more interest among educators as they create learning environments which propel students into the 21st century. However, what if we don’t have access to technology at school? What if the technology we do have is slow and outdated? As teachers, we have to be creative with the technology that is available to us. Most students today have cell phones, so rather than try to eliminate them as a distraction, we should try to capitalize on the technology that students already possess. With the built-in camera tool cell phones have, we can ask students to document their work by taking photos or videos, or use the voice recording feature to create podcasts which encourage communication and collaboration. We can also turn traditional writing activities into blogs to be published online or even have students write a short book review of 140 characters to publish on Twitter.

There are also a wide range of user-friendly apps available for iOS and Android. One of my favorites is Book Creator, a free app which lets students create eBooks using photos and images from their tablet or cell phone library, from the web, or by using the device’s camera. They can also add videos and music, record their own voice, and annotate their books using the pen tool. This is a great tool to use to bring together students’ work or evidence project work.

mxteachersday1

Another great app for iOS users is iMovie. This app allows students to drag videos and photos taken on their device into a movie clip to which they can add music and voiceovers. Depending on the task students are carrying out, they can use different movie templates, creating presentations which become more relevant to the real world. By using interactive technology, we make learning more engaging and memorable.

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It is also important to understand that when our students graduate, they will have an advantage if they can work successfully with other cultures, and as teachers, we can promote that skill by setting up email or social network exchanges between students in different schools and countries.

I believe technology in the classroom is not just a new fad, but rather a vital empowering tool that engages students and brings discovery, excitement and fun into the classroom. The dismal fact is that, as teachers we will never know all there is to know about technology. So, why not create co-learning environments where students teach you how to do something techie. As facilitators, it is important to relinquish some control of the learning to the student which reinstates student-centered learning and will give students confidence to communicate their ideas.

For me, one of the most important aspects of being a teacher is be passionate and enthusiastic. We need to be so excited about what we are teaching that every single student wants to be involved. We need to tell our students that it is OK to make mistakes, and we need to show students that we are proud of what they CAN do, and not focus on what they can’t yet do. The best satisfaction a teacher can have is to be a facilitator, engaging and motivating their students to succeed. Happy Teacher’s Day!

References

[1] Constructivism as a Paradigm for Teaching and Learning, Thirteen Ed Online. Date of access: 08/04/2015. http://www.thirteen.org/edonline/concept2class/constructivism/index_sub1.html

 

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