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A positive learning environment: establishing expectations (Part 4)

Eager children in classThis is the last of a four-part series of articles from Verissimo Toste, an Oxford teacher trainer, about establishing a positive learning environment in the classroom. Here he shares some practical ways to minimise disruptions during classes. 

What do you expect from your students? Sit down for a few moments and think about your classes. Think about where you are as the class begins. What are you doing? Where are the students? What are they doing? As you think about the class, note down anything you would like to improve. Don’t worry if it’s easy or difficult. Just note it down. Then, look back at your notes and decide on 3 to 5 points you want to work on immediately.

After reflecting on my classes of about 25 teenagers, these were the four aims I came up with:

- The classroom is in order.

- Students are ready for class.

- Classes begin more efficiently.

- Students participate actively during the lesson.

Remember, these are aims. I took them to my classes and wrote them on the board. I told my students this is what I expected from them. I got a lot of blank looks. They had heard this before. There was nothing they could really disagree with. But what do they mean? What does “the classroom is in order” mean? Can you picture it?

It is important to be able to visualise the difference between how things are now and how you expect them to be. Why is the classroom not in order? Define each aim so that students can see when it is not being met. For my classes, “the classroom is in order” meant that:

- The chairs are in their places.

- The desks are clean and in their place.

- The board is clean.

Anyone looking at the classroom can see if these 3 aims are being met.

Having the classroom in order based on these 3 aims may seem very simple and obvious. Let me explain why it was important. My students came into my class with the results of the previous class still evident. Having left in a hurry, there were fallen chairs, desks at different angles, books and other materials from previous lessons on their desks, notes still written on the board. This was affecting the beginning of my lessons, so it became important to begin the class with the classroom in order.

With the idea of making each aim visually clear, discuss each one with your students. These are the results of the discussion with my students:

Students are ready for class  

- There are no materials on the desk, except those needed for the English lesson.

- The student has his class book, workbook, and notebook.

- The student has pen, pencil, and rubber.

The reason for these aims was the number of disruptions in class based on not having the materials they needed. Equally important, materials from other lessons meant that many students’ desks were disorganised. This was affecting their focus on the material in my lessons. My students already had a problem focussing on the lesson with these distractions.

Classes begin more efficiently

- The student is on time.

- The student enters in an orderly way.

- The student leaves in an orderly way.

What does “on time” mean? This greatly depends on the situation in your school. Some schools use a two-bell system and, in this case, being on time is being in class before the second bell rings. Many schools use the bell to call students (and the teacher) into class. Some schools do not use a bell system, at all. What is important is that you and your students agree and that it is obvious to all when a student is late. Based on the one bell system, my students arrived in the classroom at about the same time I did, walked in as I did, and went to their desks, as I did.

What does “in an orderly way” mean? Again, discuss this with your students. It could mean no running. It could mean going straight to their desks. It could even mean, not using their own language when they enter the English classroom.

Students participate actively during the lesson

- The student listens actively.

- The student works when necessary.

Initially, listening “actively” was difficult for my students to visualise. “How do you know we are listening actively?” they asked me. But based on the routine I wrote about here in a previous blog post, “A positive learning environment: the first 10 minutes (part 2)”, they quickly understood that they would need to listen to each other in order to participate in the class.

“when necessary” also became a point of discussion. Originally the aim was for students to be engaged in the lesson. This proved very difficult for larger classes with a greater degree of mixed abilities and learning preferences. My students felt they should not be punished if they had finished an exercise and were waiting for others. I accepted this, and so I took on the responsibility of keeping them all engaged. It was a challenge.

Responsibility Skills

Rather than calling them classroom rules, I labelled them “responsibility skills”. I made a poster with the aims and put it up in my classrooms. By having the poster with the aims in the classroom, I did not need to repeat or remind. I could simply look at the poster, and then look at the student. They understood what was wrong, because they could see it as easily as I could.

Then, it was a matter of being patient as students adjusted to the new expectations. Over time, about 3 months for me, these became part of the class routine, for which I congratulated them.


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Is it always preferable to employ only native English speaking teachers?

Is it always preferable to employ native English speaking teachers?

Image courtesy of Flazingo Photos

There are widely-held perceptions that numerous language schools refuse to hire non-Native English Speaker Teachers (nNESTs). In this guest article, teacher, teacher trainer, and founder of TEFL Equity Advocates, Marek Kiczkowiak, shares his thoughts on how this can have negative effects on students and teachers alike, and looks at an alternative, more egalitarian hiring model, that emphasises qualifications and experience, regardless of their mother tongue.

Dear Student,

I would like to tell you a few things about your English teachers which you might not have been aware of. As a teacher, I really care about your language progress and I would like you to understand what characteristics make certain teachers unforgettable, so that you can make an informed choice and pick the best language school.

It is very common for language schools to advertise only for and hire exclusively native speakers (NSs). I am sure that you have come across (or perhaps even studied in) institutions that boast having only native English speaker teachers (NESTs), who will teach you the ‘real’ English. In theory, this sounds fantastic. After all, who wouldn’t like to speak like a NS? In practice, however, there is a catch. Numerous non-native English speaker teachers (nNESTs), that is teachers for whom English is not their first language, have been rejected out of hand, not for lack of qualifications or poor language abilities, but simply for not being a NS.

It is very likely, then, that among those rejected nNESTs there were numerous teachers with higher qualifications and more experience than the NEST who was hired. The recruiter might have based their choice on the assumption that all nNESTs speak ‘bad’ English. While I certainly agree that language proficiency is very important for a successful teacher (I certainly wouldn’t like to be taught by somebody who doesn’t speak the language well enough), I agree with David Crystal, one of the ultimate authorities on the English language, who in this interview said that “Fluency alone is not enough. All sorts of people are fluent, but only a tiny proportion of them are sufficiently aware of the structure of the language that they know how to teach it.”

In addition, there are language tests (e.g. IELTS, TOEFL, CPE) which can be taken to prove a teacher’s proficiency. And there is no doubt that you can reach native-like level in a language – people did that even in the dim and distant past when teaching (and certainly language schools) was almost non–existent, or simply backwards by our standards. Take Joseph Conrad, for example. Born, bred and baptised in Poland as Józef Korzeniowski, he only emigrated to England in his late teens. Yet, he still managed to outwrite most of his contemporaries, introducing the English to the beauty of English.

So yes, of course, a successful teacher should be highly proficient in the language. There is no question about that. You need a good language model. However, it is a mistake to assume that only a NS can provide it, and to dismiss any nNEST out of hand.

What is more, being proficient in a language is not the only characteristic of a good teacher. For if it were, there would be no need for teaching courses and university degrees in pedagogy. Successful language teaching is so much more than merely knowing the language and I think this should be reflected in the way language schools hire their staff.

So, if as a student you want to know whether a particular school is worth investing your money and time in, ask them how they recruit teachers. On the whole, more trustworthy and renown schools select successful candidates based on logical and measurable criteria which are independent of and irrelevant to being a NS or not. For example:

  1. Qualifications
  2. Years and variety of teaching experience
  3. Language proficiency
  4. Personal traits

As a teacher, the best staff rooms I have worked in, and the best language schools with the happiest students, all have a healthy mix of NESTs and nNESTs, an opinion confirmed by many Academic Directors such as Varinder Unlu, who works for International House London. This is because the two groups can bring different characteristics into the classroom, learning from each other and improving as teachers. So while NESTs might be experts in language use, nNESTs have many important strengths which should not be overlooked.

For example, having mastered the language themselves, a nNEST can serve as an excellent learning role model. They can give you numerous tips that will help you learn faster based on their practical insights. They might also be more aware of the difficulties you are having since they have been through them too. And empathy and understanding are vital for successful teaching to take place. Many nNESTs have also studied the language on university level and can therefore bring a deep understanding of its mechanics.

I suggest then that as a client you question how your school chooses its teachers. Do not be swayed by slogans such as: We employ only NESTs because we care about your progress.

If they did, they would be employing the best teachers out there: native and non–native alike. And you have the right to receive the highest quality of education. So get involved and support equal teaching opportunities for all teachers.

Best regards,

Marek Kiczkowiak, TEFL Equity Advocates

 


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Four Oxford titles shortlisted for ESU Awards

PSU_shortlistWe are delighted to announce that four of our titles have made it to the shortlist for the English-Speaking Union’s English Language Awards 2014!

The Oxford Online Skills Program has been shortlisted for the ESU President’s Award which celebrates and encourages the widespread use of technology in the teaching and learning of English. The Oxford Learner’s Dictionary of Academic English, Focus on Content-Based Language Teaching and International Express have been shortlisted for the HRH The Duke of Edinburgh English Language Book Awards, which recognise the best book published each year in the field of English language teaching and learning.

The Oxford Online Skills Program supports and develops Reading, Listening, Speaking and Writing skills online using a sequence of media-rich activities, enhanced with video, animated presentations, interactive info-graphics and striking photography, to engage students. The judges commented, The Oxford Online Skills Program contains high quality content for students, across a range of different topics. This resource is easy to use, including the function of tracking student progress.  The program is an ideal companion to any Adult English course, and gives students plenty of support to study independently, including cultural glossaries, automatic marking and instant feedback.  Teachers can use the management tools to communicate with students outside class, and monitor progress.

The judges were also impressed by the Oxford Learner’s Dictionary of Academic English, which they described as providing clear and useful information for students both in the classroom environment and as a reference text for essay writing.  Focusing exclusively on Academic English, this dictionary is specifically designed for learners studying, or preparing to study academic subjects on English-medium university courses. Based on the 85-million-word Oxford Corpus of Academic English, it provides all the tools students need to develop their academic writing skills.

Focus on Content-Based Language Teaching, written by well-known language educator and applied linguist, Patsy Lightbown, is described by the judges as “an innovative resource” which “gives a clear representation of ideas in an increasingly important sector of the ELT market”. Following on from the success of How Languages are Learned (now in its fourth edition), it is the flagship title in a new series which bridges the gap between research and classroom practice.

The all new, five-level International Express is specifically designed for adult professionals who need English for life and work.  The judges commented that the course “displays sound practice in the field of English Language Teaching”, and praised it for its “interesting texts” and “good amount of digital content”.  This new third edition retains the popular student-centred approach and strong communicative focus of earlier editions, while adding a range of new features.

We are obviously thrilled with this news and looking forward to the announcement of the winners in December.


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Animal Talk: Animal-related adjectives in the English language

The origin and use of animal adjectives in English language

Image courtesy of Kapa65

Ian Brookes is a freelance writer and editor based in Scotland. He has edited a number of dictionaries and has written books about spelling, writing, and punctuation. In this post, he looks at the origins and use of animal-related adjectives in English.

The names of animals are probably among the first things learnt by a student of a language, yet knowing the names of animals doesn’t always help when it comes to their associated adjectives—in fact, sometimes it can be downright confusing.

Most of the formal adjectives that relate to animals are not derived from the common English names but are taken instead from the Latin name of each animal. So when you are talking about things to do with dogs, you use the adjective canine (from the Latin word canis) and when you are talking about things to do with horses, you use the adjective equine (from the Latin word equus). There is one of these Latin-derived adjectives for just about every animal you can think of, and some of them can be quite obscure even to native speakers. (Not many dictionaries bother to record ‘murine’, which is the Latin-inspired adjective that refers to mice, or ‘vespertilionine’, which refers to bats.)

In a few cases the Latin name of an animal is similar to the common English name, and so it is easy to guess the meaning of adjectives such as elephantine. In most cases, however, there is not an obvious connection between the Latin-derived adjective and the English noun.

Yet the common names of animals also give rise to adjectives: ‘horsey’, ‘doggy’, ‘catty’, ‘fishy’, and ‘ratty’ are perfectly respectable—if somewhat informal—English words. A few of these can be used to refer to the animals themselves, so you can talk about ‘a doggy smell’. On the whole, however, they are more likely to be applied to people or things that exhibit qualities associated with animals.

In fact, it is possible to identify two distinct groups of adjectives that are formed from the common names of animals. Adjectives formed by adding the combining form -like to the name of an animal are usually neutral or even positive in tone (depending on the typical associations of the animal involved). Someone who moves in a stealthy manner might be called ‘catlike’, while a gentle person might be ‘lamb-like’. A more negative example is the use of ‘ostrich-like’ for people who ignore what is going on about them (a term that comes from the ostrich’s proverbial habit of burying its head in the sand).

On the other hand, adjectives formed by adding the suffixes -y or -ish to the names of animals are predominantly negative: someone who is catty tends to say unkind and spiteful things about other people; someone who is sheepish is embarrassed because they have done something wrong; someone who is sluggish moves slowly and lazily; spidery handwriting has long, thin strokes that appear unattractive; someone who is waspish is aggressive and bad-tempered.

So if you come across an adjective that looks as though it is derived from the name of an animal, the first thing to be aware of is that these words usually don’t refer to the animals themselves: people might be sheepish, but sheep are not. It is also worth noting that when these words are used to describe people, the comparison is often not a complimentary one.


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How to bluff your way through the changes affecting English language teaching!

guide to changes in ESLAndrew Dilger and Sophie Rogers, former English language teachers, are part of the Professional Development team at Oxford University Press. In this tongue-in-cheek post, they consider some of the issues that any self-respecting ‘bluffer’ should be looking at over the long summer break.

English language teaching is changing

How many times have we heard that? This time, however, it really feels like it. With the increasing adoption of digital technologies including the use of tablets and smartphones in many schools; the emphasis on differentiating the learning experience for every student; a mass of edicts and policies from education ministries, school boards and  bandwagons, the average English language teacher – already exhausted and overstretched – could be forgiven for thinking it’s time to hang up their interactive whiteboard pen.

… and we’re not equipped to deal with it (especially in summer)

The thing is, it’s summer! One of the very few times in the calendar year when we can actually stop thinking about our students and start thinking about ourselves! Given the number of blockbuster movies to see, barbecues to go to, new recipes to try out on unsuspecting husbands/wives/partners/families (who we also need to get reacquainted with, by the way, after endless evenings of lesson planning and marking), how many of us really have the time to use the summer break to ‘skill up’?

… so here’s how to bluff it!

For this reason, here’s a bluffer’s guide for how to deal with the seismic changes affecting ELT. After all, the dream will be over in September and then it’s back to the chalk-face – or given the extent to which everything has gone digital – maybe that should be the ‘silicon-face’!

CAUTION: If your teaching is already ‘blended’, your classroom ‘flipped’ and you know your BYOD from your BYOT, then this blog post isn’t for you. For the rest of you, read on …

1) Get to grips with the terminology

Part of the problem is the terminology – we can’t bluff an issue until we know just what all the educators are actually talking about. So here are a few useful definitions to get you started:

  • Blended learning (also known as hybrid learning) – Situation in which a face-to-face classroom component is complemented and enhanced with learning technologies. For example, it could involve teachers and students communicating and interacting online as well as in class.
  • BYOD (Bring your own device; also known as BYOT: Bring your own technology) – Policy which allows students to bring their own mobile devices (tablet and/or smartphone) to school and use them in lessons.
  • Flipped classroom (also known as reversed teaching) – Situation in which students are able to watch videos of teacher-delivered presentations or lectures in their own time. This frees up more face-to-face time for interaction, discussion, collaboration, tasks, etc.
  • LMS (Learning management system) – System for managing learning and educational records or software for distributing online or blended courses with features for online collaboration
  • VLE (Virtual learning environment) – Online space where teachers and students can interact, share work, and organize online materials. VLEs are usually managed at the level of the educational institute.

Of course, the best way to keep on top of all these terms is to put up a poster-sized glossary in your teacher’s room. That way, everyone can add to it and everyone benefits.

2) Rely on experience

The good news for bluffers everywhere is that, as much as ELT is changing, the way we handle the change remains the same. We rely on our experience and wealth of teaching techniques to get us through. ‘Change management’ consists of simply adapting what we’re already doing anyway and if you don’t yet believe it, here’s a quote from someone who knew a thing or two to back it up:

“It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive but those who can best manage change.” ~ Charles Darwin

3) Get a book

With the sheer amount of published resources available – by both global and local publishers – there’s probably going to be a book about it somewhere. And chances are it’ll be written by someone who’s more immersed in the topic than we are. Some recent examples you might want to flick through include:

  • Bringing online video into the classroom – Jamie Keddie (OUP)
  • Technology Enhanced Language Learning – Goodith White & Aisha Walker (OUP)
  • Thinking in the EFL class – Tessa Woodward (Helbling)
  • Adaptive learning – Philip Kerr (theround – free!)

4) Go online

For many teachers, the internet is the equivalent of the days when we used to walk into the teacher’s room and shout out: ‘What exactly does student-centred mean?’ Or, ‘I’ve got a lesson in ten minutes with a class I’ve never taught before. Help!’ If you’re looking for shortcuts, then the following sites contain enough classroom-ready ideas and professional insights to put you right at the cutting edge of what’s hot in the ELT methodology:

5) Ask a colleague

It’s all about shaping learning together. The trick is to make sure at least one colleague we’re shaping it with is a bit more up-to-date than we are. This way, they can bring us with them into the 21st-century. If you’re looking to bluff it on an institutional scale, try setting up a ‘buddy system’ or ‘chat group’ to discuss some of the latest trends and how you can deal with them. Meet once a month/term and each take a topic – define it, summarize the implications and pool ideas for how you can bring it into the classroom. You could even put together a regular e-newsletter on the findings. Suggestions for some of the ‘buzzier’ trends affecting ELT for your first few chat groups are:

  • Mobile learning (using mobile technology such as tablet computers and smartphones; also known as ‘m-learning’ or ‘mLearning’)
  • Special educational needs provision (e.g. helping learners with ADHD, dyslexia, ASD, SEBDs, etc.)
  • Assessment literacy (understanding how all aspects of testing and assessment impact on the learning process)
  • 21st-Century skills (including the so-called ‘Four Cs’: communication, collaboration, critical thinking, creativity)
  • Multilingualism (how communicating in more than one language affects the learning process – if you’re feeling brave, you could also tackle ‘plurilingualism’!)

So there you go. Five easy techniques for staying ‘ahead of the curve’ and bluffing your way through the changes affecting English language teaching. Now we can get back to enjoying our well-earned summer break and working on that tan. Roll on September!

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