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Benchmarking your curriculum to the CEFR

Teacher and students in classMeghan Beler is a full-time teacher trainer for Oxford University Press in Istanbul, Turkey. In this article, she gives an overview of the Common European Framework of Reference and explains why it is useful as a benchmarking tool.

The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages: Learning, Teaching, Assessment (CEFR) is a document created by the Council of Europe – Language Policy Division and has become the standard for measuring language competency in Europe and in many countries across the world. It has increasingly been used as a tool for benchmarking national curricula and language certificates1. The CEFR measures language ability at six levels: A1 (Beginners), A2, B1, B2, C1 and C2 (Language Mastery). It is designed to describe how language users communicate and how they understand written and spoken texts. Each level describes what a learner ‘can do’ in relation to a specific communicative competency and scales for each competency are broken down into individual level-specific descriptors, for example:

Overall Reading Comprehension, Level B2:

Can read with a large degree of independence, adapting style and speed of reading to different texts and purposes, and using appropriate reference sources selectively. Has a broad active reading vocabulary, but may experience some difficulty with low frequency idioms2.

How can the CEFR be used?

The CEFR is NOT a set of rules or a teaching methodology to be strictly adhered to. The scales and descriptors are designed to serve as a basis for curricula to be built upon and may need to be adapted and expanded upon depending on your unique teaching and learning context. The European Language Portfolio3, a useful tool for learners to record their language learning experiences and achievements, provides additional support for institutions benchmarking their curricula to the CEFR.

Why do we use the CEFR?

The CEFR was created for the purposes of having a universal scale with which to measure learners’ communicative competences. Throughout the world, educators may have different views about what an upper-intermediate student, for example, should be able to do. The CEFR helps educators to break down these boundaries and ambiguities between institutions and learning contexts. By benchmarking your own institutional curriculum to the CEFR, you are able to provide a clear set of standards for describing language ability that are mutually recognizable across time and contexts. It also serves as a way to plan transparent and realistic learning objectives and map learners’ progression.

1 The Council of Europe – Language Policy Division (http://www.coe.int/t/dg4/linguistic/cadre_en.asp)
2Common European Framework of Reference for Languages: Learning, teaching, assessment (CEFR), p. 69.
3The European Language Portfolio (http://www.coe.int/t/dg4/education/elp/)

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The Digital Learning Curve: 3 ways school leaders can help teachers stay ahead

Meghan Beler is a full-time teacher trainer for Oxford University Press in Istanbul, Turkey. Here she talks about three ways school leaders can help teachers stay ahead of technology trends.

Regardless of whether we are thrilled with or terrified of the digital revolution that is sweeping our classrooms, the reality is that the decision to use technology in the classroom is not always left up to the teacher. In order to stay up-to-date (and in some cases, competitive), schools are investing more in interactive white boards, computer labs and laptops for students. Teachers across the world may walk into classrooms this year that seem foreign, filled with technological tools and applications that they may not even know how to use, let alone know why they should be using them.

Technology has the potential to revolutionise the way teaching and learning occurs, however this will not be possible without confident, knowledgeable and prepared teachers. What can school leaders do to ensure that their teachers do not fall behind the digital learning curve?

Training

Both teachers and school leaders need training in order to ensure that digital tools are directing learning towards educational goals rather than away from them. Firstly, teachers need training in the basic functionality of digital tools. Not knowing how to turn the page of an on-screen course book or embed a video into a presentation can seriously limit the potential impact of digital tools. Perhaps even more importantly, a lack of basic technological knowledge can be disempowering for a teacher and can lead to further fear and avoidance of educational technology.

Teachers need to be confident and knowledgeable not only about how to use digital tools, but how to use them in ways that lead to a better educational experience. Having learners watch a YouTube video without giving them any sort of task to do along with it will do little more than keep learners briefly entertained. And just because we have thousands of tools, apps, and resources at our fingertips doesn’t mean we should walk into class without an idea of what we want learners to achieve. If we do not think carefully about how to actively involve learners through technology, our lessons are at risk of becoming technology-centred rather than learner-centred.

Time

Even confident, tech-savvy teachers need time to understand how digital tools will best suit the needs of their learners, and this can only happen by using technology in practice. Of course, it is not only the teachers who need time to adjust; the same is true for learners. Learners may not understand what is expected of them and may simply be excited by the arrival of new technology. At first, this may be frustrating for teachers as activities may seem chaotic and unfocused. Both teachers and learners need time to adjust to new routines and ways of learning.

School leaders also need time to consider how (and if) new digital policies and programmes are helping teachers and learners reach curricular goals more effectively. This requires a great deal of patience and faith on everyone’s part; we may discover that what was a great idea in theory doesn’t work well in practice. We may also find out that a programme which seemed destined to fail in the beginning turns out to be a phenomenal success!

Support

Teachers need to know that they have the support and understanding of their superiors.  One way to do this is through departmental forums where teachers can have open dialogues about their digital experiences with learners. This not only fosters a better understanding of what is actually happening both in and out of teachers’ classrooms, but provides the opportunity for teachers to share diverse solutions to complex problems. The reality is that every teacher experiences both successes and failures in implementing new digital tools and programmes, and being able to discuss it openly is an important part of the digital learning curve.

Indeed, technology will allow us to provide a better education for learners, and school leaders play an important role in helping their teachers stay ahead of the curve through the right balance of training, time and support.

What do you do to help your teachers (or yourself) stay ahead of the digital learning curve?

[Photo by Brad Flickinger via Flickr/Creative Commons]

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A Letter to My Younger Self

Young woman thinking as she writesMeghan Beler is a full-time teacher trainer for Oxford University Press in Istanbul, Turkey. In this piece she writes a letter to herself about things she wished she knew when she first started teaching.

Dear Younger Self,

As you have probably realised by now, teaching is hard work. On top of a full teaching load you have to deal with homework, exams, misbehaving students, staff meetings and (gasp!) students’ parents. You are experiencing a lot of uncertainty and ups and downs, sometimes even on an hourly basis. You may feel that you don’t have enough time to plan the spectacular lessons you dreamt of when you were training to become a teacher. I remember what it feels like to be a new teacher, so I would like to offer you some simple advice that can help you deal with some of the challenges you are currently facing.

Choice: First of all, don’t be afraid to give your students choices about their learning. As a teacher, it’s very easy to fall into a pattern of being the decision-maker, judge and jury in the classroom, but allowing choice is an important part of helping students become autonomous learners. By having your students make some decisions in the classroom, you can also increase their involvement and enjoyment of your lessons. Start with something simple, such as allowing students to choose which questions from an exercise that they would like to answer. You might also consider asking them how they would like to carry out an activity – individually, in pairs or in groups? Homework and projects are other areas where choice is a possibility. If you want them to get more practice with past simple at home, give them some options and take a whole class vote, for example:

  1. Write a short composition about your last holiday.
  2. Record yourself talking about what you did last weekend.
  3. Prepare a ‘past simple’ quiz for your classmates.

This allows you to cater to different learning styles while encouraging students to take responsibility for their own learning. For learners who are not accustomed to being given choice in the classroom, this new responsibility may come as a shock to them and they may struggle to come up with ideas or even try to ‘cheat’ the system. But with a bit of persistence and optimism on your part, you will be amazed at the wonderful ideas your students can come up with.

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