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Mixed-ability teaching: Preparing for a class and managing the classroom

School children writingEdmund Dudley is a teacher trainer, materials writer and teacher of English with more than 20 years of classroom experience. Ahead of his webinar on the subject, Ed joins us today to discuss mixed-ability teaching and setting learning goals for language learners of differing levels of skill. 

What do we mean by mixed-ability?

Mixed-ability classes are the norm, rather than the exception. Whether or not a class has been streamed according to language level, there are still likely to be big differences between individual learners in every group. I’ll be exploring some of these differences in the webinar.

What about differentiated learning?

Differentiating the learning activities in class is a good way to make language more accessible to learners at different levels – without losing a sense of togetherness.

Here are three ways that classroom activities can be differentiated:

Differentiating the input

For a reading comprehension activity, create two alternative versions of the text beside the original: one version adapted to make it more accessible, and another version made more challenging. Learners each tackle one of the three texts and then answer the same comprehension questions.

Differentiating the process

Alternatively, provide students with identical input (e.g. a set of questions) and then choose one of a number of options for finding out the answers (e.g. by reading a text, by doing individual research, or by completing a spoken information-gap activity.)

Differentiating the output

Open-ended questions can turn a narrow activity into something more accessible and flexible. Students all get the same prompt, but can respond in their own way. For a writing task, provide a ‘menu’ of prompt questions from which learners can choose the one they find most interesting. And why not set a time limit instead of a word limit? Then students write as much as they can within the allotted time.

How can we set appropriate learning goals?

A successful learning environment is one that is goal-oriented, but we should remember that setting ill-conceived or unrealistic goals is counter-productive. Achievable and desirable goals, on the other hand, lead to a healthy learning environment where students’ efforts are rewarded – triggering further motivation.

It’s not all about language – identifying personal goals and groups goals that are not related to language can have a beneficial effect on the group dynamic and individual achievement. Examples might be remembering to switch off phones in class, or finding a different partner to work with for every pairwork activity.

Grouping learners within lessons

When learners in mixed-ability groups are given activities to tackle in small groups and pairs there are more opportunities for personalized learning than in frontal teaching.

Pair work and group work also offer greater variety within activities, allowing individual students to work together with a number of different classmates in the same lesson and, over the course of a term, with everyone in the class.

There are many techniques for grouping learners and a number of different criteria that can be applied – I’ll be exploring some of these in the webinar.

Managing the mixed-ability classroom

Managing the classroom is the responsibility of the teacher – but that does not mean that students should be completely excluded from the process. In fact, there are many ways that we can involve students meaningfully in the day-to-day running of the classroom by finding a variety of appropriate, self-affirming and constructive roles for them to perform. I’ll be sharing some examples in the webinar.

If you’re interested in learning more about the subject and gaining practical ideas for managing mixed ability in the classroom, please register below for this free webinar, taking place on 19th and 21st January.

register-for-webinar


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5 Ways Your Young Learners of English Will Change the World

shutterstock_247739401Kathleen Kampa and Charles Vilina have taught young learners in Asia for over 25 years. They are co-authors of Magic Time, Everybody Up, and Oxford Discover, primary ELT courses published by Oxford University Press. Their inquiry-based teaching approach supports a differentiated classroom environment that builds the 21st Century skills of critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, and communication.

If you teach English to young learners, take a moment to consider the role you play in shaping their futures. To begin with, you are providing the building blocks of a skill that they can use meaningfully and productively throughout their lives. You are offering the opportunity for global communication, for relationships and careers that will shape who they are and what they do. Most importantly, you can help them change the world for the better.

In essence, the English language classroom exists to prepare students to communicate across cultures, across borders, across perspectives. As the world evolves and becomes even more interconnected, it is our students to whom we entrust the responsibility of building a better global society.

So how will your young learners of English change the world as adults in the future?  Here are five ways:

  1. By communicating effectively in English. Your students will have the ability to read, write, listen and speak with a strong degree of fluency. They will have the social and academic language skills necessary to consider differing points of view, and to persuade and inform others. Here are some tips on how to help your students develop good communication skills in English.
  1. By thinking critically about knowledge and information. Your students will think deeply about issues, and will connect what they learn with what they already know. They will be able to organize and prioritize the information they receive, in order to make sense of it and achieve new goals with it. How do you bring critical thinking skills into your classroom? Here is a video with some easy-to-use ideas.
  1. By thinking creatively. Your students will have the ability to take knowledge and create something completely new with it. They will connect information from various fields to arrive at solutions to old and new problems. They will personalize new knowledge, adapting it to create something that is uniquely their own. You can develop and nurture creativity in your classroom with some of these simple strategies.
  1. By working together, also known as collaborating. Your students will have the social language skills necessary to work with people from other cultures and perspectives. They will learn to share ideas and compromise to achieve the needed results.
  1. Finally, by caring about the world. Your students will be curious and connected adults who will be able to identify problems and seek out solutions with others. They will strive to make a difference in the world. Try some of these approaches to create a classroom environment in which students are encouraged to collaborate and show caring attitudes towards each other.

Some of these qualities have been listed under the label of “21st Century Skills”. We’re happy to look at them as prerequisites for success.  Students who communicate well, who think critically and creatively, and who work well with others, have the tools they need to find success in any field. And it all begins in our classrooms.

How do we build these skills? The links above will take you to a small sample of video tips on using and developing 21st Century Skills in your English classroom. To view all 56 videos available on this topic, visit this 21st Century Skills playlist on YouTube.

If you’re in Japan, join us on Sunday November 22 at the 2015 JALT conference in Shizuoka, where we will present our workshop entitled A Practical Guide to Building 21st Century Skills. Using examples from our new primary course Oxford Discover*, we will demonstrate how the building of 21st century skills can be incorporated into every language lesson. We’ll show how these skills can help your young learners develop English fluency and increase their motivation at the same time.

*2015 ELTon award winner for Excellence in Course Innovation.

Kathleen and Charles will present at JALT on Sunday, November 22nd. Click here for more details.


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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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Teaching with Web 2.0 Tools (Part 2)

DeathtoStock_Medium5Magali 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.

Listening is a difficult skill to develop for ELLs or any other foreign language learner. And yet, it is critical for language acquisition. In the past, we mostly used the audio materials included in textbooks to help our learners develop listening skills. However, with the advent of new technologies and the Internet, we have been able to add richness to our lessons by using podcasts, short videos or live radio programs from stations in other countries. Despite this, there are times when we want to create specific audio materials to suit our learners’ needs without having to record our voices. Fortunately, using Web 2.0 tools can give us the opportunity to create our own engaging and fun listening materials without having to record our voice or, better yet, we can engage our students in the process of creation. Text-to-Speech (TTS) technology is extremely helpful because we can select the speech rate, the gender and the accent of the voice that will be created from our text. iSpeech and Voki are examples of tools that employ TTS technology.

iSpeech can be used with computers or with tablets and smart phones through the mobile apps. Voki allows you, or your students, to generate fun listening activities through the creation of avatars to represent you, a fictitious character, or your students. You can use TTS, upload audio files or use your smart phone to record. You can place your listening activity (avatar) in your social network site or blog, or even email it for homework.

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Figure 1: Sample Voki development page—Text extract from the OUP series Discover Science Level 3 Student’s Book

In designing a lesson, we can apply the pre-listening, while-listening and post-listening framework. Once the topic of the lesson is decided and after the instructional goal of the activity is established—top-down or bottom-up skill development (Rost, 2011)—we can begin developing our listening materials.

During the pre-listening stage, learners can begin work on top-down processing skills. Top-down processing takes place, for example, when learners use their previous knowledge on a topic to interpret a message. If they do not have any knowledge on the topic, regardless of how fluent they are, it will render a listening activity quite challenging. This principle applies even to native speakers. Imagine having to listen to a conversation about astrophysics—if you are not an astrophysicist, having to answer comprehension questions based on that conversation can be an overwhelming challenge. Therefore, establishing a context, pre-teaching vocabulary or sociocultural elements and activating previous knowledge are needed for comprehension of aural input (Ur, 1999).

In preparing a science lesson, I can use Google Earth to engage my learners and activate their previous knowledge on ecosystems and biomes during the pre-listening stage. As they engage in their virtual exploration of the Earth, I can begin eliciting content-specific vocabulary and teaching any lexis they will need to successfully complete their listening task.

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Figure 2: Image courtesy of Google Earth

Moving on to the next stage of the lesson, besides top-down processing skills, more skills will need to be developed that are just as necessary—namely, bottom-up processing skills. The while-listening stage provides a great opportunity to develop decoding or bottom-up processing skills. In bottom-up processing, some degree of phonological, grammatical and lexical competence is needed. This is because when learners engage in bottom-up processing, they attempt to make sense of the message based on chunks of input, such as sounds, words, clauses or sentences—to name a few. Top-down and bottom-up processes do not happen in isolation—they interact (Vandergrift, 1999).

Continuing with the example of a science lesson, for the while-listening activity, I can use Woices to develop a guide to different biomes and the services they provide. I can embed the guide in a blog or a social network page, or use it directly from the site. Woices can be used with computers or with tablets and smart phones through the mobile apps. In a while-listening activity like this, depending on the instructional goal, I can have my learners complete a mind map in Mind42 with information from the aural input or follow the information on Google Earth as they capture images mentioned in the Woices guide for the post-listening activity.

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Figure 3: Image courtesy of Woices

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Figure 4: Images courtesy of Mind42 and Tiffany @Making the World Cuter

In fact, Woices, iSpeech and Voki can be used for the post-listening stage. You may decide, for example, to have your learners create their own Voki as a response. The advantage of using TTS technology is that if students have memorized words with the wrong pronunciation, once their text is converted to speech, they will notice the difference. After all, research shows that learners have consistently reported that memorizing words with the wrong pronunciation greatly interferes with their listening comprehension performance (Goh, 2008). The downside of TTS is that it may not provide the desired intonation if that is one of the instructional goals of a lesson.

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

 

References and Further Reading

Goh, C. (2008). Metacognitive Instruction for Second Language Listening Development: Theory, Practice and Research Implications. RELC Journal: A Journal of Language Teaching and Research, 39(2), 188–213.

Rost, M. (2011). Teaching and Researching Listening (2nd ed., pp. 132-133). New York, NY: Pearson Education Limited.

Ur, P. (1999). Module 8 – Teaching listening. A Course in Language Teaching (pp. 41–47). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Vandergrift, L. (1999). Facilitating Second Language Listening Comprehension: Acquiring Successful Strategies. ELT Journal, 53 (3), 168–176.


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#IATEFL – Second language development in childhood: factors for success

content based language teaching and instructionVictoria Murphy, Professor of Applied Linguistics and author of Second language learning in the early school years: Trends and Contextsshares her thoughts on the importance of L2 development in childhood, ahead of her forthcoming talk at IATEFL 2015 on Tuesday 14th on the same subject.

How children learn second languages has long interested me. Looking back, even from a very young age I was fascinated with the notion of bilingualism. As a child growing up in Ottawa, Canada I was fortunate in that I had very early second language instruction – indeed I was taught French as part of my pre-school and kindergarten education. When I was in grade 3 I recall that a very nice lady came into the class and told us that if we were interested in having all of our school day in French in grade 4, that we should take the letter she was distributing home to our parents and get them to sign it. I vividly remember how excited I was then at the prospect of speaking French for the whole day! Little did I know then that I was to end up participating in an early cohort of French Immersion education, a form of bilingual education that I would later go on to study as an academic. That very early interest in bilingualism stuck with me and eventually motivated me to go on and study Linguistics and Psychology at undergraduate level and then as part of my graduate work examine more closely some of the mechanisms which underpin child L2 learning.

Why is child L2 learning important?

More than ever I believe the field of child L2 learning, and particularly the role that formal education has in developing plurilingual citizens, is critically important to our futures, for a variety of reasons, which include social, economic, political and cognitive perspectives. I think too that we need to have a much better understanding of the factors and influences that shape successful L2 development in childhood, and again, to identify more precisely the role that educational policy, schools and teachers can play in determining successful L2 outcomes. This understanding is all the more important because increasingly governments around the world are lowering the age at which children are being taught a foreign language as part of their formal primary education.  However, the evidence which directly examines questions about the most effective or appropriate age at which to teach foreign languages to younger children is mixed, where some studies clearly show advantages to older learners while other studies argue for benefits to young learners. One worries (at least I do) that the reason why governments are making these decisions is due to a generally held belief that ‘younger is better’ in language learning in general, and L2 learning in particular. Without a doubt there is plenty of evidence in the literature to demonstrate age of acquisition effects, and clear relationships between the age of the learner and their L2 outcomes.

Contributing factors for L2 learning

However, many other variables are implicated in this relationship in addition to age (i.e., it is not just the age of the learner that determines the ultimate success of L2 learning). This is the point of the volume Second language learning in the early school years:  Trends and Contexts. I wanted to show that by examining L2 learning across a range of young learner contexts – where the children in each context can be argued to be at an advantage age-wise – we see that age is not the only, and probably not even the most critical, variable in determining the success of L2 learners.  Implementing policy to formally teach L2/Foreign Language to children, or developing bilingual education programmes to help support different languages, ought to be considered within a solid understanding of the research that identifies what we can realistically expect of L2 learners across different contexts. Furthermore, particularly in those contexts where children’s bilingual development is being supported by the school, we need to pay very close attention to the nature of the provision in these different bilingual or L2 programmes so as to ensure that we offer maximal support for the development of the L2 (while at the same time maintaining and developing the L1). It is my hope that the discussions in the volume Second language learning in the early school years:  Trends and Contexts will be informative in identifying major themes and issues in different contexts of child L2 learning, and that possibly, future generations of educational policy makers will make decisions concerning educational provision with a greater awareness of the complexity of child L2 development.

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