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How to increase access to high-quality ELT assessment

students taking an assessmentThis blog starts with two key statements that are facts:

  1. English is the world’s Lingua Franca. It’s spoken by 25% of the world’s population and there are now substantially more non-native than native speakers. (British Council, English Effect Report, accessed 02/01/2020)
  2. People who speak English have better chances in their life.
    “We have found a consistently positive correlation between English proficiency and a range of indicators of human and economic development, including adjusted net income per capita.” (EF English Proficiency Index 2019, accessed 02/01/2020)

 

Given these facts, how can we try to make sure that as many people as possible have access to high-quality English language assessment?

Increasing access to education is fundamental to creating a better, more balanced future. It is something that’s of huge personal importance to me, and that drives my decision making in my role as Director of Assessment at OUP. And yet English language learning and assessment has traditionally been aimed at those who can afford it—even though there are many more people who can’t afford it than those who can.

Assessment is a hugely important component of education because it provides evidence of learning. In the world of English language, assessment can open doors to education, work and immigration, but the keys to those doors are costly, with high-quality and recognized English language certification costing around £200. Looking at salaries in 77 countries (World Data, accessed 02/01/2020), it’s easy to see how much £200 is:

  • For 12 countries, the average monthly salary is around £200
  • A further 24 countries have an average monthly salary of less than £1000

It’s a fair conclusion that, due to high costs, English language assessment is closed off to many people worldwide. That’s why affordability in assessment is massively important if we’re not to leave swathes of people behind.

OUP is a mission-based organisation: we create world-class academic and educational resources and make them available as widely as possible. In my view, increasing access to high-quality English language assessment has the potential to transform education—and indeed people’s lives—for the better. My focus is on producing high-quality, internationally recognized English assessments that are affordable and accessible to more people. In my team, we do this in the design of our assessments and our flexible business models.

 

Join our Twitter Q&A!

At this year’s Education World Forum, the theme is “One generation – what does it take to transform education?”. To mark our involvement, I will be joined by English Language Teaching’s Marketing Director, Sarah Ultsch, for a Twitter Question & Answer session next week!

 

Would you like to ask us a question about OUP’s vision on “what it takes to transform education”? 

We will be answering your questions on Wednesday 22nd January at 1300 – 1400 GMT!

Join us on Twitter live, or post your question ahead of time using the hashtag #AskSarahEWF

 


 

Sarah Rogerson is Director of Assessment at Oxford University Press. She has worked in English language teaching and assessment for 20 years and is passionate about education for all and digital innovation in ELT. As a relative newcomer to OUP, Sarah is really excited about the Oxford Test of English and how well it caters to the 21st-century student.


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Adaptive testing in ELT with Colin Finnerty | ELTOC 2020

OUP offers a suite of English language tests: the Oxford Online Placement test (for adults), the Oxford Young Learners Placement Test, The Oxford Test of English (a proficiency test for adults) and, from April 2020, the Oxford Test of English for Schools. What’s the one thing that unites all these tests (apart from them being brilliant!)? Well, they are all adaptive tests. In this blog, we’ll dip our toes into the topic of adaptive testing, which I’ll be exploring in more detail in my ELTOC session. If you like this blog, be sure to come along to the session.

The first standardized tests

Imagine the scene. A test taker walks nervously into the exam room, hands in any forbidden items to the invigilator (e.g. a bag, mobile phone, notepad, etc.) and is escorted to a randomly allocated desk, separated from other desks to prevent copying. The test taker completes a multiple-choice test, anonymised to protect against potential bias from the person marking the test, all under the watchful eyes of the invigilators. Sound familiar? But imagine this isn’t happening today, but over one-and-a-half thousand years ago.

The first recorded standardised tests date back to the year 606. A large-scale, high-stakes exam for the Chinese civil service, it pioneered many of the examination procedures that we take for granted today. And while the system had many features we would shy away from today (the tests were so long that people died while trying to finish them), this approach to standardised testing lasted a millennium until it came to an end in 1905. Coincidentally, that same year the next great innovation in testing was established by French polymath Alfred Binet.

A revolution in testing

Binet was an accomplished academic. His research included investigations into palmistry, the mnemonics of chess players, and experimental psychology. But perhaps his most well-known contribution is the IQ test. The test broke new ground, not only for being the first to attempt to measure intelligence, but also because it was the first ever adaptive test. Adaptive testing was an innovation well ahead of its time, and it was another 100 years before it became widely available. But why? To answer this, we first need to explore how traditional paper-based tests work.

The problem with paper-based tests

We’ve all done paper-based tests: everyone gets the same paper of, say, 100 questions. You then get a score out of 100 depending on how many questions you got right. These tests are known as ‘linear tests’ because everyone answers the same questions in the same order. It’s worth noting that many computer-based tests are actually linear, often being just paper-based tests which have been put onto a computer.

But how are these linear tests constructed? Well, they focus on “maximising internal consistency reliability by selecting items (questions) that are of average difficulty and high discrimination” (Weiss, 2011). Let’s unpack what that means with an illustration. Imagine a CEFR B1 paper-based English language test. Most of the items will be around the ‘middle’ of the B1 level, with fewer questions at either the lower or higher end of the B1 range. While this approach provides precise measurements for test takers in the middle of the B1 range, test takers at the extremes will be asked fewer questions at their level, and therefore receive a less precise score. That’s a very inefficient way to measure, and is a missed opportunity to offer a more accurate picture of the true ability of the test taker.

Standard Error of Measurement

Now we’ll develop this idea further. The concept of Standard Error of Measurement (SEM), from Classical Test Theory, is that whenever we measure a latent trait such as language ability or IQ, the measurement will always consist of some error. To illustrate, imagine giving the same test to the same test taker on two consecutive days (magically erasing their memory of the first test before the second to avoid practice effects). While their ‘True Score’ (i.e. underlying ability) would remain unchanged, the two measurements would almost certainly show some variation. SEM is a statistical measure of that variation. The smaller the variation, the more reliable the test score is likely to be. Now, applying this concept to the paper-based test example in the previous section, what we will see is that SEM will be higher for the test takers at both the lower and higher extremes of the B1 range.

Back to our B1 paper-based test example. In Figure 1, the horizontal axis of the graph shows B1 test scores going from low to high, and the vertical axis shows increasing SEM. The higher the SEM, the less precise the measurement. The dotted line illustrates the SEM. We can see that a test taker in the middle of the B1 range will have a low SEM, which means they are getting a precise score. However, the low and high level B1 test takers’ measurements are less precise.

Aren’t we supposed to treat all test takers the same?

                                                                                            Figure 1.

How computer-adaptive tests work

So how are computer-adaptive tests different? Well, unlike linear tests, computer-adaptive tests have a bank of hundreds of questions which have been calibrated with different difficulties. The questions are presented to the test taker based on a sophisticated algorithm, but in simple terms, if the test taker answers the question correctly, they are presented with a more difficult question; if they answer incorrectly, they are presented with a less difficult question. And so it goes until the end of the test when a ‘final ability estimate’ is produced and the test taker is given a final score.

Binet’s adaptive test was paper-based and must have been a nightmare to administer. It could only be administered to one test taker at a time, with an invigilator marking each question as the test taker completed it, then finding and administering each successive question. But the advent of the personal computer means that questions can be marked and administered in real-time, giving the test taker a seamless testing experience, and allowing a limitless number of people to take the test at the same time.

The advantages of adaptive testing

So why bother with adaptive testing? Well, there are lots of benefits compared with paper-based tests (or indeed linear tests on a computer). Firstly, because the questions are just the right level of challenge, the SEM is the same for each test taker, and scores are more precise than traditional linear tests (see Figure 2). This means that each test taker is treated fairly. Another benefit is that, because adaptive tests are more efficient, they can be shorter than traditional paper-based tests. That’s good news for test takers. The precision of measurement also means the questions presented to the test takers are at just the right level of challenge, so test takers won’t be stressed by being asked questions which are too difficult, or bored by being asked questions which are too easy.

This is all good news for test takers, who will benefit from an improved test experience and confidence in their results.

 

                                                                                            Figure 2.


ELTOC 2020

If you’re interested in hearing more about how we can make testing a better experience for test takers, come and join me at my ELTOC session. See you there!

 


Colin Finnerty is Head of Assessment Production at Oxford University Press. He has worked in language assessment at OUP for eight years, heading a team which created the Oxford Young Learner’s Placement Test and the Oxford Test of English. His interests include learner corpora, learning analytics, and adaptive technology.


References

Weiss, D. J. (2011). Better Data From Better Measurements Using Computerized Adaptive Testing. Testing Journal of Methods and Measurement in the Social Sciences Vol.2, no.1, 1-27.

Oxford Online Placement Test and Oxford Young Learners Placement Test: www.oxfordenglishtesting.com

The Oxford Test of English and Oxford Test of English for Schools: www.oxfordtestofenglish.com


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8 easy steps to using project-based learning in the classroom

Two robots holding handsStudents are always fascinated with the idea of time travel and understanding the relationship between the past and the future. I remember as a child both burying and discovering time capsules full of cultural treasures and personal stories.

We have used the theme of time relationships and time capsules in this lesson plan to encourage students to understand and communicate with the past and send students in the past information about their lives now.

This lesson plan is based on a PBL (Project-Based Learning) cycle and for its output students are encouraged to work towards some form of poster or digital document that tells students of the past about the things they feel are important in the present day.

Students can use these posters and documents to enter The Project Competition 2020.

We hope you enjoy working through this project with your students and that they enjoy thinking about life in the past and how our lives have changed.

 

Download the Lesson Plan

 


 

Nik Peachey is a freelance writer, blogger, teacher trainer and consultant specialising in digital publishing, online course development and the development of digital resources for teachers. He has been involved in English language teaching since 1992 and has worked all over the world as a teacher, trainer and project manager. In 2016 after winning his second British Council Award for Innovations (ELTon) he co-founded PeacheyPublications Ltd.

Nik Peachey was manager of the British Council’s TeachingEnglish website from 2003 to 2007, Global Head of Learning for Macmillan’s online English school EnglishUp from 2014 to 2016. From 2017 – 2018 he worked with Eton College on their EtonX program of soft skills courses and later in 2018 he worked with Kings College London Online developing content for their master’s level Financial Law courses. He has co-edited with Alan Maley two books on creativity – ‘Integrating Global Issues in the Creative English Language Classroom’ and ‘Creativity in the English Language Classroom’ and published ten more through his own company.


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Task Based Learning: A Dynamo for 21st Century Learning

task based learningNowadays we live in an ever-changing global world in which global skills have become the essential skills of the workplace. Employers currently seek employees who have a positive attitude to life, who are adaptable, self-motivated and who are continuously motivated to grow and learn. In short, it seems that the global marketplace is looking for life-long learners who have a growth mindset. This being the case, it seems fitting to stop and ask ourselves whether our schools and educational systems are currently preparing our children for this complex and ever-changing reality, or if they are simply perpetuating a bygone 19th century educational model that is no longer capable of meeting our modern-day reality and needs. Sir Ken Robinson defends that:

“We have to go from what is essentially an industrial model of education, a manufacturing model, which is based on linearity and conformity and batching people. We have to move to a model that is based more on principles of agriculture. We have to recognize that human flourishing is not a mechanical process; it’s an organic process. And you cannot predict the outcome of human development. All you can do, like a farmer, is create the conditions under which they will begin to flourish.” (Robinson, 2010)

It seems that this message is being heard and taken on board, as many educational systems around the world have already begun taking the first steps towards bringing about this kind of radical long-lasting change into their schools and society by implementing UNESCO’s 4 pillars of education[1] or the OECD Pisa-Global Competence framework in their curricula. The OUP ELT expert panel recently defended in the Global skills: Creating Empowered 21st Century Citizens position paper: “Nowadays, teacher’s responsibilities typically cover not only the teaching of specific subjects but also the gradual inclusion of additional skills and competencies.”[2] (2019: p. 10). Thus, we teachers need to implement a 21st century learning framework in our classrooms which introduces a balanced learning approach. An approach that simultaneously promotes and develops the learning of subject specific content along with the 21st century global skills like Critical and Creative thinking, Communication, Collaboration, Intercultural, Citizenship and Digital skills, and finally, Emotional Regulation and Well-being.

Whilst all this makes perfect sense, teachers like you and me often find themselves a little lost when it comes to bridging the gap between theory and practice in our classrooms. Suzie Boss and John Larmer defend that Project Based Learning (PBL)is just the perfect tool to make this shift as:

Through academically rigorous projects, students acquire deep content knowledge while also mastering 21st century success skills: knowing how to think critically, analyse information for reliability, collaborate with diverse colleagues, and solve problems creatively. In the process of engaging with PBL, students learn to ask good questions, be resourceful, manage their time, meet authentic deadlines, and persist through challenges. When well done, PBL fosters self-management and self-directed learning.” (Larmer, 2018, p. 1)

Colleen MacDonell goes a step further and alerts us to the toll that a strictly academic programme can take on Young Learners by mainly focusing on their cognitive development in neglect of other essential components of how learning takes place with young learners, namely,  their innate positive dispositions like their constant curiosity and eagerness to learn. She supports the introduction of PBL in the YL classroom as:

…the project approach to teaching helps young children develop many positive habits of mind and behaviour: persistence in the face of a difficult problem, curiosity about new concepts, motivation to learn, cooperativeness, and even humour. … Early childhood education should include a conscious effort on the part of teachers to create learning environments and activities that allow children to practice and experience these desirable behaviours. (MacDonell, 2007, p. 4)

Want to try the PBL approach with your learners? Here are five absolutely essential characteristics that every good YL project should have.

Stem from a student-directed driving question.

 A meaningful project should always be born from a discussion between all the project stakeholders (the children, teacher, the school librarian etc.) that inevitably taps into the children’s natural curiosity. The teacher’s role is that of a guide or facilitator who helps the children discover what they are curious about and which overall driving question they want to find the answer to. This strong students’ voice is really what creates and drives a project!

 Be based on a meaningful topic that is connected to the real world

 One should never forget that children are not capable of abstract thinking skills. Thus, they will only be motivated to pursue a project that they can understand and immediately relate to in their everyday lives. Whilst this may appear to be obvious enough, it is a core principle which one may feel tempted to neglect in the face of rigorous programmes that supposedly prepare children for (state) exams.

 Be carefully scaffolded for various types of learners

 Carol Read (Read, 2007) reminds that a good YL lesson should be planned to “catch children at being good”. This is also true of an effective project. A good project should be designed so as to bring out and develop children’s natural talents and skills. This being said, it’s important to make sure that each child has been given a clear role within the actual project to guarantee that every child is innately motivated and deeply involved in the project’s execution.

 Be embedded with knowledge and skills

Although a good project is student-driven, it should also lead the children to develop the target knowledge and skills that they need to learn at a particular stage of their educational journey. Thus, a project’s driving should naturally be linked to the target content programme. One should also stress that a meaningful and effective project should be research-based and informed by multiple resources so that children are developing the global skills they will later need in the workplace from a young and tender age.

Conclude with a viable end project

 Bloom’s revised taxonomy alerts us to the importance of developing the Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) in the classroom rather than stopping at the Lower Order Thinking Skills (LOTS). Thus, it is natural that a successful project should come together in an end product which reflects the final result of the students’ learning process. It is important to stress that this final product should be simple and doable as the objective is to motivate children to learn rather than to burden them with an unrealistic end project which is an unnecessary source of stress for all the stakeholders involved.

So, when all is said and done, what exactly is the secret of a good project? Well, like so many things in life, it should follow the KISS approach to learning:

Keep

It

Sweet and

Simple!


Join me in January 2020 for a webinar designed to help you make project-based learning a fun and engaging learning experience. See you then


Vanessa Reis Esteves has been teaching EFL in Portugal for the past 23 years and is currently teaching at Escola Superior de Educação where she teaches English for Academic purposes and English methodology. She has taught both in private and state schools. She holds a Master’s degree in Anglo American studies and is involved in teacher training in countries such as Saudi Arabia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Azerbaijan, Serbia, Romania, Turkey, Croatia, Slovenia, Malta, Portugal and Egypt. She presently writes course material for EFL students and has recently written ETpedia: Young Learners with practical ideas on teaching YLs for Pavilion Publishing in the UK. Her areas of interest are teaching YLs, (Pre)Teens as well as Critical Thinking and 21st Century skills.

 


Bibliography

Larmer, S. B. (2018). Project based Teaching, How to Create Rigorous and Engaging Learning Experiences. Novato: ASCD Learn.

MacDonell, C. (2007). Project-Based Inquiry Units for. YoungChildren, First Steps. to Research for Grades Pre-K-2. Worthington: Linworth Books.

Read, C. (2007). 500 Activities for the Primary Classroom, Immediate Ideas and Solutions. Thailand: Macmillan Books for Teachers.

Robinson, K. (2010). Bring on the Educational Revolution. https://www.ted.com/talks/sir_ken_robinson_bring_on_the_learning_revolution.

[1] For more information, consult: https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000109590

[2] This report can be fully downloaded here: https://oxelt.gl/2nIJ32Y


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Global Skills and Digital Literacies | ELTOC 2020

 

Global Skills

You’ve probably heard of 21st-century skills, also known as ‘global skills’. These are the skills, competences and attitudes considered important in our increasingly globalised world. As educators, we are increasingly expected to help our students develop them, whatever subject we may teach. Global skills cover several areas – for example, communication and collaboration, creativity and critical thinking, intercultural competence and citizenship, emotional self-regulation and well-being – and, of course, digital literacies.

Global skills are clearly interconnected, and digital literacies can be seen as a thread that runs through all of them.

Defining digital literacies

What exactly are digital literacies? You’ll notice that I use the term ‘literacies’ in the plural, rather than ‘literacy’ in the singular, although you will come across both terms. This is in keeping with current theoretical views of literacies as a complex plural concept, rather than a single skill or ‘thing’ to be learned (e.g. Lankshear and Knobel, 2011).

If you google the term digital literacies, and you will find many possible definitions. Many define digital literacies as finding and analysing information online, or of knowing how to use computers; others define digital literacies in terms of employability. Although these are all important areas within digital literacies, we prefer a broader definition, as follows:

Digital literacies (are) the individual and social skills needed to effectively interpret, manage, share and create meaning in the growing range of digital communication channels.

Dudeney, Hockly & Pegrum, 2013:2

This view of digital literacies includes the ability to not only use hardware and software safely and appropriately (‘computer’ or ‘IT’ skills), and the ability to find, share and create information (‘information literacy’), but also the ability to deploy a range of social and communication skills in using technologies to create meaning and to communicate with others in socially and contextually-appropriate ways. This definition covers not just skills and knowledge, but also attitudes and social abilities; it conceptualises digital literacies as not just a means to an end but as an integral part of living and communicating in a digitally globalised world.

Digital literacies and English language teaching

Definitions are all very well, but what do digital literacies mean for the English language teacher? Surely our job is to teach language, rather than digital skills? The answer is that it is relatively easy to combine a focus on English language with a focus on digital literacies, within a communicative language teaching approach. We can divide digital literacies into several key areas or domains (communication, information, collaboration, and redesign), and within that, identify more specific digital literacies (Dudeney, Hockly & Pegrum 2018). For example, we can talk about data literacy, mobile literacy, information literacy, and many more. Once we’ve broken down the concept of digital literacies into smaller and more manageable subskills (or literacies), we can then choose to focus on some of themin the English language classroom, alongside work on the language itself. Clearly, we want to focus on those digital literacies that are of most relevance to our students and our teaching context.

Digital literacies activity: memes

Here is one simple example of an activity that can develop our students’ digital literacies in the area of redesign: working with memes in the English language classroom.  An Internet meme is an image, text or video that is shared via the Internet, added to or changed by users, and then shared again. Understanding and creating memes is an example of remix literacy. Remix literacy is the ability to re-purpose or change already-made digital content to create something new. In class, show your learners a few examples of recent or famous image memes and ask them to describe (or show) other image memes that they know about. Put your learners into pairs, and assign each pair a meme. Ask your learners to visit the site to research their assigned meme, and to also create their own version of the meme. Your learners can create their meme on paper, or if they have access to Internet-connected laptops/mobile devices, they can use a meme generator site to create their meme electronically. Regroup your learners and ask them to share what they found out about their meme, and to share their version of it. To round up the activity, ask your learners to vote on which meme they thought was the most interesting, original, political, unusual or funny. The activity provides learners with reading, speaking and writing practice, all within a focus on remix literacy.


ELTOC 2020

I hope this is useful. I’ll be expanding on this in my upcoming session at ELTOC 2020. I look forward to seeing you there!


Nicky Hockly is the Director of Pedagogy of The Consultants-E, an award-winning online training and development organisation. She has worked in the field of English Language Teaching since 1987, is an international plenary speaker, and gives workshops and training courses for teachers all over the world. Nicky writes regular columns on technology for teachers in ETP (English Teaching Professional) magazine, and in the ELTJ (English Language Teaching Journal).


References

Dudeney, G., Hockly, N. & Pegrum, M. (2013). Digital Literacies. London: Routledge.

Dudeney, G., Hockly, N. & Pegrum, M. (2018). Digital Literacies Revisited. The European Journal of Applied Linguistics and TEFL, 7, 2, 3-24.

Lankshear, C. & Knobel, M. (2011). Literacies: Social, cultural and historical perspectives. New York: Peter Lang.