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7 Steps to Assessing Skills in the Secondary Classroom

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There have been numerous mentions of the importance of focusing on skills, such as building resilience, self-control, empathy, curiosity, love of learning, etc. in the EFL classroom. We are becoming more and more aware of what these are and how to help our students develop in these areas. However, as these skills are all subjective and seem completely intangible, as teachers we tend to refrain from even considering assessing these. After teaching a set of vocabulary or a grammar point, we are naturally used to evaluating improvement through different tests or tasks, but how do we assess the development of skills such as collaboration or self-control?

Why do we need to assess these?

Most education systems still put more emphasis on academic knowledge, assessed through tests by grades, so students might have the impression that this is all they need for their future. We also need to assess a variety of other skills in the EFL classroom to shed light on the importance of these for our students. This can demonstrate how being creative, co-operative or accepting helps students to live a more successful and happier life outside the classroom, beyond learning a language. It is also key to involve all the stakeholders, such as parents and colleagues, in this process. Let them know which skills you have been working on, the ones where your students shine and which ones they might need more support in other classes as well as in the home environment. Careful and on-going assessment of these skills, therefore, becomes equally paramount as assessing language knowledge and application.

The key in this assessment process is engaging the students themselves in helping them realise their own potential so that they can take responsibility for their improvement. Teacher assessment and guidance also plays a vital role in this developmental process. Above all, we need to empower students to be able to set learning goals for themselves, reflect and analyse their own behaviour and draw up action plans that suit their learning preferences. Here are a few tips on how this can be achieved.

How can we assess these skills?

We can help students improve in these areas by using the Assessment For Learning framework that “…is the process of seeking and interpreting evidence for use by learners and their teachers to decide: where the learners are in their learning, where they need to go and how best to get there.” (Assessment reform group (2002)

 

1. Brainstorm skills used for particular tasks

After setting a collaborative language task, ask students to brainstorm skills they might need for success by imagining the process. For example, a group project where students have to come up with a survey questionnaire, conduct the survey and present their findings through graphs. Students might suggest teamwork, openness towards different ideas, listening to each other, etc. If you can think of other important skills, add these to the list (e.g. creativity in coming up with good questions, ways in which they represent their findings, etc.) Students can assess themselves, or each other, with this check-list at the end of the task, but it could also become a reference list to refer to throughout the process. Make sure there are not more than five skills at this stage, to make self-reflection and peer-assessment manageable.

2. Reflect and Predict.

Ask students to identify their current emotional state, as this might play an important role in their ability to use specific skills. Follow this up with questions to predict their competence in each skill area, on a scale from 1 to 5 (1=not at all…5=very well). Students can use their answers as a quiet self-reflective task or the basis of group discussion.

“How do I feel right now?”

“How well will I be able to work with others? Why?” 

“How patient will I be with others? Why?”

“How creative will I be with ideas?”

Getting students to reflect and predict their use of such skills from time to time gives them more focus and helps them become more self-aware. It is important to encourage students to do this without any judgement, simply as a way to evaluate their current feelings and self-image.

3. Reflective questionnaires

The same questions as above can be used at the end of a task too as a way for students to reflect on how they used the particular skills retrospectively. This can then form the basis of a group discussion in which students share their experiences. Remind students that it is important that they offer their full attention to each other during the discussion without any judgement.

4. Setting weekly personal goals

Once students become acquainted with such self-reflective practice, you can ask them at the beginning of the week to set personal goals for themselves depending on the area they feel needs some improvement. To encourage students to set these goals, it is a good idea to share some of your own personal goals for the week first. For example, you can tell them ‘This week I aim to be more open and curious, rather than having concrete ideas about how things should turn out in my lessons.’ Modelling such behaviour can become the main drive for students to be able to set their own personal goals.

5. Using rubrics.

Design assessment rubrics for the main skills being used for self and peer-assessment. Create these as a whole group task, getting input from the students. This could also serve as an assessment tool for the teacher.

6. Peer-observation and skills assessment

As students are motivated and learn a lot through observing each other, you can set peer-observation and assessment tasks for particular tasks, say role-plays or group discussions. Put students in groups and ask them to agree on who the observer is going to be. It is key that there is a consensus on this. Then give the observer a checklist of the skills in focus, where they can make note of how they see the behaviour of their peers. The observer does not contribute to the group task, only observes the behaviour of their peers. At the end of the group task, the observer tells their peers about the things they noted.

7. End-of-term tutorials

At the end of the term, it is a good idea to have a few minutes individually with students and using the checklist and the questions mentioned in points 1,2 and 3 above to discuss how they see their development in the skills in focus. This shows students the importance of these skills and gives them a sense of security and self-assurance of ‘I matter’. It may be challenging to find the time to do this for most of us, teachers. Allocating two weeks for the tutorials with a specific time-window can give you a manageable time-frame, however. The tutorials can then be conducted either during lesson time while you set some free tasks – say watching a film in English – for students to do and/or a couple of hours in the afternoons after school, for which students sign up in ten-minute chat-slots with the teacher.

 

Are you interested in teaching with a course that uses a skills-based approach? You can find our new title, Oxford Discover Futures, here:

Find out more

 


 

Erika Osváth, MEd in Maths, DTEFLA, is a freelance teacher, teacher trainer, materials writer and co-author of the European Language Award-winning 6-week eLearning programme for language exam preparation. Before becoming a freelance trainer in 2009, she worked for International House schools for 16 years in Eastern and Central Europe, where she worked as a YL co-ordinator, trainer on CELTA, LCCI,1-1, Business English, YL and VYL courses, and Director of Studies. She has extensive experience in teaching very young learners, young learners and teenagers.

Her main interests lie in these areas as well as making the best of technology in ELT. She regularly travels to different parts of Hungary and other parts of the world to teach demonstration lessons with local children, do workshops for teachers, and this is something she particularly enjoys doing as it allows her to delve into the human aspects of these experiences. Erika is co-author with Edmund Dudley of Mixed Ability Teaching (Into the Classroom series).


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Nurturing Imagination and Creativity in the Young Learner Classroom

Enter the world of a young child. What might you discover? Young children squeal with delight at surprises. They love to use their imaginations. They easily become animals, princesses, firefighters, doctors, and more! How can we as English teachers build English language skills while nurturing our young learners’ creativity and imaginations? Let’s explore some strategies and activities that successful teachers of young learners use.

Songs and chants

Listen to a classroom of young learners. Songs and chants can be heard throughout the day. Let’s consider using a song for a warm-up activity. What kinds of songs or chants work best with young learners? One of the things I look for in a song or chant is a simple pattern. For example, consider this well-known children’s game song, “Looby Loo.”

Here we go Looby Loo. Here we go Looby Light.

Here we go Looby Loo, all on a Saturday night.

We put our hands in. We put our hands out.

We give our hands a shake, shake, shake,

and turn ourselves about, OH!

In this song, the children hold hands while walking around in a circle. For my Japanese students, the song gets their ears ready to hear the /l/ sound that’s not present in their language. The song is cheerful and uses movement that gets children’s bodies warmed up for class.

After children have learned a song, patterns invite them to add their own ideas. What can we change? We could focus on body parts. Children enjoying thinking of a new body part with each repetition. To guide thinking, you can give a child a bilateral choice: Should we move our legs (move your legs) or our fingers (wiggle your fingers)? After a few repetitions, children may be able to name a body part independently.

Sing the song at the next class but add something new. We could change the way we “go” around the circle. Children choose new verbs, such as jump, hop, march, tiptoe, run, skip, gallop, etc. Make it more interesting by changing your voice, speeding up the song, or slowing it down.

Giving children choices nurtures their creativity and encourages output.

Creative movement

As I mentioned with music, young learners love to move. There are so many ways that we can add movement to our classes for children.

TPR (Total Physical Response) invites children to respond to movement commands. Using movement in a song as mentioned above is similar. Students hear the words, watch the movement, and move to the words.

Some movements are easy to do in one place, such as clap your hands, pat your legs, stomp your feet, touch your toes, wave your arms, wiggle your fingers, nod your head, blink your eyes, shake your hair, bend your knees. Some movements can be done around a circle or in an open classroom space, like the ones mentioned in Looby Loo.

Children can use their imaginations to move in so many different ways. They can pretend to be animals, Halloween characters, or their favourite storybook character. Using simple props makes it even more interesting.

Puppets and stuffed animals

Engage your children’s imaginations by making puppets or stuffed animals a regular part of your English lessons. Practice in front of a mirror to make your puppet appear more life-like. I just introduced my new hedgehog puppet to my kindergarten class. I invited my students to give him a name. They chose “Harry.” Harry comes to class every week. Your puppets can lead an activity, join in a game, read a book, or be part of a conversation. They are often just what you need for your shy students.

Hands-on learning

What else can we bring into our young learner classroom? Use your imagination! Real items can be used in numerous ways. Thinking of unusual ways to use items makes learning fun while nurturing your students’ creative thinking.

For example, beanbags can be used to practice colours and play games, but we can use them for imaginative chants, too. Scarves can be used to toss in the air. Pretend that they are leaves, a flower, or the wings of a butterfly. Asking yourself if there’s another way to do something will lead you to new creative choices.

Books

Children’s stories can be used in many ways with young learners. Most children’s books have beautiful illustrations, a perfect tool for teaching new vocabulary. Board books often have some type of interactive features that make reading even more interesting.  

Come and discover the magic!

In my webinar, I’ll share strategies and activities that you’ll be able to use immediately in your very young learner classroom. I’ll model ways in which you can enter the world of imagination and develop language. Join me for an active session of songs, chants, creative movement, puppets, scarves, beanbags, children’s stories, and more!

Register for the webinar


Kathleen Kampa specializes in working with young learners. As a PYP (Primary Years Program) teacher, she uses an inquiry-based approach to teaching through which students develop 21st Century skills. Kathleen uses multiple intelligences strategies to help all students find success. She also builds English language skills by creating songs, chants, and movement activities targeted to children’s needs. Kathleen and her husband Charles Vilina are co-authors of Magic Time, Everybody Up, and the ELTon award-winning course, Oxford Discover, published by Oxford University Press.


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Blended learning: what is it and when should you use it?

What is blended learning?

Blended learning is both flexible and dynamic. By ‘flexible’, I mean it is not just one thing (a fixed combination of X and Y) but rather, it can be many things depending on your teaching context. By ‘dynamic’, I mean that the components which make up blended learning are constantly changing. A recent incarnation of blended learning, for example, involves students donning headsets and practising a talk in VR (Virtual Reality) in preparation for giving a presentation in real life.

The classic definition of blended learning combines teaching in a ‘bricks and mortar’ classroom with web-based learning. The latter is usually ‘online’ but could be ‘offline’ and might not even involve the Internet at all, such as doing exercises on a CD-ROM or using a ‘native’ app – an app which ‘lives’ in your mobile phone and does not require a Wi-Fi connection to function.

Another approach to blended learning involves blending the use of print and digital resources, effectively combining the traditional and the new, analogue and digital.

 

When should teachers use blended learning?

In a very narrow definition of blended learning (such as face-to-face plus online) the answer to this question is: when studying online is a realistic, feasible option. In a broader definition of blended learning, such as that described by Sharma and Barrett ‘face-to-face plus an appropriate use of technology’ (Pete Sharma & Barney Barrett, Blended Learning, Macmillan, 2007), the answer is: ‘All the time!’ In other words, teaching in this new digital age should use the technologies which students meet in their everyday lives, such as the Internet, laptop, smartphone and tablet.

 

Why blend?

There are many reasons why teachers decide to run a blended learning course, as opposed to (say) a 100% classroom course like those I ran when I first started teaching, or a 100% online course.

One is time. There’s simply not enough time in a course to cover everything. Moreover, some language areas are really suited to be studied outside the classroom. Extensive reading and practising difficult phonemes, for instance.

Combining the best of the classroom (live interaction with the teacher and classmates) and the best of technology (anytime, anywhere guided practice) in a principled way can produce a ‘better’ course for students. In other words, the best of both worlds.

 

What is the value of blended learning?

Flexibility is one advantage. Students taking a blended learning course are frequently offered choices. We all know a class of 12 comprises 12 individuals, displaying different learning preferences. Students can match their path through the material to suit their own learning style and approach.
Similarly, from the teacher’s point of view, blended learning enables the implementation of ‘differentiation’.

We are all familiar with the restrictions imposed by the teaching timetable. The English language lesson is at 16.00 on Thursday. Yet this is the age of u-learning, ubiquitous learning. The distant part of a blended learning course can be done anywhere, anytime – in a coffee shop with Wi-Fi, at the airport, in a hotel … , this ‘best of both worlds’ (the classroom and online) is a key feature and benefit of blended learning.

 

Different approaches to blended learning

The approaches taken to blended learning are as many and varied as the different types of teaching: YL (young learners), business English, CLIL (content and language integrated learning). One common approach would be to issue the students with a printed coursebook and have them use the code on the inside to access their online digital materials. I focus particularly on this approach in my series of articles on running a blended learning course.

 

Different types of digital activities

Here’s a snapshot of the vast range of tools available for blended learning:

 

  • a vocabulary memory game on an app to review new language
  • a podcast; students can listen as many times as they wish, using the pause and the slider to listen intensively to selected parts
  • a video, with on-demand sub-titles or a transcript
  • a discussion forum; students answer a question before their in-class lesson. The additional time helps develop critical thinking skills and contrasts the real-time pressure to reply in the classroom

 

How to run a blended learning course

Looking for some practical advice and tips on running a blended learning course? Read my series of articles to help you prepare, set-up and run blended learning:

 

References

Blended Learning, Pete Sharma & Barney Barrett (Macmillan, 2007)

 


 

Pete Sharma is a teacher trainer, consultant and ELT author. He works as a pre-sessional lecturer in EAP (English for Academic purposes) at Warwick University, UK. Pete worked for many years in business English as a teacher trainer and materials writer. He is a regular conference presenter at IATEFL (International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language) and BESIG (Business English Special Interest Group) conferences and has given plenary talks and keynote speeches at conferences around the world. Pete is the co-author of several books on technology including Blended Learning (2007), 400 Ideas for Interactive Whiteboards (2011) in the Macmillan ‘Books for Teachers’ series, and How to Write for Digital Media (2014), and most recently Best Practices for Blended Learning. Pete was the Newsletter Editor of the IATEFL CALL Review (2008-2009) and has a Masters in Educational Technology and ELT from Manchester University.


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Developing Global Skills in the ELT classroom | ELTOC 2020

ELTOC 2020In the simplest sense, global skills can be thought of as the skills which are essential to being a life-long learner and to be successful in the rapidly changing and unpredictable world of the 21st century. As teachers, we need to equip students for situations and jobs which do not currently exist and which we cannot confidently predict.

Global skills are not restricted to any particular subject on the curriculum but are transferable across all subjects and to life beyond school.

Global skills can be grouped into five clusters, all of which are relevant to the ELT context.

  • communication and collaboration
  • creativity and critical thinking
  • intercultural competence and citizenship
  • emotional self-regulation and wellbeing
  • digital literacies.

While most teachers would be convinced that it is the responsibility of the teacher to develop global skills in their institutions, it is not always easy to see how this can be done when time is already limited. If we are to take on this challenge, we need ways to incorporate global skills into the classroom without creating an extra workload for ourselves, or by eating into precious class time.

Below are three such suggestions of how we might develop global skills.

  1. Think-pair-share

In a traditional classroom, the teacher will get students to work individually (think) on an activity and then check (share) the answers with the whole class. In the think-pair-share model, the same process is followed but before the final checking stage, the teacher asks students to compare their answers in pairs (pair). This stage might only take 15 to 30 seconds in total but the benefits are huge because it leads to communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and students increased confidence and motivation.

  1. Comparing to one’s own culture

Many ELT coursebooks have cultural content or specific cultural sections. The teacher can engage students in this by asking them to say the similarities and differences to the students’ own context from what is stated in the coursebook. This is feasible even if students have a low language level. For example, if the lesson is about what a person from a particular country has for breakfast, the teacher could list the items of food on the board and then ask students to say which ones are similar or different to what they would have for breakfast. The teacher could supply the English equivalents for the local food items. This could then be followed up by students using both lists to create their ideal breakfast.

  1. The option of writing or video recording

When asking for a piece of work that might typically be in written form, such as a book report, summary, the final product of a project, etc., teachers can give the option of doing it as a video recording. This pushes students to work on most of the five clusters mentioned above. It also has the added advantage of allowing the dyslexic students to flourish without having to worry about people criticizing their spelling and handwriting or having to deliberately choose simple vocabulary because having to find the spelling of the words they would like to use is too time-consuming. Many students will actually work more on producing a video than a piece of written work, especially if they know this will be shared and evaluated by fellow students.


ELTOC 2020 

Join me in ELTOC 2020 for more examples of how we can develop global skills in the ELT classroom without the need for extra resources or time-consuming activities. The waitlist is now open!


Philip Haines moved to Mexico from England in 1995 and currently works as the Senior Academic Consultant for Oxford University Press Mexico. He has spoken internationally in three continents and nationally in every state in Mexico. Philip is the author/co-author of several ELT series published in Mexico.

 


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Using Video and Story in the classroom | Jamie Keddie

Let’s start with a video – a short film that was commissioned by the Irish Film Board in 2009.

Its title is, quite simply, “Teeth”. Perhaps you’ve seen it before?

Teeth from Noreen Fitzgerald on Vimeo.“Teeth”: directed by Ruairi O’Brien and John Kennedy, and produced by Noreen Fitzgerald.

I wonder what you thought of that? I have used this short film in a number of teacher training contexts. Speaking from experience, I know that it has a particularly wide appeal. Regardless of people’s age or background, it seems to be universally enjoyed.

There are other reasons why, as a teacher, I am attracted to “Teeth.” I love its economical simplicity. This is a story reduced down it to the essential ingredients only. The lack of spoken dialogue forces us to work with the visual narrative – the story told in moving images. At under two minutes long, I have heard “Teeth” referred to as a “super short film”. This is important as it ensures that we don’t have to worry about turning the classroom into a cinema – another key consideration.

But most importantly, it’s the story that I love. The bite-sized narrative allows us to explore some fundamental issues of what it is to be human: friendship, schadenfreude (link here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schadenfreude), and justice – all wrapped up in one delightful comedy.

So what would you do with it in the classroom?

It’s a question that I have asked many language teachers in many parts of the world. Perhaps the most common ideas are to introduce a topic (e.g. fishing, practical jokes, friendship, or teeth) or to practise a grammar point (e.g. the present continuous to talk about what the two characters are doing).

Either of these ideas might be quite successful, but I can’t help thinking that they underuse the video and neglect the story that it offers.

What do I mean by that? Well, it is important for teachers to be aware that there is never just one story. We might read the same book, watch the same film, or listen to the same podcast. However, we all experience it in a different way.

We make different connections and associations. We ask silent questions and make predictions. We look for meaning and interpret symbols. We judge protagonists and evaluate their decisions. We identify with characters and form bonds with them. We put ourselves into the story and adopt experiences as if they were our own. We find our own stories within the story. We make our own meaning.

In the language classroom, it is this divergence of interpretation that can make a short film like “Teeth” such a powerful piece of material.

But how do you harness that power? How do you turn a 2-minute narrative into a meaningful discussion of the story? Join me at ELTOC 2020 to find out.


ELTOC 2020ELTOC 2020

How do you use video in your classroom? This is a question that I have been asking teachers ever since YouTube was launched in 2005. Over that time, I have come to a conclusion: there is a tendency for us to focus on the video and neglect the story that it offers. In my ELTOC talk, I would like to share some activities in which technology takes a backseat and good old-fashioned storytelling comes to the front of the class.

Register now for the ELTOC 2020 waitlist! I look forward to seeing you for my talk.

Join the waitlist!


Jamie Keddie started off with a degree in Biochemistry from the University of Aberdeen in Scotland. Realizing that he actually wanted to be a musician, he spent most of his twenties studying at Leeds College of Music in Yorkshire, England. After that, he worked as a singer-piano player on ships, but nothing too glamorous.

In 2001 Jamie moved to Barcelona and became an English teacher. Gradually, his passion moved from music to education, video and storytelling.

As a trainer, Jamie has shared his ideas and insights with teachers and educators in over 40 countries. He is the author of Images (Oxford University Press, 2008), Bringing online video into the classroom (Oxford University Press, 2014) and Videotelling: YouTube Stories for the Classroom (LessonStream Books, 2017).