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Assessment in a Post-Pandemic World

empty classroomThere’s an elephant in the room!

At times, the whole world seems to be falling to pieces around us. Yet, the expectation is that we carry on and do our best to get through the crisis remains – and this expectation is right, as learners are looking towards educators for guidance and for a way through. I see it as our duty to ensure that the interruption to education is as minimal as possible and we’re all stepping up to try to do our bit. That’s why we’re doing the Oxford English Assessment Professional Development conference, to provide professional development to teachers who want to know more about assessment. For more information about what else Oxford University Press is doing to support students and teachers, click here.

My session is about assessing online and by providing access to this kind of professional development to teachers, I hope that our students benefit. Now the elephant called COVID-19 has been addressed, let’s move on to explore what changes it will leave in its wake and how teachers can adapt now to best serve their students.

A changed educational landscape

The current situation means that even teachers who have always avoided online are being forced to deliver lessons and/or content to their students digitally. There’s a spectrum here from the school which provides a few worksheets to parents to the schools who carry out all lessons via Zoom. Wherever you fall on that spectrum, there’s no denying that we’re all learning to do things differently and, in many ways, the digital revolution in education that has been promised for decades is now being forced upon the world. The impact of these changes is going to last far longer than the pandemic itself.

The continued importance of assessment

Assessment remains important in this new world for all the benefits that it brings, and I’ll discuss these more in my talk. In the absence of face-face contact, good assessment is more important than ever in providing feedback to students on their learning journey and keeping students engaged and motivated. Delivering this type of assessment online might be a challenge for some teachers and in this session, I’ll talk about some different scenarios where good assessment can be implemented, and I’ll provide you with a toolkit for carrying out assessment online.

Tell me what you want, what you really, really want!

The scenarios I’m going to address are based on what I know about learning, teaching and assessment but I’m not the expert in what’s happening for you right now. It would be awesome if you could leave comments and let me know about any scenarios you would like me to explore or any questions you have about online assessment. I’ll try to include as many as possible in the talk and I’ll make sure there’s a lot of time for questions and discussion. Join me and a community of educators to explore the topic of online assessment in a changed world.

 

In the absence of face-face contact, good assessment is more important than ever in providing feedback to students on their learning journey and keeping students engaged and motivated. In my session, I’ll talk about some different scenarios where good assessment can be implemented, and I’ll provide you with a toolkit for carrying out assessment online.

Register for the webinar

 


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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Coping during the COVID-19: It starts with ABCDE but is up to U

Looking up at the treetops from the groundThe Oxford dictionary describes trauma as “an unpleasant experience that makes you feel upset and/or anxious”. For many of us, coping with teaching from home, often under lockdown conditions, against the backdrop of a global health crisis, is indeed traumatic. Yet, strangely, many educational institutions and we as teachers are often trying to carry on as if this is normal or as if nothing out-of-the-ordinary has happened. However, we need to allow ourselves ‘permission to feel’ (Brackett, 2019). We need time to process our emotions and recognise how traumatic much of this is for us as educators and for our learners. This does not mean dwelling on or feeding our negative emotions, but we need to acknowledge them and give ourselves the appropriate space to process these feelings.

If you feel especially fragile or are struggling to cope, you should reach out for professional support. These are trying times which are placing a strain on our mental wellbeing. Needing extra help from a professional mental health advisor could be a valuable support for many people just now.

So, while our first advice is to acknowledge the difficult feelings that people are experiencing, in this blog post, our main focus is on coping positively with the current situation and retaining a sense of meaning and growth in our professional lives. To outline our thinking and making it easier to remember, we have organised it around: A, B, C, D and E.

A is for Accept.

One of the things that can cause us stress is when things feel out of our control. During the current crisis, coping with the restrictions on our autonomy is sometimes difficult. However, there are many things that still lie within our control every second of every day. To help us maintain a sense of control, it can be helpful to accept those things we cannot change and just let them go. Instead, we can focus our energies on those things we can influence such as how we spend our time, what we choose to think about, how we interact with others, how much news we read, what kinds of activities we do, etc. To feel more empowered, we can simply accept those things we cannot change and direct our attention to those things that we can influence and take action on.

B is for Boundaries.

Working from home is a challenge in all kinds of ways. Most notably, it means that the boundaries between our personal and our professional lives are no longer clearly delineated physically or even in terms of time. As such, it is easy to lose any sense of balance between the different aspects of our lives. The overlap and spillover from our professional lives into our private sphere is acute. It means we have to make a more conscious effort than ever before to mark out time and space for our leisure, friends, family, and non-work lives. Try keeping a log of how you are spending your time and ensure you are setting aside time to do things that have nothing to do with work but which re-energise you. Seek to set boundaries between personal and professional realms of your life. It can help to set a schedule to create a structure to your day and it can be valuable to physically mark off space at home where no work is allowed to enter! Boundaries can help you to ensure a balance between the personal and the professional domains of your life.

C is for Connect.

Many have criticised the term ‘social distancing’ which is somewhat of a misnomer. We absolutely must ensure we physically distance ourselves to others but we need social connection more than ever before. In times of stress and anxiety, people gain strength from contact with others. It is a time to reach out to family, friends, and colleagues. It is good to keep up social habits online – maintaining existing social networks and perhaps creating new ones. For example, maybe your book club meets online, a choir you are in sings together online, a pub quiz you attend is brought into the digital world or you start a Netflix movie night party with friends. The social connection aspect also comes with somewhat of an inherent paradox when it comes to home life. While we may share our homes with people who are precious to us and their closeness can be a valuable form of support, we may also need a little space of our own as well. Ensure you and your partner are able to talk openly about your needs for both space and closeness – one does not rule the other out.

D is for Developing.

Teaching online is new for many of us. We find ourselves thrown into a new teaching situation overnight and are suddenly cast back into feeling like novice teachers worried about how to teach effectively. The good news is we are most certainly not alone and our students tend to be very forgiving. Firstly, we need to let go of perfectionism. Nobody expects you suddenly to be master of every online tool and button. Do as much as you can manage, lean into the chance to learn some new skills, and don’t be so self-critical. Remember all the brilliant things about yourself as a teacher – they are still all there. Build on your strengths, do the best you can in your own way, take it a day at a time, and be as kind to yourself about your learning curve with teaching online as you would be to a struggling pupil. We are continually developing as teachers, which is one of the joys of the job. Try to relish the growth without placing yourself under unrealistic pressures and expectations. You are doing enough.

E is for Engage.

Many of us gain great positivity from our teaching. Engaging with learners, designing new teaching materials and seeing our learners grow can be some of the greatest rewards in our profession. Those moments of positivity are still there and we must not lose sight of them so we can continue to draw strength from them as we always have. Yet, our identities as educators are only one part of who we are. We also need to deliberately engage with things in our lives beyond work which also give us joy and pleasure. It may be doing something creative such as writing, arts or crafts or doing some kind of hobby like maybe cooking, visiting museums/art galleries (online!), doing yoga, or reading. Engaging your mind fully into something you enjoy outside of work can help lift your spirits and free your mind for a while creating some mental breathing space.

There is no denying that these times are difficult for everyone, especially for educators, but we still have some control over how we choose to live our daily lives. We hope these ABCDE steps can contribute in some way towards helping you to maintain a positive balance and focus while working from home. Stay safe and well.

 

Do you want to discover more great strategies for nurturing and promoting your wellbeing? Read Teacher Wellbeing, by Sarah Mercer and Tammy Gregersen – a practical guide for language teachers!

Find out more

 


Sarah Mercer is Professor of Foreign Language Teaching at the University of Graz, Austria, where she is Head of ELT Methodology. She is co-author, with Tammy Gregersen, of Teacher Wellbeing, published by Oxford University Press. Her research interests include all aspects of the psychology surrounding the foreign language learning experience, and she has written and edited prize-winning books in this area. She is currently vice-president of the International Association for the Psychology of Language Learning (IAPLL) and serves as a consultant on several international projects. In 2018, she was awarded the Robert C. Gardner Award for excellence in second language research by the International Association of Language and Social Psychology (IALSP).

 

Tammy Gregersen is currently teaching and researching at the American University of Sharjah where she also coordinates their Masters in TESOL program. She has co-authored/co-edited several books, with three more in press, on topics such as individual differences, nonverbal communication, positive psychology in the language classroom and language teacher education.

Tammy has presented at conferences and taught in graduate programs across the globe which deems an incredible privilege because it taps into her passions for travelling and exploring new cultures.


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Step by Step: Using your Dictionary to Expand Topic Vocabulary

Topic vocabulary view on Oxford Learner's DictionariesThese days, there might only be one topic of conversation in the news, on social media, and in our own chats to friends and family. Along with new ways of working, teaching and learning, we are even adopting a new lexicon to help us talk about it. My own personal “Health” topic vocabulary has grown to include such words and phrases as self-isolation, social distancing and herd immunity.

Using topic vocabulary to enhance learning

Collecting words together in topics has long been seen as a good way to help students learn vocabulary. Wouldn’t it be great to be able to access word lists where vocabulary is collected together in this way, with words levelled according to CEFR levels, and linked up to dictionary entries showing pronunciation, meanings and examples all at the click of a mouse or a single tap?
Well, on the Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries website we have done just that, and we hope that you and your students will find our new Topics pages useful. They are all completely free to access at oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com!

Using Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries Topics pages

Large topic areas are subdivided into smaller ones, and once you open a word list you can filter on CEFR level. For example, here are the words in our Health > Health and Fitness > Good health topic at B1 and B2 level:Topic vocabulary: Health and fitness topics

Here are a few activities that you might like to try:

1) A topic a week

Choose your topic vocabulary and allocate words to learn each day by using the click-through feature to check meaning, pronunciation and usage in the dictionary. At the end of the week, review and quiz!
Here is an example topic, with three words to learn per day, and a few activities for reviewing:

Topic vocabulary: Cooking and eatingFood and drink > Cooking and eating > Taste and texture of food
https://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/topic/category/food-and-drink

 

Example Words to learn

Monday: bitter, bland, chewy
Tuesday: creamy, crusty, delicious
Wednesday: greasy, juicy, mild
Thursday: moreish, salty, sour
Friday: spicy, stale, tender

 

Review/Quiz:

Divide the words into “positive”, “negative”, and “neutral” columns. Complete the sentences with a suitable adjective, using a different one each time:

  • Oranges are… (e.g. juicy)
  • Lemons are… (e.g. bitter)
  • Chili sauce is… (e.g. spicy)
  • Chocolate is… (e.g. moreish)
  • Fresh bread can be… (e.g. crusty)
  • Old bread is… (e.g. stale)
  • Food that is cooked in too much oil is… (e.g. greasy)
  • Meat that is overcooked can be… (e.g. chewy)

2) DIY quiz

Allocate a topic, and get students to create quiz questions for each other using the dictionary definitions and example sentences.
Definitions: one student gives the dictionary definition and their partner guesses the word.
Example sentences: one student picks an example sentence from the dictionary entry, and replaces the topic vocabulary with a gap.
Topic vocabulary: Appearance

Appearance > Appearance > Facial expressions

  • (Definition) Which word means to become red in the face because you are embarrassed or ashamed?
    (= blush)
  • (Example sentence) They ________ with delight when they heard our news.
    (= grinned)

 

 

Topic vocabulary: Sports

Sports > Sports: other sports > Cycling

  • (Definition) What do you call a bicycle for two riders, one behind the other?
    (= tandem)
  • (Example sentence) You’ll have to ________ hard up this hill.
    (= pedal)

 

 

 

 

Did you know that we are currently offering free premium access to the world’s bestselling advanced-level dictionary for learners of English?

Access Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary premium online free today, or share this link with your students so they can redeem this offer:

Redeem Free Premium Access

 


 

Jennifer Bradbery is Digital Product Development Manager in the ELT Dictionaries department at Oxford University Press. Before joining OUP as an editor, she spent many years either teaching English, teacher training, or both in the UK, Taiwan, and Canada.


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Blended Learning: A Q&A with Pete Sharma

This Q&A follows Pete’s Blended Learning webinar. Here’s an introduction to the topic, and here’s a recording of the webinar

blended learningSome of the many teachers who attended the webinars on Blended Learning (BL) were already in enforced lockdown, having had their face-to-face classes cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic. This made the topic of BL especially relevant, in particular the concept of ‘face-to-face online’ classes. The webinars were given at a time when thousands in the UK were just starting to work from home which caused a huge spike in online use. Here are some of the questions that were raised.

Q1 Which platform would you recommend for us who must start now untrained?

There is no single answer to this question. Everything depends on your teaching context and what you wish to do. As mentioned in the webinar, there are thousands of platforms. Making informed choices is important. Here are some typical contexts:

If you use a coursebook like English File, start with the digital materials on the learner platform; students are already familiar with the methodology.

A freelance teacher could investigate Google Classroom. It is free and relatively easy to use. Other options here are easyclass and Classmill.

In order to teach synchronous classes online, many teachers are now using Zoom. It makes sense to start out using a platform you are familiar with, such as Skype.

If you wish to set up a virtual classroom, expert Nik Peachey has suggested iTeach.world. There is plenty of online help and support available, whichever platform you choose.

Q2 How can we make the online as interesting as the F2F?

This question implies that classroom practice is dynamic and exciting. Many classroom teachers new to online teaching start off trying replicate these practices in an online environment. Teaching online can be every bit as exciting, but it is different.

Before starting, first make a list of the similarities between classroom and online. Many conventional classroom skills and practices transfer easily to teaching online, such as the teacher’s role in motivating and encouraging participants; using the participants’ own professional materials or using a coursebook and setting up classroom tasks. Then make a list of what is different online. Communication involves facial expressions and gestures; in an online lesson, these can be hard to pick up on when viewing your students in the video window. Learners can physically move around in the classroom; in online teaching, they are static, communicating through the screen and keyboard.

Some skills are transferable but need to be done differently. Pair and small group work can be done online using ‘breakout rooms’. One key tip for teaching on-line classes is to make tasks interactive. Participants can enter text in the chatbox, for instance. Another is to move quite briskly from task to task: preparation is key.

Q3 How much per cent face to face is appropriate?

There is no single, recommended percentage. Imagining a ‘hybrid’ course, 50-50 classroom and online, is a good starting point. However, thinking in terms of percentages can sometimes be counter-productive, as it encourages the equation of classroom work and online study. Rather, think of the online element as ‘elastic’, with students proceeding at their own pace. The Webinar explored this concept of ‘differentiation’ as being a feature of BL.

Q4 Isn’t the real distinction between synchronous and asynchronous, not classroom vs online?

When considering BL, the classroom – online distinction is important. When it comes to online learning, the distinction between synchronous and asynchronous is vital (Clandfield and Hadfield). So, both distinctions are helpful. One model which I find very helpful is the well-known consideration of the dimensions of ‘time’ and ‘place’, as follows:

Same time, same place: teaching in the classroom.

Same time, different place: teaching an online class using Zoom, Skype; communicating through WhatsApp.

Different time, different place: emails: posting a message on a forum and replying.

We need not be too concerned about the final part of this model – Different time, same place.

Q5 What about those platforms in which you just click the correct answer with very little production or interaction?

Interactive exercises such as the ones you describe divide opinion. They provide 24/7 guided practice and include tracking tools which show how many attempts students have had at a particular exercise. They have also been criticised for skewing language by ensuring each example fits clear ‘yes/no’ answers which are easy to code. What I love about BL is that such exercises can be incorporated into a course. They serve a specific purpose, provide some useful repetitive practice and are appreciated by many analytical learners. The teacher can ensure language production, free discussion, communication and interaction occur in other parts of the blend.

Q6 Do materials need to be specially designed or adapted for the blended learning environment?

Again, context is all. Some publisher-produced digital materials may already be absolutely perfect for your situation. They are written by experienced authors and built by a professional team. In business English, you may be using client-specific material and so choose to create and design your own content.

Changing the approach to how materials are used is part of a BL approach. An activity may start in the classroom, continue online and then students receive feedback once again in the classroom. Here, the material remains the same but how the material is used is different.

While the webinar looked at BL, many participants were under huge pressure, considering how to suddenly switch to teaching online. One memorable comment in the chat was:

“Let’s think positive; the closed schools and empty classrooms will help us start online learning as we have no other option”.

This comment, like the webinar, is a perfect lead-in to other webinars specifically about teaching online. I cannot help wondering what will happen when schools and campuses re-open. Will classroom teaching and BL once more be options, or will the face of education be changed forever?


Pete Sharma is a Director of Pete Sharma Associates Ltd, a consultancy and training organisation: www.psa.eu.com  He works as a pre-sessional lecturer in EAP (English for Academic purposes) at Warwick University, UK. Pete has co-written many books on educational technology in ELT www.petesharma.com


Reference

Interaction Online (2017) Lindsay Clandfield and Jill Hadfield Cambridge University Press


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A View on Reading: a Skill for Life | Gustavo Gonzalez

Why Reading?

Reading is a skill that everybody should excel at. We need to read to interact, to agree, to disagree, to make decisions, to comprehend, to understand. All in all, Reading is an invitation to savour life.

Reading sometimes goes unnoticed, because we are focused on doing something else.

Have a look at the following picture. What five words from the word cloud resonate with you and your relationship with reading?

 

Have you just realised that in order to select such words, you had to read? Basically, this is not a reading activity, but you needed to read to accomplish the task. This is what I meant before when I said that reading sometimes goes unnoticed.

Reading is such an essential part of learning, such an essential part of life! Reading is everywhere! And students need to effectively develop this skill in order to interact with life itself.

Do you have your heart set on reading? What about your students? I like to believe that when you put your heart to something, you are likely to succeed in doing it! How effective and successful are our students today when it comes to reading? These are some questions that, in my opinion, need some further consideration.

Many are the times in which they are faced with Reading activities that only cater for knowledge of syntax or how the language works, with questions that push them to “copy/paste” the answer and they feel they have comprehended the text. And when you ask them to infer meaning, they just blurt out “The answer is not in the text, teacher!” They are not used to reading critically, to analysing, evaluating, to creating something new out of a given text. As you can clearly see, I am resorting to Benjamin Bloom’s taxonomy of learning outcomes and objectives when I say this. We cannot talk about Reading without referring to Bloom’s taxonomy (see picture below). I am taking this framework only as a springboard for the so many activities we can design when it comes to reading.

Bloom concluded that 95% of test questions focus on the lowest level of his taxonomy, the recall of information. Many reading comprehension tasks consist of questions that focus only on the sheer recall of facts presented in a text. Students do not find any appeal in doing this, they get bored, they do not find meaning in the activity and they give up. Something must be done.

Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning Outcomes and Objectives (1956)

Credit: https://oupeltglobalblog.com/2014/03/03/creativity-in-the-young-learner-classroom/blooms-revised-taxonomy/

 

So I guess it’s high time we started reconsidering whether students’ dislike of reading is because of the tasks that many teachers provide them with.

Not only should we focus on our students decoding, that is, the ability to understand letter-sound relationships, such as knowledge of letter patterns in order to pronounce written words correctly (which children grasp in their first years of schooling), but on the students’ knowledge and vocabulary that will enable them to understand a given text. Decoding in itself is not Reading. Decoding is essential for Reading. But we can only talk about Reading if Comprehension is involved.

To what extent do students enjoy reading?

I believe that the skill of Reading is the one students like the least. They usually associate reading with exercises that require them to recognise this or that, to what “it” refers to in line X, to look for the author’s intention, to find the main idea and the details that support it, to put events in order, to compare and contrast, to re-insert a line into a given paragraph, to identify words, to find cause and effect relationships, and so on and so forth. Mastering these skills makes them think they have a good comprehension of the text. But do they? Don’t get me wrong, please, I am not saying that these tasks are not necessary, but I think there are many more ideas that can be implemented to get students to find meaning in what they do when reading.

Isn’t it time we made them realise how much more they can get out of Reading and how much they can enjoy the reading itself when activities are meaningful, relevant, fun and they meet their interests?

The typical three stages of reading tasks

You know how important the three stages of a reading task are, namely pre-reading, while-reading (or through-reading) and post-reading activities. Yet, many times we spend precious time on grammar or vocabulary tasks, which aren’t true comprehension activities. Students are presented with meaningless activities that should be engaging and go beyond some of the conventional tasks mentioned some paragraphs above.

Well-thought-of and carefully-planned activities that are engaging and meaningful can make all the difference when it comes to making reading a skill that students will crave for.

The Art of Constructing, Deconstructing and Reconstructing Meaning

I like to think of Reading as a complex and active process of constructing and even deconstructing and reconstructing meaning. That meaning will be constructed, deconstructed and reconstructed in three possible ways:

  • In an interactive way — involving the reader as well as the text and the context in which reading takes place.
  • In a strategic way — readers have purposes for their reading and use a variety of strategies and skills as they construct meaning.
  • In an adaptable way — readers change the strategies they use as they read different kinds of text or as they read for different purposes.

Should you be interested in reading more about what Cognitive Science Research tells us about Reading Comprehension and Reading Instruction, you will find a very comprehensive article you may find interesting at www.readingrockets.org (see full link to the article at the end of this article).

What I care most is that during that meaning-construction/deconstruction/reconstruction phase, students are able to find joy in what they are doing and they have fun at the same time.

Reading for Life

Reading is a skill that will stay forever with us. We should instil the love of reading in our students. They need to stop seeing it as a boring task only to do exercises or to pass tests, but as a skill that will accompany them and will make them informed and assertive human beings for life.

Register for my upcoming webinar! 

In my webinar I’ll explore these themes further, and will share some real-world activities that I use with my students.

Register for the webinar


Gustavo González is an English teacher from Argentina, he’s been in the ELT field since 1993, working as a teacher, school coordinator, teacher trainer and presenter. He has been delivering seminars and workshops all over Argentina, South, Central and North America, China, Singapore and Spain. He is one of the contributors to the book “Imagination, Cognition & Language Acquisition: A Unified Approach to Theory and Practice”, published by the New Jersey City University and has also written some articles for OUP (Oxford University Press), IATEFL (International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language) and other institutions. He is a teacher trainer for the Oxford Teachers’ Academy (OTA), freelance PD trainer for Oxford University Press, Trinity College London and Buenos Aires Players, an educational theatre company. He is a former vice president of APIBA, the Buenos Aires English Teachers’ Association and former vice president of FAAPI, the Argentine Federation of English Teachers’ Associations.


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